Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Symphonies of Anton Bruckner

Another post concerning Bruckner is here.

On Saturday, 23 February, a friend and I attended a concert at Bard College featuring Bruckner's 8th symphony in its original 1887 version, one I'd never heard before. The music was played by the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leon Botstein in a stunning performance that I'm pretty sure was not fully appreciated by most of the audience. After all, how many even of the most seasoned concert audiences know much if anything about Bruckner?

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), the Austrian composer, is noted primarily for his symphonies and his church music. Johannes Brahms, who did not seemingly like Bruckner personally, or at least not his work, referred to Bruckner's “great snakes of symphonies” for they are all long and snake about both thematically and harmonically, all within a certain greatly elongated sonata allegro form. Bruckner wrote eleven symphonies between 1863 and the time of his death in 1896. His works begin with the Study Symphony in F minor. He then wrote the uniquely named symphony No. 0 in d minor in 1869, henceforth the Zero. Thereafter he wrote nine more. his last titled Symphony No. 9 (although it's really his eleventh) left unfinished at his death, it's final movement incomplete. Knowing he might not live long enough to complete this last symphony, Bruckner suggested that his Te Deum be played as the final movement.

For much of this music, you will perhaps want to get into a nice comfortable chair and put on a good set of headphones that can really take the dynamic ranges, kick your feet up and relax. This is the kind of music to accompany some great motion picture one might create in one's mind. Of course another aspect we shall be encountering is the music that again was being written by residents of Vienna, leading up to the so called Second Vienna School (Zweite Wiener Schule, Neue Wiener Schule), this music was to bridge the gap between the Romantic era and the atonalism of the 20th century. The chief musical vehicle was the symphony, as it had been for what some may call the First Vienna School that had formed around Joseph Haydn, who wrote more symphonies than anyone else.

Study Symphony in f minor (1863)
[1] Allegro molto vivace
(There are a few cuts in this performance, but this is the only version of this movement on You Tube that comes to a conclusion.)
[2] Andante molto 7:03 
[3] Scherzo - Schnell 5:25
[4] Allegro 6:46 

Unattributed but possibly the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Glasgow) conducted by Georg Tintner. 

At its writing, the composer was 39 years old. We hear various obvious steals throughout, from sources as far back as Mozart and Beethoven, through Mendelssohn and Schumann. But some of what will become the more pronounced Bruckner style are already present. This is most definitely an under rated symphony which should be performed more often as a good opener in a programme paired perhaps with a 20th century masterpiece or two for the second half of a concert. The work lasts about three quarters of an hour and will fully exercise all capabilities of a large symphony orchestra. 
1. Allegro
2. Andante
3. Scherzo: Presto — Trio: Langsamer und ruhiger
4. Finale: Moderato — Allegro vivace

Sir George Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Zero lasts almost 40 minutes and might actually be Bruckner's third in order of composition. The next one, the official 1st symphony, was written three years earlier and this one could have been at least begun the same year. In any case Bruckner is 45 at its completion. From the standpoint of the previous Study Symphony, it would seem that Bruckner fashioned two symphonies, one he rejected, the Zero, whilst the other became the official beginning of his legacy. Amazing that many, perhaps most just neglect these works as useless. The only problem with discarding them is that these first two symphonies each contain a lot of musical material, some of extraordinary value considering who might have been looking, or listening. But no one really was. Is it then a coincidence that certain weird little orchestral textures found in these works turn up in works by later composers? We'll probably never know. Suffice it to say that certain ideas seem to have currency and draw their own admirers during their own particular times. This symphony is also quite full of steals. But one must after all learn from someone. The cult of overt individualism is certainly overrated. As it is, much in these early symphonies already peculiar to Bruckner's style, will definitely influence Mahler and of course the unfortunate Hans Rott, as well as others. It has been often said that musically, Bruckner owes the most to Wagner, but how differently did each employ similar orchestral ideas? Both composers wrote music that is large and expresses many aspects of raw natural power, as well as suggesting natural elements, creatures in a forest, but perhaps only accidentally. Else we are liable to accept that Bruckner, who had studied counterpoint extensively for many years, was using his symphonies to plumb the mysteries of orchestral music as an exercise in sheer intellectual study; one of the elements in the Quadrivium is Music. Everything we know of the studied and studious nature of Bruckner suggests that this might even have been exactly his intentions. 

