Sunday, November 30, 2014

M. Haydn - Symphony No. 23 In D Major P.43 S.22 & 23, MH. 287

The name of Haydn is most often represented by Joseph Haydn, the oldest of three Haydn brothers that went on to careers in music. Of course Joseph is the most famous and prolific of the brothers, who was a friend to Mozart, teacher of Beethoven and the most famous composer in late 18th century Europe.  The youngest brother was Johann Evangelist Haydn who had a rather lackluster career as a tenor vocalist. The middle brother was Michael Haydn, a fine composer in his own right though not as prolific as his older brother.

Both brothers were members of St.Stephen's Cathedral Choir in Vienna, and with Joseph being 5 years older, Michael became a favorite boy soprano after his brother's voice broke. Michael was a more diligent student than his brother and shortly after he left the choir he became Kappelmeister at Nagyvárad and finally in 1762 at Salzburg where he remained for 43 years.  He knew the Mozarts in Salzburg and Wolfgang was an admirer of his music, while Mozart's father Leopold thought Michael Haydn drank too much, the accusation perhaps an attempt to discredit Michael's reputation for a position his son was also working towards.  Michael and Joseph remained close and the older brother also thought highly of Michael's music. Michael was also a teacher who counted among his pupils Carl von Weber and Anton Diabelli.

The younger Haydn's religious music is thought to be his best work, but he wrote in all the genre of the time, including over 43 symphonies.  Most of Haydn's symphonies are in the fast-slow-fast movement scheme, but he also wrote some with 4 movements.

Michael Haydn never compiled a catalog of his works, nor were many of them published in his lifetime. There have been three major attempts to catalog his works which has led to confusing numbering systems.  As well as being known as Symphony No. 23 In D Major, this symphony is also known as P. 43 (after musicologist Lother Perger's catalog),  S. 22 & 23 (after Charles Sherman's 1982 catalog which to add to the confusion originally numbered the work 22, and then was adjusted to number 23) and MH. 287 (another effort by Charles Sherman along with T. Donley Thomas done in 1992). Bewildering as all of that is, it must be said that the parts of this same symphony were thought to be by Mozart for many years. Ludwig von Köchel who catalogued Mozart's works in the middle of the 19th century had a manuscript of the symphony that had the first 45 measures of the 3rd movement copied out in Mozart's handwriting, so  Köchel made the assumption it was a work by Mozart and numbered it  Symphony No. 25, K.291.

Symphony No. 23 In D Major has three movements and is scored for 2 oboes, 2 bassoons 2 horns, strings and continuo:

I. Allegro assai -  This symphony was written in 1779 in Salzburg and Haydn follows sonata in the first movement. A bright fanfare-like theme begins the movement. This theme leads directly to different sections and motives until a short secondary theme appears. A chattering motive in the violins that has already appeared rounds off the exposition. The fragment of the first theme leads off the development section and is thrown about in different keys until transitional material leads to the recapitulation. Themes go through the usual modulations and leads to a short coda that begins with the chattering violins motive and ends with a last comment on the a fragment of the first motive.

II. Andantino -  Michael Haydn's slow movements seldom were in minor keys, with this being one of them. The key is D minor but it changes to D major in the middle of the movement. The music moves at a steady pace, is seasoned with syncopation and a good blend of strings and winds in the middle section. A short dialog for winds and strings brings the movement to a close.

III. Finale: Presto ma non troppo -  It was the first 45 measures of this movement in Mozart's hand that led to the false attribution of the symphony to Mozart. The movement is fugal, and begins with a subject in 4 whole notes.  Perhaps the reason Mozart copied out the older composer's music was to study the fugal form the older composer used, for Mozart's 14th String Quartet in G Major K.387  is fugal and also begins with a subject of 4 whole notes. The fugue ripples through the orchestra with episodes between the reappearance of the subject in a kind of fugal rondo. A final appearance of the subject brings this well-crafted and tuneful symphony to a close.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Schubert - Schwanengesang D.957

The art of German song began in the Medieval era with the songs of the traveling troubadours of the 12th century and included folk songs and religious hymns. The art song, what is known in German as Lied,  began in earnest when German writers of the 18th and 19th centuries began writing poetry that embraced Classicism and Romanticism. Composers such as Mozart and Beethoven in Germany and Austria set these new styled poems to music, with the acknowledged master of the art form being Schubert.

