Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mahler, Wiener Philharmoniker, Pierre Boulez ‎– Symphonie No. 6

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

This week’s Cover 2 Cover post completes our month-long look at Mahler symphonies, and in particular the set composed between 1903 and 1906. After the Eighth and Seventh (on my podcast this past Friday), now the Sixth.

Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 is a symphony in four movements, composed in 1903 and 1904 (scoring repeatedly revised). Mahler conducted the work's first performance at the Saalbau concert hall in Essen on May 27, 1906. Mahler composed the symphony at what was apparently an exceptionally happy time in his life, as he had married Alma Schindler in 1902, and during the course of the work's composition his second daughter was born.

Both Alban Berg and Anton Webern praised the work when they first heard it. Berg expressed his opinion of the stature of this symphony in a 1908 letter to Webern: "Es gibt doch nur eine VI. trotz der Pastorale." (There is only one Sixth, the Pastoral notwithstanding.)

As I stated in past musings, Mahler’s trio of life-changing events in 1907 – presaged by the “three hammer blows” that mark the symphony’s finale help feed the myth behind the symphony’s subtitle “Tragic”. Mahler did not title the symphony when he composed it, or at its first performance or first publication. In his Gustav Mahler memoir, Bruno Walter claimed that "Mahler called [the work] his Tragic Symphony". Additionally, the programme for the first Vienna performance (January 4, 1907) refers to the work as "Sechste Sinfonie (Tragische)".

The sound of the hammer, which features in the last movement, was stipulated by Mahler to be "brief and mighty, but dull in resonance and with a non-metallic character (like the fall of an axe)." The sound achieved in the premiere did not quite carry far enough from the stage, and indeed the problem of achieving the proper volume while still remaining dull in resonance remains a challenge to the modern orchestra. Various methods of producing the sound have involved a wooden mallet striking a wooden surface, a sledgehammer striking a wooden box, or a particularly large bass drum, or sometimes simultaneous use of more than one of these methods.

Conductor and friend of Mahler’s Bruno Walter found the piece too expressively dark for him to conduct, since it “ends in hopelessness and the dark night of the soul”. Late in his career, Pierre Boulez recorded the Mahler cycle for DGG and the cycle started with this recording of the Sixth, which garnered two Grand Prix du Disque in 1995 and 1996. The Sixth is the only Mahler symphony with a subtitle carrying an emotive adjective, in this case “Tragic”. As you would expect, Boulez eschews the tragedy, and to some that lessens the quality of his readi8ng. All agree, however, the Vienna Philharmonic as per usual plays splendidly.

We will also agree that, when it comes to Boulez and Mahler, you either love it or hate it. To generalize: the pro-Boulez camp appreciates Boulez’s ability to X-ray the score and bring every detail and voicing out in extremely high definition, his scrupulous adherence to Mahler’s tempo markings, as well as an unerringly taut sense of structure, while the anti-Boulez camp dislikes the chilly demeanor and emotional economy Boulez brings to his performances, at odds with the “true Mahlerian brand” of extravagance in expression.

A recording well-worth listening to.

Happy Listening

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 6 in A minor (Tragische, 1903-04)
Wiener Philharmoniker
Pierre Boulez, conducting

Deutsche Grammophon ‎– 445 835-2
Studio, 1995

Internet Archivehttps://archive.org/details/PierreBoulezConductsMahlerSymphonyNo.6

Friday, September 21, 2018

Lied der Nacht

No. 291 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast291


According to a great article in The Guardian, of all Mahler's symphonies, the Seventh is the most enigmatic, and in its musical language the most radical and forward-looking. Schoenberg regarded it as the work that signalled the end of romanticism, the historic moment at which all the tenets that had sustained music for the previous century began to crumble away.

During his customary summer break away from Vienna in his lakeside retreat at Maiernigg in 1904, Mahler finished his Symphony No. 6 and sketched the second and fourth movements for Symphony No. 7 while mapping out much of the rest of the work. He then worked on the Seventh intensively the following summer, claiming to take just four weeks to complete the first, third and fifth movements. The completed score was dated 15 August 1905, and the orchestration was finished in 1906. The Seventh had its premiere on 19 September 1908, in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic, at the festival marking the Diamond Jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph.

The symphony's sense of inhabiting a twilight world in which all the old certainties were being questioned and found wanting - two of its most disconcerting movements are labelled "Nachtmusik" - perhaps led to its nickname, The Song of the Night. If it is a gigantic nocturne, though, it is one far removed from the gentle musings that the 19th century would have recognised in the form.

