Friday, November 4, 2011

Montage #29 - World War I / La premiere Guerre Mondiale

This montage is no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address / Ce montage n'est plus disponible en baladodiffusion Pod-O-Matic. Il peut être téléchargé ou entendu au site Internet Archive à l'adresse suivante:

pcast029 Playlist

English Commentary - le commentaire français suit

For November, I have planned a trio of montages (and one Tuesday Blog) on music associated with the World Wars and the Amed Forces. This week’s and November 18th’s instalments are going to focus on classical music either inspired by or having a connection with both World Wars.

This week, World War I.

To begin, two YouTube clips that are relevant to this topic. First, a montage of songs and recordings from the period:

Then, one of the cornerstone “rallying” songs of the ear – certainly in North America:

The playlist offers a few selections that I won’t be discussing in detail, but here are some thoughts on a few of the works presented:

The Soldier’s Tale by Stravinsky

L'histoire du soldat (translated as The Soldier's Tale) is a 1918 theatrical work "to be read, played, and danced" ("lue, jouée et dansée") set to music by Igor Stravinsky. It is a parable about a soldier who trades his fiddle to the devil for a book that predicts the future of the economy.

In spite of his ballet successes (the triptych of The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring preceed the First World War), The Soldier's Tale comes from a lean post-war time when jazz was just beginning to emerge into the mainstream. Stravinsky was broke, deprived of his royalties because of the Russian Revolution, and his other source of income, Diaghilev's Ballets Russes was also going through lean times.

Stravinsky invented a new style, pared down to essentials, in melody, rhythm and instrumentation. The Soldier's Tale is scored for just seven instruments: clarinet, bassoon, cornet, trombone, violin, double bass and percussion.
The most obvious sound here is jazz, a form of music that Stravinsky had never actually heard. He was familiar with it through scores that his friend Ernest Ansermet had brought from America.

What we have on this montage is the most-commonly played concert suite for the 7 instruments without voice, performed by members of the Cleveland Orchestra under Pierre Boulez.

Maurice Ravel and WW I

Ravel is one of a few musical luminaries of the era to have served during the war: he was an ambulance driver. There are two specific works from the Ravel catalog that have a special relationship with this conflict. First, Le tombeau de Couperin, which I have reserved for next week’s montage commemorating Remembrance Day, and the second (featured today), which wa in fact a commission from a fellow musician who served “for the other side”.

Paul Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, son of the industrialist whose household was frequently visited by prominent cultural figures, among them the composers Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Josef Labor, and Richard Strauss, with whom the young Paul played duets.

He studied with Malvine Brée and later with a much better known figure, the Polish virtuoso Theodor Leschetizky. He made his public debut in 1913 and some favourable reviews were written about him. The following year, however, World War I broke out, and he was called up for military service. He was shot in the elbow and captured by the Russians during an assault on Poland, and his right arm had to be amputated. During his recovery in a prisoner-of-war camp in Omsk in Siberia, he resolved to continue his career using only his left hand.

Wittgenstein commissioned Ravel to write a concerto for him to play - the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major (composed between 1929 and 1930, concurrently with his Piano Concerto in G). Wittgenstein gave the premiere with Robert Heger and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on 5 January 1932. And I have included a vintage performance by Wittgenstein and the Concertgebouw conducted by Bruno Walter in the montage today.

Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony

Two specific symphonies, both writen by Scandinavian composers, have my vote when it comes to their depiction of the war and its after-effects. The first, and most flamboyant, is Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony, which I reserve for a different montage sometime next year, and that of Finland’s Jean Sibelius, fetured today.
Sibelius was commissioned to write this symphony by the Finnish government in honor of his 50th birthday, which had been declared a national holiday. The symphony was originally composed in 1915. It was revised first in 1916 and then again in 1919. Why the struggle you ask? Some music scholars point out that Sibeluius was entering a different phase of composition, and struggled with the emergence of the New Viennese School and the neo-classical language of Stravinsky, and simply had a hard time making all of this fit with his musical style. In the words of James Hepokoski, the composer “was beginning to sense his own eclipse as a contending modernist.”

