Saturday, November 26, 2005
Beethoven: Symphony No. 2
The Second Symphony, in D major, Op.36, was written in 1802. It is of greater breadth than the First one, and though still exhibiting the influence of Haydn and Mozart to some extent, it contains far more originality, and a sort of "democratic" fearlessness, sharply differentiated from the courtly restraint of the foregoing masters. The score (instrumentation) corresponds to that of the First Symphony.
It opens with a rather long, stately Introduction of great beauty and power, but suggestive of Mozart. The first Movement is in sonata-allegro form. The Exposition is regular; the development lengthy, but finely proportioned, and ingenious. Of special moment, as attesting the independence that was already asserting itself strongly in Beethoven's methods, is the manner in which he plans the return of the beginning---at the end of the Development: the last sixteen measures hold firmly the remote key of F-sharp, the dominant note of which (c-sharp) is the leading-tone of the original key (D major). The quiet transmutation of the chord through this c-sharp, in the bass, to the dominant chord of D, two measures before the opening of the Recapitulation, is extremely impressive. What is more, almost precisely the same modulatory device is employed again in the Trio of the third Movement, and again in the Finale. The first Movement is extended by a fairly lengthy Coda.
In the second Movement Beethoven creates a lyric Larghetto of singular beauty, and of a more distinctive character, that plainly foreshadows the later Beethoven. The design is sonata-allegro, considerably spun out.
The third Movement is confessedly a Scherzo with Trio. The principal Division is ingeniously extended, in its Third Part. A unique feature of the Trio, of genuine Beethoven complexion, is that its Second Part (fourteen measures long) is built entirely upon a single chord, intoned by the strings in unison; this chord is the tonic of F-sharp major, and its Fifth (c-sharp) is made to serve---as in the first Movement---as leading-tone of the original key (D).
The Finale, a sonata-allegro of an extremely vigorous, animated, jovial character, as full of pranks as the wonderful Finale of Haydn's last Symphony, betrays hereditary traces of Haydn, though none the less stoutly original at the core. Observe the two staccato quarter-notes in measures two and six; and compare this dramatic gesture as described in Mozart's Haffner Symphony (in the last paragraph of that message). The Exposition has no defined cadence; its final Codetta is so "dissolved" as to lose itself in a returning passage that leads into the Development. Further, the Development begins so exactly like the Exposition that the design is rendered obscure. This was not an infrequent occurrence with Beethoven and also with Brahms. (See Beethoven, piano Sonata, Op.31, No.1, first Movement; the first seven measures of the Development correspond literally to the first seven measures of the Exposition. Also Beethoven's Symphony No.8, Finale. Also Brahms, Second Symphony, Op.73, last Movement; Fourth Symphony, Op.98, first Movement, and third Movement.)
The tendency of this pseudo-return to the principal Theme is so to modify the sonata-allegro design that it approaches the effect of the Rondo forms.
As previously stated, the Recapitulation in this Finale is also entered in a novel and very striking manner: the last Section of the Development (twenty-six measures) is held without wavering in F-sharp minor, whose dominant note, the c-sharp, is here again the prospective leading-tone of the original key, and finally very gently turns the harmony over into the opening tones of the principal Theme-almost exactly as in the first Movement. The entrance of the Coda (which is unusually long and elaborate) is likewise novel and effective.
The second symphony bridges the gap which separates all previous symphonies from the enormous works of subsequent years. The second symphony, compared to the first, shows exactly the normal development one would expect of a composer who works earnestly at his job. If the distance between these two symphonies is fixed at a mile, that between the second and third must be fixed at a light-year.
Beethoven: Symphony No. 1
In this first symphonic work Beethoven is so completely dominated by his deep respect and reverence of Mozart's music, that it manifests more the distinctive traits of the latter than of those elements which characterize the later Beethoven and elevate him to a far loftier rank than Mozart was destined to reach.
