Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bach - Cantata For Bass 'Ich Habe Genug' BWV 82

Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 27 years of his life in the employ of the church as Cantor and Music Director of the Thomasschule and the churches of Leipzig, a position he was appointed to in 1723.   He was responsible for teaching music to students and for music used in church services.  Music was a very important part of Lutheran Church services and Bach usually used  his own compositions for  Sunday services as well as special church holidays. Most of the cantatas he used for church services were composed in the first three years he was in Leipzig, and he arranged them in yearly cycles. Each cantata was integrated into the service by the use of scripture that was relevant to the church calender as well as the content of the sermon. Musicologists have determined that Bach wrote over 300 cantatas during his life, and that about 100 of them are lost.

Ich Habe Genug (I Have Enough) was first performed on February 2, 1727 for the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary (also known as Candlemas).  The text of the cantata is not from the Bible, nor do musicologists know who wrote it, but it is based on the Song of Simeon also known in Latin as Nunc Dimittis

Bach used the cantata three more times over the years, changing the vocalist and/or instrumentation each time. The original version is scored for Bass soloist, oboe, strings and continuo. The cantata consists of five parts:

Part One  -  The Bible story in Chapter 2 Of Luke relates that Simeon was a devout Jew who was at the Temple when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to be consecrated as the firstborn son. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die until he saw the Saviour. Simeon took the infant in his arms and the text of the aria reflects the story.  The music is in C minor, with the oboe beginning a melody that is soon taken up by the Bass. The oboe gently weaves in and out of the music as it takes the lead one moment, then takes up a contrapuntal accompaniment to the Bass. The key signature of C minor in this case  gives the music more the mood of resignation than sorrow.
Aria: Ich habe genug
I have enough, I have taken the Savior,
the hope of the righteous, into my eager arms;
I have enough! I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with
joy to depart from here. 

Part Two - The music shifts to major mode in the opening of the recitative. The theme of resignation and desire for death continue in this section in preparation for the next aria.
Recitative: Ich habe genug
I have enough.
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine
and I His own. In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.
Let us go with this man!
Ah! if only the Lord might rescue me
from the chains of my body;
Ah! were only my departure here,
with joy I would say, world, to you:
I have enough. 

Part Three - Cast in the key of E-flat major, the aria is a lullaby that changes the tone of resignation for death to one of joy in longing for the peace of death.
Aria: Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen
Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly!
World, I will not remain here any longer,
I own no part of you that
could matter to my soul.
Here I must build up misery, but there,
there I will see sweet peace, quiet rest.

Part Four -   An impatient voice wonders when the 'now' of death is to come. The music ends in the minor mode in preparation for the final aria.
Recitative: Mein Gott! wenn kömmt das schöne: Nun! 
My God! When is the lovely now of death to come,
when I will journey into peace
and into the cool soil of earth,
and there, near You, rest in Your lap?
My farewells are made, world, good night!

Part Five -  The final aria returns the key to C minor. The oboe returns but more as an addition to the violins instead of a separate voice. Bach uses melisma, the singing of the same syllable over a range of notes to perhaps lend some 'life' to a cantata that deals with death, although the text continues to express the longing for the pleasant sleep of death.
Aria: Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod
I delight in my death,
ah, if it were only present already!
Then I will emerge from all the
suffering that still binds me to the world.

It may seem odd that a work that deals with the joys of death can be one of Bach's most familiar and popular cantatas. The text of course is an important part of any cantata, including this one. But in this case the quality and depth of feeling of the music has more to do with the works popularity than its text.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Prokofiev - Alexander Nevsky Cantata

Just days before the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, Nazi Germany and the USSR signed a non-aggression pact that declared the two nations would take no military action against each other for 10 years. The date was August 23rd, Germany invaded Poland September 1st, thus starting World War Two.

The agreement was on shaky ground from the beginning. Germany wanted to try and keep Russia out of the war, and due to the Great Purge that began in 1934 (where over one million Russian leaders, citizens and military personnel were executed) Russia was weak militarily, so Stalin signed the pact to try and gain time to rearm. Anyone that didn't have their head in the sand knew that Germany would invade Russia, sooner or later.

In 1938 while both nations postured and blustered, the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev joined filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in the making of the film Alexander Nevsky. Nevsky was an actual 13th century Prince of Novgorod who led an army that defeated the invading Teutonic (German) Knights in the Battle of Lake Peipus in 1242.  The movie was more than a historic epic. It became a patriotic propaganda tool after the Soviet big-wigs saw the finished product. The authorities were thrilled with the movie and the fact that it was brought in five months ahead of schedule.

The filmmaker and composer worked together very well .  Both fed off each other ideas and the movie became more than a Soviet propaganda film. After the war the film became a classic.  To allow the music to be heard other than in a movie house, Prokofiev arranged much of the music into a a cantata a few months after the premiere of the film for mixed chorus, mezzo-soprano soloist and orchestra.  The cantata is in seven movements, original text is in Russian except for the third movement which is in Latin:

Statue of Alexander Nevsky in St. Petersburg
I.  Russia under the Mongolian Yoke - A brief and bleak introduction refers to the time in the 13th century when parts of Russia were under the domination of the Mongolian Tartars who ruled over the Russians and forced them to pay tribute.  Alexander Nevsky had been given to the Mongol rulers as a hostage. He grew up among their leaders and understood the workings of their culture. He wed the Mongol leader's daughter and was named leader of the Vladimir principality.

