Recording Location: Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, Los Angeles, May 12-13, 1997
A great performance by a great orchestra with a great conductor of an ALMOST great symphony.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES by Tim Page:
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) is a decidedly idiosyncratic Olympian. He has never been one of those composers beloved by almost everybody (as might be said of Mozart or Beethoven) and, throughout much of the world, we do not inevitably expect to find a Bruckner work on the schedules of our symphony orchestras. Brucker’s statue might be likened to that of Hector Berlioz or Jean-Philippe Rameau; nobody doubts his greatness, but his work remains relatively unknown to the casual concertgoer.
Still, those listeners who like Bruckner’s music at all usually love it deeply. if he may still be considered something of a ‘cult’ composer, his is among the most passionate of such cults. Watch the audience at a performance of one of Bruckner’s symphonies sometimes. Half of the people in attendance will seem to know every note by heart, submerging themselves in meditation as the work progresses, smiling when a particularly beatific passage for strings shimmers by, sitting up sharply as the timpani usher in yet another vast, churning crescendo. And woe to any critic who presumes to doubt the faith!
The three Bruckner symphonies we hear most often are probably the sweeping and spacious Symphony No. 8, the Symphony No. 9 he left unfinished at his death (one wonders whether anybody could have written music to follow the glorious conclusion of the Adagio, one of the most serenely exalted leavetakings in history) and the Symphony No. 4, which Bruckner himself christened the ‘Romantic.’
Traditionally, Bruckner has been linked with Richard Wagner. While Bruckner undoubtedly worshiped Wagner (going so far as to dedicate his third symphony to him), today, more than a century later, the two men seem less and less alike.
Wagner’s music is restless and charged with tension; we follow it with a near-theatrical curiosity about where it may lead. Bruckner’s work, on the other hand, is often slow-moving and even static; at times, despite the composer’s large orchestral forces, he seems a sort of 19th-century proto-minimalist.
We listen to his symphonies with the pleasing sense that we have already arrived at our destination before the music started and we are now proceeding to immerse ourselves in it, with piety and gratitude. Some lines from T.S. Eliot have always seemed particularly appropriate to Bruckner:
We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Bruckner wrote the Symphony No. 4 in 1874, but went on to revise it in 1878 and then to rewrite the finale in 1879-1880. Later, he even went so far as to tinker with it some more (in 1886 and 1887-1888) but it is the 1878-1880 version that is usually heard today.
He gave the work the subtitle ‘Romantic’in 1876 and even added a literary program to go along with it. And so the opening of the first movement was described thus: ‘A citadel of the Middle Ages. Daybreak. Reveille is sounded from the tower, The gates open. Knights on proud charges leap forth. The magic of nature surrounds them.’
Such effusion has gone out of fashion – and, indeed, it seems that Bruckner himself had mixed emotions about what he was doing. By the finale, he had pretty much given up the effort: ‘In the last movement I’ve forgotten completely what picture I had in mind,’ he wrote, with refreshing candor.
None of this should have mattered to him, of course, for the ‘Romantic’ Symphony works very well indeed as ‘absolute music,’ and we need not concern ourselves with knights and citadels to admire and understand it.
The approximately 70+ minute work is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, bass tuba, three kettledrums, and a large string section.
The first movementis long and grand, with an early emphasis on the horn, and some typically expansive development in the strings and brass. (The range between Bruckner’s loudest and softest passages in this movement is unusually pronounced.) The solemn second movement, marked Andante, includes some unusual modulations, a graceful melody for the viola and a lowing chorale.
The third movement brings the horn back to the center of activity; this Scherzois based on hunting calls, although there is a calm central section that harkens back to minuet form. The finalestarts with some ominous passages for horn and clarinets, with the theme working its way into some noble writing for the trumpets. A long, busy contrapuntal development follows before Bruckner users in a blazing, triumphant and completely successful conclusion to the gigantic work.
Lawrence Gilman, for many years the chief music critic of the New York Herald-Tribune, once summed up the special appeal of Bruckner: ‘For a few, he was, and is, at rare intervals, a seer and a prophet – one who knew the secret of a strangely exalted discourse. Rapt and transfigured, he saw visions and dreamed dreams as colossal, as grandiose, as awful in lonely splendor, as those of William Blake. We know that for Bruckner, too, some ineffable beauty flamed and sank and flamed again across the night.’
And so it does.
Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896) – Symphony No. 4in E-Flat Minor – ‘Romantic’
Bewegt, nicht zu schnell – 20:10
Andante quasi Allegretto – 17:01
Scherzo: Bewegt – Trio, Nicht zu schnell, Keinesfalls schleppend – 11:01
Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell – 21:30
Until my most recent re-listening of this symphony, I simply remembered it as what absolutely had to be the inspiration for the opening music of ‘Star Trek.’ don’t believe me? Listen to Bruckner’s 4th first – and then to the ”Star Trek’ opening.
Recording Location: Het Concertgebouw, December 1994 – Live Recording
Now we’re talking!
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – “Anton Bruckner: An Antenna Pointing Into The 20th Century” – Nikolaus Harnoncourt In Conversation With Walter Dobner
W.D.: According to one 19th-Century review of the Third Symphony, “Bruckner has his moments -flashes of imagination of a kind found only with great men on genius – but they are soon past.” I don’t suppose you share this view, Herr Harnoncourt?
N.H.: Not for a moment. But nor do I share the view of contemporary critics of Beethoven’s Second Symphony. None the less, there’s some truth in the suggestion that a transcendent genius like Bruckner – or any other great composer for that matter – positively invites disapproval and criticism. You can’t expect people to agree completely with such music.
The whole meaning of a work is revealed only by contradiction. It’s only when you ask what happens between these flashes of genius that you may find a lot happening that may not appear so brilliant after all.
There was a time when I myself saw Bruckner in this light. I felt I was returning home from a Bruckner symphony with a relatively small number of very important discoveries. But the symphonies were too great for that.
Today, I’ve changed my mind completely, since I now understand much better what this music is all about.
W.D.: Can you say in a few words what you mean by that?
N.H.: The experience I had with Bruckner was similar to the one I had with Beethoven. I initially had great problems with the finale of both the Ninth Symphony and Fidelio. They struck me as too distended and, in consequence, as seriously lacking in substance. Only later did it become clear to me that I was approaching this music with the wrong standard.
In the case of the Missa solemnis I suddenly saw that it was simply absurd to judge Beethoven by Mozart’s standards. Beethoven makes other demands , asks other questions and so he got other answers. As soon as I set aside my “Mozart” yardstick and found one that seemed to me better suited to Beethoven, I suddenly discovered a whole new approach to his works.
Exactly the same thing happened with Bruckner. The more I got to know Brahms, the more precious Bruckner became. It was presumably the great effort and seriousness of Brahm’s writing that produced such wonderful results after years of polishing and honing and that led me to his antithetical opposite, Bruckner, bringing him closer and closer to me.
W.D.: Is Bruckner not also so difficult to understand because there are so many different links? Although his music speaks the language of the 19th century, it is also deeply indebted on a formal level to the Classical 18th century, to say, nothing of the gestures – and mysticism – of the Middle Ages.
N.H.: Curiously enough, Bruckner strikes me – far more than any other composer of his generation – as someone with an antenna pointing into the 20th century. When people claim that it was Mahler who laid the foundation of the Second Viennese School, I have to say that this seems to me to have been even more true of Bruckner – not that I would want to disagree with any of the criteria you’ve listed.
Those aspects that go back to the Middle Ages are presumably tied up in some way with Bruckner’s markedly rustic character. But I don’t think it’s possible to approach his works from a biographical standpoint. If you were to start out from Bruckner’s personality, you’d expect to find extreme conservatism in his works. But his visions really can’t be squared with his simplicity as a person. In this respect, he is unique as a genius.
W.D.: But is it really possible to draw a total distinction between Bruckner as a person and Bruckner as a composer? Shouldn’t the thematic triality of his symphonic movements be seen not only as a symbol of the Trinity but also as evidence of Bruckner’s personal faith? What are your thoughts on this and on the theory that only a believer can interpret Bruckner?
N.H.: I don’t think faith comes into it. Anyone who performs Bruckner needs to be familiar with Austrian music, with Schubert, with peasant music and the whole ländler thing. I wouldn’t dare try to find evidence of Bruckner’s religious beliefs in the symbols of his music.
It may well be that these signs of personal belief does exist, but biographers, exegetes and musicologists who explain this only on the basis of the works, without the composer’s say so, are guilty, I believe, of venturing into a highly dangerous and highly speculative area.
For me, Brucker’s symphonies are couched in a language of musical sounds that is his very own, personal language. That his personality was very strongly influenced by his faith is sufficiently well attested. Whether his music would sound different without this pronounced religious influence, I don’t think any of us can say. But I think it’s far too simple as an explanation to derive this thematic triality from the Trinity.
W.D.: The ‘Musician of God,’ is only one of many Brucknerian cliches. Bruckner is also sometimes regarded as a typically Austrian composer. It’s argued that he takes his place in a line beginning with Schubert and leading to Mahler and, finally, to Schoenberg.
N.H.: I’d describe only highly concrete details of his music as typically Austrian, for example, the Triosin his Scherzosand a few melodic ideas that I associate with Bruckner’s rustic origins or with elements of Austrian folk music.
With Schubert, it’s totally different – he could only be Austrian, his music speaks Viennese dialect. The line of development that starts out with Schubert certainly leads in Bruckner’s general direction, but it actually goes, rather, to Johann Strauss; that’s pure unadulterated Austrian music for you.
There seems to me a very clear line of development from Bruckner to the Second Viennese School, especially to Alban Berg, rather less so to Schoenberg, although Schoenberg often transcribed Strauss.
I’m happy to leave out Mahler – he’s really not conceivable without Bruckner. I regard Bruckner’s music as absolute. The autobiographical element in his music isn’t all that marked. Unlike Mahler, who uses Bruckner’s vocabulary, Bruckner does not retell his own life in a superficial way. I see a basic difference between a composer who sees himself as the agent of his talent and one who uses the vocabulary of a composer like Bruckner in order to tell us all about his private sufferings.
W.D.: Herr Harnoncourt, you say that Mahler is inconceivable without Bruckner. Is Bruckner conceivable without Wagner?
N.H.: Certainly. The links between Bruckner and Wagner must have been in the air at the time. You can already hear Wagner and Tchaikovsky in a number of Mendelssohn’s works – I’m thinking of Die erste Walpurgisnacht and Die schöne Melusine. Virtually the whole of the 19th century is contained in these works.
One has the feeling that if Mendelssohn had had a normal lifespan, Wagner would have been inhibited by such proximity. I don’t think there is anything in Wagner’s musical language that wasn’t already part of the spirit of the times. Wagner had to exist in the 19th century. Bruckner had to exist as a writer of symphonies, not as a music dramatist. The fact that Bruckner revered Wagner I see as a sign of his modesty.
W.D.: Herr Harnoncourt, you’re beginning your explanation of the world of Bruckner’s symphonies with his Third Symphony, of which there are three different versions. Why did you opt for the second version?
N.H.: The final version was ruled out for me on account of its excessive cuts and excisions that almost destroy the work’s organic unity. For me, it’s a makeshift solution designed to keep the symphony in the running, as it were.
The first version is very complex and rambling, with a lot of Wagnerian quotations. I could well imagine conducting this first version after extensive preparation. I see the second version as the result of Bruckner’s wrestling with the first one. Also, I think that the coda to the Scherzoprovides a very interesting and convincing ending here. I think Brucker knew perfectly well how he imagined his works would sound and that he set this down quite clearly.
He said: “My work is in the score.” But although he worked on the score, he did not – so to speak – prepare it in bite-sized morsels. The versions that various friends and conductors forced out of him were concessions to these friends and to audiences, prompted by the wish to be performed at all.
W.D.: And which edition of this symphony did you decide to use for your own performance?
N.H.: I’m conducting the second version in Nowak’s edition, since it’s the one I find most convincing. You must never forget that fashion plays an important part here, too. Now that we’re familiar with Nowak’s versions, we know how he arrived at his findings. The sources are available.
