Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Programming - October 2014

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Monthly Theme


This month is "O" for October and for Opera here at ITYWLTMT with some opera-inspired blogs and posdcasts.
Pierre’s Tuesday Blog

Once or Twice a Fortnight

Expect a tandem post of the Operetta podcast and Placido Domingo sings the title role in Andrea Chenier by Giordano.

NOTE: Since OTF posts do not get published on set dates, make sure to visit OperaLively regularly or …

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Franz Schubert Dressed to the Nines

No. 166 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast166


pcast166- Playlist

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We close our September look at ninth symphonies with Schubert’s “Great C Major” Symphony.

The Schubert symphony catalog suggests there are about a dozen or so works that were either published as symphonies, or were composed and never made it past sketch form. Through the years, the numbering on Schubert's symphonies has repeatedly shifted because of discrepancies between Schubert's notations on his scores and the evidence from research into printing practices and paper production during his lifetime; so it is not uncommon to encounter references to the Great C Major as the seventh rather than the ninth.

According to franzpeterschubert.com, the Great C Major Symphony (some will argue his greatest composition) was never heard by the composer, because the Viennese musicians considered it unplayable. After Schubert's death, his older brother Ferdinand showed the manuscript of the symphony to Schumann, who became a champion for the unknown work. Again, orchestras in Vienna and Paris claimed the work was too long and unwieldy even to tackle in rehearsal. Schumann therefore took it to his friend Mendelssohn, who was the conductor of the famed Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, and Mendelssohn agreed to perform the work with his own orchestra. When, however, he attempted to perform it in London in 1844, despite extensive cuts the musicians refused.

Schubert profoundly revered Beethoven, and perhaps his greatest tribute to Beethoven was his resolve to write a grand symphony with the breadth and profundity of his predecessor's; and his Symphony No. 9 was the result. Today its length and the physical as well as musical hurdles it poses for musicians are no longer novel; but it remains immensely challenging in performance. Schubert was particularly gifted at writing beautiful lines for the French horn, and it is the French horn's majestic motive from the slow introduction that becomes the recurring theme of the first movement. Well after Schubert's death, the theme's grandeur and sense of space, together with the sheer length of the Symphony, helped to earn it the nickname the "Great C Major"

In fact, the nickname was first applied by a music publisher to distinguish the work from Schubert's shorter and less ambitious 6th Symphony, the "Little C Major." But the name aptly describes both Schubert's evident intent in writing the work, and the stature of the final composition.
Today’s performance is taken from a Schubert cycle featuring Riccardo Muti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic - the descendent of the orchestra that refused to perform the work in public in Schubert’s lifetime. This Schubert cycle includes excerpts from the incidental music to the play Rosamunde, which I have added as filler to today’s montage.

The premiere performance of Rosamunde took place on December 20, 1823 at the Theater an der Wien. After only one more performance, it disappeared forever from the repertoire of the theatre. The press was quite critical of the text of Rosamunde, subjecting it to such scathing comments as this: 'an inutterably insipid work'. As regards the composer, at least, we read: 'Herr Schubert's composition shows originality, but unfortunately bizarrerie as well. The young man is in the process of developing; we hope that it goes well ..'. The overture was a rehash of his music for the melodrama Die Zauberharfe, which explains why we see that name associated with the work on record jackets…


I think you will love this music too.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Anton Bruckner Dressed to the Nines

No. 165 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast165


pcast165- Playlist

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It is now time for us to dress Anton Bruckner “to the nines” this week, and consider his ninth - and unfinished – symphony.

There is no debating that Bruckner had intended this to be his ninth “published” symphony. There are two other symphonies attributed to Bruckner, which were published after his death: a student symphony (numbered “00”) and another symphony in D Minor, which is often called “Die Nullte” or “the zeroth” which precedes the first chronologically and for which Bruckner wanted “a mulligan” - long after its composition he had declared that it "gilt nicht" ("doesn't count").

So, though there are 11 symphonies in total, the “curse” applies here, since this was meant to be his ninth and the last symphony upon which he worked, leaving the last movement incomplete at the time of his death in 1896. Bruckner dedicated this symphony "to the beloved God" (in German, "dem lieben Gott").

