Adam Neely, well known jazz composer in NYC, offers an interesting video, “Can I Pass an AP Music Theory Exam?”
I never knew there was such a thing, but I suppose conservatories give them.
The video plays some tunes and expects the applicant to score the theme in Avid Sibelius, so that is an ear training test. Then the applicant must note the appropriate chord symbols, according to late 18th Century rules. In the last exercises the applicant must fully harmonize a melody.
From my own years of piano, I don’t really know the chord symbols, but the ear portion I could do.
Neely notes that the accepted practice is different in jazz and wonders about putting everyone through the harmony rules of, say, Mozart’s Requiem.
There is a case for saying music education ought to present the structures, rhythmic and harmonic practices of other cultures. Is the “Germanic” version of western music “racist” or judgmental in specifying rules as to how dissonance should resolve (and which French impressionism broke before expressionism did).
Neely has previously discussed microtones, as well as the controversies over “equal temperament” vs. “just intonation”. Philip Clark has a 2013 Grammophone article on the controversy, “The tuning wars: ‘Equal temperament destroys everything”.. Some older organs in Europe have extra half-keys for other intonations (for “justice”) which will certainly preserve key personalities.
Earlier posts from Blogger about these matters are no longer available, but I’ll try to provide more coverage of artistic issues like this in due course (as well as “polarization” in our society and politics).
(Posted: Friday, May 27, 2022 at 2 PM EDT by John W Boushka)
I want to share the video “Beginner v. Pro Composer: Can You Hear the Difference?”
23-year old Dutch composer Frank Rener has composed a waltz-like movement for woodwind quintet, for his girl friend Leka. It runs about 5 minutes and could have been conceived as a movement of a multi-movement work. It is in G Major.
British Composer David Bruce “rewrites” it with a few changes. He gradually increases the combinations and registers of instruments during the exposition section. He varies the passage work style and makes it a little more contrapuntal, with more augmentation and embellishment, in the B and C sections before the return to the initiation section, making it more story-like. He does say that most composition is like “storytelling”.
Frank and Leka travel to London to hear a professional consort play the revised composition.
My own “Third Sonata”, completely sketched and maybe 80% entered into Sibelius, is more in line with his recommendations than any of my early work. But I started composing the Sonata in Dec. 1961, after my own William and Mary expulsion, while at home, waiting to start at GWU. It is a long journey. It is mentioned in my latest screenplay effort inspired by the incident (and my DADT books), “Williamsburg and Charlotte, which I presented at the recent Author Solutions Pitchfest.
I could mention a 2010 composition by Timo Andres “It Takes a Long Time to Become a Good Composer“, for solo piano, based on Schumann, which I heard premiered in NYC on December 11, 2010, a few days before my own mother’s passing, writeup. (Well, it does take a long time.)
One other thing: I made an errand in the Ballston Quarter today when I returned and setup a position (Two Knights Defense), where Black is winning:
A young man came by and “challenged” me to a game. I had the W pieces. A spectator crowd accumulated as it started to rain. Here was the final position (recreated at home):
Final position, back rank threat? Or does the pin win for W?
Shortly after my “expulsion” from William and Mary at the end of November 1961, I had come home to my parents, planning to restart my education at George Washington University in early 1962 (which I did), with somewhat strained relations with my somewhat authoritarian father. But I got a Columbia mono LP of the 3-movement Bruckner Ninth Symphony for Christmas, with Bruno Walter. Bruckner had dedicated his life-leaving symphony “to God”.
Right after Christmas, I started composing a third Sonata. I still have a lot of the sketches, which I am drawing together for a performable document. Only recently have I realized that the playful theme that starts the Exposition of the first movement has a subconscious origin in a theme from the trio of the Bruckner Ninth Scherzo, which many music scholars call the “Hallelujah” theme, by comparison with Bruckner’s Te Deum and probably his Psalm 150 (and possibly can trace back to Handel).
My own autobiographical narrative is well covered elsewhere in my three DADT books and in own music is covered in another blog (“Bill’s media reviews”) so now I want to get to the case for seeing a complete four movement Bruckner Ninth as standard concert repertoire around the world.
