Thursday, November 27, 2014

GS Part III: Bruckner Symphony no. 4 in Eb major, 'Romantic' (Haas, 1881)

performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Karl Böhm (1973 recording) 

So did I have that epiphany (from Tuesday's post)? I think I may have. It seems there comes some point where you hear something (or everything) you didn’t hear in the 100 previous listenings, and then… you can never really go back and unhear it, kind of like that GIF of the spinning ballerina girl in silhouette spinning left or right, or the image of the beautiful young woman or the old hag: once you see it one way, it can be very difficult to unsee it. That’s my thought. 

not my image
Again, Let's just put Bruckner in the context of part three of our German(ic) symphonies. He's the third post, and the second Austrian in the mix, with only one actual German so far (Beethoven). We didn't do his pastoral, but Brahms got his pastoral in, and now Bruckner does... sortofkindof. The two composers had their issues, and Bruckner was clearly in the Wagner camp, but as I mentioned on Tuesday, if there had to be a fourth B, it would be Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner. I say that not because I love his music (yet), but solely because he played such an enormous role in musical history of the time (as later would another Austrian!). So that's where he fits into the mix. And both he and Brahms will continue to reach out into next week's post as we continue an interesting little thread of musical history. Stay. Tuned. 
I had kind of hoped this one occasion would help me really hear the piece. It was a long drive up into the mountains to film part of a movie with a crew I was part of. The picture in last week's article (two links!) was taken at our destination. The scenery was beautiful, the air was clear, and riding through and into mountains and tunnels was wonderful. Perhaps that setting would put this kind of music into context. I felt perhaps like I understood it better, but it still wasn't an eye-opener. It was the beginning though. Again, words like ‘majestic’ and ‘towering’ come to mind with Bruckner’s music, and riding through the mountains covered in fog on a dirt road with valleys and trees and the landscape… it felt like maybe that’s how this music should feel, and sure enough (this sounds so cliche) it sounded different after that listen. 
Also, my modus operandi for these kind of … early listens is often just brute force. Listen

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts on Bruckner: A foreword

It looks like the way in is not always from the beginning. 

This is also the first time I feel comfortable being so.... forwardly critical or (not indifferent but...) puzzled about the works of someone so well known and highly regarded. But here we go!
This wasn’t actually going to get its own post; I figured it would be redundant and uninteresting and unnecessary. So I got down to writing about this week’s piece, and low and behold, the first half of the tome before I even got to the music itself was this stuff. So I figured I’d rather keep Thursday’s music post about the music and preface it with some of my difficulty I’ve been having with this guy. So here we go. 
I wrote about Bruckner's sixth ages ago, and it's not even worth considering a future rewrite as a rewrite. I should delete the original. It was a few quick listens of Solti’s reading from the Chicago box set and I wrote something to the effect of “I like it.” It should be deleted. But to be honest, repeated listenings of different recordings of different symphonies didn’t really get me much farther beyond the “I like it,” and in fact, that wasn’t even actually the sentiment. The sentiment for the sixth should have been more along the lines of “I don’t hate it,” and for the others, something like “they’re very long. And all the same.” I’d had some recording from some symphony from who knows where AGES ago of Bruckner’s ninth, and would just put it on in the car or when I was cleaning or something and let it play, and I came to enjoy the first movement. I usually didn’t make it much past that, but I at least got more familiar with the work, to some degree. That was my only real impression of Bruckner. That and the name “Mahler.” Which could have been (and still be) my problem.
It took me some time to break into Mahler, but now I can't get out. His symphonies

Monday, November 24, 2014

On this day: week of November 24, 2014

November 24
1690 – Charles Theodore Pachelbel, German organist and composer (d. 1750) Yes, that Pachelbel. Also, interestingly, he was one of the first European composers to relocate to America, and settled in Charleston. My family may even know his descendants. Small world.
1867 – Scott Joplin, American pianist and composer (d. 1917) I know, but it's Scott Stinking Joplin. I also didn't realize he was born so long ago. 
1615 – Sethus Calvisius, German composer and theorist (b. 1556)
1650 – Manuel Cardoso, Portuguese organist and composer (b. 1566)
1722 – Johann Adam Reincken, Dutch-German organist and composer (b. 1623)
1956 – Guido Cantelli, Italian conductor (b. 1920)

