Friday, June 13, 2014

Montage # 160 – Tone Poems

As of  July 11, 2014, this montage will no longer be available on Pod-O-Matic. It can be heard or downloaded from the Internet Archive at the following address:



The second in our series of “do-overs” looks at a playlist and subject we first considered last year in our “Tell Me a Story” series, which included looks at fantasies and legends (as well as our Podcast Vault selection from this month on musical poetry).
Tone poems (or symphonic poems or orchestral fantasies) are attributed as a genre to Franz Liszt who composed 13 of them, numbered 95–107 in the Searle catalog (not counting the Faust Symphony which we programmed a few weeks ago in that same tradition). These works helped establish the genre of orchestral program music—compositions written to illustrate an extra-musical plan derived from a play, poem, painting or work of nature. They inspired the symphonic poems of Bedřich Smetana, Antonín Dvořák, Richard Strauss and others.
The five works that make up the montage provide a good sampling of the Tone Poem from its inception to the late Romantic/impressionist/nationalist composers of the late 19th century. The montage launches with Hermann Scherchen’s reading of Les Préludes, the third of Liszt's thirteen symphonic poems, probably his most popular of the lot. Its distinctive fanfare steals the show, in my opinion. Liszt finds the inspiration for this work from the French poetry of Lamartine, but as we know from the Faust symphony, Liszt will find inspiration in other literary traditions, as well as in Hungarian nationalistic themes. Smetana is best-known for his set of six tone poems published under the title Ma Vlast (My Fatherland), but he also found inspiration in the plays of Friederich Schiller, which is the source for his tone poem Wallenstein’s Camp, a vignette about the decline of the famous general Albrecht von Wallenstein, loosely based on actual historical events during the Thirty Years' War.
Whereas we historically connect Liszt to the inception of the genre, Strauss is recognized as one of its strongest contributors, with several massive tone poems such as Don Juan, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Death and Transfiguration and the mischievous Till Eulenspiegel (retained in the montage). In addition to the Strauss, this week’s montage and the original YouTube playlist have indeed a few “common works”: Saint-SaënsRouet d’Omphale, and the great Tchaikovsky fantasy on Francesca da Rimini. The original playlist substituted Tasso, Lamento e Trionfo for Les Préludes and added George Gershwin’s An American in Paris in its historic first recording featuring (apparently by happenstance) Gershwin himself at the celesta.
I think you will love this music too!