The three years which elapsed between the completion of the score and the symphony's premiere witnessed dramatic changes in Mahler's life and career. In March 1907 he had resigned his conductorship of the Vienna State Opera, as the musical community in Vienna turned against him. On 12 July his first daughter died of scarlet fever; and, even as she lay on her deathbed, Mahler learned that he was suffering from an incurable heart condition. Musicologists surmise that this is why the optimism and cheerfulness of the symphony was subsequently tempered by the small but significant revisions Mahler made in the years leading up to its premiere.

Though the current CD catalogue suggests that, apart from the unfinished Tenth, it is the least recorded of all the symphonies, the Seventh has never lacked champions - Otto Klemperer conducted the piece from the 1920s onwards, and in the 1950s Hans Rosbaud and Hermann Scherchen, then in the vanguard of the Mahler revival, both recorded the work. The afore-mentioned article recommends today’s selection, Riccardo Chailly’s reading because of the gorgeous playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, who played this music under the composer and his first great advocate Willem Mengelberg, and still have it in their bones.

I think you will love this music too.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Project 366 - No more Romantiki than Tchaikovsky

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.

As we have done for past major periods, we are devoting one chapter to a key Romantic-era composer.

By the end of his fairly short life, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's inner and outer circumstances would appear to have been perfectly splendid. After his triumphant tour of America, and being awarded an honorary doctorate at Cambridge University, he was accepted as a world figure, not a merely national composer but one of universal significance. In 1891 the Carnegie Hall program booklet proclaimed him, together with Brahms and Saint-Saëns, to be one of the three greatest living musicians, while music critics praised him as "a modern music lord".

Within Russia he became even more than that—he was considered a national treasure, and his music admired and adored by all strata of society. He enjoyed the favour of the Imperial court, where he had a number of influential protectors (including two Grand Dukes), as well as the personal patronage of Emperor Alexander III, who had granted him a handsome government pension.

In my humble opinion, the Tchaikovsky Research website launched in February 2006 is an internet treasure trove of information on Tchaikovskly’s life and times.

In terms of his complete works catalog, the website provides comprehensive lists of works, with opus number and other similar nomenclature stemming either from volume 1 of The Tchaikovsky Handbook (Indiana University Press, 2002) (TH) and in the Thematic and Bibliographical Catalogue of P. I. Čajkovskij's Works (2006) (ČW).

In general, in many of the playlists I have used ion my many musings and shares, I have deferred to the opus number, and cross-references it to the TH number which is essentially “thematic” rather than chronological.

The following listener guides generally highlight a specific a Tchaikovsky work (identified in the guide’s title), and is often accompanied by filler material by Tchaikovsky, and sometimes by other composers.

 Listener Guide # 217 - The Seasons
Tchaikovsky's piano cycle subtitled '12 characteristic scenes', was written between December 1875 and May 1876, and was first published in monthly instalments in the Saint Petersburg journal Nuvellist . (Once Upon the Internet 42 - 5 Jan 2016)

Listener Guide #218 - Symphony No. 1
Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 in G minor, subtitled Winter Daydreams, was composed and orchestrated between March 1866 and February 1868, and revised in spring 1874. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #154 - 2 May 2014)

Listener Guide #219 - Symphony No. 3
Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 3 in D major, was composed and orchestrated between June and August 1875. It is his only symphony in a major key, and to have five movements. The Symphony is sometimes referred to as the 'Polish', after the 'Tempo di polacca' marking of the Finale. (Cover 2 Cover # 10 – 3  July 2018)

Listener Guide #220 - Manfred
Tchaikovsky's Manfred is a symphony in four scenes, composed and orchestrated between May and September 1885. The idea for a symphony on the subject of Lord George Byron's poem Manfred: A Dramatic Poem (1817) originated from Vladimir Stasov, who suggested the idea to Mily Balakirev and Hector Berlioz in 1867, although both composers declined to write the music. (Cover 2 Cover #11 – 7 Aug 2018)

Listener Guide #221 – Tchaikovsky Waltzes
When one thinks of the waltz, two names spring to mind: the Viennese Waltz King (Johann Strauss) and Poland’s greatest composer (Frederic Chopin). However, as this listener guide suggests, we shouldn’t overlook Russia’s Peter Tchaikovsky. Here we have gathered several waltz movements and stand-alone waltzes from Tchaikovsky’s symphonic, stage and piano catalogues. (ITYWLTMT Montage #275 - 30 Mar 2018)

Listener Guide #222 & 223 – Tchaikovsky Tone Poems
This pair of listener guides provides a sampling of seven tone poems/orchestral fantasies composed throughout Tchaikovsky’s career. The listener guides group the thematically.

