All posts by Gary

About Gary

Piano Teacher with over 40 years experience, teaching in the Fort Lauderdale area. Teaches exclusively at All County Music in Tamarac FL.

1785: Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, age 29

Mitsuko Uchida, Piano & Conductor/Camerata Salzburg

This is just a fantastic performance and one of the most dynamic and red-blooded performances I’ve ever heard of this concerto. I’m also a huge fan of  pianists who conduct their own performances because it allows them to totally shape a conception. I just discovered this tonight, and it may be the best I’ve ever heard of this work. So in spite of all the things I don’t like to see, I recommend this video highly.

Total time: 31:25

Instruments:

  • solo piano
  • flute, two oboes, two bassoons
  • two horns, two trumpets
  • timpani
  • strings

History:

The first performance took place at the Mehlgrube Casino in Vienna on 11 February 1785, with the composer as the soloist.

Mozart’s father’s opinion:

A few days after the first performance, the composer’s father, Leopold, visiting in Vienna, wrote to his daughter Nannerl about her brother’s recent success:

“I heard an excellent new piano concerto by Wolfgang, on which the copyist was still at work when we got here, and your brother didn’t even have time to play through the rondo because he had to oversee the copying operation.”

Minor key concertos:

It is the first of two piano concertos written in a minor key (No. 24 in C minor being the other).

One of Beethoven’s favorites:

The young Ludwig van Beethoven admired this concerto. Many different composers wrote cadenzas for it.

Pedal board:

This excerpt from the Wiki article is important:

One of Mozart’s favorite pianos that he played while he was living in Vienna had a pedal-board that was operated with the feet, like that of an organ. The fact that Mozart had a piano with a pedal-board is reported in a letter written by his father, Leopold, who visited his son while he lived in Vienna. Among Mozart’s piano works, none are explicitly written with a part for a pedal-board. However, according to Leopold’s report, at the first performance of Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor (K. 466), Mozart, who was the soloist and conductor, used his own piano, equipped with a pedal-board. Presumably the pedal-board was used to reinforce the left-hand part, or add lower notes than the standard keyboard could play. Because Mozart was also an expert on the organ, operating a pedal-board with his feet was no harder than using only his hands.

1878: Brahms: Violin Concerto in D major

MONDAY, October 12, 2020 – 8:47 AM

Violin Concerto in D major, age 35

The Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77, was composed by Johannes Brahms in 1878 and dedicated to his friend, the violinist Joseph Joachim. It is Brahms’s only violin concerto, and, according to Joachim, one of the four great German violin concertos. According to me it is the greatest violin concerto ever written, and Milstein played it better than anyone else. I grew up with an earlier mono recording and just discovered this one today. I believe he played Joachim’s cadenza. I’ll check later with a score.

Instrumentation

  • solo violin
  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons
  • 2 natural horns crooked in D, and 2 natural horns crooked in E, 2 trumpets in D
  • timpani
  • strings

No one performs this on natural horns…

Despite Brahms’ scoring for natural (non-valved) horns in his orchestral works, valved horns have always been used in actual performance, even in Brahms’  time.

He got help…

Brahms asked Joseph Joachim’s advice on the writing of the solo violin part. Joachim,gave that advice, but all it was followed in the final score.

The cadenza…

The most familiar cadenza, which appears in the first movement, is by Joachim, but many other violinists have written their own cadenzas.

1883: Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F major

Symphony No. 3, age 50

The work was written in the summer of 1883 at Wiesbaden, nearly six years after he completed his Symphony No. 2. In the interim Brahms had written some of his greatest works, including the Violin Concerto, two overtures (Tragic Overture and Academic Festival Overture), and Piano Concerto No. 2.

Celibidache

  1. Allegro con brio (F major)
  2. Andante (C major)
  3. Poco allegretto (C minor)
  4. Allegro — Un poco sostenuto (F minor – F major)

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

  1. 0:17 Allegro con brio (F major) 12:53 (0:17-13:10)
  2. 13:34 Andante (C major) 8:14 (13:34-21:48)
  3. 21:50 Poco allegretto (C minor) 7:26 (21:50-28:16)
  4. 28:16 Allegro — Un poco sostenuto (F minor – F major) 8:39 (28:16-36:55)

Total time: 35:12

Instruments

  • two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, a contrabassoon
  • four horns, two trumpets, three trombones
  • timpani
  • strings

1st movement

This is a great movement, well over 10 minutes long, and in my mind one of Brahms best.

