Twentieth Century Symphonies

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Richard0428

Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by Richard0428 » Fri Sep 25, 2009 10:52 pm

It looks like I'll have to to go back to the later Parry symphonies again, as I never made quite as much of them as of the Stanfords. I never quite understood why S's 'Irish symphony became so popular (it was even conducted by Mahler twice!), but symphonies four to seven are just marvellous and I find myself returning to them. I'm listening to the first movement of the sixth (with its strong Elgarian coloring: in 1889!) now, and honestly can't understand why it's not a repertory piece! Maybe it has something to do with its ridiculous subtitle ('In Honour of the Life and Work of a Great Artist: George Frederick Watts'). Seeing that alone almost made me want to pass it over.
And now the second movement is starting with its stunning cor anglais solo at the beginning... why isn't this beautiful music known by everyone?!

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by Timtin » Sat Sep 26, 2009 7:20 am

I couldn't agree more! The Naxos CD coupling Stanford's Symphonies Nos 4 and 7 is a sheer
delight, and both of these fine works combine the masterful orchestration of Brahms with
the lightness of Mendelssohn.

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by klavierelch » Sat Sep 26, 2009 9:07 am

This thread is in serious danger to become a British Symphonies thread ;) , so let's do something against it :lol: .

Indeed the observation is right that while the symphony was a very German genre in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century (with a few French or Czech intermezzi) it became much more international during the 20th century. And indeed the only widely known German symphonist of the last half of the century is Hartmann.

This may have to do with the fact that the international musical avantgarde of the Darmstadt school wasn't interested in symphonies at all - and this school was very influential on German modern composers. But there were indeed much more German symphonies in the 2nd half of the 20th century tahn Hartmann's, but not in the Western part. In the GDR there were a lot of composers who wrote symphonies. Max Butting wrote 10 and composers like Günter Kochan, Friedrich Goldmann, Johann Cilensek, Johannes Paul Thilman, Leo Spies, Ottmar Gerster, Siegfried Kurz or Max Dehnert wrote more than one. All of these are virtually unknown outside the Eastern part of Germany and were never played in the Western world.

It seems that the much more conservative aesthetics in the socialist states promoted composing traditional forms like symphonies, sonatas and the like (Interestingly the same is true of the capitalistic USA!). And while most "socialist" symphonies in the 1950s and 60s were indeed quite traditional in their use of musical material and parameters when compared to the techniques used in the west at the same time, a lot of composers began to took more liberties from the 1960s onwards. Think for example on Penderecki or Lutoslawski (whom I personally rate much higher as a symphonist) in Poland.

Although nowadays the writing of symphonies and the use of avantgarde techniques aren't mutually exclusive any more, it is interesting to note that the re-united Germany still hasn't brought to life much symphonies. The most active symphonist of the last 20 years in Germany ironically was Korean Isang Yun, whose symphonies I can highly recommend to all people who love to explore more uncommon regions of music.
Ars opus est hominis, non opus artis homo.

John Owen, Epigrammata (1615)

Richard0428

Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by Richard0428 » Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:04 pm

Sorry Klavierelch, but there are so many more great British symphonies to talk about... at risk of annoying an administrator (never a good idea!) let us highlight just a few more!! One more composer for now and I'll shut up about the subject (temporarily). The seven symphonies of Arnold Bax were finally, conclusively rescued from oblivion (and some amazingly dismissive remarks made, as happens with so much undeservedly panned music, by people who probably never heard the music enough to make a reasonable judgment on worth) by the first Chandos recordings back in the late 80s (with another two complete cycles since), and what a discovery! In terms of sheer luxurient richness they remain unbeaten in my experience, but there's also some really, really deep emotion in there too, especially in the first three symphonies, written, if I remember rightly, in the years following the Irish Easter uprising, after which several personal friends were executed for treason. Strangely the First World War seems to have affected him much less profoundly. It was only by the time of the sumptuous (and I think underrated) fourth symphony that he (briefly) returned to sunny climes, before descending back into deeper, darker waters once more for the remaining three powerful symphonies.

It's interesting to read about your rundown of the symphony in Eastern Germany after the war: they do seem to remain very little-known, although the Berlin Classics record company has been working overtime to try to get the music out there with various issues of symphonies by Goldmann, Kochan et al, plus a remarkable series of boxed sets titled Music in der NDR: volume one has a gaggle of unknown symphonies by East German composers, and the set of 3 discs (like all Berlin Classics' catalogue) is very cheap (Amazon is asking 13 pounds). I have a copy languishing back at home in England, but haven't heard it yet. Are any of them good? If that's not enough, there's another 5 CD set called Nova from the same company, with further works from the same area.
I suppose one reason most Germanic composers stopped writing symphonies was because they were busy exploring the possibilities of serialism, and assumed that the symphony was a powerful symbol of the 'old' music, and that anyway without the benefit of tonality to create the tensions which had been the basis of symphonic form, atonal symphonies wouldn't work in any case.
Hindemith of course continued to write symphonies in America. Five of his eight (un-numbered) symphonies date from after the Second World War, including the lovely Sinfonietta (1949-50; one of the zillions of pieces for which we have to thank the amazing Louisville Orchestra and its far-sighted commisioning policy) and the splendidly brash, raucously dissonant Pittsburgh Symphony of 1958. Another 'mainstream' Germanic composer that was an avowed symphonist was Ernst Krenek, whose five numbered (and various un-numbered) symphonies proved that it was indeed possible to write good symphonies in a densly chromatic or atonal idiom. CPO recorded four of the five (what happened to number 4?) and they're a strangely compelling and appealing bunch, if sometimes pretty wild (no. 2 especially).
Last edited by Richard0428 on Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:49 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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klavierelch
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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by klavierelch » Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:26 pm

Richard0428 wrote:Sorry Klavierelch, but there are so many more great British symphonies to talk about... at risk of annoying an administrator (never a good idea) let us highlight just a few more!!
No problem at all! While we are at the British Isle, Berkeley comes to my mind. His 3rd Symphony is really a good work, both technically and emotionally.
Ars opus est hominis, non opus artis homo.

John Owen, Epigrammata (1615)

Richard0428

Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by Richard0428 » Sat Sep 26, 2009 2:52 pm

klavierelch wrote:
Richard0428 wrote:Sorry Klavierelch, but there are so many more great British symphonies to talk about... at risk of annoying an administrator (never a good idea) let us highlight just a few more!!
No problem at all! While we are at the British Isle, Berkeley comes to my mind. His 3rd Symphony is really a good work, both technically and emotionally.
Berkeley, yet another composer I need to investigate! The piano music looks very interesting as well (a big piano sonata among other pieces)...

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by rob » Sat Sep 26, 2009 4:13 pm

There is no way you will annoy any admin Richard with such great contributions. And let's plug our great music; British music gets few mentions in these pages. And it is our orchestral music which is probably our finest contribution to musical literature - we have so many really terrific orchestras in the UK, so perhaps that isn't surprising.

Let's not forget Hans Werner Henze when discussing modern German music - although he lived (still lives?) in Italy.

Lennox Berkeley? Much as I admire his music, there are only a few pieces I love, though that does include the Third Symphony (which is perhaps his finest work?). I like the First Symphony very much, though it's terribly conservative. The Second & Fourth I still don't really know - I've never seen the scores at all, whereas I have copies of the First and Third.

Bax? Hmmmm, well yes, but I think his symphonies ramble too much. My friend Minacciosa rates them as high as any British Symphony though. (We need to get him involved in this discussion, he know just about everything!)

No-one has mentioned Walton! (My favourite composer perhaps? At any rate I seem to 'understand' him inside out.) Oddly perhaps I got to know his Second Symphony before the First. I can't claim the Second is a 'better' work than the First - they are so different - but it has a rigour and bite that is rare in British music and is still far too little known (try to hear George Szell's unrivalled recording).

I could go on and on - and probably will at some point.

Rob

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by klavierelch » Sat Sep 26, 2009 4:36 pm

rob wrote:
Let's not forget Hans Werner Henze when discussing modern German music - although he lived (still lives?) in Italy.
How could I forget him?! :oops:
He is still very much alive and still has a house in Italy, but is quite German musically speaking.
Ars opus est hominis, non opus artis homo.

John Owen, Epigrammata (1615)

Richard0428

Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by Richard0428 » Sun Sep 27, 2009 12:44 am

Oops,
Off course! That's an embarrassing oversight, and of a composer I find fascinating! Henze was surely one of the century's remarkable symphonists (if uneven, perhaps: what was he thinking of, apart from revolutionary fervour, when he wrote that crazy sixth symphony in Cuba? I only know the first seven so far, but what an interestingly varied bunch they are. Wish I had time to go back to and listen regularly to all these works and rediscover a few old, knotty favorites. A chance to hear number two is always a welcome opportunity (sadly on CD only, of course) though.
No such problem remembering how Walton's two magnificent symphonies go. Interesting, Rob, that you say you came to the second symphony first. I studied Belshazzar's Feast at college, but my first exposure to the symphonies was at about the same time, on a BBC 'Pebble Mill at One' program when they had the composer's wife on to commemorate his passing in 1983. I remember the interviewer for some reason fixed on the second symphony, and her description of it was so intriguing I went out and bought a record of the Andre Previn recording (that fine old disc with The Rio Grande on as well). I've never had any time for those that dismiss the second symphony as nothing new. Walton has his own unique, immediately identifiable sound, but that doesn't mean, I think, that he repeated himself, and far from being a desperate attempt to 'update' his style a little (did I hear that accusation floating around about it, or was it just my imagination?) the twelve-note theme in the passacaglia is a good works pretty well. The first symphony surely needs no introduction to any self-respecting admirer of the Twentieth Century symphony. It's undoubtedly in that select group that contains the very finest British symphonies, and probably among the finest examples written in the whole 1900s. Whatever, it packs a hefty punch, and both the rich atmosphere and the fine themes from which Walton constructs this mighty piece is utterly unforgettable. Even greater than that broadly similar beast, Moeran's G minor symphony (ahh, I just can't stop nattering about the British symphony!!)
Last edited by Richard0428 on Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

Richard0428

Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by Richard0428 » Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:00 am

Rob,
On the subject of Henze and rabid anti-establishmentarianism (although off subject for a mo) seeing that you're a singer, have you heard his Essay on Pigs, and what do you think about it? As I'm sure you know, It was written for the South African Roy Hart (like the even more extreme Eight Songs for a Mad King by Maxwell Davies). It's a real shocker for sure, but most of all I'm left wondering how on earth such bizzarre sounds could emerge from the human throat. Some of them are almost as spooky as the voices that emerged from the mouth of that poor possessed girl in The Exorcist.... What on earth must the audience have thought of it (or Eight Songs, for that matter) at the premiere: they wouldn't have known what hit them!

Essay on Pigs: Those that haven't heard this truly weird piece of music: there's a brief excerpt available for sample on Amazon US at: http://www.amazon.com/Essay-Pigs-based- ... 617&sr=8-1
Last edited by Richard0428 on Sat Oct 10, 2009 10:47 am, edited 1 time in total.

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