Thursday, April 16, 2015

Schubert Symphony no. 3 in D major, D. 200

performed, as always, by Neville Marriner and the ASMF, or below by Marriss Jansons and the Concertgebouw (apologies for the anime image, but it's a nice performance)

Mini-German: Part 2
(I know he's Austrian)


Now for a slight change of pace. Sort of. While this work came a decade after last week's Beethoven piece, it is... at least to my ears, not as far ahead of its time. That's no criticism at all. Let me explain.
For one, Eroica was just kind of a phenomenal thing. Beethoven was already into his thirties when this piece was written. Schubert was about half that age when he wrote his third (18 years old). That's perhaps the greatest factor.
But first, let's talk about the relationship between these two composers. For the real well-written (and original source) version, go check out this section of the Wikipedia article on Beethoven and his contemporaries.
Actually, before we talk about that, let's talk about the climate in which Schubert wrote his third symphony, at least briefly.
The piece was written at a time when the works of one Gioachino Rossini (born only five years prior to Schubert) were quite popular, and it seems the young (and impressionable) eighteen-year-old genius was smitten with his style. On a larger scale, though, Beethoven had been around some time longer and also made quite an impression in Vienna. The above points out that Schubert grew up hearing Beethoven's music and that he held his elder composer in the highest esteem. This may

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Concert Review: Mahler 3

as performed by the Taipei Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Eliahu Inbal on April 6, 2015.


Again... There are some concerts that you're so excited about you lose sleep over, concerts that make you feel like your ticket in is the golden ticket for Willy Wonka's Whatever it Was (if you're into that sort of thing), and when you file into the concert hall (of hopefully well-behaved, polite, respectful patrons), you feel a cozy sense of togetherness, of privilege, of camaraderie in the knowledge that you are preparing to experience something that only these few thousand (ish?) people on earth in attendance will experience and ever be able to talk about.
There have been a few of these real once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the past few years. I saw Valentina Lisitsa live back in 2013, I saw Hilary Hahn live earlier this year, I saw (and met) Charles Dutoit and the Royal Philharmonic (sat front row) (before I started this blog; no article), and got to see (and almost meet) Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia last month. Phew. Those are kind of at the top of my list.
But this is another one. Why?
Well, when I saw Mahler's fifth performed here in Taipei a few years back, I got started on a stint of curiosity that quickly became an obsession. You will also notice how terrible my writing was in discussing a piece I really did not understand, but it was a start, and I eventually decided I need to hear every Mahler symphony live. Before last week, I had been able to mark off my list the fourth, fifth, and ninth. There are a few of his symphonies that present some specific challenges to

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Beethoven Symphony No. 3 in Eb, op. 55

performed by Nicolaus Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (which seems not to be available online, so we will go with a slightly less favorite but almost equally as wonderful interpretation, and very much along the same lines, our old Beethoven friends Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, but I must say... The Philharmonia under Esa-Pekka Salonen did an amazing job with it back in February)

Mini-German: Part 1


This has to be one of the most famous symphonies ever EVER EVER. Why? And what's so amazing about it? Let's talk.
I feel like this could perhaps be a real gateway piece for people... Like I said in last month's post about Beethoven's first piano concerto, I'm a bit late to the party; I'll admit that. Either it was all the constant talk of Beethoven and his omnipresence in classical discussions and performances that makes some people think... he's like the white bread of the concert hall, and I kind of felt that way too. Like "I get it: Beethoven's great, the fifth symphony, the deafness, etc." but really, people.
Really.
There's so much more to this guy's music than most of the people who throw around his name even realize. I really really came to like his first two symphonies, especially the second. I didn't use the word love, because they don't bowl me over with emotion and passion and contemplation of the human experience, but they are (literally) breathtaking, give me goosebumps in places, and have to be some of the best mood-enhancers in all of music; they're just wonderful works. But I don't love them.
This piece, though... I know he wrote some wonderful things before this, but let's use just his symphonies as an example. This piece is the one that really made an impression. It's an enormous leap forward from his previous two symphonies. In a previously-linked talk that I may or may not decide to link from a previous article (I included the video below), this quite shocking nontraditional statement is obvious from the first two notes.
The piece is important; it's not only a pinnacle of the classical era (perhaps the pinnacle), but a milestone in the annals of classical music as a whole, and arguably the first steps toward the Romantic era. It shows a depth and maturity and sheer genius that has lasted 210 years and is still one of the greatest symphonies ever written.
It's often mentioned alongside Beethoven's other famous symphonies (the fifth and ninth, and others depending on how thorough a list you're looking at), as well as Dvorak's ninth and others as standards of the repertoire. They may risk overplay with this kind of attention, and Dvorak's ninth is one that I think should be scaled back and enjoyed slightly less so its beauty doesn't get sickeningly sweet. But that's beside the point.
We'll talk in a bit about what exactly it is that makes this symphony such a critical point in classical music history, but suffice it to say, it is, and aside from that, it's just so unbelievably beautiful.
Composition of the third symphony began not long after completion of the second, and marks the beginning of the composer's "creative middle period." As many people know, it was originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, whom the composer greatly admired for his values or views or whatever and saw him as a European hero. Beethoven's secretary, Ferdinand Ries, explained how that all changed:
In writing this symphony, Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him, and compared him to the greatest consuls of Ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven's closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word "Buonaparte" inscribed at the very top of the title-page and "Ludwig van Beethoven" at the very bottom ...
I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!" Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be recopied, and it was only now that the symphony received the title Sinfonia eroica.
So the symphony became not Buonaparte, but Eroica. It certainly is of an epic enough scale and content matter to seem fitting for the former, but stands alone perfectly by itself without any program or famous dedication.
The piece was premiered on April 7, 1805 in Vienna. That makes it 210 years and two days old as of the time of this posting.
I mentioned earlier that this symphony is a pillar/milestone/pinnacle of the Classical

