Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mahler - Symphony No. 4 In G Major

Gustav Mahler was best known in his lifetime as a leader of opera houses and as a conductor who had a world wide reputation. During the opera and concert season he gave all he had to these endeavors, but during his summer vacation he gave all he had to composing. Mahler's first three symphonies grew progressively larger and longer, so the audience didn't know what to expect at the premiere of the 4th Symphony.  What they got was a surprise.

The 4th Symphony is written for smaller forces (at least by Mahler's standards). There are no trombones, no choirs, only one soprano soloist that sings in the 4th movement, and the entire symphony takes just under an hour, the shortest symphony Mahler wrote up to that point.  Unlike his previous three symphonies,this one had no program. Mahler's 4th can be called his Classical Symphony for its style, forces used and content.

But that doesn't mean the symphony is a trifle. Mahler was a man of incredible emotions that spilled over into his music and the 4th is no exception. The difference is that while there are moments of darkness, for the most part the symphony is in a sunny mood. Mahler began to sketch out the symphony in 1899 but after the summer vacation he put the work in his desk so he could focus on his work as the director of the Vienna Court opera. When he came back to it the next summer, he finished it in only three weeks.

Mahler conducted the premiere of the symphony in 1901 in Munich. It was not a success. The work was roundly booed. The style of the work as well as the thematic material and construction of the symphony gave both sides much to carp about. The anti-Mahler faction thought the composer was trying to pull a fast one by writing music that was different than his earlier works, as if h e were thumbing his nose at them. Some of the pro-Mahler faction that expected another blockbuster work complained about the naiveté of the music, as if he purposefully left his monumental style to write something more accessible for the audience and critics.  But it was this roundly criticized work that became the most performed of all Mahler's symphonies.

I. Bedächtig, nicht eilen (Slowly, not rushing) -  Mahler opens the symphony with flutes, sleigh bells and clarinets:
This short section acts as a prelude that leads to the first theme, a rising figure heard in the violins that changes to a dotted rhythm. After the first theme plays out, a short transition leads to the second theme heard in the low strings. Another theme appears in the oboe and other woodwinds. The opening motive with sleigh bells signals the development section,which is initially taken up with the first theme. A section for solo violin continues the development section that constantly shifts themes and fragments of themes in and out, and transforms them to different themes. The lightness of orchestration belies the fact that this is very complex music. The music reaches a short climax with a trumpet solo and the sleigh bells return. Motives are played in counterpoint and lead up to another climax with trumpet solo. The recapitulation is not as extensive as the exposition and it leads to a short coda where the first theme gradually increases in tempo and volume until it comes to an end.

II. In gemächlicher Bewegung, ohne Hast (Moving with leisure, no hurry) -  A scherzo in the form of  a  ländler has a violin playing a solo with an altered tuning; Mahler instructs the soloist to tune all of the strings a full tone higher than usual. Mahler originally marked this movement with the words Death strikes up the dance for us; she scrapes her fiddle bizarrely and leads us up to heaven, but he eventually removed all descriptive headings from this movement as well as the others. The music maintains its leisurely dance pace throughout, complete with string portamento. The movement ends with a shimmering cadence for glockenspiel, triangle. harp and woodwinds.

III. Ruhevoll, poco adagio (Peaceful, a little slow) -  A languid theme slowly unwinds over a pizzicato accompaniment. A second theme of a more impassioned nature is played by the cor anglaise, with strings adding commentary. A set of variations on the first theme follows, with an interruption by the second theme amid the variations. A fragment of the first theme plays, and in a flash the music switches to E major and grows loud and noble as the theme for the final movement is announced. The music grows quiet and mysterious and ends in a hush.

