Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chausson - Symphony In B-flat

Chausson was a member of the group of disciples devoted to César Franck, whose musical aesthetics had a profound influence on his compositions. Another great influence on Chausson was the operas of Wagner. He died at an early age after he crashed his bicycle into a wall and fractured his skull. He was but forty-four, and was just beginning to find his true voice as a composer.

Chausson used Franck's Symphony In D Minor as a model for his Symphony in B-flat. Both works have 3 movements, and Chausson adapts Franck's cyclic style and chromaticism  to his own style.

I. Lent - Allegro Vivo- The first movement begins with a slow and dramatic introduction that shows the influence of Wagner. It builds to a climax full of anguish with quiet afterthoughts, when the clouds evaporate and the main theme of the movement begins. It is one of the most stunning and rapid transformations in the symphonic literature. The theme reaches its own refined climax, and the second theme (which shows the influence of Franck's music) begins. The working out of the themes in the exposition shows Chausson's own way with sonata form as themes weave in and out in different guises. The recapitulation expands the themes into a grand ending to the movement.

II. Très Lent - The music of this movement begins in a minor key and slowly builds into a stunning major key climax at the ending.

III. Animé - The movement begins dramatically with whirling rapid notes in the strings punctuated by scraps of melody played in the brass. There is another theme that spins out of the opening, also dramatic in nature. A chorale-like melody appears first in the brass and then woodwinds. The development section brings back some of the themes heard previously. The music returns to the initial theme of the movement in recapitulation. The initial theme of the first movement now returns and helps connect the work in the way only cyclic form can do. The trumpet plays a poignant tune and the music builds to the finale. The symphony that has begun with a dramatic, tragic introduction now ends in the gentle glow of  sunshine.

Cesar Franck
The beginnings of cyclic form are credited to Franz Liszt, and while the roots of the form go back much further than that, it is a convenient point to begin to make the following observation: From Liszt, to Franck, to Chausson, and to the composer that perhaps took the form to the extreme, Jean Sibelius, cyclic form has been a powerful form and technique for composers to create unity in their compositions. To the experienced classical music listener the form offers aural signposts that carry across individual movements or sections that add to understanding and enjoyment. For the more  casual listener, it can create a feeling of musical 'sense', even if nothing is known about structure or theme development.


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