|No. 354 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages is this week's Tuesday Blog and can be found in our archives at https://archive.org/details/pcast354|
We may have skipped the last quarter of 2020, but we are back with a new quarterly Tuesday installment of our ongoing series of podcasts – number 354 and closing in on our 365th later this year.
The common thread between the two works featured today is Lord Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred. The title character is a Faustian noble living in the Bernese Alps. Internally tortured by some mysterious guilt, which has to do with the death of his most beloved, Astarte, he uses his mastery of language and spell-casting to summon seven spirits, from whom he seeks forgetfulness. The spirits, who rule the various components of the corporeal world, are unable to control past events and thus cannot grant Manfred's plea. For some time, fate prevents him from escaping his guilt through suicide.
At the end, Manfred dies, defying religious temptations of redemption from sin. Throughout the poem he succeeds in challenging all of the authoritative powers he faces, and chooses death over submitting to the powerful spirits. Manfred directs his final words to the Abbot, remarking, "Old man! 'tis not so difficult to die". "The unconquerable individual to the end, Manfred gives his soul to neither heaven nor hell, only to death."
Manfred was not originally intended for stage performance; it was written to be a dramatic poem or, as Byron called it, a "metaphysical" drama. Schumann’s rendering of Manfred is a work of incidental music consisting of an overture, an entracte, melodramas, and several solos and choruses. Music historian Peter Ostwald wrote that the Overture was written during a time when Schumann was facing "exquisite suffering" from "inner voices," or auditory hallucinations. The performance retained was filler to the Schumann symphony cycle I shared earlier this mnth by Rafael Kubelik and the Berlin Philharmonic.
The idea for a symphony based on Manfred originated from Vladimir Stasov, who suggested the idea to Mily Balakirev and Hector Berlioz in 1867, although both composers declined to write the music. However, in 1882 Mily Balakirev returned to the idea and suggested the subject to Tchaikovsky. The work chronologically sits between his fourth and fifth symphonies. The version retained is an old vinyl performance by Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony.
I think you will live this music too.