Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Haydn: The London Symphonies: Symphony #96, #103, #104

We return to papa Haydn for three more of his "London" Symphonies. We've already covered three symphonies (#94, #100 and #101), and with this post we'll finally finish off this two-CD collection of six symphonies from one of the most fruitful periods of Haydn's life.
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Sir Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw Orchestra
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Haydn: 6 "London" Symphonies (Nos. 94, 100, 101, 96, 103 and 104)
Philips, 1977/2001

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A couple of general comments first and then I'll get right into each individual symphony. First, the performance quality of the second disc in this two-CD set is noticeably poorer than the first; shockingly so, given the dearth of mistakes in disc one. There are flubbed notes, outright missed notes, a high-school caliber violin duet--and that's just my count from Symphony #96.

Please keep in mind, however, that these mistakes will go completely unnoticed by most listeners. Further, don't be dissuaded from buying this disc just because I talk about the mistakes that I hear, and don't think I hate the recording just because I cite mistakes. Remember, I'm the sorry combination of a classical music buff with OCD, which means I spend a lot of time listening for, and noticing, mistakes in every concert and classical music CD. So far, there hasn't been a single CD in this entire blog that I wouldn't recommend buying to anyone looking to learn more about classical music (with the possible exception of Shostakovich's Eleventh).

Furthermore, Haydn's music is completely approachable and listenable to the novice classical music listener, and his symphonies consist of easily digestible movements perfect for listeners more used to hearing their music in four-minute-long songs. You would get your classical music listening career off on an excellent footing by starting with this particular CD.

Listener Notes:
Symphony #96 "Miracle"
1) The first movement contains drama not always found in Hadyn's light, wink-of-the-eye symphonies. And it's exhilirating how the minor key introduction bursts in to a major key at the 1:33 mark of the first movement.

Note that symphonies of this era were much more structured than modern symphonies. There are always four movements, one of the middle movements is always a dance or a waltz in 3/4 time, themes need to be stated and reprised, etc. Yet despite this obligatory and fairly rigid structure, it didn't stop gifted composers like Haydn (and Mozart too for that matter) from creating an extremely large body of work with nearly infinite variety.

3) In the first movement, there's a run played by the oboe (twice) where he makes a mistake (1:45 and 1:49). It sounds like he wasn't paying attention to the key signature as he misses one of the notes by a half-tone. Later the flute player plays the same run (again, twice), but with the correct note.

4) The principal flutist flubs a note at 4:06 in the first movement (I so wish I didn't hear these things!).

5) From 4:38-4:48 in the second movement, there is a violin duet that sounds like two high school hack violin players sawing away. Shocking to me how in a CD otherwise this good there could be a passage that awful.

Symphony #103 "Drum Roll"
1) The first two minutes of this symphony could easily have been written by Shostakovich in 1950. Can you believe Hadyn wrote that creepy introduction in the late 1700s? Once the intro is over (at about 2:45 into the first movement), we get back to a sound that's quite a bit more representative of Haydn's era. Haydn briefly reprises the tympani drum roll and the introductory theme at the 8:00 minute mark before finishing off the movement with a flourish.

2) Fortunately, an actual professional musician plays the violin solo in the second movement.

3) Even the waltz movement (the third), with its kitschy horn calls and various call-and-response parts, is highly unusual.

4) And in the fourth movement, there so much energy and so many different instrumental voices that it's hard to believe that this work is being peformed by a smallish chamber orchestra.

Symphony #104 "London"
This was Haydn's last "London" symphony, and for that matter, it was the last symphony he composed, ever. Classical music critics have called the twelve symphonies he wrote during his stay in this city the tremendous dozen and this majestic symphony is a fitting end to a massive body of work, rivaled in significance perhaps only by Mozart and Beethoven.

1) Can you imagine King George III striding forth to the trumpet calls at the very beginning of this symphony? I can.

2) I can again hear Sir Colin Davis softly humming and mumbling along with the orchestra at various points during the first movement. Why oh why did they put a microphone anywhere near him?

3) The second movement has more gravitas and seriousness than all of these other symphonies combined, doesn't it?