Still, there are enough indications here of Beethoven's independence to make this Symphony interesting and important for its own sake.
The first movement is preceded by a slow introduction, and although the latter resembles introductions by Haydn and Mozart, it has a different function, for it is no more than a greatly enlarged perfect cadence which leads toward the C major of the first allegro. A firm sense of tonality and an amazingly fertile imagination which is directed to making his harmonic intentions clear. The first movement, alive and humorous, contains many touches of daring. For example, the development begins suddenly in a fortissimo in A major, and touches to D, G, and C minor in its first few measures; later sections are in B-flat, E-flat, and A minor. Beethoven's palette is immediately seen to be richer than his predecessors' and contemporaries'.
His ability to derive new melodies from isolated thematic fragments taken out of context is strikingly revealed in the slow movement. There Beethoven employs melodic scraps or motives as source material for his development sections and derives an ostinato figure from a rhythmic pattern first heard in the main theme of the movement.
The scherzo in Beethoven's symphonies is a new form. This is no longer the fast, transformed minuet which Haydn had introduced in his quartets of Opus 33 (1782) but a large, powerful, often humorous, sometimes profound movement which has only its triple meter and its three-part form in common with the minuet. The scherzo in the first symphony, which Beethoven still calls "Menuetto," foreshadows those later developments. Fast tempo, driving rhythms, sudden contrasts of mood and texture, and sections in which thematic fragments are briefly developed---these contsitute the first part. The trio provides great contrast.and represents a series of chords over a running figure in the violins. The effect is enchanting, and the movement is all to short.
The finale begins with a slow introduction which serves a twofold purpose: to provide the theme of the allegro with a springboard from which to take off; and to introduce a mock-serious moment which enhances the the humor of that allegro. The latter is in sonata-form, with a lilting set of themes that are well proportioned and skillfully manipulated.
The C-major symphony, on the whole, sparkles and is full of fun. There are no problems here, and Beethoven is completely the master of his material.
Friday, November 25, 2005
Mozart: Symphony in C major (K.551)
It is scored for the usual classic orchestra, but without clarinets. It opens without Introduction. The first Movement is in sonata-allegro form. The Development utilizes chiefly the first Codetta, especially its easily recognizable second Phrase.
The second Movement, Andante cantabile, is perhaps the finest of all of Mozart's slow Movements. It is cast in sonata-allegro form.
The Menuetto is of the traditional graceful type. The Trio is unique: it begins with a perfect cadence, against which the violins seem gently to remonstrate.
In the Finale, Mozart assumes a serious, almost austere attitude (somewhat after the manner not uncommon with Haydn), and creates a contrapuntal masterpiece worthy of the great Bach, sacrificing to this end, it must be admitted, the winning qualities of sheer musical beauty to some extent. Its Exposition is woven out of five Themes, each one a proper thematic contingement as in any regular Exposition. (Theme 5 partly resembles Theme 4.) After the statement of the subordinate Theme, the Exposition is spun out with contrapuntal manipulation of Themes 2,3 and 4, interspersed with a few extra motives. The Development, also, naturally deals with these Themes (including No. 1), rather briefly, but in a great variety of shapes (inversion, stretto, diminution, shifted measure, even "retrograde"). The Recapitulation copies the Exposition closely (with the transpositions), but is slightly abbreviated. Then follows the Coda, and this Coda becomes a stage for the most remarkable polyphonic feat in symphonic literature---a feat that is very rarely encountered in any type of published music. After twenty-seven measures of polyphonic network involving Themes 1,4 and 3, all of the five Themes are announced simultaneously, and thus carried through a complete fugal "exposition" in five successive presentations, and, of course, in Quintuple-counterpoint, so applied that each voice presents the entire set of Themes in succession. The first announcement is scored in the string quintet, duplicated in the wind-body. The combination starts in G major, and alternates with C, so that the final (fifth) announcement shall be in C, the principal key. A very few additional homophonic measures bring the Symphony quickly to an end.
