Saturday, December 17, 2005
Bruckner did enjoy increasing fame in his late years, as society became accustomed to the workings of Wagnerism; by the time of his final illness, he was a former professor of the Vienna Conservatory and the recipient of a government pension for his goodwill to the Austrian Empire. Bruckner's works have found performances worldwide, due to a steady growth in popularity since his death in 1896. A lack of interference by the Nazi government, who otherwise stunted the progress of Mahler, Kurt Weill, Boris Blacher, and others, was particularly helpful, as was the dedication of conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwangler, Daniel Barenboim, and Herbert von Karajan to performing Bruckner whenever the chance has presented itself. Still to be resolved, however, are questions about the scores themselves; they were sometimes revised through Bruckner's own decision, but also through the persuasion of friends who thought his music could be made "listener-friendly." One should note the different versions of some symphonies, with unwanted cuts and alterations still being weeded out by musicologists.
Despite this controversy and the strife during his own lifetime, Bruckner's creative achievement endures. Whether written for church or concert hall, his music pulls audiences into a different realm, where ordinary thought is transcended. His first numbered symphonies (1, 2, 3) and his two earlier attempts (Number 0, or "Die Nullte," and the "Study" Symphony) are moving, but they are curiosities in comparison to the middle (4, 5, 6) and late (7, 8, 9). Symphony Number 4 ("Romantic") is his most medieval and most popular; Number 7 is noted for its sublimity, written in tribute to the recently-deceased Wagner; Number 8 is his farthest-reaching; while Number 9, left incomplete, assures us of Bruckner's peace in later life. The numerous masses, motets, and hymns are also unparalleled in both aesthetic and religious terms. As attention spans become narrower and values change from the spiritual to the material, musicians have feared Bruckner's music losing popularity. But it is this inherent spirituality, this certainty of faith, which makes it perhaps even more attractive in our time.
Bruckner produced nine Symphonies (some could say eleven), each in the traditional four Movements, and almost without exception molded after classic designs. The First (1866) and Second (1872), both in C minor, are unimportant. The Third, in D minor (1873), dedicated to Wagner, is a noteworthy specimen of masterly orchestration. The Fourth, in E-flat, called the Romantic, lives up to its title, and contains many truly beautiful episodes. His most important Symphony is the Seventh, in E major, finished in 1833. Opinions concerning it diverge widely; some regard it as "the loftiest and noblest expression of emotions that are too deep and subtle for any other than the musical medium of utterance;" others find "at least two of its four Movements dull, involved, bald in idea, tiresome in treatment." Still, all critics---and the public---agree that the slow Movement of the Seventh Symphony is one of the most imposing, lovely and impressive Adagios in symphonic literature.
Of his Ninth Symphony (1894) Bruckner completed only three Movements, the Finale remaining unfinished. Its Second Movement (the Scherzo) was, at the time, declared by one writer to be probably the most barbarous and oppressive Scherzo that symphonic scores can show. A hundred years ago this dictum may have appeared quite reasonable and true---but times, and tastes, changed vastly within thirty years.
Bruckner was born September 4, 1824, in Upper Austria. Circumstances compelled him to study by himself, but so great was his talent, and his diligence, that he soon became an organist and contrapuntist of extraordinary ability. In 1855 he was appointed organist at Linz, prevailing over many rival applicants. In 1867 he became Court-organist in Vienna; in 1875, lecturer at the Vienna university, receiving from that institution the honorary degree of Doctor of Music in 1891. In 1869 he journeyed to France, and in 1871 to England, establishing his reputation as the greatest organist of his time. His First Symphony was composed in 1868; the Seventh, the first to engage the serious attention of the musical public, in 1884. His death occurred October 11, 1896, in Vienna.
There are certain points of contact between Bruckner and his close contemporary, Cesar Franck. Both were of a shy, gentle disposition, devoutly religious, with less sense of the realities of life than of poetic or spiritual visions; both were eminent organists and consummate contrapuntists. Both were assiduous and influential teachers: among the numerous pupils of Bruckner were Felix Mottl, Arthur Nikisch, Gustav Mahler and Emil Paur.