Franz Schubert composed over 600 Lieder in his short life from 1797-1828.  Schubert not only was one of the great melodists of all time; he created a symbiosis with the solo voice and the piano, the instrument most associated with German Lieder. The piano reflects, imitates, enhances and sometimes contrasts the voice instead of merely accompanying it. Schubert's creativity and imagination influenced most of the German song composers that came after him, as well as composers in other countries.  

In 1828, Schubert was afflicted with what turned out to be a fatal illness.  The illness that took his life isn't known for certain with theories ranging from tertiary stage syphilis to typhoid fever.  He continued to compose and between fever, nausea, crippling headaches and joint pain wrote some of his most well-known works in the last months of his life.  One of these final works was a set of Lieder that was published a few months after Schubert's death in a collection titled Schwanengesang by the Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger.  The title was taken from the Greek legend that states that swans sing a beautiful song just before they die.  The collection has been called a song cycle,  but Schubert used 14 poems by 3 different poets whereas most song cycles are written to poems by one poet that have a common theme between them.

Many thanks to Celia Sgroi for allowing free use of her excellent translations of all 14 of the German poems. The first 7 songs are to poems by Ludwig Rellstab, German poet and critic. The poems were originally offered in 1825 to Beethoven, but were passed on to Schubert after Beethoven's death in 1827:

1. Liebesbotschaft (Message Of Love) - The singer invites a stream to carry a note to his lover. Schubert begins the song with the solo piano in music that imitates a rippling stream, an ear-visual that Schubert used many times in his songs:
The piano continues the stream illusion throughout.

Rushing brook,
So pretty and clear,
Will you hurry to my sweetheart
So cheerful and quick?
Ah, dear little brook,
Be my messenger;
Bring greetings
To her from afar.

All of her flowers,
Tended in the garden,
That she wears so sweetly
On her breast,
And her roses,
In crimson radiance,
Brook, refresh them
With your cooling stream.

When on the stream bank,
lost in dreams
 thinking of me,
she bows her head,
comfort my dearest
with your friendly glance,
for her beloved is
coming back soon.

When the sun is setting
With its red glow,
lull my beloved off to sleep.
Murmuring, rock her
To her sweet rest,
And whisper dreams
Of love to her.

2. Kriegers Ahnung (Soldier's Foreboding) - A soldier sings about how much he misses his beloved while he is afield with his fellow soldiers:

Around me in deep silence
Lie my soldier comrades;
My heart is so anxious and heavy,
So aflame with longing.

How often have I dreamed sweetly
On her warm breast!
How friendly was the stove’s warmth
When she lay in my arms!

Here, where the brooding glow of flames,
Alas, only shines on weapons,
Here my heart feels totally alone,
And tears of sadness flow.

Heart! Don’t let solace abandon you!
Many a battle is ahead.
Soon I’ll rest and sleep soundly,
My beloved—good night!

3. Frühlingssehnsucht (Longing In Spring) -  Springtime with all its beauty surrounds the singer but loneliness and longing for his beloved cause sadness among the flowers:

Murmuring breezes flutter so gently
Fill me sighing with the scent of flowers!
How you greet me with a blissful sigh!
What have you done to my pounding heart?
It wants to follow your airy trail!
Where to?

Brooks, so cheerfully bubbling as well,
Flow sparkling silver down to the glen.
The billowing wave hastens downhill!
The meadows and sky are reflected deep within.
Why do you draw me, urgent, yearning feeling,
Down there?

Sparkling gold of the greeting sun,
You bring me hopeful bliss so sweet!
How your joyfully greeting image refreshes me.
It smiles so gently in the dark blue sky
And has filled my eye with tears!

The forests and hills are wreathed in green,
A snowfall of blossoms sparkles and gleams.
Everything surges to the nuptial light;
The seeds are burgeoning, the buds are opening,
They’ve found what they need to blossom:
And you?

Restless longing, yearning heart,
Nothing but tears, complaints, and pain?
I too am aware of a growing urge!
Who’ll finally quiet my urgent desire?
Only you can release the spring in my soul,
Only you!

4. Ständchen (Serenade) -  The singer urges a lover for a tryst at the grove of trees in the valley. One of Schubert's most recognizable melodies, this song shifts between minor and major keys to convey the singer's longing:

Ludwig Rellstab
Softly my songs implore
You through the night;
Down into the quiet grove,
Beloved, come to me!

Slender treetops rustle, murmur
In the moon’s radiance;
Don’t fear the hidden listener’s
malice, my dearest.