L/G 222 showcases works abandoned by Tchaikovsky (Cover 2 Cover #1 – 14 Feb 2017)

L/G 223 provides works inspired by Shakespeare plays (Cover 2 Cover #6 – 9 January 2018)

Listener Guide #224 –Suite #1
Tchaikovsky was notorious for creating ambitious orchestral works, originally meant as symphonies, only to later choose the less rigorous format of a suite – harkening back to those of J. S. Bach, as a loose grouping of dance movements and orchestral sketches. This Suite No. 1 in D minor, was written and orchestrated between August 1878 and April 1879, except for the second movement (Divertimento), which was added in August 1879. (ITYWLTMT Montage #280 - 29 May 2018)

Listener Guide #225 –Piano Concerto #1
On 19 April 1941 Horowitz played this concerto with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra at an all-Tchaikovsky concert at Carnegie Hall, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the famous auditorium. (Once Upon the Internet #60 – 13 Feb 2018)

Listener Guide #226 –Piano Concertos #2 and 3
According to Modest Tchaikovsky, it was his brother's original intention to dedicate the First concerto to the "colossal virtuoso force" of Nikolay Rubinstein, but the composer's feelings were wounded so deeply by Rubinstein's criticism of the work, he subsequently changed his mind. In 1880 Tchaikovsky decided to dedicate his Second Piano Concerto to Rubinstein, for his "magnificent" playing of the First Concerto. Rubinstein was to have premiered the concerto in Moscow, but died shortly before the scheduled performance. Sketches from the aborted Symphony in E flat major became the Piano Concerto No. 3, and the Scherzo-Fantaisie (No. 10 of the Eighteen Pieces, Op. 72). (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 135 - 13 Dec 2013)

Listener Guide #227 – The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is a fairy ballet in 2 acts and 3 scenes, written and orchestrated by Tchaikovsky between February 1891 and April 1892. The story was based on a children's fairy tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann, adapted by Alexandre Dumas. This was Tchaikovsky's last ballet, from which he compiled a famous Suite of eight numbers for concert performance. (ITYWLTMT Podcast # 136 - 20 Dec 2013)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Mahler - Solti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra ‎– The Eighth Symphony

This is my post from this week's Tuesday Blog.

For September, both of my Tuesday Blog installments are dedicated to the music of Gustav Mahler, featuring two of his later symphonies his “Tragic” Sixth and this week, his mammoth Eighth.

Until 1901, Mahler's compositions had been heavily influenced by the German folk-poem collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The music of Mahler's many Wunderhorn settings is reflected in his Symphonies No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4, which all employ vocal as well as instrumental forces. From about 1901, however, Mahler's music underwent a change in character as he moved into the middle period of his compositional life. Here, the more austere poems of Friedrich Rückert replace the Wunderhorn collection as the primary influence. During this period Symphonies No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 were written, all as purely instrumental works.

Two notes in Mahler's handwriting dating from June 1906 show that early schemes for his 8th symphony, which he may not at first have intended as a fully choral symphony, were based on a four-movement structure in which two "hymns" surround an instrumental core. One of these hymns was Veni creator; outlines show that Mahler had fixed on the idea of opening with the Latin hymn, but had not yet settled on the precise form of the rest.

From Mahler's later comments, it is evident that the four-movement plan was relatively short-lived. He soon replaced the last three movements with a single section, essentially a dramatic cantata, based on the closing scenes of Goethe's Faust, the depiction of an ideal of redemption through eternal womanhood.

As was usually his pattern, Mahler would “compose” one Summer, and “orchestrate” the following Summer. Thus, the Eighth was composed in his summer retreat in Maiernigg in 1906, and planned to pick up the work in 1907 – the same summer where his daughter Maria died, and when he was diagnosed with a heart condition. He also would lose his position in Vienna, and in the ensuing months begin engagements in New-York.

Mahler’s Eighth would not get its premiere until three years later, September 12 1910 (108 years ago to the day, tomorrow) in Munich, the last of his works to be premiered in his lifetime. The occasion was a triumph—"easily Mahler's biggest lifetime success," according to biographer Robert Carr. As depicted in this vintage photograph, the nickname “Symphony of A Thousand” comes from the amassed forces in Munich. It is not in fact certain that more than 1,000 performers participated in the Munich premiere. La Grange enumerates a chorus of 850 (including 350 children), 157 instrumentalists and the eight soloists, to give a total of 1,015. However, Carr suggests that there is evidence that not all the Viennese choristers reached the hall and the number of performers may therefore not have reached 1,000.

The performance featured today, from my vinyl collection – in fact one of my most treasured disks - was a session recorded at the Sofiensaal, Vienna, August & September 1971. Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony are at the absolute height of their powers in this phenomenal recording. This is surely one of the most incredibly accurate and exhilarating orchestral performances put on disk, and the soloists (including masters like Lucia Popp and Arleen Auger) could not have been better.

Happy Listening!

