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ClassicsOnline Home » FAESY: Columbus / Sempach / Der Triumph der Liebe
Albert Rudolph Fäsy (1837-1891)
 Götz von Berlichingen
Vorspiel zu Johann Wolfgang von Goethes Drama
(Prelude to Goethe's Drama)
 Der Triumph der Liebe (The Triumph of Love)
Vorspiel zu Friedrich von Schillers Hymne
(Prelude to Schiller's Hymn)
Symphonische Dichtung (Symphonic Poem)
Dramatische Suite (Dramatic suite)
 I. Heil Columb'! (Hail thee, Columbus!)
 II. Matrosen-Melodie (Sailor's Tune)
 III.Columbus am Steuer (Columbus at the Helm)
 IV. Vision (The Vision)
 V. Empörung (The Revolt)
 VI. Entscheidung (The Decision)
Prelude to Götz von Berlichingen * Prelude to Der Triumph der Liebe *
Sempach * Columbus
Albert Rudolph Fäsy was born in Zurich on 1st April, 1837, the son of the owner of a department store and city councillor. He had his first musical training with Franz Abt and Alexander Müller, the latter a friend of Richard Wagner, and in 1856 was admitted to the Leipzig Conservatory, three years later moving to Vienna. For further study he also travelled to Dresden in 1860, returning there again in 1868, after a period in Zurich. He died on 5th May, 1891, in Konstanz, in Germany, where he had settled in 1879. These few dates constitute all that is known of this composer.
Since Zurich had been Wagner's first home in Switzerland between 1849 and 1858 and since a printed score of Wagner's Tannhäuser with the composer's own corrections was found in Fäsy's library, it is almost certain that Fäsy must have known Wagner personally, but Wagner's own writings and letters do not reveal anything about this Swiss composer, 24 years his junior. At that time, however, Fäsy probably had still to write his first orchestral work. The four tone-poems recorded here, which presumably make up his complete orchestral output, were almost certainly written between 1870 and 1890, after Wagner had already left Switzerland. In 1860, Albrecht, a Vienna music publisher, had printed Sehnsucht, a setting by Fäsy of a poem by Schiller for baritone and piano, which may have been submitted to Wagner for criticism. All other works by Fäsy remain in manuscript form. An Elegie for voice and piano, on a text by Friedrich von Matthisson, seems to have been orchestrated later, but is now apparently lost. Two more vocal works with piano, also on texts by Matthisson, three compositions for piano solo and the four orchestral pieces of this disc constitute the surviving body of Albert Fäsy's compositions, all preserved today in the Zurich Zentralbibliothek. In the same collection are also found Fäsy's detailed study of Beethovens Symphonies and an incomplete, comprehensive monograph on the Zurich musician, publisher, writer and politician Hans Georg Nägeli (1773-1836), showing that Fäsy was a man of high culture, perhaps with Nägeli as his spiritual example. In a list of Fäsy's private music library, published for the sale after his death, a considerable and varied quantity of orchestral scores, vocal scores and albums for piano are mentioned. Specialist books on music, among which are works by and on Berlioz, Weber, Schumann, Liszt and Wagner, give us a deeper insight into Fäsy's musical interests and taste.
While not a master of melodic invention, Fäsy reveals himself as skilled in instrumentation, harmony and counterpoint, and a gifted creator of dramatic atmosphere. In orchestration he shows a preference for well-constructed and varied tutti sections, rather than harmonizations of solo melodies with a conventional accompaniment. Special instrumental effects occur briefly and only if strictly necessary. Writing for single instruments, whether separately or within the same group, is expertly carried out, in perfect balance with the whole ensemble, producing either a full orchestral sound in which woodwinds and brass predominate, or suggesting an almost indefinable, blurred atmosphere of mystery or tension through effective string figuration. Fäsy's orchestral pieces may be imagined as conceived to accompany solemnly staged dramatic or edifying tableaux vivants. The fact that the melodic construction of these monumental tone-poems is rather simple may justify the intention to give them a monolithic aspect. The use of Wagnerian leitmotif is also quite different, employed not to build up dynamic musico-dramatic action, but to be clearly heard and understood, and finally to involve the listener in the whole musical event, from beginning to end. These works may be subdivided into various sections, but the few intermediary pauses appear no more than little crevices in a solitary rock. In most cases, Fäsy's short leitmotifs, which are used as musical cells, not as melodies, build up the whole musical material of a piece; variations or, rather, transformations occur to constitute the theme or the accompanying musical material of a following section, scarcely or not even developed within the same episode. These simple motifs become occasionally secondary and/or contrasting themes through clever structural and harmonic changes, including the then relatively new technique of inversion. In an almost revolutionary way, Fäsy creates a straightforward musical language, almost without development technique, giving his musical pieces a somehow terse unity. It could alternatively be suggested that Fäsy has created his own development technique, by continuing thematic transformations within separate orchestral episodes. Wagner and Liszt had actually not been tempted to approach so succinct a musical style, which reaches even further dimensions, especially in extended ostinato sequences, anticipating the minimalism of Philip Glass. If Bruckner's music may be described as naïve, but in the most positive sense of the word, through its puzzling, but avant-garde simplicity and appeal, Fäsy's music shows similar aspects.