Do you hear the nightingales singing?
Ah, they appeal to you,
With their sweet plaintive tones
They’re pleading for me.

They understand the heart’s yearning,
They know the pain of love,
Touch with their silvery tones
Every feeling heart.

Let them move you, too,
My darling, listen to me!
Trembling, I await you!
Come, dearest, enrapture me.

5. Aufenthalt (Resting Place) -  A song that conveys emotional pain and anguish that is as powerful and never ending as waves of the sea, wind in the treetops and the core of a mountain. The piano sets the tension in the beginning of the song as it plays constant triplet chords in the right hand against a melody in the left hand that contains eighth notes that create a compound rhythm of 2 versus 3:

Thundering torrent,
Roaring forest,
Stony crag,
My resting place.

Just as the waves roll
One after one,
My tears are flowing
Eternally new.

As high in the treetops
It billows and seethes,
Just as unceasingly
Beats my heart.

And like the mountain’s
Ancient core,
Ever the same
Remains my pain.

6. In der Ferne (In The Distance) -  A broken-hearted lover flees their friends, mother's house, and home town to wander the world to escape the one that broke their heart.  Heavy, mournful chords accompany the sorrow of the singer.

Woe to the fugitive,
Fleeing the world!
Roaming foreign places,
Forgetting his homeland,
Hating his mother’s house,
Leaving his friends
Alas, no blessing follows
Along their ways.

Heart that is yearning,
Eye that is weeping
Longing that never ends,
Turning toward home.
Breast that is stirring,
Lament that is fading,
Evening star twinkling,
Hopelessly sinking!

Breezes, you rippling,
Waves gently ruffling,
Sunbeam hastening
Nowhere remaining:
She who with agony
Broke my loyal heart—
Greetings from the fugitive,
Fleeing the world!

7. Abschied (Farewell) -  This song is also about leaving, but this one is in contrast to the previous one. The departing singer bids a fond farewell to a town that they have enjoyed. The reason why they must depart isn't known, only that it is time to go. The singer welcomes his companions, the sun during the day and the stars at night. The piano imitates the singer's trotting horse as he leaves without looking back:

Goodbye! You jolly, you cheerful town, goodbye!
My horse paws the ground now with light-hearted hoof,
Now receive my final, my parting salute
You’ve never seen me downcast before,
And it can’t happen now at my farewell.

Goodbye, you trees, you gardens so green, goodbye!
Now I’m riding along the silvery stream,
My farewell song echoes far and wide,
You never heard a sorrowful song from me,
And you won’t hear one now at my departure.

Goodbye, you friendly lasses there, goodbye!
Why do you look out of your flower-perfumed house
With such a flirtatious and alluring glance?
As always I greet you and look around
But I never turn my horse back.

Goodbye, dear sun, now go to your rest, goodbye!
Now the gold of the twinkling stars shimmers.
How much do I love you stars in the sky;
We travel the world both far and wide,
And everywhere you are my loyal guide.

Goodbye, you shimmering bright window, goodbye!
You sparkle so homelike in the twilight glow
And invite us so trustfully into your cottage.
Alas, I’ve ridden by here so many times,
And is today to be the final time?

Goodbye, you stars, hide yourself in grayness, goodbye!
The dark, fading light of the window
Can’t be replaced by you countless stars,
I can’t linger here, I have to go on,
What matter if you follow me so faithfully!

The next 6 songs are by Heinrich Heine, one of the giants of German literature. Heine got into trouble with the authorities in Germany for his radical politics and spent the last  25 years of his life in Paris. The six poems of Heine are shorter and more intense than the previous seven.

8. Der Atlas (Atlas) -  In heavy, agitated music, the singer agonizes about the crushing emotional pain he carries that is as heavy as the burden of the entire world that the Titan Atlas carries on his back.

I, wretched Atlas, a world
The whole world of pain I must carry,
I bear the unbearable, and my heart
Is breaking in my body.

You proud heart, you wanted it so!
You wanted to be happy, eternally happy,
Or eternally miserable, proud heart,
And now you are in misery.

9. Ihr Bild (Her Portrait) -  Another song about lost love, this time the singer looks at a mental image of his lost beloved. The piano plays the singer's melody in the beginning that reflects the imagined image of the beloved:
After the singer imagines his beloved, the reality that he has lost her is enforced by the starkness of the piano's ending cadence.