Of course, one could now try reaching one’s own conclusions and results on the strength of the sources. That’s the prerogative of every generation. I trusted Nowak more than I normally trust editors and haven’t reexamined every question on the basis of the sources in order to make my own decisions, but compared the various findings of the individual editions.
I also consulted an edition from the Concergebouw Orchestra, with whom I made this recording, since I also wanted to learn more about this orchestra’s tradition.
W.D.: Not only the Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra can look back on a long tradition of performing Bruckner, so, too, can the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, with whom you began your career as a musician. They, too, have considerable experience of playing Bruckner’s works. To what extent was this knowledge of the performing tradition of use to you during your present involvement with Bruckner, or did you fell inhibited by it?
N.H.: These experiences were of great use to me and certainly didn’t inhibit me. The older I get, the more natural Bruckner’s musical language seems to me. I feel at home here, it’s the element in which I live and breathe. I can recall some very great performances of Bruckner while I was a cellist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
I’m thinking in particular of Karajan during the 1950s. I’d be interested to hear those performances again and would like to know whether my experience at that time – I’d not yet turned thirty – would stand up to my present understanding. But they left an indelible impression on me.
In the case of the present performance, it was important for me to work with an orchestra that knows and understands Bruckner’s language. At the same time, of course, I had to fight against this experience at rehearsals, since there are certain passages that are interpreted in identical ways by virtually every conductor.
I’m thinking, for example, of the decelerandos, especially in the slow movement of the Third Symphony; the answers in the orchestra are almost always taken twice as slowly as the questions. There isn’t the slightest indication in the score that this is how these passages should be taken. And yet orchestras are used to playing them like this.
But when a composer like Bruckner writes even the tiniest change of tempo into the score and when he prescribes even the least expressive nuance by means of footnotes and explanations, I’m tempted to agree with him and included to clear away all this ballast.
Within twenty-four hours of his meeting with Wagner in Bayreuth in September 1873, Anton Bruckner could no longer remember whether the Master had accepted the dedication of his Secondor Third Symphony.
Remarkable though this lapse must seem, contemporary accounts make it plain that Bruckner’s uncertainty was due not so much to his awesome encounter with a man whom he revered as “the master of all masters” as to the vast amounts of beer that he and Wagner had consumed.
With his memory of this historic encounter decidedly befuddled, Bruckner sent the older composer a note in an attempt to resolve the matter. “Symphony in D minor, where the trumpet begins the theme?,” he asked, to which Wagner appended his reply: “Yes, yes! Best wishes!”
The first draft of the score was completed by the end of the year, and Cosima Wagner confirmed receipt of the dedication copy on June 24, 1874. Shortly afterwards, Brucker offered his new symphony to the Vienna Philharmonic, but the orchestra rejected the piece after a trial run-through in the autumn of 1875.
As with so many of Bruckner’s works, the original version of the score proved only the starting point of a whole series of major revisions.
The ink on the dedication copy was scarcely dry before Bruckner had already set out to make ‘significant improvements to the Wagner Symphony (in D minor),’ to quote from a letter to Moritz von Mayfeld, but the result was not yet an independent version, for this, we have to wait until the thoroughgoing version of 1876/77, when Brucker added the ‘Adagio No. 2′ (1876) and produced an intermediate version that occupies a halfway house between the first and second versions. (As a result, there are a total of four versions of the slow movement – something of a rarity in the history of music – and three different versions of the symphony as a whole.)
On April 28, 1877, Bruckner finally added a note to the concluding movement ‘entirely new revision finished.’ The second version, Bruckner though, was now complete.
The work was premiered in this form in December 1877 and, notoriously, proved a failure. But Bruckner refused to be daunted and in January 1878 made a further series of changes to this second version, including the addition of a coda to the Scherzo. The second major revision dates from 1888/89, when Franz Schalk played a decisive role and incurred the charge of ‘foreign interference’ in the score. In this revised form the work found favor with its audiences.
The question of “failure” and “success” lead us straight to the heart of the problems surrounding the different versions. To a certain extent we are dealing here with “improvements” designed to accommodate the work to audience expectations. There is no doubt that Bruckner craved success and constantly sought recognition, avidly reading reviews. It is difficult to avoid the suspicion, therefore, that it was only those works that had proved an initial failure that were subjected to a process of revision, either by Bruckner himself or by others.
(It is surely significant in this context that the Seventh Symphony, with which the composer made his international breakthrough, was left untouched.) Legion are Bruckner’s remarks reflecting his conformist outlook and his willingness to make concessions.
In consequence, the various versions are assessed in different ways by musicians and scholars. For some, the principal aspect is the process of improvement, whereas others acknowledge the independence of each individual version.
It is important to realize that the changes should not be approached from a purely qualitative standpoint but must be examined in the light of the circumstances that produced them and the period at which they were made. Give the length of time that Bruckner devoted to the Third Symphony – a total of sixteen years – it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a ‘work in progress.’
In what ways do the three versions differ? This question is normally answered by reference to cuts, although this affects only one, albeit important, aspect. A comparison of the overall length of the symphony in all three versions reveals that, whereas the first version is 2056 bars long, the second runs to 1815 bars and the third is 1644 bars in length. But even here we must proceed with caution since the cuts do not affect all the movements equally. The Scherzois the exception to the rule inasmuch as it is eight bars longer in the second and third versions.
Further changes affect the structure of the musical periods, a process that Bruckner himself called ‘rhythmic ordering.’ In the transitions he strove to achieve a greater interweaving of the motifs, with denser textures in the long ascents to climaxes that so often fail to materialize.
He also altered the accompanying figures and instrumentation. In the case of the Third Symphony, there is also the question of Bruckner’s collage-like use of fifteen Wagnerian quotations, the vast majority of which had already disappeared by the time of the second version, a change no doubt dictated by the composer’s wish to reduce the work’s powerfully subjective content and, at the same time, emphasize its autonomy.
The second version is closely tied up wit the Concertgebouw’s Brucknerian tradition; the Third Symphony was the first of the composer’s symphonies to be played by the Amsterdam orchestra, when Willem Kes conducted a performance on October 13, 1892.
In 1897, Willem Mengelberg conducted the local premiere of the Fourth Symphony, and the Ninthwas introduced to Amsterdam audiences in 1908. A period of particularly intense interest in Bruckner began with Eduard van Beinum, who was appointed the Concertgebouw’s second conductor in 1931 and who once said of the composer: ‘Bruckner is my daily bread. I can never get enough of his music.’
Many outstanding performances of Bruckner’s symphonies too place under van Beinum’s baton, although they continued to be based on the seriously deficient first editions of the scores. Only slowly was Robert Haas’s old Bruckner Edition of the 1930s adopted.
In the sixties, Eugen Jochum and Bernard Haitink showed themselves to be Brucknerians of the first rank. While Jochum soon came to prefer Nowak’s new edition, Haitink remained loyal to Haas. Haitink was succeeded in 1988 by Riccardo Chailly, who has continued the Concertgebouw’s longstanding – and outstanding – Bruckner tradition.
Erich W. Partsch
Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896) – Symphony No. 3 in D Minor – “Wagner”
Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso – 19:29
Andante: Bewegt, feierlich, quasi Adagio – 13:26
Scherzo: Zeimlich schnell – 7:02
Finale: Allegro – 14:37
Insanely long liner notes not withstanding, Bruckner’s Third Symphony is the one that turned the world in favor of Bruckner. And, thank God. If Bruckner’s 6th didn’t exist – it would have really sucked.
Male Voices: Rundfunkchor Berlin and the Ernst-Senff-Chor
A nice performance of a ‘meh’ Symphony (which, I believe, would have been Bruckner’s review as well).
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – Sebastian Urmoneit (Translation Stewart Spencer)
Dating from 1865/66, Bruckner’s C minor Symphony was the Austrian composer’s first attempt to explore a field which, in the minds of all 19th-century composers of instrumental music, represented the ultimate challenge.
Neither his “Study Symphony” in F Minor, nor his D Minor Symphony which he himself later “nullified,” satisfied the high standards he set himself and that he expected of the genre.
As we know, Brahms, too, hesitated long and hard before publishing a symphony, and by the time that his first contribution to the medium was unveiled, he was already well established as a composer.
Bruckner, by contrast, was barely known outside Linz in the mid-1860s, even though he had already completed two Masses. According to his own later account, it was the local music critic, Moritz von Mayfeld, who encouraged him to explore the world of the symphony, a world to which Bruckner was to remain loyal for the whole of the rest of his life.
Mayfeld ended his review of the first performance of Bruckner’s D minor Mass with the words: “Such is his unusually fertile imagination and his musical and technical knowledge that it is hard to predict where he may go from here. But one thing is certain, namely, that he will very soon cultivate the field of the symphony and to do so, moreover, with the greatest success.”
We know that from at least the time of his studies with the Linz Kappelmeister, Otto Kitzler, Bruckner was not only familiar with the music of Beethoven but had also been introduced to the opera of Wagner through a performance of “Tannhauser” that Kitzler conducted at the theatre in the town.
From Beethoven, Bruckner took over the symphony’s four-movement structure and even left untouched the distinctive character of all four of those movements: First movement Sonataform – Adagio– Scherzo– Finale.
From his First Symphony onwards, however, he based his symphonic expositions not one two subjects but on three; a compositional device previously found to such a clearly developed extent only in Schubert’s “Great” C Major Symphony.
A comparison between the two First Symphonies of Bruckner and Brahms shows certain similarities; not only are both in C Minor, but the sombre tonality of the opening is brightened in their final movements, both of which are in C Major.
In each case, the model is Beethoven’s Fifth. More striking than their similarities, however, are their dissimilarities, not least in their approach to the whole history of the genre.
In order for it to be fully understood, Brahms’ First Symphony seems to presuppose two whole centuries of music history as a living force, whereas Bruckner approached his task with an almost naïve insouciance, seeming not to suffer from the oppressive weight of tradition.
While his First Symphony is far from denying the age in which it was written, no other composer of his stature has been able to animate the elemental forces of rhythm and melody with such unrefracted immediacy and – at least in his First Symphony – to fall back so nonchalantly on Wagner’s harmonic innovations.
The German musicologist Stefan Kuntz has characterized this note of purity in early Bruckner by reference to a remark of Nietzsche’s which, although written with Wagner in mind, is undoubtedly better suited, in Kunze’s view, to Bruckner: “He who desired to liberate art, to restore its desecrated sanctity, would first have to have liberated himself from the modern soul; only when innocent himself could he discover the innocence of art.”(Untimely Meditations: Richard Wagner in Bayreuth.)
This natural simplicity of tone is a feature, above all, of the original Linz version of the symphony, a more elemental account of the piece that Bruckner later revised in 1890/91 to produce the so-called Vienna version of the work.
The symphonic chorus Helgolandfor male-voice choir and orchestra was Bruckner’s last completed composition. The only other piece on which he worked after 1893 was his Ninth Symphony, which was to remain unfinished at his death.
Although Helgolandis little known today, it is clear from Bruckner’s last will and testament that he himself numbered it among his most important works, worth – in his opinion – of being ranked alongside his nine symphonies, three Masses, String Quintet, Te Deum and his setting of Psalm 150.
Bruckner was happy to accept the commission to write Helgolandand broke off work on his Ninth Symphonyin order to concentrate on a piece that he hoped would increase his standing in musical circles. It was written to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Vienna Male-Voice Choir, a celebration that the Emperor Franz Joseph I was to attend in person.
Its first performance on 8 October 1893 proved one of the great triumphs in Bruckner’s career. It is no longer possible to say with any certainty whether the decision to set the ballad by August Silberstein (1827-1900) was Bruckner’s own or whether that decision was taken by others.
The poem breathes the spirit of German nationalism that typified the educated Austrian bourgeoisie from the mid-19th century onwards and which singing societies – the Liedertafelnof the time – made it their duty to promulgate.
Silberstein was numbered among the student dissidents of 1848 and driven into exile, settling in Vienna in 1856 and making his living as a journalist and occasional poet.