2nd movement

It starts out with an almost sunny sound, though also very introspective and peaceful. There is one place that reminds me of Dvorak, which probably means that Dvorak sometimes reminds me of Brahms. I’m thinking that Dvorak loved the music of both Brahms and Wagner and must have found the war between their camps very painful. As I’m listening I’m trying to remember why this is not a favorite symphony, and I realize it has nothing to do with the first two movements, which are just great.

3rd movement

So now we come to the 3rd movement, and what’s here? I know this symphony very well, so unlike some Mozart and Haydn symphonies, which I never quite can keep straight by themes, all of this is terribly familiar. But I could not recall the way this movement starts until I heard it again, and that shows I have neglected listening to it in favor of the other three. The moment it started I not only knew it, I recognized that it is terribly easy to listen to.

4th movement

This is the part that lets me down, and I know exactly why. It has a magnificent peak, but then it just winds down and to me has never felt like a finish. I don’t like a symphony to end this way, and that’s why I always have a slightly negative feeling at the end, like a wonderful story – a book or movie – that just does not seem like it has a great finish. It’s only the ending I don’t like, because the rest of it is great. Apparently most of the world disagrees with me.

The 3rd was popular…

Hans Richter, who conducted the premiere of the symphony, proclaimed it to be Brahms’ Eroica. Hype? To me yes, and very much, because the Eroica has a very powerful ending, and this one does not. Then there is the 2nd movement of the Eroica, which is literally and figuratively funeral music. But it seems true that it was initially more popular than the 2nd symphony, which I believe is actually his best.

War between the followers of Brahms and Wagner

Although Richard Wagner had died earlier that year, the public feud between Brahms and Wagner had not yet subsided. Wagner enthusiasts tried to interfere with the symphony’s premiere, and the conflict between the two factions nearly brought about a duel. I suppose there is no cure for human stupidity, and a war between two musical factions seems like the epitome of insanity, that’s the world we live in. Call it the “musical cancel culture” of that time, where two opposite groups tried to destroy music.

He went on making changes

After each performance, Brahms polished his score further, until it was published in May 1884. Brahms was the ultimate perfectionist. If he didn’t destroy his music – which he often did – he worked on it endlessly until he felt it reached his very high standards.

1769: Haydn: Symphony No. 48 in C major (“Maria Theresia”) (BRASS FANFARE), age 37

Mr. Peabody Says:

Apparently trumpets and timpani were added later, and many conductors don’t use trumpets. But I want them. This has the sound and energy of some much later symphonies. But what about tempo? Fischer is very fast, perhaps too fast. I would really like to hear Giovanni Antonini conduct this.

The difference in total times reflect more the inclusion or omission of repeats than tempos.

Adam Fischer

  1. Allegro 7:30
  2. Adagio in F major 10:18
  3. Menuet & Trio: Allegretto (Trio in C minor, and Eb major) 4:22
  4. Finale: Allegro 4:35

Total time: 26:45

I suppose this is controversial. It’s very fast. But I like the accents and energy. The last movement interests because at one points there is only one single player on a string part.

Hogwood

Total time: 33:08: The 1st movement ends at around 8:00 if the repeat of the development section and recap is not repeated, so it’s about 30 seconds slower.

Note that this version starts with horns.

Marriner

Total time: 22:57

Note that this version starts with horns.

Muti

Total time: 28:30

This starts with trumpets, and this is a more conventional tempo, but I don’t like the sound of the strings because the sound is too fat and not crisp enough.

Instruments:

  • two oboes
  • bassoon
  • two horns (first, third and last movement in C alto, second movement in F)
  • trumpets (added later)
  • timpani (added later)
  • strings

Movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Adagio in F major
  3. Menuet & Trio: Allegretto (Trio in C minor)
  4. Finale: Allegro

Nickname:

The work has the nickname “Maria Theresia” as it was long thought to have been composed for a visit by the Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresa of Austria in 1773. An earlier copy dated 1769 was later found, but the nickname has stuck. The symphony composed for the empress’s visit was most likely No. 50, the one with the absolutely insane horn parts.