II.  Song about Alexander Nevsky - Nevsky was summoned by the people of Novgorod to become Prince after Swedish invaders had landed on the outskirts of the area. Nevsky commanded a small army that surprised the Swedish invaders and prevented and all-out invasion.  Nevsky gained in power and political influence and coupled with his association with the Mongol invaders, conflict with the Boyars of the area caused him to be forced to leave Novgorod. In this song the chorus sings the praises of Nevsky and urges him to return and defeat the Teutonic invaders:

It happened by the river Neva,by the great waters .
There we cut down the enemy warriors of the Swedish army .
Oh, how we fought, how we cut  them down !
How we cut  their ships to pieces !
We swung an axe and a street appeared ,we thrust our spears and a lane opened up .
We cut  down the Swedish invaders like grass on parched soil.
We shall never yield our Russian land . Those who attack Russia will meet their death .
Arise , Russia, against the enemy, 
arise to arms, glorious Novgorod ! 

III. The Crusaders in Pskov -  The Crusades by Christians against Islam to regain the Holy Land in the Middle East is well known, but what many don't realize is there was also Christian Crusades held in Eastern Europe against pagans. These Crusades were similar to the ones to regain the Holy Land in that not all the actions taken by the Crusaders were for purely religious reasons. Political gain, personal gain and seizing land played a large part. The Teutonic Knights were formed in the 12th century to aid Christians fighting in the Middle East and to establish hospitals. After Christians were defeated in the Holy Land, the order moved to Eastern Europe to help defend Catholic countries and convert pagan ones. The German Crusaders are depicted in slow, plodding, heavy music punctuated by percussive dissonance. The words sung are Latin, but when translated don't make any sense: As a foreigner, I expect my feet to be shod in cymbals.
Perhaps Prokofiev chose the words (that were taken from the Latin Vulgate Bible) at random, or for their foreign sound:

Peregrinus expectavi, pedes meos in cymbalis

IV. Arise, Ye Russian People - A call to arms against the invaders sung by the choir:

Arise to arms, ye Russian people,
in battle just, the fight to death; 
arise ye, people free and brave
defend our fair native land!
To living warriors high esteem,
immortal fame to warriors slain!
For native home, for Russian Soil,
arise ye people, Russian folk!
In our great Russia, in our native
Russia no foe shall live: Rise to arms,
arise, native mother Russia!
No foe shall march across Russian land,
no foreign troops shall raid Russia;
unseen are the ways to Russia,
no foe will ravage Russian fields.

Scene from the film Alexander Nevsky
V. The Battle on the Ice - The two armies meet on the ice of the frozen River Neva. This battle is also referred in history as The Battle On The Ice.  Prokofiev creates tension and builds drama with the orchestra that slowly builds in tempo and speed. As the armies clash the Teutonic Knights repeat their hymn with added words:

A foreigner, I expect my feet to be shod in cymbals. 
May the arms of the cross-bearers conquer! Let the enemy perish!

After much creative orchestration and development of themes, the hymn of the Crusaders is finally overtaken by themes that praise Nevsky. Traditional history of the battle relates that the weight of the Teutonic Knight's horses and armor broke the ice and many Crusaders drown in the frigid water while the ones that didn't fall through the ice were slain by Nevsky and his army.

VI. The Field of the Dead -  The aftermath of the battle has the mezzo-soprano voice of a woman walking among the dead:

I will go across the snow-clad field,
I will fly above the field of death.
I will search for valiant warriors,
my betrothed, my stalwart youths,
Here lies one felled by a wild saber;
there lies one impaled by an arrow. 
From their wounds blood fell like
rain on our native soil, on Russian fields. 
He who fell for Russia in noble death shall
be blessed by my kiss on his eyes and to
brave lad who remained alive,
I will be a true wife and loving friend.
I’ll not be wed to a handsome man;
earthly charm and beauty fade fast and die.
I’ll be wed to the man who’s brave.
Give heed to this, brave warriors!

VII. Alexander’s Entry in Pskov - The hero Nevsky is welcomed with a procession by the jubilant people:

In a great campaign Russia went to war.
Russia put down the hostile troops.
In our native land no foe shall live.
Foes who come shall be put to death!
Celebrate and sing, native Mother Russia.
In our native land foes shall never live,
Foes shall never see Russian towns and fields.
They who march on Russia shall be put to death.
Foes shall never see Russian towns and fields.
In our Russia great, in our native Russia no foe shall live.
Celebrate and sing, native Mother Russia.
To a fete in triumph all of Russian came.
Celebrate, rejoice, celebrate and sing, our Motherland!

