Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

    So far we have traversed the time between Bach and Chopin. Literally in the blink of an eye, from 1685 to 1810, momentous changes took place in the world and in music. By 1810, the developed world was captivated by the latest mechanical and chemical innovations, which were changing the lives of tens of millions, in some instances, not so much for the better. It was still primitive, mostly the age of steam and sail power, of candles and fireplaces providing the only reliable evening light and heat, etc.
    In the year Chopin was born, Robert Schumann also entered the world. He was to be a complicated man, not as simple as Chopin or perhaps even as Bach. Perhaps the times had something to do with it. Are we more complex than those who lived at these times? Consider the question, not what everyone says about being “dumbed down,” etc. We use computers now, we communicate with people we may never see halfway around the world, we do business with them as if they were next door. The world is much smaller than it was in Schumann's day, when America was a good deal farther away from Europe and in Europe itself, going to another country was still a considerable adventure. Over the course of Schumann's life, things were to change, but as audiences for music continued to grow, further interest in his music was often a difficult proposition.
    As this thing called “classical music” may be likened to a bridge, to some people fall the gifts and talents to become the towers, to others the spans. Bach, Beethoven and even Chopin, are today considered the towers. Another tower was to follow him, but it would not be Robert Schumann's. For Schumann was to provide a road between Beethoven, whom he deeply admired and one of Schumann's last pupils, Johannes Brahms. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. 
Schumann's birthplace still stands in Zwickau
   Robert Schumann was born in the town of Zwickau, in a Germany that was still divided among a dozen principalities and city states. Schumann's was the state of Saxony, that comprised the districts of Wickau, Leipzig-Halle and Dresden. Leipzig recall had been the home of Bach and later of Mendelssohn, and Halle had been the birthplace of Handel. The region was steeped in the legends and lore of silver mining, porcelain manufacture and the careers of a few great composers, though fewer people even then paid much attention to music.
Robert Schumann's father
    It was the age following the defeat of Napoleon, the age of song, of bel canto opera, and the age of literature called “romantic.” Schumann's father became a relatively successful publisher and bookseller, even compiled a kind of encyclopedia, the Lexicon of Saxony (Staatslexikon von Sachsen). Until the advent of digitizing technologies, selling books was a matter of how many bound volumes you could sell, and encyclopedias, dictionaries, lexicons, were all the rage in gaining for anyone who could read, a wider knowledge. We also note that the rate of literacy had been steadily advancing throughout the past 125 years, as had the leisure hours available for reading, due to the general advance of labour saving technology.
Clara Wieke Schumann 1819-1896
    There was a rising affluence among the middle classes throughout Europe. This was the class from which virtually all the great composers had and would spring. The new audience was still topped by the nobility, who had won perhaps a momentary reprieve from history through the defeat of Napoleon, but who would face other challenges in 1848 and later in the 1870's and well beyond. The wider audience was made up of the middle social orders who still sought the social and cultural leadership of the nobility, who were still thought to be by nature more qualified to judge the merits of such things as music and fine art.
    One of the main reasons for this long standing prejudice in favour of the artistic opinions of nobles was that these people had far more free time to engage in such things. They had also by tradition come to represent the sources of income for many aspiring artists. As we have seen, the nobles frequently sponsored music so as to give their lives more attention from others, usually their social, economic or political rivals. As the economics of this “art for show” wore down during the 18th century, and into the 19th, music that had formerly been the province of the nobility or of the rich, became that of the middle social orders generally; music came out of the palace and into the concert hall.

    It was during this period that the careers of three musical legends rose to public attention throughout Europe; those of Chopin, Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann's wife, Clara Wieck Schumann. Robert Schumann had been the student of Clara's father, Friedrich Wieck, with whom he'd come to study in nearby Leipzig. It was also about this time that Robert was studying law, in which he was to continue at Heidelberg. Here we have another first, and not the last, of composers who would study law. He writes his mother, "My whole life has been a struggle between Poetry and Prose, or call it Music and Law." 
   But from his study with Wieck, Robert had his first misfortune; he permanently injured his right hand, forever dashing his hopes of becoming an internationally famous concert pianist. We do not know how this happened, but some suspect it was due to some weird mechanical contraption that was supposed to exercise hand muscles. We now know that there are certain of us who seem gifted with greater strength or dexterity at the piano than others. Some have the long fingers of a Chopin, or hands capable of huge spans, like Brahms. Most of us fare somewhere in the middle, with average strength enabling us to play most of the repertoire except the works of those who would display what Clara and Brahms would later describe as mere pianistic pyrotechnics.
   Robert Schumann was fated to be the tragic hero of his own life, a largely neglected composer during his lifetime who probably suffered from some congenital physical defect that led to the symptoms we associate these days with benign brain tumours of a kind which grow without metastasising until they finally bring death to the sufferer. We do not know all the details of his life, so it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions. Suffice it to say that Schumann worked very hard over certain years, while he was unable to work for many other years, a pattern some have thought represented a bi-polar personality. By the end of his struggles he didn't care much for his own music at all and due to the tinnitus he also suffered, found it unbearable to hear any music. We owe what we have of him, largely to the lifelong efforts of his wife, Clara and to Johannes Brahms and others who would see in Schumann the bridge from themselves back to Beethoven and the rest of the “classic” composers of their own day.

Song of Love (1947)

    As a public service (not sure how long any of these things will be on-line, but for the time being they are), I have decided to present the links to all 13 parts of the motion picture that was made to “romanticise” the life of Robert Schumann. Of course I have difficulties with many things in this picture. Schumann was 23 years older and Clara was 14 years older than Brahms. Though many have suggested some “romantic” connection between Clara and Johannes, we are among the doubters. Likewise the picture depicts Schumann's “madness” as a delusion, whereas it is more likely that for the final months of his life Schumann was quite likely literally completely reduced to a state devoid of effective consciousness of any kind. There is a hint in the picture that Schumann had had a sister who had suffered a similar fate. We do not know if this was true or not. Some things about us are mysteries to ourselves and others even in this day and age where everything is assumed to be merely matters of blind electro-chemical processes.
    This motion picture, MGM's Song of Love (1947), starring Katharine Hepburn, Paul Henreid, Robert Walker, and Leo G. Carroll, was directed by Clarence Brown.  You will see Schumann and his wife Clara, Brahms and Liszt all portrayed.  You will also hear music by these others as well as Schumann's music.
The bushed composers, Schumann and Berlioz
     Now after all that, I'm sure more people would like to hear something like a great masterpiece by Robert Schumann. I've chosen the symphony that would go down as his third, subtitled Rhenish, his Op. 97. It was his last in this genre composed in 1850, six years before his death and three years before he was to meet the young Brahms.
    The version I have selected was arranged by Gustav Mahler who re-scored all four Schumann symphonies. Note also that this work is in five movements, which would become normal for Mahler. Those familiar with the music will doubtless find nothing much has been changed, that the structure has been greatly lightened and liberated and that the results are great improvements. Here then is Robert Schumann's Symphony #3 in E Flat "Rhenish" Op. 97.  The performance is by the Philharmonia Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini conducting.  A studio recording, London, 3-4.VI.1958

1. Lebhaft
2. Scherzo: Sehr mäßig
3. Nicht schnell
4. Feierlich
5. Lebhaft


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Here, here, and here are previous postings concerning Chopin.

