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.

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