IV. Sehr behaglich (Very pleasantly) - Mahler returns once again to a poem from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of old German poems that he drew inspiration from for many years. He used the text from the poem Das himmlische Leben (Life in Heaven), a song about being in
Heaven and how the Saints slaughter animals and prepare meals there. As depicted in the poem, Heaven's not so heavenly for lams, ox and other animals. Mahler instructs the soprano to sing the song as a child, honestly and without parody. The song is interrupted three times by the motive first heard in the introduction to the first movement complete with sleigh bells, but this time played rapidly at a fast tempo and in a minor key. After the third interruption, the song returns to the gentleness of the opening of the movement. On the last two words of the line and Saint Ursula herself has to laugh, the soloist joins the violins in a glissando. The song continues, the cor anglaise and harp play a opening fragment of the movement and the music ends in a barely audible whisper.

Life In Heaven from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
We enjoy heavenly pleasures and
therefore avoid earthly ones.
No worldly tumult is to be heard in heaven
 All live in greatest peace.
We lead angelic lives,
yet have a merry time of it besides.
We dance and we spring,
We skip and we sing.
Saint Peter in heaven looks on.

John lets the lambkin out,
and Herod the Butcher lies in wait for it.
We lead a patient,
an innocent, patient,
dear little lamb to its death.
Saint Luke slaughters the ox
without any thought or concern.
Wine doesn't cost a penny in the heavenly cellars;
The angels bake the bread.

Good greens of every sort grow
in the heavenly vegetable patch,
good asparagus, string beans,
and whatever we want.
Whole dishfuls are set for us!
Good apples, good pears and good grapes,
and gardeners who allow everything!
If you want roebuck or hare,
on the public streets they come running right up.

Should a fast day come along,
all the fishes at once come swimming with joy.
There goes Saint Peter running
with his net and his bait
to the heavenly pond.
Saint Martha must be the cook.

There is just no music on earth
that can compare to ours.
Even the eleven thousand virgins
venture to dance,
and Saint Ursula herself has to laugh.
There is just no music on earth
that can compare to ours.
Cecilia and all her relations
make excellent court musicians.
The angelic voices gladden our senses,
so that all awaken for joy.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bax - Symphony No. 1

The cataclysm of World War One truly had a global effect while it was being fought and even more so after it was over. With tens of millions of dead and wounded, the destruction of major monarchies of Russia and Germany, and with the vengeful victors of the war burdening the losers with the punitive punishment of reparations, history has shown that the First World War was but a prelude to even more death and destruction twenty years later.

The aftermath of the war took the trend of Modernism and sped it up by giving it a hard shove, and in the process created a world that no longer seemed to have any direction for many. This was reflected in the arts, most notably with writers such as Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But all the arts were affected, with music composers reflecting the loss of direction and chaos in music that threw away some of the most time-honored practices of music in favor of dissonance and extreme emotion.  

Arnold Bax was an English composer and poet that lived through the war, but due to a heart condition he did not serve in it. He was fortunate in that he was born to an upper class family and most likely never had to scramble to earn a living. He was taught privately and showed great musical talent as well as an overall high intellect. He read widely, and took inspiration from literature and after he read some poems by Irish poet William Butler Yeats he became interested in Ireland. For over 30 years he spent part of the year in Ireland where he became friends with Irish writers, rebels and peasants. 

He was on the side of Irish Independence, perhaps a somewhat precarious position for a Englishman, and he was profoundly affected by the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin where over 400 people died and Irish revolutionaries were executed. World War one also caused an increase in violence in Ireland in 1918 when the British who were on the brink of entering the war, inflicted conscription on Ireland. 

