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ClassicsOnline Home » GREAT ROMANTIC SYMPHONIES (10-CD Box Set)
The word ‘symphony’ is used to describe an extended orchestral composition in Western classical music. By the eighteenth century the Italianate opera sinfonia—musical interludes between operas or concertos—had assumed the structure of three contrasting movements, and it is this form that is often considered as the direct forerunner of the orchestral symphony. With the rise of established professional orchestras, the symphony assumed a more prominent place in concert life between 1790 and 1820 until it eventually came to be regarded by many as the yardstick by which one would measure a composer’s achievement.
The nineteenth century brought various changes to the symphonic form. Although both inspired by Beethoven, Berlioz’s experiments with instrumental colour and orchestral size are a world away from the colossal symphonies of Brahms. Composers such as Mahler and Bruckner pushed the traditional symphonic landscapes to their limits, in sharp contrast to the uplifting Classically based symphonies of Mendelssohn and Schubert. The nationalistic flavours apparent in the programme symphonies of Schumann, Strauss and Dvořák exemplify the way in which the symphonic form flourished in the Romantic era, whilst the visceral impact of the Gallic panache is typified by the symphonies of Franck and Saint-Saëns.
GREAT ROMANTIC SYMPHONIES
Schubert • Brahms • Schumann • Mendelssohn • Berlioz • Mahler • Bruckner • Saint-Saëns • Franck • Dvořák • Strauss
The word ‘Romanticism’ defies precise definition. In the history of music, as here, it may be used simply as a term to denote a particular period, the nineteenth century and the twentieth up to about 1914. The word itself suggests, for other reasons, intensity of feeling and much else.
In the nineteenth century the four-movement Classical symphony for many remained the basis of the form. The first movement, generally a sonata-allegro or in sonata form, sometimes preceded by a slow introduction, is in three sections. The first section, the exposition, presents a theme in the tonic or home key of the work, followed by a transition, a bridge passage, leading to a second or subsidiary theme in the dominant, that is in a key based on the fifth note of the tonic key, or another related key. The exposition ends in the dominant or other related key, not in the home key, which makes it clear that there is still more to come. The second section, the development, makes free use of themes or fragments of themes already heard or introduces new themes. The third section is a recapitulation, a return of the first theme of the exposition, leading to the secondary theme, now in the home key. The movement usually placed second is a slow movement, generally in a different key from that of the first movement. In a four-movement symphony the third movement, formerly a Minuet and Trio, becomes a Scherzo or something similar. The final movement is often in the form of a rondo, a lively movement in which a main theme is used to frame a series of episodes in other keys, but may now take other forms.
Composers handle these basic structures with increasing freedom. The nineteenth century brought various changes. Modifications in the structure of instruments offered increased possibilities and shifts in orchestral balance. Changes in society and in the nature of audiences brought differences in taste, while interests in literature and the other arts were also often reflected in music.
The more conservative composers of symphonies in the nineteenth century include Schubert, a young contemporary of Beethoven in Vienna, but lacking the latter’s resources of patronage. His nine symphonies seemed in many ways to continue the tradition of Mozart. With great gifts as a composer of songs, Schubert’s facility as a composer of melodies is reflected in his symphonies, while he largely follows the classical symphonic pattern. Mendelssohn too belongs to the group of composers who adopt and adapt classical forms. Beethoven had included a pictorial element in his Pastoral Symphony. Mendelssohn, in his Italian and Scottish Symphonies alludes to the traditions of both countries in evocations of the march of pilgrims in the first of these works and of Holyrood and the tragedy of Mary, Queen of Scots, in the second. Schumann, a man of strong literary interests and abilities, while adhering largely to the classical symphonic pattern, alludes to extra-musical matters, particularly in his depiction of the great Cathedral of Cologne in his Third Symphony, the Rhenish. Brahms, whose career spanned the second half of the nineteenth century, in his monumental four symphonies, so long in gestation, writes firmly in the classical tradition, avoiding extraneous references, setting his face against the so-called Music of the Future, the trends furthered by Wagner and by Liszt, who explored new fields of music.
For Richard Wagner, self-appointed heir to Beethoven, the future of music lay in his massive and intricately constructed music-dramas. He had attempted a symphony at the beginning of his career, but soon turned away from the form to create his own world of music. His friend Franz Liszt, whose early reputation had been as a pianist of startling virtuosity, in mid-career turned to a new form, the so-called symphonic poem, the translation into music of works that had their source in other arts. His two symphonies are based, respectively, on Dante’s Divina Commedia and on Goethe’s Faust, while symphonic poems turn to Tasso, Lamartine, Byron and Victor Hugo, among other sources of inspiration. It was through hearing Beethoven’s symphonies in Paris in the 1820s, and through his fascination with Shakespeare, that the French composer Hector Berlioz came to create, in 1830, a five-movement autobiographical programme symphony, his Symphonie fantastique, reflecting the despair of a young artist, leading finally to the scaffold and a witches’ sabbath, the movements united by the recurrence of an idée fixe, a motif associated with the beloved, the cause of the artist’s predicament. Berlioz had considerable influence on orchestration, making full use of new instruments and new orchestral effects. The Symphonie fantastique is still a symphony, but depends, as Liszt’s two symphonies were to do, on external extramusical sources for their structure.
Currents of nineteenth-century nationalism are reflected in music, notably in Russia, but also in other regions of Europe, in Bohemia with Smetana’s symphonic poems and with Dvořák in symphonies that were closer to Viennese tradition. In France the influence of Liszt is perceptible in the Third Symphony of Camille Saint-Saëns, with its Lisztian transformation of thematic elements between the movements. The abstract single symphony of César Franck unites the work by the use of cyclic form, a recurrent theme or motif. Wagner remained a strong influence at least on the orchestration of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, whose symphonies combine the traditional with the new, creations of enormous and impressive size in conception. It was Richard Strauss, who followed Liszt more directly in the symphonic poem and claimed to be able to represent anything in music, from Shakespeare to Nietzsche, a claim amplified in the work of Gustav Mahler, whose symphonies seem to reflect the broken images of a modern world more than any other, uniting symphony and song in compositions that echo the essentially romantic Weltschmerz, universal sorrows and joys and the human condition.