Symphony No.1 in C minor (1868) "das kecke Beserl"  
1. Allegro (C minor)
2. Adagio (A-flat major)
3. Scherzo: Lebhaft (G minor) – Trio: Langsam (G major)
4. Finale: Bewegt und feurig (C minor)

Sir Geg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Though complete after a fashion in 1868, he revised it until 1891, dedicated it to the University of Vienna, in the main completed before he completed the Zero, this work provides ample evidence that very much of what Bruckner would accomplish was already fully alive in this work. The amazing and revealing steals also continue, from various sources, a few known, like Beethoven and Wagner, while other steals are more obscure. But from the opening bars of the first movement, we are aware of the similarity with the opening of Mahler's 6th, so in music as everywhere else, stealing occurs frequently. But of course we are of a mind not to be terribly concerned with various ways composers plagiarize ideas from each other because we recognize that they were in their way in this way, not so much stealing as paying the purloined from composer a sincere compliment. Bruckner's symphonies are replete with references to certain elements in Wagner's style while not deliberately quoting passages from specific works. It is well known that Bruckner paid deliberate tribute to Wagner, and that's putting it mildly.

Symphony No. 2 in c minor (1872)  
1. Moderato, (C minor)  
2. Feierlich, etwas bewegt, (A-flat major)
3. Scherzo: Mäßig schnell, (C minor) - Trio: Gleiches Tempo, (C major)
4. Finale: Ziemlich schnell, (C minor)

Riccardo Muti conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker at a live concert in the Musikverein, Vienna, 13 April, 2008. (1877 version where the 2nd and 3rd movements are reversed from the original versions)

Revised and reworked until it was published in 1892, this is a fleet work in some respects compared with its predecessor, with again plenty in it that will be picked over by Mahler for ideas that in his hands would sound quite different. Bruckner, as is customarily conceived, was concerned with evoking nature as a tribute to nature's creator, since Bruckner was never far from his apparently quite fervent religious devotion. What may be Bruckner's case, as well or even instead, is that he was primarily a composer operating in the ways mathematicians are devoted to mathematics in that his works are themselves immense “studies” intended to do exactly what they accomplished in the case of Mahler and others, who would apparently learn much from Bruckner's efforts.

Symphony No.3 in d minor, “Wagner” (original 1873 version)
1. Gemäßigt, mehr bewegt, misterioso (also Sehr langsam, misterioso)—d minor
2. Adagio. Bewegt, quasi Andante—E-flat major
3. Scherzo. Ziemlich schnell (also Sehr schnell)—d minor
4. Finale. Allegro (also Ziemlich schnell)—d minor

Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden at a concert in the Semperoper, Dresden, Germany on 22 September, 2008.

The first movement is dominated by an enigmatic figure that dramatically pops up amid otherwise passages suggesting natural surroundings. Much else goes on as well. This work was dedicated to Richard Wagner. In the dedication, Bruckner wrote of Wagner as "the unreachable world-famous noble master of poetry and music." Flattery got one best wishes from the cantankerous old composer. Money of course got them Wagner's blessings and later perhaps a personal stab in the back. The imperturbably innocent Bruckner hadn't either vanity or money, so probably Wagner's best wishes were a gentle “what possible harm could he do?” kind of brush off. In any case Bruckner might have been warned that Wagner was usually a dangerous friend.

The music itself is almost the perfect bridge between Beethoven (and even Haydn) and Mahler, through the lens of Wagner. The second movement is where classical Vienna meets the unanswerable questions from Tristan und Isolde. Of course that work dates from before 1860 and now 13 years later, the nearly 50 year old Bruckner writes this music. The difference between Wagner and Bruckner is in the ground of their mysticism. Bruckner's is sacred, whilst Wagner's is profane. Wagner believed in nobody but himself, while Bruckner believed he was merely another of God's creatures, a comparative nobody. The difference in their music and how it relates to the Messianic and redemptive strains in Mahler are all found here. Played competently, and yes, with all the real references directly back to Haydn, this movement become the musical apotheosis of the Viennese (and late German Romantic) culture of that period, when matters of honour and heroism were familiar to all.

