Saturday, December 10, 2005


Brahms: Symphony No. 4, E minor

Brahms lived to be almost sixty-four years old, but he finished his last symphony when he was only fifty-two. In many respects, the E minor is the most remarkable of the four, just as it the least conventional. In movement sequence it violates some of the most time-honored canons of the symphonic form: it begins with an allegro, moves on to an andante, then to another allegro, and ends with a third allegro, energico e passionato, that is actually a passacaglia---a theme and variations in triple time. It begins and ends tragically, violating another supposed rule that even a tragic symphony must close on a yea. Be it said that Brahms' innovations are, in themselves, completely successful, and that none of his other symphonies so consistently holds the attention as the Fourth. It is unquestionably one of the sovereign works for orchestra, never void for moment of great melodic inspiration, and orchestrated sensitively, sometimes brilliantly. Coming after the spacious but mysteriously and darkly questioning first movement, the melancholy, tender andante, and robust good-humored allegro giocoso, the majestic passacaglia, with the mind-dazzling variety of its thirty variations and finale, is as inspired a conception as the grande fugue of the "Handel" Variations.

The Third of Brahms' Symphonies was followed very soon by the Fourth---in E minor, Op. 98, completed in 1885. This Fourth Symphony is unquestionably the most mature and the most forcefully dramatic of them all; the Coda of the first Movement surges to an intensity of white-hot passion quite without an equal in any of Brahms' symphonic creations. The choice of key is unusual: E minor seems to have been strangely unappealing to the early masters of the Symphony (Haydn did use E minor for one of his earliest Symphonies) for some reason not fathomable. The temper of the entire Symphony, excepting only the Third Movement, is severe, somber, though not in the least pessimistic; flashes of genial radiance soften its austere lines in many places, and phrases of surpassing loveliness emphatically confute the opinion of some commentators that this Symphony is chiefly a product of intellectual ardor, more reflective than emotional. Brahms possessed---and used---that "cerebral power which is the necessary concomitant of the highest artistic achievements," as Mr. Cecil Gray so happily expresses a momentous fundamental principle. The probability remains, be it admitted, that the Fourth is not likely to become the most popular and beloved of the Symphonies of Brahms.



Brahms: Symphony No. 3, F major

In 1883, Brahms composed a third symphony, and began to sketch a fourth. The first of these, in F major, is the shortest of all his symphonies, but often seems the longest because of its heroic cast and grandiosity. A few attentive listenings to it should dispel forever the notion that Brahms is essentially a classical composer. It begins with a burst of romantic virtuosity, and is steeped throughout in an almost Schumannesque romanticism. In the first two movements, Brahms seems to be speaking in propria persona, a persuasive romantic poet uninhibited by any sense of duty to the great classic dead. The breathless flow of melodic beauty is nothing short of intoxicating, and momentarily, at least, we scarcely care that we are listening to a free fantasia rather than to a symphony. After these heroic draughts, the third and fourth movements are tepid and unadventurous. The skeleton in Brahms' closet is indeed neoclassicism---a very self-conscious neoclassicism---and its bones rattle throughout the andante and the allegro. In no other large work is the descent from mountain to plain made so rapidly. The idiom suddenly becomes harsh and monotonous, the melodic line studied. The whole symphony sags, and in trying to find distinction for this industrious classicizing Brahms descends to real ugliness in his orchestration. Had Richard Strauss concocted some of this, I should say that he was orchestrating a sandbank, and compliment him for doing so perfectly. The last half of the F major Symphony has given those critics who make a specialty of judging a composer by his lapses something to hold on to: from it, more than from anything else, has come Brahms' reputation as a harsh melodist and a muddy orchestrator.

Six years elapsed after the completion of the Second Symphony, before Brahms again applied himself to the the symphonic task. These six years were by no means idle ones, for during that period he created many of his most imposing works. The Third Symphony, in F major, Op.90, finished in 1883, differs notably from the two which preceded it; it offers "more" than the latter, in several respects: it is more scholarly---the first Movement presents an array of extremely ingenuous rhythmic metamorphosis, and the last Movement is a marvel of thematic manipulation; further it is more dramatic---the Finale, especially, contains passages of fierce passion, that seem even more gripping than the dramatic outbursts of the first Movement of the First Symphony; and it is more beautiful---the subordinate Theme of the first Movement is one of the most exquisite musical sentences ever conceived, and many episodes in the second and third Movements are of rare originality and artistic grace.

The first Movement, precisely as in the First and Second Symphonies, opens with a Basic Motive. To this, placed in different voices (first in the bass) and in altered rhythms, the melody of the principal Theme is counterpointed---with autocratic indifference to the "cross- relation" in the first mating. Thus the Motive constitutes the essential Basis of the Movement; but it is also used independently, with wonderful effect. The structural design is sonata-allegro, and two brief Codettas are added. The form is perfectly normal, and its treatment masterly in the highest degree. The final two Sections of the Development (leading into the Recapitulation) are of impressive beauty; and there is a climax of tremendous power in the second Section of the Coda, followed by gradual relaxation in the remaining Sections.

The second (slow) Movement conveys the impression of a Hymn, of four Lines of varying length, though rather of a secular than of a religious type. It is simple, and sedately graceful, but immeasurably remote from the commonplace; replete with ingenious touches that are as beautiful as they are original---a thoroughly lovable but also thoroughly aristocratic Movement. It is cast in the mold of the First Rondo-form. Each cadence measure of the principal Theme is filled out ("bridged over") with a sort of echo of the preceding phrase-member; also of note is the very great beauty of each one the three Sections of the Coda.

To the third Movement Brahms affixes no title. His strong predilection for the Absolute qualities of musical expression kept him aloof from any descriptive experiments, and from the use of music as anything but a language that has its own intrinsic meanings. And though he wrote a very large number of Songs that are wonderfully apt in their blending of the musical with the poetic ideas, they remain genuinely "absolute" music.

This third Movement is not a Minuet, much less a Scherzo, nor a "dance-form" in any sense of the term. It might answer to the title of Romanza, or Song without Words. The lovely melody, with its quaint rhythms, has tinge of that gloomy, pathetic mood which Brahms seems to have loved. The design is First-Rondo (or perhaps more correctly Song with Trio---the difference being often scarcely recognizable);

The last Movement is another of those exceedingly rare examples of a minor Finale to a major Symphony, as seen in the Italian Symphony of Mendelssohn. Here, however, the Coda returns to, and ends in, the major mode.

This Finale is long, many-hued, and of unparalleled mastership in conception and formulation. The preponderant mood is lofty passion; now subdued, and again almost unbridled in its wide and mighty sweep. But other moods temper this, in wise alternation: after the mysterious monody and weird duet in the opening measures, there follows (measures eighteen to twenty-nine) a heavy, ominous proclamation, led by the trombones, like a prophetic warning of the storm that breaks loose---lulls---bursts forth again, and seems to whip the elements into fury; then the amazingly jovial, almost roistering subordinate Theme, during which the preceding stormy motive grumbles on, much subdued in the bass; and finally, in the extremely beautiful Coda, the broad (rhythmically augmented) intonation of the first Phrase of the principal Theme, in major, rounded out, in the seventh and eighth measures, with the Basic Motive of the first Movement, and joined ultimately (as a direct consequence of the Basic Motive) by the principal motive of the first Movement, in such natural sequence that this Finale closes almost precisely as did the opening Movement. All this is recorded, with astounding ingenuity, and equally astounding technical mastery, in the Finale---and much more than this, which the observant listener may ferret out for himself. The structural design corresponds very nearly to that of the Finale of the First Symphony: there is no separate Development; the Recapitulation follows the Exposition immediately, and each one of its successive factors is "developed" in the corresponding order---up to the reappearance of the subordinate Theme, whereupon the "recapitulation" continues almost literally. The opening melody is not ingratiating, nor even inviting, on a first hearing; but the choice of that aspect for a theme is one test of Genius---the rough, forbidding, uncut diamond is skillfully fashioned into a resplendent gem.



Brahms: Symphony No. 2, D major

The Second Symphony, the most cheerful of Brahms' larger compositions, is attractively bucolic in nature. It has often been called his "Pastoral" Symphony, but the implied comparison must not be strained. The D major contains, in fact, better music than Beethoven's Sixth, but is not so well constructed. Also, programmatic effects were foreign to Brahms' Dorian conception of symphonic dignity. The scoring is light and clear. The instrumentation is, for Brahms, unusually transparent---free of the sluggish turgidity that so often clogs the machinery in his other symphonies, and sometimes makes them difficult to follow. The D major Symphony was composed during the summer of 1877, on the shores of the Worthersee, a beautiful Austrian lake, and may have much to do with its spontaneous quality. Two of Brahms' most seductive melodies appear in the first and third movements respectively, and the whole is liberally sprinkled with delights. The entire allegretto enjoys a popularity of its own: it is, after all, much like a theme and variations, and naturally Brahms is at his happiest in it. As a suite of attractive symphonic effects, the D major is not surpassed by Brahms' other symphonies, but even more than the others, it lacks the perfectly achieved cohesiveness that is the hallmark of a true symphony.

Having exercised wise discretion in undertaking his first symphonic effort without precipitation, Brahms proceeded almost immediately, no doubt with greater assurance, to create a companion to it: his Second Symphony, D major, Op.73, was written the following year (1877). This truly beautiful work is almost throughout of a brighter, happier mood than its predecessor; the first and third Movements, especially, are simpler in melodic character, more cordial, spontaneous and engaging, and, in their presentation, less involved and abstruse.