Bax's  Symphony No. 1 was finished in 1922, and exactly how much the war and the events in Ireland influenced the work is not certain. Bax himself discounted any influence the war may have had, but with a composer that was as sensitive as Bax, it is hard to believe that both the war and the events in Ireland didn't influence the work.  The symphony is in three movements:

I. Allegro moderato e feroce - Moderato expressivo - Tempo I - The first movement begins in the rather obscure key of E-flat minor with a soft chord in the woodwinds that increases in volume with a harp glissando added until a one-measure motive is played fortissimo by the horns, 1st violins and violas:
 This kernel of music is the basis of the first theme, which continues until a shift in mood occurs with the second theme. This theme is more lyrical and placid, in contrast to the beginning of the work. This theme continues the mood until the contra bassoon brings the development section that is full of dark rumblings as the theme stabs its way through the colorful orchestral texture with a rhythm that lies underneath the rest of the music that is heard repeatedly:
Other short themes are heard as the working out continues until the first theme begins the recapitulation. The second theme is then transformed as it is played softly by the flute over a light accompaniment from harp and strings. The theme continues until it slowly dies away and the bassoons and horns begin a coda in a scherzo-like section that leads to the dominating rhythm's return. It steps up in volume as it makes its way through the strings as chords are played in the brass, horns and woodwinds. A crescendo brings the same instruments to a whole note chord that play E-flat and B-flat, in what first appears to be a lead-in to an ending in E-flat major, but the defining note of G natural is missing as the rest of the orchestra plays the same two ambiguous notes until a cadential chord is played that fools the listener as it sounds like the work indeed will end in E-flat major. But the final chord of the movement is a devastating and powerful E-flat minor chord that thunders through the orchestra triple-forte.

II. Lento solenne - After the horror of the first movement, the next movement begins in a diaphanous veil of mystery with strings playing sul ponticello along with harps, held chords in the brass and the light riffing of a snare drum with snares off. The music moves steadily forward until a march-like section begins.  The horns and trumpets play a prominent part in this movement that brims with contrasts of power. Strings and woodwinds play a throbbing accompaniment to timpani and horns, the music reaches a climax. The music grows more gentle as it nears the end of the movement, when the mystery of the beginning returns and the music dies away.

III. Allegro maestoso - Allegro vivace ma non troppo -  Presto Tempo di marcia Trionfale - The loud beginning of the movement leads to an imaginative and brilliantly scored scherzo. This scherzo is brief. The first theme from the opening movement reappears in a different guise in a section that toys with until another section works the theme into a triumphant march. After along journey and much struggle, the symphony has finally reached the key of E-flat major and ends.

Bax's orchestral palette is broad and colorful as is evidenced in his seven symphonies and many tone poems. He took inspiration from many sources, including Russian, German and Irish folksong.  He was a prolific composer and wrote music in many genre excluding opera. He died in 1953 at the age of 69.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haydn - Symphony No. 99 In E-flat Major

After having spent most of his adult life in the employ of  Prince Esterházy, Haydn made two trips toLondon beginning in 1791. London had already taken Haydn's music to heart after the death of Johann Christian Bach in 1782, and he had been approached to go to London before, but had always refused out of loyalty to his employer. When his employer died, his situation changed. His new employer was not as much of a music lover so he disbanded much of the orchestra and gave Haydn his freedom (while still keeping him on salary for bragging rights).  Shortly after Haydn moved to Vienna in 1790, Johann Salomon, a German musician and impresario who had relocated to London, paid him a visit. When Haydn answered a knock on his door, the impresario said (according to Haydn):
I am Salomon of London and have come to fetch you. Tomorrow we will arrange an accord.
Shortly after their meeting, Haydn made his way to the English Channel with Salomon and sailed for England on New Year's Day, 1791.  When he got there  he was feted by London music lovers, made many new friends and participated in many concerts. He stayed in London for two concert seasons and finally made a trip back to Austria in the summer of 1792.

Haydn made his second trip to London in January of 1794 and stayed another two concert seasons. The King and queen of England offered him a suite of rooms at Windsor Castle if he would stay in England, but Haydn went back to Vienna in the summer of 1795.  The London trips resulted in the composition of the twelve London Symphonies, six for each trip. In addition, Haydn also composed quartets, songs, concertos, and other pieces for a total of about 250 compositions. Haydn was now very well off financially as the London trips paid him more money than he had ever earned before, and made him the most famous composer of the time.