As I discussed last Spring in a post featuring Bruckner’s Fifth symphony, listeners less familiar with Bruckner could argue that his symphonies “all sound the same”. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but does stem from the way Bruckner likes to develop his symphonies. Scholars call Bruckner’s approach to the sonata form "Statement, Counterstatement and Coda." (as opposed to the standard exposition, development and recapitulation/coda).

The opening movement of the symphony is a clinic on this approach - an unusually large number of motifs are given in the first subject group, and these are substantially and richly developed on restatement and in the coda. Bruckner also cites material from his earlier works, at one point Bruckner quotes a passage from the first movement of his Seventh Symphony.

As I said at the on-set, Bruckner left the fourth movement unfinished (we will get to that later), so that the overall three-movement form of the work really is an “oreo cookie” of expansive slow movements with a noble and brisk scherzo in the creamy middle.

According to Wikipedia, Bruckner had conceived an entire fourth movement; whether the manuscripts he left would have made up the final form of the Finale is debatable. Several sheets of the emerging autograph score survived, consecutively numbered by Bruckner himself, as well as numerous discarded sketches. The surviving manuscripts were all systematically ordered and published in a notable facsimile reprint, edited by J. A. Phillips.

Large portions of the movement were almost completely orchestrated, and even some eminent sketches have been found for the coda, but only hearsay suggesting the coda would have integrated themes from all four movements.

Scholars are split as to the virtue of these unfinished sketches, some claiming that the Finale doesn't flow with the rest of the symphony. There is, however, an intriguing resolution to this dilemma, and it is provided by the composer himself.

Bruckner knew he might not live to complete this symphony and suggested his Te Deum be played at the end of the concert. The presence in the sketches of the figuration heard in quarter-notes at the outset of the Te Deum led to a supposition that Bruckner was composing a link or transition between the two works. In fact, the sketch for such a transition can be found on the autograph score. Some people think that at best this would have been a makeshift solution, pointing to a tonal mismatch or clash between the two keys (D Minor for the Symphony, C Major for the Te Deum). However, I like to point to the “dedication” of the Symphony as a good clue that indeed this resolution has merit.

In order for you to make up your own mind, what I did is simply append a performance of the Te Deum to the end of the Symphony. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a pairing in my collection featuring the same conductor. For such a pairing, might I suggest visiting the Music Library of MQCD Musique Classique, which hosts the 1950’s Bruckner cycle by Volkmar Andreae (Hyperlinkhere).

As Bruckner died before completing the symphony, there aren’t any revisions of the work, though there are at least four versions of the score. The performance on the montage by Karajan (from his 1978 Bruckner cycle) uses the Nowak edition.

I think you will love this music too!




Friday, September 12, 2014

Antonín Dvořák Dressed to the Nines

No. 164 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast164



pcast164- Playlist


This week’s main work – a second of four “ninths” – is Dvořák‘s symphony no. 9, which too has a particular story attached to it.

In a Once Upon the Internet post from the Spring, I discussed how Dvořák came to America to lead the National Conservatory in New York. As director and teacher, Dvorak instructed students to find inspiration in folk or national music – as he had done with his own works.

Among the works from that period, there are three specific works that Dvořák composed in America: a string quartet, a suite for two pianos (both subtitled “American”) and his ninth symphony subtitled “From The New World” (and not, as it is sometimes referred to “the New World Symphony”). I think this is significant.

Dvorak scholars suggest that some of the themes found in the Ninth Symphony are based on native or African American music, as was for example DeliusAmerican Rhapsody. In fact, the haunting theme of the symphony’s famous “largo” movement was later adapted into the spiritual-like song "Goin' Home" by Dvořák's pupil William Arms Fisher, who wrote the lyrics in 1922, 30 some years after the symphony had been premiered. What is factual, however, is that an African-American National Conservatory student, Harry T. Burleigh, sang traditional spirituals to Dvořák and said that he had absorbed their `spirit' before writing his own melodies.

We can safely infer that Dvořák’s Symphony isn’t a showcase of – or based upon – American music, but rather is a Czeck composer’s musical impressions of his stay in America. Thus to all it “New World” music is a stretch…

As for Dvořák’s suggestion that American composers “appropriate” native and African American music as their own has only partly influenced what will become the American “National School”. The deep-rooted syncopated rhythms that will morph into the Blues and Jazz will have a much bigger influence in a truly idiomatic and national sound – the one of Gershwin, and Kern and Copland.