I stood in dark dreams
And stared at her image,
And the beloved visage
Quietly came to life.

Upon her lips appeared
A smile so wonderful,
And as if from tears of sadness
Her eyes sparkled.

And my tears flowed as well
Down from my cheeks—
And oh, I just can’t believe,
That I have lost you!

Heinrich Heine
10. Das Fischermädchen (The Fisher Girl) -  The singer tries to coax a girl to romance and in an attempt to get her to trust him compares his heart to the ocean that has many treasures inside. The piano has a gentle rocking rhythm throughout that imitates the sea lapping at the shore.

You lovely fisher girl,
Row your boat to shore;
Come to me and sit down,
We’ll cuddle hand in hand.

Lay your head on my breast
And don’t be so afraid;
You trust yourself without care
Daily to the untamed sea.

My heart is like the ocean,
Has storm and ebb and flood,
And many a lovely pearl
Rests in its depths.

11. Die Stadt (The Town) - A man rows a boat towards a town. When he sees the spires of the town emerge in the distant fog he laments the place where he lost his lover. Schubert instructs the pianist to use the damper pedal to blur the tremolos in the left hand in imitation of the fog. When the right hand enters it plays a nine-note figure that represents the spires of the town seen through the fog:

On the distant horizon
Appears like a cloud-image
The town with its spires
Shrouded in the gloom of evening.

A damp breeze ruffles
The green surface of the water;
In a mournful rhythm rows
The boatman in my craft.

The sun rises once again
Glowing above the earth
And shows me that spot
Where I lost my beloved.

12. Am Meer (At The Seashore) -  A song about a meeting in a hut at the seashore, and in typical Romantic era excess, tears were shed (and drank by the lover). But all is not well as the singer laments that the woman has poisoned him with her tears. There are two emotional sections in the song when the piano begins tremolos in both hands that reach a crescendo. Where in a previous song about the ocean the water laps the shore almost playfully, here the waves lugubriously thud against the shore, underlining the dilemma of the singer.

The sea sparkled far and wide
In the last glow of evening;
We sat at the lonely fisherman’s hut,
We sat silent and alone.

The fog rose, the water surged.
The gull flew back and forth;
From your lovely eyes
The tears dropped.

I saw them fall upon your hand
And fell on my knees;
And from your white hand
I drank away the tears.

Since that time my body pines
My soul is dying with yearning;
The wretched woman
Poisoned me with her tears.

13. Der Doppelgänger (The Ghostly Double) - The singer looks at a house where his lover used to live. He sees another man standing by the house in anguish, and then he realizes that the other man is actually his ghostly double that is going through the same sorrow he did long ago. One of Schubert's most eerie songs, the piano begins with a four bar section that is repeated, giving the impression of a passacaglia. But the bass changes with the ostinato returning but in a different key. The dynamic range for the piano goes from pianissimo to triple forte, which gives the soloist tremendous crescendos that tax the singer's capacity as the  Doppelgänger is recognized.  The major chord that ends the song does not ease the tension much.

The night is quiet, the streets are silent,
My beloved lived in this house;
She left the town a long time ago,
But the house still stands in the same place.

A man stands there, too, and stares upward
And wrings his hands with the force of his pain;
I’m horrified when I see his face—
The moon shows me my own likeness.

You ghostly double, you pallid fellow!
Why do you ape my lovesickness,
That tormented me here
So many nights long ago?

The final poem was written by Johann Gabriel Seidl, an Austrian scientist and poet. The poem was included by the first publisher because it was thought to be the last song Schubert wrote.

14. Die Taubenpost (The Courier Pigeon) -  Schubert didn't always write music to poems of the masters. Schubert's gift for melody and song construction was so great that he could set most anything to music if he set his mind to it. This song is about someone who compares his longing to a courier pigeon.

I have a courier pigeon in my employ,
It’s very devoted and true.
Johann Gabriel Seidl
It never stops short of my goal
And never flies too far.

I send it out many thousand times
With messages every day,
Away past many a pretty place,
Right to my dearest’s house.

It peeks through the window secretly there
And watches for her step and glance,
Gives her my greetings playfully
And brings hers back to me.

I don’t need to write notes anymore
I send my tears with it instead,
I’m sure they will never go astray,
It serves me so eagerly.

By night, by day, awake, in dreams,
It’s all the same to it,
If it can only rove and roam,
That is repayment enough.

