Tuesday, December 31, 2013

J.C.F. Bach - Symphony In C Major W. 1/6

The family name of Bach was synonymous with music for over two hundred years in Thuringia in Central Germany, with many notable composers in the family. Johann Sebastian Bach had four sons that lived to adulthood that added to the musical reputation of the family; Wilhelm Friedrich, Carl Philip Emmanuel, Johann Cristoph Friedrich and Johann Christian. Johann Christoph Friedrich was born in 1732 and like the other brothers was taught by his father.

In 1750 he was appointed as harpsichordist to the court at Bückeburg (perhaps due to the influence of his older half-brother C.P.E. Bach) and was later appointed Kappelmeister. He stayed at this court until his death in 1795 and for this reason he has been referred to as the  Bückeburg Bach.  Of the very few trips he made away from Bückeburg, one was made in 1778 to London where he visited his younger brother J.C. Bach and absorbed some of the newest trends in music. Although the court at Bückeburg was small, Bach kept performance standards high and made the music of Haydn and Mozart known there.

C.P.E. Bach called him  the best keyboard player of the four brothers. He composed in most of the forms of his time except opera. He composed 20 symphonies of which seven have survived, and his works were cataloged by Hannsdieter Wohlfarth (hence the W. abbreviation and number of Bach's works) in the 1970's.  J.C.F. Bach was by all accounts a very prolific composer but many of his works were lost during the World War II bombing of Berlin where many of his manuscripts were kept since 1917.  He is considered a transitional composer, with some of his compositions in the High Baroque style, some on the Gallant Style and later works in the Classical style of Mozart and Haydn.

Bach's Symphony In C Major W. 1/6 was written in 1770. It is in three movements, somewhat in the style of C.P.E. Bach's symphonies. The three movement symphony of the Bach brothers was a natural development from the three-part Italian opera overture where the first movement is the longest and most involved while the other two movements are shorter and of slighter character. In this symphony J.C.F. Bach equals out the import of the three movements as they are roughly the same length and import. The symphony is for strings, continuo, pairs of flutes and horns.
I. Allegro di molto - The symphony begins with great energy. The first theme grouping continues energetically until a short secondary theme is stated in a more subdued (but still spirited) atmosphere by the strings with comments by the horns and flutes. The development section begins straight away with no repeat (a common practice in the early form of symphony). The recapitulation begins, moves towards the repeat of the second theme that has modulated to a different key when it is cut short by a brief transitional section that leads to the second movement beginning with no pause.

II. Andante - A walking theme (indicated by the tempo) begins in the strings and is commented on by the flutes. It is repeated and then expanded upon. The theme appears throughout the movement, with changes in key or details.

III. Allegro assai -  In triple time, the music has a dance-like rhythm to it and is a minuet in all but name.  The first section has two parts that are repeated, along with a short interlude that sounds like not very talented amateurs have taken over for the playing is rather crude and out of tune. I do not know whether this is actually a direction to the players that the composer wrote in the score or an interpretation by the conductor on the accompanying recording. I've heard this symphony in two other recordings, one that plays this section completely 'straight', and another that plays this section in a semi-rough manner. As the score isn't readily available, I'll have to leave the matter at that. The music then shifts to a trio section played in a minor key. The minuet is then repeated, including the crude section.

Because this Bach chose to remain in a somewhat backwater court position all of his adult life, he didn't have the influence on other composers that C.P.E. and J.C. Bach had.  He may not have had the inspiration or drive to succeed like his other two brothers, but he certainly was more than a competent composer worth an occasional listen-to.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Scarlatti - Five Keyboard Sonatas

The Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti has been a favorite of listeners, performers and composers since a collection of thirty of his keyboard sonatas were published in 1738 under the title Essercizi per Gravicembalo. Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich and other composers studied, played and sometimes made transcriptions of Scarlatti's music. Although Scarlatti is categorized in music history as a Baroque composer, his keyboard sonatas were forerunners of what was to become the sonata form as used by Haydn, Mozart, and almost all composers since.

His father Alessandro Scarlatti was an influential Italian composer of operas and other vocal music. Domenico was born in 1685, the same year as J.S. Bach and Handel. He wastaught by his father and for the first half of his life composed operas and vocal music in imitation of his father. He was a skilled harpsichordist, and there is a story (likely apocryphal) of Scarlatti and Handel competing on the organ and harpsichord, where Scarlatti was deemed the better player of the harpsichord and Handel the better player on the organ.

Alessandro Scarlatti
Scarlatti went to Lisbon, Portugal in 1719 as teacher to the Portuguese princess Maria Magdalena Barbara. When she married into the Spanish royal family Scarlatti followed her to Madrid, Spain as music master to the court. He remained in Spain for the rest of his life and died there in 1757.

Many of the 555 keyboard sonatas he composed were composed for use by the Princess as she was a skilled keyboardist. After he became her teacher, he virtually gave up composing vocal music and concentrated on sonatas for keyboard. With so many sonatas, identification by key is not possible. For example, there are 61 sonatas alone in the key of C. There have been different musicologists that have given numbers to the sonatas, with the first being Alessandro Longo who published all of the sonatas known with corresponding numbers. These numbers are abbreviated with an 'L' before the number. In 1953 the American Ralph Kirkpatrick published his biography of Scarlatti along with his renumbering of the sonatas in chronological order. These numbers have somewhat replaced the Longo numbers, but many times both numbers are given for a sonata.

The basic pattern is the same for nearly all of the sonatas.  An example, the Sonata In C Major (K.133 L.282) begins with a theme in the home key of C major. After this theme there is other material that leads to a section in a minor key (C minor, parallel minor of C major) which leads directly to a section in G major, the dominant of the home key of C major. This constitutes the first part of the binary form and is repeated. The second part begins with the opening theme transposed to the key of E-flat major, the relative major of C minor. The second theme is referred to briefly, new material is presented, previous material is repeated in different keys, the 2nd part ends in the home key of C major and is repeated:

All of the sonatas are written in binary form, in two related sections that are both usually repeated. There are two or three main themes in each part with other material that binds the themes together. Key relationships are straightforward, with tonic-dominant-dominant-tonic being primary. Scarlatti varies his form (key relationship-wise) enough to maintain interest. His themes can be quirky, consists of huge jumps, hand crossings, all manner of techniques that make many of the sonatas unique to performance on a keyboard. There are some that have been transposed for guitar, but most don't transcribe very well.

