Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lachner - Variations And March From Suite No. 1

Born in 1803, drinking companion of Franz Schubert, conductor and organist, Franz Lachner was also a prolific composer whose career spanned most of the 19th century. His opus numbers ran to 190, with his first compositions written while Schubert and Beethoven were still alive (in the 1820's), and whose last piece was published in 1881.  He worked tirelessly with the orchestra in Munich and made it one of the best in Europe, and if all this wasn't enough he taught for many years also.

He helped make his contemporary composers music better known, even when he didn't like it. He was a promoter of the young Wagner's music and was rewarded for his efforts by having his conducting duties of the Munich orchestra handed to Wagner's protege Hans von Bulow, with Wagner himself playing a key role in the treachery.

Lachner's music was dismissed by Wagner and other followers of the New Music as being old-fashioned, and the stigma has carried over to the modern era. It is true that Lachner's music was not considered modern in the sense that Liszt and Wagner's music was, but it is solidly written and shows that Lachner was not without gifts of melody, structure and orchestration.
The writer Eduard von Bauerfeld, Schubert
and Lachner drinking in Vienna, a drawing
by the artist Moiritz Schwind 

Lachner's Suite No. 1 For orchestra was written in 1861, after he had written his Eighth Symphony, his last work in the form,  in 1851.  He composed a total of 7 orchestral suites, his main form of orchestral composition later in his life. Why he no longer wrote symphonies isn't known. Perhaps the shadow of Beethoven's 9th Symphony was too large for him to go further. Whatever his reasons, his suites are indeed suites in the sense that they are modeled after the Baroque suite in that they contain individual pieces in dance form.

His first suite is in 4 movements, of which the third movement, Variations and March, is discussed here.

The movement begins with a solemn theme in D minor stated by the strings in unison.  The set of variations Lachner writes on this theme show him at his most versatile and creative. Going from minor key to major, from emphatic to gentle, there is plenty of contrapuntal, textural and orchestral diversity to keep the listener's interest. The music drifts from one style into another seamlessly. The movement ends with a rousing march.

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