It never tires, it never flags,
The way is ever new,
It needs no lure, it needs no pay,
The dove is so loyal to me!

And so I keep it close to my heart
Assured of the sweetest reward;
Its name is—longing! Do you know it?
Enduring love’s messenger.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bach - Cantata For Bass 'Ich Habe Genug' BWV 82

Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last 27 years of his life in the employ of the church as Cantor and Music Director of the Thomasschule and the churches of Leipzig, a position he was appointed to in 1723.   He was responsible for teaching music to students and for music used in church services.  Music was a very important part of Lutheran Church services and Bach usually used  his own compositions for  Sunday services as well as special church holidays. Most of the cantatas he used for church services were composed in the first three years he was in Leipzig, and he arranged them in yearly cycles. Each cantata was integrated into the service by the use of scripture that was relevant to the church calender as well as the content of the sermon. Musicologists have determined that Bach wrote over 300 cantatas during his life, and that about 100 of them are lost.

Ich Habe Genug (I Have Enough) was first performed on February 2, 1727 for the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary (also known as Candlemas).  The text of the cantata is not from the Bible, nor do musicologists know who wrote it, but it is based on the Song of Simeon also known in Latin as Nunc Dimittis

Bach used the cantata three more times over the years, changing the vocalist and/or instrumentation each time. The original version is scored for Bass soloist, oboe, strings and continuo. The cantata consists of five parts:

Part One  -  The Bible story in Chapter 2 Of Luke relates that Simeon was a devout Jew who was at the Temple when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to be consecrated as the firstborn son. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die until he saw the Saviour. Simeon took the infant in his arms and the text of the aria reflects the story.  The music is in C minor, with the oboe beginning a melody that is soon taken up by the Bass. The oboe gently weaves in and out of the music as it takes the lead one moment, then takes up a contrapuntal accompaniment to the Bass. The key signature of C minor in this case  gives the music more the mood of resignation than sorrow.
Aria: Ich habe genug
I have enough, I have taken the Savior,
the hope of the righteous, into my eager arms;
I have enough! I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with
joy to depart from here. 

Part Two - The music shifts to major mode in the opening of the recitative. The theme of resignation and desire for death continue in this section in preparation for the next aria.
Recitative: Ich habe genug
I have enough.
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine
and I His own. In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.
Let us go with this man!
Ah! if only the Lord might rescue me
from the chains of my body;
Ah! were only my departure here,
with joy I would say, world, to you:
I have enough. 

Part Three - Cast in the key of E-flat major, the aria is a lullaby that changes the tone of resignation for death to one of joy in longing for the peace of death.
Aria: Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen
Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly!
World, I will not remain here any longer,
I own no part of you that
could matter to my soul.
Here I must build up misery, but there,
there I will see sweet peace, quiet rest.

Part Four -   An impatient voice wonders when the 'now' of death is to come. The music ends in the minor mode in preparation for the final aria.
Recitative: Mein Gott! wenn kömmt das schöne: Nun! 
My God! When is the lovely now of death to come,
when I will journey into peace
and into the cool soil of earth,
and there, near You, rest in Your lap?
My farewells are made, world, good night!

Part Five -  The final aria returns the key to C minor. The oboe returns but more as an addition to the violins instead of a separate voice. Bach uses melisma, the singing of the same syllable over a range of notes to perhaps lend some 'life' to a cantata that deals with death, although the text continues to express the longing for the pleasant sleep of death.
Aria: Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod
I delight in my death,
ah, if it were only present already!
Then I will emerge from all the
suffering that still binds me to the world.

It may seem odd that a work that deals with the joys of death can be one of Bach's most familiar and popular cantatas. The text of course is an important part of any cantata, including this one. But in this case the quality and depth of feeling of the music has more to do with the works popularity than its text.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mahler - Symphony No. 5

As it was Gustav Mahler's habit to compose during his summer vacations, the 5th Symphony was composed in the summers of 1901 and 1902. The symphony was the first of three symphonies that were strictly instrumental works and without any outward program, although Mahler usually composed with some kind of an inner program.