The influence of Spanish music on the Italian Scarlatti has been the subject of much debate by musicians. The best evidence of the influence is most likely to be heard in the sonatas themselves. The repeated notes in Sonata In F Minor (K.239, L.281) as well as the bass line suggests the guitar. As the home key is F minor, major keys play the role of contrast in this sonata:

Another example of the influence of the Spanish guitar is the Sonata in D Major (K.119, L.415) not only in the repeated notes but by the thick texture of some of the chords that suggest the earthiness of Spanish gypsies and early flamenco. Hand crossings in the second part for each hand test the accuracy of the player:

Not all of Scarlatti's sonatas are fast. He wrote many sonatas that are slower, although some players still take them at a brisk pace. The Sonata In C Major (K.132, L.457) has a tempo indication of 'Cantabile', song-like.  Musicologists think there is a good case to be made for performing the sonatas in groupings of two or three sonatas. A good example could be to play the following sonata and then the C Major sonata K.133 above. They are both in the key of C, one is slow, one is fast :

And then there are the sonatas like Sonata In A Major (K.209, L.428) with the designation Allegro, which can mean many different things. It can be a clue as to the tempo meaning bright, lively, or it can also give a clue as to the mood of the piece; happy. This sonata's mood seems to me to be a happy one:

There remains the problem of what keyboard instrument is appropriate for Scarlatti's sonatas. Purists argue for the harpsichord and clavichord, possibly the organ for some of them. Others say that as long as they are played with 'taste', the sonatas can be played on the modern piano. To me, it is a question of preference. I have heard performances on different kinds of keyboard instruments, and even on guitar, that are very good. There are some that sound better on the harpsichord, especially the ones that imitate the guitar. The harshness of thick chords with closely placed notes seems more appropriate to the spirit of the music than the same chords on a modern piano.  But that's just me. Whatever the instrument, if they are played by a good musician that understands something of the time and the style they were written in, the performance will be musical.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Berlioz - Roman Carnival Overture

In many ways Hector Berlioz was unique among the 19th century classical composers. He was not a child prodigy and only began his musical studies at the age of 12. He was groomed by his father (who was a physician) for a career in medicine, so he was discouraged from learning the piano in his youth and never learned to play the instrument. He learned the guitar and flute on his own, and never had any formal training in harmony and trained himself with text books.

In the France of Berlioz's day there was a government scholarship for artists called the Prix de Rome. It was originally for painters and sculptors but was extended to include music composition in 1803. Many French composers vied for the scholarship as the winner traveled to study at the French Academy in Rome for two years with all expenses paid by the French government. The entrants had to compose a fugue and a cantata to a text supplied by the judges, a group of conservative French musicians. There was also a pension provided to the winner for the duration of their study, which was one of the reasons Berlioz applied for the prize. He tried four different times before he finally won in 1830. This was after he had composed and premiered the first version of the piece he is most well-known for, his Symphonie Fantastique

While Berlioz composed very little music while in Rome (he detested the city and took every opportunity to travel
Bust of Benvenuto Cellini
elsewhere in the country), he came to love the surrounding countryside which served to inspire much of his later music such as Harold In Italy. An expectation for a returning Prix de Rome winner was the composition of an opera. Berlioz's first operatic effort was Benvenuto Cellini, with the libretto based on the autobiography of the 16th-century sculptor, poet and musician. Berlioz looked upon Cellini as a kindred spirit which acted as an inspiration to the composer. The opera was premiered in 1838 and received four performances before the rest of the scheduled ones were canceled, as the opera was a complete failure. Berlioz drastically revised the score for a revival of the opera under the direction of Franz Liszt, and made further revisions for another performance by Liszt in 1852 and the opera became a success.  

After the initial premiere of 1838 (and before the successful revival of 1852), not wanting to let some of good tunes go to waste that he had composed,  Berlioz composed a stand-alone overture from some of the themes of the opera in 18.  He called it Le Carnaval Romain  (The Roman Carnival). The second act of the opera does take place in a carnival in Rome. The opening of the overture is a fragment of a saltarello  from the original opera. Berlioz then uses music from a love duet of the opera played by the English horn. He then quotes some choral music, where upon the opening saltarello returns and combines in a dialogue with the love theme. The saltarello overpowers the love theme, and the music gets wilder and wilder until the brass and woodwind loudly trills out the final chord with the strings. 

The Roman Carnival Overture was a success for the composer, and it was used as a prelude to the second act of Benvenuto Cellini in its revival, but it did have its detractors. Berlioz's music could be wild in content and unique in orchestration. His knack for orchestral innovation was not always easy for listeners to comprehend, nor was it easily understood by some contemporary conductors and musicians. Indeed, Berlioz became a conductor initially because he was so dissatisfied with the way his music was performed. As with so many other aspects of this composer, he was self-taught as a conductor.  But through hard work and natural ability, he became one of the best conductors of his era as well as being one of the most important and influential composers of the Romantic era.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Loewe - Symphony No. 1 In D Minor

Carl Loewe came to be known as  'The Schubert of North Germany' and was born in 1796. He was especially known for his songs and ballads but was also a singer, conductor, and composer of other types of music. The quality of his vocal music caused Richard Wagner (known for his withering condemnations of many of his contemporary composers) to comment that Loewe was a serious German master that used the German language with meaning, and who could not be overly revered.

Loewe received his first instruction in music from his father who was the village cantor. While he was a choir boy he had a high soprano voice that became a baritone after his voice broke. While Loewe was in the choir at the Marktkirche in Halle, his talent so impressed the Kappelmeister Daniel Gottlob Türk that he took the lad into his home as a private pupil. After the death of Türk he managed to obtain a scholarship at the local university where he majored in theology and philosophy. He had already written an opera and some songs by this time.

After his schooling was over in 1819 he left Halle to do some traveling and met Goethe, Hummel and Weber. In 1820 he was invited to apply for a teaching post at the Gymnasium and seminary in  Stettin, Prussia ( after World War Two this town was renamed Szczecin and is now in  Poland). He passed the examinations, won the position and stayed there the rest of his working life. A year later he was appointed the royal and municipal musical directorship and became organist for the local church. He began concert touring as a singer, pianist and conductor in the 1840's and appeared in Vienna, London, Scandinavia and Paris. He was said to have a fine baritone voice and a commanding stage presence.

