|Classics 7: Vienna, City of Dreams|
Johann Sebastian Bach
|Johann Sebastian Bach|
“Air on the G String” From Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 was probably composed in 1730/31 for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, a traditional German university extra-curricular institution. Students and local musicians got together to perform at public gatherings in Zimmermann’s coffee house. In addition to his responsibility for the entire musical program at St. Thomas Church, where he produced weekly cantatas for the liturgical year, rehearsed the musicians, trained the boy choristers and taught Latin, Bach was expected to put together these weekly concerts of secular vocal and instrumental music. At least he got credit for this extra work since during his tenure in the post the institution was called the “Bachisches Collegium.”
The second movement, Air, is one of his best-known compositions, thanks to the German violinist August Wilhelmj (1845-1908), who arranged it for violin and piano and transposed it so that he could play it entirely on the G string. Since then, his arrangement has been transcribed for every conceivable instrument and instrument combination.
Johann Nepomuk Hummel
|Johann Nepomuk Hummel|
Eight Variations on O du lieber Augustin
Regarded now as a second-rank composer compared to his contemporaries Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert – all of whom he knew and worked with personally – Johann Nepomuk Hummel turned out to be the more successful than any of them in his own lifetime. Only Haydn, with his comfortable sinecure at the Esterházy court, could claim the similar combination of artistic acclaim and material wellbeing.
In a way, Hummel was a composite of all four of the above-mentioned composers. An astounding child prodigy and student of Mozart, he had an equally musical, pushy and ambitious father and was touring Europe as a piano recitalist at the age of ten. Perhaps alerted by the impoverished fate of his older contemporary, Mozart, Hummel became the champion of copyrights in music publishing. By the time of his own death, he had amassed a considerable fortune as the result of good money management, business sense and savvy investments.
In 1804, upon the recommendation of the aging Haydn, Hummel acquired the position of Konzertmeister at the Esterházy estate where he essentially took over Haydn’s duties as Kapellmeister. But in 1811, he was dismissed, perhaps for not being as musically tractable as his mentor.
His relationship with Beethoven was more troubled. Possibly jealous of Beethoven’s dominance of the Vienna musical scene, Hummel fell out with the cantankerous Beethoven only to be reconciled with him on the latter’s deathbed.
Hummel was an admirer of Schubert but his music lacks the wrenching emotionalism found especially in Schubert’s later works. His own oeuvre represents the quintessence of the Classical style, possessing few of the more adventurous qualities of the new Romantics. His music fell quickly out of favor and little of it is performed today, with the exception of his brilliantly virtuoso works for solo clarinet and solo trumpet with orchestra.
The Viennese folksong O du lieber Augustin (Oh you dear Augustin) was presumably written and composed in 1679 during a plague epidemic by an itinerant balladeer and bagpiper, Max Augustin, following a drunken binge. American audiences of a certain age may remember alternate English lyrics from kindergarten: “Did you ever see a lassie go this way and that?” Sometime around 1803 Hummel composed this set of variations to the simple ditty, but it was not published until 1959.
The variation form has a venerable history in Western music as a device for allowing performers to show off their virtuosity with increasingly flashy variations on a simple melody. But Beethoven and Schubert – and their descendents, Brahms and Elgar–took the genre to a whole new level of complexity. For Hummel, each variation of the tune is a vehicle for different orchestrations, starting off with an oboe solo. For centuries, the Turks threatened and made inroads into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, even up to the gates of Vienna. Like his contemporaries (Haydn in Symphony 100, and Beethoven in the Ninth), Hummel appropriately makes his minor variation an imitation of the jangling Turkish Janissary music.
|Mark O’Connor |
Triple Concerto: March of the Gypsy Fiddler
For Piano Trio and Orchestra
Violinist, composer and fiddler Mark O’Connor was born in Seattle and began his fiddling career studying with Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson and French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. Absorbing knowledge and influence from a multitude of musical styles and genres, O’Connor has shaped a new American classical style. While many European classical, composers – Haydn, Dvorák, Liszt and Grieg, to name only a few – dipped into folk music to invigorate their style, O’Connor, trained as a folk musician, went the other way and dipped into classical music conventions for many of his works. What Aaron Copland and Charles Ives accomplished in classicizing the American folk idiom of the nineteenth century, O’Connor has done for country music of the twentieth. He has also been involved extensively in music education, holding camps and workshops to teach fiddling to new generations of aspiring musicians. In April, 2009 he was inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.
In recent years, O’Connor has integrated folk elements into formal large-scale classical genres, including symphonies, string quartets and numerous violin concertos. He composed the Triple Concerto in 2010 for the Ahn Trio, made up of three sisters, Angela, Maria and Lucia Ahn. The trio has been commissioning and promoting crossover works, of which this work is a good example.
O’Connor uses three of his own popular fiddle tunes, one for each movement of the concerto:
1. March of the Pharaohs: This movement seems to have been written for one of the less militaristic pharaohs. The tune is rather gentle, and the many variations on it are lyrical. The March is a set of variations in which the trio usually takes the lead over the orchestral accompaniment. One prominent aspect of O’Connor’s style is to constantly riff on his original tune without modulation or any particular concern about integrating the music into classical conventions.
2. Fiddler go Home is a tribute to Claude “Fiddler” Williams (1908-2004), a legendary fiddler and guitarist. This elegy is a slow movement, also focusing on O’Connor’s melody. The movement is not as strict a set of variations as the first; there are only a couple of melodic or harmonic diversions. Note that in the first two movements, the melody has a strong resemblance to Dvořák’s “American” mode.