Of course the non-aggression pact between the two totalitarian dictators ended up being not worth paper it was written on as Nazi Germany launched the largest invasion force in history against Russia on June 22, 1941. Russia's participation in the war resulted in between 20 and 40 million Russian deaths from all causes, and Germany suffered the same fate of other forces in history that tried to invade the country; collapse under the sheer size of Russia, its rugged weather and huge population, not to mention the ruthlessness of their leader Stalin.

Prokofiev had returned to the USSR after living abroad from 1918 to 1936, and his Alexander Nevsky film music and cantata brought him into good graces with Stalin until 1948 when Prokofiev, along with composers Shostakovich, Myaskovsky, and Khachaturian were denounced for formalism, a crime that was described as renunciation of the basic principles of classical music [in favour of] muddled, nerve-racking [sounds that turned] music into cacophony. 

Prokofiev suffered from extreme hypertension and as a result had a fall from which he never really recovered. In poor health and deeply in debt because his works had been banned, he desperately tried to get back into good graces with the authorities, but he remained in official artistic limbo the rest of his life. After Stalin's death on March 5, 1953 things began to change in the USSR and composers were slowly 'rehabilitated' and bans on their music began to be lifted. Ironically, Prokofiev didn't benefit from Stalin's death as he died the same day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mahler - Symphony No. 5

As it was Gustav Mahler's habit to compose during his summer vacations, the 5th Symphony was composed in the summers of 1901 and 1902. The symphony was the first of three symphonies that were strictly instrumental works and without any outward program, although Mahler usually composed with some kind of an inner program.

Mahler was a man who put his art above everything, including his physical well being. He took his role as conductor and music director very seriously and drove himself to conduct regardless of illness or fever. On February 24, 1901 he conducted an orchestral concert in the afternoon and an opera that same evening. He had just gotten over a bad case of tonsillitis (which didn't slow him down any). That same night his sister found him collapsed in a pool of blood. Mahler had horrendous hemmorhoidal problems that caused him excruciating pain (there were many occasions when he conducted in extreme pain from them) and many minor hemorrhages from them, but this one was life threatening. Surgeons were summoned and he came near death. The surgeon did an emergency procedure in Mahler's bedroom that stopped the bleeding, as Mahler told a friend the next day:
You know, last night I nearly passed away. When I saw the doctors… I thought my last hour had come. While they were putting in the tube, which was frightfully painful but quick, they kept checking my pulse and my heart. Fortunately it was solidly installed in my breast and determined not to give up so soon… While I was hovering between life and death, I wondered whether it would not be better to have done with it at once, since everyone must come to this in the end. Besides, the prospect of dying did not frighten me in the least, provided my affairs are in order, and to return to life seemed almost a nuisance.
As soon as Mahler recuperated from the incident he had his second hemorrhoid surgery in March. This near-death experience may have been partially responsible for the change in his compositional style as reflected in this work. The symphony in in five movements, which Mahler grouped into three parts. As the symphony is progressive as regards to key, Mahler requested that no key designation be given to the symphony as a whole.

PART ONE
I. Trauermarsch (Funeral March) -  Although some annotators and musicologists regard this symphony as the most conventional out of the first five, Mahler begins the symphony in C-sharp minor with a solo for trumpet that sets the mood:
The trumpet solo leads directly to a shattering climax, after which Mahler begins his most conventional symphony with an unconventional funeral march. The trumpet solo returns and the funeral march becomes even more lugubrious. The trumpet returns but is cut short as the music becomes wild and frantic as the funeral march has changed into a hectic mad dash. The trumpet interrupts and brings the march tempo back. The music makes a reference to a song Mahler has written to the words of the German poet Friedrich Rückert from his collection of poems Kindentotenlieder (Songs On The Death Of Children).  The poetry of Rückert had became Mahler's preferred poems as his obsession with the poems of Des Knaben Wunderhorn diminished.  All of the themes in the first movement go through a continual development process, but what doesn't change is the time signature. In the first four symphonies time signatures changed quite often, but in this symphony each movement remains in the time signature that it started in. The trumpet plays fragments of its theme as the orchestra slowly winds down. Violins accompany col legno, with the wood of the bow that produces an eerie clicking sound and the movement ends with one last subdued thump by the low strings.

II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz (Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence) - Beginning in the key of A minor, this movement starts out brutally. The orchestra continues as Mahler directed until it slows down and changes key to F minor. Mahler gives the direction in Tempo des ersten Satzes Trauermarsch (In the same tempo as the first movement Funeral March). Not only is the tempo identical, but the thematic material is related to that of the first movement also.  The ongoing variation of themes continues. The mood of the opening of the movement returns, along with music in the trumpet from the first movement. An extended  section for low strings and timpani brings back the funeral march, which is incorporated into the section.  Rapid shifting from the opening music to the funeral march happens until the funeral march is transformed into a high spirited march in the major. This vanishes into the chaos of the opening music until the funeral march returns in a richly orchestrated version. The march falls under the spell of the chaos of the opening and becomes more frantic. A section of music in the major interrupts and the music grows loud and majestic, only to return to the frantic music of the opening. Everything grows quiet, strings accompany in harmonics, the low strings pluck out two notes, and the timpani has the final say with an A played pianissimo.