The first six symphonies composed for London, Numbers 93-98 were enthusiastically received, along with the second group of six, as can be seen from the excerpt from a review of the February 17th, 1794 concert which included a string quartet and Symphony No. 99 by Haydn as published in the London newspaper The Morning Chronicle on the 19th of February 1794:
...the richest part of the banquet , as usual, was due to the wonderful Haydn. His new quartetto gave pleasure by its variety, gaiety, and the fascination of its melody and harmony through all its movements: and the overture, [a term synonymous with symphony at the time] being performed with increasing accuracy and effect, was received with increasing rapture. The first movement was encored: the effect of the wind instruments in the second movement was enchanting; the hautboy [oboe] and flute were finely in tune, but the bassoon was in every respect more perfect and delightful than we ever remember to have heard a wind instrument before. In the minuets, the trio was peculiarly charming; but indeed the pleasure the whole gave was continual; and the genius of Haydn astonishing [ly] inexhaustible, and sublime, was the general theme. 
Concerts in those times gave a much larger variety of types of compositions. In addition to the string quartet and symphony by Haydn, there was a symphony by a different composer, a violin concerto, and some vocal works thrown in for good measure.

Symphony 99 In E-flat was the first symphony of the second London visit, and it was also the first symphony in which Haydn included parts for clarinets.  It is in four movements:

I. Adagio - Vivace assai -  Eleven of the twelve London symphonies begin with an introduction, with this one being exceptionally rich in modulations; E-flat, B-flat, E minor, C minor, before arriving back at E-flat in preparation for the first theme which is heard in the violins:
The first theme is developed and expanded with additional material, and instead of modulating to a different theme the first theme is repeated in B-flat and the development of the theme continues. Haydn didn't always use a second contrasting theme, but made small changes in the first theme and used it as his second theme. Enough time passes on this variant of the first theme to seem as though this is Haydn's intention, a second theme in B-flat major appears in the violins just before the end of the exposition:
The development begins with the first few bars of the first theme, and as if to make up for the short shrift given to the second theme, there is an extended working out of the second theme with the first theme appearing briefly in the middle of the development. The recapitulation repeats the first theme briefly and transitions to the second theme played in E-flat. With the roles of the themes reversed, the second theme dominates the recapitulation like the first theme dominated the exposition. A fragment of the first theme returns briefly and the movement comes to a close on E-flat.

II. Adagio -  The second movement is also in sonata form and is in the key of G major, a key far from the home key of E-flat. The writing for woodwinds shows Haydn's skill as an orchestrator and the inclusion of the timpani and trumpets in the middle section of the movement shows his ability to use his forces to good effect, for he very seldom included both in any of his slow movements. This middle section foreshadows Beethoven, but Haydn keeps the tension brief and under control.

III. Menuetto e Trio. Allegretto -  This movement is an example of how the minuet continued to evolve in Haydn's symphonies, for with its accents and fermatas it is a direct ancestor of Beethoven's scherzos. Indeed, if the tempo were increased to vivace, the relationship would be even clearer. The trio section is in C major, another key far removed from E-flat.

IV. Finale: Vivace -  A type of finale Haydn was fond of; a hybrid between a rondo and sonata form. The woodwinds pass around snippets of themes between themselves and the strings as the main theme winds through the movement. There is a slowing of the tempo close to the end, but the music picks up speed once again as the woodwinds and strings play a game of tag with motives before this short movement ends in E-flat.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Schubert - Symphony No. 8 In B Minor 'Unfinished'

Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 may be the most famous unfinished work in the symphonic repertoire. The two completed movements of the symphony were completed in 1822, as well as a third movement scherzo in piano score with two pages in full score. There has been theories, rumors and downright guesswork as for the reasons the symphony remained unfinished, with none of them more than conjecture.  Because of the depth of feeling and drama of the work it has been called the first Romantic era symphony by some.