The first Movement (in sonata-allegro form) has no Introduction, but also opens with a Basic Motive (as the First Symphony does) of two measures in the bass, over the final tone of which the principal Theme sets in. This Basic Motive assumes many different rhythmic shapes, and is shifted to other beats in the measure; and thus it pervades the Movement, always tangible though not unduly obstrusive, unifying the whole splendid design in a most admirable manner. The second Codetta is built upon a Ground Motive with Imitation in the upper part, and a curiously syncopated rhythmic accompaniment. The following episodes have become famous for their peculiar beauty: the first sixteen measures of the Development (beginning five measures after the double-bar); the last twenty (or forty, for that matter) before the Recapitulation; the horn passage in the first Section of the Coda---and the rest of the Coda.

The second Movement (Adagio) is of an uncommonly serious romantic character, original in melodic conception, and refined in sentiment throughout. It is also somewhat involved in construction and in the method of its presentation, so that one hearing scarcely suffices for penetrating its profound spiritual purport, and apprehending its very rare and beautiful qualities. The design is First Rondo-form. The Retransition (from the subordinate Theme back into the principal one---signature of two sharps) is unusually elaborate, and exhibits the traits of a "Development;" it also contains an allusion to the Basic Motive of the first Movement.

For the third Movement Brahms has indicated no other title than the tempo-mark Allegretto grazioso, but it resembles the graceful old Minuet, though far more masterly in its formulation, and of greater warmth and charm of contents. Its design is the traditional dance-form, but with two Trios; and these two Trios differ in character radically from that which tradition would lead us to expect, i.e.: instead of being entirely independent of their principal Division in contents, each is a unique Variation of the latter, contrasting in meter and in tempo. The first da capo is abbreviated to its first Phrase, which is repeated. Upon reaching the fourth measure, the period halts there, unexpectedly, and proceeds to spin out that measure as a Ground Motive (eleven measures) up to the cadence before the second Trio. The second da capo is partly transposed, and the modulation back to the original key (in the fourteenth measure) is of supreme value.

In the Finale, Brahms yields to an impulse of unusual vivacity, vigor, and spontaneous gaiety; and the craftsmanship is superb as it is transparent. The joy and abandon in it are inspiring. Of note is the brief Ground Motive which, in the bass, underlies the first Phrase of the principal Theme; also the manner in which the first figure of this Theme is interwoven in the subordinate Theme; further, the adoption of this figure, in widening intervals, for the first Codetta; and the very striking (possibly intentional) similarity of the jolly lilt of the second Codetta, to the first Codetta in the Finale of Haydn's London Symphony.

The design is sonata-allegro, very regular, and splendidly proportioned and balanced, but with this somewhat uncommon feature: The Development begins exactly as the Exposition does, thus depriving the hearer, for a moment, of one of his most necessary bearings. In this restatement of the principal Phrase, the Ground Motive in the bass is carried on to the length of fifteen measures---in augmented form in the last six of these. Of note is the effective transformation of the principal theme into triplet-rhythm in the fourth Section of the Development.



Brahms: Symphony No.1, C minor

That Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) viewed the writing of a symphony with more than ordinary apprehension is indicated by the chronology of his orchestral work. He had published two serenades of quasi-symphonic scope, a large piano concerto, and the "Haydn" Variations before completing a symphony on which he had been at work for almost twenty years. Begun in Brahms' early twenties, the C minor Symphony is by no means a youthful work. It represents a considered whipping into shape by a fully matured man. It is unfortunate we have no revealing notebooks to show us the early ideas out of which, twenty years later, Brahms evolved this symphony. Certainly, as it stands, the C minor has had any young quality taken out of it. It is predominantly a dour work and, except for the introduction to the first movement and the finale, could be interpreted as the last composition of an embittered old man. The introduction is in an effective swirl of nebula---music of enchanting loveliness in itself. However, its function is problematical. If out of it rose the vigorous germinative themes essential to the construction of a recognizable symphony, it might seem as much a stroke of architectural genius as the sublime adagio introduction to Mozart's E flat Symphony. But nothing of this sort takes place. Instead the spineless nature of the introduction pervades the first three movements. Suddenly, in the finale, Brahms hits upon a truly energizing first theme, about which it might be carping to say that it is in part lifted from the chorale finale to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony were it not for the fact that zealots of the Brahms cult make such a point of repeating the master's famous growl when someone mentioned this resemblance: "Any fool can see that!" The point is that this strong Beethovian theme, whether hit upon by accident or purposely, is just the right sort of material on which to erect a soundly constructed symphonic movement. This Brahms proceeds to do with complete success. But it must be said that a triumphant conclusion---almost a swift victory march---after three vast movements of transitional music produces an odd effect.

Unlike Mozart, whose first Symphony was written at the age of eight; or Schubert, who attacked that formidable type when sixteen; or Mendelssohn, who did the same when fifteen,---Brahms withheld his hand from the exacting, supreme effort of symphonic creation until he had reached his forty-third year. It is true, this elaborate and impressive First Symphony had occupied his attention during the preceding ten years, but this again confirms his reluctance to plunge prematurely and self-confidently into a task of such magnitude and serious artistic spirit.

Despite its often abstruse style, the music of Brahms presented enough of striking, spontaneous, instantly prepossessing and frankly beautiful features to win him a host of enthusiastic friends; and upon the appearance of his First Symphony, these ranks re-echoed with the cry "The Tenth Symphony!"---implying that this was the full-blooded successor of Beethoven's Ninth; it was an imprudent burst of enthusiasm that did more harm than good to the reputation of the sufficiently great and accredited master. The "Tenth" has never been written, and perhaps never will be; it is as unlikely as the prospect of an equivalent successor to Shakespeare's dramas. It is sufficient to affirm that the First Symphony of Brahms is a creation of superlative significance, which holds its place worthily beside (not beyond) the "immortal nine" of Beethoven.

This First Symphony, in C minor, Op.68, completed in 1876, is the only one of the four of Brahms in which he adopts the venerable tradition of a separate Introduction, in sostenuto tempo. It foreshadows the thematic components and the dramatic character of the Allegro; and the final allusion to it, as Independent Coda, rounds out the Movement in a most effective and impressive manner. The design of the first Movement is sonata-allegro, evolved with such superb logic, unswayed purpose, perfection of proportion, such masterly provision for well-placed and well-balanced contrasts, and such monumental dramatic vitality, as only so great a genius could achieve; and the music is, in its every measure, harmonious and truly beautiful.

The most significant structural feature, and one that is unquestionably original with Brahms, is the adoption of a brief but striking phrase which precedes the Exposition, and for which the term Basic Motive seems most fitting, since it underlies the entire Movement, either as generative or as a component factor. The themes are all based upon it, or derived from it. The subordinate Theme is, for a few measures, identical with the principal one: such similarity between the chief Themes has been repeatedly done before---beginning with Haydn---and is recognized as one of the conditions of the early symphonic Movement. The first Codetta also displays remarkable likeness to the principal Theme; the Basic Motive is set forth in the upper most tones, while the principal Theme is given to the basses, "upside down."

It would be impossible in the narrow limits of this discussion thread to point out every masterly trait of the music. The hearer may, and should, trace for one's self the course of thematic manipulation, as far as can be perceived. The chromatic form of the Basic Motive renders it everywhere easily recognizable.

The second (slow) Movement, in the unexpected key of E major, is a sustained, serene lyric conception, of a richer and more eloquent romantic quality. Its design is the First Rondo-form. Of note, again, is the close relation of the subordinate Theme to the principal one; its melody is counterpointed against the first two measures of the latter.

The third Movement is neither a Scherzo nor of any of the dance-types; but it fits admirably into the psychological scheme of the Symphony. It is one of those graceful, intimate, delightfully smooth conceptions, that were as essential and precious a part of Brahms' musical spirit as were the surges of passion, and the somber, deeply earnest pathos that characterize his more serious moods. The design is Second-Rondo.

An Introduction in Adagio tempo, of extremely impressive, grave character, precedes the final Allegro, and refers thematically to it in every detail. Of its three Sections, the first and second employ motives of the Allegro, while the much longer third Section, in more animated tempo, presents an apparently new, wonderfully beautiful Song of Hope, which falls like a ray of sunshine athwart the somber, ominous background of the opening Phrases. A grief quartet of trombones and bassoons (the "Second Part" of the Song) seems to add assurance to the message of comfort. A recurrence of the first melody (as "Third Part") leads over into the Finale proper. This begins with the principal Theme, a melody of folk-song simplicity and quiet power, in conception akin to the principal Theme of the Finale in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony---emphatically not a blundering imitation, but the natural coincidence of kindred genius. The subordinate Theme is traced as counterpoint against a Ground Motive (a brief figure repeated several times, as basso ostinato---persistent bass); and this Ground Motive corresponds to the four accented beats (first, third, fifth, and seventh beats) of the principal Theme.