The strongest artistic prepossession of Bruckner was his overwhelming reverence for the personality and the music of Wagner; and despite the uncommon vigor of his own genius, he was unable to withstand Wagner's influence, and to avoid rather frequent obvious imitation of his style. Bruckner's conception was fitful, unsteady, not always subjected to proper control; in consequence, his Movements are almost all too long, and devoid of balance and essential contrast. But he was profoundly sincere and earnest, and his style manifests much genuine power, dignity, nobility, and times even grandeur.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Sibelius: First and Second Symphonies
The first Movement opens with the intonation of a weird melody as clarinet solo; the Allegro (6/4 measure, in G major) which follows, displays tremendous vigor and determination, and---as details contribute to the distinctive character of the music---the frequent, nearly prevailing, rhythms of eighth-notes, and the multifold repetitions of brief figures, so inherent in the natural musical habits of the Finns.
The usual slow movement, an Andante, assumes its conventional location as second in order, and contains exquisite picturesque touches. This is followed by the Scherzo, as third Movement. The true Scherzo quality is apparent in its rhythm only; its mood is dark, and harsh dissonances are plentiful. The Trio, however, is kindlier and more tender in tone.
The Finale, entitled Quasi una Fantasia, begins with the clarinet solo of the first Movement, pronounced with great force by the whole body of strings, in unison, and then unfolds a somewhat gloomy perspective, ending in a broad hymn of sadness.
The Second Symphony of Sibelius, in D, Op.43, is no less popular than the First---perhaps it is even more generally admired, because of its brighter countenance, and friendlier aspect; though it is less effective, less volcanic, imbued with less elemental power.
Jan Sibelius was born in Finland, December 8, 1865. The following biographic sketch is from his own pen (quoted from Musical America of January 14, 1914): "It is true, I am a dreamer and poet of Nature. I love the mysterious sounds of the fields and forests, water and mountains. My father was a surgeon of the rank of Major in the Finnish army. I was educated by my grandmother, who insisted on my studying particularly Greek and Latin. I was graduated from the University of Helsingfors, and studied law, but I did not care to be a lawyer or judge. I determined to become a musician, and began to take lessons on the violin. I had already studied music systematically from my fourteenth year, and even composed simple pieces of chamber music. . . . My first composition to be performed was Variations for String-quartet, played in Helsingfors in 1887 . . . . In 1889 I left Finland to study in Berlin. Prof. Albert Becker instructed me there in composition, and there I started my larger orchestral works. In 1891 I went to Vienna and continued my studies with Karl Goldmark. I also studied awhile with Albert Fuchs. These are in brief the principal facts of my musical career. It pleases me greatly to be called an artist of nature, for nature has been the book of books for me."
Sibelius visited America in 1914, and while there received the degree of Doctor of Music from Yale University.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Saint-Saëns: The Third Symphony (with Organ)
It is the most extensive and imposing of his symphonic creations, broad in design, and at intervals strongly dramatic; on the whole, however, distinguished more for ingenuity of design and execution than for spontaneity of melodic conception, and for clearness, directness and unimpeded evolution of structural purpose that proclaim the supreme master of the situation. At the same time, it does contain very many episodes of lovely tonal quality, of unaffected emotion, and of equally genuine heroic emphasis.
It is superbly scored, with a fuller instrumental body than Saint-Saëns was accustomed to employ. Following the stimulating lead of Berlioz, and profiting by the acquisitions of the intervening years, Saint-Saëns contributed in no small measure to the eloquence and vividness of the orchestra. To the ordinary full score he here adds the organ and the piano---the latter in one place for four hands.
The Symphony comprises the usual four Movements, in their conventional order; but the first two, and again the last two, are connected, so that the work as a whole is presented in two large Divisions.
The first Movement opens with a brief Introduction (Adagio). The principal Theme thereupon follows is carried through the entire Symphony, in an almost incredible variety of rhythmic forms. The design of the first Movement is sonata-allegro, regular, and clear. The subordinate Theme is easily recognizable.
The second (slow) Movement, connected with the first, as above stated, is a lyric tone-picture of great melodic and harmonic beauty, warmth and dignity. The form is First-Rondo. The subordinate Theme is short, in effect only an Interlude, developed out of the chief motive of the first Movement.