Opening brass fanfare:

The first thing I noticed was a trumpet fanfare at the beginning, after no slow intro. And this AFTER reading that some think Haydn added them later. So I checked other versions, and none other had the trumpets. This to me seems incredibly stupid, and I’ll leave it there. I like both ideas, so I would have started with one or the other, then I would have either changed to the other on the repeat, and probably have them doubled on the recap.  After listening to all of Haydn’s symphonies I now that he was way more “out of the box” than anyone playing his music, so with him anything would have been possible.

We have a good record of  the music:

It is one of the very few Haydn symphonies of this period to survive throughout the nineteenth century in various editions.

1769: Haydn: Symphony No. 41 in C major, age 35 2 Trp TIMP

Mr. Peabody Says:

This is yet again another symphony that seems not to be much recorded, but I notice that the trumpet parts are now quite noticeable, and the use of timpani is very obvious.

Fischer

In this symphony Haydn gives an usual solo part in the 2nd movement.

Instrumentation:

  • flute,
  • two oboes
  • bassoon
  • two horns
  • two trumpets
  • timpani
  • strings

Movements:

  • Allegro con spirito
  • Un poco andante in F major
  • Menuet & Trio
  • Presto

1768: Haydn: The Symphony No. 38 in C major (ECHO), age 34 Trp TIMP

Mr. Peabody Says:

A look at the instruments shows timpani and trumpets, but they do not seem to be used much in this symphony. Perhaps most interesting are the wonderful oboe parts in the last two movements.

Hogwood

  1. Allegro di molto
  2. Andante molto in F major
  3. Menuet e Trio (Trio in F major)
  4. Allegro di molto

Adam Fischer

  1. Allegro di molto
  2. Andante molto in F major
  3. Menuet e Trio (Trio in F major)
  4. Allegro di molto

Instruments:

  •  two oboes
  • bassoon
  • two horns
  • trumpet, how many is unclear
  • timpani
  • strings
  • continuo

Date:

Because of the virtuosic oboe parts in the final two movements, it has been suggested that the work’s composition may have coincided with the employ of the oboist Vittorino Colombazzo in the fall of  1768.

Nickname:

It is typically referred to as the “Echo” Symphony because of the use of mimicry motif (or echo) in the cadential phrasing of the second movement. The echo effect is created by scoring the leading line for unmuted first violins and the response from muted second violins.

The trio of the minuet contains a virtuosic solo oboe part that spans the entire range of the instrument and contains leaps of almost two octaves.

The finale is another showpiece for the solo oboe which includes virtuosic display, notes held fermata and a spot for a cadenza. It is not in typical concerto form, but is a mixture between concerto and sonata forms.

It has been suggested that the first two movements were composed before Haydn knew of the engagement with the soloist Colombazzo as they have a completely different character than the two oboe-centric movements that round up the work.

1765: 1: Haydn: Symphony No. 28 in A major (Ambiguous Meter + Bariolage), age 31 GA

Mr. Peabody Says:

This is one of the best symphonies I’ve ever heard in my life. The 1st movement is written in 3/4, but at least half of it is in 6/8 and is a mastery of the hemiola. The 3rd movement sounds like a howdown. It is literally 18th century pop music and must have delighted everyone. Start here: Menuetto e Trio (Trio in A minor) 2:18

Giovanni Antonini/Il Giardino Armonico

  1. Allegro di molto 5:52 (0:10-6:02)
  2. Poco adagio in D major 7:08 (6:02-13:10)
  3. Menuetto e Trio (Trio in A minor) 2:20 (13:10-15:30)
  4. Presto 3:30 (15:30-18:10)

Total time: 18:57

Instruments:

  1. 2 oboes
  2. bassoon
  3. 2 horns
  4. strings
  5. continuo

Nickname: “Ambiguous Meter + Bariolage”

It’s mine. This symphony is unique and deserves a name.

1st movement:

The 1st movement is in 3/4 time by key signature, but it starts out clearly in 6/8. That’s just the beginning. There are also all sorts of accented offbeats. In something like “America”, from “The Westside Story” you expect this kind of ambiguous meter, where one measure is marked 3/4 and the next is 6/8. But in Haydn? And yet here it is. It’s like the dancer who keeps changing direction, the optical illusion. Of course he knew exactly what he was doing. And I love this. I love it whenever composers go so far out of the box that theorists don’t even catch it, because I did not find one word written about this rhythm.