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mini German: A four-part series

For the next few weeks, we'll be taking the chance to visit a few symphonies that didn't get inclusion into our rather large German(ic) Symphony series at the end of last year. Obviously not everything could be included in that, and there was a rather specific train of thought I was working on for it, so some really good candidates were excluded. We'll be adding to that a bit with a slightly smaller (by half) and not so narrative-like series starting this week.
I'm excited about this one. The first and last in the series are really some of my absolute favorites in all of music, and the middle two are more recent additions to the list of symphonies I just really enjoy listening to.
The first of these was actually premiered 210 years ago today!!! It is the anniversary of the premiere of the piece we will be talking about on Thursday, having been premiered in Vienna on this date. Look it up.
In any case, I figured that one was a wonderful place to start, and then from there I made some tenuous connections to a few other pieces, finally ending with something I almost did like eight months ago, but didn't. And we're going to do it at the end of this month. There's also a concert review coming up that is quite fitting to include on a Tuesday amid this series, so it all works out quite well. It's a concert I went to see last night that I am extremely excited to talk about.
Our first, rather large historic series, the German(ic) Symphony, was by no means conclusive or definitive; it was the representation of a train of thought represented by music I was interested in at the time. Go back to check out who was included in it and what the connections were.
Despite the fact that it was a limited, confined and somewhat specific series, I did feel bad

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Aaron Copland: Clarinet Concerto

performed by Martin Frost and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra


So here we are in our final installment of a brief but surprisingly enjoyable miniseries on the clarinet. 
What’s left? Well, we haven’t had a concerto yet, and this week’s piece brings us solidly into the modern era, with a piece written within the lifetimes of some people still around today. 
Copland’s clarinet concerto was written shortly after his third symphony. I feel like this shouldn’t be the piece we use to first represent Copland on the blog, as he has lots of other stuff worth talking about, but in the interest of this miniseries, his clarinet concerto can’t really go unmentioned in the repertoire. 
It was written between 1947 and 1949 as a commission from Benny Goodman, one of the world’s famous (jazz) clarinetists. 
Can I just say something here? I can’t even really describe why, but I just don’t like jazz. That might seem strange coming from someone who started playing the saxophone around 20 years ago, and has been in jazz bands, but I love big band and swing stuff, and I don’t mind a lot of Benny Goodman’s repertoire, but … that jazz club live band/trio stuff… kind of makes me cringe. I know it is a worthy genre with incredibly talented musicians, but it’s not for me. 
So when this piece came up for this series, I figured… it’s probably as close as we’ll get to the genre on this blog. Something else that comes to mind when one thinks of orchestral writing flirting with jazz in a classical setting is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, written a few decades earlier, but that was originally actually for a piano and jazz ensemble, only arranged for an orchestra in 1942, still a number of years before this work was completed. Anyway…
Wikipedia has a quote from Goodman to Copland biographer Vivian Perlis. He is quoted as saying:
I made no demands on what Copland should write. He had completely free rein, except that I should have a two-year exclusivity on playing the work. I paid two thousand dollars and that's real money. At the time there were not too many American composers to pick from... We never had much trouble except for a little fracas about the spot before the cadenza where he had written a repetition of some phrase. I was a little sticky about leaving it out—it was where the viola was the echo to give the clarinet a cue. But I think Aaron finally did leave it out... Aaron and I played the concerto quite a few times with him conducting, and we made two recordings.
I think a few things of this quote. For one, it must have been quite a compliment for Copland (or for any artist) to have someone come to them with zero requirements for the piece. It’s the omakase of commissions, in a way. He has free rein to do whatever he wanted with it. Goodman’s only