Twentieth Century Symphonies

Large instrumental groups with or without piano
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rob
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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by rob » Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:30 am

Indeed, yes I bought Roy Hart's recording of Essay on Pigs when it came out (with the Double-Bass Concerto?). Well, it's music of its time I suppose. Can't say I like it, or Max's Eight Songs either, they make difficult and uncomfortable listening - but when was serious art music only about enjoyment? They are both extraordinary and valuable additions to the vocal repertoire showing the huge range of the human voice - but I would worry for any performers of those pieces! Still, I have a range of just over three octaves, albeit not in just one voice. Like most basses I have a reasonable falsetto, and the two voices overlap a little. With training one can always extend these voices a little and make a huge range of sounds without damaging one's vocal chords. But frankly pieces like Puccini's Turandot probably do as much damage to the vocal chords as anything written by Hans & Max!!!! My voice takes 24 hours to recover from Turandot, having done it I think four times now!!! (NOT the title role, I hasten to add!!! ;) )

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by minacciosa » Sun Sep 27, 2009 1:56 am

Timtin wrote:
Op. XXXIX wrote: Re Parry and Stanford, I frankly and unapologetically adore all of Parry's symphonies (how could one not love them- they're so amiable), but Stanford is, IMO, a more difficult case. The symphonies -and I've plowed through all 7- strike me as incredibly well written, but the musical material seldom sounds very distinguished, it never seems to match up with the technical expertise. (This is a criticism sometimes leveled at Brahms, but not endorsed here.)

To say that Elgar's two symphonies trump anything by Parry or Stanford is -I would hope!- beyond argument.
As a latter day convert to Stanford, I feel I have to defend the great man! Not only are his
symphonies excellent, but so too all of his chamber music with piano. And such works as
his Stabat Mater, Requiem, Songs of the Fleet, the concertos, the organ music and many
fine songs put him top of my British composers by a country mile (sorry Elgar fans!). With
a large ouput and consistently high quality Brahmsian style, my big regret is not having
discovered this brilliant composer many years ago. (I can't imagine anything more dreary
than Elgar's Ab Symphony.)
I love Songs of the Fleet, and respect rather than love Stanford's symphonies. Parry's 5th is a great work in my estimation.

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by minacciosa » Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:37 am

rob wrote: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
I don't know the Berkeley. There's so much I've missed.

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by parag » Sat Oct 10, 2009 2:14 am

I quite like Fartein Valen's symphonies...

Parag

Richard0428

Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by Richard0428 » Sat Oct 10, 2009 10:40 am

parag wrote:I quite like Fartein Valen's symphonies...

Parag
Mmm... Personally I've had some trouble in enjoying the Valen symphonies; I've heard that they really communicate to many people, but up till now I find myself respecting them rather than enjoying them, finding all four rather grey and gloomy. And that's not, I don't think because of the atonal language. Many of Schonberg's (and other compoers') atonal period works (the orchestral Variations, Violin Concerto (especially in Hilary Hahn's incredible performance), the String Trio etc) are favorites, and seem full of emotional variety. Perhaps I should try the new BIS set of the symphonies, as I only know them from the much earlier Simax set, which I bought for a rather steep price on Amazon some years ago. More communicative and accessible for me are some of Valen's short tone poems, especially the delicious Pastorale (op 11) and The Cemetery by the Sea, one of Valen's best-known works (relatively speaking, of course!).
I'm at present getting to know the symphonies of another important Norwegian symphonist, Harald Saeverud (up to the 7th of his nine so far). He was a pretty precocious symphonist - his first five opus numbers include three numbered symphonies, the last written at the age of 28 - and it took a while to really got going and write something especially striking, but the third symphony has some interesting stuff, and the short sixth and seventh symphonies (part of his so-called 'War Symphony' trilogy, written while Norway languished under German occupation in the Second World War) are really very good, emotionally engaging stuff, I think.
They're more 19th than 20th century for sure, but thinking about Norwegian symphonies I've got to mention the two by Svendsen, which probably take the prize for the most delightful, accessible and instantly memorable of all Norwegian symphonies: they're a real treat, and hands down my favorite examples from this country!
It's odd, perhaps, considering the glut of wonderful symphonists in neighbouring Sweden, and the even greater treasury of Finnish symphonies since Sibelius, to note that Norwegian symphoniests seem such a rare breed. Even the Danish symphony has far more to discover than just Nielsen and Langaard.

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by parag » Mon Oct 12, 2009 3:41 pm

Richard, I can see where you're coming from and respect your take on Valen's symphonies... I probably like everything about his music you don't :mrgreen:

Ever since I heard his piano sonatas (I can't get the lovely theme from the first movement out of my head every time I hear it), the violin concerto, 4th symphony and the Op.18 pieces and the Op. 20 you mentioned, I was hooked. I find it somehow easier to relate to his music than to Schoenberg's but then some might believe it is ridiculous to compare the two. I am told his quartets are quite nice but I have never heard them; his piano trio is also lovely!

I have not heard the Svendsen! I will try to get a hold of a recording...