2nd movement:

This is like a string quartet, four parts with 1st and 2nd violin, viola and cello, but the bass part is also played on a double bass, and there are several players playing each part.

3rd movement:

This minuet employs “bariolage”, a technique used in string instruments. It comes from the verb barioler “to streak with colour”, and gives a sense of disorder or oddness. The player alternates between an “open” (unfingered) string and an adjacent string. The open string is always the same note; the other string plays other notes. (like A D A E A G etc.). An open string has a richer resonance. The other notes sound different than normal, by being played on a thicker and unexoected string with a different timbre. That gives the “colour” and oddness.

Haydn used bariolage a lot: in this symphony, the Farewell Symphony, and especially in the fourth movement of a quartet called the Frog where it alternates on the same note on two strings (a real ‘oddness’).

The trio is in A minor, for contrast, and there are only strings.

In bluegrass fiddling the technique is known as “cross-fingering”.

4th movement:

The last movement is in 6/8 and very fast. The idea is to play it fast as possible with a ton of energy. It doesn’t say that it is a jig (gigue), but that’s exactly what it is, and so the 3rd and 4th movements together are a one-two punch of 18th century pop music, all written for the aristocracy.

1846: Schumann: Symphony No. 2 in C major (#3) (Homotonal), age 36

Mr. Peabody Says:

Nézet-Séguin said that when he asked his players to pick their favorite of Schumann’s four symphonies, they picked this one. So do I. I’d bet on the spot that if you talk to the best players in the world, this symphony is going to be on their list of best symphonies, and I know exactly why.

Celibidache, MPO

  1. Sostenuto assai — Allegro, ma non troppo, C major 12:58 (0:37-13:35)
  2. Scherzo: Allegro vivace, C major 7:56(13:48-21:44)
  3. Adagio espressivo, C minor – C major 14:46 (22:00-34:46)
  4. Allegro molto vivace, C major 9:16 (35:02-44:18)

Total time: 46:56

Bernstein

  1. Sostenuto assai — Allegro, ma non troppo, C major – 12:15
  2. Scherzo: Allegro vivace, C major – 7:06
  3. Adagio espressivo, C minor – C major – 12:35
  4. Allegro molto vivace, C major – 8:12 (end 40:16)

Total time: 40:16

Nézet-Séguin

  1. Sostenuto assai — Allegro, ma non troppo, C major – 11:06
  2. Scherzo: Allegro vivace, C major – 6:46
  3. Adagio espressivo, C minor – C major – 9:33
  4. Allegro molto vivace, C major – 7:27

Total time: 34:52)

Instruments:

  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones
  • timpani
  • strings

1st Movement:

It starts slowly and very thoughtfully with a long introduction that lasts for several minutes, a trademark that goes all the way back to Haydn. Then it explodes with energy. The form is sonata.

2nd Movement:

This one those wonderful scherzos that is not in 3/4. It’s in 2/4, with fast 16th notes, so without checking a score you only know that there are two or four beats per measure, but everything is duple.

The trio reminds me of “for he’s a jolly good fellow”, so has to be either a very fast 3/4 or in triplets as in 2/4, which is how he wrote it. So in the trio he maintains that 3/4 feel of a traditional scherzo, which again goes back to Beethoven.

3rd Movement:

This music reaches me on an emotional and personally in a way I won’t even try to share. It is without doubt some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard. This one movement alone is a whole story.

4th Movement:

There is not much to say about this last movement except that it’s a wonderful, optimistic end to a very powerful symphony.

Homotonal

It turns out that other people have not found one famous symphony other than this one after 1790 that does not change keys in different movements, so what Schumann did here was not only extremely unusual, it was deliberate. There are many modulations, so there is plenty of harmonic movement, but this movement takes place within the movements. Each thre of thefour eis in C major, ending in that key, although the slow movement starts in C minor.

Trombones came last…

Schumann composed this without trombones, then added trombones in a revision. Since I think trombones are amazing I’d like to hear them in every symphony, so for me this addition is a huge improvement!