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Symphony No 8 in B minor ‘Unfinished’ D 759
Symphony No 9 in C major ‘Great’ D 944
Franz Schubert, born in Vienna in 1797, was the fourth surviving child of fourteen. His musical abilities were fostered as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, a position that brought with it the chance of a decent education at the Staatskonvikt and also an association with the old Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, whose influence on him was considerable. Schubert’s childhood had been dominated by music. He played the piano and the violin, and there was a family string quartet. In 1818, after serving as music teacher to the daughters of Count Esterházy von Galánta in Hungary, he returned to Vienna to share rooms with another friend, the poet Mayrhofer. He was to return briefly to Hungary for part of the summer of 1824, at a time when his health had been seriously impaired by the venereal infection that was to cause his death in 1828. During his brief life Schubert enjoyed the friendship of a circle of young poets, artists and musicians, many of them dependent on other employment for a living. He never held any official position in the musical establishment, nor was he a virtuoso performer, as Mozart and Beethoven had been. By the time of his death, Schubert seemed only to have started to make an impression on a wider public. Much of what he had written had proved eminently suitable for intimate social gatherings. His larger scale works were often to be played by amateurs, since he never had at his disposal a professional orchestra.
Schubert’s Symphony in B minor was written in 1822 and only two of the expected four movements were finished, with part of a scherzo. These movements were not played in Schubert’s life-time, but were rediscovered 43 years later and given their first performance in Vienna in 1865. The manuscript had been given by Schubert to his friend Josef Hüttenbrenner as a present for his brother Anselm in Graz. The latter had later arranged a piano duet version of the movements, which he and his brother played together. For years the manuscript remained in Anselm Hüttenbrenner’s possession, its existence only known to a few, until it came to the attention of the conductor Johann Herbeck. The symphony’s first movement is in sonata form, opening quietly in the strings followed by a melody played by the oboe and clarinet. The second movement moves between two contrasting themes. The first is introduced by the lower strings, brass and high strings playing in counterpoint. The second theme appears first in the solo clarinet and then passes to the oboe.
The ‘Great’ C major Symphony marks the summit of Schubert’s achievement in the form. The work was completed in the spring or summer of 1826, based on sketches made the previous summer during holidays in the Austrian countryside with Johann Michael Vogl, now considerably revised, with the conclusion added. He approached the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Philharmonic Society of Vienna) for a performance and there was a run-through later in the following year, before the idea of a public performance was postponed, owing to the length and apparent difficulty of the symphony. It was not until 1839 that the symphony was given its first public performance, on that occasion by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Mendelssohn. The Gesellschaft, to which Schubert dedicated the symphony, gave him an honorarium of a hundred florins.
The slow introduction to the first movement starts with a French horn statement of the theme, then taken up by the woodwind and elaborated by the strings, before an emphatic statement of the theme and a passage accompanied by violin triplets that leads to the Allegro ma non troppo. Here the principal theme is stated with some urgency, followed by oboes and bassoons declaring an E minor secondary theme that proceeds to a G major codetta before the central development. After this further exploration of the thematic material the principal theme returns in recapitulation, followed by the secondary theme, now offered by oboes and clarinets in the tonic minor. A change to the major allows a triumphant conclusion to the movement.
The second movement, marked Andante con moto, is opened by the strings with a solemn A minor march, the melody first suggested by cellos and double basses before the entry of the oboe, later doubled by the clarinet. This is contrasted with a more lyrical melodic continuation in A major. The central section of the movement introduces a contrast of key and mood with a new melody based on a descending figure. The march returns, heralded by the French horn, in syncopation with string chords. The cellos, with a song-like version of the theme, lead to an A major version of the secondary theme. The A minor principal theme returns in conclusion.
The strings unite in the first four bars of the C major Scherzo, answered by wind instruments and timpani in a movement imbued with the spirit of Beethoven. The strongly marked opening is counterbalanced by a lyrical element that follows. Horns, joined by trombones and clarinets, introduce the A major Trio with repeated notes, with lilting thematic material, suggesting once again a song. The repetition of the Scherzo is followed by the final Allegro vivace, loudly proclaimed, an energetic theme succeeded by the swaying theme offered by oboes, clarinets and bassoons. Subtle connections with earlier movements are apparent, in rhythms, forms of melody and contrast. The music sweeps all before it, as it takes its course to a conclusion that can bear the weight of what has preceded it.
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Symphony No 1 in C minor, Op 68
Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833. After a period of hard work, teaching and playing in suburban pleasure resorts, he had his first significant success in a tour with the Hungarian violinist Reményi in 1853. Friendship with the violinist Joachim led to an unproductive visit to Liszt in Weimar and to a more fruitful meeting with Schumann, now established in Düsseldorf as director of music. It was Schumann who detected in the young musician a successor to Beethoven. Brahms was to continue his relationship with Clara Schumann after her husband’s breakdown and subsequent death in 1856. It was not until 1864 that Brahms settled finally in Vienna, having failed to realise his first ambition for recognition in his native Hamburg. In Vienna he became an established figure, known for his tactlessness and occasional rudeness, but proclaimed by his friends the champion of pure music against the eccentricities of Liszt and Wagner, a rôle which his four great symphonies did much to reinforce. He died of cancer in April, 1897, at the age of 64.
By 1854, encouraged by Schumann, Brahms had started work on a symphony, writing material that was later to form part of the first of the two piano concertos. The first inklings of the C minor Symphony appear in 1862 in a letter from Clara Schumann to Joachim. Brahms had sent her the first movement of the symphony, which had delighted her. It was not until 1876, however, that Brahms completed the work to his own satisfaction. The first performance was given the same year at Karlsruhe under the direction of Otto Dessoff, and three days later at Mannheim with the composer conducting. The symphony was at once accepted as all that the admirers of Brahms had hoped for, hailed by the critic Hanslick as an inexhaustible fountain of sincere pleasure and fruitful study and seen by many contemporaries as a continuation of the achievement of Beethoven, to the expressed indignation of Wagner.
The massive first movement opens with great chords which move towards an Allegro in which hope and despair seem to strive together. The E major slow movement is entrusted principally to the strings, with a solo oboe adding its own serene element. The third movement moves a third higher again, to the key of A flat major. The clarinet, accompanied by the plucked notes of the cellos, opens the movement, which has a central contrasting section in B major. The final movement, a major creation of power and intensity, with its contrapuntal complexity, mastery of orchestration and incredible control of form, opens with a dramatic slow introduction, the French horn and then the flute leading to a calmer mood. The horn appears again to bring us to the final Allegro, a clear successor to the finale of Beethoven’s last symphony, providing the necessary triumphant optimism that had earlier seemed impossible.
