The Horn

Contact Me

Receive Email Updates

The Infinite Variety Of Symphonic Form . Part Two .

   After the revolutionary symphonies of Beethoven ,  the symphony was a form continued to evolve throughout the 19th and 20th centuries .  Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn , Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms et al were strongly influenced by Beethoven but wrote symphonies showing their own unique personal stamp . Franz Schubert (1897-1928 ) , was a younger contemporary of Beethoven and a native of Vienna unlike the German born Beethoven . He is best known for his so-called "Unfinished "symphony  which consists only of two completed movements .  Why he left only two is a mystery which will probably never be solved .  But it is a  hauntingly beautiful work on its own terms .  Were the last two movement lost ? Did the composer decide he could not write anything matching the first two, or did he simply never get around to finishing it  in his tragically short life ?  The Unfinished is his 8th symphony , and he completed six before it , with several other unfinished ones which never became well known .  The 9th , is the longest and most grandiose of his symphonies ,  and  possibly the greatest work Schubert wrote .
   Mendelssohn wrote five symphonies , and Schumann four .  Johannes Brahms , four .  Mendelssohn's third was inspired  by a visit to Scotland  , and the fourth , the so-called "Italian ", by a  visit to that country .  Schumann's first os known as the "Spring " symphony , and attempts , quite successfully , to portray the joyous arrival of that season .  The third, called the "Rhenish " , was written  when Schumann moved from his native Saxony to the Rhineland .  Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897 ) , was so intimidated by the greatness of  Beethoven's symphonies  that he did not produce his first until he had passed the age of forty .  But his first is a  work of  elemental power and grandeur .  The other three, which are also  beloved staples of the repertoire , followed fairly quickly .  
    As the 19th century progressed ,  composers began to use larger and larger orchestras , and such instruments as the trombones and now the tuba , which was not invented until some years after the death of Beethoven in 1827 ,  also entered the orchestra .  Four horns became the norm instead of two, which were standard  in the 18th century .  String sections were enlarged , percussion instruments other than the usual tympani were used more often  etc .  Some composers , such as  Anton Bruckner (1824-1896 ) and Mahler (1860- 1911 ) began to use larger and larger orchestras ,  now using up to eight horns , four trumpets , etc .  The symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler  are unusually long, often lasting more than an hour .  Bruckner was a devout Austrian Catholic and organist who wrote massive , grandiose symphonies  in which the orchestra  often sounds like an organ .  These are lofty, profound and  even mystical works .  Bruckner left nine numbered symphonies , two early unnumbered ones including one called the "symphony number zero ! "   The  finale of the ninth , dedicated to "Almighty God " was left almost finished at the time of his death , and has been traditionally performed with only the first three completed movements,.  But in recent years , a number of musicologists have been able to make completions of the finale based n the sketches, and these are occasionally performed and recorded .
   His younger contemporary Gustav Mahler wrote  nine massive symphonies , with an unfinished tenth which has also been completed based on sketches .  Only the first was left complete, and this has often been performed .  Mahler uses an even larger orchestra than Bruckner, whom he admired and befriended .  Quadruple woodwinds , with piccolo, English horn , bass clarinet ,contrabassoon , six to eight horns, sometimes four or more trumpets ,  etc , with  extra percussion including  cowbells  ! ,  as well as on occasion , an organ  etc. Talk about the proverbial kitchen  sink !  Mahler's symphonies are biographical, and evoke his childhood in Bohemia as the son of  Jewish parents ,  his love of nature , the marching bands he heard in his youth etc .  The second is known as the "Resurrection" symphony , and features a chorus and female vocalists in its finale , set to a German poem  affirming g that death is not an end .  His third , also featuring a huge orchestra , boy's chorus and an alto soloist , is in sic movements and is the longest symphony in the repertoire at an hour and a half !   The massive eighth , nicknamed "symphony of a thousand  " for its enormous forces , features a chorus, children's  chorus and no fewer than eight vocal soloists ,  and is in two parts ; a setting of the medieval Latin hymn "Veni, creator spiritus ) (come, creator spirit ) , and a longer second part which is a setting of  the end of the famous Goethe play "Faust " in which  the  philosopher Faust finally enters heaven after having been tempted by the devil, Mephistopheles .  