PART TWO
III. Scherzo: Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Not too fast, strong) - The second part of the symphony is the third movement, a scherzo in D major that takes on the shape of a type of sonata form. There are several themes within the movement as well as two separate trio sections. The movement begins with four horns setting the mood of the first theme, in the style of a country dance. This theme goes through continuous development as the themes in the previous movements. A second theme (that is derived from the first theme), the beginning of the first trio, is played delicately by violins that slide between notes. The first theme returns and leads to a section in counterpoint. A new theme is played leisurely by the horns with commentary by the strings. This is the beginning of the second trio, and the theme goes through many variants. A section that develops some of the themes is played, and comes to a climax. Other themes are touched upon in the coda, and this longest movement of the 5th Symphony comes to a hectic, abrupt close.

PART THREE
IV. Adagietto. Sehr langsam (Very slow) -  Part Three of the symphony is comprised of the final two movements, the first of which is the Adagietto, arguably Mahler's most well-known and loved symphonic works.  He scores it for strings and harp alone. The movement has been used in memorial services for dignitaries and heads of state, Leonard Bernstein conducted it at Robert Kennedy's funeral in 1968, but it isn't funeral music as such, although the passion Mahler puts into it is definite. Willem Mengelberg, a contemporary of Mahler and champion of his works wrote that the movement was actually a musical love letter written to Alma Schindler whom he met while writing this symphony and who he later married:

This Adagietto was Gustav Mahler’s declaration of love to Alma! Instead of a letter, he confided it in this movement without a word of explanation. She understood and replied: He should come!(I have this from both of them!)
There is further evidence that when Mahler conducted the symphony that he took this movement faster than current conductors. Mahler's performances took between 7 and 9 minutes, according to the acoustics of the hall, while today's conductors run the range of 9 to 14 minutes. The movement is in simple three-part form, and while there are relatively few notes in it compared to the other movements of the symphony, Mahler peppers the music with all kinds of directions.  It is written in F major except for a short section in the key of G-flat major in the middle section. As the middle section segues back to the first section a huge glissando is taken in the violins. The first section repeats in an abbreviated version until a final climax is reached, after which the music slowly lessens until the most elementary of chord progressions begins with a C dominant 7th chord, which in Western music naturally leads to F major, which Mahler does, but he takes a long time to resolve the C7 chord in the violins and basses. But as the music dies away, the harmony resolves to F major. The last movement begins without pause.

V. Rondo-Finale. Allegro – Allegro giocoso. Frisch (Fresh) - With the final movement, Mahler has moved from funeral music in the first part, to ambiguous music in the second part, to love and finally exuberant joy in the final part. Another Wunderhorn song is used in the finale, In Praise Of Higher Understanding, also known as The Cuckoo And The Nightingale, which makes up the main theme of the finale, which shows characteristics of both rondo and sonata form. The short sections of counterpoint heard earlier in the symphony were only a warm up to Mahler's five contrapuntal sections in the finale.  An edition of J.S. Bach's works were being published and Mahler was a subscriber and was influenced by the older composer's mastery of the art. The theme of the fourth movement also appears in a faster and more jovial variant. Just before the ending, a theme from the 2nd movement appears in a noble variant maestoso, but the exuberance of the music sweeps it aside as it gallops to a final giggle and loud end.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mahler - Symphony No. 3

The Third Symphony was first sketched out with the help of a program as Mahler wrote down headings for each of the movements he planned. As he did prelimiary work on the symphony he changed the program numerous times before the music was completed. The original program for the symphony called for seven movements with the following titles:

1. Summer marches in.
2. What the flowers in the meadow tell me.
3. What the creatures in the forest tell me.
4. What man tells me.
5. What the angels tell me
6. What love tells me.
7. What the Child tells me.

He worked on the symphony from 1893 to 1896, doing most of the work on it during the summer  hiatus of the Hamburg Opera where he was chief conductor. At this time Mahler was passionately influenced by Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of German folk poems. He set many of them to music, and used the songs in his early symphonies, sometimes with words and music and sometimes with only the music. The Third Symphony also includes some of these songs. The 7th movement was to be a setting of another Wunderhorn poem Das himmlische Leben, a poem he had set to music in 1892, but Mahler thought better of it and used the song in the final movement of his 4th Symphony. Mahler  dropped the entire program from the symphony before it was published and premiered. He made his feelings about titles and programs known in a letter to a fellow conductor and composer Josef Krug-Waldsee:
Those titles were an attempt on my part to provide non-musicians with something to hold on to and with a signpost for the intellectual, or better, the expressive content of the various movements and for their relationships to each other and to the whole. That it didn’t work (as, in fact, it could never work) and that it led only to misinterpretations of the most horrendous sort became painfully clear all too quickly. It’s the same disaster that had overtaken me on previous and similar occasions, and now I have once and for all given up commenting, analyzing all such expediencies of whatever sort. These titles . . . will surely say something to you after you know the score. You will draw intimations from them about how I imagined the steady intensification of feeling, from the indistinct, unbending, elemental existence (of the forces of nature) to the tender formation of the human heart, which in turn points toward and reaches a region beyond itself (God). Please express that in your own words without quoting those extremely inadequate titles and that way you will have acted in my spirit. I am very grateful that you asked me [about the titles], for it is by no means inconsequential to me and for the future of my work how it is introduced into “public life.”
The Third Symphony is the longest symphony Mahler composed, and is the longest symphony currently in the repertoire. It takes at least 90 minutes to play, with the first movement alone taking over 30 minutes. Couple that with the huge orchestra Mahler uses, the label of megalomaniac was being used by his critics to describe him.