Today’s podcast provides a “cover-to-cover” copy of a Royal Philharmonic recording on their home label (distributer by Intersound in 1993), which also features two other works.

The Carnival overture is part of a "Nature, Life and Love" triptych of overtures composed around the same time period as the Symphony. This overture constitutes the second ("Life") part; the other two parts of the trilogy are In Nature's Realm, Op. 91 ("Nature") and Othello, Op. 93 ("Love"). One of Dvorak’s most lively works, it grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let go until the very last bar.

Dvorák's 1883 Scherzo capriccioso for orchestra, is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable musical bonbons in the repertoire. There really is a great deal of capriciousness to this work - at the very start of the piece the solo horn playfully begins the main tune in the "wrong" key -- B flat -- and it is up to the rest of the orchestra to find the way over to the real home base: D flat major. The main tune is an almost circus-like affair; a second melody arrives in the guise of a waltz. During the middle of the Scherzo the cor anglais manages, on the strength of simple melodic beauty, to temporarily substitute a little calm D major for the energetic playfulness that has thus far been the work's focus. A horn duet begins the Scherzo's coda, which then proceeds to afford the harpist a chance to make a Nutcracker-like arpeggio solo; a rousing climax is drawn after the solo horn once again chides the orchestra to action.


I think you will love his music too.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Gustav Mahler Dressed to the Nines

No. 163 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast163


pcast163- Playlist

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Today is our first new Friday Blog and Podcast since last June, and we embark in a new thematic arc, considering ninth symphonies. Today’s instalment has its peculiarities…

The Curse of the Ninth

A “ninth” symphony seems to have a curse around it. Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Dvorak, Schubert and Bruckner (the latter three being featured this month) didn’t compose (or, at least, publish) symphonies past their ninth. Mozart composed at least 41, Haydn 104, and Shostakovich 15 but there seems to be this stigma associated with a ninth symphony that didn’t go unnoticed by Gustav Mahler.

After writing his Eighth symphony (the mammoth Symphony of A Thousand), Mahler chose not to call his next large symphonic work, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) a symphony, thus avoiding the need to call it “his ninth”.

Now, maybe thinking the curse of the ninth had been avoided, Mahler did compose a tenth major symphonic work, which he proceeded to number as his ninth symphony, and started on a tenth and then – you guessed ir – Mahler died and so the Curse struck again.

Because Mahler was a working man with a day job (at the time, he was the music director of the New-York Philharmonic), summers were the opportunity for Mahler to compose at his lakeside retreat at Maiernigg in the Carinthian Mountains. His usual gestation period for a major work was two years – one summer sketching out the work, and the following summer completing the orchestration. The ninth followed the same ritual, over the summers of 1908 and 1909. Had Mahler survived, he probably would have programmed the work for performance sometime in the 1910-11 season, which of course was plagued by his health problems.

The work was premiered posthumously by his close collaborator Bruno Walter on June 26, 1912, at the Vienna Festival with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Although the symphony follows the usual four-movement form, it is unusual in that the first and last are slow rather than fast. As is often the case with Mahler, one of the middle movements is a ländler. Though the work is often described as being in the key of D major, the tonal scheme of the symphony as a whole is progressive; while the opening movement is in D major, the finale is in D-flat major. As is the case with his latter symphonies, the work not only requires a large orchestra (including clarinets in A, B-Flat and E-Flat, two harps, and a large array of percussion instruments), it lasts well over an hour.

The performance I retained is by the late great German conductor Kurt Sanderling who has the distinction of having had a storied career both East and West of the Iron Curtain. Fleeing Nazism at the onset of the Second World War, he chose to go to the Soviet Union, where he was co-music director of the Leningrad Philharmonic (with Evgeny Mravinsky) and led the (East-) Berlin Symphony Orchestra, which is featured in today’s podcast.

Sanderling died in 2011, two days shy of his 99th birthday.

This is an inspired performance of this great Mahler symphony.


I think you will love this music too!