     The Czech composer Antonin Dvorak ( 1841-1904 ) wrote nine symphonies , the best known being the so-called "New World " symphony , his last work in this form .  He wrote while living in America during the 1890s ,  and he  seeks to evoke the spirit of America , the  spirituals of the African Americans , the music of the native Americans etc .  But the themes are all Dvorak's own and not borrowed from any American traditional songs . Of the others, only the seventh and eight are played often, but the first six  are undeservedly neglected and well worth hearing .  
   In Russia ,  PYotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893 ) produced six symphonies , but only four, five and six are  played often , and they are among the most popular of all symphonies with audiences .  The last the so-called "Pathetique ") , was written shortly before Tchaikovsky's untimely and mysterious death from  drinking infected water during a cholera epidemic .  This is a dark, brooding  , often  harrowing work which appears to portray the  severe depression  , which had  dogged him for so long .  The title does not mean {pathetic " in the  derogatory sense of the English word,  but  is a French word   meaning a state of intense emotion .  
     In the 20th century , numerous great composers wrote  important symphonies ,  and the form of symphony because less  cut and dried  , and  composers experimented with  unorthodox structure  departing from the  textbook  symphonies of Haydn and Mozart .  The very definition of a symphony became more vague , as composers  experimented .   Many composers abandoned traditional sonata form, although many still  used it, albeit in   modified form .  Some wrote very long symphonies , and others short ones  lasting under 20 minutes .  Some wrote symphonies in only one continuous movement .   Among the best known 20th century symphonies are those of Finland's Jean Sibelius (7) , Sergei Prokofiev (7)   Dmitri Shostakovich  (1906-1975 (15) ,  
    England's Sir Edward Elgar (2) ,  nine by his  compatriot Ralph Vaughan Williams (9) ,  America's Charles Ives (4) , Czech   Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959 ) ,  Swiss Arthur Honegger (5) ,  Denmark's Carl Nielsen (6) ,  to name only a handful .  
         Each of these  put his own  individual  stamp on the form of the symphony .  In the early 21st symphony ,  the symphony is far from a dead art form .  For example, the  Finnish composer Leif Segerstam (1944 - )  , better known as a world famous conductor , has beaten Haydn  in  his enormous output of more than 300 ! symphonies .   So far , I have only discussed a tiny handful of  all the countless symphonies which have been written since the 18th century .  There are  wonderful symphonies by  Cesar Franck ,  Camille Saint-Saens ,  George Bizet ,  Albert Roussel of France , Franck being Belgian  but belonging to the French tradition ,  American composers such as Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber , William Schuman,  Roger Sessions,  Howard Hanson ,  Paul Hindemith , Igor Stravinsky ,  Arnold Bax , Havergal Brian , Arthur Bliss, William Walton , and Michael Tippett of England ,  and so many others of  many different nationalities .  
          There are countless recordings of  who  knows how many different symphonies , including ones hardly anyone has ever heard of ,  and  there are many sets of the complete symphonies of composers  such as Beethoven, Brahms , Tchaikovsky , Bruckner , Mahler and others in boxed sets by  many eminent  conductors such as Bernstein, Toscanini,  Herbert von Karajan , Bruno Walter,  Otto Klemperer ,  Sir Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado , Sir Colin Davis ,  Lorin Maazel and others , or you can get  individual recordings from  these sets and  countless others not part of complete sets .  
      The symphony is an art form of infinite variety  , and  you can spend your entire life without  coming remotely close  to  learning all there is to know about it .  But this is a pursuit which is  incredibly rewarding .  
Posted: May 12 2017, 06:02 PM by the horn | with no comments
Add to Bloglines Add to Del.icio.us Add to digg Add to Facebook Add to Google Bookmarks Add to Newsvine Add to reddit Add to Stumble Upon Add to Shoutwire Add to Squidoo Add to Technorati Add to Yahoo My Web