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ClassicsOnline Home » GOLDMARK: Symphony No. 2, Op. 35 / Penthesilea, Op. 31
Symphony No. 2 in E
Flat, Op. 35
The Hungarian composer
Karl Goldmark was born in Keszthely in 1830, one of the twenty children of a
synagogue cantor. In 1834 the family moved to Deutsch-Kreuz and it was there
that, in 1841, he was able to receive some elementary musical instruction from
a village teacher. The following year he entered the music school at the
neighbouring town of Ödenburg, and two years later he moved to Vienna, where he
continued his study of the violin under Leopold Jansa, supporting himself as
well as he could, until forced by poverty to return to Deutsch-Kreuz.
In 1847 Goldmark
entered the Conservatory in Vienna, after first having qualified for entry to
the Vienna Technical School. He became a violin pupil of Joseph Böhm and
studied music theory, but returned home in 1848, after the closing of the
Conservatory in the revolutionary disturbances of that year, in which, through
a mistake of identity, he narrowly avoided execution as a rebel. This marked
the end of his formal musical training, which was followed by work as a
violinist in various theatre orchestras. He taught himself to play the piano,
and gave lessons in Vienna, where he returned in 1850 to work at the Josefstadt
Theater, continuing to develop his practical knowledge of music and to display
this in a series of compositions that attracted little serious attention.
On 20th March, 1857,
Goldmark gave a concert of his works, including a piano quartet, an overture, a
Psalm for solo voices, chorus and orchestra and some songs. The first of these
received a favourable notice, but so little general interest was aroused that
he decided to move to Budapest, where he remained for two years, teaching the
piano and studying standard contemporary text-books and the music of Bach,
Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. A further concert of his works was given in 1859
and in 1860 he returned to Vienna, where he was to remain for the rest of his
At first supporting
himself by giving piano lessons, Goldmark gradually began to achieve fame as a
composer. His String Ouartet, Opus 8, won high praise, and even Eduard
Hanslick was favourably impressed by the Sakuntala Over1ure, first performed in
Vienna in 1865. He wrote as a music critic for the Konstitutionelle Zeitung,
and became closely associated with the supporters of Richard Wagner,
particularly in the establishment in 1872 of the Vienna Wagner-Verein. The
influence of Wagner was to become increasingly strong in his own work as a composer.
In 1875 Goldmark won
considerable success with his opera Die Königin von Saba, a work of lavish
orchestral colour, which was first performed at the Vienna Court Opera under
Wilhelm Gericke, and thereafter by many German and Italian opera companies. In
1910 the opera received its first English performance in Manchester by the Carl
Rosa Company. Its composition had taken the composer some ten years, and in
1886 after four years' work, a second opera was completed, Merlin, to be
followed by four subsequent operas, two of them, Das Heimchen am Herd
(‘The Cricket on the Hearth’) and Ein Wintermärchen (‘A Winter's Tale’),
on English subjects, adapted from Dickens and Shakespeare respectively.
In Vienna Goldmark
occupied a position of honour. He enjoyed the friendship of Brahms and of
Johann Strauss, and his abilities received official recognition at home and
abroad. At first an obvious successor to the traditions of Mendelssohn,
Schumann and Spohr, he later succumbed to the pervasive influence of Wagner, shown
in his Ländliche Hochzeit Symphony, a work that remains marginally in
current orchestral repertoire, and in the Overture Penthesilea. His
practical experience as a musician and his own studies made him a proficient
composer, with a mastery of musical effects, well demonstrated in Die Königin
von Saba, and his skill and inventiveness suggest that his music deserves more
attention than it has generally received since his death in 1915.
The second of
Goldmark's two symphonies was completed in 1887 and published two years later.
It is in many ways a work of classical craftsmanship, its first movement
showing the influence of Mendelssohn and his precursors, yet without
anachronism, since the deft handling of orchestral colour hints in passing at
the world of Mahler, a composer who was to receive encouragement from Goldmark
in later years, after earlier rejection.
The second movement of
the symphony couples a dramatic element with the lyricism that was always a
strong feature of Goldmark's work. It leads to a scherzo and trio, the first
recalling a slightly sinister fairy world, in contrast to the hymn-like trumpet
melody that opens the latter.