Before proceeding further, let me note at least two CD’s available: Rattle on WB (2011, to be discussed below) and on Naxos (1992 version, Wildner conducting, same composition team, Naxos site; Amazon link does not resolve.
Bruckner himself had suggested that the C Major Te Deum be performed if he did not complete the symphony. But, unlike Mahler, Bruckner always ended his symphonies in the same key as the first movement. The Te Deum does have material that connects to the Ninth (and other works), but is not quite as harmonically dense as the symphony itself.
(Note the Psalm 150 also, which I heard in performed in Dallas in the 1980s.
A “boyfriend” who was also a physician loved it, but others in my social cohort didn’t feel reached by the music.)
We do accept “completions” of other works: Mozart’s Requiem (Sussmayr), and Puccini’s opera Turandot (Alfono) and even the Mahler Tenth (I got to know Ormandy’s performance on Columbia of the “Cooke 1” version).. In fact, I rather like the “completed” Schubert Unfinished (Newbould, with Rosamunde music in the Finale), and the “completed” Schubert Symphony #10 in D (Bartholomee), which has a Brucknerian feel in the first two movements. I also like hearing the Mahler First with the Blumine movement included.
There is a 35-minute YouTube video by Nicholas Harnoncourt where the conductor discusses the surviving bifolio manuscript of the Bruckner Ninth finale. (The video originally offered is no longer available; this is the best available now; 2021/1/16.)
Harnoncourt takes the position that composition (as a “process piece”, to use the language of NYC composer Timo Andres in his famous 2015 twitter storm) and instrumentation are different steps. So Harnoncourt explains that the existing music thread up to the coda is almost complete, except for a few missing bars in the development, and then again after the fugue. Harnoncourt says that note indicate that Bruckner wanted a catherdral-like coda with quotes form his earlier works, especially the Third, Fifth, Seventh (the “Jacob’s Ladder” rising theme), and Eight (the scherzo theme) symphonies, as well as the “Hallelujah” motif that occurs in the scherzo trio and then again in the slow movement. He apparently also wanted to use the descending interval motive that opens Beethoven’s Ninth (as well as Mahler’s First later), which becomes a major idea in the first movement (the “octave” motive that concludes the first theme group) and which is said to occur in the Te Deum.
I find four performing versions on YouTube. One of them with Eliahul Inbal seems truncated (although it uses the “Bruckner Pivot” to introduce the final pedal point, and I’ll come back to that), and there is another by Carragen, performed by Schaller, that didn’t particularly convince me, at least. I admit I haven’t spent much time on it, and it is covered in Wikipedia.
That leads me with the two best versions, the Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazucca, which are actually about four versions (1985, 1992, 2008, and 2011, the “Conclusive Revised Edition”), performed by Simon Rattle and the Seattle Symphony on a Warner Brothers CD.
And a version, 2 minutes longer (to 24 minutes) by Belgian composer Sebasiten Letocart (he also calls himself Seba Tracotel in social media) with the Budapest Symphony performed by Nicholas Couton.
The two versions are very similar until the Coda, which starts at Minute 19 on Letocart. Both follow Harnoncourt’s analysis.
At this point, it is well to summarize the form of this Finale up to the coda.
There is a brief introduction in moderate tempo of a dotted theme, that soon leads to the first subject, which has lots of wide skipping intervals and is almost dodecaphonic. Indeed, the whole symphony, most of all this finale, explores new areas of chromaticism (written in the mid 1890s), which anticipates not only the Mahler Ninth (1909) and probably some late Scriabin, but frankly the world of Arnold Schoenberg, especially Schoenberg’s large post-romantic works before he took up 12-tone writing. Unresolved dissonances abound, which, as Harnoncourt explains, conductors would want to take out (this had happened with Brucknner’s earlier symphonies, but remember Beethoven’s Eroica and Schubert’s Great C Major were considered shocking at first to conductors). But even in the world of this finale, atonality seems like the ultimate endpoint.