Mozart: Symphony in G minor (K.550)
The second Movement is an Andante of surpassing loveliness. The design in sonata-allegro.
The Minuet, which follows as the usual third Movement, is of that animated, quickened type, introduced by Haydn, that induced Beethoven to substitute for it the name Scherzo (in his Second, Third, and other Symphonies, and in many piano Sonatas and Chamber-music works). Note the spacing in 3-measure Phrases, and the effective syncopation at the beginning. The Trio contrasts in the major mode
The Finale is more serious, more "symphonic," than the traditional closing Movement. The Development begins with an extremely curious, rhythmically and melodically disjointed extension of the principal motive, weirdly humorous. The rest is made completely of the principal Phrase, in masterly contrapuntal and modulatory elaboration. The Recapitulation is a nearly exact reproduction of the Exposition, with the prescribed transpositions.
Mozart: Symphony in E-flat major (K.543)
The other three Movements: a supremely beautiful Andante (in the sonatine-form, that is, the sonata-allegro form without a Development); a stirring Menuetto; and a Finale of the conventional bright, animated type (sonata-allegro design).
Mozart: the Last Three "Great" Symphonies
Mozart: the Prague Symphony
The symphony scored, otherwise "full", includes no clarinets. It begins with an imposing Introduction, followed by a number of and varied thematic components of the Exposition. Each of the thematic figures (motives) in the principal Theme plays an important part of the formation of the Exposition. The beautiful subordinate Theme, a Period of eight measures, is immediately repeated in the minor mode, with singularly telling effect. Three or four Codettas are added. The Development is an ingenious manipulation of these thematic factors, culminating in a Returning-passage of great beauty, in the minor mode, over a dominant organ-point. The Recapitulation is a nearly exact recurrence of the Exposition, with the usual transpositions.
This Movement is followed by an Andante, and a Presto Finale, both like the first Movement , in the sonata-allegro form.
Mozart: the Linz Symphony
Mozart: the Haffner Symphony
The symphony (D major) has no Introduction but--- as is somewhat more common with Mozart---begins with an exceedingly spirited Theme. The subordinate Theme assumes a shape so similar, outwardly, to the principal one, that the hearer might question its own identity. But such thematic unity was considered not alone permissible but desirable. Here, the necessary contrast is secured by the difference in statement (it appears at first "upside down"), and by the new motives which grow naturally out of this one. Further, it seems to have been Mozart's express purpose to lay almost exclusive emphasis upon this festive Theme throughout. The form of the first Movement is sonata-allegro. It is scored for the "full" orchestra of that day: the quintet of strings, full octet of wood-wind (two each of flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon), two horns, two trumpets, and kettledrums---no trombones.
The usual slow Movement, Minuet; and Finale, complete Symphony.
Of note is the dramatic gesture in the third measure of the principal Theme, first Movement. It is essentially the crisp abrupt end of a phrase of two staccato quarter notes (here leaping up one octave). These rather pompous staccato beats may be seen in Carl Phillip Emanual Bach's third Symphony, primary theme, first Movement; and in Haydn's second Symphony, primary theme, first Movement; and Mozart's first Symphony, primary theme, first Movement. It is a "dramatic gesture" that was exceedingly popular, and, as cited, astonishingly common in earlier Symphonies. It occurs in many other Themes of Haydn and Mozart, but with diminishing frequency---like a mannerism whose hollowness was being detected. A lingering echo of it occurs in the Finale of Beethoven's Second Symphony (in the 2nd and 6th measures): but it is not unlikely that Beethoven, who abhorred "gestures" of any kind, was here, in this humorful Movement, good-naturedly mimicking the empty bombast of bygone days. Still, he uses the figure seriously in the second measure of his piano Sonata, Op.2, No.3; also in the first and second measures of Op.22, and even in the second measure of his prodigious Sonata, Op.106. It is completely repudiated by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms, in their symphonies---although Brahms makes fine, genuine dramatic use of it in his first piano Concerto, Op.15, second measure.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Mozart: Early Symphonies
One extraordinary thing about it is that it is the work of a child of eight years; and another thing that compels our amazement, is the ambition, self-assurance, and temerity of the youngster in assailing such a problem. Regarded as artistic music, it has, assuredly, no special value. But you cannot expect much of a boy of eight, especially in an encounter with so formidable an object as the Symphony. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that Mozart was preternaturally precocious, equipped with an intelligence and experience far beyond his years. He already possessed more instinctive knowledge of the language of tone than many a professional musician can boast of having acquired at the end of a long and studious career. He was saturated with a consciousness of the basic principles of tone-relation and tone-organization; he was quick to apprehend the operation of these principles in the music he so dearly loved and eagerly devoured; the "rules" of the art were second nature to him. But besides this the youthful Mozart possessed---as the future confirmed---a musical imagination of extraordinary scope, originality and vitality, and was strongly impelled by the desire to pour out his musical feelings, reproduce his musical visions, and record them in tangible form.
