Friday, October 31, 2014

Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 In D Minor 'Choral'

The Age of Enlightenment began towards the end of the 17th century and lasted until the end of the 18th century. It was a movement spearheaded by intellectuals that sought to reform and challenge traditions of society and to further knowledge by the use of the scientific method. The movement swept across Europe, Russia, Great Britain and their colonies in the New World.  Indeed, it was the political and governmental philosophies of The Enlightenment that helped to create The United States.

The movement also encouraged the arts, and in Germany Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were
two of the most well-known Age of Enlightenment writers. Both authors eventually ended up in Wiemar, where they developed a friendship and worked together to revive German theater.

The art of music was also affected by the changes brought about by The Enlightenment, as a developing middle class became more involved in playing music and attending concerts, which gave composers more opportunities to compose for the public instead of royal patrons. George Handel was one of the early composers that composed his operas for public exhibition as well as works for keyboard and small ensemble that were made for playing at home.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770, and was a child of The Enlightenment. Although he still relied on the patronage of royalty, he was enthusiastic about the French Revolution (at least in the beginning) and had definite Republic leanings. Beethoven read the works of Goethe and Schiller but it was a poem by the latter printed in 1785 that resonated within him so deeply that he wanted to set it to music. It took him almost thirty years and a few false starts to finally used the poem Ode To Joy in a composition.  The Choral Fantasia of 1808 can be considered an experiment in setting text for soloist, chorus and orchestra, as well as many sketches in his notebooks of themes and possible versions of the text.

Friedrich Schiller
He began writing the 9th Symphony in 1818, but most of the real composing of the work happened between 1822-1824. The first three movements were completed first, with the last movement causing the most trouble. He was determined to use the poem in the last movement, but struggled with how to transition from three movements of instrumental music to a finale with soloists and chorus.  He came to a solution to the dilemma and completed the work in February of 1824.

The premiere of the work was given in May of 1824 in Vienna. There are many anecdotes written about the premiere, some of them in differing versions, so it is hard to know what really happened and what didn't, but there are a few details that are likely to have happened. Beethoven was on stage and beat out the tempo before each movement, but as his deafness had become almost total he did not participate otherwise in the performance.  Beethoven had his following in Vienna, and with the span of 12 years between the 8th Symphony and the 9th, the house was full.  There is evidence that only two rehearsals of the work were held, sand with a work as novel and demanding as the 9th,  the performance could not have been very good. But the audience gave the work and composer a standing ovation.

The work is scored for a very large orchestra with woodwinds in pairs, contra bassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, four soloists, chorus, and strings. The work is in four movements:

I. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso -  The beginning of this symphony is one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever written. To some it sounds like an orchestra tuning up, which is in keeping with the ambiguity of the work. Technically, the ambiguity is profound when it is known the notes being repeated are A and E, empty fourths and fifths which can be a hint at A major or A minor:
This continues as the scrap of a motive is passed back and forth in the strings while other instruments slowly join in the accompaniment until a crescendo leads to a loud statement and in a flash Beethoven asserts the key to D minor with a full statement of the first theme. This is expanded until it reverts back to the style of the beginning, but this time the two notes that are repeated are D and A, the bare fifth and fourth of either D major, or minor. Another surprise is in store as Beethoven plays the first theme again, only this time it is in B-flat major, but not for long.  Transitional material goes through various key changes in preparation for the second subject. After more transition, a third theme is heard. The exposition is not repeated, but segues directly to the development section that begins with the tonal ambiguity of the opening, but swiftly modulates to a different key. The development goes far a field as Beethoven works and reworks the themes to a fever pitch with the recapitulation and impassioned repeat of the first theme. The other themes are repeated in different keys. The coda begins with the first theme and develops it further. A ritard leads to a new theme played in the woodwinds while the strings play an agitated chromatic accompaniment. The entire orchestra builds in volume and intensity until the strings play a tremolo figure with a wide compass while the rest of the orchestra plays a strongly rhythmic commentary until the orchestra plays a fragment of the first theme until it abruptly ends.

II. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto - For the first time in one of his symphonies Beethoven places the scherzo as the second movement in place of the usual slow movement. The scherzo begins with a lightening strike imitation of a fragment of the first theme of the previous movement:
The scherzo continues as the theme is expanded in counterpoint.  The music continues to run through the orchestra until it reaches a quiet section that anticipates a change in the music, but this is a false impression as the music repeats the section that began after the introduction. After the repeat, the quiet section leads to the second part of the scherzo that begins in D major but soon reverts back to the tonic. The quiet section again appears and leads to the repeat of the second part of the scherzo. The scherzo then transitions directly to the trio which begins in D major. The trio evens out some of the rhythmic angularity of the scherzo but it too races along at a fast clip. The trio ends when the scherzo takes it from the top and begins with the lightning strike. Each section of the scherzo is played once, and after the second section it sounds as if the trio is to be repeated, but it is Beethoven tricking our ears as the short reference to the trio stops abruptly, and after a full bar's rest the orchestra plays broken octaves and ends the movement on the home note of D spread throughout the orchestra.

III. Adagio molto e cantabile - The slow movement begins in B-flat major, but there are many key changes throughout. The first theme is played by the violins, with another more passionate theme in the low strings directly after the first. The first theme is varied, as is the second theme for what is essentially a set of double variations. There is a loud interruption played twice during the movement, a fanfare in E-flat major. The movement comes to rest pianissimo in B-flat major.

