Thursday, December 18, 2014

GS Part VI: Weingartner Symphony No. 1 in G

performed by the Basel Symphony Orchestra under Marko Lentoja


So this is (perhaps thankfully) where our saga of the Beethoven quote ends. It's been with us for around a month now, and it's time we close that chapter. Mahler 3 was enormous, and I find the potential association with Rott to be moving and beautiful and inspiring. 
That's not to say, though, that there isn't some definitive association between these two composers. Weingartner was, after all the first person (or at least one of the first) to perform Mahler's enormous third symphony, albeit only selected movements, (second, third, and sixth) and he quite admired it, even complimenting his work (in so many words) as greater than that of Strauss. 
In some ways, I'd think he should know. Weingartner was a celebrated conductor and interpreter of some of the most classical works in the repertoire. What perhaps isn't as well known is that he was also a composer. I can't speak with any authority to the quality of his other recordings, but as I was looking around, his name came up, and his first symphony was instantly pleasant. 
As mentioned in our last post, this similarity between the two men as being conductors/composers makes for an interesting perspective, and there aren't many double threats like that in music history. Carl Nielsen memorably was sitting in the second violins for the premiere of his first symphony, which somehow endears him to me. I would imagine most conductors should be capable of performing their own works, but Weingartner and Mahler are two who are really known for their conducting, and until recently (with Mahler) perhaps more so for their conducting than their compositions. That all being said, I was curious to explore Weingartner's works, as much

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The composer and conductor: which comes first?

This is not a piece I'm going to spend lots of time analyzing the history of in preparation for a dissertation on the subject. It was just a passing thought I had based on this week's music piece for Thursday, and I thought I'd talk about it. It'll make more sense when you know what that piece is, but for now, it's at least worth talking about in the context of Mahler.
While he seemed to have garnered some praise and recognition in his time for his works, most prominently the eighth symphony, he was known during his lifetime far more as a composer. It seems Brahms was relieved at this in hopes that maybe he would stick to conducting and stop writing music. He didn't, thankfully.

Herbert von Karajan, perhaps one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic. I remember reading somewhere that he said if ever he were to compose, he suspects his compositions would be most like those of Shostakovich
Regardless of political or historical affiliations with music, Mahler seems (as far as I know) to be one of the few composers known as much for his conducting as his composition, if not more so. Among other people we think of now as primarily composers who were known for their conducting chops were Mendelssohn and Wagner. It was Mendelssohn who premiered Schubert's unfinished ninth in March of 1839 after being given the score by Robert Schumann, its discoverer. Wagner went on to do amazingly huge and important things in opera, but was also a conductor, even writing a book about it.
Other composers, not so much. One would think that a composer would be able to conduct his own piece from the podium in at least a minimally satisfactory manner, but then again,

Monday, December 15, 2014

On this day: week of December 15, 2014

December 15
Births:
1657 – Michel Richard Delalande, French organist and composer (d. 1726)
1686 – Jean-Joseph Fiocco, Flemish composer (d. 1746)
1928 – Ida Haendel, Polish-English violinist. This woman is something... you should watch some of her master classes, like the one here. She seems like a riot. 
Deaths:
1792 – Joseph Martin Kraus, Swedish pianist, violinist, and composer (b. 1756)

December 16
Births:
1775 – François-Adrien Boieldieu, French composer (d. 1834)
1882 – Zoltán Kodály, Hungarian composer, conductor, and musicologist (d. 1967)
1932 – Rodion Shchedrin, Russian pianist and composer
1946 – Trevor Pinnock, English harpsichord player and conductor
Deaths:
1783 – Johann Adolph Hasse, German composer and educator (b. 1699)
1921 – Camille Saint-Saëns, French pianist, composer, and conductor (b. 1835)
2006 – Pnina Salzman, Israeli pianist (b. 1922)

December 17
1865 – First performance of the Unfinished Symphony by Franz Schubert.
Births:
1699 – Charles-Louis Mion, French composer (d. 1775)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mahler's third: An epilogue