Mahler was a man who put his art above everything, including his physical well being. He took his role as conductor and music director very seriously and drove himself to conduct regardless of illness or fever. On February 24, 1901 he conducted an orchestral concert in the afternoon and an opera that same evening. He had just gotten over a bad case of tonsillitis (which didn't slow him down any). That same night his sister found him collapsed in a pool of blood. Mahler had horrendous hemmorhoidal problems that caused him excruciating pain (there were many occasions when he conducted in extreme pain from them) and many minor hemorrhages from them, but this one was life threatening. Surgeons were summoned and he came near death. The surgeon did an emergency procedure in Mahler's bedroom that stopped the bleeding, as Mahler told a friend the next day:
You know, last night I nearly passed away. When I saw the doctors… I thought my last hour had come. While they were putting in the tube, which was frightfully painful but quick, they kept checking my pulse and my heart. Fortunately it was solidly installed in my breast and determined not to give up so soon… While I was hovering between life and death, I wondered whether it would not be better to have done with it at once, since everyone must come to this in the end. Besides, the prospect of dying did not frighten me in the least, provided my affairs are in order, and to return to life seemed almost a nuisance.
As soon as Mahler recuperated from the incident he had his second hemorrhoid surgery in March. This near-death experience may have been partially responsible for the change in his compositional style as reflected in this work. The symphony in in five movements, which Mahler grouped into three parts. As the symphony is progressive as regards to key, Mahler requested that no key designation be given to the symphony as a whole.

I. Trauermarsch (Funeral March) -  Although some annotators and musicologists regard this symphony as the most conventional out of the first five, Mahler begins the symphony in C-sharp minor with a solo for trumpet that sets the mood:
The trumpet solo leads directly to a shattering climax, after which Mahler begins his most conventional symphony with an unconventional funeral march. The trumpet solo returns and the funeral march becomes even more lugubrious. The trumpet returns but is cut short as the music becomes wild and frantic as the funeral march has changed into a hectic mad dash. The trumpet interrupts and brings the march tempo back. The music makes a reference to a song Mahler has written to the words of the German poet Friedrich Rückert from his collection of poems Kindentotenlieder (Songs On The Death Of Children).  The poetry of Rückert had became Mahler's preferred poems as his obsession with the poems of Des Knaben Wunderhorn diminished.  All of the themes in the first movement go through a continual development process, but what doesn't change is the time signature. In the first four symphonies time signatures changed quite often, but in this symphony each movement remains in the time signature that it started in. The trumpet plays fragments of its theme as the orchestra slowly winds down. Violins accompany col legno, with the wood of the bow that produces an eerie clicking sound and the movement ends with one last subdued thump by the low strings.

II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz (Moving stormily, with the greatest vehemence) - Beginning in the key of A minor, this movement starts out brutally. The orchestra continues as Mahler directed until it slows down and changes key to F minor. Mahler gives the direction in Tempo des ersten Satzes Trauermarsch (In the same tempo as the first movement Funeral March). Not only is the tempo identical, but the thematic material is related to that of the first movement also.  The ongoing variation of themes continues. The mood of the opening of the movement returns, along with music in the trumpet from the first movement. An extended  section for low strings and timpani brings back the funeral march, which is incorporated into the section.  Rapid shifting from the opening music to the funeral march happens until the funeral march is transformed into a high spirited march in the major. This vanishes into the chaos of the opening music until the funeral march returns in a richly orchestrated version. The march falls under the spell of the chaos of the opening and becomes more frantic. A section of music in the major interrupts and the music grows loud and majestic, only to return to the frantic music of the opening. Everything grows quiet, strings accompany in harmonics, the low strings pluck out two notes, and the timpani has the final say with an A played pianissimo.

III. Scherzo: Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Not too fast, strong) - The second part of the symphony is the third movement, a scherzo in D major that takes on the shape of a type of sonata form. There are several themes within the movement as well as two separate trio sections. The movement begins with four horns setting the mood of the first theme, in the style of a country dance. This theme goes through continuous development as the themes in the previous movements. A second theme (that is derived from the first theme), the beginning of the first trio, is played delicately by violins that slide between notes. The first theme returns and leads to a section in counterpoint. A new theme is played leisurely by the horns with commentary by the strings. This is the beginning of the second trio, and the theme goes through many variants. A section that develops some of the themes is played, and comes to a climax. Other themes are touched upon in the coda, and this longest movement of the 5th Symphony comes to a hectic, abrupt close.