As a conductor he conducted the premiere of Mendelssohn's Overture To A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1827, and did most of his composing in the years he was in Stettin. He wrote chamber music, music for piano solo, cantatas, operas, and over 400 songs and ballads for voice. He also wrote two symphonies, the second in E minor had its first performance in 170 years in 2004. His first symphony in D minor is in 4 movements:
I. Allegro maestoso - The movement begins with a strong D minor chord from the full orchestra, followed by the dramatic first theme. A shorter, more lyrical second theme in a major key played in the woodwinds, appears and is soon swallowed up by the repetition of the first theme as the exposition is repeated. The development section expands on pieces of the first theme, along with fragments of the second theme. After the short development section the recapitulation begins with the repeating of the first theme with modulations that lead into the second theme in a different major key than before. The first theme returns in a short coda that throws the ending back to the dramatic. A sonata form movement with bold themes, terse and concentrated in mood.

II. Scherzo - Vivace - A strongly rhythmic scherzo in the minor that turns fugal for a brief sequence before it returns to the opening material. The entire scherzo is repeated, the trio enters with statements from the woodwinds that are commented on by the strings. The trio is short, and the scherzo is repeated in full.

III. Andante grazioso - A short intermezzo with apparently not too much to say, perhaps the weakest movement in the symphony, but it does show Loewe's lyrical side.

IV. Adagio espressivo -  The opening of the finale is the closest thing to a slow movement this symphony has. A gentle theme leisurely unwinds. The next section has the strings play pizzicato, then the theme begins at a quicker pace with a counter melody played with it. A second theme is begun in the oboe, then with the full orchestra. The first theme returns with the woodwinds and returns to a slower pace. The theme repeats in different combinations of instruments. A fugal rendition of the theme is next heard in the strings and continues with woodwinds. The theme appears in the flute, once again in the major. The second theme is heard again, the full orchestra once again plays the theme and the movement builds to the final statement of the theme and after a short coda the movement ends.

Loewe resigned his positions in Stettin after 46 years of service due to poor health. He moved back to Germany and died of a stroke in 1869. As a curious aside, in 2012 while renovations were being done on a pillar in the cathedral in Stettin where Loewe was an organist, an urn was found inside the pillar that was thought to contain the heart of Loewe. A commission was appointed to investigate, and after examining documents and inscriptions on the pillar, it was determined that the urn did indeed contain the heart of the composer.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Villa-Lobos - Chôros No. 1 For Guitar

Late in the 19th century Brazil experienced a period of modernization and social revolution. The music conservatories in Brazil primarily focused on instruction in the European style of music before modernization, but Villa-Lobos had very little formal training in musical theory and harmony. Born in 1887, most of his education was gained by listening to and observing the musicians that played at the family musical evenings planned by his father, who was a librarian and musician. Music of his native country and of Latin America, as well as European classical music tradition contributed to the formation of his style.

Heitor learned to play the cello, guitar and clarinet and played with bands of street musicians. His early compositions were based on improvisations on his guitar. He was also a cellist in a Brazilian opera orchestra for a time. After much practical experience as a performer he decided to compose seriously.

He wrote a tremendous amount of music in many forms. One of his first masterpieces was a set of pieces titled Chôros, which is a Portugese word that means weeping. The term came to be used for the music played by bands of street musicians in Brazil that improvised their music on Brazilian and African instruments. Villa-Lobos uses many types of Brazilian music for his Chôros in many different combinations. Originally there were 14 Chôros, but the scores for the last two are lost. Villa-Lobos also composed an Introduction for the set for guitar and orchestra, and a final two for violin and cello duet.

Villa-Lobos spent time in Paris and most of the Chôros were composed there.  The Mexican composer Manuel Ponce was in Paris at the same time and met Villa-Lobos. He had this to say about him:
"Villa-Lobos, in his curious trilingual dialect (French, Spanish, Portuguese) tells me that his music comes directly from the Brazilian forests. It evokes his far-off Amazonas, the violence of the savage rhythms, negro melodies twisted in their bodies’ syncopations, in the frenzy of dances which the composer’s genius has managed to link together in the prodigious ‘choros’, one of which caused a scandal in the Pasdeloup concerts."
Chôros Number One was the first to be written in 1920 and is for solo guitar. The guitar is a unique instrument in many ways. To write well for the classical guitar, the composer usually has to be a good guitarist themselves, which Villa-Lobos was. The piece is short, and full of the rhythms and sounds of Brazil combined with a European feel for structure.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

J.C. Bach - Symphony In B-flat Major, Opus 18 No. 2

The youngest surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian Bach was trained in music by his father and his older half-brother C.P.E. Bach. When he was twenty years old he went to Italy and converted to Catholicism, which probably sent his Lutheran ancestors rolling over in their graves. Whether out of conviction or convenience,  his conversion helped his career in Italy as he was appointed organist for the cathedral in Milan. His furthered his musical education while in Italy and began composing operas. It was on a trip to England to supervise the performance of some of his operas that he found London to his liking. He stayed there until his death in 1782.

He adopted the English equivalent of his name and was known as John Bach. He joined forces with viola da gamba and cello player Carl Abel (who was also trained by J.S. Bach) and began the Bach-Abel Concert series, the first subscription concerts in England.  Many famous performers appeared in these concerts, and various works by Haydn got their first hearing at these concerts. Bach was very popular until the late 1770's when the fickleness of the public turned their attention to other composers. He died deeply in debt in 1782. 

Carl Abel
J.C. Bach broke away from the style of music from the rest of his family and composed in the new galante style which emphasized melody with an accompaniment instead of  polyphony.  J.C. Bach didn't promote or much care for the learned style of his father, as he called him "the old wig."  He also compared himself to his brother C.P.E. Bach by saying, "My brother lives to compose; and I compose in order to live." 