There is little point to me saying anything about Chopin as over the past year and more, celebrating his bicentennial, so much excellent material has been released. I present one more. Enjoy!

James Rhodes' BBC: Chopin - The Women Behind The Music


Friday, October 28, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Here and here are previous postings concerning Mendelssohn.

In our survey of the great composers, we have made a sweep from J.S. Bach through Hector Berlioz, Bach born in 1685, Berlioz in 1803, a span of only 118 years. In the scheme of things, that's not very long. To give you some idea, if Berlioz had been born this year, Bach would have been born in 1893, which to some of us with a greater concept of time, just wasn't that long ago.

Anyway, we march ahead to the year 1809, the year Haydn died and Mendelssohn was born. In that year, Beethoven was 39 years old. Mendelssohn would only live 38 years. He was to become one of the pivotal people in the history of this art form euphemistically called “classical” music; besides a prolific composer, Mendelssohn made contributions as publicist, teacher, conductor, performer, and musicologist. Felix Mendelssohn and Abraham Lincoln were born the same year.

Certain features of Mendelssohn come down to us. He was the embodiment of musical talent (an agile pianist), intelligence (he is known to have spoken 4 languages fluently) and grace (unless he lost his temper and began arguing with you in English! instead of his native German.). He had a tremendous drive to succeed, exuding a kind of nervous energy. He had an emotionally symbiotic relationship with a similarly musically talented older sister: they died within months of each other. At the core of his personal life was his family and his ethnicity. Here we have another first, Mendelssohn was the first ethnically Jewish composer to attain international recognition. He wouldn't be the last. Indeed, Mendelssohn was the grandson of a famous scholar and his family was involved in banking, had an international business (until Hitler closed it down) and they knew many famous, interesting and important people all over Europe who would come to visit them in their home. Among them were many musicians and here is where young Felix and his sister Fanny would have their first opportunity to participate in making music with other talented musicians; playing music together in their home.

We can and do wonder at this cultural crucible that was the Mendelssohn family and ask ourselves whether their accomplishments merit the serious emulation of others. We will encounter many stories of such families that got behind their talented children to propel them into outstanding careers. Indeed, it was until a generation or so ago, a normal and expected natural aspiration for any family. We have observed this as a model of human relationships, the family supporting its talented members with the ardent intent of delivering their flowering to the world, remuneration or not, which luckily for Mendelssohn, wasn't ever going to be a problem.

Felix Mendelssohn and his older sister Fanny were incredibly talented, incredibly smart, incredibly (usually) happy, the flowers of a kind of “salon civilization” that blossomed and still blooms in some of the homes of the wealthy and influential to this day. In Paris and other large European cities, some of these salons were hosted by the nobility, those out of power, but not out of funds or prestige. It is curious that Mendelssohn was himself so conservative that for many years he shunned Paris and its salons, some would think for good reason. At a typical event, sometimes there would be hundreds of people, and food and drink was served, more often there would be the usual 20 to 25 guests for something lighter, while the entertainment might be going on in the background or might be featured; people were asked not to talk and actually listen to what the musicians were playing. After all, there was even back then differences in music, some being more for background or dancing while other music, especially of older styles or out of date composers, was for serious listening. The same salon tradition had a long history in London, where Haydn, when in his 60's, had his great international success as a composer. Felix Mendelssohn was later to enjoy a particularly grand success there as well. In fact to many Englishmen, their great composers include Handel, Haydn and Mandelssohn, all of whom have “societies” there to perpetuate interest in their music.

Mendelssohn's Gewandhaus
In his relatively short life, Felix Mendelssohn accomplished many firsts that had a lot to do with the public venues that promoted the music of his own time as well as the music of older composers whose music had not been heard in 79 years, particularly the music of J.S. Bach. But the truth is that we also probably owe our knowledge of Schubert to Mendelssohn as well, as it was Mendelssohn who produced the first performance of Schubert's Great C Major Symphony (called his 9th). Mendelssohn was in fact for some of this time in Leipsig, Germany, the town where Bach had lived out his life. Leipsig was also known then as a publishing centre and a few of the largest music publishers were located there. In 1835, at the age of 26, Mendelssohn became the Gewandhaus Kapellmeister, and set himself to improving and expanding the musical life of the city. Perhaps to Mendelssohn, we owe the idea of a public concert in a concert hall attended by the general public, at which music by a variety of contemporary and older composers would be featured together. These concerts were intended almost at the outset to be intellectual rather than merely social events.

Mendelssohn was keenly interested in something else however, and considering his background this would not be too surprising, he was always keen on preserving and at the same time giving greater strength to a musical tradition, or if one didn't exist, he would have to invent one. Like it or not, we may owe the entire concept of “classical music” embodying the entire tradition of music composed and written down in a universal musical notation, so that its products could be passed down to the next generation and performed by succeeding musical talents who might perceive something new in each performance of music that would become essentially eternal, to Felix Mendelssohn. There is nothing like tradition to ensure a kind of immortality. It's not that Mendelssohn had been unique in having this vision, a serious music that was taken seriously by both musicians and audiences, that would rise to a level of such universality that it would bring people from all over the world together. That had been Bach's realization about himself, it had been Mozart's belief too and Beethoven's personal crusade. But it was to Mendelssohn that fell the opportunity to organize and project it forward. During this time, Mendelssohn wore many hats and travelled too, he was always busy and in 1843, he was 34, he founded the Leipzig Conservatory of Music (which after his death a few years later was re-named after him).