1845-1847…

Schumann began to sketch the symphony on December 12, 1845 and completed a draft of the whole symphony December 28. He spent most of the next year orchestrating it, beginning February 12, 1846. The exact date on which he completed the symphony does not seem to be solid, and I’m trusting all the dates to the research of others, but it’s safe to say he was done at around age 36.

Mental illness…

Schumann was tortured by depression from a young age, and by this time in his life it was already threatening to ruin his life. I have never read anything mean about Robert, so I wonder if today his problems would be treatable. On one hand the richness of his music is linked to this depression – and later out and out mental illness – so we can thank his inner demons for what we hear today, but I don’t think there is any other composer who makes me more sad when I think about his life. He seems to be a lovely man who suffered horribly from his own biochemical makeup combined with the impotence of the time in helping him. To all his friends his increasing suffering was a tragedy, and it was most devastating to to his wife and perhaps his closest friend, Clara, his wife. We should always remember that she was one of the most respected musicians of her time. She was not only a composer in her own right but also a famous pianist whose playing was hugely respected.

Ringing in his ears…

He never lost his hearing, but his hearing problems were really serious, and how he was able to create this beautiful symphony with all these physical and mental problems is a very similar spiritual triumph over unimaginable difficulties that we saw in the life of Beethoven as he lost his hearing.

He was now composing away from the piano…

He was making a big effort to severe his ties to the piano while composing by not continually trying things out at the piano. I did not know about this until tonight, but I’ve read about the whole process of “getting away from the piano to compose better” idea. To show that this is not necessarily a necessary thing, other composers such as Stravinsky never severed that tie – or wanted to – so the whole idea is a personal thing, a personal choice to liberate the mind.

He wrote:

Not until the year 1845, when I began to conceive and work out everything in my head, did an entirely different manner of composition begin to develop

It is written in the traditional four-movement form, and as often in the nineteenth century the Scherzo precedes the Adagio. All four movements are in C major, except the first part of the slow movement (in C minor); the work is thus homotonal:

Mendelssohn steps to the plate again..

The symphony was first performed on November 5, 1846, at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. So again here is Mendelssohn championing great music of his genius friends.

Probably the only person I’ve ever read about who had anything bad to say about Felix Mendelssohn is Wagner, the man whose views and actions were just about as disgusting as any great composer who has ever lived. Mendelssohn support of Schumann was typical of the man, and how ironic that this wonderful composer would be dead in November of 1847 from a an explosion in his brain that would end his life suddenly at age 48. All this is a great reminder of an absolutely horrible world these geniuses lived in.

Little more than an OK reception:

It was better received after a second performance ten days after the first performance. The work ultimately came to be admired in the nineteenth century for its “perceived metaphysical content”, but supposedly the symphony’s popularity waned in the twentieth. That’s going to change. I promise you that in another century this is going to be reevaluated as a monster addition to the symphonic literature.

1885: Dvorak: Symphony No. 7 in D minor, age 44

Mr. Peabody Says:

Dvorak wrote nine symphonies, but the really famous ones are the last three – seven, eight and nine. The ninth is more commonly known as the “The New World Symphony”. The 7th was completed on March 17, 1885 and first performed on April 22, 1885 at St James’s Hall in London. This is my favorite of all nine.

Symphony No 7. Monteux / LSO (1959)

  1. Allegro maestoso in D minor 10:44 (0:01-10:44)
  2. Poco adagio in F major 10:32 (10:44-21:16)
  3. Scherzo: Vivace — Poco meno mosso in D minor with Trio in G major 7:27 (21:20-28:47)
  4. Finale: Allegro in D minor 8:37 (28:47-37:24)

Total time: 37:24

Andrés Orozco-Estrada/Frankfurt Radio Symphony

  1. Allegro maestoso in D minor 11:16 (0:09-11:25)
  2. Poco adagio in F major 10:14 (12:00-22:14)
  3. Scherzo: Vivace — Poco meno mosso in D minor with Trio in G major 8:27 (22:53-30:42)
  4. Finale: Allegro in D minor 9:27 (30-58-40:25)

Total time: 39:24

Instruments:

  • 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons
  • 2 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones (but no tuba)
  • timpani
  • strings

The great trio of big symphonies…

Dvorak’s last three symphonies remain by far the most famous and popular, and there is a strange coincidence here. Tchaikovsky wrote six symphonies, but has last three are also by far the most popular. In addition, the other symphonies by both are well worth exploring.