IV. Schiller's Ode To Joy -  The beginning of this movement is also one of the most recognizable openings in music, but unlike the veiled mystery and ambiguity of the first movement, the lightening bolt suddenness of the scherzo, this opening is famous for its harshness and anger. It is a dissonant chord played in the woodwinds and brass that is followed by octave racing up and down that settle on an A, once again the dominant of the home key of D minor. A passage marked recitative is played by the low strings until another dissonant chord and octave racing that settle on a D minor chord.  These two dissonant chords confused most listeners and musicians for many years. Some took them as proof Beethoven was not in his right mind. Some conductors smoothed them over by removing the offending accidentals. Louis Spohr, violinist and composer, knew Beethoven and blamed his deafness:
His constant endeavor to be original and to open new paths, could no longer as formerly, be preserved from error by the guidance of the ear. Was it then to be wondered at that his works became more and more eccentric, unconnected, and incomprehensible? ... Yes! I must even reckon the much admired Ninth Symphony among them, the three first movements of which, in spite of some solitary flashes of genius, are to me worse than all of the eight previous Symphonies, the fourth movement of which is in my opinion so monstrous and tasteless, and in its grasp of Schiller's Ode so trivial, that I cannot even now understand how a genius like Beethoven's could have written it. I find in it another proof of what I already remarked in Vienna, that Beethoven was wanting in aesthetical feeling and in a sense of the beautiful.
Other famous musicians such as Berlioz struggled with the meaning of the dissonances, only to come to no conclusion:
[The chord] grinds dreadfully against the dominant and produces an excessively harsh effect. This does indeed express fury and rage, but here again I cannot see what motivates such feelings, unless the composer, before making the chorus leader sing... had wanted in a strangely capricious way to vilify the orchestral harmony. [My] efforts at discovering Beethoven’s purpose are completely in vain. I can see a formal intention, a deliberate and calculated attempt to produce a double discordance, both at the point which precede the appearance of the recitative, instrumental at first and later vocal. I have searched hard for the reason for this idea, and I have to admit that it is unknown to me.
After the two dissonant chords and recitative of the cellos and basses, Beethoven brings back reminisces of all three previous movements, one at a time with each being cut short by the low strings as they continue their recitative.  The low strings then play the main theme of the final movement, first by themselves and then with other instruments added with an increase in volume. The entire final movement contains many variations of this theme. A climax is reached, and a short transition section leads to yet another massive dissonant chord, this time by the entire orchestra. After the octave racing, the bass soloist sings a recitative with words written by Beethoven:

Bass:
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude!
(O friends, not these tones!
Let us sing more pleasing,
and peaceful ones!
Joy!)

Then the bass soloist sings the first section of the poem and the main theme of the movement that has already been heard in the low strings:
1st Section
Bass and Chorus:
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
(Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, burning with fervor,
heavenly being, your sanctuary!
Your magic brings together
what custom has sternly divided.
All men shall become brothers,
wherever your gentle wings hover.)
The chorus then repeats the last four lines of this section.

The next section has the soloists continuing the poem:
2nd Section
Sporano, Alto, Tenor, Bass and chorus:  
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
(Whoever has been lucky
to become a friend to a friend,
Whoever has found his beloved wife,
let him join our songs of praise!
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul
his own on this earth!
Anyone who cannot, let them slink away
from this gathering in tears!)
The chorus repeats the last four lines of this section also.

The soloists continue the poem in the third section:
3rd Section
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass and Chorus:
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
(Every creature drinks in joy
at nature's breast;
Good and Bad alike
follow her trail of roses.
She gives kisses and wine,
a true friend, even in death;
Even the worm was given desire,
and the cherub stands before God.)
The chorus repeats the last four lines of this section, with the last two words vor Gott repeated until a massive chord is held molto tenuto . 

The music changes key to B-flat major as the bass drum and bassoons play a rudimentary rhythm that is soon picked up by other instruments in the orchestra. The cymbals and triangle add to the basic rhythm as Beethoven has transformed his noble music into an imitation of a German oom pah pah band (perhaps a section Spohr had in mind in the quote above) as the piccolo plays a variant of the main theme of the movement. The tenor soloist then continues the poem in the fourth section:
4th Section
Tenor and Male Chorus:
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
(Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Gladly, just as His suns hurtle
through the glorious universe,
So you, brothers, should run your course,
joyfully, like a conquering hero.)
After the singing of this section of the poem the orchestra takes off on a flight of conflict over major or minor key in a flurry of passionate music that begins to be resolved as the music plays rhythmic octaves reminiscent of the main theme of the first movement. A quiet transition then grows in intensity until the chorus repeats the 1st section of the poem. After the repeat, the music suddenly halts.

The chorus then begins to sing the next part of the poem on a new theme in the fifth section:
5th Section
Chorus:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
(Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.
Do you bow down before Him, you millions?
Do you sense your Creator, o world?
Seek Him above the canopy of stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.)
The chorus reaches the limits of its upper register on the words He must dwell beyond the stars as the orchestra shimmers a delicate accompaniment. There is a fermata, and the final section begins.

The chorus begins a double fugue beginning with altos and sopranos with the main theme and the new theme. Tenors and Bass enter as the orchestra accompanies. The soloists sing part of the first section. The chorus takes over until the soloists re-enter with an intricate variant that is lightly accompanied by the orchestra. The music then quickens, the chorus with words from the first section until the music broadens. After the chorus repeats the lines Freude, schöner Götterfunken the orchestra takes over at a gallop and ends the symphony at break neck speed and intensity.




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mahler - Symphony No. 4 In G Major

Gustav Mahler was best known in his lifetime as a leader of opera houses and as a conductor with a world wide reputation. During the opera and concert season he gave all he had to these endeavors, but during his summer vacation he gave all he had to composing. Mahler's first three symphonies grew progressively larger and longer, so the audience didn't know what to expect at the premiere of the 4th Symphony.  What they got was a surprise.

The 4th Symphony is written for smaller forces (at least by Mahler's standards). There are no trombones, no choirs, only one soprano soloist that sings in the 4th movement, and the entire symphony takes just under an hour, the shortest symphony Mahler wrote up to that point.  Mahler's 4th can be called his Classical Symphony for its style, forces used and content.

But that doesn't mean the symphony is a trifle. Mahler was a man of incredible emotions that spilled over into his music and the 4th is no exception. The difference is that while there are moments of darkness, for the most part the symphony is in a sunny mood. Mahler began to sketch out the symphony in 1899 but after the summer vacation he put the work in his desk so he could focus on his work as the director of the Vienna Court opera. When he came back to it the next summer, he finished it in only three weeks.

Mahler conducted the premiere of the symphony in 1901 in Munich. It was not a success. The work was roundly booed. The style of the work as well as the thematic material and construction of the symphony gave both sides much to carp about. The anti-Mahler faction thought the composer was trying to pull a fast one by writing music that was different than his earlier works, as if h e were thumbing his nose at them. Some of the pro-Mahler faction that expected another blockbuster work complained about the naiveté of the music, as if he purposefully left his monumental style to write something more accessible for the audience and critics.  But it was this roundly criticized work that became the most performed of all Mahler's symphonies.

I. Bedächtig, nicht eilen (Slowly, not rushing) -  Mahler opens the symphony with flutes, sleigh bells and clarinets:
This short section acts as a prelude that leads to the first theme, a rising figure heard in the violins that changes to a dotted rhythm. After the first theme plays out, a short transition leads to the second theme heard in the low strings. Another theme appears in the oboe and other woodwinds. The opening motive with sleigh bells signals the development section,which is initially taken up with the first theme. A section for solo violin continues the development section that constantly shifts themes and fragments of themes in and out, and transforms them to different themes. The lightness of orchestration belies the fact that this is very complex music. The music reaches a short climax with a trumpet solo and the sleigh bells return. Motives are played in counterpoint and lead up to another climax with trumpet solo. The recapitulation is not as extensive as the exposition and it leads to a short coda where the first theme gradually increases in tempo and volume until it comes to an end.