This Scherzo is going to be a kind of model for other dance music in the symphonies that would follow. Bruckner is pairing brutal and brusque musical figures with candid fleet footedness and again the sense that one could take the tone centre of the music anywhere at all at any moment. If you like Mahler, hear this trio and you will have no doubt of the inspiration. But this is Bruckner, so there is ease and unmarred happiness instead of strain and pain.

The finale is in d minor, titanic and flexed. Played as it is here, it really shows off the full capabilities of a great orchestra. Where did Bruckner get some of this? Oh, from Schubert, from other prosaic composers of schmaltzy dance music of the period, out of his counterpoint books. The part writing and how it all stands out as distinct and weaves itself together flawlessly are demonstrated as casually as having a walk (or ride) through the country. There is even a place where the music seems to pause and take a little rest, then resumes. Bruckner doesn't let you linger too long ; he just keeps the walk (ride) going where it naturally would if it were ... out of that particular place in space and time that was the late 19th century in Vienna, thirty years and another lifetime ahead of the Great War. The huge clouds of noise he gets up in this symphony never sound as if they are quite the premonition of a great war, but rather of some dramatic weather or natural event or some possible beneficent act of the Almighty. Nevertheless, to Anton Bruckner, these may have in fact been nothing more than great music lessons writ large. Did he mock himself even near the end of this last movement? It's certainly possible.

Symphony No.4 in E flat major, "Die Romantische" (1874-1888)
1. Bewegt, nicht zu schnell (E-flat major) 
2. Andante, quasi allegretto (C minor)
3. Scherzo. Bewegt - Trio: Nicht zu schnell (B-flat major)
4. Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (E-flat major)

Daniel Barenboim conducting Wiener Philharmonier,
Royal Albert Hall, London, 3 9 / 2007

The Romantic symphony is one of Bruckner's best known, premiered in 1881 by Hans Richter in Vienna with great success. Bruckner used the name Romantic for this work to depict heroic tales rather than love stories. Wagner gave this work his personal approval, which I'm sure helped secure the work both publicity and performances.

Symphony No 5 in B flat Major (1875-1876) 
1. Introduction (Adagio) — Allegro. B-flat major.
2. Adagio. Sehr langsam. D minor.
3. Scherzo. Molto vivace D minor.
4. Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato. B-flat major.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting Wiener Philharmoniker
Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 28 8 / 2005

First performed in completed form in 1887 (published in 1897), a performance capable of lasting an hour and a half! this work is yet of a more straightforward and simpler design than those which follow it, and many of the devices used are hence perhaps more memorable. There is a lot of string plucking; pizzicato, throughout this work. Bruckner uses the slow walking theme of the academic sounding introduction to the first movement for material to add to the development section. The effect might seem heroic and pastoral by turns. Here again, as we have and will see, vast orchestral walls succeed one another with really masterful applications of Wagnerian orchestration as if the orchestra is played as a vast organ, that being Bruckner's principle instrument.

The second movement features possibly more bucolic passages, but these would likely be vistas framed by huge glaciated fastnesses, not your usual placid hills and valleys back home. He tries birhymicality over a few measures and repeats it later in the form's rebound so you know he's serious. Here and there an odd phrase will remind you of Elgar.

Bruckner essays many more daring things in the Scherzo, which especially in the Trio sounds like Mahler, who always claimed Bruckner as inspiration. Nobody writes in a vacuum.

The Finale begins as did the first movement, the same stately academic walk, but then successive themes from the first movement are tried until a new theme is taken up in a fugue. This one certainly gets inspiration from Beethoven's Große Fuge. But then Bruckner breaks free of it into more of his usual symphonic strands, more string plucking giving that “urban” quality to many of the passages. But then there are the brass choirs signifying something more like attending high mass, which in Catholic Austria was almost a token of patriotism to the Hapsburg regime and the realm it signified. As with much in Bruckner, it's not over til it's over and you will feel a few false ends before it all comes to the usual colossal finish. What do you expect from someone that uses a fugue as the substitute for the first subject in a sonata allegro form?

Symphony No 6 in A Major (1879-1881)
1. Majestoso 
2. Adagio. Sehr feierlich
3. Scherzo. Nicht schnell — Trio. Langsam
4. Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell

Christoph Eschenbach conducts the Wiener Philharmoniker in the Musikverein, Vienna, in a live performance, 10 December, 2008. 

