Friday, January 31, 2014

Preview: One loose end we CAN tie up -- our missing movements from Mahler's "Song of the Earth"

by Ken

Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) is sort of Mahler's Symphony No. 8½. Even though it's a series of six songs with orchestra, alternating between tenor and alto (or baritone) soloists, he probably would have called is his Ninth Symphony if the already-dying composer hadn't been such a baby about that "Ninth Symphony" business -- their Ninths had been so fateful for Beethoven and Bruckner. Since he had his next symphony mapped out, he thought that by calling that his Ninth, when it was really his Tenth, he would have the jinx beaten. As we know, though, the joke was on him. He did complete the symphony he called his Ninth, but died leaving his Tenth incomplete.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Finally we get to the Final Scene of "Carmen"

Teresa Berganza and Plácido Domingo sing the final scene of Carmen.

by Ken

One loose thread we're going to not so much tie up as pull all the way out before we close up shop here is the Final Scedne of Bizet's Carmen, which we were headed toward ever so gradually in a series of posts that stretched out quite awhile and got us into the scene. But I had it in mind to continue through it, trying to explain, or describe, or just show the point at which the fates of Carmen and Don José intersect so tragically. Well, now that I'm past trying to explain or describe or even just show, I rediscover a large number of audio files I already made of most or all of this scene, clearly intended to be used at some point in some way that I never did figure out. It seems a shame to let them go to waste.

I could have sworn there was one more post, in which I just dumped out the whole scene, and I distinctly remember doing texts for it, but it appears that never got done either. And now I have to re-create the texts for the portions of the scene we didn't cover previously. There are links for all the posts that I can find at the end of this post.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Now we hear Mahler's heartbreaking "Kindertotenlieder"

Baritone Matthias Goerne sings "Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n" ("Now will the sun rise just as brightly"), the opening song of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, with Jonathan Nott conducting the Mahler Youth Orchestra, at a Proms concert in the Royal Albert Hall, Sept. 4, 2009.
Now will the sun rise just as brightly
as if no misfortune had happened in the night.
The misfortune happened to me alone;
the sun shines for everyone.

Your must not hoard the night within,
it must be absorbed into the eternal light.
A little lamp in my shelter has gone out;
hail to the joyful light of the world!
-- translation by Lucy E. Cross

by Ken

Aa promised, after focusing on the last of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children), "In diesem Wetter" ("In this weather"), with its final stanza minor-to-major "switcheroo," in Friday night's preview, today we hear the whole of this haunting song cycle.

It's worth recalling that at the time Mahler undertook to set this handful of the poems written on the subject by Friedrich Rückert, his own daughters were still healthy, and Alma Mahler was more than a little upset at this challenge to fate. This was likely not ameliorated as their own tragedies struck. A case could be made that she never forgave him.

In the case of other Mahler songs we've listened as well to the original piano-accompanied settings. We're going to skip that in the case of this cycle we're going to skip that step. It would be especially hard to forego Mahler's orchestral setting, which is notably spare and chamberlike -- the chilly, melancholy opening oboe-and-horn duet sets the tone. There's a normal complement of woodwinds, but of brasses there are only horns, a pair in Nos. 1-4 and four in "In diesem Wetter," and there are only dabs of percussion. The harp is a notable presence.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Approaching Mahler's heartbreaking "Kindertotenlieder"

For the final stanza of "In diesem Wetter," the last of the Kindertotenlieder, Mahler switches from minor to major

Thomas Hampson, baritone; Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. DG, recorded live, October 1988
In this weather, in this storm, in this bluster,
they're resting as if in their mother's house,
not frightened by any storm,
by God's hand protected,
they're resting as if in their mother's house.

by Ken

I'm trying to think -- among the infinity of loose ends and gaps we'll leave when the tent folds up -- which few among them we might still deal with. It seems rather hopeless, but it has occurred to me that for all the Mahler we've listened to (I always want to compile a master list, but it's a big job; would it be of interest to anyone?), we haven't done the song cycle Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children).

However, we have done the final song, "In diesem Wetter" ("In this weather"), in a December 2011 post devoted to "The old minor-to-major switcheroo as practiced by Mahler, Schubert, and Donizetti" (preview and main post), in which we listened to the opening song of Schubert's great song cycle Winterreise (Winter Journey), "Gute Nacht" ("Good night"), and Nemorino's haunting aria "Una furtiva lagrima" ("A furtive tear") from Donizetti's Elixir of Love in addition to "In diesem Wetter."