Like his older brother C.P.E. Bach, J.C. Bach's music influenced many composers, most notably Mozart. Bach had met the younger composer when Mozart toured England. They played piano duets together, and the first piano concertos by Mozart were orchestrations of some of Bach's keyboard sonatas.  J.C. Bach was once credited with writing over 90 symphonies, but modern scholarship has determined that about half of that number are actual Bach compositions. The Opus 18 symphonies are some of Bach's finest works. Although composition dates are not known for all of them, they were published in 1781. The second symphony in this set is actually an overture from one of Bach's operas, Lucio Silla. Opera overtures were in fact the ancestor of the symphony and were used somewhat interchangeably. The symphony is in three movements:
I. Allegro assai - Unlike the symphonies of C.P.E. Bach, J.C. Bach uses flowing melodies. The first theme brings a fanfare quality to the fore, with  secondary parts of the theme segueing to the actual second subject, here played by a pair of flutes being answered by a pair of oboes while the strings play a simple accompaniment. The exposition is not repeated. The first theme expanded upon which constitutes the development section. Bach does not have a formal recapitulation. After the development of the main theme the secondary theme is played once again and the movement comes to a close. 

II. Andante - An example of the importance of melody in the galante style, as the tune is simply accompanied. 

III. Presto - A simple tune danced by the strings with the woodwinds adding seasoning. A contrasting middle section of answer and call between strings and woodwinds leads to a repeat of the opening and the very short finale is over.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

C.P.E. Bach - Symphony In F Major Wq. 183/3

C.P.E. Bach, known as Emmanuel to his friends, left the employ of Frederick The Great in 1768 after spending 30 years in Berlin. The years in Berlin had been fruitful as he composed many works for the keyboard while there as well as writing his famous An Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. This book changed keyboard technique forever and is an invaluable guide to how music was performed in Bach's day.  He was one of the first musicians that recommended the use of the thumbs when playing the keyboard. There is some evidence that his father J.S. Bach also allowed the use of the thumbs in certain circumstances, but Emmanuel broadened their use.

It was not only this treatise that changed the unorthodox to the orthodox. Emmanuel's compositions did also. He stands between two musical eras, the Baroque and Classical. He didn't compose music in the galante style of his younger brother Johann Christian either. Emmanuel's music takes sudden turns, runs the full gamut of emotions. He keeps the listener off balance, for just as you get a good foot hold of what's going on, he throws the listener a curve. That is what makes his music appealing for some, and perhaps not so much for others. Robert Schumann disliked Emmanuel's music, Johannes Brahms loved it.

After his stint in Berlin Emmanuel got the position of director of music in Hamburg, succeeding his godfather Georg Philip Telemann who had recently died. Emmanuel was more of a businessman than his father, for while he was in Hamburg he published and sold his compositions himself and earned more money than his father ever did.

While he was in Hamburg he wrote the set of  symphonies known as the Four Symphonies In Twelve Obbligato Parts. These symphonies were printed in Emmanuel's lifetime and intermittently throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They are the only works of C.P.E. Bach that have an unbroken history of performance from Emmanuel's lifetime to the present.

The third symphony in F Major follows the three movement pattern of the rest of the symphonies in the set:
I. Allegro di molto - Bach begins straight away with a theme of short statements followed by a pause. The theme quickly evolves into longer statements. After a short pause the woodwinds make their comments and the theme returns to its evolution through the strings. The second theme also consists of short statements by the strings, but the wind instruments play more of a role in this one by filling in the harmonies. The strings proceed to a trill followed by a large downward leap. A short interlude is played by the strings, and the trill and downward leap is repeated. The development section has the first theme commented on and the second theme interjects with key changes. The first theme reappears, the second theme is played in the tonic, complete with the trills and downward leap. The first theme appears once again, but is suddenly cut short as a brief lead-in is played that changes the mood and prepares for the second movement that is played without pause.

II. Larghetto - The violas and cellos play a theme in D minor that is taken up by the whole orchestra. Bach instructs the cembalo (the keyboard instrument that is part of the basso continuo) to remain silent through this short movement.

III. Presto - The cembalo is directed to resume playing as a sprightly theme is played by the violins and winds as the rest of the orchestra backs them up. The music plays piano for a few bars, and the orchestra answers with a forte. This section is repeated. The second section has the music change keys and elaborate on the theme. This section is also repeated.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Glière - Symphony No. 1

Reinhold Glière attended the Moscow Conservatory and was taught by some of the best music teachers in Russia in the late 19th century.His studies included the violin and the usual harmony and theoretical subjects. One of his main influences was Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov who taught him composition and instrumentation. He graduated with high honors in 1900 and shortly after began teaching at the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow.

He began writing the first symphony during his final year of school in 1899 and finished the work in 1900.  It is solidly cast in the tradition of Russian symphonies by Tchaikovsky. Glière especially shines in his use of the orchestra. There are some that discount Glière as a symphonist, but I disagree. At the very least he wrote with a firm orchestral and compositional technique, and his earliest symphony is a pleasure to listen to, even if it doesn't hit the depths or the heights.  He only wrote three symphonies with his last one being his masterpiece, Symphony No. 3 Ilya Muromets.

Symphony No. 1 in E-flat is in 4 movements:
Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov
I. Andante - Allegro moderato - Andante - The first movement begins with a gentle introduction played by the clarinet. The oboe soon takes up the tune, and the strings continue to set the mood. This introduction contains bits and pieces that gel into the first theme which is ushered in with the oboe and clarinet taking turns before the full orchestra has its say with the theme. There is additional material played after the first theme and this leads directly into the second theme. The clarinet plays the mellow and lyrical second theme. The horns take up the second theme, and after a slow winding down of  the music the development section begins with the oboe leading the way for the first theme's expansion. A chromatic development has the theme rise in pitch and intensity. Rumbling snatches of the second theme are next to be developed. A climax is reached and quickly subsides as the recapitulation begins. The two main themes are repeated with obligatory key change given to the second theme. The horn plays the second theme, trading off with the oboe. The four horns once again nobly play the second theme. The coda is short, and the movement ends with the identical slow introduction that opened it.