3. Gypsy Fantastic: O’Connor borrows from the Central European Roma tradition both in his melody and flashy style. While constructed largely in variation form, O’Connor occasionally inserts a counter melody.
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944
In the half century after Franz Schubert’s death, his reputation rested almost entirely on his wonderful Lieder, while the rest of his music was mostly neglected. None of his orchestral music was published during his lifetime, and many of the major works did not emerge from private hands until decades after his death. The first six symphonies were not published until 1884-85 in the Gesamtausgabe, the complete edition of his works. The manuscript of Symphony No. 8, the so-called “Unfinished,” resurfaced only in 1865 when its owner, Schubert’s friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, a minor composer, used it as bait to get one of his own compositions performed. The Ninth, nicknamed the “Great,” was first performed – albeit severely cut – in 1839 at the instigation of Robert Schumann and under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn is one of the heroes of classical music; his appreciation for the great tradition of European music inspired him to revive the works of such great but forgotten composers as Bach, Schubert and even some Mozart and Beethoven.
The C major Symphony is actually Schubert’s seventh and final completed symphony (For a long time, it was believed that there was a seventh “lost” symphony.) Besides the fragment that is the Eighth, Schubert made at least four other aborted attempts at symphonic writing. He composed the C major Symphony in 1825-26, during a period of relatively good health and rising hopes, when the syphilis, from which he had been suffering since 1822, was quiescent. For years there was confusion about the date because Schubert wrote “March 1828” on the manuscript, perhaps to fool a publisher – unsuccessfully – that the work was new. Analysis of the paper and ink and the deciphering of the correspondence related to the events described below clearly shows the date of composition was two years earlier.
In October 1826 Schubert presented the score to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Austria’s Music Society. In the summer of 1827 its orchestra played through the work in Schubert’s presence but found it too difficult and too long for a public performance. The Finale alone was performed in Vienna in 1836. Schumann retrieved the manuscript from Schubert’s brother Ferdinand – and commenting on its “heavenly length” – set the stage for the 1839 premiere.
Three major symphonic works composed within a six-year period served as a transition between the Classical style and full-blown Romanticism: Beethoven’s Ninth (1824), Schubert’s C major (1826) and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique (1830). Of the three, Schubert’s is the most conservative when compared to Beethoven’s addition of a chorale finale, and Berlioz’s greatly expanded orchestral forces, harmonic language and literary program. Yet, Schubert’s is by no means a throwback. Taking and developing ideas particularly from Beethoven, whom he idolized, Schubert imbued each movement of the Symphony with creative, even innovative, takes on the Classical symphonic form.
At the time he was writing this Symphony, Schubert was still perfecting his power as a symphonist. Considering that even as late as the 1860s, Johannes Brahms struggled to emerge out of the shadow of Beethoven, think how Schubert must have felt with his idol already a living legend. Schubert possessed, however, a gift for melody and musical form in the service of drama through his hundreds of Lieder, a talent that he put to good use in shaping this Symphony.
The Symphony is characterized throughout by a steadiness of pacing and tempo. Although it opens with a substantial introduction, the composer did not indicate any acceleration in tempo the main part of the movement that begins the formal sonata structure. The first theme is actually made up of several motives and has been criticized for being harmonically stagnant, based on a repeated cord progression and an upwards C major scale; and, indeed, Schubert concentrates his development more on the second theme group. A closing theme rounds out the melodic repertory of the movement. Schubert re-introduces an important motive from the introduction, working it into the fabric of the development of the second theme. And, although he was not the first composer to do so, he concludes the movement with a twofold restatement of the complete introduction theme.
In most symphonies and concertos, the so-called slow movement is designed to create a contrast in tempo and mood with the other, more animated movements. In this Symphony, however, the second movement march proceeds at a relatively speedy Andante con moto . It is also a complex hybrid of the customary ternary (ABA), rondo and sonata forms. It opens with a famous oboe solo – the entire piece, in fact, is an oboist's ego trip. The middle (B) section belongs to the strings to create a neat ternary structure. But then, Schubert inserts a new theme, one in even legato notes, to contrast with the dotted rhythm march, which becomes the main focus of one of several development sections. Then the oboe and string themes return, creating a larger ABA form. While conductors frequently take cuts in this Symphony, the restatements of the three themes in this movement represent further developments that explore new harmonic territory and -– more importantly – increase the emotional intensity of the movement. All those repeats are not mere padding.
In the broadest sense, the Scherzo adheres to the conventional form of two repeated strains, followed by a trio in the same form. But Schubert expands this simplest of musical structures into the most complex movement in the entire Symphony. The Scherzo section is a hybrid sonata-allegro, in which the main theme, pounded out in the unison strings, is followed by a contrasting middle section, a lilting waltz. There follows a true development and recapitulation of both themes before the Trio begins. The Trio, another waltz for the upper winds, turns suddenly melancholy with the composer’s penchant for drifting between the major and minor modes. The return to the Scherzo also includes a coda based on the second Scherzo theme with continual changes in key, as if it were another development section.
The Finale, with its relentless driving rhythm – a perpetual motion of triplets in the upper strings – is reminiscent of the final movement of Beethoven’s Seventh. It is once again in sonata allegro form and, beginning with the opening fanfare, each theme is independently explored within the exposition. The development’s opening musical allusion to and further expansion of the “Ode to Joy” constitutes Schubert’s ode to Beethoven. A long coda, once again more like a development section, concludes the Symphony.
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017|