Friday, June 6, 2014

Schulhoff - Symphony No. 5

Erwin Schulhoff began his 5th Symphony in 1938 and finished it in 1939.  Schulhoff's works had been blacklisted in Germany since early in the 1930's due to his Jewish heritage and radical communist politics, which caused him much personal and professional difficulty not only in Germany but Czechoslovakia as well. He had to take a job as a pianist for a radio station orchestra in Prague to make ends meet.

Schulhoff increasingly turned to Stalin's model of social realism in his art and dedicated his 3rd and 4th symphonies to the communist cause.  He was still in Czechoslovakia when the Nazis invaded and had petitioned the Soviet Union for citizenship, but before he could escape the country he was captured by the Nazis and put into prison. In 1941 he was deported to the Wülzburg concentration camp in Bavaria and died there in 1942.

It took many years for Schulhoff's music to be rediscovered, and the 5th Symphony wasn't given its first performance until 1965. The symphony is in 4 movements:

I. Andante - The entire short first movement is built from a short rhythmic figure that is repeated throughout the movement. The result of the rhythmic figure is that while the movement is played at a relatively slow tempo, the rhythmic repetition gives the music power and tension, perhaps reflecting the political climate in Europe of 1938-1939

II. Adagio - The second movement begins with a fanfare for brass that leads to a movement that turns bleak with dissonance. The fanfare theme is swallowed up by loud music devoid of hope and beauty. This leads to a section for brass that repeats the fanfare. This leads to quieter music with a restless accompaniment to clarinets playing last notes of hopelessness.

III. Allegro con brio -
A scherzo in all but name, there are elements of the furiant, a Czech dance. Dvořák and Smetana composed furiants. Schulhoff's version is full of rhythmic drive, aggression, and in places turns ugly in its violence. A xylophone helps turn this furiant into a dance of death.  The movement doesn't really have an ending; it just stops after excessively loud thumps from the orchestra.

IV. Allegro con brio - Allegro moderato -  The first part of the finale are a set of variations on a march. The music is at a constant loud dynamic until a section begins that uses material reminiscent of the rhythmic motive of the first movement.  A theme in the major mode emerges in the woodwinds, the first sign of hope in an otherwise dark musical work. The rhythmic motive is quoted directly in the major mode and elaborated upon and the march theme reappears as the music increases in volume as it gets a fugal treatment. The rasping first movement motive appears in the brass with agitated accompaniment from the strings. The music builds until an explosive ending brings it to a close.

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