Friday Performance Pick – 129

Lahusen, Komm Trost der Welt

The composer of today’s work, Christian Lahusen (1886-1975), was born in Argentina to German parents. He attended high school in Germany and went on to study music in Leipzig. He held various posts as a pianist, teacher, and Kappellmeister. Although little known in the U.S., he has some following in the German choral world.

He chose a text by one of the most prominent 19th-century Romantic literary figures, the Prussian poet, novelist, and playwright Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857). Many composers turned to Eichendorff’s poems, including Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss, and others. See, e.g., Schumann’s Liederkreis, Op. 39, and the last of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, Im Abendrot.

This particular poem, Der Einsiedler (The Hermit) was first published in 1837.

Komm, Trost der Welt, du stille Nacht!
Wie steigst du von den Bergen sacht,
Die Lüfte alle schlafen,
Ein Schiffer nur noch, wandermüd’,
Singt übers Meer sein Abendlied
Zu Gottes Lob im Hafen.
Come, comfort of the world, you still night!
How gently you climb from the mountains,
The breezes all are sleeping.
A lone sailor tired from wandering
Sings his evening song over the sea
To God’s praise in the harbor.
 aa
Die Jahre wie die Wolken gehn
Und lassen mich hier einsam stehn,
Die Welt hat mich vergessen,
Da tratst du wunderbar zu mir,
Wenn ich beim Waldesrauschen hier
Gedankenvoll gesessen.
The years go by like the clouds
And leave me standing here alone,
The world has forgotten me.
Then you came to me wonderfully,
When I was here at the rustling wood
Lost in thought.
 aa
O Trost der Welt, du stille Nacht!
Der Tag hat mich so müd’ gemacht,
Das weite Meer schon dunkelt,
Laß ausruhn mich von Lust und Not,
Bis daß das ew’ge Morgenrot
Den stillen Wald durchfunkelt.
O Comfort of the world, you still night!
The day has left me so tired,
The wide sea already darkens.
Let me rest from my joy and suffering,
Until the eternal dawn
Illuminates the quiet forest.
 aa

N.B. Lahusen wrote a collection of 150 short sacred songs called Ein Schöpfungsgesang (A Song of Creation) for three female voices. Many of these have been recorded by the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt Chamber Choir under the direction of Christian Ridil. Despite being posted on YouTube more than two years ago, the songs have virtually no views. (If you see 1 view, it’s mine.) This 2-disc set of about 50 songs has also been released on CD and complements another 2-disc set. 

Featured image: John Atkinson Grimshaw

Friday Performance Pick – 128

Dvorák, String Quintet in G Major, Op. 77 (Scherzo)

It was described as irresistible on the one hand, and roundly criticized on the other. Dvorák’s String Quintet, Op. 77 has generated some conflicts. It is a relatively early work written in 1875. Dvorák (1841-1904) considered it his opus 18, but it was not published until 1888. The publisher slapped Opus 77 on it, the next number in the publishing sequence, suggesting that it was a much more mature work. This may have contributed to the harsh reviews.

One critic noted its “utter lack of melodic charm” and ranked it “among Dvorák’s least successful works.” Another, while agreeing that the work as a whole was undistinguished, nevertheless considered the scherzo movement “irresistible.” 

This scherzo follows the traditional form in its broad outline: a binary main section followed by a trio (at 2:57) and return to the main section. (See the discussion of the scherzo form in a previous post.) But within that larger scheme, Dvorák has expanded the individual sections, writing out some of the repeats with variations and adding transitions and development sections. 

moldau

I think this work’s irresistibility, if that’s what it is, comes from the folk melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that so often characterize Dvorák’s music. It’s difficult not to picture the Czech countryside—or more notably, the rivers flowing through the countriside—when listening to his music. If you get the chance to take a river cruise on the Vltava (Moldau), be sure to take Dvorák along for the ride.

Image: Raymond Zoller (BY SA 2.0)

Friday Performance Pick – 127

Brahms, Scherzo Op. 4

I want to continue looking at the scherzo this week (and beyond). We are not taking them on in chronological order, since we started out two weeks ago with Chopin and then moved to Beethoven, but I don’t think chronology needs to be a big concern here.

Brahms

Brahms in 1853

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote his Scherzo Op. 4 when he was less than 20 years old. You may recall that it took Brahms quite a while to produce his first symphony. It was published in 1876 as opus 68 when he was 43. Brahms was laboring under “the shadow of Beethoven,” and Beethoven’s legacy had set the symphonic bar quite high.

Brahms was a very good pianist, however. He produced his three piano sonatas early in his composing career—in 1853 in fact, the same year as the scherzo. It was also in 1853 that he traveled to Weimar to meet Franz Liszt. Now that raises one of Professor Carol’s favorite topics: the “War of the Romantics” that would pit the New German School of Wagner and Liszt against the traditionalists, who would ultimately be personified by Brahms. It was serious stuff. But this first meeting was cordial enough, and Liszt played this scherzo and was said to speak highly of it.