The design of the Allegro exhibits a noteworthy digression from the traditional form, which is wholly original with Brahms: there is no separate Development, in the specific sense; the Recapitulation follows the Exposition immediately (as in the sonatine-allegro form); but this Recapitulation is systemically and very broadly extended by "developing" each successive factor in unaltered order, during ten masterly Sections---that is, up to the reannouncement of the subordinate Theme. The latter then appears, in its proper key (transposed to C major), and from there on, the Recapitulation agrees literally with the Exposition. The form is therefore, strictly speaking, sonatine-allegro, enriched by thus fusing the process of Recapitulation with that of Development. Exactly this same scheme will be found again in the Finale of the Third Symphony.



Brahms's orchestration - the Charles Ives factor

In Charles Ives', Essays Before a Sonata, New York, Knickerbocker Press:

"To think hard and deeply and to say what is thought, regardless of consequences, may produce a first impression either of great translucence or of great muddiness, but in the latter there may be hidden possibilities. Some accuse Brahms's orchestration of being muddy. This may be a good name for a first impression of it. But if it should seem less so, he might not be saying what he thought. The mud may be a form of sincerity which demands that the heart be translated, rather than handed around through the pit. A clearer scoring might have lowered the thought."

The issue of muddiness in Brahms orchestration is maybe controversial, maybe dialogical, or possibly the quintessential challenge for our best conductors to make the lowest registers "sound." Sonority and resonance of singing instrumental melodic lines with a rich balance of conservation of energy with clarity of tonal momentum have usually been the measure of mud metrics. I believe Ives leads an inquiry of value for a sound-color of tonal clusters, or a density of impressionism. It would appear that Ives is stretching a foreign style to justify a viable meaning. I believe that only a Toscanini or Koussevitsky could work their special "magic" to realize the aspirations of Brahms.



Tchaikovsky: Sixth Symphony, B minor, Op.74

Tchaikovsky wrote his Sixth, and last, Symphony (Op.74 in B minor) in 1893, very shortly before his sudden death. He himself called it the Pathetic, and the impression became quite general that he had been laboring under the premonition of his approaching end. Nothing could be farther from the truth; moreover, only the brief final Movement is genuinely pathetic, and that but part of the time, this pathetic mood being brightened by contrasting episodes of decidedly hopeful and consoling quality. The first Movement is tragic rather than pathetic, yet here again frequent gleams of light and warmth fall across the background of passion---in this way, to be sure, accentuating the tragic pulses by their contrast.

The first Movement is in regular, but broad sonata-allegro form. A brief Introduction (Adagio) precedes the principal Theme, based entirely upon the opening motive; and two Codettas follow the subordinate Theme. This first Movement contains a number of stirring climaxes, carried out with that logical force and sureness of aim in which Tchaikovsky was adept.

There is no authentic slow Movement, or, more correctly stated, the slow Movement is shifted to the last place in the Symphony---as Finale. The second Movement has, however, the lyric tone due at this point; it is graceful, charmingly melodious song, or dance, in swaying 5/4 meter. Its complacent, happy countenance is slightly clouded with a veil of melancholy in the Trio.

The third Movement represents the Scherzo, though it carries no title. It is anything but "pathetic," and it has a unique structural plan: an apparently unimportant motive, in striking rhythmic form, creeps in (in the ninth measure) quite incidentally---later turns out to be the index of the subordinate Theme---and then advances steadily into overpowering prominence; its ultimate complete supremacy is recorded in crashing blasts of the brass instruments, in a climax that is almost without parallel in legitimate symphonic literature. The design is sonatine-allegro (there is no Development).

The Finale, contrary to all precedent, is a slow Movement, Adagio lamentoso, that is no doubt chiefly responsible for the designation of the Symphony as a whole. Its principal Theme is profoundly "pathetic;" but the subordinate Theme is a lyric melody (in Song-form) of rich, trustful quality, that breathes hope and solace: some music lovers may regret the return to deep sadness at the end.



Tchaikovsky: Fifth Symphony, E minor, Op.64

The first four Symphonies of Tchaikovsky were written in reasonably close succession, during the years 1868 to 1877; but then he paused in his symphonic occupation (devoting his genius meanwhile chiefly to the creation of four of his great operas), for eleven years. His Fifth Symphony, in the unusual key of E minor, Op.64, was composed in 1888. The progress in the steady maturing course of its author's genius is confirmed by two qualities which place this Symphony above all his preceding ones, namely: greater warmth, firmness of line, richness and depth of sentiment in the conception of the melodies; and greater command of the formal structure, which is here of genuine symphonic dignity and perfection.

The Symphony opens, like the Fourth, with a portentous, oracular Introduction, that appears to be thematically foreign to the purpose of the first Movement; but it is inserted twice, unexpectedly and with tremendous emphasis, in the second Movement (to which, also, it is wholly foreign in mood and character); appears again, greatly subdued, near the end of the third Movement; and then---at last asserting its true thematic quality and importance, it becomes (in considerably extended form, and changed from minor to major) not only the introductory section of the Finale, but an essential thematic factor of the entire last Movement. The first movement is cast in sonata-allegro form.

The second Movement, in the First-Rondo form, is a lyric conception of rich, glowing melodic quality and very great tonal beauty.

The third Movement is in one of the customary dance-forms, but it bears the somewhat surprising title Waltz, and one wonders how so plebian a style can hold its own in aristocratic symphonic company. But it does so, with quiet dignity and charm. Besides, the "Waltz" is no more foreign to the traditional Minuet, than is the very common "Scherzo," which no less a master than Beethoven introduced into this company.

The Finale is, in keeping with convention, a vigorous Allegro, more distinguished for forcefulness than for vivacity, and splendidly effective. The allusion to the chief Theme of the first Movement, at the end, in major, rounds out this imposing Symphony in a masterly manner.



Tchaikovsky: Fourth Symphony, F minor, Op.36

The Fourth Symphony, in F minor, Op.36, was composed 1877; first performed in Moscow, February 22, 1878, under Nicholas Rubinstein's direction.

Tchaikovsky admitted that the first Movement was "very complicated and long," and music critics generally concur in his estimate of it "as also the most important." The Symphony opens with a powerful, oracular Introduction in the horns and bassoons (afterward joined by trombones), later in the trumpets and wood-wind; it is not thematically related to the first Movement, but later it enters vitally into the texture of the Movement, and bursts forth again near the end of the Finale, with thrilling, and superbly unifying effect. Tchaikovsky's own words are: "The Introduction is the kernel, the chief thought of the whole Symphony." This first Movement is based solidly upon the classic sonata-allegro design, but contains one noteworthy digression: the structurally vital return of the principal Theme, at the beginning of the Recapitulation, is placed in a different key (D minor), and so shortened that this "keystone" of the form is reduced to but little more than an intimation of its presence. The Ground Motive in the drum, in the Second Part of the subordinate Theme, is extended unaltered through twenty-two measures.

The second (slow) Movement is an exquisite Canzona, tinged with sadness, but brightened with finely tempered contrasts. The form is First Rondo.

The third Movement (Scherzo) is an original experiment that never fails of its fine effect and hearty appeal. The three chief instrumental groups (Strings, Wood-Wind, and Brass) appear separately, alternating in distinct sections, somewhat after the arrangement of a Triple-choir, until near the end, where they unite. The strings are pizzicato (plucked) throughout, hence the superscription "pizzicato ostinato." The form is Song with Trio; the latter being so radically contrasted in its Fourth Part (in the Brass-choir) that one is tempted to infer a "Second Trio." This Fourth Part of the Trio, it will be noted, is practically identical with the beginning of the principal Division---but in augmented rhythm.

The Finale is a tumult of vivacious gaiety---as Tchaikovsky himself designates it: "the joy of seeing others happy and jolly." It offsets the tragedy of the first Movement and the sadness of the second; but the terrific intrusion of the fateful motive of the Introduction turns the mortal's thought to his own misery, if only a brief moment. The Russian folk-melody, though introduced very near the beginning, in the course of the principal Theme itself, is sufficiently individual to serve as a subordinate Theme. The rhythmic treatment of this popular tune is ingenious.

The acute listener will note the interesting similarity in the formation of the first melodic member of the chief Themes begins with a descending scale-line of four (or five) tones---likewise the subordinate Theme of the second and last Movements. It is unlikely that this was intentional, but the coincidence is unmistakable, and not without psychological moment.



Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky was born May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Ural district, Russia. Like Schumann, with whom Tchaikovsky has many qualities in common, he was expected to study law, and did so for a while, also entering the service of the government. In time, however, his strong musical inclination prevailed, and he turned to its serious cultivation. In 1862 he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory (founded shortly before by Anton Rubinstein), as a pupil of Zaremba in composition and of Rubinstein in piano. In 1866 he became a teacher of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, established by Nicholas Rubinstein, remaining in that capacity until 1877, after which he devoted himself exclusively to his own creative activity, producing a large number of works that have made him justly renowned as foremost among the eminent exponents of Russian music, and, at the same time, as one of the most serious, scholarly, most spontaneous and richly endowed masters of legitimate art in music history---romantic in expression, but solidly grounded in the principles of classic structure (the first heir to Mozart). In 1887 he began to visit many European cities as conductor of his own works, and in 1891 came to New York City on the same artistic errand. Death overtook him with tragic suddenness on November 6, 1893.