Best regards,
Parag

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by rob » Thu Oct 22, 2009 3:16 am

Sweden's greatest symphonist? Maybe, though I haven't heard all of Hilding Rosenberg's symphonies yet! Anyway, Wilhelm Stenhammar's Second Symphony may be the most moving Swedish Symphony I know, and it will appeal to all those who love early to mid Sibelius and his epic-dramatic style epitomised by his Second Symphony.

Stenhammar was his own man though, and when you know enough of his mature music you can recognise his turns of phrase fairly quickly. His Second Symphony is (to me at least) his finest work, and although I have my own hardcopy of this score (bought in Stockholm at Xmas 2000) I was excited to see it available now at IMSLP scanned by hobbypianist. Here's the link: http://imslp.org/wiki/Symphony_No.2,_Op ... Wilhelm%29

There are several very good performances on CD, but none finer than the miraculous performance by Stig Westerberg, once available on the Caprice label, but probably hard to find. It breaths so naturally there is almost something organic in Westerberg's understanding and pacing of the music. Worth finding.

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by klavierelch » Thu Oct 22, 2009 6:21 am

I know, Rob, we are not of the same opinion on this matter. But if I would have to name Sweden's greatest symphonist I surely would consider Allan Pettersson as the top favorite with his 17 (or rather 15, since No1 and No17 are fragments) symphonies. They are certainly not everyone's cup of tea, not easy to grasp at all, but it is always honest, highly expressive (mostly very dark) music - very much 20th century but off the beaten track of the usual "avantgarde mainstream".
Ars opus est hominis, non opus artis homo.

John Owen, Epigrammata (1615)

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by rob » Thu Oct 22, 2009 8:46 am

Hmmmmmm... you've got me! I had forgotten Alan Pettersson. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Pettersson

It's true that I am not drawn to his music, finding it far too repulsively self-conscious for my taste. It is so full of self-pity and unrelentingly so that it is truly hard to take. There's also something about his structures that I can't get on with. One view would have it that they are organic and of the continuous development school of architecture - whereas I perceive just a stream of consciousness approach which I've always thought difficult to bring off as a structural approach in music.

Nevertheless, I bought his Second Symphony when it came out on Swedish Decca in the seventies, and then the famous recording of the Seventh with Dorati, purchasing the full score almost immediately. There are only a couple of symphonies I do not have on CD and I've never had the patience to compare and contrast the various competing performances, although I do have the inclination to do that one day. I suspect that I might be rather more convinced by some conductors' approach to this difficult music. Access to scores would help of course, although I've never seen anything other than the Seventh.

"...but it is always honest, highly expressive (mostly very dark) music" - yes, absolutely, but that doesn't of itself make his music convincing to my ears. I guess I just find it unrelentingly depressed and depressing - musical navel-gazing. I am trying not to judge it, but seem to be dismissing it because it is too pre-occupied with biography, with self, and yet normally I find such music moving in its commitment and expression. I guess for me the jury is out on his symphonies. I know his concerti less well, although have certainly liked all that I have heard with the exception of the Viola Concerto which for me seemed to wail and bemoan his lot rather like the symphonies and the longer of his three Concerti for Strings, which seems simply too long to hold together. Maybe a performance of one of his works will grip me completely one day? So far though, none have.

Rob

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Re: Twentieth Century Symphonies

Post by klavierelch » Thu Oct 22, 2009 2:35 pm

rob wrote: "...but it is always honest, highly expressive (mostly very dark) music" - yes, absolutely, but that doesn't of itself make his music convincing to my ears. I guess I just find it unrelentingly depressed and depressing - musical navel-gazing. I am trying not to judge it, but seem to be dismissing it because it is too pre-occupied with biography, with self, and yet normally I find such music moving in its commitment and expression. I guess for me the jury is out on his symphonies. I know his concerti less well, although have certainly liked all that I have heard with the exception of the Viola Concerto which for me seemed to wail and bemoan his lot rather like the symphonies and the longer of his three Concerti for Strings, which seems simply too long to hold together. Maybe a performance of one of his works will grip me completely one day? So far though, none have.

Rob
I disagree here. Of course I respect that his music doesn't ring a bell with you; that's a matter of taste not to be argued about.

But: For sure Pettersson's music is a very personal one, but the same could be said of Mahler, Hartmann or (to take a more recent example) Ruzicka.

I know that it is often said about Pettersson that his music reflects mere self-pity, but I don't think it's true. Pettersson himself said more than once that the one thing he hated was self-pity, because it is totally unproductive. In his own opinion his music reflects his pity on human beings, especially supressed human beings (Vox humana as well as the 12th symphony are the most obvious examples for this). The reason for this certain lies in his own biography, but again the same is true for Mahler or Hartmann.

It is certainly not by chance that Pettersson's music is most "popular" in Germany (The International Allan Pettersson Society is situtated in Wuppertal; Ruzicka is one of the main promoters of his music and the musicologists who research his music are often also experts on Hartmann or Mahler; and the complete Symphony cycle was recorded by cpo). Maybe there is a congeniality of souls between the depressed Pettersson and the tortured dark German soul (Certainly not the German soul Pfitzner thought of...) ;)
Ars opus est hominis, non opus artis homo.

John Owen, Epigrammata (1615)

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