The Exposition, however, has three major subjects. The second subject is more conventional Bruckner (a little like the second subject of the first movement), with its own “trio”, before this prepares us for the majestic, descending chorale theme, very chromatically harmonized from E Major, as if it should be sung as a church hymn. In many works (like if Rachmaninoff had this material), it would become the “big tune” for the conclusion, but here the descending nature of the motive argues against that outcome already.
The Development starts out in a straightforward way, but in a short time a fugue begins. Harnoncourt calls the music “wild”. Curiously, to me, the dotted rhythms and blocked nature of the clashing lines reminds me of Schubert (toward the end of the development of the first movement of the “Great”, whose clashing contrapuntal dissonances early 19th Century conductors found disturbing) The music then presents the “Hallelujah” motive, as then what sounds to my ear like a genuine Recapitulation of the original D Minor stuff starts. The Recapitulation in both versions is reasonably straightforward until it comes to the restatement of the Chorale, where Harnanoncourt (and all other scholars) admit so some controversy.
Samale at al bring back the “Te Deum” idea with the full octave theme from the first movement, repeat the Chorale, and come to a violent climax (one more restatement of the Octaves) with a harmonic “Pivot” and a double take. Then the final version (2012) maintains tempo and volume, and throws the “Jacobs Ladder”, Te Deum, and Hallelujah motives together on one final pedal point in D Major. The overall mood is one of conventional joy.
The 2008 Samale-Cohrs version had, after the last dissonance pivot (with only one invocation of the Te Deum octave idea), provided a “coda of the coda” that briefly goes back to pianissimo, in D Major, quoting the Beethoven Ninth opening intervals, and building the Jacobs Ladder and Allelulah together, coming to a stop on a find fortissimo D Major chord for full orchestra. The 1992 version, on Naxos, is very similar. But in the 2011 version, after the Pivot, the music maintains its momentum and volume. It’s hard for me to understand, from the explanations in Cohrs document, why.
But it’s useful to compare to the end of the Bruckner Symphony #8, where the coda in the finale starts “misterioso” and quietly in C Minor, build up to a climax in F Minor, and then crashes on a subdominant seventh-to tonic Pivot (the “Bruckner Pivot”, although Scriabin uses it to great effect at the very end of his Divine Poem), where the music remains fortissimo, with various motives (especially the scherzo) play on top of one another until the last three octaves, E-D-C, still in FFF. (Schoenberg offers a similar Pivot to end his massive “Gurrelieder” in C Major.) The Bruckner Eighth is very satisfying and perfectly executed, since Bruckner finished it himself. Some observers note that the Bruckner Eighth is the only of Bruckner’s symphonies to have a first movement end quietly, and have even suggested that Bruckner could have considered ending the Ninth quietly, in religious resignation to a perhaps hollow Heaven (maybe like the end of the Mahler Ninth).
But Letocart takes on a different tack. His coda is in four parts (starting at 19:00). He reiterates the chorale theme, to be sure, but dot not fully requote the Te Deum octave theme (he does invoke one central jagged phrase from it in the brass, with unresolved harmony dissonances, which might be more effective in a “bare bones” sense). He, instead, has briefly quoted a key theme from the Bruckner Fifth (well known for its blazing conclusion in the brass after another fugue, recalling Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue indeed). He comes to what could be a pivot point, but in fact has prepared us for one more “misterioso” invocation, back in D Minor. In fact, the music has already turned quite dark. We know Bruckner is facing an End, his own. The music could wind down to solitude, as Letocart invokes the descending D Minor intervals originally from the Beethoven ninth. But instead, through a serious of Neapolitan chords, it explodes like a supernova, using only the “Halelujah” motive. I miss the “Jacobs Ladder” of the Samale and the Te Deum, but somehow the simplicity of Letocart’s final bars, leading to a final drum roll accompanying the fortissimo D Major chord and finally only octaves, conveys the sense of Apocalypse.