II. Allegro molto vivace - The second movement is a scherzo written in 5 beats to the bar:
 After a short introduction for horns, cellos and basses, the violins and violas scamper along in eighth notes with the 5/4 time signature translating to 2+3 beats to the bar. The woodwinds take up the scamper, and the music modulates and grows into a tripping stomp before it dies back down to the opening figure in the violins. The trio is begun by the clarinet and manages to smooth out the tripping quality of the 5/4 time signature somewhat. The music swells in volume as the trio is interrupted by the beginning scampering figure a few times until the trio is silenced and the scherzo proper returns. The movement ends with a loud chord by the orchestra.

III. Andante - A slow (but not too slow) lyrical melody in G minor with a Russian flavor begins the movement. It slowly unwinds, slightly ebbs and flows until it melts into another gentle theme played by the oboe. The first theme is elaborated on, the music continues to unwind and Glière shows how well he learned about the orchestra from Ippolitov-Ivanov. The music reaches a climax shortly before the end. It dies down after that to a poignant end.

IV. Finale : Allegro - A short introduction by the horns and orchestra before the rapid dance tune begins. The second theme is right in keeping with the mood of the movement. The development section begins straight away with a motive played from the first theme. The music gets a little more intense as the first them continues to be developed. The horns play the secondary theme as the woodwinds chirp an accompaniment. After the rather straight-forward (but pleasant) development, the first dance tune appears in full to begin the recapitulation. The second theme appears, the music comments on the opening of the first theme, and the movement ends.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Liszt - Piano Concerto No. 1 In E-flat Major

The early part of the 19th century was a time of great change in music.The shift from a composer depending on the patronage of the church or royalty, to being an independent artist began with Mozart, as he was one of the first major composers that was free-lance. Beethoven also was a free-lance composer in the sense that he was not a paid member of a royal court.  Composers more and more were dependent on publishers looking to make a profit by printing their works, and the more popular the work the more money it made.

As there was no sound recordings, the piano was a popular instrument and most well to do households had family members that took lessons and played the instrument in varying degrees of ability. This was the age of the pianist composer,  and many times the way these composers made a name for themselves (thus drawing the attention of publishers and patrons) was by writing and performing their own piano concertos. In this they were following the lead of Mozart who did the same thing early on. Beethoven also made his first big splash as a composer/performer of his first two piano concertos. Chopin wrote two concertos and performed them in his debut in Vienna, and the list goes on all the way to the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century.

Franz Liszt was in his prime as a touring virtuoso in the 1830's and 1840's when the composer/pianists were in full swing. Although he wrote a few pieces for piano and orchestra (one of them being Malédiction for piano and strings) it is interesting that he wrote no piano concertos during this time, at least ones that he finished, performed and published. The Piano Concerto No. 1 wasn't written until 1849. He continued to refine the piece and it was premiered in Weimar in 1855 with Liszt at the piano and Berlioz conducting. After the premiere he continued to work on the score and it was published in its final version in 1856.

Some of the themes for the first concerto were written in a notebook by Liszt as early as 1830, so the concerto had a long gestation. Liszt wrote a lot of music when its all added together, over 700 pieces of all kinds. Sometimes he wrote fast, and it can be said that he wrote too much. But he took especial care with this concerto, and it is one of his best pieces.

The concerto has 4 movements played without pause:
I. Allegro maestoso - The first movement begins with the strings playing part of the main theme of the entire work. This fragment is played twice with the rest of the orchestra answering each time.
The piano then enters in thundering octaves. After a short solo, the orchestra resumes playing the main theme while the piano comments upon it with another solo. Orchestra and piano alternate until the piano and clarinet enter into a short dialogue. The piano introduces a second theme with the solo clarinet and then a solo violin commenting on it. The entire string section enters and the music segues back to the main theme. A chromatic run from the piano signals the end of the first movement and the second movement begins without pause.

II. Quasi adagio - Muted strings play a mellow version of the main theme and the piano enters and transforms the main theme into a lyrical, gentle nocturne. The orchestra enters playing part of the theme while the piano comments upon it in a feeling of slight agitation. The piano calms once again and returns to a dreamy mood. Trills in the piano are accompanied by solo winds playing a new theme. This continues until the trills cease and the third movement begins without pause.

III. Allegro vivace - Allegro animato - A triangle begins the movement and is answered by pizzicato strings. The piano plays a theme, and themes from the other two movements enter in a scherzo for piano and orchestra. After some prancing from piano and orchestra, the main theme that began the work reappears as in the beginning. The next section begins without pause.

IV. Allegro marziale animato - The orchestra begins a new rhythmic theme complete with the triangle. previous themes now begin to reappear and the piano sparkles as it comments. The pianist has to play some of the most difficult music ever written for the piano as the main theme reappears and the tempo increases to break-neck speed. The music modulates to the home key of E-flat major and roars to a thundering conclusion.  Liszt had this to say about the last movement:
"The fourth movement of the concerto from the Allegro marziale corresponds with the second movement, Adagio. It is only an urgent recapitulation of the earlier subject-matter with quickened, livelier rhythm, and contains no new motive, as will be clear to you by a glance through the score. This kind of binding together and rounding off a whole piece at its close is somewhat my own, but it is quite maintained and justified from the stand-point of musical form."
Eduard Hanslick
The first piano concerto was roundly criticized when it became known. It is, after all, a piece that looks forward in form and material, and is a fine example of Liszt's cyclical technique of basing an entire work on a few short themes. It deviated from the form of the 'conventional' concerto in that it is played without pause. It also is in 4 movements, more like a symphony than a concerto.  The Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, a proponent of anything Brahms and opponent of anything Liszt, dubbed it the Triangle Concerto when it was played in Vienna in 1857. Hanslick's influence in Vienna caused the concerto to not have another performance in that city until 1869. Liszt addressed his use of the triangle:
"The Scherzo in E-flat minor, from the point where the triangle begins, I employed for the effect of contrast. As regards the triangle I do not deny that it may give offence, especially if struck too strong and not precisely. A preconceived disinclination and objection to instruments of percussion prevails, somewhat justified by the frequent misuse of them. And few conductors are circumspect enough to bring out the rhythmic element in them, without the raw addition of a coarse noisiness, in works in which they are deliberately employed according to the intention of the composer. The dynamic and rhythmic spicing and enhancement, which are effected by the instruments of percussion, would in more cases be much more effectually produced by the careful trying and proportioning of insertions and additions of that kind. But musicians who wish to appear serious and solid prefer to treat the instruments of percussion en canaille (lowly people, riff-raff), which must not make their appearance in the seemly company of the symphony. They also bitterly deplore inwardly that Beethoven allowed himself to be seduced into using the big drum and triangle in the Finale of the Ninth Symphony. Of Berlioz, Wagner, and my humble self, it is no wonder that 'like draws to like,' and, as we are treated as impotent canaille amongst musicians, it is quite natural that we should be on good terms with the canaille among the instruments. Certainly here, as in all else, it is the right thing to seize upon and hold fast [the] mass of harmony. In face of the most wise proscription of the learned critics I shall, however, continue to employ instruments of percussion, and think I shall yet win for them some effects little known."
Hanslick is but a footnote in musical history. The first piano concerto of Liszt is firmly in the repertoire. Score one for the triangle.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rott - Symphony No. 1 In E Major