The history of the first performance of the work begins shortly after the two movements were completed in 1822. In 1823 Schubert was given an honorary diploma from the Granz Music Society, and in return the composer was going to dedicate a work to the society.  Schubert sent the first two movements of the symphony to Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a prominent member of the group.  There is no evidence that Schubert had any other contact with Hüttenbrenner or that he completed any of the other movements for the work. Indeed, Hüttenbrenner never let anyone else know he had the manuscript until 1865. Why Hüttenbrenner sat on the manuscript for so many years is not known. He finally showed the work to the conductor Johann von Herbeck, the conductor of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. Herbeck premiered the two movements and tacked on a movement from an earlier Schubert symphony as a finale, in 1865 in Vienna.  The work was a complete success despite the addition of the finale, and has been an audience favorite ever since.

The six symphonies Schubert composed before the Unfinished don't resemble it in depth or drama, but Schubert could be a quite dramatic composer when he chose to be as can be heard in his lied Der Erlkönig as well as music in other forms. One theory is that the composition of the symphony coincides with Schubert's diagnosis of syphilis. Considering such a diagnosis in those times was a sentence of suffering, perhaps madness, and certain death, may have been a reason for the dark tone of the music. The symphony is scored for pairs of woodwinds, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, strings and timpani.
Johann von Herbeck

I. Allegro moderato - It may appear strange that the tempo indication of this movement is allegro moderato, for the music that begins the movement doesn't seem to fit. But Schubert's point in the tempo designation is to make sure that there should be at least some speed to the movement, otherwise the music would sound too heavy to the point of plodding.  Of course just how moderately fast is subject to a conductor's interpretation.  The work opens with the dark cellos and basses playing pianissimo in their lowest ranges. The actual first theme of the movement is carried in the woodwinds while the violins play an agitated accompaniment along with the lower strings. a four-bar transition played by the horns shifts the music from B minor to G major for the second subject that is heard in the cellos over a syncopated accompaniment. A theme group is played after the second theme until a variant of the second theme is played. Transition material leads to the repeat of the exposition. The development section begins with a short transition before the cellos and basses play the opening bars of the symphony again but this time in E minor. The rest of the development concentrates on the first theme and its parts and is punctuated with sforzandi and string tremolos. The syncopated accompaniment of the second theme does show up a few times also. The recapitulation is mostly the usual repetition of themes, only the second theme modulates to D major instead of B major, the parallel major to the home key of B minor.  The music does modulate to B major until the first theme in B minor appears and is expanded into the ending of the emphatic final cadence.

II. Andante con moto - Two bars of introduction lead to the E major first theme of the movement, first played by the strings. This theme has a contrasting section of marching staccato strings until it resumes. A second theme is played in C-sharp minor by the clarinet over a gently syncopated accompaniment by the strings. This theme also has a contrasting section of music played fortissimo before the theme begins again.  All of this serves as the exposition. There is no development section, as the themes are repeated with modulations to other keys and variants. After this plays out, a new theme appears that is derived from the opening measures of the movement. The transition to the second theme that is played by the violins earlier is repeated and varied along with parts of the other themes, and the movement comes to a peaceful close in E major.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alice Mary Smith - Symphony In C Minor

In the 19th century, the only types of music considered suitable by the musical establishment (a male-exclusive entity) for women to write were short piano pieces and songs for the drawing room. Larger scale chamber music and orchestral music was considered un-lady like and were rarely performed. But with the help and encouragement of her teachers William Sterndale Bennett and George McFarren (both devoted to Felix Mendelssohn's music), Alice Mary Smith went on to write not only piano pieces and songs, but chamber music and large scale works for orchestra.

Born in London in 1839 to a well to do family, Smith showed a talent for music early on. Her family was financially able to have her study music privately with the above mentioned teachers. Her first work to be published was a song titled Weep No More!, and her first large composition was a Piano Quartet performed in 1861.  She continued to compose and was elected Female Professional Associate of the Philharmonic Society. She was married to Frederick Meadows White in 1867 and did not compose any major works for a few years as she concentrated on her two daughters. Her husband was an amateur musician that encouraged her to begin composing again, which she did in 1869.