Meanwhile all through this busy time, Mendelssohn had a family life of his own, a wife and five children! Four of the five would grow up to become the kind of pillars of the community that one used to expect in civilized societies; a historian, a chemist/inventor, or when women, raised to become partners of successful pillars. But in 1847, a series of strokes, a medical condition that affected other members of his family, ended his busy and productive life.

Mendelssohn's music is on one level unmistakeably the natural extension of the music of the so called First Vienna School; the corps of composers comprising the “classical” tradition of composing within certain recognizable musical forms; the sonata allegro, Symphony, string quartet and other chamber music, piano music of the same character, songs that were set to popular or famous poetry but reserved in development of musical ideas. But on the level that is particularly his, I have always been amazed and fascinated by both his cleverness and taste as a composer, all resting on a base of deep understanding of the musical ideas and idioms of the masters who went before him. If it were on the basis of mere quality of design in itself, Mendelssohn's music would be about the best there is. Incredibly, considering his busy life, he left us a lot of it. So much that there is probably many works by him that I have yet to hear. That's always a good thing as there are and will be composers who were lucky to be remembered widely for only a few pieces.

The one I'm featuring here has long been one of my favourite pieces of symphonic music, his Italian Symphony Op 90 which was finished in 1833 on commission from an orchestra in London that would become the Royal Philharmonic Society. He conducted the première in London and it was an instant success and has remained so ever since. The main reason is its energy. This music is supposed to express something about Italy, and it really does! We will have occasion to encounter more music suggestive of particular places as we proceed. I've chosen the performance that is currently available (for how long who knows?) conducted by Leonard Bernstein, here conducting the New York Philharmonic way back in 1953. Enjoy!

Felix Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 4, "Italian" Op. 90 (1833)

Part 1: Allegro vivace
Part 2: Andante con moto
Part 3: Con moto moderato
Part 4: Saltarello: Presto


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Researching the True Nature of Money

An Open Message to the 99% (Occupy Wall Street)

It was bound to happen, an exception to the rule. I will be brief, perhaps only here, perhaps only once. There have been many people you've never heard of, but that doesn't mean they didn't have something important to pass along to you. We can and should contemplate what we have lost through neglect of ideas (because they were not those backed by influence). In this case, were it not by some almost impossible odds, similar to those involving the discovery of Bach's Brandenburg Concerti, we simply wouldn't have anything, and in this case our reasons for hope would be perhaps diminished, based on history. In the case at issue, money and who issues it, which is perhaps the greatest question in the history of mankind, of civilization itself, a clear answer is found in this man's researches and they offer to date the best alternative solution, especially to end war and poverty worldwide.

E. C. Riegel

The works of Edwin Clarence Riegel (1879-1953) came to my attention through research which goes back in some depth over 25 years, to determine the facts concerning the workings of banking and finance, the economy and money. My researches led me to survey monetary history going back into ancient times. I was able to find considerable evidence of a fatal flaw in the system which doomed it to failure, involving historically repeated credit cycles and the inability of populations to withstand long term debt without prospect of material improvements. But until I read Riegel, I had not encountered another such singularly simple alternative model for money. The ideas are so significant that were they to be taken up everywhere by all, it would mark the end of one era in human history and the beginning of another, an era of peace and prosperity for all.

I offer the following links for further reading:

The New Approach to Freedom. together with Essays on the Separation of Money and State
Private Enterprise Money
Flight from Inflation

I am looking for people who understand right away the ideas presented and are willing to discuss them. You can join a forum, The E. C. Riegel Blog,  where I will accept articles from others and offer them for the moderated comment of other readers.  You can send your articles to me at 


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)

Berlioz in Rome, 1832

With Hector Berlioz, we have come to a person in whom many “firsts” are embodied; really the first Frenchman to gain international reputation as a composer, and largely outside of France in fact, the first of the great composers in this series to be born in the 19th century and really the first, since a particular Frenchman in J.S. Bach's day, to make a name for himself as an orchestra conductor, despite never achieving the permanence of a paid official post. Berlioz was widely travelled in Europe, from Britain to Russia, spent much time in Italy, even turned down an offer to tour America.

EK-tor BEAR-lee-ohze, ... is close to how the French would pronounce it: they often have to stumble over our own names in France … He emerged from some obscurity and became a kind of musical ambassador for things that were filling the cultural void in Europe after the defeat of Napoleon. These were at the time and are still today called “romantic,” implying not associations with love necessarily, as with themes from literature, fictional of course, which became more readily available and sold to a burgeoning literate middle class. Women were becoming a higher percentage of the audience for music than ever before. Berlioz was to be influenced by literature all his life, from the Roman classics, some he translated from Latin into French, through Shakespeare and Byron (due to his interests, he apparently learned to speak some English). He probably thought he was taking his tip from Beethoven, whom Berlioz always admired, who had also had literary interests.

Berlioz was also among the first to get the idea of a modern orchestra (or large band, as he worked with them also), to perform in concerts, which were deliberately directed at the general public, rather than for a select aristocracy. In this new, post royal commission world, obviously the way one made one's money was through ticket sales, often sold as subscriptions months in advance. But not all concerts were sold this way and if the weather were bad, as occasionally happened, one didn't make money.

Harriet Smithson 1800-1854
Another movement that was gaining ground all over Europe was the establishment of conservatories of music which were started in various cities. These provided the student orchestras, like the one in Vienna that Schubert had tried to use to première his works, and selected and kept alive the musical talent of Europe during this period. This is not to say that these schools produced very many great composers, and Berlioz was no exception, for he was entirely self-taught, though he did accept criticism and doggedly pursued a certain prize, Le Prix de Rome, which entitled the winner to five years' free stipend, plus the recognition of being among the finest artists in France, just for staying and studying in Rome for a couple of years. After three unsuccessful tries, he finally won it. But as it turned out Berlioz hated Rome and spent as much time as he could travelling out into the Italian countryside. This was to be one of many great hollow triumphs in Berlioz' life. Another was his marriage to the English actress Harriet Smithson (1800-1854). Notice she was older than he, following the pattern we saw in Rossini's life. In the period after Napoleon, everyone who could afford it, turned to the theatre and opera for entertainment and that's where Berlioz strove to be, mostly unsuccessfully. What they all wanted to see him do, and paid him handsomely for during his lifetime, was conduct an orchestra.