Fellow student of Gustav Mahler, favorite pupil of Anton Bruckner, Hans Rott was born in Vienna in 1858 to a father that was a comic actor and a mother that was an actress and singer. His family didn't have the economic means for his schooling but the young Rott showed so much ability that his tuition was waved. He studied with some of the best teachers in Vienna, with Anton Bruckner being the most notable. He passed Bruckner's organ class with high honors and Bruckner commended him on his playing of Bach and his improvising skills.

Rott composed the first movement of his symphony in 1878 while still a student and submitted it to a composition competition. The only jury member that didn't severely criticize the work was Bruckner. Rott completed his symphony in 1880 and worked towards getting it performed. He showed the work to Brahms in hopes of getting his backing to have the work performed, but Brahms rejected the work severely.

Later that same year Rott had accepted a position as music director and choirmaster and while he was on the train trip there, he pointed a loaded pistol at a fellow passenger to prevent him from lighting a cigar. Rott believed Brahms had sabotaged the train by loading it with dynamite. The pistol was wrestled from him and he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Vienna and later ended up in the lunatic asylum in lower Austria. He continued to compose, but his mind gave way to severe depression and hallucinations. He tried to commit suicide several times and ended up dying of tuberculosis in 1884. He was 25 years old.

Gustav Mahler
Mahler had seen Rott's symphony shortly after it was completed, and again in 1900. He had this to say about his former room mate:
a musician of genius ... who died unrecognized and in want on the very threshold of his career. ... What music has lost in him cannot be estimated. Such is the height to which his genius soars in ... [his] Symphony [in E major], which he wrote as 20-year-old youth and makes him ... the Founder of the New Symphony as I see it. To be sure, what he wanted is not quite what he achieved. … But I know where he aims. Indeed, he is so near to my inmost self that he and I seem to me like two fruits from the same tree which the same soil has produced and the same air nourished. He could have meant infinitely much to me and perhaps the two of us would have well-nigh exhausted the content of new time which was breaking out for music.
Rott's symphony was not performed in his lifetime. It was rediscovered and performed in 1989 by the Cincinnati Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerhard Samuel. It is in 4 movements:
I. Alla breve -  Rott gives a nod to traditional sonata form in the opening movement. The opening theme soars lyrically to a powerful crescendo, punctuated by the clanging of a triangle. The first theme fades and the next theme begins in the woodwinds.  The development section deals with the themes contrapuntally, the themes return in the recapitulation and the movement builds to a huge climax as the first theme ends the movement.  Rott turns the tables on the practice of a symphony having an expansive first movement, as this first movement is the shortest one in the entire symphony.

II. Sehr langsam -   The movement begins with lyrical music played adagio. This theme is repeated and expands the second time around. It rises in a crescendo, dies down, and continues to undulate up and down in volume until it reaches a uniformly loud statement of the theme. It continues to expand and unfold, and again begins to die down in volume. Another crescendo ensues which takes the music to darker places. The music grows in quiet tension, the brass surge in loudness, the strings increase in volume, the orchestra plods loudly and darkly until a rather bizarre episode begins as the horns hold a long note, low strings play pizicatto and the violins make a harsh sforzando. The lyricism returns as the music slowly unwinds to the peaceful ending of the movement.

III. Frisch und lebhaft -  While the entire symphony can remind a listener of Mahler, it must be remembered that Rott's symphony was written before any of Mahler's. There are those that accuse Mahler of 'stealing' things from Rott, but perhaps steal is too strong a word. Perhaps Mahler was paying tribute to Rott, and composers are notorious for intentionally writing music  that intentionally (and on occasion unintentionally) sounds similar to other composer's music. Rott himself did it in this symphony in the last movement with music of Brahms, but more about that below.  The scherzo's main theme is a clomping Ländler that rough-necks its way through the movement with a short, calm, simple trio section for contrast. Even this section is heavily peppered with references to the opening dance. The Ländler is given a fugato treatment, after which the tune breaks away from its fugal constraints and  hammers its way to the end of the movement.

IV.  Sehr langsam - Belebt - The final movement begins with bassoons and pizzicato double basses playing a slow introduction which is interrupted by a reference to the theme of the scherzo. The introduction starts again and builds into a chorale for the brass, a reference to material in the second movement. The music throws out pieces of a theme that gradually completes itself and grows into a tremendous section of power in the full orchestra. The strings then play a lyrical theme, the music builds once again until suddenly Rott uses a theme that resembles Brahms' 'big' tune of the finale of his 1st symphony. This theme has created controversy as to what Rott's motives were in using it. Was it to pay homage to Brahms, or was it to poke fun of him as Rott was a member of the Wagner camp? We'll never know for sure, but if Rott was trying to poke fun at Brahms (who was a notoriously cranky sort), why would he have shown the symphony to Brahms in hopes of winning his approval to aid in getting it performed? In any case, Brahms was not impressed by the inclusion of the sound-alike theme. Perhaps Brahms was offended at Rott's imitating the imitator, as the theme in question was the main theme of the finale of Brahm's 1st Symphony, which was a sound-alike of the 'Ode To Joy' theme of Beethoven's 9th.  The music then goes into elaborate restatements of the main theme, which like the theme of the scherzo, is given a fugato treatment. The theme is given new treatments in generally loud and complex music as it weaves in and out of different sections of the brass. A climax is reached, the theme is played in augmentation, the volume level decreases,  pieces of the theme are heard in the brass over arpeggiated violins. Another climax is reached in volume as the theme is given one last regal treatment in the brass. The theme that opens the symphony returns, reaches a long, loud climax. Then the music dies down and ends quietly with the brass playing long notes and the violins playing a Wagnerian figure in the background.  