Passing over a few other Symphonies composed by Mozart in his next succeeding youthful years, it is instructional to pause at one of his later ones (his twelfth), written in July, 1771---at the age of fifteen,---and to verify the marked progress in assurance and technical grasp.
The first Movement, scored for full quintet of strings, two oboes and two horns. The design is sonata-allegro, regular and very concise. The Development is short; the Recapitulation complete.
In the second Movement, an Andante, two flutes are substituted for the two oboes. The design is sonata-allegro, but so concise that it barely reaches beyond the Three-Part Song-form. Both this and the first Movement are fine illustrations of the expanding process from the Three-Part Song-form into the sonata-allegro form.
A keen ear will sense in the Themes of this Andante the distinctive quality of Mozart's melodic conception, nascent and unpronounced, but not to be mistaken. Haydn would not have written them thus; perhaps no one but just Mozart, even in this, his formative, period.
For the third Movement, Mozart, following Haydn's lead, inserts a Minuet with Trio.
The Finale is animated, but heroic rather than gay. The design is that of the Dance, Song with Trio, each in the regular Three-Part form (the same as in the third Movement).
First, a frank and unquestioning affirmation of the basic, natural, conditions of tonal relations and discipline. Any inclination to abandon or modify these simple paths, any grotesque subversion of Nature's law, was absolutely foreign to Mozart's musical creed; such originality, such emotional or dramatic impulses as his music reflects, are all held firmly within these natural bounds. His melody wells up pure and sweet out of the most wholesome and productive soil, and this elemental outflow is graced with melodic and rhythmic adornments that we associate with Mozart and no one else.
Second, truly exquisite workmanship in every technical respect---melody, harmony, modulation, counterpoint, and structural adjustment.
It is these qualities that make Mozart so universally revered and beloved, and assure him the unique distinction of being "the finest and truest model, the safest and surrest guide, for every listener of musical expression."
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Haydn's Mature Symphonies
The title Drum-roll is due to the singular opening of the Symphony with a solo roll on the drum.
The history of the Drum-beat (not to be confounded with the "Drum-roll") again discloses Haydn's unconquerable humor, and his love of a good musical joke. The second (slow) Movement of the Symphony is an extremely simple melody, of folk-song character. At the end of the Period, on the heels of the softest pianissimo repetition, there is a sudden terrific crash of the drum (and the entire orchestra). One explanation of the origin of this jest is to be sought in a remark of Haydn's time: "It was my intention to give the audience something new that would surprise them." But the real underlying impulse was Haydn's determination to check the inclination of his hearer's to fall asleep (after the customary heavy dinner), during the performance of his music. It was a genuine surprise, and led to the nickname Surprise, by which the Symphony was thereafter known.