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Symphony No 1 in B flat major, Op 38 ‘Spring’
In common with certain other musicians of the nineteenth century, Robert Schumann showed an early inclination to literature, a bent inherited, possibly, from his father, a bookseller, publisher and writer himself. His literary ability was to find expression in the influential Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which he edited and to which he contributed, and this was coupled, at first, with his ambition as a pianist, curtailed by a weakness in fingers of the right hand. Schumann’s major achievement, however, was to be as a composer, at first of piano music, then of songs, and finally, principally after his marriage, of orchestral works on a larger scale. It was in October, 1830, that Schumann became a pupil of Friedrich Wieck, a man who had made his goal in life the creation of a virtuoso in his young daughter Clara. Two years later lessons came to an end: Schumann had proved a dilatory pupil in thoroughbass and counterpoint, under the Leipzig theatre conductor Heinrich Dorn, and the increasing weakness of the fingers of his right hand made any career as a pianist impossible, in spite of attempts by doctors to effect a cure by various means, including Tierbäder, dipping the affected hand into the carcass of a freshly-killed animal.
The relationship with the Wieck family had a much profounder effect on Schumann’s life. By 1835 he had begun to show alarming signs of affection for the fifteen-year-old Clara Wieck, much to the dismay of her father, who in the following years was to try every means, including litigation, to prevent his favourite daughter sacrificing her career to a young man of unsteady and even of immoral character. In the end Wieck was unsuccessful, and Schumann married Clara in 1840, the famous Year of Song, in which he set so many poems to music. It was after his marriage that Schumann began to tackle larger musical forms in earnest, discarding a Symphony in C minor sketched out in 1840, but completing in the following twelve years four symphonies, as well as the so-called Symphonette, the Overture, Scherzo and Finale.
The Symphony No 1 in B flat major, Op 38, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, three timpani, triangle and strings, is still generally known by the title Schumann first proposed for it: ‘Spring’. He drew some inspiration from a poem by the Leipzig writer Adolf Böttger and originally suggested titles for each movement. Spring’s Awakening was followed by Evening, Happy Playfellows and Spring’s Farewell. No literary assistance, however, is required for an understanding of the optimistic mood of the work and its clear classical form, the score written, the composer claimed, with a steel pen found lying near Beethoven’s grave in Vienna. The whole work was sketched in four days and sleepless nights and scored during the following three weeks. It was given its first performance under Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 31 March 1841, and was an immediate success.
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Symphony No 4 in E minor, Op 98
In 1884 and 1885 Brahms spent the summer months at Mürzzuschlag, a pleasant little town outside Vienna. The first two movements of the Fourth Symphony were written there in 1884 and the work was completed the following year. The symphony received its first performance in October 1885 at Meiningen, where Hans von Bülow directed the famous court orchestra. It was to be the principal work in a tour by the orchestra, with Brahms, who described himself as an extra conductor, directing it himself. Hans von Bülow referred himself to the rock-like strength of the work, a quality apparent in the opening bars, in which the first descending interval in the violin provides the seed from which much of the rest of this tightly integrated and complex structure is to grow. The second movement was paradoxically compared by Richard Strauss, who was present at the first performance, to “a funeral procession moving in silence across moonlit heights”, something, perhaps, from the evocatively romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. The Allegro giocoso is massively playful, scored for an additional drum, piccolo and double bassoon, as well as the forces employed for the earlier movements. The subsequent Finale adds three trombones, which lend majesty to the eight-bar theme, the basis of thirty following variations. Brahms here writes a passacaglia, accepting the restrictions of a baroque variation form and offering, within this, a magnificence and variety which make this last movement the culmination of the whole work, and of Brahms’s achievement as a symphonist.
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Symphony No 4 in D minor, Op 120
Schumann wrote the first version of his Symphony in D minor in Leipzig during the early months of his marriage, calling it his Clara Symphony, but put it aside after the cool reception accorded the work at its first performance in December 1841, in a programme shared by Liszt, who dazzled and overwhelmed the audience to the exclusion of all else. He revised it in December 1851, and conducted the first performance of this second version in Düsseldorf on 30 December 1852, rejecting his first title of Symphonic Fantasy in favour of orthodoxy. The work is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, with four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, two timpani and strings. There is a certain thematic unity in the symphony, deriving largely from the first theme of the first movement, which reappears in the slow movement and in the Trio of the Scherzo. The opening movement has no recapitulation, but moves after the development, with its new theme, to the Romance. The Scherzo has two Trios and is linked to the slow introduction to the final movement with its initial dark-hued reminiscences of the opening of the work giving way to the cheerful variety of its energetic conclusion.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)
Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op 56 ‘Scottish’
Symphony No 4 in A major, Op 90 ‘Italian’
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of the distinguished Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, was born in Hamburg, the son of a banker (the additional surname Bartholdy was added to the family name when his parents converted to Christianity). The family moved to Berlin, where Mendelssohn was brought up and able to associate with a cultured circle of family friends. He was associated with the revival of public interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and in the early 1830s travelled abroad for his education, spending time in Italy and also visiting England, Wales and Scotland. He was later conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig (where he also established a conservatory), his stay there interrupted briefly by a return to Berlin. He died in Leipzig in 1847. Prolific and precocious, Mendelssohn had many gifts, musically as composer, conductor and pianist. His style of composition combined something of the economy of means of the Classical period with the Romanticism of a later age.
In childhood Mendelssohn had written thirteen string symphonies between the ages of twelve and fourteen. From the age of fifteen, he wrote five more symphonies for full orchestra. Symphony No 3 in A minor, Op 56, was the second in conception and the last in order of completion. Its first inspiration came from a visit to Scotland in 1829. In April Mendelssohn had arrived in London, after an unpleasant voyage from Hamburg. Two months later in a letter to his teacher Zelter he mentioned his plans for the summer, after the end of London season, a projected journey to Scotland, a country that figured largely in romantic imagination thanks to the work of Sir Walter Scott. Accompanied by his friend Karl Klingemann he travelled north. In Edinburgh he recalled the story of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the murder of her secretary David Rizzio in the palace of Holyrood, and in the ruined chapel first entertained the idea of a Scottish symphony. Further north he could comment on the climate, remarking that the Highlands brew nothing but whisky, fog and foul weather, while the voyage by steamer to see the island of Staffa and what he described as the odious Fingal’s cave, made him sea-sick. In spite of this he immediately sketched the opening theme of the Hebrides Overture, which was later revised to be performed in 1832 in London, where it won immediate popularity. In the autumn of 1830 Mendelssohn was in Italy and it was there that he completed, revised and later rechristened the Hebrides Overture. Two symphonies occupied his thoughts, while a third was commissioned for the Reformation centenary. The Reformation Symphony, No 5, was completed in 1832, and the Italian Symphony, No 4, in 1833.
The Scottish Symphony was longer in intermittent gestation and was only finished in 1842 and given its first performance in Leipzig in the same year. The first movement opens with sixteen bars that Mendelssohn first sketched in Holyrood chapel in Edinburgh, an idea that makes other appearances in his oratorios St Paul and Elijah, expanded into a melancholy recitative. The main part of the movement introduces a theme of Scottish contour, played by clarinet and strings, and the clarinet introduces the second subject, the material splendidly developed. The movement ends with a return to the opening mood. The sound of the bagpipes is near enough in the second movement, which leads to a lyrical slow movement, varied by hints of martial valour to come. The final movement makes use of five themes, apparently derived from songs, and the source of much programmatic speculation from those who like to hear in it the gathering of the clans.
The Italian Symphony was completed in 1833 but remained unpublished in Mendelssohn’s life-time because of his own dissatisfaction with it and his intention of revising the first movement. The ideas for the work were developed during his stay in Italy in 1831, and the whole symphony, described by the Vienna critic Eduard Hanslick as “full of sweet enchantment, an intoxicating floral fragrance”, fits well enough the composer’s own view of it as “the gayest thing I have ever done”. The first movement opens with the violins offering the initial cheerful theme, over repeated wind chords. Classical procedure is followed, with clarinets and bassoons playing a second subject over a busy string accompaniment. The central development of the movement introduces a third theme, with the opening figure providing material that leads to the re-appearance of the first subject and the recapitulation. The second movement is the famous Pilgrims’ March, the solemn theme of the procession announced by oboes, bassoons and violas, with the melody unfolding over the rhythmic march of the lower strings. A third movement, described by one critic as “a Biedermeier minuet”, has about it something of the spirit of Mendelssohn’s fairy music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it is in the rapid elegance of the final Saltarello and the concluding Neapolitan tarantella that this mood is decisively recaptured.
Hector Berlioz (1803–1869)
Symphonie Fantastique, Op 14
Benvenuto Celini & Roman Carnival
Hector Berlioz was born in the French province of Isère in 1803, the son of a doctor. He abandoned his own medical studies, on which his father had insisted, to become a musician, but was to remain an outsider as far as the musical establishment in Paris was concerned, his music seeming at times extravagantly bizarre, his character, to say the least, difficult, and his literary activities, as a music critic, controversial. It was in 1824 that Berlioz finally gave up medicine. His first visit to the dissecting-room, described in lurid terms in his Memoirs, provided an initial and startling disincentive, as he saw birds fighting for scraps of human lungs and rats in the corner of the room, gnawing vertebrae. At the same time Paris offered musical opportunities. There was the Opéra, and the Conservatoire Library was open to the public. He was able to profit, too, by lessons from Lesueur, whose class he was later to enter at the Conservatoire, where he became a student in 1826. The following year Berlioz saw Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the first time, with Charles Kemble as the Prince and the Irish actress Harriet Smithson as Ophelia. The experience was overwhelming, accentuated by the performance of Romeo and Juliet that he saw a few days later. During the season he had the opportunity to see much more of the visiting English company sharing in the popular adulation of Harriet Smithson, with whom he fell violently in love.
The Symphonie fantastique was written in reaction to the intense and unreciprocated passion Berlioz felt for Harriet Smithson, and with something of the resentment he felt, possibly augmented by his brief association with Camille Moke, who was to marry the piano manufacturer Pleyel. In the end Berlioz was to marry his Ophelia, a match that brought neither of them any lasting satisfaction, as her own career waned into querulous drunkenness and his musical and extra-marital amatory preoccupations assumed greater importance. The Symphonie fantastique is a remarkable work, autobiographical in content and immensely influential in the path it suggested to future composers, anxious to extend the scope of musical expression in the generation after Beethoven. Described as An Episode in the Life of an Artist, the symphony is haunted by an idée fixe, a recurrent fragment of melody, symbolizing the beloved, a prototype of the Leitmotiv, to be developed by Wagner. In 1830 the autobiographical nature of the symphony represented something entirely new.
A young musician, in despair, has poisoned himself with opium and in a long sleep has a series of vivid dreams and nightmares, the idea of his beloved coming again and again to his mind. He recalls the joys and depressions of the past, before she came into his life, and then the neurotic despair and jealousy that her appearance brought him, with passing consolation in religious serenity. The second movement evokes the music of a ball, at which, in the swirl of the dance, he catches glimpses of his beloved again. This is followed by a third movement that cost the composer much labour. In the countryside two shepherd boys play a melody to call the cows, and all is tranquillity until the beloved appears again, with all the anxious questioning that that must provoke. A shepherd plays his pipe, but this time there is no answer, and as the sun sets distant thunder is heard, followed by silence. The March to the Scaffold, written in one night, brings a dream of the murder of the beloved, for which the hero is condemned to death. The march, with its steady tread, has its wilder moments, as the procession makes its way through the crowd. The beloved appears at the moment before the axe falls. The final movement is a Witches’ Sabbath, a wild orgy of diabolic celebration, the idèe fixe of the beloved now a shrill mockery. The death knell is heard and the sound of the traditional chant of the Dies irae, the hymn of the Day of Judgement from the Requiem Mass, mingles with the dance, as the work draws to an end.
From 1834 to 1837, Berlioz struggled with his opera Benvenuto Cellini. It had its première in 1838 and became the subject of much revision. The buoyant overture opens the two-act opera about the life of the sixteenth-century Florentine sculptor, as recounted in Cellini’s autobiography. The censors turned the Pope into a cardinal, and the conductor Habeneck allegedly helped turn the première into a shambling failure.
Written in 1843–1844, the most famous of all Berlioz overtures, Roman Carnival is an example of brilliant re-making. He uses the Mardi Gras saltarello (a skipping dance rhythm) and a quotation from the Act I trio, “O Teresa”, of Benvenuto Cellini to create a brilliant stand-alone work. It was given its première by Berlioz himself, who was allowed one rehearsal, without woodwind instruments, the players being away on National Guard duty and having to read the work at sight. After the enormous success of Roman Carnival, it appeared at Covent Garden and Weimar as a second overture to Benvenuto Cellini.
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
Symphony No 1 in D major ‘Titan’
Gustav Mahler saw himself as three times homeless, a native of Bohemia in Austria, an Austrian among Germans and a Jew throughout the whole world. The second child, and the first of fourteen to survive, he was born in Kaliste in Bohemia. Soon after his birth his family moved to Jihlava, where his father, by his own very considerable efforts, had raised himself from being little more than a pedlar, with a desire for intellectual self-improvement, to the running of a tavern and distillery. Mahler’s musical abilities were developed first in Jihlava, before a brief period of schooling in Prague, which ended unhappily, and a later course of study at the Conservatory in Vienna, where he turned from the piano to composition and, as a necessary corollary, conducting. It was as a conductor that Mahler made his career, at first at a series of provincial opera-houses, and later in the position of the highest distinction of all, when, in 1897, he became Kapellmeister of the Vienna Hofoper, two months after his baptism as a Catholic, a necessary preliminary. In Vienna he brought about significant reforms in the Court Opera, but made enough enemies, particularly represented in the anti-Semitic press, to lead to his resignation in 1907, followed by a final period conducting in America and elsewhere, in a vain attempt to secure his family’s future before his own imminent death, which took place on 18 May 1911. Although his career as a conductor involved him most closely with opera, Mahler attempted little composition in this field. His work as a composer consists chiefly of his songs and of his ten symphonies, the last left unfinished at his death, and his monumental setting of poems from the Chinese in Das Lied von der Erde.
Mahler’s Symphony No 1 in D major was completed, in its first version, in 1888, incredibly enough five years before Dvořák’s Symphony ‘From the New World’ and only five years after the last symphony of Brahms. It was first performed the following year in Budapest, where Mahler had been appointed director of the Hungarian opera, before an audience that became increasingly restive as the work proceeded.
For the symphony Mahler had drawn up a programme, although he strongly believed that, whatever literary programme might lie behind a composition, the music should be able to stand on its own, without verbal explanation. No narrative element was given to the first audience in Budapest, but later performances were at first helped by a sketched description of the work:
From the days of youth—Flower, Fruit and Thorn-pieces (Blumen, Früchte und Dornenstücke)
1. Spring and no end to it. The introduction describes the awakening of nature and earliest dawn.
2. Blumine Chapter (Andante)
3. In full sail (Scherzo)
4. Shipwrecked. A dead march in the manner of Callot. The following explanation may be given, if required: The composer found the external inspiration for this piece in a satirical picture well known to all children in South Germany, The Huntsman’s Funeral, from an old book of children’s stories. The animals of the forest escort the body of the dead forester to the grave. Hares carry a little flag, with a band of Bohemian village musicians in front, accompanied by cats, toads, crows, and so on, playing, and by stags, does, foxes and other four-footed and feathered denizens of the forest, in comic guise. Here the music is intended to express ironic jesting alternating with mysterious brooding. This is followed immediately by:
5. Dall’inferno al Paradiso (Allegro furioso), the sudden expression of the feelings of a deeply wounded heart.
The symphony, originally a symphonic poem, although without title, has a more explicit literary source in the work of Jean Paul, an early Romantic writer whose Flegeljahre had had a strong influence on the young Schumann. The programmatic titles of the first two movements are taken from Jean Paul, whose connection with the seventeenth century French artist Jacques Callot is seen in his preface to ETA Hoffmann’s Phantasiestücke in Callots Manier. In short the symphony, in common with Mahler’s early songs, has its literary inspiration in writing of the earliest romantics, in the curiously grotesque ironical world of Jean Paul and in the evocative Des Knaben Wunderhorn of Brentano and von Arnim. The later title of the work, Titan, refers not to the struggle between the ancient gods of Greece so much as to the novel of that name by Jean Paul, in which two “titans” or Himmelsstürmer, struggle for their aims of intellectual freedom or pleasure.
The first movement opens with a slow section in which fanfares pierce the summer morning mists, suggesting pictorially the ideas of Mahler’s earlier song “Ging heut’ Morgen über’s Feld”, the melody of which provides the first subject. The slower music returns, but nothing is done to dispel the mood of happy serenity, although, as the movement hurries forward again, we may be aware of more tragic implications, Dornenstücke. A scherzo follows, with a Schubertian trio, completing the first section. After a pause the second part of the symphony opens with a solemn funeral march, making satirical use of a minor version of the children’s song Frère Jacques, and easily intelligible in terms of the composer’s explanation. Use is also made of Mahler’s song “Die zwei blaue Augen” in music of bitter contrast and heartfelt anguish. The last movement, to which the Italian explanatory title was later added, is one of great dramatic intensity. Audiences unfamiliar with the work might well be warned by the example of the first performance in Budapest, when a woman jumped out of her seat in alarm as the movement began, an incident that caused the composer some amusement. A march leads to a more lyrical melody, before a renewed storm of sound, in music that is, as Mahler was to claim, a world in itself.
For the first three performances of his first symphony Mahler included a second movement Andante, later to be discarded. The modern re-discovery of this Blumine movement in 1966 by the Mahler scholar Donald Mitchell led to a performance the following year at Aldeburgh under the direction of Benjamin Britten. For various reasons Donald Mitchell was able to identify this lyrical and romantic movement with its extended trumpet melody with music that Mahler had written in 1884 as part of his now lost incidental music for performances at Cassel of Joseph Scheffel’s popular Der Trompeter von Säkkingen, a work that in its metre must suggest the verse of Longfellow to an English-speaking reader. The hero blows the trumpet, the sound of which is heard through the night, heard by the Rhine and the spirits of the river, carried by the wind to the castle of his master.
Anton Bruckner (1824–1896)
Symphony No 4 in E flat major ‘Romantic’
Bruckner, born near Linz in 1824, is known chiefly as a symphonist. He trained as a school-teacher and organist, and served in the second capacity in Linz until moving in 1868 to Vienna to teach harmony, counterpoint and organ at the Vienna Conservatory. His success as a composer was varied in his lifetime, his acceptance hampered by his own diffidence and his scores posing editorial problems because of his readiness to revise what he had written. He was nine years the senior of Brahms, who outlived him by six months. Bruckner continued Austro-German symphonic traditions on a massive scale, his techniques of composition influenced to some extent by his skill as an organist and consequently in formal improvisation. Bruckner completed nine numbered symphonies (ten if the so-called Symphony ‘No 0’, ‘Die Nullte’ is included). The best known is probably Symphony No 7, first performed in Leipzig in 1884; the work includes in its scoring four Wagner tubas, instruments that were a newly developed cross between the French horn and tuba. Symphony No 4 ‘Romantic’ has an added programme. All the symphonies form an important element in late-nineteenth-century symphonic repertoire.
Written in 1874, Bruckner revised Symphony No 4 substantially in 1877–78. While the thematic substance of the first two movements remained identical there are great differences in their details. Bruckner totally discarded the Scherzo and Trio and replaced the third movement with the celebrated “Hunting” Scherzo and its adorable Trio; the Finale, now called the Volksfest, was substantially rewritten. In 1880 he composed yet another Finale, and this is the version that is usually played (as in this performance).
A gentle string tremolo at the beginning of the work awakens in the sympathetic listener a ‘cosmic feeling’ even before the magical horn calls. These are taken up by the woodwind and soon the orchestra intones Bruckner’s favourite rhythmical pattern: two duplets followed by three triplets. The full orchestra resumes this rhythm in great strength, then stops after repeating one remote major chord several times. Another remote key introduces the charming dance-like second theme. The exposition ends mysteriously, very softly. Then the horn tune is magnificently embroidered by the wind instruments. A proud chorale in the brass is followed by a soft section which leads to the recapitulation, decorated by the flute and cellos. The ensuing coda, like the coda in the last movement, is among Bruckner’s greatest.
The second movement is a gentle funeral march. The cellos introduce a noble melody, developed by the rest of the orchestra. The second theme is an enormous song for the violas; it is accompanied by the plucked notes of the other strings. This viola melody, which, later in the movement, is repeated a tone higher, is of great dynamic and rhythmical complexity. After a great crescendo in the whole orchestra the music comes to rest in the very remote key of C flat major. Without much ado Bruckner moves up a semitone to the main key of the movement, this time in the major. A sad, rather austere Trio for clarinet, horn and violas concludes this movement, with a long note in the violas.
The “Hunting” Scherzo is a virtuosic study of Bruckner’s favourite rhythmical pattern, starting as softly as possible. It is interesting that the composer begins the crescendo earlier when the beginning is repeated later in the movement. Also noteworthy in this harmonically brilliant movement is a cello passage accompanied by three trombones. Bruckner is supposed to have said that the quite wonderful Trio represents the hunters unpacking and eating their cheese. The lovely tune at the beginning of the Trio was originally played by oboe and clarinet in unison but was later changed to the far less characterful unison of flute and clarinet. After a throbbing crotchet (quarternote) rhythm in the lower strings, horn and clarinet play in long notes a big step (an octave) down, followed by a smaller one (a third), again downwards. This leads to the slow main tune in the full orchestra. Its development finishes in the main key of the symphony with a quotation of the horn call of the first movement. The tempo slows down for a most beautiful passage in the strings in the relative minor key. A charming ‘innocent’ melody in the major follows, answered by yet another happy melody. After these lyrical passages we are confronted by most powerful sections developing the various themes. At the end of the coda Bruckner in the earlier versions let the horns play their first-movement call again, but later discarded the idea; however it was put back (by others?), as in the Nowak edition.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921)
Symphony No 3 in C minor, Op 78 ‘Organ Symphony’
Saint-Saëns was born in Paris in 1835. His father, a clerk in the Ministry of the Interior, died shortly after his son’s birth, and the boy was brought up by his mother and her aunt, the latter giving him his first piano lessons when he was two and a half. He showed exceptional ability and at the age of ten appeared in a public concert at the Salle Pleyel, having already learned by heart all the Beethoven sonatas. In an otherwise distinguished enough career at the Conservatoire, where he had composition lessons from Halévy and studied the organ with Benoist, Saint-Saëns failed to win the Prix de Rome, but wrote an impressive series of compositions. In common with many other French composers, he took an appointment as an organist in Paris and was for nearly twenty years employed in that capacity at the Madeleine. For four years Saint-Saëns, from 1861 until 1865, taught at the Ecole Niedermeyer and it was there that he met Gabriel Fauré, who was to remain his close friend throughout his life. His marriage in 1875 was brief and unhappy and lasted a mere six years, with his two children dying in infancy. The death of his mother in 1888 proved a greater blow to his security, and he was thereafter to spend a great deal of time travelling, particularly to Egypt and to AIgeria. He died in Algiers in 1921. Saint-Saëns was immensely gifted, both as a performer and as a composer. Liszt, who heard him improvise at the Madeleine, described him as the greatest living organist, while Hans von Bülow, who heard him read at sight at the piano the score of Wagner’s Siegfried declared him the greatest musical mind of the time. The compositions of Saint-Saëns cover almost every possible genre of music. He wrote for the theatre and for the church, composed songs, orchestral music and chamber music, with works for the piano and for the organ. In style he deserved the comparison with Mendelssohn, sharing with that composer an ability in the handling of traditional forms and techniques and a gift for orchestration.
The third and last of the numbered symphonies that Saint-Saëns wrote, the so-called Organ Symphony, was completed in 1886, the year of the famous private jeu d’esprit, Le carnaval des animaux. It was dedicated to the memory of Franz Liszt, who died that year in Bayreuth. The two movements of the work include the normal structure of a four-movement symphony, with the use of cyclic thematic material, melodies or fragments of melodies that recur and provide over-all unity, a technique used by César Franck in his own symphony, which he had started in the same year. The first movement, after a slow introduction, leads to a theme of Mendelssohnian character, followed by a second subject of a gentler cast. The organ introduces a slow movement of sadder complexion, in which memories of the cyclic theme recur, as it undergoes its Lisztian metamorphosis into something still richer and stranger. A following section takes the place of a scherzo, opening with an energetic string melody, and framing a more lyrical passage at its heart. The final part of the symphony is again started by the organ, introducing an orchestral fugato. This last movement is of considerable variety, including a chorale, that makes an early appearance in an unusual form, polyphonic writing and a brief pastoral interlude, replaced by the massive climax of the whole symphony.
César Franck (1822–1890)
Symphony in D minor
Belgian by birth, French by adoption and largely German in parentage, César Franck was born in 1822 in the Walloon district of Liège. Franck showed such early musical precocity that his father resolved to make the most profitable use of his son’s talents by compelling him to the career of a virtuoso pianist. Study at the Liège Conservatoire was followed, in 1837, by a period at the Paris Conservatoire, which he left in 1842 to return to Belgium and to the concert platform. Two years later the family was back again in Paris, where Franck failed to make an impression either by his compositions or his appearances as a performer. Franck’s relative failure as a virtuoso pianist and his association with Félicité Saillot Desmousseaux, whose parents were actors in the Comédie-Française, led to a breach with his own family. In 1848 he married, continuing to earn a living by teaching and as an organist, while slowly developing his powers as a composer. It was principally as an organist, with phenomenal powers of improvisation, that he was to succeed in Paris in these middle years of his life, with appointment in 1858 to the church of Ste Clotilde, with its new Cavaillé-Coll organ. In 1871, after a period in which he had won the loyalty and affection of a group of pupils led by Duparc, and in which his music had been performed under the auspices of the Société Nationale, he was appointed to the position of professor of organ at the Conservatoire.
The three-movement Symphony in D minor (summer 1887–22 August 1888), inscribed “to my dear friend” (and pupil) Henri Duparc, was Franck’s last orchestral composition. His pupil, the composer Vincent D’lndy, related how the occasion of the chilly first performance, at the Paris Conservatoire under Jules Garcin, Sunday 17 February 1889, was against the wishes of the orchestra: “the subscribers could make neither head nor tail of it, and the musical authorities were in much the same position. I inquired of one of them—a professor at the Conservatoire, and a kind of factotum on the Committee—what he thought of the work. ‘That, a symphony?’ he replied in contemptuous tones. ‘But my dear sir, who ever heard of writing for the cor anglais in a symphony? Presumably this unidentified gentleman had no time for Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique either; Dvořák’s New World was yet to come. Cyclic unification and the Beethovenian importance Franck placed on tonality rather than melody are central to the work. Notably audible is his recurrent use of dotted rhythmic figures and syncopated accents on the weak beats of the bar—the former illustrated in the first movement by the opening two bars of the lento motto by the lower strings; the latter by the climactic second subject (the so-called “faith” or “Credo” motif, a short-long-short pattern). The development of themes between movements is virtually non-existent. When Franck recalls material in the finale, he quotes rather than metamorphosizes, on his own admission drawing his inspiration like the groundswell of his coda more from the model of Beethoven than Liszt, the Ninth rather than Faust.
Orchestrally, the music is scored for modestly Romantic forces, double woodwind, cor anglais, bass clarinet, four (chromatic) valve horns, two trumpets and two cornetsà—pistons, three trombones and tuba, kettledrums, harp and strings. Franck achieves some splendid moments with these forces—from the harp, pizzicato string chords and solo cor anglais of the central Allegretto to triumphantly brazen tutti resonances, via Brucknerian terraces of block sounds and colours reminiscent of different organ registrations. The architecture is personal. The first movement is nearly as long as the second and third combined, sign-posted by an opening and closing motto idea, Lento, that turns out to be the first subject. The second movement is an episodic, dance-like Allegretto in B flat minor/major, telescoping elements of meditative lyric movement and intermezzo/scherzo in the manner of Berwald and Tchaikovsky, not forgetting Franck’s own Grande Pièce Symphonique for organ. A finale in the tonic major is the optimistic crown of the work where Franck overcomes doubts and uncertainties. All is bright and positive, with a closing peroration affirmed in a dazzling blaze of D major sunrise colour that has lost nothing of its impact with the passing of time. Franck himself provided a detailed, if routine, analysis of the work, published after his death. More revealing was what he had to say to his composition student Pierre de Bréville, particularly concerning the unusual duality of the middle movement—“an andante [sic] and a scherzo. It was my great ambition to construct them in such a way that each beat of the andante … should be exactly equal in length to one bar of the scherzo, with the intention that after the complete development of each section one could be superimposed on the other. I succeeded in solving the problem”
Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904)
Symphony No 9 in E minor, Op 95 ‘From the New World’
Symphonic Variations, Op 78
Antonín Dvořák was born in 1841, the son of a village butcher and innkeeper in the village of Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, in Bohemia, and some forty miles north of Prague. It was natural that he should follow the example of his father and grandfather by learning the family trade, and to this end he left school at the age of eleven. There is no record of his competence in butchery, but his musical abilities were early apparent, and in 1853 he was sent to lodge with an uncle in Zlonice, where he continued his schooling, learning German and improving his knowledge of music, rudimentary skill in which he had already acquired at home and in the village band and church. Further study of German and of music at Kamenice, a town in northern Bohemia, led to his admission, in 1857, to the Prague Organ School, from which he graduated two years later. In the years that followed, Dvořák earned his living as a viola-player in a band under the direction of Karel Komsak which was to form the nucleus of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra, established in 1862. Four years later Smetana was appointed conductor of the opera-house, where his Czech operas The Brandenburgers in Bohemia and The Bartered Bride had already been performed. It was not until 1871 that Dvořák resigned from the theatre orchestra, to take a wife and a position as an organist and support himself by additional private teaching, while busy on a series of compositions that gradually became known to a wider circle. Early in 1891 Dvořák became professor of composition at Prague Conservatory. In the summer of the same year he was invited by Mrs Jeannette Thurber, wife of a rich American grocer, to become director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, a position he took up that autumn. Here it was hoped that he would establish a new American tradition of music, while serving as a distinguished figurehead for the new institution. By 1895, in the course of a second two-year contract. Dvořák had had enough of America. Returning to Europe, he resumed his duties at the Prague Conservatory of which he was to become nominal director in 1901, able to spend most of his time at his country retreat with his family and his pigeons. He died on 1 May 1904.
Dvořák wrote nine symphonies, variously numbered, since he tried to discard earlier attempts at the form, undertaken in 1863. The last of the symphonies, published as No 5, but in fact the ninth, has the explanatory title “From the New World”. It was written in the early months of 1893 and first performed at Carnegie Hall on 16 December of the same year by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Anton Seidl. It was an immediate success. Dvořák was deeply influenced by America and by the Indian and Negro music he heard, as well as the songs of Stephen Foster. In Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha he found an expression of American identity that also had a place in his symphony. He made it clear that all the themes were original, although shaped by the use of particular rhythmic and melodic features of music of the New World. Nevertheless the symphony retains an inevitable air of Bohemia. Mrs Thurber had hoped that Hiawatha might form the basis of an American opera from the composer she had hired. The slow movement of the symphony, with its famous cor anglais solo, is described by a note of the composer’s as Morning, possibly the blessing of the cornfields in Longfellow’s poem, rather than the burial in the forest that has been identified with the movement. The third movement is associated with Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, with the bridegroom ‘whirling, spinning round in circles, Leaping o’er the guests assembled’, energetic activity contrasted with a more properly Bohemian trio section. The final movement, with its references to what has passed, forms a brilliant conclusion, ending in the quietest possible sustained chord.
Dvořák’s Symphonic Variations, Op 78, were written in the late summer of 1877 and show the composer’s particular ability in the form. It is said that the composition was in answer to a challenge from a friend to write variations on a theme that seemed impossible for the purpose, the male part-song “Já jsem husler” (I am a fiddler). The theme itself, baldly stated, is followed by 27 variations of wit, ingenuity and remarkable invention, with a splendid command of the resources of the orchestra. The series ends with a fugue, followed by a series of episodes that establish a much less formal mood.