Rott's Symphony In E Major shows signs of his compositional immaturity. There is a tendency for endings of movements to go on and on, and his excessive use of the triangle is like an author using too many exclamation points. A musician of Rott's talent probably would have  revised the work if he had lived long enough to hear it performed. But the symphony is what it is, and it is the only symphony for full orchestra the world will ever have from this extremely talented, tragic composer.  I like it tremendously, despite its short-comings.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thalberg - Piano Concerto In F Minor Opus 5

The European opinion of America's appreciation of the arts was very low for most of the 19th century, and music was no exception. The Director of the Paris Opera House summed up Europe's snobby opinion of America when he said that the country was an industrial country, great for telegraphs and railroads, but not for Art.  The more ambitious European musicians, whether to increase fame or fortune (or both) began touring America early in the century and they met with generally high acclaim. The virtuoso pianist Sigismond Thalberg was one of those artistic adventurers and he toured the country before the Civil War. He landed in New York in 1856 and left the country after his last recital in 1858. Thalberg played 5 or 6 days a week, on some occasions playing two or three concerts a day. He took a few months off after his first tour then began a second. By the time he was through he had played over 320 concerts in 80 American cities and 20 concerts in Canada. In addition he gave many free concerts to thousands of children, as well as playing chamber music with other musicians.

Unlike some other touring musicians Thalberg didn't resort to excessive publicity campaigns or crowd pleasing tricks. He played other composer's works as well as his own, some of which were already known in America. By all accounts he was calm in his demeanor on and off the stage, polite and unassuming in his manner. When Thalberg suddenly canceled the rest of his tour and returned to Europe, The New York Musical Review and Gazette newspaper of July 24, 1858 reported:
Thalberg ... quite unexpectedly closed what has been a most brilliant career - completely successful, musically, giving to the talented and genial artist abundance of both fame and money. There is probably not another virtuoso, whether with instrument or voice (Liszt alone excepted), who could have excited [even a portion] of the enthusiasm, or gathered a fragment of the dollars, which Thalberg has excited and gathered.
Franz Liszt
Indeed, the only rival Thalberg had while he was in his prime was Liszt, and in his younger touring days Liszt was a formidable rival. Liszt eventually was thought of as the paragon of virtuoso pianists, but in the 1830's Thalberg and Liszt were considered equally proficient by many. But there were also many that took sides, some with a vehemence of the most rabid sports fan.  For Thalberg's part, it appears he didn't participate in the shenanigans, but the same cannot be said for Liszt. In any case, the rivalry died down and after eleven years of not seeing Thalberg, Liszt attended a recital and applauded Thalberg's playing.

One of the incentives for Thalberg to embark on his tour of America was the fact that Liszt refused to go overseas. Liszt toured Europe and Russia but never went to America. Thalberg may have been a well-mannered gentleman and all, but it is unimaginable that he could have become such a virtuoso performer without a large ego that needed to be fed, even if he kept it under wraps. Having a huge financial and artistic success in America without Liszt being in the way was food that his ego probably devoured with relish.

Despite an artists success in their lifetime, time is the final arbitrator of where they fall in the history and progress of their art. Thalberg's place is more than a footnote, but not much more than that. His music at one time was admired by Mendelssohn and Berlioz, but most who have ever heard of Thalberg know him as a pianist that played second fiddle to Liszt. That isn't exactly fair, as Thalberg did advance the art of piano playing to the point where Liszt adopted some of those innovations in his own compositions for piano. Thalberg's temperament didn't allow him to climb to the heights of showmanship (or crowd pandering) that Liszt did.

Thalberg's compositions, in their own way, relied on his own particular 'tricks of the trade', and he eventually went out of style in his later years. But the ambitious Liszt may have done his part to hasten that too. Liszt's compositions are now valued much more than Thalberg's, but for many years Liszt was a composer for specialists and devotees of the 'New Music' he represented. It took many years for his music to get the recognition that it deserved, and while Thalberg's music may not be on the same level as Liszt's, some of it is very good and worth at least an occasional hearing.

Thalberg's Piano Concerto in F Minor is, to my ears, worthy of a listen. It is an early work, written around 1830 when he was 18 years old, at a time when virtuoso pianists would play their own concertos in concert.  Chopin composed both of his concertos about this same time and used them for his debut concerts. By the way, Chopin heard Thalberg play in Vienna and while he admitted he played splendidly, he didn't care for his style or his compositions. The Piano Concerto In F minor is in three movements:
I. Allegro moderato -  Thalberg follows the form of the piano concerto of the time as he opens with an orchestra exposition of the two contrasting themes that comprise the first movement. After the orchestra's initial statement the soloist enters and embellishes the themes. These kinds of compositions were written to display the abilities technically and musically of the soloist/composer and Thalberg gave himself plenty of opportunity to show what he was capable of, especially in the cadenza.

II. Adagio - The orchestra plays a short introduction before the piano assumes the spotlight with tender music that slowly unwinds like a nocturne. The orchestra adds a few comments here and there as the piano plays solo for much of this short movement.

III. Rondo : Allegro -  Thalberg follows up the slow movement with a contrasting rondo theme that follows a short introduction by the  piano.. The episodes between repetitions of the theme keep things interesting. The music shifts gears into minor mode after a short cadenza as this delightful work of the young Thalberg comes to an end.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Rimsky-Korsakov - Overture On Three Russian Themes

The nationalistic movement in Russian music began with Mikhail Glinka in the early 19th century and after his death in 1857 Mily Balakirev became the leader of the movement. Balakirev was a member of, and a main influence on, the other four composers of  a group known as The Five; Borodin, Mussorgsky, Cui, and Rimsky-Korsakov. But his influence was also felt by Tchaikovsky, and other Russian composers.