The sense of apocalypse is communicated in a shocking 17-minute short film by Narcis Aliphalic, “Anton Bruckner’s Ultimate Finale” Letocart explains the darkness of the music, and plays the descending chorale theme on the piano as if a song without words. But the film shows a parallel narrative with some young adults, including a young man and woman, in their 20s, enjoy a (Vienna?) city park. Other spectators join, include a group of other shirtless young men. As the coda turns dark, the other young men draw the first young men into a bizarre intimate, perhaps homoerotic, ritual. But then everyone is watching the sky, as a huge light approaches. The original young man is “chosen” by others to be the first to meet the returning Christ, or God, or alien spaceship. Everyone knows that they are facing their last moments on earth, but their afterlife will not be hollow. The very last shot of the chosen young man shows him facing the light with chest hair suddenly burned off. I do wonder if this film has been in a festival somewhere, like Cannes, Sundance or Tribeca.
Here’s Letocart’s discussion of the “Hallelujah.”
I’ve tweeted the New York Philharmonic, and I think they could be interested in putting on this work in the 2017-2018 season. It’s hard to say which version would be chosen. The “establishment” likes Cohrs-et al, but I think the Letocart conclusion is far more shocking and may be closer to the truth of what Bruckner thought he faced in his last days.
So, the “big tune” of the chorale is not used, and the Allelujah is a motive, not a full tune. Many post romantic works are well ended with a big tune which (as with Rachmaninoff’s second and third piano concerti) can arise from simple, playful beginnings. A “misterioso” near the end is not possible in works like that. But in the Bruckner Ninth it sounds right, and needed. It tells us what we may all face.
Here are references, to Cohrs And Letocart. (He also calls himself “Seba Tracotel” in social media, and lives in Belgium, but near Germany. He is quite active on Facebook in commenting on troubled European politics; it helps that I can read French pretty easily. With postings by another Belgian music and film artist, Timo Descamps, it helps to read Dutch, which pretty much looks like “misspelled” English and German mixed together.)
Letocart has an ftp-ed PDF of much of his score which I requested through social media, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be public.
(Posted: Saturday, December 3, 2016 at 2:15 PM EST; Reposted, Wednesday, May 4 2022 at 9:40 PN EDT)
Bartje Bartmans channel gives us the score of the “Apocalyptic” Symphony #8 in C Minor (WAB 108). This happens to be the 1890 version. In this performance, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink plays. In the finale note the final harmonic pivot to C Major at 1:13:07.
The coda plays the same sequence from the scherzo four times, then a subsequence three times and then the final three octaves on EDC. Earlier, the finale had begun with a version of the first movement theme on the tritone theme of f# minor before getting to C Minor.
Sebasitan Letocart bases a completion of the finale of the 9th on the idea of extracting one theme from the scherzo trio, which I will cover later.
Piano Master shows a reduction of the finale to piano and note that the last three octaves are to be played fast.
Fur bru presents the 1887 version where the first movement has a rather superfluous loud ending (14 minute mark). The coda of the finale is not quite as compact (a dimuendo I the middle) and convincing. Radio-Sinfonie-Orchester Frankfurt, Eliahu Inbal, conductor, ;licensed by UMB from Telarc.
Shosktakovich used the opening theme of Bruckner’s Symphony #8 in the closing of the finale of his Symphony #7, the Leningrad. Claudio Sanchez offers a score on YouTube, with audio from the Netherlands Philharmonic but scores from several sources documented there. Shostakovich seems to have been particularly tantalized by the loud ending of the first movement in the first version as the opening theme rises up like a call to arms.
In October 2014 I attended a performance of the Bruckner Eighth by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic (I think it was the 1890 version — first movement ended quietly). The concert had also included Bartok’s Piano Concerto #3. In the 8th and 9th symphonies Bruckner is entering a world that seems dark and even “apocalyptic”.
In March 2018 I attended a performance of the Shostakovich at the Strathmore Music Center in Rockville MD, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nezet-Sequin
(Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2022 at 3 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)
Wilhelm Furtwangler was a famous conductor and apparently stayed in Germany during WWII despite opposing war. He composed three symphonies, and I have CD’s of all three, but I wanted to talk about #1, in B Minor, about 75 minutes.
