German(ic) Symphony Series: A wrap up

First, some apologies and honorable mentions. 
So that’s it. We have, in order:
  1. Beethoven’s Symphony no. 2
  2. Brahms’s Symphony no. 2
  3. Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4
  4. Hans Rott’s Symphony in E
  5. Mahler’s Symphony no. 3
  6. Weingartner’s Symphony no. 1
  7. Felix Woyrsch’s Symphony no. 1
  8. Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder (in two parts, the first and the second)
  9. Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes of Carl Maria von Weber
The little guy that started our series: a 13-year-old Beethoven. Big Eyes?
Well, first, why don’t I explain how this series actually came about? Yes, that first.
It was high time I get back around to Beethoven (and not just his symphonies; I’ve got more than thirty piano sonatas and five piano concertos to get up to speed on), so he was the starting point. I also had some interest in Brahms, more academic than emotional or artistic or anything. His symphonies are popular (for a reason). Well, that’s two thirds of the three Bs (Bach, Beethoven, Brahms), and the next one, who is never included as the fourth B is Bruckner. The dichotomy in philosophy and style between Brahms and Bruckner is interesting, and I’ve had some issues coming to appreciate Bruckner, so he got added to the list. From there, my mind jumped immediately to Mahler, who would have his turn with the third symphony in the months prior to the beginning of this idea, so he was included. And fantastically, this world began to unravel. Who was between Bruckner and Mahler? Bruckner’s student and Mahler’s roommate for a time, Hans Rott. Brahms

despised him. So he got included. These four talented men had quite an intricate story, with the addition of a quote from Beethoven (his ninth, not his second, the beginner of the series, but still…) Brahms quoted it in the finale of his first symphony, as Rott did in his, and interestingly, the same theme appears as the very opening of Mahler’s third, in sort of a nightmarish, disfigured but still identifiable form. Mahler borrowed heavily from Rott in his first, second and fifth symphonies, and the opening of Mahler’s first is arguably an additional homage to Beethoven, this time from the opening of Beethoven’s fourth.

So they all got included. The last big leap was my chance recently to see Gurre-Lieder, and I knew that one would be on the way, so it got added to the list. The only challenge, then, was to fill the chronological gaps between Mahler’s third in December, and the Gurre-Lieder concert on New Years Day. I managed to do it with Felix Weingartner’s first symphony, quite a delight, and Felix Woyrsch’s first, which I found less delightful, but interesting nonetheless. The first Felix (Weingartner) was closely connected with Mahler, and the second (Woyrsch) was a great admirer and apparently even a friend of Brahms. That brings us all the way to 1910, around the time Schoenberg was finally wrapping up the piece he began a decade earlier. What’s the relation? Well, Schoenberg did, in fact, have quite a degree of admiration for Mahler, and was even in attendance at one of the premieres of Mahler’s third, mentioned above. And what better climax of a discussion of at least one thread of history of European (Germanic) music could there be than Gurre-Lieder? I know it’s not a symphony, but it’s so much more than that. And it’s incredibly significant in Schoenberg’s career, marking his final foray into ‘traditional’ harmonies, almost a purge of sorts before he really committed to his atonal and twelve-tone techniques. 
The encore of sorts last week, as I mentioned in the article, was convenient because it brings us all the way to 1944. It is a good representation of (or at least something from) the more modern German scene, and it was easy to write about because I have some history with it. 
And there’s our series. Nine weeks of quite interestingly connected music reaching from the early 19th century all the way to the middle of the twentieth. It certainly seemed like much longer than nine weeks. But it was very interesting. And stressful. And interesting. 
And now for the apologies. I am well aware that this nine-part series is in no way representative of the entire history of German/Austrian music. It can’t be. It’s an interesting two-month train of thought I had about some of that music, an interesting journey through history and some significant pieces as well as some less notable ones. So, apologies and honorable mentions:
No real list of the history and heritage of German/Austrian classical music would be complete without the following (in some relatively chronological order)
Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart to begin with. They’re the real forerunners of the traditions that have reached centuries down into our day. Haydn is considered the father of the symphony and the string quartet, but sadly… I’m hopelessly unfamiliar with you guys, and everyone else from their eras, mostly. It’s something I’m working on; I tip my hat to you gentlemen, but I’m going to have to get back with you. 
Nextly, and significantly more modernly, there is Beethoven, a student of Haydn. That’s good. But the other significant composer of around Beethoven’s time (actually slightly later) is Schubert (who’s sonata in Am [D. 537] I’m currently listening to now). The more I learn about this guy and his music, the more I am fascinated by him. It’s stunning. I see him as, or at least associate him with, in some spiritual fashion, the forerunner of or the Mahler of his day. So there’s him. We could have definitely included him in this round, but I have other plans for Schubert. He is also kind of a different side-branch from the Beethoven-Brahms scene, owing to issues of lost pieces and discovery and the like. He owes much of his current fame and glory to the man who finally decided to put on the premiere of his ninth symphony, Felix Mendelssohn, who was also entirely neglected in this series, although the manuscript wasn’t found by Mendelssohn, but by yet another gentleman who could easily have been included, one Robert Schumann. He had a close association with Brahms, and Brahms had perhaps even a closer association to the Mrs. Schumann, but that’s another story. So I have apologies to Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn… Bruckner made it in, and we jump ahead a bit (actually quite a bit) to Schoenberg’s day and far more modern stuff, like his ilk… I didn’t include Webern or Berg. Those are the main ones that come to my mind, but trust me: they will all have their time. I have things in the works. There are plenty more… Louis Spohr deserves his recognition, as does Joachim Raff. Then there’s the Darmstadt people who I haven’t any knowledge of… Stockhausen, Henze, Lachenmann, but then again, in the modern era, the symphony perhaps holds less importance or significance as a form. Goodness, when you look at it that way, there’s also Strauss(es). Actually, Eine Alpensinfonie almost made the cut, but it would have been too hurried, and it isn’t a symphony. Gurre-Lieder made it because it’s special and I got to see it live. So that’s the series. We’re done with this list for now, but there’s a ton more on the way. I quite liked the way I did this one… it was a bit…. drawn out, but well worth it. 

 

I’ll probably have more of these types of ‘series’ as clumps of three or four weeks of programmed works, perhaps somehow interrelated if in no other way or place than in my head. All the other folks will get their time, and I have a monstrous 16-part series like this that I’m preparing and trying to decide on when it should start, because that’s more than a quarter of a year’s worth of writing… so we’ll see about that. Suggestions? Requests? Get in touch with me!
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