A group of movements was heard in concert as early as 1897 when movements 2,3 and 6 were played in Berlin.  The premiere of the entire symphony was in 1902 and was conducted by Mahler.  The orchestra calls for quadruple winds, eight horns, four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, two harps, a large percussion section plus two sets of timpani, alto soloist, women's choir, boys choir, and the usual strings. Mahler split the work into two main parts; the first movement constitutes the first part, the other five movements the second part:

PART ONE
I. Kräftig. Entschieden (Strong and decisive) - The first movement was written a year after the remaining 5 movements. Eight horns playing in unison announce the beginning of the symphony:
The introductory theme continues and is punctuated by the orchestra. This introduction brings forth the first theme of movement proper, a slow march in the minor that expands for quite some time. It is solemn intone but is full of whoops and calls from the orchestra. A short drum solo acts as an introduction to a second theme in the major that is lighter in texture. This theme is interrupted by cat calls from the clarinets and a third theme (although at this first hearing it is short and more like a motive than a theme) rushes through the orchestra. The first theme returns and contains a prominent part for solo trombone. This theme grows in intensity until it slowly fades into a repeat of the second theme as well as the cat calls from the clarinets and the following third theme,which this time around is expanded into the fourth theme, another march that is in the major and begins subdued in volume but gradually grows and is punctuated by the snare drum. The new march grows in volume and density as it is played full on by the orchestra. The fourth theme runs its course and the music segues to what can be considered the development section in a very loose sonata form. The first march theme is developed and leads to another solo by the trombone, followed by a solo for cor anglais. The second theme makes an appearance and is developed, followed by a reference to the fourth theme march. Snippets of themes weave in and out as the music moves to a variant of the first theme march that expands. Snippets of other themes enter and leave as the music grows in intensity and speed until it dies away. This is interrupted by snare drums that play in the distance and as they fade away the introduction for eight horns reappears with slight variations, which signals the beginning of the recapitulation. The  first theme is expanded until a very quiet section brings back the fourth theme march. This theme builds while a variant of the horn introduction is played in the background. This major variant of the horn theme (which was also heard briefly in the development section) comes to the fore as Mahler varies and expands it. Motives of themes are combined as the music builds to a climax. A variant of part of the first theme is heard and the orchestra gallops to a rousing ending in the major. When this symphony is given in concert, there is sometimes a short intermission taken at the end of the first movement.

PART TWO
II. Tempo di Menuetto - Mahler writes music in the style of a minuet. More specifically, it is a minuet in the style of Mahler.The middle section has some stormy sections that scurry through the orchestra. But for the most part this movement serves as a few moments for the listener to catch their breath after the rough hewn character of the first movement. The movement ends gently with a violin solo.

III.  Comodo (Scherzando) (Comfortably, like a scherzo) - This movement makes references to a Wunderhorn song Mahler wrote titled Ablösung im Sommer (Relief In Summer). The text of the song deals with a dead cuckoo and a nightingale. There's been many translations of the text  of the poem, but when Mahler set the words he also inserted lines that he wrote himself. As with so many aspects of this huge work, there have been many interpretations of the meaning of the song by itself and in the context of the symphony. Suffice to say that falls in with Mahler's original heading for the movement What The Creatures In The Forest Tell Me (especially the birds evidently).  One of the novel features of this movement is the sudden change of the mood as an offstage trumpet plays a theme over a very quiet accompaniment. Mahler instructs the soloist to play  the instrument as a posthorn.  Sometimes the solo is played on an actual posthorn, but more often it is played on a trumpet or flugelhorn. The offstage trumpet interrupts the scherzo 3 times. In between the 2nd and third interruption, the scherzo gets particularly vigorous and loud, and to encourage the general raucousness Mahler writes the direction in the score Grob! (complete with exclamation point) which translates to roughly or crude. The third trumpet interruption is the longest and more complex, complete with bird song imitations. After an almost inaudible transition, the scherzo starts up but quickly gains power and volume as a tremendous climax thunders through the orchestra. this leads to a fragment of the scherzo returning in a loud, highly punctuated version, and amid another tremendous climax the movement ends.