Tchaikovsky was of a highly sensitive, poetic nature; and his musical utterances were inclined to oscillate between strongly contrasted moods, though with a somewhat pronounced bent toward melancholic expression. He differed from the majority of great composers in his very strong predilection for the theoretical side of his art; he wrote and published two remarkable Manuals of Harmony, besides translating into Russian Gevaert's famous Instrumentation and Lobe's Katechismus der Musik. This throws light upon the sources of the meticulousness and perfection of his musical craftmanship, and the refinement and invariable effectiveness of his orchestration.

The development of Tchaikovsky's musical genius was thoroughly normal and steady. Each succeeding work appears to excel its forerunners in maturity, command of structure, eloquence of melody, and in accuracy and intensity of expression. His first Symphony, in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Storms), was composed in 1868; his second, in C minor, Op.17 (Little Russia), in 1873; the third, in D, Op.29 (Polish), in 1875. These first three all manifest many traits of superior beauty and originality, and confirm the earnestness with which he pursued his serious artistic ideals and aims. But they scarcely succeeded in passing beyond the frontiers of Russia, and, wherever they are known, they are overshadowed by the splendor of his other three, the fourth, fifth, and sixth Symphonies, in which his genius is proclaimed in tones that resound throughout the civilized musical world.


Friday, December 09, 2005


Liszt: Les Preludes

Of Liszt's smaller Tone-Poems, thirteen in number, No.III, Les Preludes, is probably the best known and most popular, as it is in many respects the one most characteristic of Liszt's original methods. Its origin is traceable to the Poetic Meditations of Lamartine, though the actual undercurrent of the work is defined by Liszt in a "preface" of his own, the lines of which: "What is our Life but a series of Preludes to that unknown chant, the first solemn note of which is sounded by Death?" supply the title of the Tone-Poem. The composition is a continuous unit, divided into four Episodes, remotely analogous to the four Movements of the Traditional Symphony. These Episodes are called: (1) Dawn of Existence; Love; (2) Storms of Life; (3) Refuge and Consolation in Rural life; (4) Strife and Conquest. The structural plan does not---with its poetic, realistic aim it could not---conform to any of the classic designs. But it presents two clearly defined, well-contrasted, effective and extremely engaging Themes, treated with superlative skill, and alternating in a fairly regular manner, suggestive of a Rondo-form. The Motive which accompanies Theme B in the third Episode assumes almost the importance of a third Theme, since it constitutes the proper basis of that entire Episode.

The nature of the other Tone-Poems of Liszt may be inferred from this one (Les Preludes). They all contain passages of great beauty, and all bear witness to the refined manner of their genial author. The complete list of them may be found in the musical dictionaries.


Franz Liszt: Tone-Poems

With the single exception of Berlioz, the earliest non-Teutonic genius to adopt the symphonic medium of expression was Franz Liszt (1811-1886). To be sure, what he adopted and cultivated in an extraordinary manner, and to an epoch-making degree, may be called the symphonic medium only; Liszt never wrote a genuine "Symphony" in the classic, or even romantic sense, but, actuated by the impetuous originality and independence of his musical nature, he applied the traditional medium in such a wholly novel way as to transform its spirit completely; and for the new types which he produced he originated the name Symphonic-Poem. His intensely romantic spirit recognized emotional possibilities in the voices of the symphonic orchestra that had never been essayed (save by Berlioz), and he envisaged a sphere of poetic passionate experiences to which music, and music only, could give utterance.

Everyone who is familiar with Hungarian music, who has heard it in its genuine, strikingly original utterance, who has been deeply moved by the weird, irresistible appeal of its distinctive melodies and rhythms, now steeped in almost tragic melancholy, and again pulsing with the gypsy spirit of wild passion and joy;---everyone who knows the wonderful primitive beauty and fire of Magyar music, will recognize the heritage and the environment that were the foundation of Liszt's musical being. In him these native qualities were, however, modified and controlled by an exceptionally active and penetrating mind, and an exquisitely refined poetic spirit. It was the fusion of his very pronounced romantic nature with the preponderant and musical quality of his genius, that determined his attitude toward the Symphony and orchestral music in general, and impelled him to substitute the idea, and title, of Tone-Poem, in his instrumental compositions in larger form. Of this novel type, Liszt created no fewer than fifteen. Two of them: the Dante Symphony and the Faust Symphony, consist each of three distinct Divisions or Movements, and are therefore analogous to the genuine Symphony in dimensions; but there all resemblance ends, for in conception and structure they diverge widely from the classic model.

These novel compositions, to which the name Symphonic-Poem has been applied, are program-music in the best sense of the word---not descriptive in the narrow, inartistic pictorial manner of superficial composers, but music which engendered and guided by the fluctuating emotional dramatic phases of an epic poem, or of some suggestive, fruitful poetic idea. Liszt, in pursuing this romantic aim, originated the Leit-motif, or Leading Motive, which Wagner promptly adopted and developed to so supreme a degree in his operas. The Leading Motive corresponds technically to the principal Theme of the true Symphony, but is employed chiefly as an index, and not manipulated as thematic source of the "absolute" musical evolution.

The three Divisions of the Dante Symphony are: The Infernal Regions, Purgatory, and a Finale of considerable length entitled Magnificat---an angelic hymn, assigned to a female chorus.

The Faust Symphony is similarly, though more sharply divided into three Episodes: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles---the last containing a male chorus.

Both of these extensive works exhibit Liszt's originality, his extremely fine sense of tonal charm, and his amazing ingenuity, especially in certain constructive details, and in orchestration. It is generally conceded, however, that the melodic invention, the essential logical momentum and structural firmness of his works do not measure up to the skill he possessed in arranging and accentuating the emotional effects.


Mendelssohn: the Scotch Symphony

The last of Mendelssohn's Symphonies (No. V in the order of composition, but known as the Third), in A minor, op.56, was composed in 1842. The designation "Scotch" which he himself gave to the Symphony, may be explained in the same way as the title of the Italian Symphony is accounted for: it owes its inception to impressions received during a journey---this time through Scotland, as early as 1829. These impressions naturally gave color to the work, but merely in a general way; only the second Movement has the rhythmic lilt of some Scottish dance; and the five-tone scale upon which its chief melodic Theme is built give it a decided Caledonian flavor. Some commentators recognize many other Scottish allusions---among others, the Harp of Ossian in the third Movement, and the sound of echoes over the Scotland's hills and lakes. But such deductions are apt to mislead the listener, and to becloud, rather than confirm, the intrinsic, abstract musical purpose. Certain it is that Mendelssohn executed the actual composition of the Symphony in the radically un-Scotch atmosphere of Berlin, some thirteen years after gathering his Scottish impressions.

It is Mendelssohn's most masterly symphonic creation, and it manifests the finest, most enduring qualities of his genius.

The first Movement opens with a lengthy Introduction (Andante, three-Part Song form), the initial melodic phrase of which is an amplified, and otherwise modified version of the principal Theme of the Allegro. The design is sonata-allegro form, normal and regular in construction. The melodic relation between the introductory phrase and the principal Theme is clearly recognizable. the subordinate Theme is a new melody, counterpointed against the first figure of the principal theme. Such parallelisms between the chief Themes, often amounting to indirect or even direct identity of the subordinate Theme with the Principal one, has been repeatedly alluded to: This similarity of the two chief Themes, instead of the contrast that would be expected, was very common--almost the rule---in Haydn's day, and rested upon the universal, and in that era particularly prevalent, demand for thematic Unity. It is encountered a little less frequently in Mozart, but was recognized as valid by Beethoven, Brahms and others, gaining, rather than losing, its structural authority among present day composers. Conspicuous examples of this ingenious coalescence of the two, where the new Theme is a counterpointed companion to the principal one---at least for a time---are: Haydn, last Movement of the twelfth of the London Symphonies; Beethoven, last Movement of the piano Sonata Op.26; first Movement of his Fifth Symphony; Brahms, First Symphony, slow movement; Glazounov, first Movement of the piano Sonata, E minor, Op.75; d'Indy, first Movement of the String Quartet, E major, Op.45.

Mendelssohn conceived the idea of making this Symphony a unit, by running the Movements together; thus, after and effective recurrence of the first Period of the Introduction, at the end of the Allegro, the word attacca indicates that the following Movement shall begin at once, without interruption. The same direction appears at the close of the second and third Movements. He may have adopted the idea from Schumann, whose D-minor Symphony (in einem Satz), with connected Movements, was first performed in December, 1841, while Mendelssohn was busy with this Scotch Symphony. Only a single instance of such continuity appears in Beethoven's nine Symphonies: in the Fifth, the third Movement leads into the Finale without a break. There is, to be sure, a parallel instance in the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, the last three Movements of which constitute a continuous unit. But the case here is different: this connection was as inevitable as in the Episodes of the Finale of the Ninth. Such continuity may serve some lofty artistic purpose, but in lengthy compositions its wearisome effect upon the listener is likely to frustrate the good intention.

The title of the second Movement is limited to the tempo-mark, Vivace; in spirit it is a Scherzo, though it has no Trio (its design is sonata-allegro). It is one of those exquisitely delicate, airy, sparkling musical creations which so faithfully reflect the genial, vivacious quality of Mendelssohn's spirit, and are admirably characteristic of a predominating phase of his musical conception.

An introductory passage of eight measures precedes the principal Theme. In the Recapitulation the Theme is greatly reduced---only its first Phrase is presented.