Video: (no score available)
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alfred Walter, posted by Last-Notes, licensed by Naxos.
The first movement is marked Lento but really is more like a Moderato and is quite brooding, with two expansive theme groups.
The Scherzo says in B-minor and sometimes is lighter.
The “slow movement” in G, is very expansive and has a main theme that will sound familiar. There may be a Schumann piece that is similar.
The finale (Moderato Assai) is again very expansive. The first theme sounds capable of fugal treatment, but the second lyrical theme will dominate at the end. After the recapitulation there is an expansive Coda that is like another development based on the lyrical theme that sounds like driving up a mountain. But at almost the very end, Furtwangler seems to quote the final brass chorale statement at the very end of Bruckner’s Fifth (a half step lower in B-flat) almost literally, making the material in the two works feel interchangeable. But Furtwangler ends on loud chords with drums, not just octaves.
Some commenters on YouTube find Furtwangler’s work dense and tedious compared to Bruckner and Mahler. Bruckner was more accomplished with counterpoint and maybe unresolved dissonances.
Atkinson gives a detailed analysis of the fugal finale of the Bruckner 5th. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.
(Posted: Saturday, April 23, 2022 at 11 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)
I’ve always wondered about the dimuendo from FFF to ppp on the very last brass chord of Dvorak’s Symphony #9 in E Minor, “From the New World”, previously known as #5 (Op. 95, B 178).
Berliner Philharmoniker (orchestra), Ferenc Fricsay (conductor) licensed to YouTube by UMG for DG 1959 early stereo recording, presented on YouTube by Pentameron.
Maybe the reason is that there are many fortissimo chords repeated on the same chord just before the end.
On a piano, of course, a loud concluding chord will diminish if held (the end of Scriabin’s Piano Concerto as an example). If you want a piano sonata to end loudly, you need to make the last chord a staccato
(Of course on many modern recordings or in many concert halls, a final loud chord will reverberate and soften quickly.)
We could look at Schubert’s “Great” C Major Symphony (1828, D 944, where the score shows a dimuendo on the final octave at the end, from an Fz. Most conductors don’t take it (Sawasllisch keeps the volume, which I prefer, unshaved).
The work today is known as Symphony #9, but there are numbering issues with Schubert’s symphonies.
The C Major Quintet is similar, but it is understandable that a chamber ensemble may not hold volume on a sustained final chord for long.
(Posted: Thursday, April 21, 2022 at 10 PM EDT by John W Boushka)
At a time when political correctness and diversity in the arts (now with respect to female composers) is demanded, I still wonder why we don’t see large orchestras and well known pianists taking up the work of Amy Beach (1867-1944), who was married to a much older doctor for much of her life.
The Piano Concerto in C# Minor, Op. 45 (1899) sometimes sounds almost like another Brahms concerto. There is a declamatory opening theme in the most minor of all keys, with a short orchestral ritornel, before the piano enters, and soon takes us to a second theme, and then a very active development and recapitulation with lots of rich harmonies, syncopation and modulations. There is an extensive cadenza (apart from Brahms) before the movement ends with violence, reminding one of how the first movement of the Brahms Concerto 1 ends.
There is a brief “perpetual motion” scherzo, and then a relatively brief slow movement in F# Minor that amounts to a song without words. The finale starts out as a laid back rondo that gradually becomes more intense, to end with triumph in the Picardy D-flat major.
The video is supplied by S.P.’s Score Videos, performed by Joanne Polk, English Chamber Orchestra, Paul Goodwin, and licensed to YT by the Orchard (is that the movie distributor?) I have the Vox Turnabout CD.
The Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32, (1896), the “Gaelic”, has been compared to Dvorak;s New World, in the same key. The overall harmonic styles are similar. But Beach’s first movement has no slow introduction, and starts with a rush in the strings, and is rather compact. Her scherzo and slow movement are apparently based on Gaelic folk songs, as is the big tune that closes the finale.
Neemi Jarvi performs with the Detroit Symphony, from score provided by TheOneandOnlyOne, licensed by Naxos. I have the Chandos CD.
(Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2022 at 2 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)
The Piano Concerto #1 in E Minor, Op. 5, by Hungarian composer Ernst Von Dohnanyi )1877-1960) was completed in 1898, when the composer would have been turning 21.
Again, the work is a white-hot testament to young male energy and virility. And it is rather long (44 min).
The overall style is somewhat Brahmsian, with a lot a spicy Hungarian rhythms and constant syncopation thrown in. But the expansive style of each of the three movements also deserves note.
The first movement begins with a slow introduction in triple time, and is said to recall the opening of Brahms’s Symphony #1. The main Allegro has a second subject in the dominant B Major. The movement ends quietly recalling the opening.
The slow movement (Andante) seems to vacillate around the subdominant tonality of A.
But the finale, starting out Vivace in E Minor in triple time, is indeed grand. It is episodic, with a couple of intermediate cadenza-like passages for piano and orchestra separately. The elements in the finale come together (sometimes fugally) near the end with a grand chorale E Major hymn tune, which a church minister of music believes is original with the composer but has found its way into some hymnals. The coda, anticipating Rachmaninoff (after a big tune) ends with a flourish of virtuosity.
S.P. Scores Videos offers the score on YouTube, in a licensed Naxos performance by Howard Shelley (pianist) and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Matthias Bamert.
Update: April 20:
Look also at the Symphony #1 in D Minor (1901), composed at age 24, Op. 9 (54 min and almost of early Mahler proportions).
The work has five movements, the last an Introduction, Theme and Variations and Fugue. Oscillating rhythms mark this work. Performance by Roberto Paternostro, Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz. The OneandOnlyZero provides the video on YouTube.
(Posted: Saturday, April 16, 2022 at 10 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)
Eugen d’Albert’s (1864-1932) Piano Concerto #1 in B Minor Op. 2 (there were two earlier “juvenile” concerti), completed by 1884 and apparently composed when he was 18 and 19, comes across as an attempt to provide the world another Liszt B Minor Sonata, but with a desired loud and triumphant ending. But the piano writing is actually closer to Brahms than Liszt, and the syncopation and harmonies anticipate some effects in the music in Amy Beach’s Piano Concerto about two decades later. Beach will be one of America’s renowned female composers; yet this d’Albert work sounds like the work of a beta male announcing his alpha intellect (on top of pianist virtuosity) as a ticket to hyper-masculinity. (He married six times and had eight kids, so, yes, to today’s woke world he sounds so heteronormative!)
The first section presents the two major subject groups (after a long introduction) along with brief development. The first subject is a syncopated march, and the second subject is a long lyrical line in E Major that will sound immediately familiar to any listener. I can’t identify the popular song or movie score drawn from it. Also, it’s unusual in any sonata form to present a second subject in the subdominant major. I know of no other work that does this.
The development starts, and trails off to a brief pause, for the slow movement, of sorts, to start. It is in D-flat, with another memorable theme, and a middle section that sounds like an odd setting of Chopin’s Funeral March (in the same key, B-flat minor). The main theme returns, before the music returns (a very brief pause is desirable in performance to help the listener follow the form) to the first movement themes for a recapitulation. He gets started recapitulating the second theme in D this time, before breaking for his cadenza, which is amazing. It is a 3-part fugue, with great virtuosity, and for all its closeness to Bach and Reger, in places it is simply atonal and dodecaphonic (chromaticism simply breaks down). Then for the coda, finally in the Picardy B Major, starts put with a scherzando – so does the finale of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. The second theme grows and explodes suddenly in one grand but brief big tune – Rachmaninoff surely had heard this work. The runaway coda pivots on the subdominant, a thrill trick that Scriabin would use later to great effect to close out his rather Wagnerian “Divine Poem”.
By comparison with the Liszt: in that work, the “Grandioso” is the second subject but is triumphant the first time it is introduced. D’Albert saves the grandioso effects for the cadenza and coda.
The performance here is by pianist Joseph Banowetz, with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted Dmitry Yablonsky, pm the channel by John Beuck, licensed from Naxos records (I have that CD hardcopy in my own collection).