Without the music of Wagner and Liszt, of course, Fäsy's cannot be imagined, but perhaps his intention was simply to do something different, appealing to a larger, less elite audience than that of Bayreuth. The condition of Fäsy's manuscripts makes us guess that these works were never performed, but they would have certainly left a tremendous impression on the audiences. Once these works are heard, Fäsy's personality appears to us less mysterious, as he does by studying the only portrait of him to survive, a profile in silhouhette, made probably during his student years. His music reveals a strong personality, able to fight lifelong for a lost cause, like so many other gifted composers, whose scores still await to be rediscovered, and which may encourage some of us to re-write more than one chapter of the history of music, which, with its classifications of period and style, remains nothing more than the glorification of the winners.
Gottfried von Berlichingen (1480-1562) was a robber baron, who became a leader of the German Peasant's Revolt of 1525. Goethe, in his Shakespearean historical drama of 1773, Götz von Berlichingen, had transformed the original earthy and impetuous protagonist into a Sturm und Drang hero, a representative of free knighthood, a fighter for the abolition of social classes, an opponent of feudal government. Innovatively Goethe used different idioms in depicting the different social classes in his drama.
Fäsy's orchestral prelude, written early in 1870 and revised in the summer of 1881, is the only dated orchestral manuscript. This carries a motto from Goethe, Götz's last words before dying in prison, a hint at an aspect of Fäsy's own character: "Close your hearts more carefully than your doors. Times of fraud are coming; liberty has been given to it. The weak will reign with cunning and the brave will fall into the nets which have been woven over the paths by cowardice". This prelude is a powerful C major march with splendid woodwind and brass writing. The main theme (Götz) is very similar to Wagner's Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and in the same key. Fäsy's harmonization and orchestration, however, are definitely more complicated, and skilfully polyphonic, including unexpected chromatic passages, dramatic string tremoli and realistic, theme-less stamping sections leading to dramatic outbursts, during which the overall square beat changes for a while to a few bars in 3/4. Wagner's work is, of course, a symphonic summary of the opera's leitmotifs, related to each other. Fäsy, in his piece, inserts short contrasting episodes or transitory passages leading to related themes, which, instead, are never developed. They describe particular protagonists or situations in Goethe's drama, as the composer explains in his manuscript. The most exciting section of Götz von Berlichingen is found where horns, trombones and tuba alone play an E flat major variation of Götz's theme, followed by a tutti repetition, with a field march variation played by the piccolo. Afterwards, no new musical material appears, only an energetic repetition, bringing the main theme to a triumphant conclusion.
Schiller's long hymn-poem Der Triumph der Liebe (The Triumph of Love) was first published in 1782. Its first strophe returns four times like a refrain and reveals the main idea of the poem:
Selig durch die Liebe
Götter - durch die Liebe
Menschen Göttern gleich.
Liebe macht den Himmel
Himmlischer - die Erde
Zu dem Himmelreich.
(Blissful through Love
Gods - through Love
Men like Gods.
Love makes Heaven
Heavenlier - of Earth
The Kingdom of Heaven)
In an introductory note to his score, Fäsy informs the listener that the "mounting and descending changing impressions" heard in his music are related to the poem's first part and that "the therewith associated reflections" are related to its second. In other words, he reveals how he has conceived and developed his programmatic piece. In the first part, Schiller delivers a tempestuous description of nature ruled by mythological beings and in the second, human beings are invited to be inspired by nature to enjoy Love and become god-like.