I suspect, same as Nielsen, he also struggled with the emotions of the War, and the ultimate triumph of Man Vs. War. Whatever you fancy here, the final result is a concise, eloquent work in three movements that is (in my mind) Sibelius’ best Symphony. The montage offers a selection, and here is a link to a complete performance by the London Symphony conducted by Robert Kajanus:

I think you will love this music too

Commentaire français

Mes trois prochains montages seront dédiés à la musique des deux grandes guerres, en commençant avec le montage d'aujourd'hui sur la musique inspirée ou composée durant ou près de la Première Guerre Mondiale.

Le commentaire anglais propose deux clips de musique "du temps". Les prochaines lignes s'attarderont sur les trois oeuvres majeures proposées aujourd'hui.

L'histoire du soldat de Stravinsky

L'histoire du soldat est une oeuivre théatrâle"lue, jouée et dansée", une parabole quasi-Faustienne à propos d'un soldat et du diable.

En dépit de ses nombreux succes avec les ballets Russes de Diaghilev, l'exil forcé de Stravinsky suite à la révolution Bolchévique le voit dans de beaux draps financiers. De plus, les courants musicaux du temps changent, et le jazz prend son envol et commence à influencer les contemporains du compositeur.

L'histoire est le début d'une nouvelle tranche de compositions (qui incluera Pulcinella), qui nous montre un Stravinsky minimaliste autant dans son approche mélodique que dans les proportions des effectifs (ici, un spetuor d'instruments). On commence à reconnaître l'influence du jazz.

La prestation d'aujourd'hui est la suite de concert adaptée patr le compositeur, interprétée par le Cleveland Orchestra sous Pierre Boulez.

Maurice Ravel et la PGM

Ravel est l'un d'une poignée de compositeurs qui fut au service des forces alliées durant le conflit. A titre d'ambulancier, il vécut le traumatisme de la guerre, et vit plusieurs de ses camarades succomber durant le conflit. Cette expérience nous donna, entre autre, Le tombeau de Couperin, que je présenterai la semaine prochaine.

Paul Wittgenstein est un pianiste Viennois, qui servit du côté des belligérants, et eut l'infortune d'y perdre son bras droit. Manchot, il entreprit de continuer une carrière de pianiste, et commanda à Ravel un concerto poour son usage.

Ainsi, le concerto pour piano "la main gauche" en ré majeur fut composé entre 1929 et 1930 (au moment que Ravel composait son autre concerto, en sol majeur) et fut créé en 1932 par Wittgenstein à Vienne. 

Il est dit que Wittgensteinn'n'a pas embrassé immédiatement le concerto, lui aussi influencé par le jazz, mais qu'il y prit goût avec le temps. La performance d'aujourd'hui est un enregistrement d'époque avec Wittgenstein et Briuno Walter qui dirige le Concertgebouw d'Amsterdam.

La cinquième de Sibelius

Deux symphonies scandinaves, composées à peu près en même temps, ont ma cote d'amour en ce qui concerne une représentation atmopsphérique de l'aspect humaniste de la PGM. Les cinquièmes de Carl Nielsen et de Jean Sibelius.

Si la symphonie de Nielsen illustre le conflit interne et le triomphe de l'homme sur la Guerre, la symphonie de Sibelius a une genèse très différente.

Suite à une commande du régine Finlandais, coincidant avec son cinquantième anniversaire de naissance, la symphonie fut initialement publiée en 1915 et revisée en 1916 et 1919. Il apparaît que Sibelius traversait un moment difficile dans son cheminement créatif, se croyant négligé et éclipsé par le modernisme exhibé en Europe au tournant du siècle. 

Tout comme ce fut le cas pour Nielsen, il faut croire que Sibélius devait aussi composer avec ses émotions suite à la PGM. Le résultat final, concis et éloquent est probablement sa meilleure symphonie. Le montage prsente une sélection, et ci-bas vous trouverez un hyperlien pour une prestation intégrale, signée 
London Symphony sous Robert Kajanus: