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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
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