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Alpine Symphony, Op 64
The German composer and conductor Richard Strauss represents a remarkable extension of the work of Liszt and Wagner in the symphonic poems of his early career and in his operas shows an equally remarkable use of late romantic orchestral idiom. Born in Munich, the son of a distinguished horn-player, he had a sound general education there, while studying music under teachers of obvious distinction. Before he left school in 1882 he had already enjoyed some success as a composer, continued during his brief period at Munich University with the composition of concertos for violin and for French horn and a sonata for cello and piano. By the age of 21 he had been appointed assistant conductor to the well-known orchestra at Meiningen under Hans von Bülow, whom he succeeded in the following year. In 1886 Strauss resigned from Meiningen and began the series of tone-poems that seemed to extend to the utmost limit the extra-musical content of the form. The first of these works, Aus Italien (From Italy), was followed by Macbeth, Don Juan, Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration) and, after a gap of a few years, Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spake Zarathustra), Don Quixote and Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life). Meanwhile Strauss was establishing his reputation as a conductor, directing the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for a season and taking appointments in Munich and then at the opera in Berlin, where he later became Court Composer. The new century brought a renewed attention to opera, a medium in which he had initially enjoyed no great success. Salome in Dresden in 1905 was followed in 1909 by Elektra, with a libretto by the writer with whom he was to collaborate over the next twenty years, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose), a romantic opera set in the Vienna of Mozart, was staged at the Court Opera in Dresden in 1911, followed by ten further operas, ending only with Capriccio, mounted at the Staatsoper in Munich in 1942. It was unfortunate that, in the eyes of some, Strauss was compromised by his seeming acquiescence under the National Socialist Government that came to power in 1933. After 1945 he withdrew for a time to Switzerland, returning to his own house at Garmisch only four months before his death in 1949
Strauss started the composition of his Alpine Symphony, the last of his tone-poems, in 1911, working on it intermittently until its completion in 1915. The work, even less of a symphony than the autobiographical Symphonia Domestica of 1903, drew its original inspiration from a schoolboy mountaineering expedition, during which the participants had at one point lost their way, and on their descent had been drenched in a thunderstorm. An equally important source for the work is to be found in Nietzsche. Strauss had wholeheartedly embraced the latter’s philosophy and was notably influenced by his attack on Christianity, Der Antichrist: Fluch auf das Christentum (The Antichrist: Curse on Christianity).
For the new tone-poem very considerable resources were needed. It is scored for a very large orchestra with double woodwind and eight extra players, a brass section of fourteen players, including four tenor tubas, four harps, a large and varied percussion section including a thunder and a wind machine, twelve horns, two trumpets and two trombones off-stage, five dozen or so string players and, an element of particular importance in the storm scene, a concert organ. An Alpine Symphony consists of 22 linked episodes, each identified with a stage in a climb in the Alps, an expedition starting with night, then sunrise, and finishing at nightfall. At the same time there are elements of symphonic structure. The first two sections, night and sunrise may be heard as a slow introduction, leading to the ascent, marked Sehr lebhaft und energisch, an Allegro.
[Track 1] Night opens with a sustained B flat and the descent of the strings, each section divided into four, and stopping on a sustained chord that will finally include all the notes of the scale, against which is heard a Straussian motif from the brass.  This section builds up to sunrise, with its similar descending scale figure, soon followed by a new theme.  The ascent is introduced by a lively theme, the opening figure entrusted to the harps and lower strings. An emphatic motif from horns and trombones is followed by the sound of distant hunting-horns from the off-stage players, and the brass motif leads to  the entry into the wood, with a theme that may be heard as the counterpart of the second subject. The woodland brings other melodic elements, including bird-calls, one suggesting, as sometimes happens here, the world of Mahler, so recently dead. The ascent theme returns, to start what might be heard as a development section, with contrasts of texture as the strings give way to a solo string quartet.  The mountain stream is aptly evoked, with reminiscences of earlier thematic material, with the violin climbing motif leading to  a waterfall, graphically depicted in brilliant orchestral colours, descending harp and violin glissandos, through which  an apparition, the spirit of the Alps, is seen.  A new melody for horn and then violin takes the climbers to flowering meadows, with the ascent theme heard again.  In the alpine pastures cow-bells are heard, with the transformation of the earlier Mahlerian bird-call, the calm of the scene pierced by a descending figure from the woodwind, leading to a new theme from the first horn.  This theme mingles with earlier material as the party loses its way amid thickets and undergrowth of contrapuntal complexity, before bursting through onto  the glacier.  An earlier motif, now heard from the first bassoon, suggests a dangerous moment, in a fragmented texture.  A bright F major chord marks the achievement of the summit, the trombones followed by an oboe melody heard against tremolo violin accompaniment, before full realisation of the scene is given more brilliant orchestral colour, as various earlier thematic elements are heard in a section that marks the central climax of the whole work, in which the theme that led to the flowering meadows assumes particular prominence.  The vision continues, with trill after trill, until trumpets proclaim the sun theme of the second section, while the violins, tremolo in double stopped octaves, ascend. At this point the organ enters at last, with an E pedal-point, joined by two bass tubas and the double bassoon. The violins ascend to the heights, and the brass suggest a recapitulation with the phrase first heard from them in the opening section of the work, but now marked fff.  The mood suddenly changes, as mists descend on the climbers, the divisi strings now muted.  The sun shines bleakly through,  and in the elegy is heard once more, with a new theme, entrusted first to the strings, and then,  in the calm before the storm, to a clarinet, after a distant clap of thunder. There are isolated bird-calls before the descending theme of the opening appears once more, as the storm rises, with thunder and the howling wind.  It is in the storm, with its raging and momentary lulls, that the climbers make their descent, passing through the stages of their ascent. The storm dies down, with isolated raindrops falling one by one, and the brass play their theme from the first section, a symbol of the mountain itself.  The sun sets, its theme augmented, while the strings recall other elements and trumpets and trombones introduce a hymn-like theme.  The organ, which has had a vital part to play in the second half of the symphony, introduces the final sounds, with the apparition of the spirit of the mountain recalled thematically, and the climbing motif and other elements, remembered now in a final coda.  Night returns and with it the music of the opening and, in the last bars, a concluding reminiscence of the climb itself.
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
The symphonic poem Don Juan takes for its hero not so much the figure dramatised by Tirso de Molina in the seventeenth century or of Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte in the eighteenth, but Lenau’s Don Juan, a man of very different character. He is an introspective lover of beauty, who avoids satiety and boredom, the blunting of his taste, by constant change. Lenau’s Don Juan, published posthumously in 1851, is incomplete, but records the amorous exploits of its hero and his final disillusionment, after which he allows himself to be killed by the son of the man he has murdered, father of a woman he had wronged, the Commendatore of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. The theme that represents Don Juan himself, a motif that is to recur, is easily identifiable. Attempts to suggest precise episodes in the hero’s amatory career with the secondary themes is possibly beyond the composer’s original intentions, which seem to have been of a more general kind. The work is, in fact, no naïve piece of programme music, although three of the Don’s conquests seem to make their appearance, to be recalled after a carnival scene. The final death of the protagonist takes place at night in a churchyard, a moment for him of final resignation.
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