IV. Adagietto. Sehr langsam (Very slow) -  Part Three of the symphony is comprised of the final two movements, the first of which is the Adagietto, arguably Mahler's most well-known and loved symphonic works.  He scores it for strings and harp alone. The movement has been used in memorial services for dignitaries and heads of state, Leonard Bernstein conducted it at Robert Kennedy's funeral in 1968, but it isn't funeral music as such, although the passion Mahler puts into it is definite. Willem Mengelberg, a contemporary of Mahler and champion of his works wrote that the movement was actually a musical love letter written to Alma Schindler whom he met while writing this symphony and who he later married:

This Adagietto was Gustav Mahler’s declaration of love to Alma! Instead of a letter, he confided it in this movement without a word of explanation. She understood and replied: He should come!(I have this from both of them!)
There is further evidence that when Mahler conducted the symphony that he took this movement faster than current conductors. Mahler's performances took between 7 and 9 minutes, according to the acoustics of the hall, while today's conductors run the range of 9 to 14 minutes. The movement is in simple three-part form, and while there are relatively few notes in it compared to the other movements of the symphony, Mahler peppers the music with all kinds of directions.  It is written in F major except for a short section in the key of G-flat major in the middle section. As the middle section segues back to the first section a huge glissando is taken in the violins. The first section repeats in an abbreviated version until a final climax is reached, after which the music slowly lessens until the most elementary of chord progressions begins with a C dominant 7th chord, which in Western music naturally leads to F major, which Mahler does, but he takes a long time to resolve the C7 chord in the violins and basses. But as the music dies away, the harmony resolves to F major. The last movement begins without pause.

V. Rondo-Finale. Allegro – Allegro giocoso. Frisch (Fresh) - With the final movement, Mahler has moved from funeral music in the first part, to ambiguous music in the second part, to love and finally exuberant joy in the final part. Another Wunderhorn song is used in the finale, In Praise Of Higher Understanding, also known as The Cuckoo And The Nightingale, which makes up the main theme of the finale, which shows characteristics of both rondo and sonata form. The short sections of counterpoint heard earlier in the symphony were only a warm up to Mahler's five contrapuntal sections in the finale.  An edition of J.S. Bach's works were being published and Mahler was a subscriber and was influenced by the older composer's mastery of the art. The theme of the fourth movement also appears in a faster and more jovial variant. Just before the ending, a theme from the 2nd movement appears in a noble variant maestoso, but the exuberance of the music sweeps it aside as it gallops to a final giggle and loud end.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Spohr - Symphony No. 2 In D Minor

The violinist, conductor and composer Louis Spohr was an important composer of the early Romantic era. He was active in Vienna and knew Beethoven well. He claimed that he learned how to compose by studying the works of Mozart, who remained his compositional ideal all his life.  He grew to dislike the late music of Beethoven as well as other modern composers of his time but he didn't let his personal tastes get in the way of performing them as a conductor.  He was also an early promoter of Richard Wagner's operas as he conducted The Flying Dutchman and Tannhäuser. 

He wrote almost 300 works in his life and his  music was quite popular during his lifetime. He finished 9 symphonies from 1811 to 1850, with the first symphony being in the classical mold of Mozart. His symphonic writing showed steady progress and by the time he wrote the 9th he had embraced program music.  By the time of his death in 1859 his music was considered old fashioned and it languished in obscurity until late in the 20th century.

The 2nd Symphony In D Minor was written in March of 1820 after Spohr had played one of his violin concertos at the Philharmonic Society Of London opening concert of the 1820 season. The symphony was premiered the next month by the same orchestra in London. The symphony is in four movements:

I. Allegro -  Spohr writes a short introduction that is in the same tempo as the movement proper, a departure from the slow introductions usually used by Mozart and Haydn. The first theme is carried mostly in the violins. The theme expands and is punctuated with strong accents and leads to the second theme played in the woodwinds over a stuttering accompaniment from the low strings. Fragments of the first theme interrupt the theme until the first theme returns in a variant in the major. A third theme appears and acts as a transition to the repeat of the exposition. The development works with a fragment of the first theme as it goes through key changes and variants. The recapitulation begins within a variant of the first theme in a very smooth transition. The second theme and transition material is varied until the tempo and intensity increases as a short coda hammers out a fragment of the first theme until the end of a seamlessly composed sonata movement.

II. Larghetto - The calm opening theme is in B-flat major. A central section interrupts the calm with a theme in G minor that by turn roars, rambles and grows quiet and tense.  The key of G minor exits with a roar as it entered as the opening theme returns and brings the movement to a pleasant close.

III. Scherzo: Presto - The scherzo begins in a quiet way and remains that way until a short crescendo shifts the key to D major, but this interruption lasts but a short while until the music grows more quiet. There is another loud interruption before the music leads to a trio in D major. The scherzo repeats, and then the trio returns with the full orchestra.  The music shifts back to D minor for the loud ending.