Silberstein’s ballade Helgolandis taken from an anthology, Mein Herz in Liedern, first published in 1868 and describes the threat posed to the island of Helgoland by a fleet of Roman warships. The Saxon islanders call on Heaven to help them, and assistance is duly provided in the form of a raging tempest. The pagan invasion is repulsed, and the Germanic people thank God for their deliverance.
The events depicted in the poem are purely fictional: the Romans never reached Helgoland, and the inhabitants of the island had not been converted to Christianity at the time of the Romans‘ wars of conquest.
Bruckner can have had no more time for such historical inaccuracies than for the contradictory claim that Catholicism is incompatible with national interests; in the apotheosis of Christianity in the hymn at the end of the ballad there seems like doubt that he grasped the underlying message.
The setting of the very last line, “O Herrgott, dich prieset frei Helgoland!” (O Lord God, free Helgoland glorifies thee), in which Bruckner modulates from G minor to the higher G major, is the most spacious in the whole work.
Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896) – Symphony No. 1 in C Minor
Adagio – 13:36
Scherzo – 9:21
Finale, Bewegt, feurig – 14:00
Anton Bruckner (1824 – 1896) – “Helgoland”
“Helgoland” – 11:14
This is the first disc of Daniel Barenboim and the Berliner Philharmoniker’s massive (and pretty great) Bruckner Symphony Cycle. I have this disc as a one-off and not the entire box – so, going forward, it will be a mix and great (and not so great) performances of the Bruckner symphonies (and other works). I will just say this, I’m glad Anton B.kept writing after Symphony #1!
Even though he wrote over 200 works in his lifetime, there is only one reason we know the name Max Bruch today – his Violin Concerto in G Mino, Opus 26 – and for good reason, it is an f-ing masterpiece and this recording is glorious. And I’ll take an extra sentence for Edouard Lalo and his Symphonie Espagnole… my God, iconic, brilliant, love it – another reason we know him today as well.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES
No liner notes for this recording (it’s a CBS Masterworks recording from the vault and digitally remastered in the early 1990s) but here are some pics – and be sure to watch the performance videos further below.
Max Bruch (1838-1920) – Violin Concerto in G Minor, Opus 26
I. Vorspiel – Allegro moderato / II. Adagio – 17:28
III. Finale – Allegro energico – 7:04
Édouard Lalo (1823-1892) – Symphonie Espagnole
I. Allegro non troppo – 7:47
II. Scherzando – 4:17
III. Allegro molto – 6:13
IV. Andante – 6:46
V. Rondo – Allegro – 7:01
This is just a great recording from the CBS Masterworks vault. Pinchas Zukerman has never sounded better and the LA Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta makes this a classic disc that I love revisiting every couple of years.
Recorded Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, February 1998
* World Premiere Recordings
To read the recording notes you would think this recording of Benjamin Britten early works was nothing more than ‘shite’ from a composer that was, eventually, going to be great – but these are really interesting pieces that deserve to be heard more.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – Colin Matthews
Benjamin Britten – The Young Apollo
These recordings document an extraordinary period of innovation and experiment from Britten’s early years; two of the works predate his Opus 1, the Sinfonietta, and were never performed in his lifetime, and one, Young Apollo, was withdrawn shortly after its first performance.
Britten was remarkably prolific as a young composer, and many of the works from this time were put aside to await revision or completion as he rushed on to the next piece.
From 1928, when he was fourteen, Britten studied privately with Frank Bridge (1879-1941), before going to the Royal College of Music in the autumn of 1930.
He began writing the Two Portraits in August 1930 shortly after leaving school. One of his closest school friends had been David Layton, who is depicted in the first Portrait(Britten’smanuscript title is ‘Sketch for strings‘).
The second Portraithas the subtitle ‘E.B.B,’Britten’s initials, and it is clearly a self-portrait, with the viola (his own instrument) taking the lead role.
A third movement was planned but was not written; probably there was not time before Britten started his academic studies.
The first Portraitis a highly-chromatic and intense piece, rhapsodic in character, but introducing a strange waltz-like lilt shortly before the remarkable coda, in which solo strings bring back the opening of the work over a distance C major chord.
The second Portraitis strikingly different; a gentile and deeply-felt melody over a simple accompaniment.
During his first year at the Royal College, Britten wrote mainly vocal music, although he completed a D major String Quartet which he was to revise and publish in 1974.
From the autumn in 1931, he began to concentrate on instrumental and orchestral works (including two large-scale ballet scores), beginning work on the Double Concertoin May of 1932.
He interrupted it to compose the Sinfonietta(in no more than three weeks!), but completed the Concertoin sketch by the early autumn. Although the sketch is very detailed, he never made a full score, and seems to have made no attempt to get the work performed.
He showed it to his teacher at the College, John Ireland(1879-1962), who, as Britten recorded in his diary, was ‘pretty pleased’ with it. But it seems quite likely that his experience in rehearsing the newly completed Sinfoniettawith a student orchestra in the autumn of 1932 (‘I have never heard such an appalling row!’ read another diary entry) discouraged him from going on to complete the Double Concerto in score.
He was not, in fact, to hear any of his orchestral music until the first performance of Our Hunting Fathersfour years later.
The Double Concerto was first performed at the 1987 Aldeburgh Festival, with Kent Nagano conducting.
Since the composition of the Concertoand the Sinfoniettawas so intertwined, it is not perhaps surprising that they follow the same formal plan; a vigorous opening movement, and a Tarantella Finale.
The Concerto, although substantially the larger of the two pieces, is perhaps less adventurous in style (the first movement of the Sinfoniettais strongly influenced by Schoenberg’s 1906 Chamber Symphony). Clearly the highly virtuoso writing of the soloists parts led Britten towards more conservative orchestral textures.
However, the dance-like Finaleand sudden and unexpected return at the end to the music of the first movement are as original as anything he had written to date, and the work stands as an outstanding achievement for an eighteen-year-old.
The Sinfonietta’smore concentrated writing for its original ten players reveals a determined effort by Brittento write an ‘Opus 1,’which would make a mark on the musical world.
Although its first performance in 1933 received a mixed reception (for many years the critical establishment tried to dismiss Britten as ‘too clever by half’), his position as the leading British composer of his generation was established from that point on.
In 1936, he made what he called an ‘orchestral’ version with a part for second horn, and indications for string orchestra rather than solo players. But although it received a performance at the time, the only score in which Britten wrote this version was left in the USA after his return home in 1942, and did not reappear until the 1980s.
The annotated score is a particularly fascinating document as on the flyleaf are two poems of W.H,. Auden, written out for Britten in January 1937 by the poet just before his departure for the Spanish Civil War.
Auden’s departure for America in 1939 was the catalyst for Britten’s own move there in April of that year. His initial reception as composer and pianist in the USA and Canada was so enthusiastic that he contemplated a long stay, if not permanent residence.
By the summer he already had his first commission from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation in Toronto, for a ‘Fanfare’for piano and orchestra. Britten wrote in a letter that it is founded on the end of [Keats’ unfinished poem] Hyperion”From all his limbs celestial’... It is very bright and brilliant music – rather inspired by such sunshine as I’ve never seen before.’
Young Apollo was broadcast live by CBC in August 1939 with Britten as soloist; after a subsequent broadcast from New York in December, Britten withdrew the work, and it received no further performance until 1979. Yet he had given it an Opus number (16) and had seemed pleased with it.
Experimental in a wholly different way from his early music, Young Apollo is an extraordinary Fantasiacomposed entirely – with the exception of the piano’s scales in the cadenza near the beginning – in A major.
Britten seems almost to have anticipated minimalism with this work: did he think he had, for once, gone too far?
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) – Young Apollo, Opus 16 (1939)
Moderato – Allegro Molto – 7:06
Benjamin Britten – Double Concerto in B Minor (1932)
Allegro ma non troppo – 6:03
Rhapsody, Poco lento – 7:25
Allegro scherzando – Allegro non troppo – 8:03
Benjamin Britten – Two Portraits (1930)
No. 1 – ‘David Layton’ for string orchestra – Poco presto – 9:10
No. 2 – ‘E.B.B.’ for solo viola and string orchestra – Poco lento – 5:43
Benjamin Britten – Sinfonietta, Opus 1 (1932)
Poco presto ed. agitato – 4:16
Variations, andante lento – 6:16
Tarantella, Presto vivace – 4:04
Even today, Benjamin Britten is still being discovered and though it took 60 years (!) for a couple of these works to get a recording, it was worth the wait (Note, this was recorded in 1998.). This is a nice group of early Britten pieces and worth a listen. Here’s hoping BB gets the same kind of renaissance that Shostakovich received in the late 1990s which continues to this day! (Note, for good reason – he’s fucking awesome!)
There is not a lot of music written for two pianos – at least in the mainstream repertoire – but this recording is the cream of the crop. Highly recommended!
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – Paul Griffiths
Challenge Of The Two-Piano Medium
From Debussy to Legeti and beyond, composers in the twentieth century have been attracted to the two-piano medium by the strict rhythm it imposes, by the complexity of keyboard texture and harmony it makes possible, and also for practical reasons.
Stravinsky and Bartok, for instance, were both in difficult times writing pieces they could perform with members of the family: Stravinsky’s younger son Soulima was emerging as a concert pianist; Bartok’s work was composed for himself and his second wife, Ditta Pasztory.
Stravinsky wrote the first movement of his concerto in 1931, but then the Duo concertant and “Persephone” intervened before the work was completed in 1934-35. In a lecture given before the first performance in Paris on November 21, 1935, the composer justified his title on the grounds that here “two pianos assume a concertante role in relation to one another,” and observed that their “concertante contest, by its very nature, requires a contrapuntal style.”
But the duel also results in a duet symphony, beginning with a concentrated sonata ‘Allegro in E minor’ around a more relaxed interlude in B-flat major. The eighteenth-century feel of that interlude is differently continued in the slow movement, which Stravinsky’s lecture relates to Classical nocturnes and cassations; the key is G major – with a central section in D flat.
Then the finale is in two parts, originally placed in reverse order: the definitive positioning means that the four variations precede their theme, which arrives in the prelude and is elaborated in the fugue. The variations are unstable in tonality, and their thematic distensions might suggest some early Shoenbergian influence, but the prelude and fugue are in D major, lifted to E major in the coda.
Bartok’s sonata, following in 1937, evidently pays its respects to Stravinsky, but to “Les noces” rather than to the concerto: the percussion complement is similar, with timpani and xylophone again married to the extreme ends of the keyboard, and there are similarities too of registration, of pulsed movement, and of block-style structuring.
However, Bartok combines this last feature with a driving forward sweep, especially in the first allegro. After the slow introduction it presents three themes, in different interpretations of 9/8, the first based on the emphatic rhythm of three crotchets followed by three quavers; the second a sophisticated Bulgarian dance with units of 4 + 2 +3, the third marked by initial leaping sixths and then iambic patterns.
The tightly developed recapitulation has the themes in the order 2 (in inversion), 3 (in fugue), 1 (as coda). After this comes a slow movement whose nocturnal imagery is not conventional but particular to Bartok, and a finale which bursts out of chromaticism into diatonic brightness, using a scale Bartok had found in Roumanian fold music (C, D, E, F sharp, G, A, B-flat, C). In form it is a sonata rondo, full of games with inversion, canon, and instrumentation.
The two Britten pieces, the Introduction and Rondo, alla burlesca and the Mazurka elegiaca, date from 1940 and 1941, respectively, the second being an elegy for Paderewski and a memory of his Chopin-playing.
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) – Introduction and Rondo all Burlesca, Op. 23 No. 1
Grave – 3:19
Allegro moderato, ma con spirito – Grave – Allegro con spirito – 6:02
Mazurka elegiaca, Op. 23 No. 2 – 7:12
Igor Stravinsky (1881-1972) – Concerto for 2 Pianos
Con moto – 6:31
Notturno (adagietto) – 5:24
Quattro variazioni – 4:29
Prelude e Fuga – 5:01
Bela Bartok (1881 – 1945) – Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion
Assai lento – Allegro molto – 15:09
Lento, Ma non troppo – 7:13
Allegro non troppo – 6:56
It’s hard to ever hear pieces like this performed live – so these recordings are golden and this one is one of the most golden. Dueling pianists have so much fun in these concerts just having each other to play off of – I’m surprised this music isn’t more popular – like the piano bars where it’s so much more fun with two pianos! Plus, man, that Bartok first movement with the JUMP SCARES 50 years before Texas Chainsaw Massacre is just awesome.
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra – Conducted by Norman Del Mar (Two Poems For Orchestra, Gloriana)
BBC Symphony Orchestra – Conducted by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (Passacaglia, Sinfonia Da Requiem, Cantus)
Recorded at various English venues from 1977-1981.
I know the star of this disc is Benjamin Britten, but I have to say I think the star here is Frank Bridge’s Tone Poem #1 – a real charmer – (I can hear you all screaming “But ‘Passacaglia!’) – maybe my head needed something really pleasant to listen to – and it did not disappoint.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – John Mayhew – 1995.
This record celebrates the music of Britten and his mentor and teacher Frank Bridge, and ends with a tribute to his memory.
Frank Bridge studied composition under Stanford and became an accomplished viola player and conductor; when Britten was 14, Bridge gave him private lessons in composition and became a valued friend.
Bridge’s Two Poems (after Richard Jefferies) are among his lesser-known works. The first is scored for a standard orchestra of double woodwind, four horns, timpani, harp and strings and is prefaced by these words from ‘The Open Air’: ‘Those thoughts and feelings which are not sharply defined, but have a haze of distance and beauty about them, are always the dearest.’
The second poem is for a larger orchestra which includes trumpets, tuba and percussion; at the head of the score are these words from ‘The Story of my Heart’: ‘How beautiful a delight to make the world joyous! The song should never be silent, the dance never still, the laugh should sound like water which runs for ever.’
Glorianawas written for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and first staged at Covent Garden on 8th June 1953. Set in the last years of the reign of Elizabeth I, the opera is a skillful mix of Tudor idioms and rhythms and Britten’s own unmistakable style.
Some time after its first performance, Britten arranged an orchestral suite from the opera. First comes The Tournament, then Late Song whose optional tenor voice is usually taken by the oboe; the Courtly Dances are often heard independently, and the final movement is Gloriana moritura.
Peter Grimes was the first English opera to gain international footing and met with phenomenal success at its first performance at Sadler’s Wells in June 1945.
The Passacagliais played between scenes in the second act; the theme depicts Grimes’ fall from grace and is repeated by bass instruments against variations played by the solo viola, which represents the apprentice – innocent, silent and fearful.
Sinfonia da Requiem was written ‘in a terrible hurry’ in 1940 while Britten was still in America. He wrote that it was ‘just as anti-war as possible’ and dedicated it to the memory of his parents; friends and loved ones living under threat in wartime England must have been in his mind as well.
First comes a slow marching lament with three motifs. Britten described the central movement as ‘a form of Dance of Death;’ it has a contrasting central section. The final Requiem Aeternum suggests a waves on a remote seashore and recalls a theme from the Lacrymosamovement.
The music of Arvo Part has only recently become widely know outside his native Estonia. Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten is scored for string orchestra and a single bell, and is based on a descending minor scale played simultaneously at three different speeds at the start. This was its first UK performance.
Part greatly regretted not having met Britten, for whose music, he had a deep regard and respect. He wrote that ‘I had just discovered Britten for myself and begun to appreciate the purity of his music.’
Norman Del Mar
The English conductor, teacher and writer Norman del Mar specialized in late romantic and English repertoire. He was frequently seen at the BBC Promenade Concerts and was Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from 1960-65.
He conducted all the major British orchestras and was well-known throughout Europe, especially in Scandinavia. His writing includes a study of Richard Strauss and various books on conducting and the orchestra. He was awarded the CBE in 1975 and died in 1994.
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was born in Moscow in 1931, the son of two famous musicians. In 1951, following studies at the Moscow Conservatoire, he worked at the Bolshoi, where he conducted operas by Britten and Prokofiev; he was principal conductor of the Bolshoi from 1964 to 1970. His London debut was with the visiting Bolshoi Ballet in “The Sleeping Beauty” at Covent Garden in 1956. He was appointed chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1978 before leaving for Vienna in 1981.
The late Romantic and contemporary repertoire is of great interest to him, and he conducted a wide range of English music while he was with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Having made over 500 commercial recordings, he continues to conduct worldwide, to promote contemporary music and to teach, compose and to play piano duets with his wife Viktoria Postnikova. (Post-notes note: He died in 2018.)
Frank Bridge – Two Poems For Orchestra
No. 1: Andante moderato e semplice – 7:45
No. 2: Allegro con brio – 4:14
Benjamin Britten – Gloriana
The Tournament – 3:53
The Lute Song – 4:24
The Country Dances – 9:20
Gloriana Moritura – 6:47
Benjamin Britten – Passacaglia from ‘Peter Grimes’ – Opus 33b
Passacaglia – (8:00)
Benjamin Britten – Sinfonia Da Requiem, Opus 20
Lacrymosa – 8:03
Dies irae – 4:52
Requiem aeternam – 5:05
Arvo Part – Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten
Cantus – 9:33
Discs like this one, curated “hits” attempting to pull together a theme (a tribute to Britten) are always kind of hard to write about. These are great recordings by really strong orchestras and legendary conductors. No complaints here – but also not much to say.
Performed by: Brindisi String Quartet (Jacqueline Shave – Violin; Patrick Kiernan – Violin; Katie Wilkinson – Viola; Jonathan Tunnell – Cello).
Recorded at: St. Silas Church, Kentish Town, London – June 1991.
Recordings made with financial assistance from the Frank Bridge Trust.
While my Emily’s Music Dump music collection only has Volume 2 of the Complete Frank Bridge String Quartets (No.’s 2 and 4), I get a pretty good idea of all four based on this CD – and I like them – they’re lush with an undercurrent of sorrow (regardless of the muffled sound quality and poor production values).
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – Anthony Payne – 1991.
Frank Bridge’s String Quartets
Bridge left what is arguably the most intensely personal and richly varied legacy of chamber music by any 20th-century British composer. His dialectical methods and civilized artistry were perfectly suited to the medium, and every step in his extraordinary stylistic development can be charted through his contributions to the medium.
The peak of this output is represented by the four string quartets, which encapsulate the four main stylistic periods into which his work can be seen to fall. They present a complete portrait of the composer in all his technical mastery and expressive daring.
The First Quartet, named the Bolognafollowing its success there in a competition in 1906, is the composer’s first large-scale work of real identity, and it brings to a peak his early preoccupation with the string quartet medium, capitalizing on the experience gained from writing the PhantasyString Quartet (1905) and the two sets of salon pieces, Novelletten(1904) and Idylls(1906).
It is a work that tells us much about the newly emergent composer, an exceptionally adroit craftsman for a 25-year-old at this period in English music, yet also cautious in what he expects of his players and listeners. There is a revealing lack of those knotty incidents in melody and texture which would suggest the young composer coming to grips with an individual vision.
We can perhaps conclude that Bridge was the type of artist whose creative personality was initially founded on a natural gift for composition and a strong feeling for good taste, rather than on a burning sense of his own uniqueness as a human being. That was only to develop later.
Bridge’s skill was in advance of all his contemporaries at this time, but his first consideration was accessibility and practicality – admirable tenets. If harnessed to pressure of vision, but dangerous when given over-riding importance, compelling the composer to use familiar tags, explore well-charted emotional territories, and smooth all corners and edges.
In this way growth can be hindered, and it is not surprising that some saw the composer as ‘too professional’ in his methods. Luckily for his art, Bridge later developed a strong curiosity about styles and techniques outside his immediate world, and allowed his growing store of emotional experience to connect with his compositional mastery; but this is not prefigured in his early music.
Despite these considerations, however, the First Quartet is still an admirable achievement. The slow movement, a ‘song without words,’ and the gracious scherzo and trio are redolent of Bridge’s salon style, but the opening sonata structure announces the composer’s wider aims. It was a mistake, perhaps, to treat the easy-going second subject at length in the development prior to extending it even further during the recapitulation, but the evolution of new material by combining first- and second-subject motives marks a real structural achievement, and the spaciousness of the movement as a whole shows Bridge’s early sense of musical architecture.
This, rather than the invention of immediately memorable individual incidents, was always to be the main embodiment of his thought. Both the intervallic content of the opening theme, for example, and its rhythmic outline prove to be motivically fruitful, and already we find first-movement material clinching paragraphs in the third and fourth movements – a characteristic unifying process.
Bridge’s first mature chamber music masterpiece, the Second String Quarter (1915), still has ties with the past, perhaps because ideas for the work had germinated over a long period, or else because the medium encouraged him to rely on the well-tried methods of contrapuntal discourse which were linked to his previous style.
The chromatic language shows a considerable advance over that of the work’s predecessor, however, and if the opening subject is related in its smoothly flowing phrases and in the unclouded diatonicism of its top line to Bridge’s earlier manner, the tightly organized chromatic part-writing that supports it, while lacking the acute tensions of later years, marks a new complexity of thought.
There is still a tendency to make spacious and practically unvaried counterstatements – the first movement’s second subject is typical – but there is also a new inclination to develop and vary when repeating. Again, textures throughout the quartet are motivically saturated in a way that presages his late style, and thematic evolution and integration are developed to a new pitch. Thus, the insistent triplets of the scherzo’s main subject evolve new subsidiary themes which in their turn are transformed into the tenderly lyrical andante of the trio, while the finale remains unsurpassed for its preoccupation with by now familiar processes.
A wistful molto adagio preface which totally transforms the first movement’s second subject launches, in a moment of magical sonority, one of Bridge’s sonata arch-forms. All the principal themes can be traced back to previous material and the two main subjects are combined in counterpoint immediately before the final coda. This brilliant movement, with its unbroken flood of ideas varied by contrasting colors and textures, represents the kind of music Bridge must have been working towards for years, and the Second String Quartet as a whole can be accounted one of the composer’s finest achievements.
The first work to show Bridge’s late manner in full flight, all impurities filtered out, the implications of his recently framed ideas completely realized, is the Third String Quartet. Completed in 1926, this is music which approaches the world of the Second Viennese School in its radical procedures, while remaining utterly personal in tone.
The first movement’s first subject is typical of the kind of energetic lyricism in which the quartet abounds: the sense of linear growth is as strong as ever, but the subtle web of tensions which binds the dislocated phrases together is far removed from the old flowing cantabile, as is the way in which all 12 chromatic notes are kept in play.
In the vertical aspects of his textures, Bridge approaches a Schoenbergian pantonality, but the lack of semi-tonal dissonance in the chord-spacing and the tendency to select whole-tone and dominant formations gives an individual flavor. Harmonies of this kind are found in the middle-period works, but the speed with which they are now juxtaposed, and the freedom of the linear writing, dictate a totally different logic and create a new sound-world.
The harmonic texture is further extended by the introduction of less orthodox chord structures. The superimposition of tritones and fourths favored by the Viennese School becomes a new characteristic, as do tense Bartokian chords formed from interlocking major and minor thirds.
The structure of the quartet’s three movements shows an increasing richness and complexity of thought, and main material often appears after a period of assembly and preparation, as in the first movement’s slow introduction. Formally, the whole work is dominated by modifications of the sonata principle – arch-shaped in the first movement and with a rondo refrain in the finale. (It is indicative of the fertility of Bridge’s invention that the abundance of material in the finale still leaves room for additional development of the main first-movement themes.)
An examination of the micro-structure of the quartet reveals startling facts for an English work of the 1920s. Like Schoenberg before him, Bridge realized the significance of a pervasive motive working as a support for the developing argument in the absence of orthodox tonality. He extended the principle to the point of integrating vertical and horizontal aspects of the music, and tracing the motive connections between successive phrases and incidents in the work. One is irresistibly reminded of the tightly packed motive development in pre-12 note works by Schoenberg and Berg.
The elaborately figured and combative energy of the Third Quartet’s outer movements, and the sad, uneasy half-lights of its central intermezzo, inform much of the work of Bridge’s maturity, and the Fourth Quartet (1937), perhaps the peak of his writing in the oeuvre, resembles its predecessor in several respects.
There is a similar vein of lyrical energy, and the central movement is again a wistful intermezzo. But it is now in the finale that a slow introduction leads, via an assembly of motives, to a definitive thematic statement, and its rondo structure presses to a conclusion of hard-won optimism, contrasting with the melancholy into which the Third Quartet descends. In more general terms, the language has moved away from the expressionist richness of its predecessor: a more classical vision is outlined by the concentrated statements, concise transitions, and increase economy of texture.
At the same time, there is room enough for lyrical growth and the first movement’s second subject can afford counter-statements, albeit in varied forms, which remind us of Bridge’s early expansive vein. There is also space for the obligatory references to the first-movement material as the work closes.
In its harmonic world the Fourth Quartet is the most radical of all Bridge’s works, and its preoccupation with the more open intervals – fourths, fifths, major thirds and ninths – gives a new textural personality, uncomprisingly dissonant and bracing. The old obsession with the interlocking thirds has left its mark, but the composer’s harmonic resources are becoming increasingly wide-ranging, and the masterly way in which he saturates the texture of the finale with fifths, the interval of optimism and tonal orientation, using overtone structures to suggest a high norm of polytonal dissonance, typifies the new freedom.
The quartet’s opening sonata structure is far more concise than its counterpart in the Third Quartet, yet it manages to encompass as many changes of pace, mood and texture, welding and integrating them through the fierce heat and energy of its compressed processes. Plunging immediately into a maelstrom of gritty, motivic activity, it as quickly becomes subdued for a largamentetransformation before launching out animatedly once more on transitional material.
The formal compression is made possible by the extreme concentration of the motive work and the tight developmental web of the texture. In common with the general terseness of thought, the working-out section proper is short and the recapitulation literal, apart from the omission of counterstatements and movements of expansion. This leaves the way clear for the coda to broaden the movement’s formal horizon, with two brief but unerringly judged processes – a further short development of first subject material and a tender postlude which neatly balances the largamentetreatment of the first subject in the exposition by similarly transforming the second subject.
If the intermezzo opens in a wistful vein like that of its counterpart in the Third Quartet, the mood is soon broken up by lively bursts of grotesquerie. In fact, this quasi-menuetto, like much else in the work, is really without expressive precedent in Bridge’s music; in common with certain movements in the Viennese classical repertory it combined toughness of thought with an apparently capricious and divertimento-like manner.
The minuet and trio form, for instance, is enriched by sonata elements; there is the suggestion of a second subject in the main section, and the trio is a development of the first subject and introductory material, while the recapitulation omits the second subject but richly extends and contrapuntally works the first, including a reference to the first movement’s second subject.
Finally, a compressed structure is subtly opened out by the little semiquaver phrases that link many of the paragraphs, giving a sense of freedom and improvisatory leisure.
The finale is certainly one of Bridge’s finest achievements, a fitting conclusion technically and emotionally to a great work. Typically its rondo form is of the utmost simplicity: A-B-A-B-A, which allows the two principle subjects of the first movement to be worked into the transition to the final rondo statement without overburdening the structure. This brief return to the darker forces of the work’s opening renders the rondotheme’s final winging development the more impressive in its spiritual courage.
Brindisi String Quartet
The London-basedBrindisi Quartet was formed at Aldeburgh in 1984.
Already an established name with listeners to BBC Radio 3, they are increasingly well known on the continent through their frequent overseas visits. Their growing reputation as one of Britain’s most exciting string quartets has led to many festival appearances, including Aldeburgh, where their close association resulted in a residency in 1990.
Whilst firmly rooted in the classical tradition, they are committed to exploring contemporary music and have had a number of works written for them by leading composers.
Frank Bridge – String Quartet No. 2 in G Minor
Allegro ben moderato – 9:18
Allegro vivo – andante con moto – 6:07
Molto adagio – allegro vivace – 8:35
Frank Bridge – String Quartet No. 4
Allegro energico – 10:32
Quasi minuetto – 4:17
Adagio ma non troppo – allegro con brio – 6:23
Alas, it appears the Brindisi String Quartet is no longer together (this recording was 30 years ago for Pete’s Sake!) – but at least we still have them rockin’ that 1986 photo! I wish the recording was better… recorded and not so muddled – and I really wish those liner notes above weren’t so long and BORING!
Performed by: The Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra & Camerata Silesia Singers Ensemble
Conducted by: Christian Von Borries
Recorded at the Concert Hall of the Polish National Symphony Orchestra in Katowice, Poland – October 1994.
Glenn Branca’s Symphony No. 9 was commissioned by Freunde Guter Music Berlin for their 10th anniversary. The first performance took place during the U.S. Arts Festival Berlin on July 13th, 1993, at the Parochialkirche by the Moravian Philharmonic conducted by Christian von Borries.
Based on the notes entered below, I was expected a bat-shit crazy cacophony of crap – but when I listened to it for the first time in years, it comes across as a thoughtful (or thoughtless) droning of interconnected ideas.
A bullet-hole big as a harvest moon, tattered open, torn & bleeding in a royal blue metallic scrim of a sky limned lattice-like intricate nerve-grid. An unblinking iris, constant as consciousness, peers through the opening, silently rotating 360 degrees with imperceptible rhythmic precision. A distant hum undulating from distant horizons. The fibrillating murmur of ghosts and angels massed together in the shifting mist.
The apocalypse is over. This is what comes after.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES – Tim Holmes, New York City, March 1995
L’eve Future. As it turns out, a pun.
At first, it intimates the precipice before tomorrow, a shadowy glimpse behind the veil, the night before the morning after. Read aloud, phonetically, it suggests the question: if, “in the late 20th century the im-possible becomes possible,” then we could we leave the future & go somewhere else instead?
All corners of the culture, from the pundits of Wired to the Speaker of the House, are screeching evangelist visions of a neo-biological high-tech global utopian hive. The planet itself is already shrouded in a crypto-neurological myelin sheath, the better to transmit pornography & “information” from PC to PC over the phone lines. The only thing standing between right-this second and no-reason -to-ever-leave-the-house is bandwidth.
[Before this rant spirals any further, the following disclaimer – 1): Glenn Branca, an early and rabidly enthusiastic proponent of cyberpunk, cannot, by any stretch, be called tech-nophobic (he uses a computer as a compositional tool and has been interviewed by Mondo 2000).]
In order to make a tag like “genius” stick, the following must be in place: 1) you gotta invent (or “discover”) something; 2) the influence of the work must extend beyond genre and / or field of endeavor (i.e., you don’t have to be a scientist to be affected by Thomas Edison, you don’t even have to know who he was; 3) genius affects history & is (preferably) unpredictable.
Glenn Branca is arguably, if not irrefutably, the first human since Jimi Hendrix (who I’m still not convinced was not some kind of extraterrestrial) to do something radically new with electric guitar.
Uncovering the harmonic series woven into Nature, he created tuning systems & built instruments to amplify these complex mathematical truths, assembled electric guitar orchestras, structured the pieces in classical symphonic forms, & troweled on the overtones so loud & thick & dense that the roaring cascades of pure sound whorled and whoomed with mushroom cloud wind-tunnel ferocity, every molecule saturated zig-zag harmonics colliding pinwheels like atom-smashing acceleration chamber in every cilia & it felt like the DNA double helixes were being ripped apart, nerve cells erupting in ecstasis des and don’t think for two seconds that these all-too-rare performances didn’t leave an indelible imprint on the future of electric music & apprentices in acoustic phenomena…
And now, I’m gonna roller blade out on a big limb & announce my belief that Symphony No. 9 is the most drastic work in the Branca canon.
For it is here, in the 9th (traditionally, from Beethoven to Mahler, the most mystical of symphonic #’s, the one that foretells death & the afterlife: Glenn’s already written, recorded, & performed his 10th so he’s beaten the jinx & broken another tradition) that Glenn Branca, of all composers, breaks Josef Haydn’s “Sonata For Orchestra” routine (even Branca’sguitar symphonies have “movements”), collapsing the original symphonic functions of prelude, interlude, and postlude into an undulating extended moment (a split-second in eternity unfolding over the course of approximately 50 minutes) of impossible contradictions at once expanding & contracting, ascending & descending, accelerating & decelerating, intervallic contrapuntal modules overlapping & splitting with the organic elegance & inevitability of mitosis on an intergalactic scale, sublime, enigmatic, and divine.
In 1983, I was playing guitar with Glenn on a chaotic North American Club & Arthouse Tour. Right before we went on in Boston, a woman in her sixties (whose name I couldn’t remember if you offered me a thousands dollars, although for that kind of money I’d like & make something up) came backstage & introduced herself as an old college chum of my mother’s.
Now this woman had no idea who Glenn Branca was & she certainly wasn’t a rock & roll person & basically she was somebody who knew me from the family Xmas cards, & she was a spy sent by mom to report back whether I was getting enough to eat & that kind of thing. “I can only stay a minute,” she explained because her husband was waiting outside in the car & they were going to dinner, but she was gonna see what we all looked like on-stage.
So, the Glenn Branca Ensemble came out & performed “Indeterminate Activity of Resultant Masses,” the piece that had John Cage frothing to journalists about what horrible fascist music Glenn was writing & if this was the future, then he sure as hell didn’t want to live there.
To make a long story interminable, we finished the 50 minute piece that begins with a series of guitar overtones & builds to insane crescendos of skull-melting bone-shattering volume & when I came off-stage, the friend of my mother’s still there with her mouth hanging open & this look of post-orgiastic religious after glow in her eyes & I said, “Isn’t your husband outside?” & this look of horror broke through the trance & she sputtered “Omigod, that’s right!” & ran out the door.
I break into this anecdote to make a couple of points. It was then that I realized that people who knew how to listen to music were perfectly capable of “getting” what Glenn was up to, & I also think that what is so heartbreakingly subtle in “L’eve Future” is a quality underlying every piece he’s ever written (at least every piece I’ve ever heard that’s he’s written).
After a lot of Glenn’s performances, people report various kinds of Gnostic sonic visitations, phantom sounds that mysteriously appear in the music chimes, keyboards, horns, choral effects of vast proportions.
In his 9th Symphony, Glenn Branca has literally scored those voices: the piece has, in some sense, hundreds of movements playing off one another, the way the harmonics used to, to create a totality of monumental proportions.
Listening to a tape of “L’eve Future” in my office, a co-worker (who happens to be familiar with Glenn’s work & reputation as a gris eminence to a whole generation of rock-kids) said the music was both “sad” and “scary.” I maintained that Symphony No. 9 was, in a way, (disclaimer 2) what Glenn’s music had always been underneath it all.
Music, unlike any other human endeavor, creates its own temporality. Unlike life, its transience is internal, an illusion, generated by the duration the listener’s experience. Unlike language, music can only exist in an eternal present tense: the verb is the prism of language, there are no verbs in music.
In Glenn Branca’s Symphony No. 9, the uncanny simultaneous tension & repose of the music blending wordless choral lines and the instrumental arrangements suggest, without ever stating, openings and closings all at once.
I once suggested to Glenn – a guy who once told me, during a five-and-a-half-hour discussion of the True Construct of Reality, that he really liked reading Nietzsche because he’d finally found someone who was maybe smarter than he was – (Disclaimer 3) that God wrote the music (the Amadeus theory) which, of course, led to an extremely convoluted (on both parts) theological debate, & if “God” bugs you just substitute Nature, although I find it hard to completely swallow the idea that a True Atheist would write a prayer as profound & detailed & rigorous & passionate & beautiful as “L’eve Future,” which sounds like, among a thousand other things that’ve never been written, as elegy for the 21st Century on the occasion of its passing.
“L’eve Future” literally occurs somewhere outside time, a place beyond the eternal. And, when its over, without warning, it simply stops…
Christian von Borries was solo flute at the Opernhaus Zurich when he decided to start conducting. He studied with Gerhard Samuel in Cincinnati and Nicolaus Harnoncourt in Salzburg: he also consulted Carlos Kleiber. Since then, Christian von Borries is working free lance. He conducted first and created performances of Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg, and Berg. He is also active with conceptual concert series and radio happenings.