Smith joined the Musical Society of London in 1861, an organization of contemporary composers who as members gained the opportunity of hearing their works in performance. The Symphony In C Minor, written when she was 24, was played at one of these concerts in 1863. A review of the concert appeared in the Illustrated London News:
On the same evening, at the Hanover-square Rooms, the Musical society of London had a trial-performance of new orchestral compositions by members of the society. Several symphonies and overtures were performed by a full and excellent orchestra, which did them every justice. Amongst the most remarkable was a symphony in C minor by Miss Alice Mary Smith and a symphony in A minor by Mr. John Francis Barnett, both admirable compositions, which did honour to the talents of their authors.  Miss Smith's symphony especially, coming from the pen of a young lady, was striking proof of the sound studies and high attainments of the female votaries of the art in this country. We trust that these symphonies will be brought before the public in the course of the ensuing season. 
Symphony In C Minor is scored for woodwinds in pairs, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. It is in four movements:

I. Grave - Allegro ma non troppo - With Smith having been taught by two advocates of Mendelssohn's music, Smith used Mendelssohn's symphonies as models  The movement begins with a melancholy introduction that is followed by a tempo increase and a 4-bar lead in to the first theme played by the violas.
This short motive in C minor is passed up through the strings before it is expanded. Other instruments take it up until a section of transition brings forth the second theme in E-flat major played in the 1st violins.

This motive is repeated and expanded before it leads directly to yet another theme, a motive played by the horns and answered by the woodwinds:
This theme is also expanded and repeated until it leads directly to the first theme appearing briefly in the major until the opening lead-in of the movement heralds the repeat of the exposition.  The development section begins with the first theme and Smith goes through many key changes as certain fragments of the theme are emphasized. The second theme also goes through a working out that is invaded by segments of the first theme.  A section of transition brings the recapitulation of the themes. The first theme returns in the coda and leads to a tempo increase and the emphatic end of the movement.

II. Allegretto amorevole -  The second movement does away with trumpets and timpani, in music similar to the piano works of the genteel Victorian salon. Smith uses the tempo modifier amorevole, a term Mendelssohn used for music of a similar sentiment.

III. Allegro ma non troppo - Poco meno mosso -  Smith uses no repeats in this short scherzo-like movement. The quality of the writing for woodwinds in this movement as well as the other three show that Smith had a good feel for orchestra color.

IV.  Allegro maestoso - A rondo with the main theme in C major. There are fleeting moments of drama, and about in the middle of the movement a solo for oboe that returns to a theme in the first movement. The strings enter and play a pizzicato accompaniment to the cadenza-like section, there is a partial close and the main theme returns. A coda wraps up the movement in good Mendelssohnian tradition.

Smith was went on to compose many other works for orchestra, including another Symphony In A Minor. In 1883 she was elected as an honorary member of the Royal Academy Of Music, an award that was only bestowed on the most distinguished and accomplished composers.  She went on to compose the most orchestral works of any English female composer in the 19th century.

She was not only known in England, as her fame was such that in the United States the the New York Times ran a lengthy obituary when she died in 1884 of typhoid fever at the age of 45.






Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 3 In A Minor 'Scottish'

Unlike the childhoods of many composers in the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn had the good fortune of being born into a family of wealth. His father was an influential banker and could afford to give the best to his children, including a sound overall education as well as a musical education after Felix showed his natural aptitude for the art.

Included in that education was the finest private teachers and opportunities to hear his latest compositions at the Sunday concerts held in his parent's home.  Felix was to be exposed to other countries and cultures as well, and went on a Grand Tour of Europe beginning in 1829.  He made his first trip to England while on the Grand Tour, where he met many of the leading musicians of the day. Mendelssohn was always very popular in England and made many trips there during his short life.