II. In gemächlicher Bewegung, ohne Hast (Moving with leisure, no hurry) -  A scherzo in the form of  a  ländler has a violin playing a solo with an altered tuning; Mahler instructs the soloist to tune all of the strings a full tone higher than usual. Mahler originally marked this movement with the words Death strikes up the dance for us; she scrapes her fiddle bizarrely and leads us up to heaven, but he eventually removed all descriptive headings from this movement as well as the others. The music maintains its leisurely dance pace throughout, complete with string portamento. The movement ends with a shimmering cadence for glockenspiel, triangle. harp and woodwinds.

III. Ruhevoll, poco adagio (Peaceful, a little slow) -  A languid theme slowly unwinds over a pizzicato accompaniment. A second theme of a more impassioned nature is played by the cor anglaise, with strings adding commentary. A set of variations on the first theme follows, with an interruption by the second theme amid the variations. A fragment of the first theme plays, and in a flash the music switches to E major and grows loud and noble as the theme for the final movement is announced. The music grows quiet and mysterious and ends in a hush.

IV. Sehr behaglich (Very pleasantly) - Mahler returns once again to a poem from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection of old German poems that he drew inspiration from for many years. He used the text from the poem Das himmlische Leben (Life in Heaven), a song about being in
Heaven and how the Saints slaughter animals and prepare meals there. As depicted in the poem, Heaven's not so heavenly for lams, ox and other animals. Mahler instructs the soprano to sing the song as a child, honestly and without parody. The song is interrupted three times by the motive first heard in the introduction to the first movement complete with sleigh bells, but this time played rapidly at a fast tempo and in a minor key. After the third interruption, the song returns to the gentleness of the opening of the movement. On the last two words of the line and Saint Ursula herself has to laugh, the soloist joins the violins in a glissando. The song continues, the cor anglaise and harp play a opening fragment of the movement and the music ends in a barely audible whisper.

Life In Heaven from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
We enjoy heavenly pleasures and
therefore avoid earthly ones.
No worldly tumult is to be heard in heaven
 All live in greatest peace.
We lead angelic lives,
yet have a merry time of it besides.
We dance and we spring,
We skip and we sing.
Saint Peter in heaven looks on.

John lets the lambkin out,
and Herod the Butcher lies in wait for it.
We lead a patient,
an innocent, patient,
dear little lamb to its death.
Saint Luke slaughters the ox
without any thought or concern.
Wine doesn't cost a penny in the heavenly cellars;
The angels bake the bread.

Good greens of every sort grow
in the heavenly vegetable patch,
good asparagus, string beans,
and whatever we want.
Whole dishfuls are set for us!
Good apples, good pears and good grapes,
and gardeners who allow everything!
If you want roebuck or hare,
on the public streets they come running right up.

Should a fast day come along,
all the fishes at once come swimming with joy.
There goes Saint Peter running
with his net and his bait
to the heavenly pond.
Saint Martha must be the cook.

There is just no music on earth
that can compare to ours.
Even the eleven thousand virgins
venture to dance,
and Saint Ursula herself has to laugh.
There is just no music on earth
that can compare to ours.
Cecilia and all her relations
make excellent court musicians.
The angelic voices gladden our senses,
so that all awaken for joy.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bax - Symphony No. 1

The cataclysm of World War One truly had a global effect while it was being fought and even more so after it was over. With tens of millions of dead and wounded, the destruction of major monarchies of Russia and Germany, and with the vengeful victors of the war burdening the losers with the punitive punishment of reparations, history has shown that the First World War was but a prelude to even more death and destruction twenty years later.

The aftermath of the war took the trend of Modernism and sped it up by giving it a hard shove, and in the process created a world that no longer seemed to have any direction for many. This was reflected in the arts, most notably with writers such as Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But all the arts were affected, with music composers reflecting the loss of direction and chaos in music that threw away some of the most time-honored practices of music in favor of dissonance and extreme emotion.  

Arnold Bax was an English composer and poet that lived through the war, but due to a heart condition he did not serve in it. He was fortunate in that he was born to an upper class family and most likely never had to scramble to earn a living. He was taught privately and showed great musical talent as well as an overall high intellect. He read widely, and took inspiration from literature and after he read some poems by Irish poet William Butler Yeats he became interested in Ireland. For over 30 years he spent part of the year in Ireland where he became friends with Irish writers, rebels and peasants. 

He was on the side of Irish Independence, perhaps a somewhat precarious position for a Englishman, and he was profoundly affected by the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin where over 400 people died and Irish revolutionaries were executed. World War one also caused an increase in violence in Ireland in 1918 when the British who were on the brink of entering the war, inflicted conscription on Ireland. 

Bax's  Symphony No. 1 was finished in 1922, and exactly how much the war and the events in Ireland influenced the work is not certain. Bax himself discounted any influence the war may have had, but with a composer that was as sensitive as Bax, it is hard to believe that both the war and the events in Ireland didn't influence the work.  The symphony is in three movements:

I. Allegro moderato e feroce - Moderato expressivo - Tempo I - The first movement begins in the rather obscure key of E-flat minor with a soft chord in the woodwinds that increases in volume with a harp glissando added until a one-measure motive is played fortissimo by the horns, 1st violins and violas:
 This kernel of music is the basis of the first theme, which continues until a shift in mood occurs with the second theme. This theme is more lyrical and placid, in contrast to the beginning of the work. This theme continues the mood until the contra bassoon brings the development section that is full of dark rumblings as the theme stabs its way through the colorful orchestral texture with a rhythm that lies underneath the rest of the music that is heard repeatedly:
Other short themes are heard as the working out continues until the first theme begins the recapitulation. The second theme is then transformed as it is played softly by the flute over a light accompaniment from harp and strings. The theme continues until it slowly dies away and the bassoons and horns begin a coda in a scherzo-like section that leads to the dominating rhythm's return. It steps up in volume as it makes its way through the strings as chords are played in the brass, horns and woodwinds. A crescendo brings the same instruments to a whole note chord that play E-flat and B-flat, in what first appears to be a lead-in to an ending in E-flat major, but the defining note of G natural is missing as the rest of the orchestra plays the same two ambiguous notes until a cadential chord is played that fools the listener as it sounds like the work indeed will end in E-flat major. But the final chord of the movement is a devastating and powerful E-flat minor chord that thunders through the orchestra triple-forte.