Symphony No. 9 (L’eve Future) – 47:15
Freeform – 11:43
Shockingly, I could not find a performance of Glenn Branca’s Symphony No. 9 on the internet… at all… anywhere. So here is an interesting interview he gave a few years before his death – and I threw in a performance of the insane Symphony No. 16.
I mean, not much more to add – other than, what the hell are those liner notes? I’m not sure I understand any of it other than Glenn Branca seemed to believe he was the smartest person every – except for Nietzsche – which can be interpreted as… disturbing.
“I am staying in Kamten again, at Portschach am See (railway-station Maria-Worth). It would be really lovely if you could direct your steps this time to my direction; our nest here is only a friendly stop on the way, but from here you can take the most delightful trips, to the Ampezzo valley, Grossglockner, Fusch, etc.”
These words, written by Johannes Brahms in June 1879 to his friend Adolf Schubring, a writer on musical subjects, were typical of the composer in a double sense. On the one hand, he loved the presence or the company of familiar friends even during his summer vacation, and on the other, he always chose places of particular natural beauty for his holidays.
Brahms loved the countryside and being surrounded by nature which acted as a stimulus for him and where he could “go for walks” with his musical ideas, as he called it. Therefore it is not surprising that in the summer months the majority of his loveliest Lieder and instrumental compositions were written.
As early as 1877, when he was in Portschach for the first time, he had written to his friend the Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick: ‘Lake Worth is virgin country, the air is so full of melodies that one must be careful not to step on one…’
The same applies to the summers following, in which not only Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major was written (1878), but also the First Violin Sontata in G Major, Opus 78, which was finished in the summer of 1879, also in Portschach. Whether this G Major Sonata was really Brahms’ first violin sonata can, however, no longer be exactly established. Much evidence seems to indicate that it had at least three predecessors, but these, like other early compositions of Brahms, fell victim to the relentless self-criticism of his genius.
With the Violin Sonata in G Major, however, Brahms realized a novel concept of sonata form. It is not so much the integration of variations into the principles of dialectic form which is meant by this – Arnold Schoenberg was to be the first to recognize the forward-looking tendency of this integration – but rather the conceptual unity of the three movements based on a dotted rhythm motif.
The dotted rhythm appears at the beginnings of the opening Vivace ma non troppo and the Allegro molto moderato Finale which quotes the theme of the ‘Regenlied’ Opus 59, No.3 (based on a poem by Klaus Groth); the dotted rhythm also characterizes the Adagio middle section thereby establishing a connection between movements.
Thus the Finale unfolds almost by itself, for the quotation from ‘Regenlied’ which was set to music in 1873 (‘Surge, rain, surge down, awake once more the dreams in me which I dreamed as a child…’) is in both contexts the expression of contemplative, almost nostalgic reminiscence.
But as if that were not enough, Brahms brings back the cantabile Adagio idea, slightly changed, as the second couplet in the Rondo Finale and thus enriches the final movement with a restrained warmth and a wishful tenderness which make the music ‘seem to smile through its tears,’ to quote Karl Geiringer.
Intimacy, though of quite a different kind, can also be heard in the Second Violin Sonata in A Major, Opus 100, which Brahms composed in 1886 in Hofstetten near Thun on Lake Thun. It was apparently written ‘while expecting the arrival of a dear friend,’ namely the young alto Hermine Spies, whom Brahms had heard for the first time in 1883 as the soloist in his Alto Rhapsody.
How deep his feelings were for the singer, in artistic and in human terms, is shown not only by the abundance of his Lied production in the subsequent years but also in the A Major Sonata for Piano and Violin. In composing this sonata Brahms must have spent a lot of time deep in thought about her, whom he admired to the point of adoration, which explains the serene basic mood of the music almost without further comment being necessary.
Further comment is also hardly necessary to explain the use of several melodic phrases from the setting of Klaus Groth’s ‘Komm bald’ (Come soon) Opus 97 No. 5 in the opening Allegro amabile, into which the musician also wove the opening motif of his Lied ‘Wie Melodien zieht es mir leise durch den Sinn’ (Like melodies running gently through my mind), Opus 105, No. 1, as second subject.
For the middle movement Brahms here combines the slow movement and scherzo into an Andante tranquillo in five sections, in which a tender opening idea alternates several times with a buoyantly contrasting Vivace. The final word in the sonata belongs to an Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andante) in allabreve time, a broadly pulsating Rondo finale, in which the piano adds chromatically contemplative notes to the flowing cantabile character of the movement, without, however, seriously affecting the basically relaxed mood.
The Third Violin Sonata in D Minor, Opus 108, was also written in the summer of 1886 on Lake Thun, but it was not definitively completed until 1888. This sonata was also published a year later under the title ‘Sonata for Pianoforte and Violin,’ not the other way round, but which means Brahms wished to indicate the fact that both instruments are treated on equal terms.
This was particularly important in the case of the D Minor Sonata, since it replaces the intimacy of its predecessors with a concertante approach, which would otherwise have been misunderstood. For here the piano part also lays claims to virtuosity and leads to the assumption that during the composition of the work Brahms was already thinking of his friend, the pianist and conductor Hans von Bulow, to whom he did in fact dedicate this Opus 108.
The virtuosity of its character also explains the four-movement form of the sonata, which is filled with passionate, almost dramatic impetus. This evolves in the introductory Allegro in traditional sonata form, but with an unorthodox development section, which combines the bariolage technique of the violin with an insistent pedal point from the piano, the left hand of which plays an uninterrupted A for 46 bars.
An expressively sensitive Adagio in D Major and a strangely pallid, almost gloomy Scherzo in F Sharp Minor create a strongly contrasting pair of inner movements, which, however, in the cycle construction of the work function merely as an intermezzo.
For the Finale turns out to be not only the point towards which the work is directed, but in fact the true center of the work, the significance of which Brahms emphasized by the unusual length – 337 bars – and the choice of sonata form.
The tempestuousness of the passionato character of this Presto agitato are hardly affected by occasional episodes and indicate an inner tension which does not diminish into the very last bar.
Johannes Brahms – Sonata in G Major, Opus 78
Vivace ma non troppo – 10:11
Adagio – 7:20
Allegro molto moderato – 8:29
Johannes Brahms – Sonata in A Major, Opus 100
Allegro amabile – 7:57
Andante tranquillo – Vivace – 6:25
Allegretto grazioso (quasi Andante) – 5:33
Johannes Brahms – Sonata in D Minor, Opus 108
Allegro – 7:44
Adagio – 4:34
Un poco presto e con sentimento – 2:47
Presto agitato – 5:51
Johannes Brahms – Scherzo in C Minor, WoO posthum 2 (1853)
Allegro – 5:46
Just an all-time classic recording from two all-time classic musicians interpreting the work of an all-time classic composer – live without a net!
Historical Recording dates: 1972 (Brahms) and 1960 (Beethoven)
I mean, I don’t know, these are fine historical Soviet recordings but seem pretty cold (war) – maybe it’s because of the time – Leningrad Orchestra in the 1960s and 1970s.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES:
The brilliant violinist David Oistrakh, born in Odessa on September 30, 1908, and died in Amsterdam on October 24, 1974, was a pupil of the teacher Stoliarski, who also contributed to the training of Nathan Milstein.
In 1926, Oistrakh gave his first performance in Odessa and in 1937 was awarded first prize at the Eugene Ysa of Belgium Competition.
He achieved success at a very early age. The international public was overwhelmed by this young man who possessed such skill that he was able to overcome every technical difficulty with the greatest east by conveying the violin’s melody in a beautiful and profound way.
The nobility, sincerity and fidelity of the style of ‘King David’ (as he was soon called) were outstanding from an early age. Oistrakh played a violin made by Stradivarious in 1706. He was the person to whom the two Violin Concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich, Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by Sergey Prokofiev and the respective Concertos by Khachaturian and Kabalevsky, were dedicated.
The pianist Lev Oborin was born in Moscow on September 11, 1907, and died in Moscow on January 5, 1974. His teachers were Elena Gnesina and Konstantin Igumnov.
In 1927, he was awarded the Chopin Prize at the first Warsaw Competition and the following year, he took up the post of Professor of Piano at the Moscow Conservatoire. There he taught, amongst others, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Ekaterina Noitskaya. Under Oborin they extended the analytical restraint of their expression and exquisite legato.
Both instrumentalists play together frequently and, accompanied by the violinist Svjatoslav Knuschevitsky (Petrovsk, 1908 – Moscow, 1963), they form a wonderful trio which will always remain in the annals of Russian musical history.
Johannes Brahms – Concerto For Violin And Orchestra, in D Major, Opus 77
Allegro non troppo – 22:37
Adagio – 9:19
Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – 8:29
Ludwig Van Beethoven – Sonata For Violin And Piano No. 8, in G Major, Opus 30 / 3
Allegro assai – 6:41
Tempo di menuetto, ma molto moderato e grazioso – 8:46
Allegro vivace – 3:37
This Leningrad Masters disc issued in the early-1990s from the Soviet Archives is not very well mastered and is definitely not the cleanest recording – but the performers are in top form – even though, as I said up top, it left me a little cold.
Jonathan Cohler (Clarinet); Judith Gordon and Randall Hodgkinson (Pianos)
Jonathan Cohler is definitely the go-to American Clarinetist for Brahms, Vaughan Williams and Milhaud chamber music.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (Adrian Jack, 1994):
When Brahms first heard the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld play, he had not written anything for a year. Muhlfeld must have made a big impression – for Brahms wrote a trio and a quintet for him immediately, in 1891, and two sonatas three years later.
He accompanied Muhlfeld himself in the first performances of the sonatas, and gave him his own performing fees whenever they played the works together subsequently; he also granted Mulfeld all the performing rights fees in his lifetime.
Both sonatas really put the clarinet through its paces, but the First is perhaps more varied as well as more dramatic than the Second. The Second has its own mellow appeal, though it packs power into its central movement and the closing pages of its Finale.
Brahms also made alternative versions of the sonatas, for violin and viola. The viola versions are considered more satisfying and leave the piano parts unaltered; nevertheless, Brahms‘ great friend Joseph Joachim, who disliked arrangements as a rule, played the violin version of these sonatas many times.
Vaughan Williams originally wrote his Six Studies in English Folksong in 1925 for cello and piano. They were published with alternative parts for violin, viola or clarinet!
They are less like studies than reveries, and they are based very freely on existing songs.
Darius Milhaud was such a prolific composer he would not have been out of place in the 18th century, when composers wrote music to be used immediately rather than as a passport to immortality.
His Duo Concertant has the the impressive opus number of 351. He wrote it early in 1956 for the professor of clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire, though it has nothing of the academic about it.
Johannes Brahms – Sonata In F Minor, Opus 120 / 1
Allegro appassianato – 8:04
Andante, un poco adagio – 5:11
Allegreto graziosa – 4:19
Vivace – 4:59
Johannes Brahms – Sonata In E-Flat, Opus 120 / 2
Allegro amabile – 8:21
Allegro, molto appassianato – 5:23
Andante con moto – Allegro – 7:05
Vaughan Williams – Six Studies In English Folksong – 7:43
Milhaud – Duo Concertant – 6:24
I do love Brahms chamber music – and this a great sampling of virtuoso clarinet at its finest. And Mr. Cohler is quite the artist. Highly recommended for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Julliard String Quartet (Robert Mann & Joel Smirnoff, Violins; Samuel Rhodes, Viola; Joel Krosnick, Cello) & Walter Trampler, Viola
Recording Location: Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, NY, May 15-17, 1995.
These rarely-played chamber gems get the “Julliard” treatment to gorgeous effect but… actually, well-played doesn’t mean… exciting.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (Bruce Adophe, 1996):
Fifty years ago, in 1946, the Julliard String Quartet was formed by the 26-year-old Robert Mann, fresh out of the Army. Fifty years before that, in 1896, the 63-year-old Johannes Brahms, despondent over the recent death of Clara Schumann, composed Four Serious Songs (Op. 121)and Eleven Chorale Preludes (Op. 122).
Brahms, who died at 64, lived almost into the twentieth century. Although typecast as a forever-bearded Romantic god trapped in a remote pantheon called “The Three B’s,” the real Johannes Brahms was only a grandfather away from the generation that founded the original Julliard String Quartet.