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bruckner 7 -- a symphony built on its opening pair of musical twin towers

[As I explained at the top of Friday night's preview, this is the second part of a three-part Bruckner series, begun December 6-8 with "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements," a reprise of a January 2010 post I've always been fond of. This Bruckner Seventh preview post appeared originally in July 2012. The Bruckner series -- and, I'm projecting, Sunday Classics -- will conclude with a new post on the Ninth Symphony. -- Ken]

The string chorale that bursts out shortly after the start of the Adagio (at bar 4 above) of the Bruckner Seventh

by Ken

As promised in Friday night's preview, our subject today is the seventh of Anton Bruckner's outsize nine symphonies, which unlike the Fourth Symphony, with its remarkably evenly weighted four movements, is cast in the form, as I put it, of "an opening movement and an ensuing slow movement of such emotional weight as to dominate the whole piece." (We heard the whole of the Fourth Symphony in the January 2010 post "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements." We also heard the formative Second Symphony, in the August 2011 post "Bruckner begins to establish his voice, hushed and clear." The latter post, I just discovered, had a broken link to the click-through, which I've fixed -- in case anyone has been waiting all this time to read and hear that post.)

Which means that our obvious focus is going to be on those first two movements, which dramatically counteract the silly image of Bruckner which seems to me to excite the ardor of the composer's devout faithful: Bruckner as a a sort of musical idiot savant, a piously Catholic naïf piously erecting monumental musical cathedrals in the ether. About Bruckner being in some ways naïve I don't think there's much doubt, but I think we would have some serious disagreements, the Bruckner Faithful and I, as to where and how that naïveté kicks in. However, the idea that these symphonies are underpinned by reflexive piety seems to me fairly nutty. (I'm embarrassed to own that I've used one of those cheesy architectural mega-metaphors for the title of this post. It's just so tempting.)

There's a reason why Bruckner's Fourth and Seventh Symphonies, and perhaps also the three movements he completed of the Ninth, are the symphonies of his which are often enjoyed by music-lovers who don't have much use for the rest of his work. And yet it seems to me that it would be hard to think of anything more quintessentially Brucknerian than the orchestral chorale we just heard from near the opening of the Adagio of the Seventh, or the opening two minutes of the symphony which we're about to hear, which already demonstrate Bruckner's dependence on repetition as well as the way he can build the orchestra from the softest hush to the most thundering outburst.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E: opening


The performances we've heard so far, by the way, both feature the Vienna Philharmonic (the orchestra best known to Bruckner), as indeed do all the performances we're going to hear today. The snatch of the Adagio at the top is conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, that of the opening of the symphony by Karl Böhm.

Next we'll hear the complete performances of these movements -- and more.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Preview: Two Scherzos

[This preview begins the second part of a three-part Bruckner series, begun December 6-8 with "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements," a reprise of a January 2010 post I've always been fond of. This Bruckner Seventh preview post appeared originally in July 2012. The Bruckner series -- and, I'm projecting, Sunday Classics -- will conclude with a new post on the Ninth Symphony. -- Ken]

Eugen Jochum conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony in the Scherzo (third movement) of Bruckner's Seventh Symphony.

by Ken

In writing recently about the structure of Tchaikovsky's string sextet Souvenir de Florence, I noted that it employs a particular movement format:
an opening movement and an ensuing slow movement of such emotional weight as to dominate the whole piece. Haydn was already doing it when he invented the [four-movement symphonic] form, doing it in both symphonies and string quartets. It's the format of the wonderful Symphony No. 88, with the otherworldly slow movement, which we heard in September 2010.) It's also the format of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony, which we heard last week.
I added:
Bruckner, who supersized everything else about the symphony, also supersized this ratio in his Seventh Symphony, which has that massive opening movement and then that haunting Adagio, followed by an invigorating but comparatively brief Scherzo and Finale. The trick is to have those later movements hold up their end of the deal even while conceding emotional primacy to the first two movements. This is in marked contrast to Bruckner's differently remarkable achievement in the Fourth Symphony: producing four movements of roughly equal musical and emotional weight. (We actually took in the whole shebang in January 2010, in "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements." ) It just goes to show that there really aren't any rules about any of this, that it's all about what you can make work.

For better or worse, I'm so highly suggestible musically that this naturally set the Bruckner Seventh running in my head. For tonight I thought it would be fun to listen just to the Scherzos of the Bruckner Fourth and Seventh. You'll notice that they're not radically different in length, but they seem to me radically different in emotional weight (we can talk about this Sunday), and of course the Scherzo of the Seventh is rendered virtually svelte by the vastly greater weight of the symphony's first two movements.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E-flat:
iii. Scherzo: Bewegt (Lively)

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Sept. and Nov. 1963

Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi, cond. Decca, recorded Oct. 8 and 10, 1989

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E:
iii. Scherzo: Sehr schnell (Very fast)

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded November 1960

Cleveland Orchestra, Christoph von Dohnányi, cond. Decca, recorded August 1990


As you may have guessed, we're going to hear the Bruckner Seventh Symphony.