The third Movement is a Scherzo, with Trio; spirited, ingenious, and extremely effective.
An elaborate and lengthy Transition of six Sections, leads from the Scherzo over into the Finale; and the latter continues the free, in a sense capricious, sectional formation, which functions as an Introduction embracing three Sections (based mainly upon the principal motive of the first Movement) before the actual Allegro begins---with a fugato upon this same motive. Hence, the first and last Movements of the Symphony have the same principal Theme, only differing in mode (minor and major respectively), in rhythm, and in tempo.
The subordinate Theme, however, is new, most attractive, and affords an admirable contrast. To this a Codetta is added in G, upon exactly the same melodic motive. The design of the Finale is sonata-allegro; slightly irregular, inasmuch as the Recapitulation begins with the Second Part of the principal Theme---omitting the so vitally essential First Part (actual identifying "beginning") of the Theme.
Saint-Saëns: early symphonies
With his Second Symphony, in A minor, Op.55, written much later, the case was decidedly different; for in this work Saint-Saëns placed on record some of the finest and most engaging fruits of his genial powers of musical expression, and the work attracted respectful attention, and won cordial recognition, at home and abroad.
It embraces the usual four Movements: an Allegro appassionato (with Introduction), concise in form, sparkling in character, smooth, and finely impelled in its structural unfolding; an Adagio of superior merit; a Scherzo; and a vivacious Finale, prestissimo, in the major mode, in the conventional Rondo-form.
Charles Camille Saint-Saëns
In 1881 Saint-Saëns took Reber's place in the Academie; in 1892 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Cambridge University; and a host of decorations, and honors of many kinds bore witness to the universal esteem in which he was held, throughout the musical world.
He was always an enthusiastic traveler, visiting many countries in the threefold capacity of pianist, organist, and conductor of his own works. He visited America twice, in 1906 and 1915.
Saint-Saëns was prolific, versatile (his literary writings were numerous and brilliant), acutely intellectual, quickly responsive to poetic suggestion, and meticulous in his artistic methods. Doubtless less profound than the great classic masters, he contributed all the more to the development and refinement of Romantic Music. His name rests mainly upon his instrumental works, his Symphonies and his original, skillfullylly depicted Tone-Poems (Le Rouet d'Omphale, Phaeton, Danse Macabre, La Jeunesse d'Hercule). Retaining his vigor and enthusiasm in a remarkable degree to the end, he passed away December 16, 1921.
The musical conception and methods of Saint-Saëns were thoroughly typical of the French people, to whom he belonged. That accounts for the character of his music: extremely ingenious, clever, always piquant alluring, polished, preponderantly bright and vivacious; by no means wanting in pathetic and passionate impulses, but these of a more sentimental than profoundly tragic quality. He is adjudged by many critical observers as one of the most brilliant and eminent of French tone-masters, if not the foremost.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Franck: Symphony in D minor
It cannot escape the observant listener that Franck makes frequent use of the Sequence (a "repetition" on other, higher or lower steps); its shifting motions seemed to be more congenial to his conceptive habits than the more stable effect of actual repetitions. The latter, it will be recalled, was a strikingly persistent and essential feature in the music of Beethoven, and that of all the classics.
The second (slow) Movement is a genuine, characteristic specimen of Franck's musical conception, especially as regards melodic delineation. Its principal Theme, a complete lyric Double-period, is of haunting, indescribably touching quality, introspective, sorrowful but not despairing. The design is Second-Rondo, and both of the subordinate Themes are cheerful in mood. The structural manipulation of this Movement is masterly to the last degree: an ingenious and unique adjustment of novel methods to classical traditions.
The Finale is fundamentally sunny in spirit; vigorous at times, but nowhere boisterous, and contemplative rather than vivacious. The insertion of the somber chief melodic period of the slow Movement (as second Codetta, and again in the Coda) effectually subdues the optimistic aspirations of the Movement; and the allusions to important thematic units of the opening Movement---in the third and fourth Sections of the Coda---have an excellent unifying effect. The form, sonata-allegro, is curiously abbreviated: the Recapitulation presents only the principal Theme---the subordinate one is omitted.