Brahms is known to have said, “If we cannot write as beautifully as Mozart and Haydn, let us at least write as purely.” The comment discloses Brahms’ neoclassical bent and surely would have been taken as an anti-Wagner, anti-Liszt sentiment.
Liszt’s music was so utterly disliked by Brahms and Joseph Joachim (the great violinists who was the composer’s lifelong champion and sometime friend) that they used the word “lisztisch” to mean “damnable” in their letters.
In his String Quintet in F Major, Op. 88, composed in 1882, Brahms achieves a purity of form, voice-leading and counterpoint, which heralds a master composer in his maturity. The quintet opens with luminous nobility.
This quite soon gives way to a radiant, more intimate theme (related by the viola) clothed in a new key and a stunning new texture which no one but Brahms ever dreamed of: each instrument has its own special light – cello and second violin play pizzicato, but the cello divides the measure in two while the second violin plucks in six; the first violin plays eight notes to the bar while the first viola plays the tune in syncopated sixes; the remaining viola plays a counter-melody in four.
This kind of innovative rhythmic and textural design is a blueprint for much music of our century, suggesting even the polyrhythmic configurations of Elliott Carter (whose quartets the Julliard String Quartet has recorded). But the intricate musical web vanishes – before its complexity can register in the mind – into a simpler heartbeat patter, full of yearning.
The musical purity Brahms reverered is now clearly manifested as he explores these textures throughout the movement with mastery and deep feeling.
The dark, strring Grave ed oppassionato has enough solid mass to warrant an entire movement, yet Brahms employs it as a standard by which to discover the specific gravity of an Allegretto vivaco and a Presto.
These startling juxtapositions – and their subtle harmonic interrelatedness – seem to have been inspired by Beethoven, who, especially in his late string quartets, discovered uncharted areas of human expression through the investigation of extreme contrast. The underlying metaphor is that of our ultimate aloneness (Grave) in the midst of the busy world (Allegretto vivace and Presto).
The Beethoven connection can also be heard in the finale, which opens with two abrupt, stabbing chords in the manner of Beethoven’s string quartets Op. 59, No. 2, and the third movement of Op. 131.
Following the Beethovenian path still further, Brahms unfolds an uplifting fugue, announcing each entrance with those knifelike chords. Beethoven would not have rolled over but rather sat up straight (both images are problematic!) upon hearing Brahms’ tribute.
While the integration of fugue into sonata form conjures up Beethoven, fugal writing itself summons the spirit of Bach. When Brahms died, Joachim told the Neuen Freien Presse, “On the topmost peak stands Bach, the all-powerful, the incomparable, the creator, the great beginning. Mozart follows as the originator of new forms of beauty, and then comes – Brahms.”
The interviewer asked, “And Beethoven?”Joachim then firmly placed Brahms ahead of Beethoven.
In 1996 – as the new millennium approaches – we can understand the anxiety and exhilaration, the astounded concurrence of old and new, which accompanied the turn of the last century.
Claude Debussy, the prophet and pilot of musical modernism, was twenty-eight years old when, in 1890, Brahms composed the Quintet in G Major, Op. 111. It was the year that the Manhattan Building, the first entirely steel-frame building in the world, was erected in Chicago. At sixteen stories, it was (briefly) the world’s tallest building, earning the nickname “Hercules.”
Feeling the shifting winds, Brahms included a message with the manuscript of the quintet when he sent it to his publisher, Fritz Simrock: “With this letter you can bid farewell to my music – because it is certainly time to leave off…”
But the flowing Herculean architecture of Brahms’ Op. 111 Quintetwill surely outlast Chicago’s steel-framed edifices. In fact, far from giving the impression that its composer might soon retire, the opening of the G-Major Quintetexplodes into existence with a skyscraper of a first theme in the cello, set against a tempest in the remaining four instruments.
Brahms considered rewriting this opening passage to decrease the risk of the solo cello being drowned out. A draft exists in which the upper strings alternate their activity with rests, cutting the massive texture in half. The composer quickly returned to the original conception of the work, deciding that the rewrite sounded flimsy.
Brahms did not always want cellists to be heard, however. In a now famous story, Brahms was playing his own F-Major Cello Sonata with an unsatisfactory partner. The composer let loose at the piano with an enormous fortissimo, causing the cellist to shout over the music, “Maestro, I can’t hear myself at all,” to which Brahms countered, “Lucky for you!”
Brahms loved a full sound and was renowned for his rich, massive tone on the piano. The Julliard Quartet’s Robert Mann remembers a story once told by a musician whose father, many years earlier, had taken him to hear Brahms play his F-Minor Piano Quintet. The boy’s father leaned over just before the music started and whispered to his son, “Listen well to the strings in the opening unison passage because that will be the last time you can hear them at all!”
A friend of Brahms suggested to the composer that the high spirits in the Op. 111 Quintet may have been partially inspired by a public park in Vienna, known as the Prater. “You guessed it!” answered Brahms. “And the delightful girls there.”
If Brahms meant this last comment seriously, he would probably have been referring to the graceful second theme in the first movement, which beings in the violas and is soon passed to the violins – it is as fetching and enchanting a melody as any ever composed.
Brahms professed that his beautiful themes came to him in “instantaneous flashes,” which “quickly vanished,” sometimes before he could capture them on paper. He believed that “the themes that will endure in my music all appear to me in this way.”
Brahms did not mean that he was unconscious when composing, but that he experienced what he called a “semi-trance condition.” Explaining this concept to Joachim, Brahms stated, “You must realized that Milton, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Bach and Beethoven never wholly lost consciousness when they entered that border state.”
Of his own semi-trances, Brahms explained, “I always have a definite purpose in view before invoking the Muse and entering into such a mood.”Brahms decried music which did not achieve a balance between the spirtual and the intellectual plains.
He criticized, for example, the composer August Bungert, whose work was immensely popular throughout Europe in the 1890s, for composing only with the conscious mind.
Brahms predicted such music would soon “go into oblivion.” (He seems to have been coorect so far, although an unexpected Bungert festival is always a possibility given the current craze for thematic programming.)
There is certainly no shortage of inspired, entrancing melody in this quintet. In the Adagio, Brahms unveils another jewel – a sweet, sorrowful melody which abides sublimely on the first viola before the first violin appropriates it permanently.
The violin reveals three tragic visions of the theme (as opposed to the viola’s one). The viola makes a moving, cadenza-like plea towards the movements close, but the violins retain the poignant theme for a fourth and final utterance.
The Un poco allegrettoushers in another heart-stoppingly beautiful tune, this one quality prevails, giving way now and then to momentary disquiet. Here, and throughout this quintet, we find the Brahms so admired by Schoenberg for his ability to fully explore the complexity of a seemingly simple idea.
The five instruments are intricately engaged in imitative counterpoint that is rich without excess, at once elegant and luxurious.
The first viola seems to get an idea for the finale which the other instruments quickly realize is a good one. The Vivace ma non troppo prestotakes the listener on a thrilling ride through the Hungarian countryside. It may seem brief, but you’ll find it is just the right length if you try dancing to it (which you’ll want to do).
By the way, it turns out that Brahms did not give up composing quite as soon as he had expected. Soon after completing this quintet, he heard the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld play and suddenly found himself once again teeming with ideas, burning to compose.
Johannes Brahms – Quintet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 88
Allegro non troppo ma con brio – 11:19
Grave ed appassionato – Allegretto vivace Tempo 1 – Presto – Tempo 1 – 10:53
Allegro energico – Presto – 5:32
Johannes Brahms – Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111
Allegro non troppo, ma con brio – 12:48
Adagio – 6:26
Un poco allegretto – 6:13
Vivace ma non troppo presto – 5:00
Normally, Brahms’ chamber music is a can’t-miss-bing-bang-bong success. But after listening to this disc… all I feel is… meh. The answer is ‘meh.’ Not terrible, it’s fine… but… ‘meh.’
Yeah, um, no – there is nothing to say other than Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax play Brahms.
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (Bernard Jacobson, 1985):
Opus 38is not merely the first of Brahms’ cello sonatas: it was the first sonata he published for piano with any other instrument. The three surviving violin sonatas came much later and the two for clarinetlater still.
Apart from early essays that the fiercely self-critical composer destroyed, including a duet for cello and piano that he played in public when he was 18, the E minor sonata’s only partial predecessor was the C minor scherzo (or Sonatensatz) he contributed in 1853 to a composite sonata written jointly with Schumann and Albert Dietrich as a tribute to the great violinist Joseph Joachim.
If you think about the character of Brahms’ music throughout his life, and in particular about the qualities of color and texture that make it unmistakably Brahms, it is not surprising that, in 1865, he should have approached the chamber-sonata medium through the cello.
The idea that Brahms was indifferent to instrumental color is a misapprehension. The truth is, surely, that he was relatively uninterested in the more obvious and dazzling instrumental effects.
Consider, for instance, his extraordinary use of the piccolo in the Tragic Overture. This usually obstreperous instrument appears in only 15 of the work’s 429 measures – and then exclusively in mysterious pianissimo.
Rather than brilliance, it was warmth of tone that attracted Brahms. And thus it is the clarinet and the horn that he most favors among the woodwind and brass families, and the cello among the strings. In all four symphonies some of the most memorable string effects are those entrusted to the cellos.
Then there are notable solo passages like those in the slow movement of the Second Piano Concerto, not to mention the wonderfully idiomatic handling of the cello in the Double Concerto, where it not only shares the limelight with the traditionally more extrovert violin but often takes the leading role in thematic exposition.
Following this line of thought, we find also that nobody, probably, has ever written a more cello-ish cello sonata than Brahms’ E minor. Through the entire length of the work (written for and dedicated to his friend Dr. Joseph Gansbacher) it is the special dark, introspective quality of the instrument that is stressed.
The very first theme exploits its ability to sing a sonorous melody in the lowest register, and at no point in the three movements does the pitch of the cello writing rise high enough to demand the use of the treble clef.
Tone color aside, the E minor sonata is Brahmsian also in reflecting its composer’s Janus-like relation to music history. Brahms faced equally in two directions: toward the past, and toward the future.
Much of his influence on later music derives from the linear and rhythmic freedom of his style, which was to have an effect at least as far reaching as – and arguably healthier than – that of Wagner’s innovations in the harmonic sphere. But Brahms’ liberation of line and pulse, though new to the 19th century, stems from his enthusiasm for the music of a much more distant past, going back to the time of Palestrina and indeed beyond that to the earliest origins of German song.
With all its freshness of expression, this sonata has a certain almost self-consciously old-fashioned air. In the first movement, it is to be found in the unhurried deployment of traditional sonata-form elements, and, more intangibly, in the kind of legendary, “far away and long ago” feeling to the actual cut of the themes.
The other two movements are more specifically historical in reference, the one recalling the minuet style, the other adopting fugal patterns, and the two together constituting a pair of genre pieces evocative of the baroque sonata or suite.
Yet, even here, the backward look is closely related to a forward influence. It is movements like this quasi-minuet that furnish the clearest link between Mahler’s folkish Knaben Wunderhornvein and its medieval antecedents, and indeed the contrast of idioms between Brahms’ first two movements suggests a peaceable juxtaposition of past with present and future styles much like that of the corresponding movements in Mahler’s Second Symphony.
As Brahms matured, he turned away from formal displays of fugal erudition like those in the E minor sonata’sfinale, the Handel Variations for piano and German Requiem, and instead began to fuse the forms and harmonies of his sonata style more intimately with its contrapuntal elements.
Certainly the finale of the F major cello sonata, written in his Swiss summer retreat at Thun in 1886, wears its learning more lightly than its youthful predecessor. But formidably learned this sonata still is, whether in the polyphonic play and pitting of three groups against duple meter in the finale, or in the subtle rhythmic elisions of the scherzo, or in the piano’s breathtaking pp dolce augmentation of the main theme just before the end of the first movement’s development section.
It is not so much learning, however, as passion that strikes the listener first in this deceptively youthful music. The very beginning of the Allegro vivace immediately proclaims the contrast with the E minor sonata: here all is full-blooded romanticism, felt in the constant tumultuous undermining of the movement’s official 3/4 pulse, and articulated as early as the seventh and eighth measures by the devil-may-care leap to the cello’s topmost register.
