Sunday, May 14, 2017

Project 366 - Single Works

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

Today’s installment of Project 366 builds on a series of Friday Podcasts that consisted of what I called back then “one-work montages”. My policy on Friday podcasts has always been to target montage duration somewhere between 75 and 90 minutes in length, in line with the duration of a run-of-the-mill Compact Disc which, depending on its capacity, is anywhere between 74 and 80 minutes.

Back in the day of vinyl “Long Playing (LP)” records, where one side typically contained 20 minutes of music, a “large work” would be issued as a two-disc album. Works that would require that treatment were typically operas (which would be issued sometimes as three or even four record sets!), but also ambitious symphonies, oratorios, that sort of thing.

(There are always exceptions to that rule. In my vinyl collection, I own a single Everest disc of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (from the Vienna Festival, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos)  which was made to fit on a single LP. I commend the record label for attempting the experiment, but the acoustic quality of the recording suffered greatly, as the grooves were so narrow that scarcely any dynamics could be rendered for the listener.)

As there is no specific overarching theme at play here, other than each Listener Guide contains a single work, let me just dive right into our list of proposed listening, with maybe a word or two about the feature work.

Listener Guide #97 - Verdi's Requiem

First performed at the San Marco church in Milan on 22 May 1874, this Messa da Requiem is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic funeral mass for four soloists, double choir and orchestra, composed in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, an Italian poet and novelist whom Verdi admired (the work was at one time called the Manzoni Requiem). It is rarely performed in liturgy, but rather in concert form of around 85–90 minutes in length. Musicologist David Rosen calls it 'probably the most frequently performed major choral work composed since Mozart's Requiem.' (ITYWLTMT Montage #151 - 11 Apr 2014)

Listener Guide #98 – Busoni’s Piano Concerto, op. 39

One of the largest works ever written in this genre, this concerto lasts around 70 minutes and is in five movements; in the final movement a male chorus sings words from the final scene of the verse drama Aladdin by Adam Oehlenschläger. The first performance of the concerto took place in the Beethoven-Saal, Berlin, on November 10, 1904 with Busoni himself as soloist, and Karl Muck conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the Choir of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. (ITYWLTMT MOntage #247 - 12 May 2017)

Listener Guide #99 – Mahler’s Third Symphony

Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 is his longest piece and is the longest symphony in the standard repertoire; the first movement alone, with a normal duration of a little more than thirty minutes, sometimes forty, forms Part One of the symphony. Part Two consists of five more movements and has a duration of about sixty to seventy minutes. The symphony’s program suggests a title for each of the six movements: "Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In", "What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me", "What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me", "What Man Tells Me", "What the Angels Tell Me" and "What Love Tells Me" (ITYWLTMT Montage # 150 - 4 Apr 2014)

Listener Guide #100 – Liszt’s A Faust Symphony

As the title suggests, Eine Faust-Symphonie in drei Charakterbildern, or simply the "Faust Symphony", was inspired by Goethe's Faust. The symphony was premiered in Weimar on September 5, 1857, for the inauguration of the Goethe–Schiller Monument there. The first clue as to the work's structure is in Liszt's title: "A Faust Symphony in Three Character Sketches after Goethe: (1) Faust, (2) Gretchen, (3) Mephistopheles." Liszt does not attempt to tell the story of Goethe's drama. Rather, he creates musical portraits of the three main protagonists. By doing so, though this symphony is a multi-movement work and employs a chorus in its final moments, Liszt adopts the same aesthetic position as in his symphonic poems. The work is approximately seventy-five minutes in duration. (ITYWLTMT Montage #153 - 25 Apr 2014)

Listener Guide #101 – Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie

The Turangalîla-Symphonie was written between 1946 and 1948 on a commission by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The premiere in Boston on 2 December 1949 was conducted by Leonard Bernstein, substituting for an ailing Koussevitzky. Yvonne Loriod, who later became Messiaen's second wife, was the piano soloist, and Ginette Martenot played the ondes Martenot (invented by her brother Maurice). The commission did not specify the duration, orchestral requirements or style of the piece, leaving the decisions to the composer. When asked about the meaning of the work's duration (80 minutes) in its ten movements and the reason for the use of the ondes Martenot, Messiaen simply replied, "It's a love song." (ITYWLTMT Montage #246 - 28 Apr, 2017 )

Listener Guide #102 – Haydn’s Creation

Haydn was inspired to write a large oratorio during his visits to England in 1791–1792 and 1794–1795, when he heard oratorios of George Frideric Handel performed by large forces. Die Schöpfung is considered by many to be Haydn’s masterpiece. The oratorio depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis and is structured in three parts. The first deals with the creation of light, of heaven and earth, of the sun and moon, of the land and water, and of plants. The second treats the creation of the animals, and of man and woman. The final part describes Adam and Eve during their happy time in the Garden of Eden, portraying an idealized love in harmony with the "new world". A typical performance lasts about one hour and 45 minutes. (Once or Twice a Fortnight - December 12, 2016 )