|Famous LAST WORDS|
Franz Joseph Haydn
|Franz Joseph Haydn|
Symphony No. 104 in D major, “London”
The long life of Franz Joseph Haydn spanned one of the great upheavals in the economics of the musical profession. It marked the demise of the aristocratic “ownership” of music and musicians and the rise of the middle class as patron, supporter and chief consumer of the arts. No one bridged this transition better than Haydn, who went from being the darling of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy to that of London's merchants without offending either.
In 1791, Haydn made the first of two extended trips to London at the invitation of the impresario Johann Peter Salomon, actually considering settling there for good. He composed numerous works for performance in Salomon’s concerts, primarily his last twelve symphonies (known today as the “London: or “Salomon” symphonies). These concerts – like most performances of the time – went on for hours and were a mixed bag, including vocal, chamber and orchestral pieces. For the decade of the 1790s, their major drawing power lay in Haydn’s music.
Haydn was not only a hit with London’s middle class but also with royalty and the high nobility. Although they seem to have been a bit late in getting around to inviting the composer for a formal presentation before their majesties King George III and Queen Charlotte, he so captivated Their Majesties that they had him back for return performances and conversation throughout the month of February of 1794. The Queen actually attempted to lure Haydn to take up permanent residence in London, but he declined on the grounds of loyalty to his patrons, the Esterházy family.
It is sometimes difficult from the vantage point of the twenty-first century to realize how innovative a composer Haydn was. While retaining the harmonic palette of high classicism, he added new ideas, on both a large and small scale, to make his works always sound fresh and exciting to his audiences.
The Symphony No.104 was Haydn’s last. It was probably premiered in London in May 1795 at an all-Haydn concert, the proceeds of which, in the English tradition of such “benefit” performances, went to the composer. Haydn himself remarked on the concert’s huge success, both artistically and financially.
Symphony 104 is notable for its persistently lively character. The somber introduction with its timpani and sighing violin motive belies the overall mood of the piece, but then, Haydn was ever a proponent of the unexpected touch. The second movement falls into the standard ABA pattern. A gentle theme in the A section undergoes the same contrast of moods as the Introduction and Allegro. The repeat of the A section includes variation-like embellishments of the main theme.
Haydn's minuet movements were always less courtly and elegant than Mozarts. Here, however, the irregular phrasing and sudden pauses in the minuet which, in addition to its boisterous character, distances it, more than usual for Haydn, from its courtly dance origins. As if to emphasize the symphony’s “grass roots,” Haydn accompanies the main theme of the final movement with a drone, imitating the rural bagpipes of Croatian shepherds. Beethoven used the same effect in his "Pastoral" Symphony.
Sweden relinquished Finland to the Russian Empire in 1809, where it became an autonomous duchy with significant control over its own affairs. Starting in 1870, however, Russia gradually began to rescind these privileges and autonomy. While Swedish was the language of the educated and middle class, Russian repression aroused strong nationalist feelings and started a revival of the Finnish language. Jean Sibelius was born into this new nationalism and in 1876 enrolled in the first grammar school teaching in the Finnish language. Finland finally gained its independence after World War I.
Sibelius’ first success as composer came in 1892 with a nationalistic symphonic poem/cantata titled Kullervo, Op. 7, which was debuted with great success, but never again performed in his lifetime. During the next six years he composed numerous nationalistic pageants, symphonic poems and vocal works, mostly based on the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.
The best known of his symphonic poems, the Lamminkäinen Suite, subtitled “Four Legends from the Kalevala,” was premiered in 1896. During the next 28 years he composed the seven symphonies and other orchestral works that made him famous. In 1926 he essentially quit composing, for reasons never disclosed, although the combination of alcoholism and bipolar disorder may have played an important role. He remained silent until his death, three decades later.
In 1926, Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Philharmonic, commissioned a tone poem from Sibelius, who returned to the legends of the Kalevala. Tapiola was Sibelius’s final completed orchestral work, so that his career was framed by the tone poems based on the Kalevala. An Eighth Symphony, on which he apparently worked through the 1930s, was never completed; Sibelius probably burned the manuscript in 1945.
Sibelius prefaced the score of Tapiola with a passage from the Kalevala that sets the mood and ambience of the work but comes deliberately short of a narrative.
Widespread they stand, the Northland’s dusky forests, Tapiola is the realm of the forest god, Tapio. Finland’s coniferous forests are not for the faint of heart, and in all his works, Sibelius develops a chilly orchestral sound in the woodwinds and brass, as well as eerie sounds on the upper strings, to portray limited light of the far north and the bleak mood it invokes.
Ancient, mysterious, brooding savage dreams;
Within them dwells the Forest’s mighty god,
And wood-sprites in the gloom weave magic secrets.