II. Lento solenne - After the horror of the first movement, the next movement begins in a diaphanous veil of mystery with strings playing sul ponticello along with harps, held chords in the brass and the light riffing of a snare drum with snares off. The music moves steadily forward until a march-like section begins.  The horns and trumpets play a prominent part in this movement that brims with contrasts of power. Strings and woodwinds play a throbbing accompaniment to timpani and horns, the music reaches a climax. The music grows more gentle as it nears the end of the movement, when the mystery of the beginning returns and the music dies away.

III. Allegro maestoso - Allegro vivace ma non troppo -  Presto Tempo di marcia Trionfale - The loud beginning of the movement leads to an imaginative and brilliantly scored scherzo. This scherzo is brief. The first theme from the opening movement reappears in a different guise in a section that toys with until another section works the theme into a triumphant march. After along journey and much struggle, the symphony has finally reached the key of E-flat major and ends.

Bax's orchestral palette is broad and colorful as is evidenced in his seven symphonies and many tone poems. He took inspiration from many sources, including Russian, German and Irish folksong.  He was a prolific composer and wrote music in many genre excluding opera. He died in 1953 at the age of 69.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haydn - Symphony No. 99 In E-flat Major

After having spent most of his adult life in the employ of  Prince Esterházy, Haydn made two trips toLondon beginning in 1791. London had already taken Haydn's music to heart after the death of Johann Christian Bach in 1782, and he had been approached to go to London before, but had always refused out of loyalty to his employer. When his employer died, his situation changed. His new employer was not as much of a music lover so he disbanded much of the orchestra and gave Haydn his freedom (while still keeping him on salary for bragging rights).  Shortly after Haydn moved to Vienna in 1790, Johann Salomon, a German musician and impresario who had relocated to London, paid him a visit. When Haydn answered a knock on his door, the impresario said (according to Haydn):
I am Salomon of London and have come to fetch you. Tomorrow we will arrange an accord.
Shortly after their meeting, Haydn made his way to the English Channel with Salomon and sailed for England on New Year's Day, 1791.  When he got there  he was feted by London music lovers, made many new friends and participated in many concerts. He stayed in London for two concert seasons and finally made a trip back to Austria in the summer of 1792.

Haydn made his second trip to London in January of 1794 and stayed another two concert seasons. The King and queen of England offered him a suite of rooms at Windsor Castle if he would stay in England, but Haydn went back to Vienna in the summer of 1795.  The London trips resulted in the composition of the twelve London Symphonies, six for each trip. In addition, Haydn also composed quartets, songs, concertos, and other pieces for a total of about 250 compositions. Haydn was now very well off financially as the London trips paid him more money than he had ever earned before, and made him the most famous composer of the time.

The first six symphonies composed for London, Numbers 93-98 were enthusiastically received, along with the second group of six, as can be seen from the excerpt from a review of the February 17th, 1794 concert which included a string quartet and Symphony No. 99 by Haydn as published in the London newspaper The Morning Chronicle on the 19th of February 1794:
...the richest part of the banquet , as usual, was due to the wonderful Haydn. His new quartetto gave pleasure by its variety, gaiety, and the fascination of its melody and harmony through all its movements: and the overture, [a term synonymous with symphony at the time] being performed with increasing accuracy and effect, was received with increasing rapture. The first movement was encored: the effect of the wind instruments in the second movement was enchanting; the hautboy [oboe] and flute were finely in tune, but the bassoon was in every respect more perfect and delightful than we ever remember to have heard a wind instrument before. In the minuets, the trio was peculiarly charming; but indeed the pleasure the whole gave was continual; and the genius of Haydn astonishing [ly] inexhaustible, and sublime, was the general theme. 
Concerts in those times gave a much larger variety of types of compositions. In addition to the string quartet and symphony by Haydn, there was a symphony by a different composer, a violin concerto, and some vocal works thrown in for good measure.

Symphony 99 In E-flat was the first symphony of the second London visit, and it was also the first symphony in which Haydn included parts for clarinets.  It is in four movements:

I. Adagio - Vivace assai -  Eleven of the twelve London symphonies begin with an introduction, with this one being exceptionally rich in modulations; E-flat, B-flat, E minor, C minor, before arriving back at E-flat in preparation for the first theme which is heard in the violins:
The first theme is developed and expanded with additional material, and instead of modulating to a different theme the first theme is repeated in B-flat and the development of the theme continues. Haydn didn't always use a second contrasting theme, but made small changes in the first theme and used it as his second theme. Enough time passes on this variant of the first theme to seem as though this is Haydn's intention, a second theme in B-flat major appears in the violins just before the end of the exposition:
The development begins with the first few bars of the first theme, and as if to make up for the short shrift given to the second theme, there is an extended working out of the second theme with the first theme appearing briefly in the middle of the development. The recapitulation repeats the first theme briefly and transitions to the second theme played in E-flat. With the roles of the themes reversed, the second theme dominates the recapitulation like the first theme dominated the exposition. A fragment of the first theme returns briefly and the movement comes to a close on E-flat.

II. Adagio -  The second movement is also in sonata form and is in the key of G major, a key far from the home key of E-flat. The writing for woodwinds shows Haydn's skill as an orchestrator and the inclusion of the timpani and trumpets in the middle section of the movement shows his ability to use his forces to good effect, for he very seldom included both in any of his slow movements. This middle section foreshadows Beethoven, but Haydn keeps the tension brief and under control.

III. Menuetto e Trio. Allegretto -  This movement is an example of how the minuet continued to evolve in Haydn's symphonies, for with its accents and fermatas it is a direct ancestor of Beethoven's scherzos. Indeed, if the tempo were increased to vivace, the relationship would be even clearer. The trio section is in C major, another key far removed from E-flat.

IV. Finale: Vivace -  A type of finale Haydn was fond of; a hybrid between a rondo and sonata form. The woodwinds pass around snippets of themes between themselves and the strings as the main theme winds through the movement. There is a slowing of the tempo close to the end, but the music picks up speed once again as the woodwinds and strings play a game of tag with motives before this short movement ends in E-flat.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Schubert - Symphony No. 8 In B Minor 'Unfinished'

Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 may be the most famous unfinished work in the symphonic repertoire. The two completed movements of the symphony were completed in 1822, as well as a third movement scherzo in piano score with two pages in full score. There has been theories, rumors and downright guesswork as for the reasons the symphony remained unfinished, with none of them more than conjecture.  Because of the depth of feeling and drama of the work it has been called the first Romantic era symphony by some.