He's in his mid fifties as he writes this, perhaps the least well known of Bruckner's symphonies, and for that reason it will probably over time become better known. It lasts the regulation hour in length, and contains many exquisite touches and stunning orchestral effects. The first movement, Majestoso, presents us with thematic material and contexts which cannot set for us any definite key, the second movement is actually in sonata form, the third movement predates the scherzo in his 8th symphony, the finale almost a symphony in itself. 

Symphony No 7 in E Major (1881-1882)
1. Allegro moderato (E major) 
2. Adagio. Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam (C-sharp minor)
3. Scherzo. Sehr schnell (A minor)
4. Finale. Bewegt, doch nicht schnell (E major)

Bernard Haitink conducts the Staatskapelle Dresden in the Royal Albert Hall, London in a live performance, 9 March, 2004. This is one for headphones as some of the playing is really gorgeous.

This symphony, which runs a little more than an hour, won Bruckner his greatest public success during his lifetime, and why not? It's one of the tighter of his conceptions for one thing, and his orchestration is at its best. Bruckner is as some suppose imitating nature. But it could as well be that he is writing pure music as much of it has geometric progression, structure and substance, of course drawn from Wagner, but put to far different uses. Much of it also sounds like early Mahler, who would be deeply influenced by this music. Other trademarks of Bruckner's style are his occasional references to phrase painting from the First Vienna School, because after all he is in Vienna and has inherited their craft. This piece was being written in that fateful year, 1881, that would see the première of Brahms' second piano concerto and the birth of Béla Bartók. It was first performed in 1884 and revised in 1885.

Symphony No. 8 in c minor (original version, 1887) 
1. Allegro moderato
2. Scherzo. Allegro moderato; Trio. Langsam
3. Adagio. Feierlich langsam, doch nicht schleppend
4. Finale. Feierlich, nicht schnell

Vladimir Fedoseyev conducts the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Most have heard this in later versions that Bruckner should never have allowed to be edited. This is the way he originally heard and wrote it. Much of it comes across as more original and better integrated and some of the music, notably in the Third movement, is totally different.

Symphony No. 9 in d minor (incomplete in 1896)
1. Feierlich, misterioso
2. Scherzo. Bewegt, lebhaft - Trio. Schnell
3. Adagio. Langsam, feierlich

Bernard Haitink conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a live concert at Orchestra Hall, Chicago, 14 November, 2009. 

The culmination of all Bruckner's symphonic output was this enigmatic music that somehow crystallized his unique style. Most will never hear more than these three movements and for most they will always be more than enough. But This symphony had sketches for the usual fourth movement and a story goes that Bruckner, realizing that he would not complete this work before his death, suggested that his Te Deum be played as its finale. The English composer, Robert Simpson, among many disputed this, but we are including the Te Deum here anyway as in fact a very fitting way to complete this last of Bruckner's symphonies. 

Te Deum in C major (1884) 
1. "Te Deum laudamus" - Allegro, Feierlich, mit Kraft, common time, C major
2. "Te ergo quaesumus" - Moderato, common time, F minor
3. "Aeterna fac" - Allegro, Feierlich, mit Kraft, common time, D minor
4. "Salvum fac populum tuum" - Moderato, common time, F minor
5. "In Te, Domine speravi" - Mäßig bewegt, common time, C major

Soprano: Krassimira Stoyanova
Mezzo-soprano: Yvonne Naef
Tenor: Christoph Strehl
Bass: Günther Groissböck

Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Chorus Master: Simon Halsey

Bernard Haitink conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in a live concert in the Herkulessaal, München, 12 November, 2010.

This final set of works, the 9th symphony and Te Deum are works both dedicated to God, Bruckner's very Roman Catholic God. This is in a way a redux of Beethoven's 9th and Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123, itself a monumental and quite dramatic setting of the Catholic mass. Bruckner's music harkens back to those times in an earlier Vienna.

The parts that remained in Bruckner's music from that earlier period also reflected the continuity of culture, society and governance that would be broken apart within twenty years of Bruckner's death. But what we have of Bruckner's music today is a tribute to the vastness and uniqueness of his conceptions within the dynamic framework of personalities as diverse as Wagner and Bach; such are the complexities of his musical steals.