Famous satirical cartoon of the time
showing Berlioz conducting a choir
As I was growing up, one heard many curious things about Berlioz that were not true and could have been easily refuted. The biggest whopper was that he came from wealth, after all his dad was a doctor and had put his son into Med school and his mom had been a lawyer's daughter, and that accounted for his not having to work so hard to be a real composer like Schubert. What rubbish! He came from straight French middle class professional ranks, not in Paris, but out near Grenoble, in the country. His parents wanted their young and impressionable Hector to grow up to be a doctor like his father and forget about music. He never learned to play the piano and hence never wrote any piano music to speak of. Another thing one heard was that, well compared to those of for instance the “1st Vienna School,” Berlioz wasn't much of a composer, or that since he wrote very much in words, including even his text on instrumentation among his opus numbers, I mean how professional is that? He wasn't very serious. Even during his own time, people like Chopin made fun of him. Much of the fun they made of him had to do with his eccentric personality, for he was sort of, well … avant garde the Avant Garde.

There is something about Berlioz' character that stamps him, despite everything else, as indelibly French; his earliest ideas are filled with child-like wonder, he is innocent at heart, he longs for true love, he loves music, becomes enraptured with its recent heroes. In the 1822 of those meetings Rossini and Schubert might have had with Beethoven, Berlioz was 19 in Paris, still ostensibly in Medical school, but already thinking of Beethoven and spending time at the library of the Conservatoire de Paris, though he was never a student there. I suppose that he was learning something medical in spite of his apparent squeamishness. But what Berlioz had also figured out by this time was how to score orchestral music, and his mind and I'm sure his dreams of worldly success, drove him to seek it in the theatre, where he planned to stage great works involving huge choruses, soloists and orchestras larger than had yet been assembled. Everyone would be thrilled and throw him money, which would later become a more definite concern as he always supported his family.

What? Yes, Berlioz would survive two wives and a son before it was all over with, a good man? Yes, by all appearances. Religious? No, an atheist, another first, though he wasn't very above-board about it and for many years after he died, the Catholic Church proclaimed him a Catholic, though he really wasn't anything. He did write Masses though, so what was that all about? Oh yeah, it was a state commission to write a Requiem to commemorate those who had died in the French Revolution. The earlier Messe solennelle? It was a piece he wrote when he was 20. It got performed a couple of times. He didn't like it and claimed to have destroyed the score, but it turned up in 1992 in Belgium and has since been revived and performed.  Life is full of ironies.

Yes, we all like to entertain, but we all need to eat. Berlioz was always pretty keenly aware of this aspect of life, as it is a refrain in his Letters and Memoirs. He had many sufferings to go through before he was tired of life, and expressed himself frankly of the folly, baseness and cruelty of his fellow men, but as many composers who came after him would later declare, they owed much of their own craft and technique to Berlioz.

Berlioz late in life
So his music is orchestral or even in small ensembles is going to have a larger atmospheric or operatic sense to it. Berlioz always had the intention to write large and write himself large too. Why not? But as with many innovators, he would learn to regret the works of many who he'd befriended, especially among the Germans. As for Opera, he was always keenly interested in it, and made contributions to that form, few ever being successful.

Of his time, the music of Rossini and Verdi would have influenced him, but his life overlays the entirety of Chopin's, Mendelssohn's and Schumann's, much of Liszt's and even much of Brahms'. Berlioz was an overshadowing figure of the Romantic movement of the first half of the 19th century. His ideas would be picked up by those who would orchestrate great symphonies after him.

Though Berlioz' operas may be having some kind of come back (who knows?), his overtures have always held an enduring place in concert literature. An overture is what one offers the public before an opera, They became independent of opera, often to the extent that the overtures were widely performed, while one never heard the operas that went with them. I'm going to present a few here:

Benvenuto Cellini,  This overture was written in 1838, for an opera of the same name. It was Berlioz' first opera, based on the autobiography of one of the most colourful artist rogues in history. A swashbuckling theme, then the progress of a longer more lyrical theme, then back to the original theme with more adventures leading to a climactic finish. The orchestration, the shapes of themes, the instrumentation used, the kinds of running, chasing, fluttering, teasing textures are all trademarks of this impetuous composer.

I had to hear a lot of contenders before selecting the performance I did. Mostly, because you can hear everything, and the interpretation is really about as good as it gets. Jonathan Girard conducting the Eastman Philharmonia, Eastman School of Music in a concert earlier this year. 

Le Carnaval Romain, (Roman Carnival) his Op. 9, was written in 1843, when the composer was 40 years old from material from his opera Benvenuto Cellini. This is probably this composer's most recognizable trademark composition. If you'd never encountered Berlioz strange musical world before, the chances were good that you'd heard this one. It's full of the composer's usual pyrotechnical extravaganzas.

For this one, I had to go with Michael Tilson Thomas (one of my favourite conductors) conducting the You Tube Symphony in Sydney, Australia, also earlier this year. This overture is known for its famous, difficult, English horn solo. There's much wonderful acoustic effects, all written right there in the score. Many would think this about the best thing Berlioz ever wrote, had they not heard some of his other highly ingenious and original creations. Of particular notice in just about any good Berlioz piece is how the harmonic centre is allowed to go just about where it will. You don't always know where you are or where it will end, but you are certainly moving. The nearest approximations his audiences could probably have imagined were cavalry charges, the hunt, or perhaps mass animal stampedes. There is so much energy released. The experience was often frightening to those who had never heard such orchestral sounds before. Think how many places this music has been used since. 

Le Corsaire, his Op. 21, written in 1844 in Nice, the following year.

Here's the Detroit Symphonic Orchestra under the direction of French conductor, Paul Paray (1886-1979) who was one of the better interpreters of Berlioz. Why? Listen to the way he forms a phrase. Berlioz almost spoken musical prose often requires a special understanding. This is a super-energetic piece for the entire orchestra, especially the strings and brass. But it requires finesse as well, for one is always aware that Berlioz may mean it, while meaning nothing. He is quirky and funny to play, to hear, to listen to. You occasionally wonder whether he is putting you on. The bare bones of it might sound like he took bits out of Beethoven, Rossini and others, and just smashed them together, and maybe he did just that. Maybe that's what he was busy studying at the library of the Conservatoire when he should have been dissecting cadavers with his Medical school colleagues. How ever it was, here it is and M. Paray definitely got it. 

Béatrice et Bénédict, written in 1862, to an opera of the same name. He was almost 60.

Sometimes, when you want to get something right, you often have to go with people you know who have turned out splendid work for a long time, despite some problems with the recording (it's live at Carnegie Hall in New York). Here's the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner conducting in Carnegie Hall back in 1994. Fearless, relentless, taking the music entirely as it is, nothing more or less.

Here's to hoping more will come to appreciate Berlioz unique contributions to music and that we may hear more and better performances of them far into the future!