The Military Symphony was so called chiefly because Haydn, in the second Movement (based upon a most charming French Romance), augmented his orchestra in a very unusual (at the time) manner by the addition of a bass-drum, cymbals and triangle---strong percussion instruments which give the 4/4 measure the character of a military parade. But there are still other traits which contribute to the "military" impression.
Haydn's last, and in many respects best and most mature Symphony (No.XII of the London group) exhibits the following thematic factors. The first Movement begins with an impressive Introduction---an addition to the form for which Haydn manifests a more positive inclination in his later than in his earlier Symphonies. The form is a regular sonata-allegro of unusual length and breadth of conception. The Development is masterly, and indicates plainly the important advance in Haydn's musical thought. The early type of the Development-sections, practised by Haydn's predecessors and for quite a period by Haydn himself---the dry, perfunctory, haphazard (or worse still, purely mechanical) recurrences of the motives of the Exposition, with no fixed purpose, and no higher aim than to occupy the hearer's attention until it was about time to go back to the beginning---this lifeless type was gradually supplanted, in Haydn's works, by the genuine Development, in which the material of the Exposition was made to serve a definitive progressive plan, with ingenuity, originality and spirit. Such is this one of Haydn; and it exhibits some of the fine artistic qualities that entered so vitally into the supreme methods of Beethoven. Herein Haydn was unquestionably influenced by the last three great Symphonies of Mozart, written in 1788 (six years before these of Haydn). It is a curious historic phenomenon: Mozart, at first the pupil and emulator of Haydn, becomes finally his preceptor and model.
The second Movement, which reveals marked affinity with Mozart's most characteristic slow Movements,is a regular Three-Part Song-form (Part I repeated). Its message is serious, but delivered affably and without sentimentality, in a delightfully smooth, flowing rhythm.
The third Movement is the Menuetto with Trio---already a firmly established conventionality. Of special charm is the Trio, with its interesting melody, and the singularly attractive cadences, in which (measures 8-9, 15-16) the flute lays a lovely tonal arc over the cadence-lines of the other instruments---six times in all, and always the same tones f-d. Note the altered rhythmic location of these tones, at cadence-points---at first over, and then at the cadence.
The Finale is, as usual, a rollicking Presto Movement, sparkling, and permeated with humor. It is cast in the Third Rondo-form. It would require a lengthy essay to point out all the marvels of ingenuity, imagination and technical dexterity with which Haydn manipulates this material. It would be rewarding to make a thorough study of this felicitious Finale; one would discover the scource upon which Beethoven freely drew, even in his later works, for many a clever conceit that we are accustomed to appraise as original with Beethoven (for example, the episode in the Coda). Of note is the manifold treatment of the first three-tone figure. Also, that the two subordinate Themes employ the motives of the principal Theme, in a different manner and environment.
Thus did Haydn round out his symphonic activity, and crown the final concept with a genius and mastership that vindicate his rank as Founder and Father of the Classic Symphony.
Haydn: the Farewell Symphony
In the summer of 1772, Haydn and his men, exhausted from their confining labors, looked forward to their early release from duty. But Esterhazy suddenly decided that they should remain two months longer. With ready wit, Haydn hit upon a musical method of voicing a protest, which could not irritate the Prince, and, should it fail of its aim, would at least give them all a hearty laugh. Very soon the task was completed (for Haydn wrote with incredible rapidity, and had only to adjust his scheme to the last movement of an already finished Symphony), and rehearsed; and the hour of performance drew near---
The entire Symphony, in the unusual key of F-sharp minor, is music of the finest fiber, and holds its own with the best that Haydn's genius and eminent workmanship ever consummated in the symphonic domain. It embraces the usual four Movements, of which only the Finale is here illustrated, since that is the only one involved in Haydn's humorous plan. This Finale, scored for full quintet of strings, two oboes and two horns, is in the regular sonata-allegro form, tersely presented. This Movement, although completely finished so far as the form is concerned, ends with a semicadence on the dominant of F-sharp, and thence passes over into an extra, fifth, Movement, which is to witness the perpetration of the musical jest. It is a graceful slow Movement (adagio) in A major, of gentle, ingratiating character. It is cast in the Three-Part Song-form, extended by a fourth Part (or Coda) which consists of the material of Part I, but transposed to F-sharp major (the principal key of the Symphony).