The slow Movement, located here as third, instead of in its usual place of second, is of exceptional beauty. Its principal Theme is a lyric melody of rich, mature, mellow quality, with harp-like accompaniment; alternating with a subordinate Theme of serious character and march-like tread, which provides an effective and impressive contrast. The design is sonatine-allegro form, with an introductory Period of nine measures. A coalition of the two Themes, like that in the first Movement, but of a totally different kind, takes place here in the following manner: the second Part of the subordinate Theme corresponds almost exactly to the second Period of the principal Theme. This unusual structural arrangement lends extra prominence to the lyric element of the Movement.

The Finale is a Movement of tremendous vitality and rhythmic strength; and is as near an approach to genuine dramatic utterance as Mendelssohn's gently, self-restrained disposition was capable of. The motive of the Transition (from principal Theme into the subordinate) is new, as it has the right to be, and assumes special importance in the Development, where (in Section 3) it becomes the theme of a Fugue-exposition.

The design is sonata-allegro, broad but admirably proportioned. The Coda is a masterly culmination of the Movement; its first and second Sections utilize foregoing motives; the third Section, however, is entirely new: it turns to the major mode, alters the meter and tempo, and intonates a hymn of serene, dignified, mildly majestic character, and very genuine beauty. Such a totally new ending is called an Independent Coda.



Mendelssohn: the Hymn of Praise

This extensive work, in B-flat, Op.52, was finished in 1840, and first called a Symphony-Cantata, consisting as it does of three preliminary orchestral Movements, and seven vocal numbers, Solos and Choruses. The plan of the work is similar to that of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and it is quite possible that the idea may have been inspired by the latter, albeit Mendelssohn lays particular stress upon the vocal numbers, and contemplated calling the work simply Cantata. The chief motive is more specifically a musical Motto than a Theme, and it does not dominate the entire composition.

While not the most impressive or significant of Mendelssohn's creations, it exhibits many traits of great beauty and vigor, and testifies in its own way to the originality and power of his genius. The three instrumental numbers which precede the Cantata scarcely attain to the dignity of the symphonic ideal. The first Movement is a sonata-allegro form with independent Introduction. The second (connected with the preceding) is an Allegretto of touching melodic beauty, suggestive of the Songs Without Words; it is a Song-form with Trio, and the Trio is an original chorale-melody, quaintly interwoven with fragments of the principal Division. An atmosphere of melancholy, not altogether consistent with the character of a Hymn of Praise, pervades this Movement, and also the next, which is an Adagio religioso that does not at any point rise above the level of a Song Without Words.



Mendelssohn: the Italian Symphony

The third of Mendelssohn's Symphonies (in order of their composition---but published as No. IV), in A major, Op.90, was written during his long journey through Italy, and finished in 1833. This affords the best explanation of the title---except the Finale, which is a distinctive Italian dance, the Saltarello, and is so named. The score embraces the instruments of the ordinary full orchestra: two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horn, trumpets and drums; and the quintet of strings. There is no independent Introduction; the first Movement (in regular sonata-allegro form) begins at once with a joyous burst of melody, and an invigorating rhythmic pulse, and this bright, sunny atmosphere envelops the whole Movement. The second Codetta has new thematic material; while the first one is derived directly from the principal Theme, with enlargement of the first figure. The persistent similarity of melodic and rhythmic formation throughout the first Movement is wisely modified, with fine instructural instinct, by the insertion and extended manipulation of a new thematic phrase, in the Development, and again in the Coda. A similar thematic addition occurs in the Finale of this Symphony. This somewhat irregular, though justifiable and not uncommon practice, may be found in Beethoven's Third Symphony, first movement.---The most consistent scheme for a Development is a series of Sections. A "Section" is an indeterminate passage of optional length and optional contents---thus providing the necessary freedom of Development. The Sections are expected to make use of the thematic factors of the Exposition, and this they very naturally and usually do; but since a Section is totally optional in contents, it has a right to present entirely new material, and not infrequently does so---in some rare instances to an almost exclusive extent: see the last Movement of Beethoven's first piano Sonata, Op.2, No.1

The slow Movement is a sort of Chant, and its stately rhythmic tread suggests a Procession. Mendelssohn is said to have had here an old Bohemian folk-song in mind. It is beautifully conceived, and is executed with the utmost technical refinement. The design is sonatine-allegro (that is there is no Development). Considerable importance attaches to the brief Prelude, which, though obviously introductory in purpose, is drawn upon for the Codetta to the principal Theme, and recurs as Interlude before the Recapitulation. In the latter, the principal Theme is transposed, and otherwise modified.

For the third Movement no other title is indicated than the tempo-mark; it would have been consistent to call it a Menuetto, for its elegance and grace of line, its winning melody, and its suave, serenely lovely mood, conjure up the vision of this country dance. Its design is the usual Song-form with Trio. The opening of the Trio, in horns and bassoons---an incipient fanfare with cunningly rounded edges, is one of the most original and delightful conceits to be found anywhere in Mendelssohn's music. And its reverberation in the Coda is a master-touch.

The Finale is a whirling, vertiginous Salterello. The principal Theme is preceded by six measures of related introductory matter. Of the three Codettas, only the second is of new thematic material; the first one closely resembles the principal Theme, and the third one is brief. In two respects this Finale is noteworthy: the first is the choice of the minor mode. It is not at all unusual to end a minor composition in the major mode (see the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies of Beethoven, the First of Brahms, the Scotch Symphony of Mendelssohn---and very many others); but contrary to all tradition and usage, and with an apparent reversal of the finer and truer psychological consequences---Mendelssohn rounds out this singularly joyous (major) Symphony, in the somber minor mode. Incidentally, he does the same thing, with almost weird effect, in one of his earliest piano pieces (Op.7,No.7). The other exceptional feature of the Finale is its unusual structural design: it is ostensibly a sonata-allegro form, states a perfectly regular Exposition, and a long legitimate Development (in which, as in the first Movement, a new motive is inserted), but there is no Recapitulation; true to nature, the progressive whirl of the turbulent dance gradually, and naturally, undermines the later structural parts, so that finally the expected Recapitulation is engulfed---nothing remains but a Coda, which is more normal, less orgiastic than might be awaited.



Mendelssohn: Early Symphonies

Besides many boyish experiments in symphonic composition (some dozen or more) which have been preserved, Mendelssohn wrote five Symphonies. These are usually numbered in order of their publication but I will take them up according to the dates of their compositions.

The first Symphony, in C minor, Op.11, was written in 1824, at which time Mendelssohn was only fifteen years of age. Quite aside from the interest which attaches to it as the symphonic product of so youthful a composer, it discloses qualities of undeniable intrinsic value; it was at once publicly performed, published, and listed as a welcome permanent number on Symphony programs for many years, and in our day it is occasionally encountered. It is not strikingly original: the whole is patterned closely after Mozart, in general style and mode of treatment. But it is not barren of features that foreshadow the maturer Mendelssohn. Perhaps the most independent factor is a passage that occurs in the subordinate Theme of the final Movement: here a twelve-measure phrase group is intonated by the strings, in staccato chords, on uniform beats, tracing an unpretentious melodic thread; this is then exactly repeated, and is unexpectedly joined, with charming effect, by an expressive sustained melody in the clarinet---somewhat after the manner in which Cesar Frank opens the slow Movement of his Symphony in D. This device is used occasionally by Mendelssohn in later works.

Mendelssohn's second Symphony bears the title Reformation. It is in D, was written in 1830, and was published as Op.107---the works of Mendelssohn, published during his lifetime, run through to Op.72 only; all the rest, up to Op.118, were issued after his death, and these embrace many early compositions which he possibly had no intention of making public. Nothing appears to have been farther from his mind than the creation of a "Tone-poem," or of program music, descritptive of events, or any particular event or personality, connected with the momentous upheaval in ecclesiastical history; and therefore the music reflects in a general way, only, the impulses, the ominous atmosphere, the heroic figures involved, and the victorious issue of the revolutionary religious movement. The most obvious connection between the title and the music itself, is the employment of the German chorale Ein' feste Burg (attributed to Martin Luther), in the Finale. Less relevant, though of some weight, are: the warlike motive at the beginning of the first Allegro, and the spirit of agitation which pervades the Movement; also the repeated insertion of the Dresden Amen, at the end of the Introduction (the same phrase that Wagner employs in his Parsifal). For the entire second and third Movements, however, an other, far different, title would be just as appropriate.


Thursday, December 08, 2005


Robert Schumann: Symphony No.4, D minor, Op.120

Schumann's Second Symphony, in D minor, was first written in the later months of 1841, and performed in December of that year inLeipzigc. It was not altogether to his liking, and he laid it aside until 1851, when he revised the instrumentation of it, and published it as Op.120. Consequently, it is known as No. 4, although it was the second in order of composition. He called it at first a Symphony-Fantasia, with the sub-title Symphony in One Movement---for its five tempo-Divisions are all connected without interruptions, and certain thematic factors are carried through the entire work. It is widely esteemed as his most attractive symphonic creation, and in truth nothing could be more winning and impressively beautiful than the Introduction, the Romanze, and everyone of its thematic melodies; a wonderfully alluring atmosphere envelops the whole, and the fine rhythmic pulse of the two Allegros is exhilarating. Nevertheless, this work betrays some of Schumann's undeniable shortcomings, particularly as concerns the structure and the orchestration; and the listener's impressions waver between fascination and disappointment. It is a genuine specimen of Romantic musical expression: original, intensely subjective, emotional, free---at times somewhat regardless of the regulations so essential to classic art. There is an Introduction, and the structural plan of the first Allegro is irregular, consisting as it does in a normal Exposition, a Development which trails off into a series of related Sections that "develop" nothing vital, and no Recapitulation---a jubilant Coda taking its place.