IV. Sehr langsam—Misterioso (Very slowly, mysteriously) - The previous movements have shown Mahler's love and understanding of nature, but with this movement the music depicts the darkness of night. The movement begins with strings alternating gently between notes with harps adding a hushed texture. The entire movement remains quiet, the accompaniment hardly movingharmonically as the alto soloist sings a simple melody to the words of the Midnight Song from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra. Mahler gets a particularly novel effect for the oboe and cor anglaise by writing a slur overtgwo notes with the direction hinaufziehen, literally meaning to pull or move up. There is general agreement that Mahler intended a glissando with this word:
This is not possible on the modern version of the oboe used by most players. But it was possible on the German made instrument used in the orchestras Mahler directed. Modern scholarship and technique have shown ways this directive can be accomplished, and while it may seem a minor detail, the sliding notes give a particularly earthy quality to the music, something Mahler evidently intended. The above musical example also shows the detail and care Mahler took in notating his scores.

Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra, Midnight Song:
O Man! Take heed!
What says the deep midnight?
"I slept, I slept -,
from a deep dream have I awoken: -
the world is deep,
and deeper than the day has thought.
Deep is its pain -,
joy - deeper still than heartache.
Pain says: Pass away!
But all joy seeks eternity -,
- seeks deep, deep eternity!"

The movement ends in the same dark, quiet tones in which it began and leads directly to the next movement.

V. Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (Cheerful in tempo and cheeky in expression) - Another Wunderhorn text is used in the 5th movement, Armer Kinder Bettlerlied (Poor children's Begging song) written for women's choir, boy's choir and soloist. The movement begins with the boy's choir imitating bells.

Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Armer Kinder Bettlerlied
 Three angels sang a sweet song,
with blessed joy it rang in heaven.
They shouted too for joy
that Peter was free from sin!
And as Lord Jesus sat at the table
with his twelve disciples and ate the evening meal,
Lord Jesus said: "Why do you stand here?
When I look at you, you are weeping!"
"And should I not weep, kind God?
I have violated the ten commandments!
I wander and weep bitterly!
O come and take pity on me!"
"If you have violated the ten commandments,
then fall on your knees and pray to God!
Love only God for all time!
So will you gain heavenly joy."
The heavenly joy is a blessed city,
the heavenly joy that has no end!
The heavenly joy was granted to Peter
through Jesus, and to all mankind for eternal bliss.

VI. Langsam - Ruhevoll - Empfunden (Slowly, tranquil, deeply felt) - In length and complexity, the final movement resembles the first massive movement, but the character and tone of the finale is quite different. It is full of joy and pain as Mahler unwinds some of the most heartfelt music he ever wrote. The music ebbs and flows, echoes things heard before (in this symphony and in the 2nd Symphony). Ending a symphony with an adagio movement was not common. Mahler had done it in the 2nd Symphony, and as in that work the 3rd Symphony adagio is the culmination of the symphony. If this is what Mahler meant when he wrote out headings for the movements of this symphony, that this is what love told him, he takes the listener through his complex and deep emotions with this music. It takes its time as it describes in tones Mahler's depth of compassion and spirituality. The movement seems to suspend time, but the build up reaches an incredible ending the timpani, low strings, bassoon and contra bassoon play the notes D and A, the tonic and the dominant of D major. The trumpets play a noble motive while the rest of the brass and woodwind play chords, all over divided violins and violas that play shimmering tremolos. Mahler has one last request written in the score when the full orchestra reaches the huge final D major chord, Nicht abressien, don't cut it off. Let the final chord ring out to end one of the most stunning symphonies ever written.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pejačević- Symphony In F-sharp Minor

With very few exceptions, the world of professional classical music was closed to women until the 20th century. Whether instrumentalist, conductor or composer, serious music was considered an exclusive male domain. The only music related occupation open to women was teaching. Women of the upper middle class were taught a musical instrument, usually the piano or violin, more as an avocation or social grace.

Men perpetuated the status quo of male domination in music (as well as society in general).
Instrumentalists, conductors, composers and music publishers actively prevented almost all women from pursuing a career in music. Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn's older sister was a fine pianist and musician as well as a composer, but her father discouraged her from composition. Brother Felix privately encouraged her, but his public statements were different:
From my knowledge of Fanny I should say that she has neither inclination nor vocation for authorship. She is too much all that a woman ought to be for this. She regulates her house, and neither thinks of the public nor of the musical world, nor even of music at all, until her first duties are fulfilled. Publishing would only disturb her in these, and I cannot say that I approve of it.
The same was true of Clara Wieck-Schumann, wife of Robert Schumann. She was one of the most brilliant pianists of the 19th century, and after her husband's death she continued to concertize to provide for her large family.  She was also a composer, but after her husband died she gave it up saying:
I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose — there has never yet been one able to do it. Should I expect to be the one?
Her husband Robert (who evidently supported her composing activities) gave the reasons why she never went farther as a composer:
Clara has composed a series of small pieces, which show a musical and tender ingenuity such as she has never attained before. But to have children, and a husband who is always living in the realm of imagination, does not go together with composing. She cannot work at it regularly, and I am often disturbed to think how many profound ideas are lost because she cannot work them out.
Late in the 19th century the male stranglehold on music began to lessen, at least as far as musical composition was concerned. Amy Mary Smith in England and Amy Beach in America are two examples of women who overcame gender bias as composers. A woman composer of the early 20th century was the Croatian Dora Pejačević.