UPDATE 11 December, 2012:
This is said to be by F. Chopin
Berlioz composing his opera, Les Troyens


Monday, October 17, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Here , here and here are other posts concerning Schubert.

Franz Peter Schubert probably was among the most prolific composers that ever lived, writing nearly 1,000 works in his short 31 year lifespan, becoming among the poorest and most short lived of the great composers. We can propose any number of reasons for this, such as that the rather tubby looking little fellow might have been seeking love in all the wrong places and it eventually caught up with him.

During his short life he was barely acknowledged for his many songs, only a few were ever published during his lifetime. Here he was, a schoolmaster's son, obviously quite musically gifted, but he was perhaps not very attractive, perhaps he knew this too. He tried to find musical work, tried to further his musical education, right up until the very end, but nothing worked out. Instead his father set him to work teaching younger students, which didn't work out either. What did he do? Schubert must have just gone into his music, specifically the world he managed to create out of his mind and imagination.

In order to have written what he did, Schubert would have been writing music a good deal of every day many years, we'd guess from shortly after the age of 15. It was with him something like a manic obsession. Like Mozart. he wrote a lot, made few mistakes. He was fond of using some forms, like the sonata allegro he inherited from Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, because he could get away with writing the first and second sections (Exposition and Development) and leaving instructions where the third section (Recapitulation) would begin, just as a reprise of the first section in the right keys and modulations to bring the piece back to its correct finishing cadence. Schubert was in a big hurry, as if he knew he didn't have long to live and needed to get out everything he could before his end came.

The result is a music based on the “classical” idioms and techniques of the Viennese composers; Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, that flows with melody or melodic transitions, combined with some occasionally unexpected suave changes in harmony, texture or tempo, interspersing the almost acrobatic with the languid, but always as if seen from a distance, from outside experience, as if what Schubert is really doing is taking photographs with his music. That may account for why his last years seem like he was in haste to write sketches, many of which he would spin into elaborate compositions, no doubt to the fascination and awe of his friends. We would not have most of Schubert's music, if it hadn't been for his friends, who kept it and treasured it, as few were published during his lifetime. One wonders just how much more from as yet undiscovered composers have likewise lain neglected.

We have reason to wonder what of an incident that occurred when Schubert was a young man. He and a few friends got into some trouble with the authorities, we know not over what, but it seems like it may have been political. One of his friends was banished from Vienna for life and Schubert never saw him again. One could ask whether this fellow from a struggling middle class background, could have found himself among the political and social underworld of Vienna, and hence was tainted by this, so that no respectable publisher would touch him. He may have also been a very shy and self-effacing man who really never expended much energy promoting himself. After all, in order to have turned out what he did, he was always busy writing with very little time to do anything else. We know so little about him.

What we have been left with since, has been his music, including 600 songs, 10 symphonies and assorted other orchestral works, 2 operas, lots of piano and chamber music. Most have suggested that his Unfinished Symphony in two movements (these days called his 8
th symphony, D 759) is so extraordinary that all who cross Schubert's path should encounter it. The work was written and left unfinished by Schubert in 1822, the same year he and Rossini got to meet Beethoven and where also nothing really came of it. Rossini was in his late 30's and already successful, Schubert was 25 and living with friends who probably wished he'd write less music and get a job. They never met, but Schubert is known to have admired the Italian opera composer. Again, with the Unfinished Symphony, we have a work that was written without any commission and without performance during the composer's lifetime. The last symphony Schubert completed, his likewise famous 9th Symphony, called since “The Great” (C Major, D 944) was submitted and rejected as too long and complicated to be played by a conservatory orchestra. He never heard these works played during his lifetime.

Either of those two symphonies would give you the idea of the mature Schubert style. But instead, why not introduce everyone to another work that Schubert never heard live and didn't live to finish, his Tenth Symphony (D Major, D.936a) in which he strives to strike out on some new territory while drastically cutting back on the length of the work and the size of the ensemble required. There are only three movements and there is reason to suppose Schubert intended it this way. Here we see where he was heading, and it may be for us perhaps today rather mundane territory. We shouldn't be too disappointed, though. Schubert was always an observer of current scenes rather than a projector into future realms. It's one thing that gives his music both place and time and passes down to us it's unique charm. This last symphony was sketched as a piano piece which got many notes indicating the instrumentation to be used. The second movement was the most completely orchestrated at his death (how much a foretaste of Mahler is this?). The work was completed by the English composer, Brian Newbould and is performed here by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St, Martin in the Fields, an extraordinary English ensemble that has recorded wonderful performances of much of this great music.

Symphony #10 in D Major, D 936a (1828)

Part 1: Allegro maestoso (no tempo given in the original)
Part 2: Andante 
Part 3: Scherzo (Allegro moderato)


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

Rossini from his 20's through his 70's

Some out there may find it difficult to class Rossini among the very great composers. I think by the time I'm finished, many might change their minds. Part of the difficulty lies with this composer's primary concentration being opera, regarded as a specialization that has always been more directly tied to entertainment and commercialism than other more academic or purely musical forms. Rossini becomes the first, but certainly not the last, of the vast arsenal of talented Italian composers, to attain international fame and considerable worldly fortune. He wrote 39 operas and a half dozen of the best are still regularly performed. 

Isabella Colbran
With Rossini, we are also dealing with a many faceted personality, one that was generally happy, and a completely competent and thoroughly accomplished musician on many levels, who rose out of the obscurity of Bologna to become by his twenties, an international icon, whose operas were so widely known that people sang from them in the streets.
Rossini was widely travelled, enjoyed a great financial success and lived to the ripe old age of 76. Look at his dates. He was 22 years younger than Beethoven, whom Rossini would meet in Vienna, one of the cities he would become familiar with on his travels, in 1822, when Rossini was 30 years old and in his prime as a composer. Beethoven advised him to stick to writing comic opera, since he was so good at it and it apparently paid well. Rossini would continue doing what he was good at until, by the time he was four years in Paris at age 37, he decided to retire.