Someone who would learn from Bruckner, or at least his pupils, would be the young American composer, Charles Ives, whose first two symphonies are full of clever steals. During the same period we have many American symphonists, known these days as the New England School (academics are so very fond of attributing some artistic and stylistic genres to the term “school”), whose methods were essentially the same as Bruckner's. But though these composers had a small staunch following among certain classes of Bostonians, their popularity and influence was short lived as the Great War and the Jazz Age would change all of that forever.

Thank-you so very much for spending a little time investigating the fascinating though often neglected musical world of Anton Bruckner.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Tour of Mozart's String Quartets

Returning to music which has long been a favourite since I was maybe twenty-three, and having just heard a superb live performance of the 20th in D Major (Emerson String Quartet no less) called the “Hoffmeister” after Mozart's friend, Franz Anton Hoffmeister, a music publisher (promoter) in Vienna, where it was written in 1786. Mozart had just turned 30 and had a mere five more years to live. The whole piece is very clever: sometimes you wonder how he could have possibly heard it all so perfectly and how it only takes four people to play it. What I've always liked most about this quartet is the development section in the first movement, where a kind of imitation of spinning carriage wheels makes you think that perhaps he actually did write it while riding in a carriage. After all, he was Mozart and certainly could have done such things. In fact each of the movements in this quartet features some kind of imitation of the experience or expression of physical motion. After all, they call them movements, don't they?

The best way to set out to look into any particular form of a classical composer's music is by getting the perspective of the whole and then breaking it down into appropriate sub-categories. In the case of Mozart's string quartets, we have 23 of them written between 1770 (the year Beethoven was born) and 1790, a year before Mozart died. That's 23 four part pieces, each lasting between fifteen and twenty-five minutes, written for two violins a viola and a violincello (... a cello). I wont be providing an exhaustive list of links on this tour, so that you can seek out performances, recordings or sheet music on your own.

The Lodi Quartet

The first string quartet, rarely heard, written when Wolfgang was fourteen, already displays considerable musical maturity, what Papa Haydn would later recognize as Mozart's good taste. In the totality of Mozart's string quartets, this one stands by itself. While it borrows techniques from the Italians (it's meant to commemorate the town of Lodi, Italy after all) and the Haydns (both Franz Josef and Michael), this quartet is already marked by Mozart's unmistakeable style. Here the first two movements are played by the Aiana String Quartet as they played them at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, December 5th, 2010. These small intimate chances to hear really good chamber music playing are among the most memorable concert experiences for a lot of us. These players really get it too. For the third and fourth movements, I chose the performance by Quartet Casals as they played them in Barcelona on December 28, 2006.

String Quartet #1 in G Major “Lodi” K 80 (1770) 
[Part 1] 1. Adagio  
[Part 2] 2. Allegro 
[Part 3] 3. Menuetto 
4. Rondeau

The Milanese Quartets 

The next quartets are a set of six written in 1772-1773 while in and around Milan, Italy, hence they are called Milanese Quartets. Mozart would occasionally sojourn in Milan, not too far from his native Salzburg, expecting to earn something while plying his trade composing operas. He was in his mid-teens, writing these string quartets as part musical exercise, for himself and any other players who happen upon them. They are all light weight stuff compared with what he would later compose in this form: instead of the usual four movements, these all have only three. They are listed as follows:

1 Quartet # 2 in D major, K. 155
2 Quartet # 3 in G major, K. 156
3 Quartet # 4 in C major, K. 157
4 Quartet # 5 in F major, K. 158
5 Quatet # 6 in B flat major, K. 159
6 Quartet # 7 in E flat major, K. 160

The second quartet of this set, Quartet# 3 in G major K 156 is played by Marco Ferri and Michele Poggio, Francoise Renard, viola and Enrico Ferri, cello. I suppose they played it sometime before its posting on 14 April, 2012, so fairly recently. The movements are marked Presto, Adagio and Tempo di minuetto. It was written in 1772 in Milan and Mozart was then just 14 years old. As you listen, imagine what might have prompted such theatrical devices in the sombre Adagio to have sprung forth from a young teenaged boy, who was in most respects expected to comport himself as a grown man! The true genius of Mozart is always quite astounding.