She was descended from the noble Pejačević family of Croatia on her father's side. Her mother was an Hungarian Countess who was a fine pianist and Dora received her first lessons in piano from her. Dora was a woman of learning and culture, she could speak and read several languages. Although  Pejačević was a member of the aristocracy, she seemed to be down to earth and had more of an affinity for common people than the aristocrats of her own class. World War One affected her greatly as she saw all the suffering and pain it caused, which turned her into a socialist. She spent most of her life dedicated to her art, but her loneliness caused her to marry in 1921. She died from complications from childbirth in 1923.

Her Symphony In F-sharp Minor is the only symphony she wrote and she worked on it from 1916- 1917 and revised it in 1920.  The premiere of the work was given in 1920 in Dresden and was such a success that the great conductor Arthur Nikisch performed it in concert.  The symphony is a work in late Romantic style and is in four movements:

I. Andante maestoso - Allegro con moto -  The movement is in a type of very loose sonata form, with one main theme and many differing short motives. It begins with a dramatic introduction that is punctuated by the brass. A short motive is gently begun by the woodwinds and the violins continue it as it unwinds. The main theme has slightly more energy to it while still remaining lyrical. A second theme is chromatic and lyrical. Chromatic motives pile up until the first theme returns in an extended form, and it is then that the listener finds themselves in the development section of the first movement. Motives interrupt the first theme's chromatic journey. Themes already heard enter and leave, with the first theme always returning. The short introduction returns and signals the end of the movement in the entire orchestra.

II. Andante sostenuto - A solo oboe begins by playing the main theme of the movement. Other winds join in while the low strings accompany.  A bass clarinet adds to the texture before the strings give their version of the theme. The theme is developed as it continues until a counter melody is heard in the oboe as the strings play a fragment of the theme. In the middle of the movement another theme that is first heard in the low strings is played and developed chromatically. This theme goes through a chromatically intense climax before it winds down with hints of the first theme until the first theme returns in the bass clarinet. The first theme then continues its journey as it ebbs and flows back to where it began in the solo oboe. A short coda ends the movement.

III. Scherzo: Molto allegro - The chromaticism continues with the scherzo. The pace slows as a solo cello introduces a very short section (presumably the trio) before the scherzo resumes. Another short section of smooth lyricism interrupts until the chugging scherzo returns a final time. A short coda picks up the pace and ends the movement with a snicker.

IV. Allegro appassionato -  The finale begins with a rugged theme that is punctuated by cymbal crashes and brass. Just before the beginning of the second theme there is a motive played by full orchestra that must have sounded quite modern to the audiences of 1920. The second theme is more lyrical and is carried in the strings. After the second theme of the movement the theme from the second movement makes an appearance. The themes are then repeated with slight variations. The development concentrates on the theme from the second movement. The first theme returns and takes the music to a coda that ends the work in a minor key.

It is no wonder that Arthur Nikisch wanted to conduct Pejačević's symphony. She had an excellent sense of orchestral color as well as a good rhythmic and melodic gift. The structure of the symphony is loose and almost rhapsodic with its piling up of motives and themes, but she handled the material with such deftness and feel for instrumental color that the seams do not show, which makes for a very effective and enjoyable symphony.

Spohr - Symphony No. 2 In D Minor

The violinist, conductor and composer Louis Spohr was an important composer of the early Romantic era. He was active in Vienna and knew Beethoven well. He claimed that he learned how to compose by studying the works of Mozart, who remained his compositional ideal all his life.  He grew to dislike the late music of Beethoven as well as other modern composers of his time but he didn't let his personal tastes get in the way of performing them as a conductor.  He was also an early promoter of Richard Wagner's operas as he conducted The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser. 

He wrote almost 300 works in his life and his  music was quite popular during his lifetime. He finished 9 symphonies from 1811 to 1850, with the first symphony being in the classical mold of Mozart. His symphonic writing showed steady progress and by the time he wrote the 9th he had embraced program music.  By the time of his death in 1859 his music was considered old fashioned and it languished in obscurity until late in the 20th century.

The 2nd Symphony In D Minor was written in March of 1820 after Spohr had played one of his violin concertos at the Philharmonic Society Of London opening concert of the 1820 season. The symphony was premiered the next month by the same orchestra in London. The symphony is in four movements:

I. Allegro -  Spohr writes a short introduction that is in the same tempo as the movement proper, a departure from the slow introductions usually used by Mozart and Haydn. The first theme is carried mostly in the violins. The theme expands and is punctuated with strong accents and leads to the second theme played in the woodwinds over a stuttering accompaniment from the low strings. Fragments of the first theme interrupt the theme until the first theme returns in a variant in the major. A third theme appears and acts as a transition to the repeat of the exposition. The development works with a fragment of the first theme as it goes through key changes and variants. The recapitulation begins within a variant of the first theme in a very smooth transition. The second theme and transition material is varied until the tempo and intensity increases as a short coda hammers out a fragment of the first theme until the end of a seamlessly composed sonata movement.