I listened to this work a lot during the last two years or so of my mother’s life (she passed at the end of 2010).
For the Liszt B Minor, performed by Krystian Zimerman, channel of Ashish Xiangyi Kumar
Erolon gives the proposed loud ending for the Liszt (which Liszt changed).
Mikhail Pletnev plays the Dante Sonata quasi Fantasia, D Minor, with lots of use of tritones, and a very loud ending, channel of Ashish Xiangyi Kumar
(Posted: Thursday, April 14, 2022 at 10 PM EDT by John W. Boushka)
I want to repost some old material about large music compositions from my old blogs here in the new environment, and one of my “favorites” is the massive cantata “Gurre-Lieder” (“Songs of Gurre”) by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), composed between 1900-1911.
Schoenberg is often regarded as the first composer to write atonal music in the 12-tone system (to say he invented it is a stretch – go back to Liszt, for openers) but in his young manhood he wrote a few postromantic works that literally took the world of Liszt, Wagner (especially), Bruckner, Mahler, and Richard Strauss as far as it could be taken. Others, of course, took after Mahler (Shostakovich, and sometimes Benjamin Britten and Leonard Bernstein; to my mind, Shostakovich’s 4th and 8th symphonies really give us two more “late Mahler” purely orchestral symphonies; Britten’s “War Requiem” is the requiem mass Mahler wanted to write if he had lived long enough) .
The libretto is taken from poems by Jens Peter Jacobsen, about a love triangle in medieval Denmark (translated to German). The work (usually about 110 minutes) has been choreographed for opera, but is usually performed with vocal soloists, male choruses and mixed chorus, as if it were more like an oratorio. The female character, Tove, becomes Tovina in my own sci-fi screenplay “Second Epiphany”, where a plot requirement at the end is that she must become impregnated.
But the must useful comparison might be to that of a Mahler symphony. The work is in three parts. Part 1 comprises 11 movements (9 solo vocal songs for three soloists, with an orchestral introduction and penultimate interlude. The whole 52 minute part could be compared to Mahler’s “Das Lied von de Erde”, which some call a “symphony”. The part opens in E-flat (reminder of “The Ring”) and the final catastrophic song seems to be in B-flat minor, before suddenly crashing back to E-flat minor (Prokofiev would do this later).
Part 2 is a violent interlude in B-flat minor, with a brief vocal song by Waldemar, who curses God for what I call “the Mousetrap Paradox”. I won’t explain further here. But at the very end of this part, the music suddenly crashes on the dominant F Minor, as if it had been the tonic.
Part 3 will start in G-flat and end in C. That is a tritone jump (mathematically splitting the octave in half) but it also means that the entire work progresses from E-flat to C Major at the end, reversing the scheme of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and coming back home to C.
So the overall form is comparable to some other large “symphonies” that needed chorus, starting with Beethoven, then Mendelssohn (#2), Liszt (Faust), Mahler’s 2 and 8, Shostakovich 13 and 14. The harmonic language is so lush that it sometimes seems to inherit from impressionism (think Debussy’s “Martyrdom”, which actually gets loud).
You can read the “plot” here, with all the vassals, the joker, and the undead spirits wanting to rise from the grave with their dead hands. The “story circle” is pretty clear here from Waldemar’s viewpoint. The music offers “sprechstimme” with the joker (is he like the character in the Batman movies?) But the world clears with sunrise, and the final chorus literally outdoes Mahler. The conclusion must hold the longest C Major fortissimo in all of music. This is, after all, about the virility and strength of young manhood.
Even though the work, with all its demands, is not often performed in entirety, the themes and harmonic manipulations in the work will sound familiar to the listener, most of all in the final chorus. Hollywood knows this work well.
Performance embedded here is from Ryan Power’s channel. Claudio Abbado conducts the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra and Slovak Philharmonic choirs. Major soloists: Waldemar – Thomas Moser, Tove – Jane Eaglen, Waldtaube – Marjana Lipovsek.
(Posted om Tuesday, April 12, 2022 by John W. Boushka)