Sunday, April 30, 2006

War of the Romantics Part XI. Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Bruckner is a sort of missing link in the chain of German symphonic composers, who is now rarely mentioned because of the amazing capabilities of those who came before and after him. The line started by Haydn had evolved through Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms, with radical composers like Berlioz and Liszt doing various other things. Bruckner followed the path of the former romantic composers, basing his compositions off of Beethoven's 4th, 7th, and 8th Symphonies; 4-movement works rich in romantic ideas and harmonies, but lacking the more descriptive programme-music favored by Liszt and Berlioz.

Brahms had based his 4 symphonies off of the model left by Beethoven, and changed a little from the existing model. Bruckner took what was left by Brahms, and again changed a little, this time making the orchestra larger, the harmonies more chromatic, the emotion more intense. He also adopted habits of Wagner in writing brass-heavy music and by including Wagner Tubas in some of his works. Needless to say, Brahms and his followers were irritated by this out of their hate for Wagner. Still, like Brahms, Bruckner was preoccupied by the greatness of his predecessors, and so he adopted a more conservative style. Just like Brahms tried to perfect what Beethoven created, Bruckner tried to perfect what Brahms created. The result is a well developed musical style stuck somewhere between Brahms, Wagner and Mahler.

Bruckner's style did not really evolve like other composers, so his early symphonies are similar to his late ones(they were all equally horrible during his lifetime), but his late ones are the most well known, with the 7th, 8th, and unfinished 9th being the most popular. Though not as revolutionary as other composers, Bruckner's style did carry into the music of Richard Strauss and especially Gustav Mahler.

The sound quality of this recording is a touch too old for my taste, and it was most likely in some hall, and not in a good location for recording. Still it has some good things to offer, despite the sound quality.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E Major

Salzburg Festival, Wiener Philharmoniker, Szell - Sony Classical

Please comment, I can post Bruckner 9 if anyone out there is a Bruckner fan. If not, I'll just move on to other stuff.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Igor Stravinsky

Born into a world of Russian classical msuic, Igor Stravinksy made his mark in his homeland but left for France as a young man. His previous compositions won him a spot composing ballets for Serge Diaghilev's famed ballet company. The Firebird (1910), Stravinsky's first prooduction for the company was an imediate sucess and was soon followed by Petrushka (1911). His next work, however, has become infamous in its own manner. The audience attending the premiere of the Rite of Spring (1913) reacted rather violently to the new work and proceded to riot the streets of Paris.

I give you here the Firebird which follows the story Tsarevitch Ivan. Here is are the main points of the plotline as written by the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Tsarevitch Ivan, out hunting, spies the glittering Firebird in Kastchei's enchanted garden and, drawn to her cosmic energy, traps her. They dance a powerful pas de deux as she struggles in his grasp and finally wins her freedom, leaving him a magic feather with which he can recall her strength in his time of need.
A group of young Princesses—Kastchei's captives—enters the garden to dance in the moonlight, and Ivan and the loveliest Princess are drawn to one another. They communicate their new love as they perform a folk dance with her companions. With the approach of the dawn, the Princesses return to the castle, warning Ivan to escape before Kastchei appears.
Not yet understanding the power of the enemy, Ivan tries to follow. He is threatened by Kastchei's monsters, and incurs the wizard's wrath. The Princesses return, and Ivan realizes fully the danger to the woman he loves. Remembering the magic feather which will summon the Firebird to his aid, he waves it, and she reappears to help him drive off the monsters and Kastchei.
The exhausted Ivan and the Princess reconfirm their love, and the Firebird prepares them to face their last difficult task—the destruction of Kastchei's evil soul. As Ivan breaks open the egg that contains it, new life is liberated, and love triumphs over evil.
Her mission accomplished, the Firebird—somewhat sadly—relinquishes Ivan and the Princess to the future that awaits them. In the presence of well-wishers, children, and flowers, the new Tsar and Tsarevna are crowned as benevolent leaders of the regenerated world.

In 1919, Stravinsky wrote a suite of the music from the Firebird to be performed without the ballet accompaniment. While both versions are commonly used in performances today, I can only offer the 1910 version for your listening pleasure. There are few differences between the two with most of the music identical in each rendition.

The Firebird (1910)
Orchestre symphonique de Montréal

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Sorry about the recent absence of posting. I think I can speak for all Masterfaders when I say we've been busy as hell. I expect posting to pick up again after next week.

The works that Johannes Brahms wrote for organ are not well known. His output for organ was small, but it spanned almost his entire composing career. The first preludes and fugues on here are from the mid 1850s, probably from around the time Brahms, still a young man, wanted to make a living as an organist. Brahms did not want these published, but they escaped destruction and are rare surviving examples of pieces that Brahms was not happy with; they show his amazing potential more than anything else.