Rimsky-Korsakov was in training to be an officer in the Russian Navy, and when not at sea Balakirev taught him the rudiments of composition and encouraged him to compose.  While Rimsky-Korsakov was on two-year duty at sea he wrote to Balakirev expressing his loss of interest in music, but when he was stationed ashore, Balakirev inspired and pushed him to compose in earnest and gave him ideas for many projects. One of these was the Overture On Three Russian Themes, inspired by Balakirev's Overture On Three Russian Folk Themes.  Balakirev conducted the first version of the work in 1866, but Rimsky-Korsakov revised the work in 1880 and this is the version that is usually performed today. 

Mily Balakirev
The work begins with a slow introduction that introduces the first of the themes known in Russia by the name of 'Slava'. This theme was previously used by Beethoven in the scherzo of his 8th String Quartet Opus 59, No. 2 (the second of the set of three quartets known as the Rasmouvsky quartets). Mussorgsky also used the theme in the Coronation Scene of his opera Boris Godunov.  This theme is expanded and developed until the appearance of the next theme known in Russia as 'At The Gates', a theme previously used by Tchaikovsky in his 1812 Overture.  This second theme is at a faster pace and is played a few times with minor variations. The third theme begins directly after the second and is known as 'Ivan Is Wearing A Big Coat'. For the rest of the piece the themes weave in and out in slightly different guises, but always recognizable. At the very end of the piece the opening 'Slava' theme makes a last appearance in a hushed beginning that expands to a treatment from the full orchestra punctuated by the brass. The pace quickens as snippets of the 'Slava' theme are heard, and the overture ends. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Franck - Piano Quintet In F Minor

Nicolas-Joseph Franck tried his best to use the talent of his son César as a way towards amassing great wealth for the family. After César  played concerts and studied at the Conservatory at Liège,  Nicolas decided to take his son to Paris to gain wider exposure and to continue his studies at the Paris Conservatoire. His son was denied enrollment because he was a foreigner  (the family was Belgian). Evidently Nicolas was a typical 'stage mother' type that would do anything to promote his sons, so he applied for French citizenship.  Nicolas made good use of the time it took to get the citizenship by having his sons study privately and play in numerous concerts. The boy entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1837 when he was 15.

The young man was under a lot of strain, as besides his studies he was teaching, composing, and thanks to his relentless and overbearing father, playing a heavy schedule of concerts. He abruptly resigned from the Conservatoire in 1842, perhaps at the insistence of his father to free him up for even more concerts. Finally Nicolas' fierce promotion of his son began to wear thin on the music critics in Paris. César was acknowledged as a fine pianist, but soon his concerts were no longer well attended.  After Nicolas had burned so many bridges with his behavior there was no longer any reason to stay in Paris, so the father and son went back to Belgium.

Belgium proved to be worse than Paris as there was not much money to be made concertizing and there was no patronage forthcoming from the Belgian King. So after two years Nicolas and son went back to Paris where César resumed teaching and giving concerts. He was also composing and had written a trio that Franz Liszt showed his approval of. But his oratorio Ruth proved not to be popular with the public and was severely panned by critics. He tried his hand at opera and other works, but finally resigned himself to a life as a teacher.

His father still tried to exert his will on the son, and when César became interested in a woman he had met in his Conservatoire days, the father did not approve. Relations between the two became so strained that César walked out of the house and did not return. After years of living with his controlling and abusive father, the son had enough. He eventually married the woman, and sought a post as an organist. He was a pianist by training and didn't show much aptitude for the organ while in school, but a position as organist was steady income.

He became one of the best organists in France, and his third appointment in 1858 was his last as he stayed at the church of Sainte-Clotilde in Paris the rest of his life. By 1872 his reputation as organist and improviser was so great that he accepted the position of professor of organ at the Paris Conservatoire.  He began to compose once again and the Piano Quintet of 1879 was one of his first masterpieces of his later years and the piece helped to reignite his writing for the piano which he had not done since his early years. The mature style of Franck was described by the musicologist Leland Hall :
"...all his work bears the stamp of his personality. Like Brahms, he has pronounced idiosyncrasies, among which his fondness for shifting harmonies is the most constantly obvious. The ceaseless alteration of chords, the almost unbroken gliding by half-steps, the lithe sinuousness of all the inner voices seem to wrap his music in a veil, to render it intangible and mystical. Diatonic passages are rare, all is chromatic. Parallel to this is his use of short phrases, which alone are capable of being treated in this shifting manner. His melodies are almost invariably dissected, they seldom are built up in broad design. They are resolved into their finest motifs and as such are woven and twisted into the close iridescent harmonic fabric with bewildering skill. All is in subtle movement."

The Piano Quintet is for piano, 2 violins, viola and cello. It is in three movements:
I. Molto quasi lento - Allegro - The movement begins with an extended introduction for string quartet alone that is soon answered by the solo piano. The strings again combine for a statement, the solo piano enters again. Strings and piano combine as the music increases in intensity until the first subject is heard. The theme goes through chromatic shifts until it gives way to the secondary theme, which is the theme that appears in all three movements.  Themes appear in different guises throughout the development section, the recapitulation is followed by a section where the main themes are juxtaposed with the secondary theme in the spotlight. The passion intensifies as the music continues its shifting chromaticism until the music grows quiet and the movement ends.

II. Lento - The second subject of the first movement appears in the middle of this movement, and it is flanked by themes that seem vaguely familiar. To my ears Franck creates in this movement a sentimental reminiscence of what has already passed.

III. Allegro non troppo - The music begins in an agitated state and grows in intensity until a theme derived from previous material arrives. All is movement and agitation which leads to the powerful coda and the abrupt end.

The quintet was premiered in 1880 with Camille Saint-Saëns at the keyboard (at the request of the composer). Saint-Saëns evidently grew more and more displeased with the piece the further he went (he was sight-reading the piece, a tribute to Saint-Saëns' musicianship). When the piece was finished Saint-Saëns stormed off the stage and refused to accept the manuscript and the dedication from Franck. Rumors flew about Franck being romantically involved with a female student at the time which contributed to the passion of the work. No one really knows why Saint-Saëns reacted the way he did. Perhaps it was the music itself, or the references to Franck's affair that made the work so emotional, or perhaps Saint-Saëns himself was harboring feelings for the same student. In any case, the work was well received by Franck's devoted students, and after a few years the work earned a place as one of the handful of masterpieces of the piano quintet genre.