1st movement

This is serious stuff. It starts massively in D minor, then 2nd theme moves to Bb major, a morph. It’s amazing how many times the Romantic composers moved that way. He ends the expo in Bb, then somehow gets to B minor in a series of nice moves to unleash the development section. I call the development section “playtime”, because this is where composers unleash their creativity. Maybe later I’ll do time stamp. He finally gets back to D minor, then moves to D major this time for the 2nd theme. Nice. He sort of has to use this as his home base now, because he has to finish in D something. But first he moves to F major in a few brilliant moves before getting back to D minor. The movement, rather than ending big, dies down to a very quiet ending.

2nd movement

This time he moves to relative F major, which is actually quite traditional, but he doesn’t want to go to Bb major because he did that in the last movement. So this is very peaceful but melancholy, typical for Dvorak – and very diatonic. It makes a huge contrast with the 1st, stormy movement. However, there is still a huge middle section in F minor, and there are some stunning modulations. Dvorak, like Tchaikovsky is never static harmonically for long. Even when there is mostly peace, something turbulent is right below the surface. And right in the middle there is almost an exact Wagner quote, so his connection to Wagner never stopped.

3rd movement

This is the shortest movement, but not by much. This symphony is nicely balanced, with each movement being around 10 minutes long or less. There is no surprise that he is moving back to D minor. But the move to G major is Dorian, and that comes from his folk-song roots. Much of this is a direct connection to Beethoven, who pioneered the scherzo in his symphonies, but this also sounds like one of his Slavonic Dances, and the whole thing is intense. There is a lighter trio in D major with lots of bird calls in the flutes and all sorts of nice wind work, then back to the main theme to finish in D minor.

4th movement

There is no relief. The last movement ended intensely in D minor, and this one starts the same way. The whole movement has a strong minor feeling over all, and when he ends on a D major chord this is “ending on a Picardy third”, in D major.

Dvorak was mentored by Brahms…

Briefly, Dvorak was continually supported by Brahms, who always admired this Czech composer, and in fact it was and remains not at all uncommon for geniuses to recognize other geniuses and promote their works. I love reading about how Brahms helped Dvorak throughout his career.  Without Brahms it is quite likely the world may never have discovered Dvorak in the same way.

It was originally published as Symphony No. 2…

For a very long time the the first six symphonies were almost totally ignored. In fact, the first symphony was lost, and Dvorak thought it had been destroyed. For that reason it was never revised. The 2nd symphony was almost totally ignored, so it was not until the 3rd and 4th symphonies that he got some attention. Then came the 5th, still not well known. Finally the 6th symphony established his reputation more firmly, and at the time it was knows as Symphony No. 1.

Inspired by Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

Dvorak had heard and admired Johannes Brahms’ new Symphony No. 3, and this prompted him to think of writing of a new symphony himself. For certain you can hear Brahms in the music of Dvorak, but as a composer he was a bit of a shapeshifter. Dvorak apparently was a quiet, polite man, a gentleman, and he had great admiration for other composers. Everyone knew the symphonies of Beethoven, and you will also hear him channeling his 9th symphony. Then never forget that he was a huge fan of Wagner. What was amazing about Dvorak is that he took the ideas of others, their strengths, without losing his own voice.

Payment was a nightmare…

His German publisher, Fritz Simrock, offered only 3,000 marks for the symphony, which was peanuts for a major symphony. After further argument, Simrock grudgingly paid 6,000 marks. Simrock remained a thorn in his his side for many more years, although he was also helpful in promoting his career, and of course Simrock was Brahms’ publisher. Simrock became Dvorak’s publisher because of Brahms, who was a lifelong ally of Dvorak as well as a mentor.

1888: Franck: Symphony in D minor, age 65 (1961)

Monteux/Chicago

  1. I. Lento; Allegro ma non tropo, D minor 18:02 (0-01-18:02)
  2. II. Allegretto, Bb minor 10:00 (18:02-28-02)
  3. III. Finale: Allegro non troppo 11:00 (28-02-39:00)

Total time: 39:00

Note: Monteux was born in 1875, so he was 86 when he conducted this landmark recording. And yet he was right at the peak of his game.