Musically, the tone poem is based on the development and transformation of a few loosely constructed motives, fragments of modal scales floating above deep, sustained pedals. Any sense of a tonic, or key, is lacking for the full twenty minutes of the piece, nor are there any true cadences, as if we were wandering in the forest without a path. And always, there is a sense of anticipation and unresolved tension. The initial quatrain adequately describes the dark, shifting moods; we briefly meet up with the wood-sprites and are shaken by sudden savage dreams. Then, all at once, we’re home in B major, with no sense of how we got there.
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 85
If you look at photographs of Edward Elgar, read about his likes and dislikes or listen to his music, the picture that emerges seems the stereotype of Imperial Britain’s aristocracy or, as Constant Lambert put it, “... an almost intolerable air of smugness, self-assurance and autocratic benevolence...” Elgar's military bearing, walrus mustache, country gentleman’s attire were in keeping with his conservative, violently anti-Liberal politics. His music sounded fully sanctioned by the Royal College of Music.
The reality was quite different. Elgar was born to a lower middle class family. Worst of all, his father was a music store owner – “in trade,” as the upper crust in turn-of-the-century Britain would say. Elgar was nervous, insecure, a hypochondriac and prone to depression; he had a chip on his shoulder for not being “fully accepted.” He never served in the army. And he was a devout Catholic.
He was, however, a model Edwardian composer, whose imperialist ideals fitted perfectly into the pre-World War I era, for which he served as musical spokesman. His music was a natural product of late nineteenth-century Romanticism, containing a healthy infusion of Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Dvorák and even early Strauss and Mahler. While he was older than the last two, economic conditions had forced him to teach, preventing him from concentrating on composing until his 40s.
Although Elgar completely lacked academic musical training, he played the bassoon, the piano and especially the violin, which he taught well. And he had a muse: his beloved wife Alice, who lovingly bolstered his spirits and critiqued his efforts. To the chagrin of Britain’s music establishment, the “outsider” Elgar was the first English composer since Henry Purcell to achieve world fame; his Enigma Variations propelled him in 1899 from parochial obscurity to worldwide recognition.
The trauma and social change spawned by World War I perplexed and embittered him, turning him into an anachronism in his own lifetime. His work went into decline and neglect and the Cello Concerto, premiered in October 1919, was his last great musical effort. Subsequent compositions from the last 15 years of his life were limited to salon pieces, marches and other potboilers. Towards the end of his life, Elgar began work on a third symphony, leaving behind extensive sketches that have recently been completed and recorded by Anthony Payne.
The Cello Concerto has been called Elgar’s “War Requiem.” It isn’t, however, a requiem for the war dead, but rather for a lost way of life, the end of a civilization. He himself considered it his swan song, noting in his catalogue: “Finis. R.I.P.” The premiere was a disaster. For the concert, Elgar shared the podium with Albert Coates, described by his contemporaries as a nasty little tyrant. Coates, who was on a Skryabin kick, was to conduct the Poem of Ecstasy and ended up hogging all the rehearsal time. It did not take long, however, for the Concerto to establish itself as an audience favorite.
This is a concerto of sadness and disillusion. It owes much to Dvorák, especially to the Cello Concerto, which Dvorák also composed late in life and reflects his personal regrets and heartache. The kinship extends to some of the technical aspects as well. Elgar wanted the cello to dominate the work. While the orchestral forces are large, the writing is always scaled down, economical, never overpowering the soloist who plays nearly continuously.
The Concerto commences with a cello recitative that comes across like a challenge and sets the tone for the whole work, reappearing in the second and fourth movements. With the voice of a “wise old man,” it leads to the main theme, introduced by the violas. Despite the 6/8 time signature that so often suggests an air of lightheartedness, here the rocking quality that persists throughout the movement comes across almost as self-comforting keening. The second theme is more dreamy and yearning, but the mood never truly picks up. The transition into the second movement, one of the classical repertory's more “un-playful” scherzos, is mysterious and eerie, accented by orchestral outcries, cello pizzicatos, hesitant, stuttering and bowed sighs. & The perpetual motion of the second movement indeed has a frantic quality.
The Adagio is one long meditation, again strongly recalling Dvorák’s Cello Concerto. It ends with an impassioned song, first on the cello, then with soloist and orchestra.
The parallels with Dvorák contune into the Finale, where a battle seems to take place between the melancholy soloist with its passionate outbursts and brooding recitatives, and more energetic orchestra. In the first notes of the Finale the orchestra introduces the principal theme of the movement but the cello interrupts to embark on a far more introspective version of the theme, before finally bringing it out in its full form. In a second thematic group, the orchestra appears temporarily to elevate the cello's mood. But in the end, the cello reverts to its sad reverie, as the Adagio from the third movement returns. With sudden impatience, as if he has revealed too much of his personal feelings, Elgar cuts the work short by introducing the opening cello recitative and a final short flourish from the orchestra.
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2012|