4) I really enjoyed the variety of folk melodies sprinkled throughout the final movement. Again, this is highly original, given the rigid structure expected of symphonic compositions during this era.




Saturday, July 26, 2008

Shostakovich: Symphony #11

After learning about Dmitri Shostakovich's life, the poverty and ill-health of his youth, the ideological struggles he had with the Soviet regime (particularly under Stalin), and the general overall misery of his life, I was really looking forward to tackling his Eleventh Symphony.
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Mstislav Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Symphony 11: The Year 1905
London Symphony Orchestra (Live Recording), 2002

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It was a letdown.

This symphony, written on the 40th anniversary of the 1917 revolution in Russia, commemorates the Bloody Sunday massacre of January 9th, 1905, when some 200,000 workers, peacefully demonstrating for better working conditions, were fired on by Tsarist troops.

I can see why some critics have derided this symphony as a glorified film soundtrack. Even the (surprisingly coherently written) liner notes accompanying this CD sound a bit defensive on this point:

"This is a symphony, not a soundtrack....[with] purely musical validity."

But I'll confess that it was about seven minutes into the second movement when this symphony started to sound self-indulgent to me--the auditory equivalent of the director's cut of Apocalypse Now. And there were points throughout this work where I felt I was listening to a medley, not a holistic symphony.

I guess I'll just have to save my anticipation for Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony.

Listener notes on Shostakovich's Symphony #11:
1) Have you ever been more creeped out by the first two minutes of a symphony? And after the first movement, I'm literally stressed out and dying to know what's going to happen.

2) The quality of this performance is exceptional, particularly considering that it was recorded live. Unlike Americans, those courteous English symphony-goers must come to the symphony armed with plenty of cough drops.

3) In the second movement, beginning at about the 10:50 mark, listen to the piccolo solo. He goes more and more off-key as the part progresses. And then, at the 11:45 mark, he actually attempts to play a phrase that's more than 25 seconds long in one breath! Needless to say he lasts about 15 seconds before he gracelessly drops out and reenters. I know this is a live recording, but that's a high-school error. Oh, and how can I tell that this piccolo player is a he? Because a female piccolo player would have used discretion and taken a breath earlier.

4) In the last four minutes or so of the second movement, listen for the extra wide vibrato/tremolo by the strings, underneath the orchestra. It sounds just like human voices. Eerie and creepy.

5) Speaking of self-indulgent: in the third movement, beginning at about 8:28, the strings build up to perhaps the most overwrought moments of the entire symphony: minutes 9 and 10 of the third movement. But there are some spectacular trumpet parts right here, so I'll give Shostakovich a free pathos pass.

6) The opening of the fourth movement will snap you out of your somnolence. And enjoy the bouncing, rhythmic string parts beginning at about the 3:00 minute mark. They really move you along, don't they? Toe-tapping.

7) Listen to the fourth movement from about 5:40 where the entire brass section blasts away while the strings are going crazy with trills. And then, at 6:40 or so, we're off on a totally new and unrelated musical theme. That's a perfect example of what I mean when I say Shostakovich's Eleventh sounds more like a medley than a symphony. For a sharp contrast, listen to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. You'll hear a much more effective composition that commemorates and evokes powerful historical images, yet manages to remain a holistic work.

8) Ah yes, of course--a gong. In the fourth movement, at about the 8:50 mark. You just had to expect a big gong part coming at some point in this symphony, didn't you?






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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Beethoven: Piano Sonatas #13, #14, #15

Today we'll go over three of Beethoven's piano sonatas, from a Deutsche Grammophon CD of Maurizio Pollini performing Sonatas #13, #14 and #15. These are works composed for solo piano, with a symphony-like structure consisting typically of either three or four movements.
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Maurizio Pollini
Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15
Deutsche Grammophon, 1992
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You don't need to be a piano expert to appreciate these works. But you do need to be a piano expert to play them. Beethoven's piano sonatas are so difficult and so technically demanding that the majority of piano students simply cannot perform them. This is in stark contrast to works by composers like Chopin (who wrote most of his preludes such that intermediate piano players could play them), or Rimsky-Korsakov (whose symphonies are performable by any above-average community band).