His visit to England in 1829 included a trip to Scotland, which inspired two compositions. The
Hebrides Overture also known as Fingal's Cave was inspired by this trip, as well as the 3rd Symphony In A Minor.  While the Hebrides Overture was completed in 1830, Mendelssohn set the 3rd Symphony on the shelf in 1831, and didn't return to it until 1841, finally finishing it in 1842.  As with the numbering of other composer's works, this symphony was the fifth in the order of completion but the third to be published, hence the numbering of it.

Mendelssohn visited a specific place in Scotland that gave him the first inspiration for a symphony, as he wrote in a letter home:
In darkening twilight today, we went to the Palace [of Holyrood] where Queen Mary lived and loved. There is a little room to be seen there with a spiral staircase at its door. That is where they went up and found Rizzio in the room, dragged him out, and three chambers away there is a dark corner where they murdered him. The chapel beside it has lost its roof and is overgrown with grass and ivy, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is ruined, decayed and open to the clear sky. I believe that I have found there today the beginning of my Scotch Symphony.
The nickname of the symphony came directly from Mendelssohn, and refers to the inspiration the country gave him rather than any Scottish folk music he included in it. On the contrary, Mendelssohn was somewhat of a snob as far as folk music. He absolutely detested it and said so in another letter home:
No national music for me! Ten thousand devils take all nationality! Now I am in Wales and, dear me, a harper sits in the hall of every reputed inn, playing incessantly so-called national melodies; that is to say, the most infamous, vulgar, out-of-tune trash, with a hurdygurdy going on at the same time. It’s maddening, and has given me a toothache already.
The premiere of the symphony was in March 1842 by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Mendelssohn.  It is in four movements that are played without a break:

I. Andante con moto  - Allegro un poco agitato -  The movement begins with a melancholy introduction that was derived from sixteen measures written in piano score in 1829 while Mendelssohn was in Scotland. The movement uses this introduction as a basis for the themes and mood of the rest as can be felt when the first theme of the movement begins quietly, and grows to a fortissimo with the second theme. The first theme returns along with other thematic motives, including one just before the end of the exposition (which is indicated to be repeated in the core, but not all conductors do). The development begins softly and builds to a climax, after which the first theme is dealt with. The second theme and some other motives are included in the working out before there is a smooth segue to the recapitulation, after which a section that sounds like the wind howling is played. This leads to a climax, and then the music from the introduction returns and leads to the second movement that is played without pause.

II. Vivace non troppo -  The second movement begins with a short introduction and the clarinet plays the them for the first time:
Because of this theme's rhythmic and melodic nature, this movement is considered by many to be in the spirit of Scottish music, even if it doesn't (and it doesn't) quote any actual Scottish folk tunes. Much has been made about the famous (some would say infamous) Scotch snap in the theme (at the end of the first phrase at the beginning of the 5th measure for instance) as proof that Mendelssohn used it intentionally in reference to Scotland.  This is of no consequence, for the music is an example of a  Mendelssohnian scherzo (although written in sonata form) that is fleet of foot and short in length that could have shown up in a different work. The scherzo ends with pizzicato strings that lead to the next movement.

III. Adagio - A short introduction leads to a flowing first theme that is contrasted with a dark, powerful second theme that reaches a climax before it quiets down and a 3rd theme appears.  The opening measures return, the second theme returns, followed by an expanded version of the first theme. The rumbling second theme grows to another climax, the 3rd theme is repeated. The first theme returns one last time to end the movement.

IV. Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai -  The finale begins with an agitated march, followed by the 2nd theme that is in the same mood. A 3rd theme quietly appears in the oboe. The first theme reappears and is developed with the other themes taking their turn in short sections. The first theme is played quietly and segues directly to a new majestic theme in A major. This theme is in such contrast to what has gone before that some have called it misplaced.  But by the nature of the theme (which some have called Germanic, whatever the hell that means) Mendelssohn may have been in a quandary how to end the work on a positive note with what had gone on before in the movement.

