performed by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner
In honor of the late Maestro Lorin Maazel, the above video is a recording he did with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. I haven’t listened to the whole thing, but the first movement is crisp and clean, at at a much brisker pace than Marriner’s version with the ASMF, which I quite adore.
Lorin Maazel (March 6, 1930 – July 13, 2014)
I am pleased and surprised at how much I have begun to enjoy the more traditionally classical, less Romantic (or extremely early ‘pre-Romantic) symphonies. This one has been in my rotation for quite some time. In fact, a few weeks ago in Hong Kong, I had it going while I walked into the Peninsula hotel for their famous afternoon tea. Turns out I was way early for afternoon tea, so I had lunch, then an afternoon cocktail then afternoon tea. And it also turns out they had a quintet or something playing in a balcony upstairs, so I did away with the headphones and enjoyed the live music. Arrangements of Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, and then other stuff I didn’t recognize. It was quite pleasant, but I associate the entire affair with music like this. It is proper, clean, well-arranged, and just downright enjoyable.
Just the other day I listened to the last symphony Mozart left to the world, which he himself
may have never heard, and to be honest, it didn’t thrill me. Years ago I would have associated Schubert just as much with Mozart’s era, even though the pieces are close to 30 years apart.
I haven’t really spent much time on Mozart, because, frankly, I don’t find his music terribly exciting. It’s not just
him; I find music of that era to be… less than thrilling (except for Haydn, who has a wonderful humorous, fun quality about much of his music). It’s clean and pretty and prim and proper, but it doesn’t speak to me. Again, this symphony from early in the 19th century may not have struck me as interesting or exciting or gripping years ago, but the difference between this work and those of the hardcore classical era is now quite distinct. I find Schubert’s music, while not as bleedingly emotional and intense as Brahms or Rachmaninoff, to be exciting and inventive and unique. I have talked about this in my article on his first symphony
This second, while similar in nature to the first, feels more developed in some of its expressions. This website states
“Like the First Symphony, it is nourished by the typically Schubertian breadth of the melodic development, the extensive modulations and the altogether astonishing harmonic shifts.”
The writer here also makes some parallels to the aforementioned Jupiter symphony of which I am unaware. Also of interest is that this symphony was completed in 1814-1815, but wasn’t premiered until more than 60 years later, in 1877 in London. I have been investigating the myth that he never heard any of his symphonies performed at all. This is not true. At least his early symphonies were performed by amateur orchestras, (perhaps up to the fifth), but apparently not often, and seemingly never reached the acclaim of his Lieder. It seems he was not proud of his earlier symphonies, but I would be extremely proud of this symphony if I wrote it at the age of only 18-ish. That’s like, recent high school graduate, and look at the legacy the composer left. While it doesn’t have the fame or place in the canon that Beethoven’s fifth or Dvorak’s ninth
(or even Schubert’s own ninth) do, it is still a work that shows incredible potential and thought. There was some mention in the reading I did of his entire oeuvre being “derivative,” at least in his earlier works, and while that may be the case (quotes of Beethoven, imitation of a certain style, etc.) what isn’t derivative? I really thoroughly enjoy this piece.
For some reason I have not yet bothered to investigate, the introduction of the first movement feels…. groundbreaking or unique or standout somehow.
The entire piece is actually quite well-crafted and interwoven (I say that not as an authority; on the contrary, it comes from a beginner, and if even I can notice structure and organization, it must be pretty clear-cut), which makes it a very coherent, logical piece to enjoy, although it may not be noticeable at first listen. The themes of the inner two movements are closely related, and even the gallop in the fourth movement feels like a more lively interpretation of parts of the first movement. This guy here
The great composers evoke very different responses. To Bach, a common response is absorption; to Mozart, admiration; to Beethoven, awe; to Brahms, respect; but to Schubert, affection. There’s enough warmth in any single measure of Schubert’s oeuvre to melt the polar ice caps.
The symphony opens with a descending line starting on the offbeat in the strings. The little introduction finished out with flutters from the flute in the background as the strings continue their line from the opening before they tear off on the first theme. It’s polite enough at first, but really builds to something big and bold and exciting. The quieter melody is similar but with strings in the background as a countermelody.
The strings are often working on the offbeats in this movement against more static lines other places in the orchestra. That sounds boring maybe, but this opening movement is really a fantastic beginning of a symphony that is, again, extremely tightly woven without there ever being a boring moment. It is extremely confident and clean and easily one of the most exciting bits of writing from the era. It is bouncy and lovely but not without substance or command.
The second movement is, relatively speaking, polite and docile. It is very much andante in its pace and mannerly, stately chamber-like expression. It is a theme-and-variations movement, but the variations are more noticeable in orchestration than content. This continues quietly for a while. Just when you start to think about thinking about the possibility of this getting dull, there’s a much more lively contrasting passage. There is just enough balance and contrast here to hold my attention, and it does serve a purpose as the least exciting section of the symphony (there has to be one).
Just when you are really starting to think “Franz, I’m about ready to move on,” so is he.
And we have the third movement. Recognize anything? Yeah, it’s back. Or never went away… Marked Allegro vivace, it’s the scherzo like movement, and is like another variation of the material from the second movement, just with a less familiar face. This is slightly more straightforwardly obvious in the trio (yes, there is a traditional trio, and it is traditionally pleasant and nice. It doesn’t last, and the scherzo comes back but is over before long.
The final movement gives us about a half second before the galloping theme gets started. It’s lively and is one of those movements that makes you want to conduct no matter what you’re doing. Again, it’s fun and exciting, but not without contrast or depth. That’s what makes this symphony so enjoyable and well-crafted.
I am kind of at a loss for words as to describe this piece. No matter how I describe it makes it sound trite and corny, but it is breathtakingly pleasant and makes me a little by excited inside every time I listen to it. It’s just a terribly pleasant piece of music. I love it.