The Haydn Quartets, written by Mozart

Considered together as one of Mozart's crowning achievements, these six expertly crafted masterpieces, written between 1782 and 1785, the vibrant first five years of his last ten years in Vienna, amply demonstrate the classical dimensions of the form. Any one of these is a pleasure to hear. They have been used in a variety of ways, usually as background music to dinner parties among the discriminating and well to do. They were also often played at late night soirés by virtuosi among the nobility and diplomats. But locked away in each of them are the folk genres of the people from whence many of the musicians of the times in classical Viennese society came; from the lower classes of German, Italian, Hungarian, Slavonic and Jewish extraction. Though I like them all, my favourite is the last one, subtitled "Dissonance." These are listed as follows:

1. String Quartet # 14 in G major, K. 387 (1782)
2. String Quartet # 15 in D minor, K. 421 (1783)
3. String Quartet # 16 in E-flat major, K. 428 (1783)
4. String Quartet # 17 in B flat major ("Hunt"), K. 458 (1784)
5. String Quartet # 18 in A major, K. 464 (1785)
6. String Quartet # 19 in C major ("Dissonance"), K. 465 (1785)

(Now if you want to take a departure from the main tour, for those who like it so far, or who know the territory, there is a complete performance of ALL six Haydn quartets here. The players are usually the Hagen Quartet of Salzburg, Austria (Mozart's birthplace), though the players for #17 are different.  The recording is in places less than it could have been [beware, there's an annoying break in the recording at 1:46:10 to 1:50 obliterating the last movement of #17.  it resumes beginning #18], but some of the spaces where they play are beautiful and the performances are competent and certainly represent the state of string quartet playing as of their posting; 27 August, 2012.)

The last of these quartets derives its name from its strange dissonant opening Adagio, which presents an emotionally deep musical subject, never treated of again, to be answered as it were by the rest of the Allegro first movement, which is happiness itself, to sheer joy, simply one of the most sparkling of Mozart's many achievements. Therefore,

String Quartet # 19 in C major ("Dissonance"), K. 465
1. Adagio-Allegro
2. Andante cantabile - in F major 
3. Menuetto. Allegro. (C major, trio in C minor)
4. Allegro molto

This performance is by the Gewandhaus Quartet (Leipzig, Germany of course. They also bill themselves as the oldest continuously organized string quartet in the world. Well!) and I suppose this glorious performance took place sometime before 29 September, 2010. These players really know this music. Note too the room in which they are playing. The year it was written was 1782. The American Revolution was over, except for the settlement of debts and the horrible inflation of a government issued money called the “continental” which failed and ruined many. Meanwhile in Europe, as they decided things, many of the diplomats might have been treated to these as they were possibly the equal of today's overnight hits among the select “in crowd” in fashionable places like London, Paris or even Berlin and St. Petersburg. Franklin and Jefferson were known to have corresponded with Mozart and were keenly interested in such things as string quartets. Listen with pause to the grim realities hinted at in the Andante cantabile. Yes, while there is confidence and hope, these realities are yet to be dealt with. The subject of the third movement, the minuet, has always surprised me. Its origins are probably deeply ethnic, but in the hands of a Mozart they are rendered into peerless fine art. The trio of this movement is in the minor, a reminder of that darker side of life. Pairing the two qualities in this movement makes this one of the greatest dance movements in all music. I really wouldn't say such things if they weren't quite possibly true. The finale is a tribute to Papa Haydn, who might as have written such things himself. But this is unmistakeably Mozart in so many ways that it stands forth as a gratuitous monument to the little man who took his musical dictations directly from God. 

The “Hoffmeister”

String Quartet #20 in D Major, K. 499 “Hoffmeister”
I. Allegretto, in D major
II. Menuetto: Allegretto, in D major, with a trio section in D minor
III. Adagio, in G major
IV. Allegro, in D major

This one, #20 began our survey. It is the only one other than #1, the “Lodi,” that stands by itself. There's so much here already, that I've decided to let you discover the best performances you can of this one, but just to say that this one is by itself rather special and rewards those who get it.

The Prussian Quartets

These are the last three Mozart string quartets. These presage Beethoven right from the beginning. You should have little difficulty hearing the connections. They acquired their name as they were written for and dedicated to the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II, between 1789 and 1790. By 1790, Mozart had only one year left and that same year, Papa Haydn was to be fetched away to London to enjoy his great success. By the time he returned to Vienna, Mozart was gone. Had Mozart somehow been able to go away with Haydn, musical history may have been changed dramatically, but such are the weird and sad events of history and the fate of mere mortal men. Life is short, art is long!