The truly lovely lyric Romanze is a Three-Part Song form with Trio, the da capo transposed and reduced to one Part only. The Second Part of the principal Division is borrowed from the Introduction, and the Trio (in D major), in which a Solo-violin gracefully embellishes the principal violin part, also contains thematic allusions to it.

A vigorous Scherzo, in usual form, follows the Romanze. The Trio contrasts most effectively with the principal Division, and is strongly reminiscent of the exquisite Trio in the preceding Movement (with the Solo-violin part). After the da capo, the Trio is restated, with ingenious dynamic alterations---its last Part "fading away," dissolving into a brief Coda, that serves to connect this Movement with the next.

The succeeding Finale begins with a transitional Interlude (or Introduction), based upon the chief thematic figure of the first Allegro. The form is sonata-allegro, slightly abbreviated. The principal Theme (or, rather, Motive only) is derived from the third Section of the Development in the first Movement. The second Codetta, related principalricipal Motive, furnishes the main contents of the Development in this Finale; the Recapitulation begins with the subordinate Theme (the principal Motive being omitted); the Coda ends brilliantly with new, though very similar motives.



Robert Schumann: Symphony No.3 (Rhenish), Eb major, Op.97

Schumann's last Symphony, in Eb major, Op.97, was written in the later months of 1850, and first performed at Dusseldorf in February, 1851. Although, as explained in the message
Robert Schumann: Symphony No.4, D minor, Op.120
it was the fourth of his Symphonies, it is known as Number III. There is no doubt that Schumann received the incentive to this work from visits in Cologne, and the prospect of the Cathedral of that city, which produced a deep and inspiring impression upon his profoundly romantic, susceptible artistic nature. It is therefore generally designated the Rhenish, or Cologne, Symphony, and no one will question the appropriateness of this title: the broad curving lines of the magnificent Theme with which it opens, are inescapably suggestive of the wide arches of a Gothic structure; and the majestic solemnity of the fourth Movement, the medieval pattern of its sonorous tones (as of an organ), its echoes, and the suggestion of the swingingcensorss, unmistakably reflect some impressive ceremony within the sacred, vaulted edifice.

Four years had passed since the composition of his C major Symphony under the cloud of physical and mental depression, and during this period the deplorable handicap had not been completely removed; the cerebral disorder haunted him constantly. And yet this last Symphony of Schumann's is more lucid in structure, richer in melodic beauty, and more concise in formulation than the one which preceded it, although all but the first of its five Movements are strikingly unconventional or downright irregular. The first Movement is a sonata-allegro without Introduction. The Exposition is regular and clear; the Development is very long, out of proportion of the rest; and it is to some degree impaired in its ultimate Sections by several premature onsets of the principal motive in the original key, which anticipate and weaken the actual Recapitulation, robbing it of its freshness.

[To be sure, Brahms does precisely the same thing in the slow Movement of his Second Symphony, and again in the slow Movement of the Third. All depends, obviously, upon the manner in which such novel and hazardous experiments are made.]

In this Symphony, again, Schumann alters the traditional order of the Movements, and places the Scherzo immediately after the first Allegro. And one may wonder why this second Movement should be called a Scherzo, for neither in its character nor in its tempo does it conform to that type. Its design is very unusual, consisting in a group of Song-forms, all finely interrelated, but strung together arbitrarily, in a fashion quite distinctive with Schumann. One condition of satisfactory form is fulfilled, however, by a final return to, and literal restatement of thprincipalal Part---to which is then added a lengthy and beautiful Coda. Of this Movement, with its warm-hearted, good-natured musical sentiment, Schumann said: "it seemed necessary to give prominence to popular (folk-song) elements, and I believe I succeeded in doing so." This surely applies also to the third and last Movements, which are as "popular" in character as it was possible for Schumann's music to be.

The third Movement, a lovely lyric tone-poem, in moderate tempo, is also unconventional in structural design---best definable as a "group-form," without clear-cut thematic outlines.

The fourth Movement, likewise, is a genuinely Schumannesque series of thematic sentences---another "group form." Schumann placed in the original score the superscription: "In the character of an adjunct to a solemn ceremony," but later erased it, with the remark: "One must not bare one's heart to the people; a general impression of the work of art is better for them, for then at least they make no faulty comparisons."

The Finale, an Allegro, in which Schumann's aim to emphasize the folk-idiom is clearly evident, is likewise irregular in structural design, but approximates the sonatine-allegro form. The irregularity concerns chiefly the subordinate Theme, which, in defiance of all precedent, recurs (for the greater part) in the same key as before; and it is a disproportionately lengthy chain of related Sections---wisely abbreviated in the Recapitulation. Brief allusions to the motive of the fourth Movement occur here and there.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Robert Schumann: Symphony No.2, C major, Op.61

The third of Schumann's Symphonies, in C major, Op.61, was finished in 1846, five years after the composition of the first and second. For reasons pointed out in the message Robert Schumann: Symphony No.4, D minor, Op.120, this C major Symphony is listed as the Second.

It is the longest of his Symphonies---large in conception and dimensions. The hearer is enveloped in an atmosphere of grandeur; and one is also confronted at every turn by musical images of delightful originality and beauty. The Themes are magnificent, imposing in melody, harmony, and rhythm.

The first Movement opens with an impressive Introduction, based at first upon an independent motive which is in conception is akin to the Introduction to his D minor Symphony, but assumes a radically different character through the incisive bugle-calls of the brass that set the lines of the form; the later Sections of the Introduction allude to Themes of the coming Allegro, and lead into the latter. The design is sonata-allegro; the Exposition is exceptionally concise. The Development is long, and diffuse, but is thematically consistent and interesting in every detail; its third Section is derived from Part Two of the principal Theme, and contains as effective reference to the first measure of the Introduction (but without the bugle-calls); and the final Section, leading back to the beginning (over an obstinate Dominant organ-point) is finely delineated, and, at its climax, tremendously powerful and stirring. But, as a whole, and likewise the long-drawn Coda, lacks that gathering momentum which can result from nothing less than a straightforward, clearly defined, unwavering structural purpose---in the manner so gloriously accomplished by Beethoven. The cause of this defect may be inferred from a remark of Schumann's in reference to this Symphony: "I sketched it while still physically very ill." But we should no doubt be more concerned with simple facts than with causes.

The succeeding Scherzo here appears as second Movement. It is uncommonly long, containing two Trios. The principal Division is a brilliant perpetuum mobile in the first violins---that is, the violins run in an uninterrupted rhythm (of sixteenth-notes) throughout. In the vivacious first Trio the meter is changed to 6/8 measure ( in effect, though not so marked), while the second Trio falls back upon a quiet rhythm of quarter- notes, and is more subdued and lyric in quality; thus both Trios stand out in marked contrast to the principal Division. The Coda is a rushing, impetuous continuation of the sixteenth-note rhythm.

The third Movement is an Adagio; an inspiration of profoundly moving character and indescribable beauty, doubtless the most masterly and impressive of Schumann's symphonic slow Movements. The design is sonata-allegro; but in place of the conventional "Development" an entirely new Motive (in staccato sixteenths) is inserted and treated briefly in polyphonic Imitations, as fugato; this same staccato motive is then carried along through the first Periodprincipalrnicipal Theme which follows as Recapitulation, thus vindicating its presence in the Movement. Particularly noteworthy is the Codetta---the last fourteen measures of the Exposition---which rises to a climax of thrilling power, restrained at its peak and turned back into a gentle cadence.

The Finale is a tremendously vigorous, resplendent hymn of Triumph; at least, it is chiefly this, but relieved by a few episodes of quieter, more sustained melodious character. From the classic point of view this Movement is "formless;" there is but little in nature of tangible, distinguishable "Themes" in it; the general structural impression seems to be effected by a number of affiliated thematic fragments, into which., however, the opening figure of the preceding Adagio-Movement is most ingeniously and effectively interwoven, quite extensively. Hence the design can be defined no more accurately than as an arbitrary, fantastic series of Episodes, twelve in number.

There was one technical element that Schumann never quite mastered, and that was the scoring of his concept; his orchestration is for the greater part too thick, opaque, and very often ineffective. For this reason we will, in many cases, obtain a clearer impression of the musical conception, and derive more satisfaction and enjoyment from it through the medium of a good piano arrangement (preferably for four hands), than from an orchestral performance.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 1 (Spring), Bb, Op.38

Of Schumann's Symphonies, the first one, in Bb, Op.38, was written early in 1841, and it is said that he himself called it the Spring Symphony. Whether this is the case, or whether the name was suggested and applied to it by some poetically-minded admirer, is not positive. But it is certain that this title is singularly appropriate, for the whole work exhales the fresh, crisp, now exhilarating, and again balmy, breath of springtime. It is scored for large orchestra, including trombones. In point of structure it is the most nearly perfect of his Symphonies.