November 25
1666 – Giuseppe Giovanni Battista Guarneri, Italian violin maker (d. 1740)
1787 – Franz Xaver Gruber, Austrian organist and composer (d. 1863)
1862 – Ethelbert Nevin, American pianist and composer (d. 1901)
1895 – Wilhelm Kempff, German pianist and composer (d. 1991)
1896 – Virgil Thomson, American composer and critic (d. 1989)
1904 – Toni Ortelli, Italian composer and conductor (d. 2000)
1956 – Kalle Randalu, Estonian pianist and educator

Thursday, November 20, 2014

GS Part II: Brahms Symphony no. 2 in D major, op. 73

performed by the Chicago symphony orchestra under Sir Georg Solti

Watch both of these above. In the second video, Maestro Bernstein begins talking about the second symphony just before the three minute mark.
This is such a pleasant symphony, and I took to it much faster than his first. I regret having forced myself to write about his first in such haste, when I really didn't have it all under my belt like I'd wanted to, and at this point, I wouldn't go ahead with writing about a symphony I was still that unfamiliar with. I'll probably give it another go at another time, but to continue our very Germanic series, we have another second symphony, this one from the same guy who wrote "Beethoven's tenth." 
Relative to the first, this one was swiftly written and completed. It's fantastically rustic and enjoyable. Watch the video above of Maestro Bernstein explaining the basic idea of the second symphony and how it is built from the simplest of musical "bricks." If you get nothing else out of this piece, enjoy the blossoming of four very closely related movements from a simple but very beautiful musical kernel. I enjoyed the symphony anyway, but when you see what Brahms did here, with its almost absurd simplicity and beauty, it's inspiring. I began to enjoy and appreciate it even more. 
It’s also interesting, if you want to draw only tenuously related parallels, that both Beethoven's and Brahms’ pastoral symphonies (the former more officially than the latter) were written quite quickly after  previous, more serious works. It’s a thought. It, like Beethoven's second last week, was also composed during a vacation of some kind, at least a visit, to Pörtschach am Wörthersee, a town in Carinthia, in the south of Austria, noted for its mountains and lakes. This would seem naturally to contribute to its cheery, peaceful nature. 
His comment, then, to his publisher about the piece being "so melancholy that you will not be able to bear it," and "I have never written anything so sad, and the score must come out in morning" are clearly in jest. 
The premiere was given in Vienna on December 30, 1877 by the Vienna Philharmonic under Hans Richter. Almost comically, Walter Frisch notes that "in one of those little ironies of

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The scope of interpretation

This will be a short one, but I was just thinking, as I'm listening to next week's piece, perhaps how critical (or not) interpretations are. 
In reading a review of a certain conductor's traversal of the symphonies of the composer of next week's piece, I was a bit surprised. If you didn't know who the conductor was, who the (very famous) orchestra was, or perhaps even which symphony cycle of what composer it was, the review would seem no better than scathing, with a few moments of honest admiration. There was more than one like that of the same recordings. 
It got me to thinking, could a poor interpretation of a piece 'ruin' a work for a first-time listener? In my focus on Mahler, I didn't really feel like performance mattered a great deal until I got more familiar with the pieces themselves to be able to tell the difference, and part of that process with Mahler was just learning to listen in general, so it's hard to say. 
I certainly go for listens to new performances now and can be just blown away by the awesomeness of a good one (Mehta's recording of the fourth with the Israel Philharmonic comes to mind), but, at least for a newcomer, could an interpretation be so awful as to turn away a listener? I would suppose professionals could perhaps listen for the intent of a piece. It's kind of like when I listen to people speak Chinese really poorly. It's a tonal language. Combine that with intonation and emphasis, and you have, at best, a language that can be difficult