So, next after Berlioz, in France, came Cesar Franck. They were equally original, each in his own direction, and both attained singular eminence as exponents of the tone-language; and yet nothing could be more striking than the contrast between these two masters: Berlioz, the robust, virile, aggressive realist, who went about the realization of his lofty, absorbing artistic ideals in the most straight-forward, practical manner; and Franck, the gentleminded, shy, devout dreamer, whose soul seemed to lose contact with the earth, in the mystic realm of spiritual visions. While Berlioz excelled in dramatic intuition and in his command of orchestral technique, Franck was far more scholarly, more thoroughly trained in the technique and structure of musical composition.
Franck studied at the Conservatory in Liege until his fifteenth year, then at the Paris Conservatory, becoming in 1872 a Professor at that institution. In 1853 he was appointed Choirmaster at St. Clothilde, in 1857 organist there.
Equally famous as organist, instructor, and composer, he exerted a strong and enduring influence upon the younger school of French writers; among his distinguished pupils were Lekeu, Debussy, Vincent d'Indy, and many others. Franck was especially noted for his improvisations at the organ, which are said to have been, as unhampered effusions of his richly gifted poetic and religious nature, of indescribable beauty and impressiveness. Having gained comparatively late in his modest career the recognition due him in his adopted country, Franck died, in Paris, November 8, 1890.
Franck was not a hasty or prolific composer, and the list of his (invariably fine) works, though not meager, is not as long as might have been expected. He left only one Symphony, but a number of Symphonic-Poems, five Oratorios, three Operas, several Chamber-music works, many organ pieces and other compositions, and a few Songs.
Franck's methods of musical expression, particularly as concerns melody and harmony, were distinctive, not to be confounded with those of any other great master. His harmonies are incomparably sinuous, iridescent; his modulations incredibly flexible; his counterpoint fluent but firm; and the structure of his larger forms, while not everywhere in absolute conformity with traditional models, is always logical, clear, and effective.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Berlioz: Romeo and Juliet
The Symphony embraces eight Numbers, or Movements, to which the titles are given: 1. Introduction; 2. Prologue; 3. Ball scene; 4. Garden scene; 5. Queen Mab; 6.Juliet's Burial; 7. Romeo at the Grave; 8. Finale.
The first Number (orchestral) is not an Introduction in the accepted sense, but prefigures the opening Scene of the Tragedy---the feud between the houses of Montague and Capulet. The ensuing Prologue, partly orchestral and partly vocal, consists of three Sections, which narrate in brief form the coming events of the Drama.
Hereupon follow the four actual symphonic Movements: the first Movement (Andante; Allegro) deals with a mournful soliloquy of Romeo; the appearance of Juliet; and the grand festival and ball of the Capulets'. Despite its obviously festive character, this Movement is handled with fine moderation, is noble in conception and dignified in execution.
The second Movement (the slow Movement of the Symphony) is the Garden scene, ardently emotional, but discreet---an admirable example of poetic musical expression.
The third Movement (the Scherzo) is the famous music entitled Queen Mab, the Fairy of Dreams. It is the finest and most individual episode of the whole Symphony; very few, if any, specimens of absolute music can compare with it in originality, ingenuity and tonal beauty, among all the products of the Romantic school. The form is Song with Trio.
The next two of the total eight Numbers, "Juliet's Burial" and "Romeo at the Grave," are usually regarded as included in this third Movement, although they are detached. It is quite impossible to point out, here, all the remarkable ingenious, significant, and inescapably impressive details of these Numbers. The listener will find the efforts abundantly rewarded on a careful examination of the score itself.
The Finale scarcely maintains the high standard of excellence that distinguishes all the preceding Movements. It is undisguisedly operatic, almost theatrical, in plan and execution (with its mixture of orchestral, vocal solo, and triple-chorus), and seems out of place in a work of symphonic dignity. Concerning its tremendous dramatic effect, however, there can be no question.
Berlioz: Harold in Italy
The second Movement, "March of the Pilgrims, chanting their Evening Prayer," is realistic, frankly and charmingly descriptive, and extremely beautiful in conception and formulation.