The first Movement has a fairly extended Introduction, devoted to more or less pointed allusions to the chief Theme of the Allegro. In its present form it opens with an intonation of the thematic phrase (by the trumpets and horns), but pitched a third higher than the original draft. Schumann was constrained to alter the pitch in this manner, because of the decidedly awkward effect of the original tones upon the "natural" brass instruments then in vogue---not yet supplied with the valves that equalized the entire scale. The change in pitch is generally regarded as deplorable, and nowadays can easily be rectified.

The form (sonata-allegro) is regular; the Recapitulation begins with a magnified version of the first thematic phrase, with thrilling effect. But the greater part of the Coda consists in a wholly new motive, in quieter rhythm, of fine harmonic and melodic character, distinctly Schumannesque in conception. There is no conceivable structure justification for this new factor; it is due to a purely romantic impulse; in a Beethoven Symphony it would be unthinkable. But in itself it is lovely enough to supply its own excuse.

The second Movement is an exceedingly beautiful lyric creation, serene but impressive. The design is concise, and resembles a miniature Second Rondo-form. Each of the two alternating subordinate Themes is scarcely more than a melodic fragment, though enough to indicate a Digression. Upon its first recurrence, the principal Theme is transposed. The first subordinate Motive extends from measure twenty-five to forty; the second suborndinate Motive from measure fifty-five to seventy-four. To the Coda an extra Section is appended, which (in trombones and bassoons) anticipates the chief motive of the following Movement; thus, the second and third Movements are connected.

For the third Movement, Schumann follows Beethoven's lead and adopts the Scherzo type. It is an extremely broad Movement, and is further enlarged by the addition of a second Trio and another (this last time abbreviated) da capo. The first Trio provides an unusual degree of contrast, in its alternating meter and its buoyant swing, to the splendid vigor of the rest.

The Finale is one of the most exultant, irresistibly cheery, vivacious Movements in symphonic literature; and the design (sonata-allegro) is finely drawn. It opens with an introductory Phrase, apparently independent, but later interwoven with the rest in a most significant manner: it becomes the second Phrase of the subordinate Theme, and its rhythmic form gives birth to the first Codetta, besides dominating the Development and the entire Coda. There is a noteworthy parallelism between the two chief Themes, somewhat similar to the plan of the slow Movement in the Scotch Symphony of Mendelssohn; i.e. the Second Part of the subordinate Theme is derived almost literally from the First Part of the principal one.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Schubert: the Tenth Symphony ("Great" C major)

The "Great" C major Symphony was written in the early months of 1828, a short time before Schubert's divine voice was stilled forever. And again there had been a lapse of six years between this and the preceding (Eighth) Symphony. A supposable Ninth Symphony presents a puzzling problem to the historian; possibly it never existed, though history persists in mentioning and numbering it.

The salient characteristic of this entire stupendous creation is Breadth. It is large in every respect---large in conception, in spirit, broad in proportions and structural plan. The many welcome repetitions, the "heavenly lengths" (as Schumann called them), the irrepressible joyous pulse of the music necessitated a canvas of very unusual dimensions. And its prevailing tone is Joy; in the slow Movement, only, is this joyful spirit of a serener type, tinged with melancholy, and yielding here and there to bursts of passion.

Its breadth of purpose demanded an Introduction, and Schubert conceived one which in extent, independence and impressiveness, forms an analogy to that of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The design is sonata-allegro, orthodox and regular, but extremely long. The Introduction is a Three-Part Song-form, enlarged to five Parts by the addition of an extra (fourth) Part, which is followed by another recurrence of the First Part, thus: I-IIA-III-IIB-III. One of the figures of this Introduction enters quite frequently and fearlessly into the texture of the Allegro; and the culmination of the whole first Movement is a jubilant intonation of the entire first Phrase of the Introduction.

The second Movement is a lyric creation of indescribable beauty, and at the same time powerful dramatic contrasts; no music could be lovelier than the two melodic Themes, and the Codetta to the first Period, with its wonderfully soothing change to the major mode; and the dramatic climax before the second recurrence of the principal Theme has rarely been equaled in intensity anywhere else in symphonic literature.

Further, this Movement (and in truth, the whole Symphony) displays mental acumen, superb mastery over structure in every respect, scarcely excelled by any other great master. Schubert may not have been a profoundly learned musical scholar, and surely he never wasted his precious time over abstruse musical problems; but his marvelous intuition, and a splendidly healthy mind, more than compensated for any fruits of sheer calculation.

An introductory phrase of seven measures precedes the principal Theme. The third measure of the latter Theme is of overruling thematic significance: the repeated e in the melody is the thematic Germ, so to speak, of the entire Movement. It appears most frequently in the rhythm of quarter-notes, but is modified at times to eighth-notes (as in the introductory measures), to sixteenths, and even thirty-second notes. It occurs upon different scale-steps, but is most persistently e-e. In various incisive rhythmic forms, and doubled in thirds, it provides the tremendous pounding throbs of the dramatic climax alluded to above. The insistent pulse of the this motive also underlies the fascinating dialog between the horn and strings, during the twelve measures which precede the first recurrence of the principal Theme.

The third Movement is a Scherzo of unusual breadth; its principal Division is enlarged to a complete sonata-allegro form, with two definite Themes---as in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which is the only other example of such form-dimensions (as Scherzo) in the literature of the symphony. Between the principal Division and the Trio an Interlude is inserted which serves as an introduction to the Trio. This introduction consists of twenty-four successive e's, chiefly by the horns and trombones, and is therefore reminiscent of the famous sixty e's leading into the principal Theme of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The melody of the Trio is one of those unforgettable lyric outbursts, in folk-song style---to which no one ever gave readier and more captivating voice than Schubert did.

The Finale, a sonata-allegro of extraordinary breadth and extent, is a revel of gladness, a genuine exuberant Ode to Joy, more jubilant and convincing than the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and of that fundamental simplicity that is synonymous with true greatness. The principal Theme is here again divided into two "Parts," but these are not so essentially differentiated as are the thematic "members" in the Unfinished Symphony. The four reiterated half-notes which distinguish the subordinate Theme constitute an analogy with the thematic germ of the slow Movement---a sort of echo of the latter, which may have been subconscious, or possibly intentional. The Exposition includes three Codettas, of which only the second one is of exceptional note. The Development opens with an apparently new melodic phrase, but it is a derivative of this second Codetta; the arresting feature of this melody is its close resemblance to the principal Theme of the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony: reverse the order of the first three tones, and the parallelism is complete (compare Beethoven's third Episode of Beethoven's Finale). Surely Schubert stood in no need of "borrowing" melodic ideas from anyone, nor was he ever known to do so. If this coincidence has any special meaning, it serves only to indicate how deeply Beethoven's musical spirit impressed that of Schubert.

The Recapitulation is transposed (to E-flat), extended, and considerably modified.



Schubert: the Unfinished (Eighth) Symphony

Six years intervened between the composition of the Fifth Symphony and that of the Eighth---the Unfinished, as it is called---and during these years Schubert's spirit made such incredible progress toward maturity that with this Eighth Symphony he may be said to have reached the pinnacle of his musical genius. The two Symphonies that preceded this one (the Sixth, in C, and the Seventh, in E), though of positive historic interest, do not warrant detailed demonstration for our group; they were chiefly important as stepping-stones. It was the Unfinished that Schubert's symphonic genius seemed to burst all at once into flame.

Beethoven was more profound, more scholarly, undeniably a spirit of far larger caliber and wider outlook; but in none of his works has Beethoven surpassed the tremendous primitive vitality, the mighty dramatic surge, the inescapable appeal of the Unfinished Symphony of Schubert. And surely no other than Schubert has ever produced so unique a masterwork at the age of twenty-five!

This Eighth Symphony (in B minor) was written the latter part of 1822. It consists of two Movements only, whence the title: Unfinished. Just why Schubert should have left it in this so-called "unfinished" condition, it is not easy to determine. There are two facts which appear to indicate that he intended, originally, to write a complete four-Movement Symphony:
(1) The second (slow) Movement is in E major, and closes in that key, which does not provide an orthodox ending for a B minor composition; and, notwithstanding his noted modulatory freedom, Schubert was very particular about asserting a central tonality, and closing every work in the key in which it began; (2) Schubert actually started a third Movement (a Scherzo)
and sketched no less than 130 measures of it. This, however, is so inferior in quality, so obviously alien and inadequate, that no one will question why Schubert abandoned it. Then there are other conjectures: Schubert may have mistrusted his ability to sustain consistently so lofty an emotional flight; or he may have wearied of the task---a not uncommon habit with him; or---and this brings us to the probable crux of the matter---his unfailing instinct may have informed him that the message was complete, so perfect and so final that any addition would be worse than useless. In reality, then, this marvelous Symphony is no more "unfinished," in the highest esthetic sense, than are the four Sonatas of Beethoven which contain only two Movements each (Op.54, 78, 90, 111).

The orchestral score of both Movements includes, besides the ordinary contingent, three trombones.

The first Movement is in strict sonata-allegro form. It should be noted that the principal Theme consists of two separate and widely different members. Such division of the chief Theme, which is tantamount to two distinct Themes, was a favorite practice with Schubert; his fertility of invention was so active that he was never at a loss for a new idea. Herein he was unlike the more reflective Beethoven, who preferred to evolve his structure out of one brief, fruitful Theme. In point of fact, this two-fold physiognomy of the theme is not new. In ordinary cases, the theme is almost invariably a Two-Part form (at least), and each of these two Parts constitutes a somewhat independent thematic member; but they are only related "Parts" of one and the same thematic factor. The novelty in the former case, attributable to Schubert, consists in the widely different character of the two members, which actually increases the sum of thematic factors.