String Quartet #21 in D Major, K. 575 “The Violet”
I. Allegretto
II. Andante
III. Menuetto: Allegretto
IV. Allegretto

Again, we are fortunate to have the superb Gewandhaus Quartet for this masterful performance, which took place sometime prior to its posting on 15 October, 2010. In the case of names for classical music pieces, this piece comes by its nickname, “The Violet,” quite honestly as the second movement is based on a song by the same name, Das Vielchen, written by Mozart back in 1785.

Thank-you for coming along on this tour of some of the greatest music ever written. May your searches for competent live performances of these masterpieces be rewarded !


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Richard Goode – Beethoven, the Last 3 Sonatas

Last night (1 May, 2013), the veteran concert pianist, Richard Goode (69) played the last three Beethoven piano sonatas in a concert at Carnegie Hall. Here's how his performances might have sounded. We never know for how long, but while YouTube lasts, here are three gems of the piano repertoire played for both emotional and intellectual edification by one of the greatest pianists of his generation.

Sonata #30 in E Major, Op. 109
Sonata #31 in A flat Major, Op. 110
Sonata #32 in c minor, Op. 111 

By the way, for the time being, ALL of Goode's performances of Beethoven sonatas are available for listening on YouTube.  Please remember though that while they are alive and working, all musicians change their interpretations somewhat and whether they be someone of Goode's stature or not, all musicians need to support themselves through patronage.  Please try to attend their live concerts and consider the purchase of their CD's as gifts.  Thank-you.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

On a weekend that would include a concert by the Emerson String Quartet to conclude the Union College Concert Series, a friend and I decided to take a walk in the woods along a local nature trail. Here are some of the pictures I took along the way.

 This was a locally maintained nature trail that featured the promise of a waterfall.  As is well known, people will travel out of their way in hope of seeing a waterfall.  Many towns were given names implying that there were falls nearby just to attract visitors.  I know of at least 2 towns where there either were no falls or there used to be falls but a long time ago.  Well, on our little walk we did finally see something that passed for a falls, though perhaps to most a mere cataract.

Just through the gate and we are on our way.

It has been a chilly April and though average temperatures had been rising, there had been a chill in the air until the day we took our walk.  The sky remained overcast with just an occasional ray of sunshine.

Here too, we saw where someone had set up a memorial to someone who really enjoyed this particular nature walk, but this time I didn't get closer to see who it was.

Looking west
After a passage along a ridge, the trail wends down to a babbling brook to the left.  The only sounds are a few birds and once in a while the movement of other animals through the brush.  Meanwhile, I play back in my mind some famous musical phrases drawn, by admission of the composers themselves, from nature.
 Finally through a shaft of sunlight, the brook appears. 
Opposite the brook, a hillside illuminated by occasional shafts of sunlight, shows the conifers along the heights with most of the deciduous trees and shrubs hardly yet setting forth their summer leaves.  Spring has not yet sprung.
The brook widens and makes a turn, the trail follows the curve as the sound of falling water gets ever louder.
A fleeting moment when the sky opens and lets more sunshine through.  Can we see the falls yet, or are they just rapids?
 And then there are falls, or what passes for them in most places; falling water, making its natural complement to other natural sounds, over perhaps less than six feet!  Above this spot and up the hill to the left used to stand a mill powered by this stream.  We imagined the very different times and lives lived here 200 years ago and more.  Here in this little valley there was evidence of long past human settlement.  Small farmers had raised their crops here and in the surrounding hills, probably cutting their grain by hand and hauling the sacks down to the mill where they were ground into the season's flour.  The whole thing was powered by this little stream.
Here's another view of the falls, 
... and the valley behind them.
For some, the sights and sounds along the walk would have been enough inspiration.  Meanwhile, the sky presented us with inspiration of perhaps another order, for perhaps an atonal masterpiece.  

We encourage all musicians to take walks in nature as many musicians down through time have done, to relax and perhaps take inspiration therefrom for what we are working on now, what perhaps we may attempt in the future and to give us something other to do with ourselves, our time and our friends.

Finally, the Emerson String Quartet is really a wonderful ensemble.  Here's something of what they are like.