Olympe Pélissier
Rossini's mother had died a couple of years back, the same year Beethoven had died. His father was back home in Bologna and he longed to spend the last years of his father's life with him and after all, he had made enough money by then. So he lived in Bologna for nearly twenty years in relative obscurity and didn't compose very much. Rossini had been married for 23 years to the apparently quite stunning Spanish opera singer, Isabella Colbran (1785-1845)  -note she was older than him, though the two had separated when Rossini was 45 in 1837. We may safely assume there was some theatricality to their relationship. A year after his wife's death, they had been separated for a few years, Rossini married Olympe Pélissier (1799-1878) , a famous French artists' model (which means she frequently sat or held poses in the nude for them). They'd met shorty after the separation from his first wife and we can probably safely assume that she was for him all that a wife would be. Nevertheless, times being what they were, they observed conventions as facts of life; they could only marry after the death of the first wife, a year later in fact. They married in 1846. Rossini was by that time 54 years old.

In order to understand Rossini's contribution to music, it is necessary to place his life as a transparency over the lives of many other composers. Rossini, as did Haydn, benefited from a long life, so it is not true that all great composers die young, indeed relatively few have. Nor is it necessarily true that they die poor.  This one didn't.  Anyway, during his lifetime, Rossini was to become eclectic in both musical and cultural terms. He spent many years working as an opera composer in Italy, Vienna, Paris and even after almost 20 years away in Bologna, finally returning to spend the rest of his life in what was then, can one imagine?, a countryside within the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, known, of course, as Passy.

In his 20's, Rossini had been drawn to Vienna, because his operas were enormously popular there and eventually he met Beethoven. That the Vienna scene left its stamp on some of his music demonstrates Rossini's familiarity with Mozart's operas and Haydn's symphonies, even more familiar with Beethoven's symphonies, from which Rossini routinely steals, not melodies or rhythms, but instrumental combinations and orchestral effects for which Rossini became well known. You also notice that at some points, there wouldn't be much that is stylistically different between Rossini and early works by Verdi, who was in many ways his successor.

First and foremost, the difference between Rossini and those composers academics lump together artificially as the 1st Vienna School, derives from an Italian notion when it comes to music education; "Se non puoi cantare, non puoi suonare" : "If you can't sing it, you can't play it." (Notice too the origins of the musical forms Sonata and Cantata). The result is going to be an emphasis on musical line, on melody, and all of it will derive one way or another from a human voice with a natural range. There are traditions that are built up over time, and in the case of Italy during the 18th century, an idea took form that would spread from there very considerably over the next century, the conservatory of music, the idea that schools of musical education, involving training in instrument specific musical skills, could produce more widespread professional musical competence. Much of this effort in Italy devolved to providing musicians for two natural and competing institutions; the Opera and the Church.

The subjects of opera frequently operate on several social levels, as they do in many of the comedies of Shakespeare. Opera became where those from any class or station in life might find amusement. Opera houses were often also places where food and drink were offered and where gambling establishments occasionally operated at the fringes of the often elaborate lobbies of the opera houses which began to spring up from the early 17th century onward, often becoming the biggest buildings in town, except of course for the church. Operas were sung dramatic productions with orchestral accompaniment, made out of many sources, including Shakespeare. The subjects were usually royals with their subservient layers of servants, tradesmen, soldiers, peasants and priests. Operatic subjects occasionally turned to fantasy and myth for inspiration.

The subjects of the Church were also traditional and everyone in society was able to come together and participate in the Mass. There are of course many instances of great opera and great church music from Italy and elsewhere during this period. Some of it is still performed today. Rossini, as Mozart did before him, contributed to both these genres, the opera and the mass.

But another thing happens sometimes when one has done something long enough, has become good at it, has done it well, even in a routine kind of way, has seen much of the world, has become even rather well off, even a bit over indulgent in a few vices, like cooking and eating, and has met many goodly famous people and acquired the habits of society, including seeing through its vanities. One might very well become a cynic, or with any talent, a satirist. Here's where we come to Rossini's great final treasure troves, for while on retirement in Paris with his ample artist model wife, he was still writing music. He called them his péchés de vieillesse or sins of old age. Rossini composed them during the last nine years of his life. They are a collection of 150 pieces in 14 volumes, unpublished during his lifetime and coming out into critical editions, which we hope preserve his original titles. They are variously vocal and solo piano music designed specifically to be performed in a salon, a concert in a private home rather than an opera house; private music, the nature of which might or might not be private. Many of these are in a frankly cynical vain and the best part is that the laughter is often made with music alone rather than aided with words. Just how Rossini accomplishes being able to sing before playing much of this remains part of his greatness as a composer.

So, I could have told those who've never heard of Gioachino Rossini, to go have a listen to some of his opera overtures, particularly those to The Barber of Seville or William Tell. These would recall to memory just the kind of “spaghetti music” this composer is best known for. And of course, since history is as full of jokes as ever modern life is, as Rossini gathered and stole his props from others to create his operas, others have taken his music to represent to the public anything from pasta to camp TV Westerns. Rather, I would prefer and suggest that Rossini will eventually be best known for these late works of his, which should be both better known and more widely performed. Yes, it's time to make Rossini's private music more public.

The last of these compositions, which really is the last of Rossini's major works, lies just outside the 14 aforementioned volumes, and is not too surprisingly, a religious work, a Mass. But in it we hear religious music as it will be written, particularly by Verdi many years to come. Rossini calls it in his adopted French, Le Petite Messe Solennelle, a little solemn mass indeed. It is neither small nor particularly solemn. Originally he'd written it in 1863 for chorus and singers backed up by a couple harmoniums. But then considering someone would orchestrate it eventually and might get it wrong, Rossini decided to do that too in 1866-1867. Both versions were published simultaneously and both are often performed, the harmoniums being replaced by pianos or a piano and an organ. This is Rossini's last orchestration and it is a storehouse of technique that draws from the Viennese composers who were a generation or more his elders, now long gone, from obscure Italian opera composers too, also you hear snippets of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, and of course Rossini widely anticipates Verdi. The orchestration is brilliant throughout and often thrilling and by turns, even breathtaking.

The parts of this Mass (and the videos) are as follows:
Gioachino Rossini - Petite Messe Solennelle (1863-1867)

1. Kyrie (the whole section is scored for chorus).
2. Christe.
3. Kyrie. 

4. Gloria in excelsis Deo (chorus & quartettino for all soloists).
5. Gratias (terzettino for the same).
6. Domine Deus (aria for tenor). 

7. Qui tollis (duet for soprano and contralto).
8. Quoniam (aria for bass; in all three posted masses this movement is given to a bass soloist).

9. Cum sancto spiritu (chorus).

"After a repeat of the very first chords of the "Gloria", the piece, acting almost like an act finale, settles into an extended fugue. This is a real tour de force of musical craftsmanship, reflecting the thorough classical training in harmony and counterpoint that Rossini received all those years ago at the Bologna Academy.” [Agreed! This Gloria can stand alone as a concert piece quite easily.] 