The finale opens with
a slow introduction, soon replaced by a lively Allegro, its tendency to rapid
perpetual motion occasionally interrupted by episodes of a more lyrical nature,
clear in texture and, in spite of apparent simplicity, always avoiding the
Heninrich von Kleist
planned his tragedy Penthesilea during his imprisonment in France as a
spy in 1807, after an early career as an officer in the First Foot Guards at
Potsdam, an unsuccessful attempt to join Napoleon's planned invasion of England
and a subsequent abortive conspiracy against Napoleon, after the defeat of
Prussia in 1806.
Penthesilea, a tragedy in 24 scenes, was published in
Kleist's periodical Phoebus in 1808, and was submitted to Goethe in Weimar. It
was rejected by the latter, who did stage Kleist's one-act comedy, Der
zerbrochene Krug, its failure ensured by slow performance, lengthened
intolerably by the inclusion of a one-act opera, as a curtain-raiser, thus
taxing the patience of the Weimar audience beyond endurance.
Penthesilea, which had to wait for public performance
until 1876, was far more controversial. Here Kleist reversed the legend of the
Amazon queen Penthesilea, traditionally said to have been killed by Achilles
during the Trojan War. The queen leads her Amazons against the Greeks, their
defeat a necessity for the continuation of the race. Penthesilea has broken
Amazon custom by singling out Achilles, whom she at first fails to win, in an
otherwise successful campaign. He defeats her, but she loses consciousness, and
imagines herself victorious, until Achilles, in love with her, tells her the
truth. To win her love in accordance with Amazon tradition he offers himself,
unarmed, in single combat. Penthesilea, thinking herself thus scorned, sets her
hounds on him helping them tear him in pieces. The tragedy ends with her
repentance and death, as she looks forward to rejoining her beloved Achilles in
the Elysian fields.
Kleist's play is one
of savage intensity, a juxtaposition, as he wrote, of Schmutz und Glanz,
squalor and splendour. There is little of the first in Goldmark's overture,
published in 1879, a programmatic work that stresses other aspects of a drama
that had, in any case, been considerably abridged in its first stage
performance. The work shows again the qualities of its composer's
craftsmanship, his skilful handling of orchestral effects and his melodic
invention, the influence of Liszt and Wagner to be seen in the choice of
literary subject and to some extent in the treatment of thematic material,
although it lacks the grandiose ambition of Wagner and the originality of Liszt
at his best.
Born in Hungary in
1938, Michael Halász began his professional career as principal bassoonist in
the Philharmonia Hungarica, a position he occupied for eight years, before
studying conducting in Essen. His first engagement as a conductor was at the Munich
Gärtnerplatz Theatre, where, from 1972 to 1975, he directed all operetta
productions. In 1975 he moved to Frankfurt as principal Kapellmeister under
Christoph von Dohnányi, working with the most distinguished singers and
conducting the most important works of the operatic repertoire. Engagements as
a guest-conductor followed, and in 1977 Dohnányi took him to the Staatsoper in
Hamburg as principal Kapellmeister.
In 1978 Michael Halász
was appointed General Musical Director at the opera-house in Hagen, and there
has further developed his experience of the repertoire, while undertaking guest
engagements, which have included television appearances as conductor in English
and German versions of the Gerard Hoffnung Music Festival, as well as work with
the Philharmonia Hungarica, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Symphony
Orchestra and the Hilversum Radio Orchestra.
For the Marco Polo
label, Michael Halász has recorded works by Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinstein,
Schreker and Miaskovsky and for Naxos works by Tchaikovsky, Rossini and
Philharmonic Orchestra was established in 1945 as the symphony orchestra of
Radio Coblenz, and the following year became the orchestra of the newly
re-opened Coblenz Opera. In 1973 it became an official orchestra of the State
of Rhineland-Pfalz. The orchestra has undertaken a number of tours in Germany,
to Salzburg, and to Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
Some 25 records have been made and there have been frequent appearances on
radio and television.
Musicians who have
worked with the Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra include Aram Khatchaturian,
Eugen Jochum, Günther Wand, Carlo Zecchi, Salvatore Accardo, Christoph
Eschenbach, Henryk Szeryng, Wanda Wilkomirska and Alexis Weissenberg. Since
1981 the Principal Conductor has been the Scottish musician James Lockhart. For
Marco Polo the Rhenish Philharmonic recorded symphonies by Méhul and Raff.
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GOLDMARK: Symphony No. 2, Op. 35 / Penthesilea, Op...