In his impressive work for large orchestra, actually a prelude followed by a hymn, the composer expresses, in his own words "ecstasy and the delights of Love". The prelude itself is based on a yearning five-note motif, dramatically exposed at the beginning and transformed into a four-note cell to give way to two mechanical crescendo sections, after which a descending lyrical theme is gradually developed towards a few solemn statements, between which an ecstatic string arpeggio section not only sustains a further variation of this lyrical theme, but already anticipates the theme of the hymn itself. The prelude, opening in A flat minor, is developed through various keys, but the hymn remains in affirmative A flat major. It is prepared by two cadenzas, in which the lyrical motif is first ornamented and then raised to a climatic stop by the upper woodwind and strings, to be later on transformed into cadenza-homages to Wagner's Rienzi and Brünnhilde over accompanying string tremoli and brass chords. In the hymn itself, further ecstatic arpeggios serve as an elaborate accompaniment to a majestic slow-march theme. An original coda on the prelude's lyrical theme brings the work to triumphant conclusion. The glockenspiel part in the last nine bars is my own contribution, although a few bars for this instrument have been scored by Fäsy already in the prelude. Half a century before Scriabin, Fäsy has conceived a decidedly chaster Poème de l'Extase in Lisztian and Wagnerian style, but containing experimental passages suggesting the minimalism to follow over a century later.
In the battle of Sempach of 9th July, 1386, the Swiss central troops defeated the Habsburgs, commanded by Duke Leopold of Austria. This victory was apparently reached at the very last moment through the voluntary and heroic death of Arnold Winkelried, a figure who would later become a symbol of Swiss liberty like William Tell.
Fäsy's piece bears the subtitle Der Auszug der Schweizer zur Verteidigung (The Swiss' Setting Out to Defense) and his own programme notes, dividing the piece into three episodes, read as follows:
1. Krieg im Land. Aufbruch zur Wehr. Ankunft der Priester zur Einsegnung der Fahnen. Begeisterung zu Sieg oder Tod. "Seid wackre Krieger, auf mit Gott"
2. Schwur, Fahnenweihe und Gebet
3. Der Abmarsch
(1. War in the Land. Departure for the defense. Arrival of the Priests for the consecration of the banners. Enthusiasm for Victory or Death. "Be ye all brave Warriors, up with God!"
2. The Oath, the Consecration and the Prayer
3. The Marching Off)
Under these notes, the specification Situationsmalerei und Ausdruck der Empfindung (Tone painting and expression of feelings) has been added, clarifying Fäsys intention in this tone poem, one of a number of similarly effective "victory" pieces of the time, of which only Tchaikowsky's 1812 Overture has found a regular place in the concert-hall. It is quite probable that Fäsy's piece was composed in 1886 for the quincentennial celebration of the battle of Sempach, but there is no sign of its performance among the many other works that marked the occasion or elsewhere. Unlike Tchaikovsky's Overture or Beethoven's noisy and superficial Wellingtons Victory, Fäsy work does not describe a battle, but only the immediately preceding circumstances, culminating in a boisterous march. Sempach is principally in E flat major, but explores other tonalities in chromatic passages with daring effects and uses of dissonance.
The work opens with a realist evocation of the arrival of the army at the place where the priests have set up an altar. Its principal short march-like theme is the nucleus of the following contrasting themes or of their accompaniment. Eventually, a chromatic yearning variation is developed to a dramatic climax, leading to the second episode, in which Fäsy, like Rimsky-Korsakov in his Russian Easter Overture (1888), imitates the invocation of a priest and the answering congregation's chants, after the description of the solemn triple oath and of the consecration ceremony itself. This section is particularly effective and original, with horn-calls sustaining a solemn bell-toll, answered by invoking strings. After this, the blurred murmuring of the praying assembly is suggested in a mysterious syncopated episode, bizarre then and now in its prolonged and unproductive modulations.
In the third episode there are reminiscences and variations of the main theme with an effective use of timpani and drums, as the troops march off. The patriotic two-part march leading Sempach to a triumphant conclusion contains material based on the main motif. It is preceded by a fanfare and recitative-like triplet-calls by the strings, suggesting a cheering crowd, ready for battle. In this concluding march I have added a repetition of nine bars and the entire concluding bell sounding, which surely would have appealed to Fäsy. Sempach would really have deserved a live performance on Swiss historical grounds, accompanied by a tableau vivant rendering of those patriotic events.