The history of the first performance of the work begins shortly after the two movements were completed in 1822. In 1823 Schubert was given an honorary diploma from the Granz Music Society, and in return the composer was going to dedicate a work to the society.  Schubert sent the first two movements of the symphony to Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a prominent member of the group.  There is no evidence that Schubert had any other contact with Hüttenbrenner or that he completed any of the other movements for the work. Indeed, Hüttenbrenner never let anyone else know he had the manuscript until 1865. Why Hüttenbrenner sat on the manuscript for so many years is not known. He finally showed the work to the conductor Johann von Herbeck, the conductor of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. Herbeck premiered the two movements and tacked on a movement from an earlier Schubert symphony as a finale, in 1865 in Vienna.  The work was a complete success despite the addition of the finale, and has been an audience favorite ever since.

The six symphonies Schubert composed before the Unfinished don't resemble it in depth or drama, but Schubert could be a quite dramatic composer when he chose to be as can be heard in his lied Der Erlkönig as well as music in other forms. One theory is that the composition of the symphony coincides with Schubert's diagnosis of syphilis. Considering such a diagnosis in those times was a sentence of suffering, perhaps madness, and certain death, may have been a reason for the dark tone of the music. The symphony is scored for pairs of woodwinds, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, strings and timpani.
Johann von Herbeck

I. Allegro moderato - It may appear strange that the tempo indication of this movement is allegro moderato, for the music that begins the movement doesn't seem to fit. But Schubert's point in the tempo designation is to make sure that there should be at least some speed to the movement, otherwise the music would sound too heavy to the point of plodding.  Of course just how moderately fast is subject to a conductor's interpretation.  The work opens with the dark cellos and basses playing pianissimo in their lowest ranges. The actual first theme of the movement is carried in the woodwinds while the violins play an agitated accompaniment along with the lower strings. a four-bar transition played by the horns shifts the music from B minor to G major for the second subject that is heard in the cellos over a syncopated accompaniment. A theme group is played after the second theme until a variant of the second theme is played. Transition material leads to the repeat of the exposition. The development section begins with a short transition before the cellos and basses play the opening bars of the symphony again but this time in E minor. The rest of the development concentrates on the first theme and its parts and is punctuated with sforzandi and string tremolos. The syncopated accompaniment of the second theme does show up a few times also. The recapitulation is mostly the usual repetition of themes, only the second theme modulates to D major instead of B major, the parallel major to the home key of B minor.  The music does modulate to B major until the first theme in B minor appears and is expanded into the ending of the emphatic final cadence.

II. Andante con moto - Two bars of introduction lead to the E major first theme of the movement, first played by the strings. This theme has a contrasting section of marching staccato strings until it resumes. A second theme is played in C-sharp minor by the clarinet over a gently syncopated accompaniment by the strings. This theme also has a contrasting section of music played fortissimo before the theme begins again.  All of this serves as the exposition. There is no development section, as the themes are repeated with modulations to other keys and variants. After this plays out, a new theme appears that is derived from the opening measures of the movement. The transition to the second theme that is played by the violins earlier is repeated and varied along with parts of the other themes, and the movement comes to a peaceful close in E major.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alice Mary Smith - Symphony In C Minor

In the 19th century, the only types of music considered suitable by the musical establishment (a male-exclusive entity) for women to write were short piano pieces and songs for the drawing room. Larger scale chamber music and orchestral music was considered un-lady like and were rarely performed. But with the help and encouragement of her teachers William Sterndale Bennett and George McFarren (both devoted to Felix Mendelssohn's music), Alice Mary Smith went on to write not only piano pieces and songs, but chamber music and large scale works for orchestra.

Born in London in 1839 to a well to do family, Smith showed a talent for music early on. Her family was financially able to have her study music privately with the above mentioned teachers. Her first work to be published was a song titled Weep No More!, and her first large composition was a Piano Quartet performed in 1861.  She continued to compose and was elected Female Professional Associate of the Philharmonic Society. She was married to Frederick Meadows White in 1867 and did not compose any major works for a few years as she concentrated on her two daughters. Her husband was an amateur musician that encouraged her to begin composing again, which she did in 1869.

Smith joined the Musical Society of London in 1861, an organization of contemporary composers who as members gained the opportunity of hearing their works in performance. The Symphony In C Minor, written when she was 24, was played at one of these concerts in 1863. A review of the concert appeared in the Illustrated London News:
On the same evening, at the Hanover-square Rooms, the Musical society of London had a trial-performance of new orchestral compositions by members of the society. Several symphonies and overtures were performed by a full and excellent orchestra, which did them every justice. Amongst the most remarkable was a symphony in C minor by Miss Alice Mary Smith and a symphony in A minor by Mr. John Francis Barnett, both admirable compositions, which did honour to the talents of their authors.  Miss Smith's symphony especially, coming from the pen of a young lady, was striking proof of the sound studies and high attainments of the female votaries of the art in this country. We trust that these symphonies will be brought before the public in the course of the ensuing season. 
Symphony In C Minor is scored for woodwinds in pairs, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. It is in four movements:

I. Grave - Allegro ma non troppo - With Smith having been taught by two advocates of Mendelssohn's music, Smith used Mendelssohn's symphonies as models  The movement begins with a melancholy introduction that is followed by a tempo increase and a 4-bar lead in to the first theme played by the violas.
This short motive in C minor is passed up through the strings before it is expanded. Other instruments take it up until a section of transition brings forth the second theme in E-flat major played in the 1st violins.

This motive is repeated and expanded before it leads directly to yet another theme, a motive played by the horns and answered by the woodwinds:
This theme is also expanded and repeated until it leads directly to the first theme appearing briefly in the major until the opening lead-in of the movement heralds the repeat of the exposition.  The development section begins with the first theme and Smith goes through many key changes as certain fragments of the theme are emphasized. The second theme also goes through a working out that is invaded by segments of the first theme.  A section of transition brings the recapitulation of the themes. The first theme returns in the coda and leads to a tempo increase and the emphatic end of the movement.

II. Allegretto amorevole -  The second movement does away with trumpets and timpani, in music similar to the piano works of the genteel Victorian salon. Smith uses the tempo modifier amorevole, a term Mendelssohn used for music of a similar sentiment.

III. Allegro ma non troppo - Poco meno mosso -  Smith uses no repeats in this short scherzo-like movement. The quality of the writing for woodwinds in this movement as well as the other three show that Smith had a good feel for orchestra color.

IV.  Allegro maestoso - A rondo with the main theme in C major. There are fleeting moments of drama, and about in the middle of the movement a solo for oboe that returns to a theme in the first movement. The strings enter and play a pizzicato accompaniment to the cadenza-like section, there is a partial close and the main theme returns. A coda wraps up the movement in good Mendelssohnian tradition.

Smith was went on to compose many other works for orchestra, including another Symphony In A Minor. In 1883 she was elected as an honorary member of the Royal Academy Of Music, an award that was only bestowed on the most distinguished and accomplished composers.  She went on to compose the most orchestral works of any English female composer in the 19th century.