Of the two members in the Unfinished, the first one is the real thematic basis for the Movement, albeit it occurs, strangely enough, only once during the entire Exposition; but, on the other hand, it dominates the Development and the Coda almost exclusively. The other member is of very little consequence; the subordinate Theme is the factor which greatly predominates and distinguishes the Exposition, and, naturally, the Recapitulation. Schubert here again indulges in his apparently whimsical choice of keys: in the Exposition the subordinate Theme is placed in G major (instead of the conventional D), and in the Recapitulation it appears at first in D, but swings over into the expected B major.

The second Movement is cast in the sonatine-form (without a Development). Here again the principal Theme separates into two essential members. The first one has the quality of an Introduction, but it recurs constantly, before and between the other phrases after the manner of a ritornelle or Refrain, and is of vital thematic importance.

It would be futile to undertake to point out all the many masterly and beautiful episodes in these two wondrous Movements. The listener will discover, in both of them, passages of intense dramatic stress, tempered by the contrast of cheerful moments of supreme loveliness.


Sunday, December 04, 2005


Schubert: Fifth Symphony

In 1813, Schubert's voice broke, and like Haydn, sixty-four years earlier, he became useless to the choir. While Haydn had been turned brutally into the streets of Vienna, Schubert had two courses open to him: to accept a foundation scholarship or to take a teaching job in his father's school. As the former involved going on with studies that bored this bespectacled, studious-looking, but unintellectual youth, he chose to teach. He must have known the drudgery that awaited him, but schoolteachers were exempt from military service, he would not have to study any more, and he would have plenty of leisure for composition. For three years he served as his father's assistant, and be it said that this period, when he doubtless was getting three square meals a day as well as stipend, was the most miserable of his life. Against all his natural instincts, he went about his petty daily tasks with a stolid persistence, and only rarely gave vent to the rage that was consuming him. He hated the school and everything about it---the damp urchins, the ill-smelling classroom, the maddening rote of elementary teaching.

Deficient Schubert may have been in intellect, but certainly not in courage and persistence. In this unpromising milieu, from 1813 to 1816, he attempted almost every form of composition, setting down string quartets, five symphonies, sonatas for piano and violin, Masses and other church music, eight stage works of varying lengths and intentions (but all dismal), and more than two hundred and fifty songs. Much of this output is unimportant judged by the standards of anyone not writing an exhaustive treatise on the works of Schubert. But many of the songs are fresh and perfectly realized, and several are masterpieces: a boy of seventeen composed Gretchen am Spinnrade, a boy of eighteen Der Erlkonig. The miracle of Schubert's creation of the lied becomes all the more miraculous when it is considered that though he went on to many kinds of song; he never composed any finer than these, and for a very simple reason: these are perfect.

Among the other work is one of the most fragrant and guileless tributes ever paid by a young composer to his great predecessors---the Fifth Symphony, in B flat major. Only a very sophisticated pair of ears, hearing it for the first time, could distinguish it from Mozart when he is most like Haydn. There is nothing in it that would have surprised Mozart: it is thoroughly classical in structure, and for the most part in feeling. Its originality---just enough to give it piquancy---is the songlike quality of some of the themes and the romantic tints in the andante. As a passing phase, ancestor worship that produces symphonies like Schubert's B flat major is all right.

The Fifth Symphony, in B-flat, though written in the same year as the Tragic (September-October, 1816) is generally superior to the latter, and evinces such an advance in freedom and power of original expression that it may be accepted as the actual beginning of Schubert's significant symphonic career. While it frankly adopts and sustains the simple, comparatively primitive style of Haydn, or, more correctly, of Mozart, it possesses an attractive physiognomy of its own; and it is permeated with the buoyant, joyous spirit of this amazingly gifted spendthrift of spontaneous melody. The score is that of the small orchestra of former days, comprising one flute, two each of oboes, bassoons, horns, and the quintet of strings---but no clarinets, no drums, and no trumpets throughout. This reduction of the instrumental apparatus augments the brightness and lucidity of the charming music.

The first Movement is a concise sonata-allegro design and opens with an introductory phrase of four measures, preceding the principal Theme, but with no thematic reference to the latter. The structure is extremely regular; the fundamental four-measure pattern is employed almost without exception in its phrases, though an occasional Extension checks the menace of monotony. This well-nigh obstinate regularity of form (and of cadence) testifies to the rapid spontaneous flow of Schubert's melody; he was not given to critical reflection, at least not yet, and he felt no need of exciting the hearer's interest by rhythmic shifting, or any similar device. This simplicity of conception is further attested by his constant use of Repetition, in which respect, he almost outrivalled Beethoven himself. In this Movement Schubert again gratifies his characteristic inclination to alter the traditional modulatory scheme, by setting his Themes in unexpected keys---a trait pointed out in connection with the Tragic Symphony, and a prevalent impulse, peculiarly distinctive of Schubert: thus, he begins the Recapitulation in the "wrong" key---E-flat instead of B-flat.

The second Movement is a complaisant Lyric of semi-serious quality, vitalized with fine contrasts. It is in sonatine-form (without a Development) and is enlarged by an additional (partial) statement of the principal Theme, in lieu of a Coda.

Schubert calls the third Movement a Minuet; its tempo and character, however, proclaim it a Scherzo. The Trio is one of those ingratiating, tuneful sentences in which Schubert gives free vent to his irresistible melodic fancy---a type which he developed, in part, in writing his songs, and which for unadulterated loveliness has probably never been surpassed.

The Finale is a perfectly regular sonata-allegro design, masterly in conception and formulation, whose vivacity is held in effective restraint by episodes of considerable dramatic power and eloquence.

Schubert was not a typically studious musician. He was endowed with an intuition of unheard-of alertness, opulence and infallibility; and this (usually precarious, and very often evanescent) quality served him steadfastly all his life; he instinctively depended upon it, and therefore never felt the impulse to engage in serious theoretical study (at least not in his earlier years), or to apply his exceptional mental forces in a reflective and selective way. It would be unfair, however, to conclude that he was in the slightest degree superficial, or indifferent to the obviously essential laws of his art. Such sketches of his works as have been discovered, and notably his later creations themselves, reveal a measure of earnestness at times scarcely inferior to that of Beethoven. Schubert was simply averse to the dry, mathematical routine of textbooks and "methods," and found it more congenial and fruitful to study music itself, as he found it supplied in ample quantity by the great classic masters; and this he did, with absorbing conscientiousness. At the same time, it is undeniable that his lack of technical drill, coupled with the impetuousity of his musical conception, resulted at times in certain lapses in his formal structure, a lack of that strong, unfaltering, convincing logic, and the fine balance of achitectural detail in which Beethoven excelled so greatly.



Schubert: the "Tragic" Symphony

This one, No. IV, in C minor, composed early in 1816, is the first of Schubert's Symphonies which challenges attention, since it presents features of more than transient interest, and manifests, already, the distinctive, typical Schubert idiom. But the title "Tragic" is inaccurate, pompous, and a bit pretentious. For no youth of nineteen summers really knows what tragedy signifies---at least, Schubert did not; he bases his conception of it upon what he has read or heard, but not what he has felt or known. Therefore there is to be found in this Symphony no more than a general, artificially emphasized dramatic strain (in the first and last Movements only), and a few pathetic touches, but no genuine tragic outbursts.

The forms are regular, but disclose Schubert's characteristic treatment of modulation, particularly in the placing of his subordinate Themes, and in the Recapitulation, where he indulges in transpositions that modify the traditional scheme, though they cannot be charged with impairing the structural impression. Thus, on the first movement (C minor) he sets the subordinate Theme in A-flat, instead of the conventional E-flat, and ends the Exposition in that key; and the Recapitulation begins in G minor, instead of C minor, with the subordinate Theme in E-flat. The Coda is in C major---which is normal.

The second Movement is a lovely Lyric, or friendly character, in sonatine-allegro form (that is, without a Development), and here are encountered episodes of touching pathos.

The third Movement is called a Menuetto, but it is in reality a Scherzo, quite after Beethoven's heart, and decidedly effective. Its Trio is a beautiful specimen of Schubert's typical conception.

The Finale is again a sonata-allegro design; the principal Theme is inferior---scarcely more than a boyish imitation of pseudo-dramatic opera; but the subordinate Theme (here again in A-flat) is a truly beautiful, redeeming feature. The Recapitulation is in C major, the subordinate Theme placed at first in F.

Schubert was almost as inveterate a devotee of the device of Repetition as was Beethoven. But when Beethoven repeats, the effect is quite a different thing; like so many of Beethoven's creative processes, which, being controlled by serious mental effort, profound reflection and untiring comparison and pruning, turn out results that are unique and firm. Beethoven's repetitions always strengthen the structure, while those of Schubert (and others) often weaken it; those of Beethoven make for unity---those of Schubert are apt to produce the impression of monotony. The comparison may be somewhat unfair, since this refers mainly to Schubert's earlier works, composed during a period in which Beethoven had already attained to maturity. At any rate, the listener will find that it does not apply to Schubert's last two great Symphonies, wherein we would not willingly dispense with a single tone.


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