At the cadence of the First Part, the 2nd horn and the 1st oboe players (following the direction si parte in the score) blow out their candles, quietly close their books, and with their instruments walk off stage, as if too weary to continue. The other players keep on, but twenty-three measures later, near the end of Part III, the 2nd oboe and the 1st horn leave in the same manner; a few measures farther along, the double-basses, then the 'celli, then all but one of the first and one of the second violins, then the violas---puff out their candles and walk away, leaving only the two solo-violins, playing alone to give the closing phrase. Prince Esterhazy saw the point, interpreted the innocent pantomime in the kindliest spirit and said: "Haydn, I understand you; the gentlemen may leave tomorrow."
Haydn: Paris Symphonies, Rasiermesser Quartet
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Should Orchestral Musicians Put On a Happy Face?
Members of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have been accused by their audiences of looking too miserable. I have myself looked miserable in Bournemouth in the autumn. It's not an offence. But the residents of Bournemouth like their orchestras to put on a happy face. It was reported this week that complaints have been posted on the orchestra's website about how down in the dumps the players look. The distinguished ensemble has even been nicknamed The Glums.
Audience dissatisfaction with unsmiling musicians is spreading. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle's former outfit, has also fallen foul of its audience for not wearing sunny Birmingham grins. I naturally assumed that orchestra officials would have reminded audiences that this isn't Strictly Come Dancing. The musicians are concentrating and can't give cheesy grins on demand. But no. This is the age of marketing departments, audience satisfaction surveys and National Smile Days. It is the orchestras, not the audiences, that are being given a lesson in concert behavior. The managements are developing smiling policies, and the issue is on the agenda for discussion at the next Association of British Orchestras conference.
Anthony Brown, the head of marketing for the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, says: 'A perennial problem is that the orchestra members don't seem to enjoy themselves. It tends to be the ones that don't who people notice. The violins and the cellos, who are at the front, often get noticed.' Well, it's good to know that the timpani, French horn and oboe guys are having a giggle at the back. No doubt, the Bournemouth management will come up with a smile policy for those front-row miserabilists. In fact, it already has. This, of course,is the orchestra whose management seems obsessed with happy faces. A couple of years ago, players were ordered to look at different sections of the audience for three beats and smile. Can it get more surreal than Bournemouth?
Of course it can. There's always Birmingham. The CBSO management has formed a 'presentation committee'. Who cares if you're a virtuoso if you don't scrub up well and never show your teeth? Sarah Gee, the director of communications for the CBSO, says that one woman told them that her enjoyment of a concert had been wrecked by a dour musician. 'She caught one of the musician's eyes and gave him the thumbs up, but he lowered his gaze. It destroyed the evening for her.' What an inconsiderate musician that was. He could at least have given a thumbs-up sign back and continued playing with one hand. Indeed, perhaps, every three beats they should smile and every six beats give a communal thumbs-up to show they are truly having a ball.
Alternatively, their managements could come back to Earth and ask audiences to give the musicians a break. Do we really want symphony orchestras that beam at the spectators? Surely their faces should reflect the music they are playing. The accomplished musician should look intense for Beethoven, depressed but hugely moved for Mahler and totally confused for Birtwistle. But happy and smiling? It makes playing a symphony seem like a bit of a jaunt and destroys the poignancy of the work.
There is a code of conduct for audiences at classical concerts, just as there is for the players. Don't grin, and don't expect the performers to grin at you. Be moody. Look miserable. And always cough between movements. It shows you know your music.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Obituary: Composer and Music Scholar Gardner Read, 92