II. Larghetto - The calm opening theme is in B-flat major. A central section interrupts the calm with a theme in G minor that by turn roars, rambles and grows quiet and tense.  The key of G minor exits with a roar as it entered as the opening theme returns and brings the movement to a pleasant close.

III. Scherzo: Presto - The scherzo begins in a quiet way and remains that way until a short crescendo shifts the key to D major, but this interruption lasts but a short while until the music grows more quiet. There is another loud interruption before the music leads to a trio in D major. The scherzo repeats, and then the trio returns with the full orchestra.  The music shifts back to D minor for the loud ending.

IV. Finale: Vivace - The finale begins in D major and after a short introduction a smoothly moving first theme is heard. The second theme is in an even lighter mood. Both themes are repeated with variations, with the second theme getting more playing time. The first theme returns and leads to the flutes rendition of the second theme. The second theme continues and leads to a short spirited coda that ends the symphony in high spirits.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 4 In A Major 'Italian'

The title Italian Symphony originated with Mendelssohn himself. During his trip in 1830-1831 he drew inspiration from Italy and sketched out the work during his trip. He completed the first version of the work in 1833 while in Berlin as a fulfilment of a commission from the Philharmonic Society of London. Mendelssohn led the premiere in London to great success, and the symphony was played again a month later. But Mendelssohn was dissatisfied with it, withdrew it, and revised it numerous times, continuing to work on it until his death. He refused to let it be performed and the work was not published in his lifetime. When it was published in 1851 there is some doubt as to what actual version of the symphony was used, but there is no doubt that it is one of Mendelssohn's most popular compositions. 

Mendelssohn took inspiration from the people, landscape and culture of Italy but it was the visual arts that inspired him as much as the rest. Mendelssohn was not only a musician, but an accomplished amateur artist with the brush and pencil which made his appreciation of the art he saw even more keen. He described the things he saw to his teacher Zeltner in a letter from Venice:
My family have no doubt told you of the exhilarating impression made on me by the first sight of the plains of Italy. I hurry from one enjoyment to another hour by hour, and constantly see something novel and fresh; but immediately on my arrival I discovered some masterpieces of art, which I study with deep attention, and contemplate daily for a couple of hours at least. These are three pictures by Titian. The "Presentation of Mary as a Child in the Temple;" the "Assumption of the Virgin;" and the "Entombment of Christ." There is also a portrait by Giorgione, representing a girl with a cithern in her hand, plunged in thought, and looking forth from the picture in serious meditation (she is apparently about to begin a song, and you feel as if you must do the same): besides many others.
Symphony No. 4 In A Major 'Italian' is scored for pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings. It is in four movements:

I.  Allegro vivace -  The movement begins with the dance-like first theme that unfolds at length before the second slightly less jubilant theme arrives. The exposition is repeated. The development section takes a snippet of theme in the minor and parades it through the string section in a complex contrapuntal texture. The woodwinds give reminders of the first theme until the strings continue in complexity. A transition signals the recapitulation. After themes are repeated, material from the development section returns briefly until the first theme begins a coda that wraps up the movement in the tonic of A major.

II. Andante con moto -  Written in D minor, the rather solemn first theme of this movement was inspired by the procession of monks in Rome, perhaps as he described in a letter:
Here I must deliver a eulogy on monks; they finish a picture at once, giving it tone and colour, with their wide loose gowns, their pious meditative, gait, and their dark aspect....In Albano, among girls with pitchers on their heads, vendors of flowers and vegetables, and all the crowd and tumult, we saw a coal-black dumb monk, returning to Monte Cavo, who formed a singular contrast to the rest of the scene. They seem to have taken entire possession of all this splendid country, and form a strange melancholy ground-tone for all that is lively, gay, and free, and the ever-living cheerfulness bestowed by nature. It is as if men, on that very account, required a counterpoise. 
A second theme is adorned with trills and grace notes. This theme leads to a theme in major mode that is short lived. The solemn theme of the beginning returns. The major key theme makes another brief appearance, the theme with trills and grace notes leads to a short coda that contains a fragment of the first theme in augmentation, and the movement ends quietly.

III. Con moto moderato - Instead of a scherzo, Mendelssohn writes a refined old style minuet. The trio section is led by the horns with commentary by the woodwinds and strings. There is a contrasting section in a minor key within the trio. The minuet resumes but just before the end of the movement the horn theme from the trio makes a very brief return until the movement ends.

IV. Presto and Finale: Saltarello - Mendelssohn begins the finale in the key of A minor with saltarello, a rapid Italian folk dance. The main theme runs through the orchestra and picks up a few different motives along the way, most of them in minor keys. In one section strings play rapid scales and figures in a section of counterpoint. The main theme ends the movement and has stubbornly stayed in A minor, a novelty for a large work such as a symphony, as up to this time works that began in minor keys ended in major keys.

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