IV. Finale: Vivace - The finale begins in D major and after a short introduction a smoothly moving first theme is heard. The second theme is in an even lighter mood. Both themes are repeated with variations, with the second theme getting more playing time. The first theme returns and leads to the flutes rendition of the second theme. The second theme continues and leads to a short spirited coda that ends the symphony in high spirits.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 4 In A Major 'Italian'

The title Italian Symphony originated with Mendelssohn himself. During his trip in 1830-1831 he drew inspiration from Italy and sketched out the work during his trip. He completed the first version of the work in 1833 while in Berlin as a fulfilment of a commission from the Philharmonic Society of London. Mendelssohn led the premiere in London to great success, and the symphony was played again a month later. But Mendelssohn was dissatisfied with it, withdrew it, and revised it numerous times, continuing to work on it until his death. He refused to let it be performed and the work was not published in his lifetime. When it was published in 1851 there is some doubt as to what actual version of the symphony was used, but there is no doubt that it is one of Mendelssohn's most popular compositions. 

Mendelssohn took inspiration from the people, landscape and culture of Italy but it was the visual arts that inspired him as much as the rest. Mendelssohn was not only a musician, but an accomplished amateur artist with the brush and pencil which made his appreciation of the art he saw even more keen. He described the things he saw to his teacher Zeltner in a letter from Venice:
My family have no doubt told you of the exhilarating impression made on me by the first sight of the plains of Italy. I hurry from one enjoyment to another hour by hour, and constantly see something novel and fresh; but immediately on my arrival I discovered some masterpieces of art, which I study with deep attention, and contemplate daily for a couple of hours at least. These are three pictures by Titian. The "Presentation of Mary as a Child in the Temple;" the "Assumption of the Virgin;" and the "Entombment of Christ." There is also a portrait by Giorgione, representing a girl with a cithern in her hand, plunged in thought, and looking forth from the picture in serious meditation (she is apparently about to begin a song, and you feel as if you must do the same): besides many others.
Symphony No. 4 In A Major 'Italian' is scored for pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings. It is in four movements:

I.  Allegro vivace -  The movement begins with the dance-like first theme that unfolds at length before the second slightly less jubilant theme arrives. The exposition is repeated. The development section takes a snippet of theme in the minor and parades it through the string section in a complex contrapuntal texture. The woodwinds give reminders of the first theme until the strings continue in complexity. A transition signals the recapitulation. After themes are repeated, material from the development section returns briefly until the first theme begins a coda that wraps up the movement in the tonic of A major.

II. Andante con moto -  Written in D minor, the rather solemn first theme of this movement was inspired by the procession of monks in Rome, perhaps as he described in a letter:
Here I must deliver a eulogy on monks; they finish a picture at once, giving it tone and colour, with their wide loose gowns, their pious meditative, gait, and their dark aspect....In Albano, among girls with pitchers on their heads, vendors of flowers and vegetables, and all the crowd and tumult, we saw a coal-black dumb monk, returning to Monte Cavo, who formed a singular contrast to the rest of the scene. They seem to have taken entire possession of all this splendid country, and form a strange melancholy ground-tone for all that is lively, gay, and free, and the ever-living cheerfulness bestowed by nature. It is as if men, on that very account, required a counterpoise. 
A second theme is adorned with trills and grace notes. This theme leads to a theme in major mode that is short lived. The solemn theme of the beginning returns. The major key theme makes another brief appearance, the theme with trills and grace notes leads to a short coda that contains a fragment of the first theme in augmentation, and the movement ends quietly.

III. Con moto moderato - Instead of a scherzo, Mendelssohn writes a refined old style minuet. The trio section is led by the horns with commentary by the woodwinds and strings. There is a contrasting section in a minor key within the trio. The minuet resumes but just before the end of the movement the horn theme from the trio makes a very brief return until the movement ends.

IV. Presto and Finale: Saltarello - Mendelssohn begins the finale in the key of A minor with saltarello, a rapid Italian folk dance. The main theme runs through the orchestra and picks up a few different motives along the way, most of them in minor keys. In one section strings play rapid scales and figures in a section of counterpoint. The main theme ends the movement and has stubbornly stayed in A minor, a novelty for a large work such as a symphony, as up to this time works that began in minor keys ended in major keys.