1st movement:

It starts with a slow, ominous intro, but this intro is also the 1st theme, which is extremely unusual if not unique. Franck is one of the “king’s of morphing”. Everything slips and slides from one chord to another. The fast theme is the 2nd theme, also in D minor. This is also unusual. Then the expo repeats, but with a twist. The 2nd time the beginning theme is altered, so it’s not simply a repeat. From there on it all unfolds in a somewhat predictable and very solid form, but there is nothing predictable about the music. It ends on a Picardy 3rd.

2nd movement:

This is a triple morph, what I call the “Schubert morph” because he did it in a very obvious way in his very famous Bb Piano Sonata. D to Db, A to Bb, F# to F. Two go down, one goes down. This slow movement, like the one in the Dvorak “New World Symphony”, uses the English Horn for a haunting melody. That very serious melody then leads to something much lighter and more upbeat. The 1st theme repeats, then there is a hopeful feeling as it all ends in Bb major. Again it ends on a Picardy 3rd.

3rd movement:

He morphs back from Bb major to D major, a double morph. Suddenly the music is joyous, with an unusually syncopated rhythm. For the most part the music remains positive, optimistic, but towards the end he develops themes from both the 1st and 2nd movements. I think this is terribly important because he binds all the movements together, showing that they belong together. The story is not complete without hearing all the movements, and they belong together.

Instruments:

  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 soprano clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons
  • 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba
  • 3 timpani
  • harp
  • strings

His only symphony:

The Symphony in D minor is the most famous orchestral work and the only mature symphony written by the 19th-century naturalised French composer César Franck.
After two years of work, the symphony was completed 22 August 1888.

It was premiered at the Paris Conservatory on 17 February 1889 under the direction of Jules Garcin. Franck dedicated it to his pupil Henri Duparc.

Why did he wait so long? He died shortly before his 68th birthday, in 1890. He finished this symphony in 1988, about two years before his death, and it was not performed until 1889.

One of the best symphonies ever written…

It eventually became very popular and today is an audience favorite. It is not only one of my favorites, there is none that I am more emotionally connected to. In my opinion it is one of the best things every written.

He was surrounded by snakes…

Let me think a minute – do I hate stupid critics more? Or jealous fellow musicians who will do anything to undermine the greatest geniuses of their generations? Franck had to contend with both, and the result was absolutely disgusting. He had to contend with quite a few absolutely horrible human beings – or stupid – or both. Probably both.

The old argument about German traditions vs. nationalism…

Both Tchaikovsky and Dvorak ran into the same war between people wanting to sever all ties with the past and those who worshiped it. But nowhere was that war more vicious than in France towards the end of the 1800s.

Almost no symphonies for France…

I’ve read a lot about this, but the bottom line for me is just that there were a lot of really ugly people vying for power. The symphony was a mainstay of German music, going all the way back to at least Haydn, and the French resisted this German influence. France gave a free pass to Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, but perhaps he got that pass because it was so revolutionary. There is Saint Saens Organ Symphony, but maybe he got a pass because of throwing in the organ along with many other instruments. Other than that, I can’t think of any really famous French symphonies from that time.

So when Franck decided to write his symphony he was bucking the tide, and that tide very nearly destroyed him.

Franck wrote more like the Germans…

Franck’s Symphony in D minor in many ways is more like Liszt and Wagner, with many themes connected together in all the movements, but there is a very German Romantic symphonic form. Today we celebrate all of it. It is brilliant. But in the late 1800s it was almost utterly rejected.

Now for more than some of the nastiest and stupidest comments:

The noted music critic, a close friend of Camille Saint-Saëns, Camille Bellaigue (1858-1930) dismissed it is as:

  • “arid and drab music, without … grace or charm,”

And the principal four-bar theme so important to the symphony as:

  • “hardly above the level of those given to Conservatoire students.”

A review said:

  • “morose…. [Franck] had very little to say here, but he proclaims it with the conviction of the pontiff defining dogma.”

And Charles Gounod said:

  • “incompetence pushed to dogmatic lengths.”

I’m sure there is a lot more stupidity I have not yet found, and I’ll add more in the future.

Fortunately, the world ignored these idiots…

And thank God for that. As always these critics were either forgotten or  eventually ridiculed, as they should be. But never forget how often the best music ever written was completely unappreciated at the time.