PART 5. 
10. Credo (chorus & quartettino for all soloists).
11. Crucifixus (aria for soprano). 

PART 6. 
12. Et resurrexit (chorus & quartettino for all soloists). 

PART 7. 
13. Il preludio religioso.
14. Sanctus - Benedictus (chorus with soloists' interjections).

15. O salutatis (aria for soprano).
PART 9. 
16. Agnus Dei (aria for contralto with extensive choral interjections). 

The musicians in this outstanding performance are:
Alexandrina Pendatchanska, soprano
Manuela Custer, mezzo soprano
Stefano Secco, tenor
Mirco Palazzi, bass
Choir of the Leipsig Opera
Gewandhausorchester, Leipsig, Germany
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
It was recorded live on Nov 16, 2010.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Here is a previous posting concerning Beethoven.

Everyone who encounters “classical” music sooner or later is going to encounter Beethoven. This abused child, whose father routinely beat him around the head with a variety of makeshift clubs, who grew up in the shadow of the fame of Mozart, who struggled against many adversities, a few of which he made for himself, rose to become if not the greatest composer of all time, at least one of the most celebrated. The greatest mystery is how one who became profoundly deaf at least 16 years prior to his death achieved so much in music. It was and is a kind of miracle, the kind that used to appeal to traditional Americans who still believed in self-reliance, rugged individualism, and the idealism to believe that anyone despite their handicaps could succeed.

Matters that were easy for Haydn, he had a steady job most of his life, or Mozart, who was just taking dictation from the beyond and rarely made corrections of any kind, were hard for Beethoven. His manuscripts show many corrections, he worked hard on many passages in order to get just the effects he wanted, he wrote far less than either of his older contemporaries. But it is clear from contemporary reactions, that Beethoven was regarded as the leader among those who were interested in extending the capabilities of the then relatively new keyboard instrument, the pianoforte, which was what they were called before we shortened the name to just piano. It's the Italian for soft, the forte, or loud, was eventually dropped from popular use.

Beethoven was also considered a leader in expressing the new direction music was taking at the time toward emotional realism, which was then and still is wrongly called “romanticism” (thereby directly implying something fanciful or fictional, rather than realistic).  Although there was much more of that too; fantasy, as people then as now have to find ways to come to grips with their often excruciating existence, by seeking whatever salve through musical entertainment, the emotions behind the art often were considered from a far different perspective by the composers themselves.  For Beethoven, composition was about making something to last forever, as impossible as that is . Some of these realistic emotions were considered revolutionary in the political as well as the artistic sense, and Beethoven was certainly in accord with those sentiments; a democratic rather than aristocratic outlook, despite the fact that many of his close friends and supporters were among the aristocracy.

In terms of output, Mozart had written up to 68 pieces which could have been termed symphonies. The accepted 41 symphonies for him is still almost an unbeaten record, except for Haydn's 106 symphonies, the record. Beethoven, setting the standard for all that would follow, wrote only 9 symphonies. Some historians have remarked that when political revolution appeared during the last quarter of the 18th century, orchestras and large noble households were of economic necessity broken up and the opportunities for performing symphonic music became limited. Beethoven's symphonies became the mainstays they are in part because there wasn't any significant competition during Beethoven's lifetime.  I'd also like to point out an obvious fact, that by Beethoven's time and certainly afterword, most of the symphonies that would ever be written had already been written.  It has been said by some that Beethoven's new standard for symphonies really made all future symphonies mere extensions or heirs by comparison; in future symphonies would be longer, might be programmatic including choirs, pipe organs and singing, would be far fewer in number, would swell the ranks of the orchestras required by far more than Beethoven required. 

Likewise Beethoven's output of piano concertos was only 5 to Mozart's 27, his string quartets 16 vs. 23 for Mozart and 68 for Haydn, his piano sonatas 32 vs. 52 by Haydn but only 18 for Mozart, only one opera whereas the other two wrote many, Working harder at composition than the other two gives us a different kind of music built upon the structures developed by the other two, particularly Haydn but with unique features and an inventiveness of timeless musical effects.

Beethoven's music is also full of much humour and jesting as well as more serious and sombre moods some of unique depth. He extended the playfulness exhibited by Haydn in particular that in turn would be picked up by future musicians. We have in Beethoven a transitional character between two worlds, the old world of princely patronage was giving way to the changes brought about by political, technical and economic revolutions. It was and is never easy to make one's life as a musician. But even if one had talent, what would have happened if one became deaf? How could one have succeeded? It is clear Beethoven had promotional help during and after his lifetime. He notably had help copying music, but they all had access to that back then.  Beethoven was widely regarded as a great and daring artist who had many admirers and a few who considered the great man so temperamental and impossible that they would scarcely have any dealings with him. His increasing deafness tended to enforce his isolation, encouraged eccentricities and despite help from his nephew Carl, led to his last eventual exhaustion of health and perhaps premature death. Beethoven's personal story is certainly heroic and tragic, but it was all too often used as an excuse in later years to attempt to encourage the notion that great art always requires struggle and hardship, and perhaps also as an excuse to treat musicians as badly as they have ever been, especially as regards remuneration.

There are many great masterpieces that all share the unmistakable Beethoven touches, “a fist in every phrase” as one of my now long deceased mentors often described it. The symphonies are routinely reviewed by everyone. You simply cannot escape them, so much so that many have grown bored listening to them, which is truly unfortunate. A few more people get to know Beethoven's piano concertos, and most know of his 5th piano concerto subtitled “the Emperor” which it was never called during his lifetime.

But I have decided for many reasons, such as that this is my favourite Beethoven concerto, to feature his Piano Concerto #4 in G Major Op 58 as a work far more people should know better. It is being played here by the 15 year old George Li  who is, let's face it, a child prodigy somewhat after the familiar Mozart pattern. His younger brother Andrew is coming along as a pianist too. This seems to be an organized family intention; to produce concert pianists out of their outstandingly talented sons. The rest of us should take encouragement from this, whether we can devote as much time and energy to our music making as these brave young men can or not. Though I have not met the Li brothers in person yet (somehow I think I eventually will), I am already aware that what their family and teachers have created for them and are bringing them up into is the “classical” definition of the best of all possible worlds for encouraging musical talent and its development. What's startling about the performance I am sharing with you, is how mature it is. Regarding the technique required, it should be quite obvious.