Columbus is Fäsy's magnum opus, his longest and most elaborate symphonic poem, suggesting the composers great ambitions and noble and highly sensitive character. The appreciation of major orchestral works calls for performance and this demands resources. Although his father owned a department store and Fäsy was able to travel to Germany various times, nothing is now known about his and his family's financial situation, but presumably the Fäsys were unable to finance performances of Albert's expensive orchestral pieces. That he would choose Christopher Columbus as the subject of a dramatic suite suggest not only the need to pay tribute to a great historical personality, but also perhaps his own identification with a man struggling towards his own goal.
This suite for large symphony orchestra is subdivided into six parts, which we prefer to call "episodes" rather than "movements", since they remain connected together and are thematically related. It is a sort of cyclic symphonic poem, formally more ambitiously, but substantially definitely more simply conceived than the programme music of Liszt and Berlioz. Fäsy builds up his whole thematic material through a main motif, the resolute ascending seven-note scale heard at the very beginning. This is immediately followed by a cheering call of a mounting third, a rhythmic Hail Columbus, fading out in the distance. The first theme can be identified as the man, struggling for his ideals (his "inner world") and the second as the "outer world" surrounding him, his fellow human beings, his sailors, reacting with or against him, in this long and adventurous voyage to the unknown New World. After this "contrasting exposition", the first episode in D major, the principal key, depicts the calm sea, with a plodding variation of the "outer world" theme leading to a restatement of the latter in a more definitely convinced version, to show the effect of Columbus' encouraging speech to his crew. In the second episode, the crew shows its gratitude in a boisterous tune, whose theme is partly based on the ascending Columbus' motif and whose following trio on the "cheering" motif. As a contrast, a more dramatic ascending motif is included, which reveals itself as an inversion of the song's theme. That this rondo-like tune is not always sung on the calm sea and under the best psychological conditions is apparent in those moments in which Fäsy allows it to modulate in more dramatic orchestration. The sea grows calm again and sets Columbus to a reverie. This is described by the composer in his own poem:
Die Sonne sank, der Tag entwich;
Des Heldens Brust ward schwer.
Der Kiel durchrauschte schauerlich
Das weite, wüste Meer.
Die Sterne zogen still herauf,
Doch ach, kein Hoffnungsstern!
Und von des Schiffes ödem Lauf
Blieb Land und Rettung fern.
Sein treues Fernrohr in der Hand,
Die Brust voll Gram, durchwacht,
Nach Westen blickend unverwandt,
Der Held die düstre Nacht.
"Nach Westen, o nach Westen hin
Beflügle dich, mein Kiel!
Dich grüßt, noch sterbend Herz und Sinn,
Du meiner Sehnsucht Ziel.
Doch mild, o Gott, von Himmelshöh'n
Blick auf mein Volk herab.
Laß nicht sie trostlos untergeh'n
Im wüsten Flutengrab."
(The sun has set, the day has gone;
The hero's breast grew heavy.
The keel dashed terribly
Through the wide, wild sea.
Stars gathered silently,
But, alas, there was no star of hope!
And from the ship's dreary course
No land, no salvation appeared.
Holding his faithful telescope,
His breast full of grief and sleepless,
His look continuously towards West,
There stays the hero in the gloomy night.
Wing your way, my keel!
I greet you, with dying heart and senses,
You, the goal of my yearning!
But gentle, o God, from heaven's heights,
Look down on my people.
Let them not sink miserably
Into a desolate watery tomb.")
