|Project 366 continues in 2017-18 with "Time capsules through the Musical Eras - A Continued journey through the Western Classical Music Repertoire". Read more here.|
In this second installment of our time capsules exploring composers of the Romantic period, we will dwell on some of the German romantics.
Before I get going, I must apologize up front, as I may have skipped some of your favorite German romantic composers of the period – Robert Schumann, the Strauss family are among the omissions. In my defense, there are many Listener Guides from Part 1 of our series that provide examples from these composers.
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)
Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist, musical conductor, and teacher, one of the most-celebrated figures of the early Romantic period. In his music Mendelssohn largely observed Classical models and practices while initiating key aspects of Romanticism—the artistic movement that exalted feeling and the imagination above rigid forms and traditions. He was a grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. Among his most famous works are his incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), five symphonies, many concertos, the oratorio Elijah, and several pieces of chamber music.
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Listener Guide # 195 – Mendelssohn in London
The United Kingdom and the city of London in particular is the home of several world-class ensembles, from chamber orchestras to large-scale Symphonies. Two of these are featured in this time capsule which features two of Felix Mendelssohn’s most popular symphonic works: his Scottish Symphony and violin concerto. ()
More Mendelssohn in Listener Guides # 23, 25, 26, 48 & 82.
Franz Liszt (1811–1886)
Franz Liszt was a Hungarian pianist and composer of enormous influence and originality. He was renowned in Europe during the Romantic movement. By the time Liszt was 9 years old, he was performing in concert halls. As an adult, he toured extensively throughout Europe. By his death, he had written more than 700 compositions including many piano transcriptions, virtuoso piano works and even a few works for orchestra, with and without piano parts.
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Listener Guide # 196 - En récital: Lortie & Liszt
As a recording artist, Louis Lortie has well-over 30 albums to his credit, most of them with the Chandos record label – music of Chopin, Beethoven, Ravel and Liszt are most noteworthy in his catalog. This Time Capsile features Lortie in Liszt’s Sonata in B Mino. ()
More Liszt in Listener Guides # 79, 90& 92.
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Widely considered one the 19th century's greatest composers and one of the leading musicians of the Romantic era, Johannes Brahms was the great master of symphonic and sonata style in the second half of the 19th century. He can be viewed as the protagonist of the Classical tradition of Joseph Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. His output includes four symphonies, concerti, chamber music, piano works, and choral compositions.
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Listener Guide # 197 - En récital: Kempff & Brahms
In spite of his great output as a composer, and in spite of the fact Brahms was known as an excellent pianist (and a close friendship with one of the greatest pianists of his time in Clara Schumann), his catalog doesn't offer much for the piano. There are (early) piano sonatas, sets of virtuoso variations and – of course – his 21 Hungarian Dances for piano 4-hands, but little else. We find a number of ballads, rhapsodies, two piano concertos and a handful of piano collections – sets of four to eight piano pieces or klavierstucke. ()
Listener Guide # 198 – Brahms Symphony #1
The Brahms 1st is, if I may say so, and “odd” symphony. Whether we believe it or not over 100 years later, Brahms was viewed as the heir to the Beethoven legacy, and as such there was much anticipation (and trepidation from the Composer) around what would be his first foray in the symphonic genre. Thus, the First took over 20 years to materialize. I often compare the ultimate unveiling if the Brahms 1st to “passing a kidney stone” – hard work, painful work, oh but what a relief when it finally happens. Notice the sense of drama in the first movement, culminating in the jubilation of the Fourth movement, with the well-recognized “tip of the hat” to Beethoven himself through the not-so-well disguised recast of the “ode to joy” melody. ()
Listener Guide # 199 – Brahms Symphony #2
The Brahms Second (along with the Second piano concerto and the violin concerto) are part of a very prolific period for Brahms which, not surprisingly, can find its root cause in the relief of having finally delivered his First Symphony. Generally, of the four symphonies, it is the one that strikes the most serene tone; think of it as Brahms’ version of the Pastoral symphony, but with much more brass. ()
Listener Guide # 200 – Ein Deutsches Requiem
Roman Catholicism identifies the Requiem as a votive mass, intended for the dead, as a series of prayers and recitatives filled with images of the horrors of the Last Judgment. Martin Luther had a very different view of the Requiem ("For vigils and requiem masses and yearly celebrations of requiems are useless, and are merely the devil's annual fair."). As such, in the Lutheran tradition, there isn’t a Requiem mass, though funeral church services for the living are well within that tradition. So it is in that frame of mind that one must approach Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” ( )
More Brahms in Listener Guides # 32, 76 & 79.
Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896)
Anton Bruckner, one of the most brilliant and admired composers of the nineteenth century, was known for symphonies, masses and motets, which even today continues to enamor its listeners. His exemplary Austro-German Romantic compositions are marked for their smooth and flowing harmonic language and polyphonic character. This eminent composer had an immense influence on the following generation of musicians — one of his friends, Gustav Mahler, even went on to describe him as ‘half simpleton, half god’. Though often his works, especially the symphonies in particular, received belittling remarks from influential Austrian critic, Eduard Hanslick and other devotees of Johannes Brahms, for their large size and use of repetition, they hardly succeeded in killing the spirit of this musical master. He along with his friend improvised and revived many of his works, which received immense appreciations.
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Listener Guide # 201 – Bruckner Symphony #9
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”. So, though there are 11 symphonies in total, the “curse” applies here, since this was meant to be his ninth and unfinished, 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"). ()
More Bruckner in Listener Guides # 33.
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)
Richard Strauss was a German Romantic composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His symphonic poems of the 1890s and his operas of the following decade have remained an indispensable feature of the standard repertoire.
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Listener Guide # 202 – Sir Andrew Davis conducts Richard Strauss
The two principal works showcased in this Time Capsule are Strauss’ Four Last Songs, and Ein heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), which as a tone poem provides sections where the solo violin plays a key role. ()
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler became popular in the late 19th century for his emotionally charged and subtly orchestrated symphonies. Mahler served as director for the Vienna Court Opera from 1897 to 1907. He later led the New York Metropolitan Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra. He wrote 10 symphonies during his career, which became popular for their 20th-century techniques and emotional character.
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Listener Guide # 203 – Auferstehung
The genesis for the Resurrection symphony is a 1988 tone poem he called Todtenfeier (Funeral Rites). Leaving it for a few months to complete his Symphony No. 1, he finished his funeral piece in September of that year. By 1893 he had decided the piece was really part of a symphony--and he found he had ideas from previous compositions to apply to it. The third-movement scherzo is based on the theme from the song "Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt" (Antony of Padua's Sermon to the Fish), written for Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The fourth is another song, "Urlicht" (Primal Light), that he used in its entirety, with voice, and withheld from the Wunderhorn collection. ()
More Mahler in Listener Guides # 72, 99 & 108.
Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
Richard Wagner went on to become one of the world's most influential—and controversial—composers. He is famous for both his epic operas, including the four-part, 18-hour Ring Cycle. Wagner had a tumultuous love life, which involved several scandalous affairs, including one wih Liszt’s daughter, Cosima.
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Tristan took five years to compose with the bulk of the work between 1857 and 1859. Sections of the opera and libretto were composed in Switzerland and Italy, as Wagner’s 20-year marriage was disintegrating in large part because of his relationship with German poet and author Mathilde Wesendonck , the wife of a wealthy silk trader. () [ ]
Act 1 (L/G 204) -
Act 2 (L/G 205) -
Act 3 (L/G 206) -
More Time Capsules
Listener Guide # 207 – Max Bruch (1838-1920)
Bruch had a long career as a teacher, conductor and composer, moving among musical posts in Germany: Mannheim (1862–1864), Koblenz (1865–1867), Sondershausen, (1867–1870), Berlin (1870–1872), and Bonn, where he spent 1873–78 working privately. At the height of his career he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880–83). He taught composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik from 1890 until his retirement in 1910. His complex and unfailingly well-structured works, in the German Romantic musical tradition, placed him in the camp of Romantic classicism exemplified by Johannes Brahms, rather than the opposing "New Music" of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. In his time he was known primarily as a choral composer. ()
Listener Guide # 208 – Dvořák’s New World Symphony
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 Delius’ American 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. ()