As has been common for the past few installments of our German(ic) Symphonies series, things got out of hand, and the most consuming idea of the piece itself expanded to take up a huge portion of what was supposed to be a post about the symphony itself, so I decided the 'thoughts' and 'music' posts would change their orders for this week, and this is why. You'll see once you read why this had to come before the proper post on Mahler's third, and not after. 
Gustav Mahler around 1896, when this symphony would have been written (via Wikipedia)
The quote returns.
Despite the piece’s history and its various forms, it was pared down to a mere six-movement, 90-100 minute work, and that’s not even what I found most overwhelming about this piece. What I found most perplexing was this thread of drama starting with Beethoven, onto Brahms, through Bruckner onto Rott, and now with Mahler.
Beethoven, bless him, wasn’t involved in the drama personally. It’s the matter of that persistent quote. What quote? Listen to these:
Here's the original, the famous theme from the final movement of Beethoven's ninth. 
Here's Brahms' quote of said theme in the final movement of his own first symphony
And here's Rott's homage to them both in the final movement of his first symphony. 
And now go back and listen to the beginning of Mahler’s third.
Now, could this be entirely unrelated? Yes! Am I eager to pass it off as coincidence? No! In case you haven’t read last week’s post (actually like, the posts from the last three weeks), there is drama. Brahms already didn’t care for Bruckner and Wagner, and in the final movement of his first symphony (again, linked above), quoted the glorious theme from the finale of Beethoven’s ninth. This was 100% intentional, and Brahms acknowledged it. However, a number of years later, Bruckner’s student Hans Rott quoted Brahms’ quote of Beethoven in the final movement of his own first symphony, but this did not exclude him from Brahms’ denunciation. Rott later (related to this rejection or not) went mad and died of tuberculosis after a few failed suicide attempts. He was also Mahler’s roommate for a time and fellow classmate in composition under Franz Krenn. Rott’s work struck a chord

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

GS Part V: Mahler Symphony no. 3

performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado, or as below

This recording is not one I have listened to throughout, but I do quite enjoy Jansons and the Concertgebouw. I couldn't find any other full performances on YouTube, and the Concertgebouw, as you will see, is significant to Mahler, and they're one of the best orchestras in the world, so enjoy. Please ignore the obnoxious ad at the beginning. Thank you. 

So here we are, at kind of the middle point of our series, and we have reached quite a point in the history of the symphony. This is a beast.

World's (almost) biggest symphony composed in the world's smallest composing 'hut' (via Wikipedia)

Some Thoughts

This is a really enormous piece, and had been one of the biggest challenges for me in the Mahler cycle. I'd been holding out on number nine, as I've mentioned only a thousand times before, but that's over and done (the listening part, anyway), and I've decided it's time to finish the remaining pieces in their chronological order. Its enormous scope makes it a challenge to write about, and then there’s the whole…. Connection to the previous three symphonies in our German(ic) Series to catch up on, and I wasn't quite sure how we were going to do that, but you may notice that something is different. In my attempts at getting all this down on paper, I had a post of frightening length (perhaps suitable for a frighteningly long symphony) and decided that the aforementioned ‘connection’ for obvious reasons, needs to be an afterword to the actual discussion of the piece itself, so we’ve flipped the order this week. Music on Tuesday, some thoughts on Thursday.
It's hard to imagine that, coming off the heels of something like his second, one of the grandest symphonies ever written up to that point, that he could outdo himself. And he did.
I don't know what it was about the second that gripped me from just the first few listens, but it kept me coming back for more and more and more. That was good and bad, though, because I realized later that that kind of approach bred a familiarity with the piece that was more like memorizing every line of a movie but still not really grasping the plot or the meaning of those lines. 
I love the piece, and had kind of my own conceptions of what it was ‘about’, but it still carried that very religious, spiritual kind of message that Mahler intended. My eyes were really opened when I listened to Aaron Cohen's presentation based onMahler's notes for the piece. It all came together: the funeral rites,