Aside from all that has been written about the work and its connections to Scotland, the 3rd Symphony is a masterpiece, and would be so if it had no nickname at all.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mozart - Symphony No. 1 In E-flat Major, K.16

Statue of the young Mozart in London
The inception of the symphony began at the end of the Baroque era, and due to the form being taken up by many composers it became an important part of concert life by 1790. In the beginning, the symphony was an offshoot of the opera overture. In fact, many early symphonies were originally written as operatic overtures. Early symphonies had three movements with a tempo scheme of the movements fast-slow-fast. Eventually an additional movement was added, along with more flexibility of tempo and mood of the individual movements.

Not all composers wrote symphonies, but many of the famous ones did. Joseph Haydn is known for the 106 symphonies with his first being composed ca. 1759. His younger colleague Mozart wrote up to 68 symphonies (there remains debate among musicologists as to the actual number) with his first being composed in 1764, only six years after Haydn's first. The difference between these composers first symphonies begins with the difference in their ages when they wrote them; Haydn was thirty-seven, Mozart was eight! 

Mozart was already known as a wunderkind by the time he was eight, but only as a performer. Mozart first went on tour in 1762 to the courts in Munich, Vienna and Prague. A tour of Europe that began in 1764 lasted over three years and took the Mozart family to many of the capitals and courts of Europe. While on this tour, he met many of the leading composers of the day, and it was while he was in London that he met Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Despite the twenty years difference in age, they became friends and just as important to Mozart, Bach mentored him in composition. 

Bach was a very popular composer in London at the time,  so Mozart got to hear much of his music as well as play Bach's keyboard works. Leopold Mozart, the composer's father wrote:
What he had known when he left Salzburg is nothing compared with what he knows now; it defies the imagination … right now, Wolfgang is sitting at the harpsichord playing Bach’s trios.
Mozart's sister Nannerl wrote about Bach and her brother in her diary years later:
Herr Johann Christian Bach, music master of the queen, took Wolfgang between his knees. He would play a few measures; then Wolfgang would continue. In this manner they played entire sonatas. Unless you saw it with your own eyes, you would swear that just one person was playing.
Mozart plaque in London
Bach was a great influence on Mozart's developing style and talent.  So it is natural that his first attempt at a symphony would be under the older composer's direct influence, and so it was that Mozart wrote his first symphony while in London in 1764. A statue of the young Mozart and a plaque have been erected on the spot on Ebury Street.

There has been some question among scholars if the young Mozart actually wrote the symphony himself. His father was not only a composer and master musician in his own right, he knew how to promote his son. What better to show the precocity of Wolfgang than a symphony written when he was but eight years old? It is thought that Leopold assisted his son on his earliest compositions, if not actually creating the music at least writing it down on paper. So perhaps it is all an example of a proud and ambitious father. Whatever the truth of the matter, what is offered as Mozart's First Symphony is an interesting early example of the form.  The symphony is scored for two oboe, two horns, strings and continuo, and is in three movements as early symphonies were.

I. Molto allegro -  The movement opens with the notes of the E-flat major triad throughout the orchestra after which a series of whole note chords leads to a repeat of the opening and the string of whole note chords.  A section of transition leads to the second theme in B-flat major. Another transitional section leads to the repeat of the the exposition. The development begins with the first theme section in B-flat major, and then in C minor. The first theme is not repeated as a section transition continues in C minor and modulates to the home key of E-flat for the repetition of the second theme, and the movement ends.

II. Andante - The second movement is in C minor and has the theme played by the basses over a half-note accompaniment by the oboes and horns. The rest of the strings play a triplet figure throughout the movement that creates a cross rhythm of 2 versus 3.

III. Presto - The music returns to E-flat major with the first theme in regular 4-bar phrases that lasts 16 measures and then repeats. A second theme group includes a section of eight bars that travels downward chromatically from B-flat to D. The first theme returns, followed by the second theme group. A transition leads to the final repetition of the first theme which ends the symphony.

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