This scherzo is an independent work like those of Chopin. It has a second trio, giving it the form of a rondo (A – B – A – C – A), which is expanded over the form of Beethoven’s Septet. Beethoven would approve of that expansion, and it has many of the qualities of a typical Beethoven scherzo. On the other hand, its driving rhythm has been described as demonic, and music critic Malcolm McDonald noted “whiffs of Hoffmannesque devilry.” That sounds more like something Liszt would appreciate, and I think you can hear some foreshadowing of Listz’s Mephisto Waltzes in the work.

Friday Performance Pick – 126

Beethoven, Septet Op. 20 (Scherzo)

BeethovenWe talked last week about some of the ways Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 did not conform to what one might expect of a scherzo (literally defined as a joke or jest). Beethoven was not the first to place scherzi in his multi-movement works, but he is credited with taking the form in new directions and using it extensively. So let’s back up and look at a Beethoven scherzo. Keep in mind that Beethoven pushed the limits in many respects, including expanding musical forms, so it can be difficult to call a particular work “typical.”

That said, this scherzo from Beethoven’s Septet, Op. 20, offers a good example. The idea of a joke or jest seems like an apt description. The tempo (vivace) and meter (three-four) fit the standard mold. It revels in little surprises and sudden changes of texture.

Beethoven used the scherzo as a replacement for the minuet that often appeared in multi-movement Classical works. This scherzo has a form similar to the minuet. In its standard form, the first section was binary: a two-part structure in which each section is repeated (A – A – B – B). Here the second part (B) is longer and includes a return to the main them of A.

A trio would follow, usually in a more lyrical form. The trio would be in the same binary form (A – A – B – B). Then the first section would return without the repeats (A – B). The overall form was thus ternary: main section – trio – main section.

It’s not hard to follow. You can use these timings.

  • Part I
    • A (0:04 – 0:12)
    • A repeated (0:12 – 9:19)
    • B (0:19 – 0:49) (the A theme returns at 0:34)
    • B repeated (0:49 – 1:20)
  • Trio
    • A (1:21 – 1:30)
    • A repeated (1:30 – 1:40)
    • B (1:41 – 2:00) (the trio’s A theme returns at 1:51)
    • B repeated (2:01 – 2:21)
  • Part I
    • A (2:22 – 2:30)
    • B (2:30 – 3:01)

You will find this form commonly used for minuets and scherzi through the Classical period. This is one of Beethoven’s early works when he wrote in more or less traditional Classical style. Beginning with his Symphony No. 3, Op. 55 (“Eroica”), Beethoven would expand the size and scope of his movements dramatically. So when you listen to a late work like the scherzo in his Symphony No. 9, for example, you may find it much more difficult to follow. Beethoven will have expanded each section, added some extra features, and taken liberties throughout. But the overall form still follows the general plan of this little movement from the Septet.

Friday Performance Pick – 125

Chopin, Scherzo in B-flat minor, Op. 31

Chopin,_by_WodzinskaThe term scherzo means, literally, joke or jest. When the term first appeared in the early 17th century in Italy, it generally referred to a lighthearted work. The New Grove Dictionary refers to Monteverdi’s scherzi from this time as “frivolous in tone and unambitious in scope.”

But this scherzo by Chopin is no joke. And you could hardly call it frivolous in tone or unambitious in scope.

The classical scherzo shows up in some of the works of Haydn, but it was Beethoven who made it mainstay of serious multi-movement works. It served as a substitute for the minuet that you would typically find in Haydn and Mozart symphonies. It would typically be cast in triple meter and have a fast tempo. And it might change character suddenly and frequently. Beethoven included scherzos in all but two of his nine symphonies, and it was there that the scherzo (typical of Beethoven) began to take on larger and more complex forms.

Chopin took the form out of its typical place in a multi-movement work and gave it a life of its own. His four scherzi are all highly virtuosic. They all have a fast tempo and triple meter. And while not frivolous, they do have a certain playfulness. They go to extremes and are punctuated by surprises. The character and texture change rapidly.

This particular scherzo, the second of the four, was composed in 1837. Robert Schumann compared it a Byronic poem, “so overflowing with tenderness, boldness, love and contempt.”

Friday Performance Pick – 124

Flag_of_the_United_Kingdom.svg

Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 You may hear today’s featured work somewhere else this month since it is the “go-to” piece for graduation ceremonies. I remember a small kerfuffle in high school when our band director floated the idea […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 123

rachmaninov

Rachmaninov, Études-tableaux, Op 39 Rachmaninov composed two sets of études-tableaux, Opus 33 (1911) and Opus 39 (1917). The works follow in the tradition of etudes by Chopin and Liszt: character pieces presenting specific technical challenges. Kapustin’s jazz etude featured last week, […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 122

villaverde-claure

Kapustin, Jazz Concert Etude No. 1 This past weekend, Professor Carol and I had dinner with friends, a husband and wife who had Carol as a professor when they were at SMU. They both went on to earn their doctorates […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 121

frank-ticheli

Ticheli, Blue Shades Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) comes out of a strong band tradition in Texas. After finishing high school in Richardson, Texas, he studied theory and composition at Southern Methodist University. (That was before Professor Carol joined the faculty there.) […] Read more.

Friday Performance Pick – 120

mackey

John Mackey, Asphalt Cocktail Have you ever thought of giving a musical composition to someone as a present? John Mackey’s 2009 Asphalt Cocktail came about in just such a way. An admirer of the Michigan State University Wind Ensemble and […] Read more.