She was not only known in England, as her fame was such that in the United States the the New York Times ran a lengthy obituary when she died in 1884 of typhoid fever at the age of 45.






Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 3 In A Minor 'Scottish'

Unlike the childhoods of many composers in the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn had the good fortune of being born into a family of wealth. His father was an influential banker and could afford to give the best to his children, including a sound overall education as well as a musical education after Felix showed his natural aptitude for the art.

Included in that education was the finest private teachers and opportunities to hear his latest compositions at the Sunday concerts held in his parent's home.  Felix was to be exposed to other countries and cultures as well, and went on a Grand Tour of Europe beginning in 1829.  He made his first trip to England while on the Grand Tour, where he met many of the leading musicians of the day. Mendelssohn was always very popular in England and made many trips there during his short life.

His visit to England in 1829 included a trip to Scotland, which inspired two compositions. The
Hebrides Overture also known as Fingal's Cave was inspired by this trip, as well as the 3rd Symphony In A Minor.  While the Hebrides Overture was completed in 1830, Mendelssohn set the 3rd Symphony on the shelf in 1831, and didn't return to it until 1841, finally finishing it in 1842.  As with the numbering of other composer's works, this symphony was the fifth in the order of completion but the third to be published, hence the numbering of it.

Mendelssohn visited a specific place in Scotland that gave him the first inspiration for a symphony, as he wrote in a letter home:
In darkening twilight today, we went to the Palace [of Holyrood] where Queen Mary lived and loved. There is a little room to be seen there with a spiral staircase at its door. That is where they went up and found Rizzio in the room, dragged him out, and three chambers away there is a dark corner where they murdered him. The chapel beside it has lost its roof and is overgrown with grass and ivy, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is ruined, decayed and open to the clear sky. I believe that I have found there today the beginning of my Scotch Symphony.
The nickname of the symphony came directly from Mendelssohn, and refers to the inspiration the country gave him rather than any Scottish folk music he included in it. On the contrary, Mendelssohn was somewhat of a snob as far as folk music. He absolutely detested it and said so in another letter home:
No national music for me! Ten thousand devils take all nationality! Now I am in Wales and, dear me, a harper sits in the hall of every reputed inn, playing incessantly so-called national melodies; that is to say, the most infamous, vulgar, out-of-tune trash, with a hurdygurdy going on at the same time. It’s maddening, and has given me a toothache already.
The premiere of the symphony was in March 1842 by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Mendelssohn.  It is in four movements that are played without a break:

I. Andante con moto  - Allegro un poco agitato -  The movement begins with a melancholy introduction that was derived from sixteen measures written in piano score in 1829 while Mendelssohn was in Scotland. The movement uses this introduction as a basis for the themes and mood of the rest as can be felt when the first theme of the movement begins quietly, and grows to a fortissimo with the second theme. The first theme returns along with other thematic motives, including one just before the end of the exposition (which is indicated to be repeated in the core, but not all conductors do). The development begins softly and builds to a climax, after which the first theme is dealt with. The second theme and some other motives are included in the working out before there is a smooth segue to the recapitulation, after which a section that sounds like the wind howling is played. This leads to a climax, and then the music from the introduction returns and leads to the second movement that is played without pause.

II. Vivace non troppo -  The second movement begins with a short introduction and the clarinet plays the them for the first time:
Because of this theme's rhythmic and melodic nature, this movement is considered by many to be in the spirit of Scottish music, even if it doesn't (and it doesn't) quote any actual Scottish folk tunes. Much has been made about the famous (some would say infamous) Scotch snap in the theme (at the end of the first phrase at the beginning of the 5th measure for instance) as proof that Mendelssohn used it intentionally in reference to Scotland.  This is of no consequence, for the music is an example of a  Mendelssohnian scherzo (although written in sonata form) that is fleet of foot and short in length that could have shown up in a different work. The scherzo ends with pizzicato strings that lead to the next movement.

III. Adagio - A short introduction leads to a flowing first theme that is contrasted with a dark, powerful second theme that reaches a climax before it quiets down and a 3rd theme appears.  The opening measures return, the second theme returns, followed by an expanded version of the first theme. The rumbling second theme grows to another climax, the 3rd theme is repeated. The first theme returns one last time to end the movement.

IV. Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai -  The finale begins with an agitated march, followed by the 2nd theme that is in the same mood. A 3rd theme quietly appears in the oboe. The first theme reappears and is developed with the other themes taking their turn in short sections. The first theme is played quietly and segues directly to a new majestic theme in A major. This theme is in such contrast to what has gone before that some have called it misplaced.  But by the nature of the theme (which some have called Germanic, whatever the hell that means) Mendelssohn may have been in a quandary how to end the work on a positive note with what had gone on before in the movement.

Aside from all that has been written about the work and its connections to Scotland, the 3rd Symphony is a masterpiece, and would be so if it had no nickname at all.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mozart - Symphony No. 1 In E-flat Major, K.16

Statue of the young Mozart in London
The inception of the symphony began at the end of the Baroque era, and due to the form being taken up by many composers it became an important part of concert life by 1790. In the beginning, the symphony was an offshoot of the opera overture. In fact, many early symphonies were originally written as operatic overtures. Early symphonies had three movements with a tempo scheme of the movements fast-slow-fast. Eventually an additional movement was added, along with more flexibility of tempo and mood of the individual movements.

Not all composers wrote symphonies, but many of the famous ones did. Joseph Haydn is known for the 106 symphonies with his first being composed ca. 1759. His younger colleague Mozart wrote up to 68 symphonies (there remains debate among musicologists as to the actual number) with his first being composed in 1764, only six years after Haydn's first. The difference between these composers first symphonies begins with the difference in their ages when they wrote them; Haydn was thirty-seven, Mozart was eight! 

Mozart was already known as a wunderkind by the time he was eight, but only as a performer. Mozart first went on tour in 1762 to the courts in Munich, Vienna and Prague. A tour of Europe that began in 1764 lasted over three years and took the Mozart family to many of the capitals and courts of Europe. While on this tour, he met many of the leading composers of the day, and it was while he was in London that he met Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Despite the twenty years difference in age, they became friends and just as important to Mozart, Bach mentored him in composition. 