A Rimsky-Korsakov-like atmosphere is heard in the orchestration of the third episode, a ternary section in D minor. In the first part the "outer world" theme is masked into a motif of calls of fourths followed by various lyrical ascending scales describing Columbus' emotions before nature. In the minimalist-like central section, the sea murmurs under a starlit night, through elaborately subdivided string arpeggios, staccato trumpet notes and piccolo solos accompanying an ethereal, arabesque-like theme, alternately from the horn and from the lower strings. In his score, Fäsy suggests the use of an optional group of tremolo extra violins, in two soft, chant-like interventions, which I have re-arranged for tubular bells, in order to prepare the atmosphere of the following episode. Columbus' vision, returning to the main key of D major, contains cadenza-like arabesques for flute and arpeggios for the harp. Columbus' theme reappears at the beginning in a truncated form of two longing calls by the upper wind, finally leading to the vision's string theme, echoed by mysterious, trumpet-calls in the distance, another very original feature of the two lyrical episodes of Columbus. This sweeping theme turns out to be nothing less than a pointed ascending and a triplet-like descending ornamentation of Columbus' motif. In the fifth episode, the composer excels himself in an avant-garde piece of chromatic music, splendidly elaborated and orchestrated. The thematic material is based on various dramatic variations of the sailors tune, prepared by recitative-like dialogues, all suggesting a tempered discussion between the captain and his mutinous crew. Columbus' theme remains hidden at first, then appearing in truncated form at the end of a phrase, or as an inverted, lament-like answer. Before the mutiny ends, the music calms down and two curious miniature flourishes by a solo violin over a soft drum roll are heard, played from the distance, to suggest perhaps a bird's signal announcing the approaching land. Columbus starts to calm the mutiny with more convincing arguments: his and the sailors themes lead over ascending chromatic scales to the last episode, opening with a rushing and optimistic introduction, in which a restatement of the "cheering third" motif reappears. This subsequently becomes the theme of a triumphant hymn, of which the second part is a march version of the sailors' tune, based, as we already know, on a part of Columbus' own motif. Its complete and uncompromising final restatement, this time without cheering echoes, concludes this huge tone poem, subtitled in Fäsy's own words Empfindung, Malerei und Symbolisierung (Impression, tone-painting and symbolism).
Fäsy's overall orchestral forces require double woodwind (but three flutes), bass clarinet, four horns, two trumpets (four in Columbus and Sempach), three trombones and tuba, besides timpani and percussion. The strings are generally subdivided; Columbus even has episodes in which first and second violins are subdivided into four parts each, as often occurs in Wagner. Der Triumph der Liebe has an exceptional part for English horn and Götz von Berlichingen has a third bassoon instead of a bass clarinet. All scores are furnished with a respectable quantity of composer's instructions on interpretation, balance and dynamics. In a few passages of Columbus, the composer suggests alternative orchestrations for larger symphony orchestras, and they have been considered here. As far as dynamic symbols are concerned, Fäsy shows an almost obsessive and sometimes over-emphatic use of them
A personal conclusion
To Hans Ehrismann, chorusmaster of Zürich (1911-1988), I owe acquaintance with Albert Fäsy, whose manuscripts I have edited in 1997 and 1998 in the form of "performing version" scores and instrumental parts, with the help of computer software. In a Zürich newspaper article of 1976, Ehrismann had presented Fäsy as "an artist who should deserve a place amongst Swiss composers and musicologists" and I think he was completely right, this not only after comparison with the Swiss symphonists of that time, whose major exponent, Joachim Raff, had emigrated to Germany already as a young man. At the time of Ehrismann's article I would never have imagined being allowed one day to mount the podium of a large symphony orchestra. I contented myself with a fascinated study of Fäsy's manuscripts. At least once a year I used to visit Zürich's Zentralbibliothek for that purpose, and after I had been recognised as a conductor and allowed to record a respectable quantity of unknown repertoire, I felt that Albert Fäsy's turn had come, against, of course, the usual mocking and even envious attitude of those in Switzerland who regularly criticise my unusual musical activities. Preparing these scores was a labour of love and fanaticism over hundreds of hours. Thanks to a sponsorship by the Czeslaw Marek Foundation and to a loan by the Schweizerischer Tonkünstlerverein, contributions came to support the financing of the recording's manufacturing costs and the preparation of the instrumental parts. That this CD could be realised by the excellent Moscow Symphony Orchestra reveals once more that no one is a prophet in his own land, but I can dare to say that in my own country this recording would never have been made with so warm and enthusiastic a response. The musicians were simply flabbergasted by Fäsy's massive musical concepts and my own commitment found the warmest reception. Last but not least, I am proud of having been able to convince HNH International to produce this recording, featuring such exciting obscure material, for which I admit to having had bouts of bad conscience from time to time. But Marco Polo, the label of Discovery par excellence has been created to draw one's attention to many of such lost cases, giving our musical past those wider, new horizons for which, as a musician myself, I am struggling.
(edited by Keith Anderson)
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FAESY: Columbus / Sempach / Der Triumph der Liebe