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.

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