Bach was a very popular composer in London at the time,  so Mozart got to hear much of his music as well as play Bach's keyboard works. Leopold Mozart, the composer's father wrote:
What he had known when he left Salzburg is nothing compared with what he knows now; it defies the imagination … right now, Wolfgang is sitting at the harpsichord playing Bach’s trios.
Mozart's sister Nannerl wrote about Bach and her brother in her diary years later:
Herr Johann Christian Bach, music master of the queen, took Wolfgang between his knees. He would play a few measures; then Wolfgang would continue. In this manner they played entire sonatas. Unless you saw it with your own eyes, you would swear that just one person was playing.
Mozart plaque in London
Bach was a great influence on Mozart's developing style and talent.  So it is natural that his first attempt at a symphony would be under the older composer's direct influence, and so it was that Mozart wrote his first symphony while in London in 1764. A statue of the young Mozart and a plaque have been erected on the spot on Ebury Street.

There has been some question among scholars if the young Mozart actually wrote the symphony himself. His father was not only a composer and master musician in his own right, he knew how to promote his son. What better to show the precocity of Wolfgang than a symphony written when he was but eight years old? It is thought that Leopold assisted his son on his earliest compositions, if not actually creating the music at least writing it down on paper. So perhaps it is all an example of a proud and ambitious father. Whatever the truth of the matter, what is offered as Mozart's First Symphony is an interesting early example of the form.  The symphony is scored for two oboe, two horns, strings and continuo, and is in three movements as early symphonies were.

I. Molto allegro -  The movement opens with the notes of the E-flat major triad throughout the orchestra after which a series of whole note chords leads to a repeat of the opening and the string of whole note chords.  A section of transition leads to the second theme in B-flat major. Another transitional section leads to the repeat of the the exposition. The development begins with the first theme section in B-flat major, and then in C minor. The first theme is not repeated as a section transition continues in C minor and modulates to the home key of E-flat for the repetition of the second theme, and the movement ends.

II. Andante - The second movement is in C minor and has the theme played by the basses over a half-note accompaniment by the oboes and horns. The rest of the strings play a triplet figure throughout the movement that creates a cross rhythm of 2 versus 3.

III. Presto - The music returns to E-flat major with the first theme in regular 4-bar phrases that lasts 16 measures and then repeats. A second theme group includes a section of eight bars that travels downward chromatically from B-flat to D. The first theme returns, followed by the second theme group. A transition leads to the final repetition of the first theme which ends the symphony.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sammartini - Symphony In C Minor, J-C 9

The state of European music in the first half of the 18th century saw a tremendous change in styles and attitudes. At the beginning of the century the style of music was still firmly rooted in the Baroque era traditions of counterpoint, polyphony and fugue. The music of J.S. Bach can be considered the culmination of this era. The style galante came to the forefront, along with changes in not only the forms used in music but the instruments that were being written for.

One of the forms that began a long history of development was that of the symphony,which is a work of more than one movement, with at least one of the movements in sonata form. Sonata form can be viewed as the defining compositional form of the Classical era. There were many composers who used sonata form and added to the development of it, with one of the earliest being Giovanni Battista Sammartini.

Sammartini was a prolific Italian composer who composed works in many different genres, but
is most well known for his 68 extant symphonies which were written throughout his long life (1700-1775). He remained in the Milan area all of his life, but his music became well known to other composers and he met many of his contemporaries, including Mozart. Two symphonies Sammartini composed in 1732 are what musicologists believe constitute earliest dated symphonies known. And coincidentally, 1732 is the birth year of one of the most famous symphony composers in classical music, Joseph Haydn.

His works were forgotten shortly after his death and it wasn't until 1913 that he was rediscovered. The J-C numbers listed after Sammartini's works are from the musicologists Newell Jenkins and Bathia Churgin catalogue of Sammartini's known works in 1976. Symphony In C Minor J-C 9 is believed to be an early work written between 1730-1750 scored for strings and continuo, and is in three movements:

I. Allegro -  The first movement begins with a dotted rhythm theme in C minor that lasts for ten measures. The theme modulates to E-flat major and is expanded to fourteen measures long. The number of measures in the theme gives it a feeling of being slightly off balance phrase wise in both versions. The second section has the theme modulate to other keys and settles on G, the dominant of the home key. The theme returns in the original key of C minor and after a few short modulations the theme ends in C minor. The movement is an early version of sonata form that used a variant of the msin theme as a contrasting second theme, a method used later by Haydn in some of his sonata form movements.

II. Affettuoso - The second movement is written in E-flat major in simple binary form. The first section is 18 measures. the second section is extended to 22 measures, which like the first movement makes for unequal phrasing.

III. Allegro - As in the first movement, Sammartini uses one theme and varies it to achieve the semblance of a different theme. Triplets and sharp staccatos add to the velocity of the music, and it ends in C minor.

Dvořák - Symphony No. 9 In E Minor 'From The New World'

Folk music is based on the pentatonic scale, a scale that consists of 5 notes to the octave instead of the usual 7. The usual 7-note C major scale consists of seven tones before the series repeats: C-D-E-F-G-A-B.  A major pentatonic scale that is built on C consists of the same notes except the 4th and 7th notes are omitted: C-D-E-G-A. There are also minor pentatonic scales, and those that are constructed somewhat differently. The pentatonic traditions of specific areas and types of music may differ, but the basics are the same.

The Czech folk music that Antonín Dvořák heard all his life had its own tradition of pentatonic scale usage.  He used it many times himself in his compositions long before he came to New York city in 1892.  He took a great interest in Native American music as well as Negro spirituals, and understood them quite well. For a homesick Bohemian they may have struck a familiar chord (or melody) within his ears.

He composed the Symphony No. 9 in 1893, and while American music inspired him, he did not use any American melodies in the work. He wrote in the American style of pentatonic scale use and did it so well that for a long time many put the cart before the horse, especially in regards to the melody from the 2nd movement. A song named Goin' Home takes its melody from the symphony, not the other way around. The words were not set to the melody until many years after the symphony had been written.

The premiere of the work was the greatest success of Dvořák's career, as each movement was applauded so much that he had to take a bow after each. He had created interest in the work months before its premiere when he was quoted in New York newspapers as saying that an American school of composition should be built around Negro and Native American melodies. In a late 19th century American culture that was openly prejudiced against both groups, Dvořák's words created controversy as well as a great deal of curiosity about the work. Carnegie Hall was packed the night of the premiere, as Dvořák's son Otakar relates:
There was such demand for tickets for the gala premiere of the New World Symphony that, in order to fully satisfy the potential audience, Carnegie Hall, huge as it is, still had to increase the number of seats severalfold. All the newspapers competed with one another in their commentaries, reflecting on whether father’s symphony would determine the further development of American music and, in doing so, they succeeded in enveloping the work in an aura of exclusivity, even before the premiere had taken place. Its success was so immense that it was beyond ordinary imagining, and it is surely to the credit of the American public that they are able to appreciate the music of a living composer. Even after the first movement the audience unexpectedly burst into lengthy applause. After the breathtaking Largo of the second movement, they would not let the concert proceed until father had appeared on the podium to receive an ovation from the delighted audience in the middle of the work. Once the symphony had ended, the people were simply ecstatic. Father probably had to step up onto the podium with conductor Anton Seidl twenty times to take his bow before a euphoric audience. He was very happy.
The work was taken up by orchestras the world over, and it became one of the most performed works in the repertoire.  As with other often-played works in the repertoire, The New World Symphony has been called a warhorse, as over-familiarity can breed contempt with some ears. But it is a work that repays listening to with new ears, for it is a masterpiece that can yield new pleasures for the attentive, unjaded ear.  The symphony is in four movements:

I. Adagio -  Allegro molto -  The slow introduction begins the movement with a motive in irregular rhythms that anticipate what is to come.  Woodwinds repeat this motive. After a short rest the music increases to fortissimo with strings, horns and timpani. The music recedes and then builds up to a climax. Strings hold a tremolo, reduce the volume to pianissimo and the horns enter with the first theme. After the theme plays out, a section of dotted rhythm leads up to the second theme played in the woodwinds, and then the violins. A third theme appears, this is the theme that resembles the spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and then the exposition is repeated.  The development section deals with the main theme primarily, and puts the theme through many key changes and drama. The recapitulation plays through the themes until the coda is reached. The music gains in speed and drama as the orchestra runs to the end and collapses in loud chords.

II. Largo -  A remarkable progression of chords in the woodwinds and brass acts as an introduction to the slow movement. The famous melody for cor anglais plays over a subdued accompaniment.  A section for strings leads to a repeat of the melody. A middle section plays a plaintive melody over agitated strings, and continues in sounds of lonesome wandering. The music brightens, the tempo quickens as a section is played that recalls the cor anglais melody as well as the main theme from the first movement. The melody appears once again in the cor anglais, and then is taken up by two of each string instrument. The phrases of the melody are interrupted by halting rests and the music slowly makes its way to a return of the chord progression of the introduction. The music fades and ends with two barely audible chords in the low strings.

III. Scherzo: Molto vivace - Poco sostenuto -  Dvořák likened this music to the feast ofwild dancing as depicted in Longfellow's poem Song of Hiawatha. Music of off-accents, powerful rhythms and sounds grows more docile in the next part of the theme. A triangle gives color to the relative calm of this section. The boisterous dancing returns until the music fades into the next thematic section which is also accented by the triangle and by trills in the woodwinds and strings. The wild dance returns until a coda brings back the first theme of  the first movement as well as a reference to the third theme of the first movement before it all comes to a powerful end.

IV. Allegro con fuoco -  Written in sonata form, Dvořák combines new material with material heard in the other movements. The first subject is a powerful one heard in the brass. The clarinet sings the second theme. The third theme is given by the strings with accents by the trumpets. The development section begins with a recall of the first theme of the first movement. The cor anglais melody of the second movement is then heard. In one notable section he combines the main themes of the second, third and fourth movement.  The final movement is a summing up of all that has gone before, and Dvořák builds to a tremendous climax in a coda that includes the introductory chords to the second movement. The primary themes of the last movement combine with the primary theme of the first movement, and the music dies away in E major.

While for the most part the work was received quite well, William Apthorp, a Boston newspaper music critic reflects the level of prejudices held byh some of the time against new music, foreign composers and so-called barbaric Negro music:
The great bane of the present Slavic and Scandinavian Schools is and has been the attempt to make civilized music by civilized methods out of essentially barbaric material… …Our American Negro music has every element of barbarism to be found in the Slavic or Scandinavian folk-songs; it is essentially barbarous music.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mozart - Symphony No. 29 In A Major K. 201/186a

 The traditional number of symphonies attributed to Mozart is 41, but modern scholarship places the number closer to 68, as some of the earlier ones were not numbered, as well as some of the works traditionally referred to as divertimentos could be classified as symphonies. He was  about nine years old when he wrote his first symphony, and by the time he wrote his 25th symphony he was only seventeen years old. Symphony numbers 14-30 of the traditionally acknowledged symphonies were written while he was in Salzburg. It was within this group of middle symphonies that his first acknowledged masterpiece, Symphony No. 25 In G Minor was written. It was soon followed by another masterpiece, the 29th Symphony In A Major, composed in Mozart's eighteenth year, shortly after his return to Salzburg from a trip to Vienna.

Mozart made the trip to Vienna with his father to try and get an appointment at the Court there. Nothing came of the hoped for appointment, but the trip was not without value as Vienna was the capital of European music, and Mozart heard music by some of the current masters. Mozart always made the most of what he heard and absorbed influences like a sponge. By this time in his life he was an experienced composer and performer whose genius allowed him to use those influences as the building blocks to create his own voice. Symphony No. 29 In A Major is scored for two oboes, two horns and strings, and is in four movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  Mozart opens the movement with a downward octave interval in the first violins that is the beginning of the first theme:
This theme grows in volume and is played a second time by the violins with echoes of the theme played by the lower strings. The second theme is marked by trills and less space between the notes, in contrast to the skips of the first theme. A short thematic motif is played after the second theme which leads to transition material, and the exposition is repeated. The short  development section includes some examples of the octave skips of the first theme along with the string tremolos heard at various places in the exposition. The recapitulation revisits the two themes after which a short coda restates the first theme and the movement ends.

II. Andante -  The movement begins with the gentle warmth of muted 1st violins playing a theme in double dotted rhythm. The 2nd violins take up the theme as the 1st violins play a counter melody. The movement is in sonata form, but Mozart blends the separate pieces into a graceful whole, and a short coda ends the short movement with more volume and mutes off.

III. Menuetto: Allegretto - Trio -  The first theme of the minuet is played piano by the 1st violins with comments by the 2nd violins in dotted rhythm. The last two bars of each phrase is repeated at a louder volume and becomes part of the next phrase, a subtle playing with phrasing. The next section of the minuet extends the theme and then takes it up with the same scheme of soft and loud as before.  The trio is in E major and is not as heavily accented, after which the minuet repeats, with no coda. The movement ends with the oboes and horns up in the air as they play dotted rhythms A's by themselves.

IV. Allegro con spirito -  The symphony comes full circle as the first theme of the finale mimics the octave drop of the opening of the first movement along with string tremolos. The horns play a prominent part in the movement. The second theme is in contrast to the opening. Another short theme leads to violins playing a racing upward scale with a full stop before the section repeats.  The exposition deals with a working out of the first theme which leads to the violins once again racing upwards and coming to a full stop. The recapitulation repeats the themes and a coda parades the first theme once more before another violin scale leads to the closing chords.

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