If the older Brahms tended more and more to moderation, this sonata is a glorious exception, as the “vivace,” “passionata” and “molto” of its movement-headings already suggest. Perhaps, as in the Double Concerto written the following year, it was the return to his old love of the cello combined with the inspiration provided by the gifted young cellist Robert Hausmann that prompted this resurgence of expressive ardor.
It is evident also in the plangent pizzicatos and subsequent Klangfarben-like coloristic effects of the Adagio affettuoso and in that movement’s remote and Haydenesque setting in the flat supertonic key of F-sharp major.
A tangible link with the Double Concerto, incidentally, is to be found in the transition theme of the sonata’s first movement, which could almost be regarded as the concerto’s slow-movement theme set at a different melodic angle.
But the superb coup just before the movement’s end – this time a purely harmonic device that transmutes the last, literal restatement of the stirring subordinate theme into a tender valediction – is a stroke of genius that is all the sonata’s own.
Johannes Brahms – Sonata For Cello And Piano No. 1 In E Minor, Op. 38
Allegro non troppo – 14:43
Allegretto quasi Menuetto – 5:58
Allegro – 6:37
Johannes Brahms – Sonata For Cello And Piano No. 2 In F Major, Op. 99
Allegro vivace – 9:22
Adagio affettuoso – 7:45
Allegro passionato – 7:20
Allegro molto – 4:32:
Imagine you’re a cellist and a pianist and you’re trying to do some Brahms in your spare time and then freakin’ Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax come out and just stick the landing like it’s never been stuck before. That’s this recording!
Recorded at Concordia College – February 16, 17, 18 & 25, 1989
Jesus F-ing Christ, it’s chamber music by Brahms played by world-class musicians – is there a negative? NO!
ORIGINAL LINER NOTES (Dr. Joseph Braunstein, 1989):
Brahms And The Trio
Reviewing Brahms’ piano trios in the context of his oeuvre it is instructive to compare his relevant output with Beethoven’s. Beethoven began his official compositional activity with the set of three piano trios published as Op. 1.
They were actually not his first, for he had composed two trios in Bonn before. Hidden in Vienna, they surfaced only after his death and were never included in practical editions through almost two centuries.
Beethoven’s first piano trios originated before 1792 and his last, the Trio in B-flat, Op. 97, was composed around 1811-12, though published in 1816. To be sure he wrote a piece for piano, violin and cello probably around 1816 which was published in 1824 as Op. 121a.
This opus number is chronologically misleading. These are variations for a trio ensemble, not a standard trio in several movements. Evidently no circumstances occurred to prompt Beethoven to create a piano trio in his last decade of his life.
The case of Brahms is different. He had destroyed the works written in his youth. We do know whether a piano trio was among them. His first work of this category, the Trio in B Major, Op. 8 is the achievement of an accomplished composer who had three piano sonatas but no chamber music piece to his credit so far.
In contrast to Beethoven, Brahms assigned the piano an extraordinarily communicative role in his chamber music throughout his life. Op. 8was written in 1854 when he was twenty-one, while the Trio in A Minor, Op. 114 was composed in 1891, six years before his death at the age of sixty-four.
TRIO IN B MAJOR, OP. 8
Brahms sketched the Trio in B Major in the summer of 1853 when he journeyed on foot, with a walking staff and knapsack, along the Rhine from Gottingen to Hanover. Completed in 1854 it was published in Leipzig in November 1854. There were two private readings in Dusseldorf, one at the home of Clara Schumann with Brahms at the piano and Joseph Joachim on the violin.
The first public hearing occurred on November 27, 1855 at Dodworth Hall in New York. The performers were William Mason (1829-1908), a pupil of Moscheles and Liszt; Theodore Thomas (1835-1905), later conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and Carl Bergmann (1821-1876) who became conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Trio in B Major is a unique creation in view of the key and the architectural dimensions of its original shape. The choice of the very seldom used key of B Major justifies a brief note. Not counting the short Preludes and Fugues in B Majorof the Well Tempered Clavier, where the key of B Major was a foregone conclusion because of the didactic concept of the work, no large-scale composition, sonata, suite or concerto in B major by Bach, Carl Philippe Emmanuel Bach nor Handel exists. (Domenico Scarlatti’sK. 245, 246, 261 and 262 in B Major are not works in several movements.)
There are no sonatas, chamber music or orchestral compositions by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in B Major, Schubert broke the spell in his Piano Sonata in B Major, D 575, composed in 1817, published about 1844, which may have come to Brahms’ attention. The key of B major does not appear in larger works of Mendelssohn and Schumann either. Thus the trio of Brahms was the first important composition in B major without have B major successors of consequence.
This Trioconstitutes a unique case within Brahms’ oeuvre because of its length. Brahms was fond of the Trio, yet in the course of time had second thoughts about it. At a performance in Vienna in 1871, he insisted on a substantial cut in the first movement. Finally, he decided on a thorough revision which received its public try-out in Budapest in December 1889 with Brahms at the piano, the Hungarian violinist Jeno Hubay, and the cellist David Popper.
In composing the B Major Trio, Brahms had taken as a point of departure Schubert’s trios, which are of symphonic proportion. So is Brahms’ piece whose measure total of 1628 exceeds that of all his instrumental works. To give a drastic example the Third Symphony is “only” 839 measures long. Thus the reworking resulted in a considerable shortening.
Numerically the “New Edition” (Neue Ausgabe), as Brahms called the recomposed work, is 458 measures shorter and the contents are considerably different. The Trio was a creation of Brahms’ youth, while the revision represents the result of deliberations of a composer whose position in music history was definitely established.
The Neue Ausgabe is essentially a new composition, the retained Scherzonotwithstanding, and we know that Brahms enjoyed it as such. Thus the retained ops number 8 is misleading and the opus number 111 applied to the String Quintet in G Major of 1891 would be more appropriate chronologically. Between the Trioof 1854 and that of 1891 stands most of Brahms’ entire creative life.
The principal idea of the first movement (Allegro con brio, 4/4, cut time) not only generates the Scherzo idea which, incidentally, reappears in the last movement of the “Horn Trio” but occurs slightly altered in the “March of the Dead”in the German Requiem and in the finale of the First Symphony. Substantial cuts and the omission of the fugal passage were made to the movement to achieve a tightly organized structure.
The quick Scherzo(Allegro molto, B Minor, 3/4), displaying minor-major dichotomy, was generally left intact except for the conclusion. The transparency and the deft coda in particular reveal the distinct Mendelssohn touch.
The Adagio(B Major, 4/4) underwent drastic changes. There was, strangely enough, a two measure quotation from Schubert’s song Am Meer serving as the second theme, the excision of which Brahms deemed necessary and justly so. The Adagioquality was seriously impaired by an Allegroportion of more than 60 measures. This passage removed, the movement closes quietly and gently. The tender lyricism of the Adagiois sharply contrasted with the Finalein B Minor (Allegro, 4/4).
The puzzling abandonment of the basic key B Major is partly made good, however, by the introduction of a new beautiful melody which first enters in D Major and reappears in B Major in the recapitulation. Yet B Minor prevails in the vigorous coda.
TRIO FOR PIANO, VIOLIN, AND HORN IN E-FLAT, OP. 40
Brahms composed this Trio, colloquially referred to as the “Horn Trio,” in May 1868 in Lichvental, a suburb of the well-known spa Baden-Baden. There he occupied a little place with a charming view of the country, its wooded hills and nearby forests which he used to roam. He was still suffering from the death of his mother who had passed away in February of that year.
For the unusual combination of piano, violin and horn Brahms had no model. These were the instruments he played in his boyhood. For this trio, Brahms thought of the so-called natural horn, colloquially referred to as Waldhorn (foresthorn) and actually used this term for the publication of the work.
The instrument was familiar to German audiences from the overtures to Der Freischultzand Oberon, and the Notturnoin Mendelssohn’s music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the hunting scene at the close of the first act of Tannhauserwhere waldhorns sound in abundance. Siegfried’s horncall was then still ten years away.
Chromatic notes which the overtone series lacks could not be produced “naturally” on the waldhorn. The invention of the valve mechanism corrected the deficiency, but Wagner contended in the preface to the score of Tristan und Isoldethat the technical improvement brought about “an undeniable loss of the beauty of its tone.”
That was correct for the 1850s and 1860s and the composer of Tristaneven reckoned with the unavoidable improvement of the valve horn. Brahms would probably not find fault with the instruments and the delivery of his melodies by the players of our time. Thanks to modern technology the valves of horns are now greatly improved over their placement in the crude valved instruments of Brahms’ day.
While Brahms’ first trio was unusual because of its key and large dimension, the second occupies a special position on account of the scoring and the structure of the first movement (Andante, 2/4). This is not the customary sonata movement but a rondo-like five-section piece in which the division in 2/4 and 9/8 (poco piu animato) and the modified first section comprise the coda.
Lyricism is the keynote which is sharply contrasted with the vigorously racing Scherzo, a companion piece to the Scherzo of the B Major Trio. The Scherzotheme which foreshadows the principal ideas of the finale includes the ancient GregorianGloriaintonation.
The slower Trio(Molto meno Allegro) is in the key of A-Flat Minor (seven flats) which, of course, causes intonation difficulties for the violinist. They are not mitigated in the following Adagio mesto in E-Flat Minor (6/8). This is a lament in memory of Brahms’ mother. The sorrowful mood turns passionate before the mild ending.
The Finale (Allegro con brio, 6/8) is a true movement a la chasse. The speedy motion in which the horn like the waldhorn of yore lustily participates is kept up throughout. At the request of the publisher Simrock, Brahms edited version in which the horn part was transposed for violin and cello respectively. He recognized the sales possibility. The Triowas dear to Brahms for happy (Lichtental) and sad memories and he was very grateful to those players who performed their part on the natural horn.
THE NEW YORK TIMES ON THE SCHUBERT TRIOS
“Golub, Kaplan and Carr play with great finesse. Their carefully thought out and brilliantly executed interpretations are thoroughly convincing… The artists have gone back to the original manuscript of the Op. 100, restored the pre-publication cut, and recorded both versions of the finale, so that the listener can program the compact disc either way.”
On both side of the Atlantic, the Golub/Kaplain/Carr Trio has been acclaimed as one of the finest piano trios before the public today. Robert C. Marsh of the Chicago Sun-Times hailed their performance as “… bursting with genius. I cannot recall an occasion in which this music was played with such complete conviction.” The Trio has toured throughout the United States and Europe in major centers including New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, London and Paris.
Their electrifying performance in Washington D.C. lead the Washington Post critic to write, “When musicians with international renown as soloists join forces, one awaits, sometimes fruitlessly, a revelatory performance that lives up to the individual talents. Yesterday proved that such a blending is not a pipe dream.”
They have also appeared to great critical acclaim with many major orchestras, performing the well-known and beloved Beethoven Triple Concerto.
David Galub, Mark Kaplan and Colin Carr are celebrated solo artists, with performances throughout the world at leading music festivals including Ravinia, Blossom, Spoleto and Marlboro, and with orchestras of Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, London, Berlin and Montreal.
One of his generation’s most notable and acclaimed horn players, David Jolley has brought his remarkable virtuosity to audiences in the United States and Europe as a soloist, recitalist and chamber musician, as well as a versatile and highly respected recording artist.
Johannes Brahms – Trio In B Major, Op. 8 For Violin, Cello and Piano
Movement 1 [Allegro con brio) 13:45
Movement 2 [Scherzo – allegro molto] 6:20
Movement 3 [Adagio] 8:38
Movement 4 [Allegro] 6:04
Johannes Brahms – Horn Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 40 for Horn, Violin and Piano
Movement 1 [Andante] 9:46
Movement 2 [Scherzo – Allegro] 7:46
Movement 3 [Adagio mesto] 8:27
Movement 4 [Finale – Allegro con brio] 6:02
Chamber music writing at its finest. Schubert – I know, I got your Schubert right here – but Goddamned, Brahms is the freakin’ man. That horn trio? Come on, seriously?!