The last work, the opus 122 11 chorale preludes of 1896, is the last thing Brahms ever wrote, and is among my favorite pieces of his entire output. Brahms wrote them partly as a reaction to his intimate friend Clara Schumann's death, and partly as a recognition of his own impending death. The conservative Brahms always drew inspiration from JS Bach, and on Bach's preferred instrument his influence is unmistakable. However, these melancholy, reflective pieces are most definitely Brahmsian; his characteristic 2-on-3 hemiolas and barline-transcending rhythms abound. It is obvious when one listens to these pieces, especially the final chorale, O Welt, ich muss dich lassen, that Brahms knew he hadn't long to live- as the organ drops to pianissimo at the end of the piece and sings one last beautiful F major chord, I picture a tearful goodbye from the greatest Romantic composer ever.

Robert Parkins- Brahms complete organ works

(To accompany his last musical work, the picture above is the last ever taken of Brahms, in 1896)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Erik Satie

Not many people can take credit for helping found three different artistic movements. The Dada, Impressionism, and ambient music movements all owe a great deal to Erik Satie, as you'll see. (The drawing to the right: Erik Satie, by Pablo Picasso)

Satie can be viewed as the complete opposite of Richard Wagner; his music, instead of being extremely grand, long, and climactic, is directionless and short. Satie's harmonic language is unlike anyone else. He would recieve lessons from well-known teachers, but if they told him to fix an unconventional element in his style, he would only ask, "why?" Many see Satie as a precursor to the Dadaists; his music and behavior could be very absurd. He wore only velvet suits for a period of time, and only ate white food. He titled the second piece he ever wrote "Opus 62" and hardly ever used bar-lines in his compositions. His works are full of ridiculous jokes, including a piece on this disc that begins "ending" about half a minute before the actual end of the piece (You'll know what I'm talking about if you hear it.)

Satie was a staunch anti-Wagnerian, and when he met a young Claude Debussy, he inspired him to avoid Wagner's path. Debussy and his contemporary Maurice Ravel heeded Satie's advice, started writing formless, quiet, Satie-esque pieces, and began the movement known as Impressionism.

Satie's anti-Romantic style can be best heard in his "furniture music," intended for nothing else but background music- Brian Eno credits Satie with being the first ambient composer. His Gymnopedies are considered by some to be furniture music, but were not meant to be; they are just beautiful examples of rhythm and melody taken to a bare minimum. Claude Debussy was so impressed with Satie's Gymnopedies that he famously orchestrated them, but I prefer the intimate solo versions on this disc.

Pascal Roge- Satie: Piano Works

Thursday, April 06, 2006

More Wagner

As promised, here is more Wagner, the winner of the poll. This is Wagner's popular opera, Die Walkure (The Valkyrie) made famous by the pictured Apocalypse Now scene. This opera premiered in 1870 as the second part of his massive Ring cycle of operas, which is based on old Germanic characters and legends. Unlike Beethoven, one Wagner piece is more than enough for a post; Die Walkure requires four discs to hold it.

Die Walkure: Act I

Act II, Part I (Disc II)

Act II part II (Disc III)

Act III (Disc IV)

Vienna Phil., Georg Solti

Birgit Nilsson as Brunnhilde
for more information on soloists, etc. check this link

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Winner...

The poll is closed, and the winner, surprisingly by no small margin, is Richard Wagner. I, personally, was betting on Tchaikovsky and hoping for Liszt, but Wagner won in a blowout. Thanks to those who voted, and we will begin to post Wagner soon.

Please continue to leave comments if you like what you hear or if you have requests.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Back in February, Sam was good enough to post the Dvorak Cello Concerto in B minor. Antonin Dvorak, however, wrote more for solo cello with orchestra. As Sam already wrote about Dvorak, I won't repeat his the basics.

In 1891, Dvorak went on a tour of Czechoslovakia, performaing in 39 cities with his good friends Ferdinand Lachner, violin and Hanuš Wihan, cello. Dvorak had written several pieces for violin but he badly needed cello music so he transcribed a piano duet from his Op. 6 toa solo for cello and piano. Klid ("Silent Woods") Piece for Cello and Orchestra was the result and eventually, Dvorak transcribed the piano part for orchestra.

Following this tour of his homeland, Dvorak left for the New World of America where he composed his 9th Symphony, "The New World Symphony" and a year later, the cello concerto. As he was working on the symphony, Dovrak was also writing another cello solo, entitlted, Rondo for Cello and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 94.

This post was originally intended to be an April Fool's joke. I had wanted to post Justified by Justin Timberlake for a long time, just as a joke and this seemed like the best time to do it. I coudlnt upload the entire album so I just put together a questionable pieces. Enjoy...