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major (1906-07) “Sinfonie der Tausend”
Sinfonie mit Sopran-, Alt-, Tenor-, Bariton- und Basssolisten, zwei großen gemischten Chören und Knabenchor

Soprano Vocals [Magna Peccatrix] – Heather Harper
Soprano Vocals [Mater Gloriosa] – Arleen Auger
Soprano Vocals [Una Poenitentium] – Lucia Popp
Contralto Vocals [Maria Aegyptiaca] – Helen Watts
Contralto Vocals [Mulier Samaritana] – Yvonne Minton
Tenor Vocals [Doctor Marianus] – René Kollo
Baritone Vocals [Pater Ecstaticus] – John Shirley-Quirk
Bass Vocals [Pater Profundus] – Martti Talvela
Vienna Boys Choir, Vienna Singverein Chorus, Vienna State Opera Chorus
[Chorus Masters: Helmut Froschauer and Norbert Balatsch]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Sir Georg Solti, conducting

London Records ‎– OSA-1295
Format: 2 × Vinyl, LP

Details - https://www.discogs.com/Mahler-Solti...elease/3103204

Friday, September 7, 2018

Mahler in Boston

No. 290 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages, which can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast290


This week’s Blog and Podcast is the first of four Friday and Tuesday musings in September, all of them featuring music of Gustav Mahler. Unlike our “Mahler in New-York” montage of a few years back, we are not re-creating a Mahler concert program (though he very well may have visited or performed in Boston during his years in America). The “in Boston” in this week’s title (like similar offerings on Beethoven and Mendelssohn in the past) refer to the performers – in this case a single, common orchestra, the Boston Symphony.

The two conductors featured today reined upon the orchestra for a combined almost 40 years during the latter half of the 20th Century: Alsatian conductor Charles Munch and Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa.

Munch (who was Music Director from 1949 to 1963) is often thought of as a master of French music – which he undoubtedly was – but we must not forget that he worked his way through the ranks as a violinist; in the early 1920s he was concertmaster for Hermann Abendroth's Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne, and later as concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter (1926 to 1933). It should not be a surprise that Munch is no slouch when it comes to the German repertoire…

There is a bit of a back-story with the performance I chose today from Munch and Canadian contralto and Mahler Stallworth Maureen Forrester: she was initially supposed to record the song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen with Bruno Walter and the New-York Philharmonic (and indeed was featured in subscription concerts with him) but since Walter was a Columbia Records artist and she an RCA Victor artist, neither label was willing to allow the pair to record the work, which explains why Munch and the BSO (also RCA Victor artists) got the nod. Wakter later recorded the song cycle with Mildred Miller and the Columbia Symohony.

There are strong connections between this song cycle and our other work this week, Mahler's First Symphony. To wit, the main theme of the second song is the main theme of the 1st Movement and the final verse of the 4th song reappears in the 3rd Movement as a contemplative interruption of the funeral march.

Although in his letters Mahler almost always referred to the work as a symphony, the first two performances described it as a symphonic poem. The work was premièred in Budapest, in 1889, but was not well received. Mahler made some major revisions for the second performance, given at Hamburg in October 1893; further alterations were made in the years prior to the first publication, in late 1898. Some modern performances and recordings give the work the title Titan, despite the fact that Mahler only used this label for two early performances, and never after the work had reached its definitive four-movement form in 1896.

Maestro Ozawa, who famously served as apprentice to Leonard Bernstein in the early 1960’s , had the opportunity to work in preparing his New-York Philharmonic Mahler Symphony cycle (coinciding with Mahler’s centennial). I know of at least two commercial recordings of this symphony by Ozawa and the BSO – one with Philips later in his tenure and this DG recording from the early days of his association with the orchestra. When it was reisued,in 1984, the 1977 recordig was edited with the addition of "Blumine".

Blumine originates from some incidental music Mahler wrote for Joseph Victor von Scheffel's dramatic poem Der Trompeter von Säckingen. The trumpet serenade was used for Blumine with little changes. The movement is a short lyrical piece with a gentle trumpet solo, similar to the posthorn solos in the Third Symphony. Even though it was cut from the symphony, there are still traces of its influence in the rest of the movements.

Benjamin Britten gave the first performance of the reconstructed Hamburg version of Mahler’s First with Blumine re-inserted in 1967, after it had been lost for over seventy years. In the 1970s, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra made the first recording of the symphony by a major orchestra to include Blumine. Its use is still today a bit of a curiosity; Mahler had rejected it from his symphony, dome reason, so it should not be played as part of it. Famous Mahler conductors such as Bernstein, Georg Solti and Bernard Haitink never performed it.

Currently some 20 recordings exist that include Blumine; however, most of them combine it with the revised edition of the other movements, thus making a "blended" version of the symphony that was at no time authorised by Mahler. You decide if this was a good idea.

I think you will live this music too.