But that is only the beginning. Music is a living breathing thing while it is being played live by living breathing musicians. That's why attending live performances is so important. We have of course relied upon recordings for much of our musical appreciation, regardless of genre or form. That in turn leads to a more static view of musical performance, after all no recording will sound any different no matter how often it is played. If the music appeals to us differently each time we hear a recording we are long familiar with, that is a reflection of other things in our lives or in ourselves at the time we are hearing it again.

Theater an der Wien
This concerto was written around 1806 and first performed as part of that mammoth concert on December 22, 1808 when Beethoven would likewise première to the world his 5th and 6th Symphonies as well as the Choral Fantasy at the Theater an der Wien. This marked the last time Beethoven was featured as a pianist in public, playing this concerto. It's in the traditional 3 movements, fast, slow, fast:

I. Allegro moderato (G major)
II. Andante con moto (E minor)
III. Rondo (Vivace) (G major)

This performance by George Li and the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra of the New England Conservatory under the baton of Maestro Zander took place at Jordan Hall in Boston on December 15, 2010, note just a day before Beethoven's birthday, which many people actually celebrate as others might Christmas.

Part 1: Most of the first movement
Part 2: The first movement continues with the cadenza and continues with the 2nd movement
Part 3: The breezy 3rd movement Finale

We certainly look forward to more from George Li and his brother over the next few years. In case it wasn't stated more emphatically, with all that's going on in the rest of the world, the motives, character and value created by those like the Li's, is really what civilization is all about and without it just where would we be? This inspiration, to create a civilization based on brotherly love and art, was in fact much closer to the heart of this great composer than most these days would care to admit. Beethoven was in all respects somewhat of a revolutionary.

After the concerto, we are treated to one of George's encore pieces, not by Beethoven, no, this is one of the most famous pieces by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) who was the opera composer in favour at the Imperial court in Vienna, a spot Mozart aspired to. But worldly success isn't everything, for few there be who have ever heard of a composer called Gluck, despite many knowing of this one piece, The Dance of the Blessed Spirits from his most famous opera, Orfeo ed Euridice


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Here is a previous posting concerning Mozart.

He was not unique for being a child prodigy, though probably more than anyone else in history, Mozart established a kind of tradition among musicians which has its merits and its dangers. In Mozart's case, he was paraded around Europe as a child basically for the fruits of whatever gold ducats might be proffered and no doubt these tours were financially successful, so much so that the Mozarts, Wolfie, his sister and their father, were a kind of business model that quite a few musicians tried to emulate.

But could they? This is a child who picked up the violin after watching others play it for a while and instantly played it, likewise the keyboard. This was a child who from before the age of five understood music notation perfectly well and was able to write it down, in most cases that have come down to us without any mistakes, as if he was just taking dictation.

In his early twenties Mozart was witnessed doing such amazing things as writing a letter to his dad with his right hand while working on a score for an opera with his left, pausing once in a while for a gulp of white wine, working both arms independently, stunning and frightening many onlookers. He is known to have known Italian and French as well as his native German. He was very fond of traditional billiards and had a table in his house.

But in spite of his obvious talents, Mozart could not manage practical matters; in particular his living expenses during his brief life, which he lived lavishly enough for a few years, certainly got out of hand. And Mozart was not alone in living above his means, as around 1789 and 1790 events in Europe were beginning to topple the old order, Then of course there was a worldwide economic downturn, some failed harvests, inflation, a pandemic, an economic collapse, the death of the Emperor and of Mozart himself at the age of 35. He might even deservedly be considered a prototypical case of a rapid rise and fall of a great musician, many cases of which are strewn through modern history. But atypically, we usually don't ascribe any negative influences affecting Mozart's early death, mostly because during those days the average life expectancy was less than 35.

However there are persistent rumours that someone had it in for him, because let's face it folks, this Mozart fellow was very good at what he did. He made lots of aspiring musicians very jealous. Mozart knew that much of what he was writing would be immortal because as far as he was concerned it came directly from an immortal place. That's the unmistakeable message one gets from seeing any of his scores too, beautifully laid out right from the start, everything written quickly but accurately as if he was just taking it down from the beyond. In order to do what he did he would have had to have seen the construction of the score as a totality in his mind's eye before even setting a stroke to paper. There will really never be another Mozart.

Just as the Symphony was the predominant occupation of Haydn, so the Piano Concerto might be said to have been Mozart's concentration. There were piano concertos, a few, written before Mozart, but all that followed surely owe much to the 27 of them Mozart wrote, a record. And of course, as an outstanding Opera composer, Mozart was for far longer than most others engaged in it, and his greatest operas are all in the repertoire.

But besides all this, and Mozart was certainly prolific, he was writing music constantly, every day of the last ten years of his life, he wrote at least 41 symphonies (second only to Haydn) and one of his last is featured, the Symphony #40 in G minor, K. 550 written in July of 1788 when he was 32 years old. Together with the Symphonies #39 and #41, these are Mozart's last words on what a Symphony would be. Evidence exists that this particular symphony was performed during Mozart's lifetime, greatly substantiated by the existence of a second authentic manuscript including the clarinet parts which Mozart would never have bothered adding unless the work was being performed and he sought reasons to improve it. The proportions aren't much different from a Haydn Symphony. But listen particularly for the uses of chromaticism and a greater range of emotions, in places writing as if for an Opera with the various instruments as singers, and all accomplished with surprisingly limited resources; 1 flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings, no more than 35 people in all. The movements are as follows:

I have known this symphony a long time, and have many associations with all these movements. The finale is what one of my teachers described as, “the influences of too many bad Hungarian violinists.” Oh well. The first was always my favourite because it represented a very tight sonata allegro form with an impassioned development section. The second movement has some odd discontinuous pulsed phrases in it unlike anything anywhere else that I know of. The third movement is a minuet all right but in a minor key taking full advantage of all the possible harmonies. The florid canonical writing near the end of the first theme is contrasted with the restrained more open flavour of the trio.

As for the performance standards for this symphony, they have varied over the years from the over-massed performances of the big symphony orchestras of the 30's, 40's and 50's through the reversion to “original instruments” and practices and thence to an accepted light texture for all this period music. For one thing, the fewer players on string parts, the more one hears the internal voices. So here we have a “traditional” performance of this “classic” piece, by the Vienna Philharmonic under the late great Karl Böhm (1894-1981), The scale of the orchestra is still small, Böhm concentrates on getting all the notes out as it were rather than phrase succeeding a phrase. You will encounter many more youthful versions of this music as it is a widely performed work.