The third Movement bears the title "Serenade of a Mountaineer in the Abruzzo," an amiable Scherzo, into the fabric of which the Harold-Motive is delightfully woven.
The Finale: "Harold's End---Orgy of the Brigands," is a masterpiece of realistic structure. Its Introduction is a retrospect of the preceding scenes, similar to the plan of the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, though totally different from this in its poetic relations. The Allegro which follows is an Orgy, but a genuinely musical one, set forth in perfectly clear form---a most salutary model for many a modern composer, whose prodigious travail brings forth a---mouse!
Berlioz: the Fantastic Symphony
The idea is defined by Berlioz in these words: "A young artist, in love, and tired of life, takes opium; the dose, too weak to kill, intoxicates him, and in his fevered dreams he reviews his own imaginary love-history, which culminates in a fantastic and dreadful ending." This poetic material is divided into five Episodes or Movements:
1. Reveries, Passions. For this first Episode Berlioz adopts the sonata-allegro design, and follows it as best he may, for it must be well understood that he himself had no intention of violating or rejecting the classic structural traditions, and was doubtless unaware of the vital consequences that were to attend his novel artistic purpose. There is a stately Introduction, followed by the regular Allegro, the principal melody of which is what Berlioz called the idee fixe of the youth's hallucinations, and which recurs as "Leading Motive" in every Movement of the Symphony. Thus Berlioz unconsciously conceived the germ of the Leit-Motif, that later assumed such immense artistic significance in the works of Liszt and Wagner.
2. The Ball, Waltz, A major.
3. Scene in the Country, Adagio, F major.
4. March to the Scaffold, Allegretto, G minor.
5. Witches' Sabbath, Allegro, C major. This Finale contains a remarkable Fugue which is a masterpiece of contrapuntal skill, but as music repulsive.
The melodies of Berlioz, not alone in this work, but evereywhere, are original, radically different from those of any other composer. Compared with the bland melodic lines of the great classic leaders, the melodies of Berlioz seem, on a first hearing, singularly uninviting, stiff and angular; but they are true to his musical purpose, and impress the unprejudiced hearer more and more upon closer acquaintance, until their signal beauty is at last revealed. His harmonies and modulations are normal; his counterpoint baffling; his structure generally convincing---though in many respects his music betrays the lack of thorough early discipline. Above all, his instrumentation is phenomenal: he enriched the orchestra extensively, adding harp, English horn, ophicleide (or tuba) and other instruments, multiplying the bassoons and trumpets, thus increasing the resourcefulness of the orchestral body, and demonstrating himself with superb vision how its resources might be utilized.
In 1839 he was appointed "Conservator" of the Paris Conservatory, and later its Librarian. In 1843 he visited Germany, and extended his travels during the next few years to Hungary, Bohemia and Russia, meeting everywhere with that recognition and applause which were strangely withheld from him in his own country. In 1852 he conducted, in London, the New Philharmonic Concerts, and the next year his Benvenuto Cellini was given at Covent Garden.
After his death, March 9, 1869, his countrymen heaped honors upon his memory, but it was chiefly through the unselfish efforts of Schumann, Liszt and others in Germany, that the very great power of Berlioz' genius was apprehended, and his fame established. He was compelled to turn to journalism at times for his livelihood, and he proved to be remarkably fitted for this activity; from time to time he produced literary writings of great acuteness and power.
Berlioz may confidently be acclaimed as the originator of the Romantic movement (for while credit is given to Carl M. von Weber for the earliest recognizable impulses in this direction, his achievements therein are utterly incomparable with those of Berlioz) and he demonstrated his convictions with unfaltering, unbending, often vehement energy, and ultimately with complete triumph.
The attitude of Berlioz toward the orchestra, and his incredible development, enlargement and refinement of its resources, would alone suffice to place him in the front rank of musical path-breakers. Nor was he, notwithstanding his absorbing romantic tendencies, disloyal to classic forms and methods; these he embraced unquestioningly, and he employed them with as much fidelity as his expansive, nervous, unalterably poetic disposition and purpose would permit.