In fact, piano players generally find practicing Beethoven's piano sonatas to be exercises in frustration, and most are reduced to playing only the first movement of the famed "Moonlight Sonata" (Sonata #14). As a result, that single movement is widely recognized (and massively overplayed) while the rest of this entire subsegment of Beethoven's work remains relatively unknown.

You might at first find it challenging to listen to these intricate and intense works for solo piano. The music is surprisingly complex. But in the hands of a world-class pianist like Wilhelm Kempff, Maurizio Pollini or Vladimir Horowitz, these works are shockingly original, beautiful and emotional.

Be patient and give each sonata a several close listens, and you'll start to get your bearings. You'll start to recognize specific passages and themes, and you'll find that these sonatas have the same dramatic range and volcanic emotions that we've come to expect from a full Beethoven symphony.

You won't regret spending time getting to learn these amazing works.

Listener notes:
1) The disc I have, of Maurizio Pollini, is quite good, with good performances from both a technical and emotional standpoint (although as a trumpet player and not a piano player, take my work on the technical aspect of his playing with a grain of salt).

2) Who doesn't instantly recognize the opening theme of the so-called Moonlight Sonata? The fact that a work for solo piano (which is, let's face it, a relatively obscure type of classical composition) became as famous as it is some two centuries after it was written, gives you an idea of the genius of Beethoven.

Indeed, Beethoven himself seemed to resent the popularity of his Sonata #14 when he said, "People are constantly talking about the C sharp minor sonata! But I have written much better things." I can sympathize when I see which posts end up being "most popular" on this and my other blogs!

Just keep in mind that there is much more to these works than the first movement of Sonata #14. Don't fall into the trap of "staying familiar" with what you know and not stepping out into equally beautiful movements like the first movement of Sonata #13 or the second movement of Sonata #15.

3) My favorite quote on Sonata #14 actually refers to the less familiar second movement, which pianist and composer Franz Liszt called "a flower poised between two abysses."

4) Listen to the gripping transition from the second movement of Sonata #14 (the "flower") to the third movement (the second "abyss"). Very few of the world's greatest composers, even using an entire symphony orchestra, could come up with something this compelling.

5) Sonata #15: If you want to focus one particularly amazing piece of music, listen closely to track 9, which is the intricate second movement (Andante) of Sonata #15. In my opinion this is the most intricate and interesting work on the entire CD. Notice the initial core theme, which consists of bouncing lower notes played by the left hand underneath a melodic line played by the right hand. This core theme returns repeatedly, with the right hand playing increasingly complex variations on that melody.

I listened to this movement closely some five or six times, and even subjected my wife to repeated listens (which, fortunately, she tolerated). I cannot believe this work was just sitting there in my living room all these years, unlistened to, unloved, and collecting dust! It's yet another example of an enormous blessing I've received since starting this blog.

6) Beethoven doesn't really joke around anywhere here, at least not in the way we've heard lately by Haydn, with his twinkling eye and self-deprecating wit. You get the distinct impression that Beethoven wasn't doing this classical music composition thing just for the fun of it.

7) Notice how not one of these sonatas has the drawn out and overwrought ending typical of Beethoven's symphonies?

8) Note that at various times in the recording (and upon extremely close listening) you can hear Maurizio Pollini mumbling some of the melodies under his breath while he plays. Can you hear him during track 9 of this disk? You'll have to use good headphones and listen very closely, but try the passages at 3:05-3:06, then 3:20-3:26 and then again at 5:11 in track 9. "Muh-muh-muh." Obviously our man Maurizio is really getting into it here, and he's having a bit of a Leonard Bernstein moment.






Friday, July 18, 2008

Mozart: Symphony #30, #31, #32

Today we'll cover three Mozart symphonies, the 30th, the 31st and the 32nd, from a Deutsche Grammophon CD of the Wiener Philharmoniker, conducted by James Levine (remember, he's the guy who keeps allowing himself to be photographed wearing his terrible 1980s glasses).
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James Levine and the Wiener Philharmoniker
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Symphony #30, #31 ("Paris"), and #32
Deutsche Grammophon, 1990

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These symphonies are brief enough that all three fit onto one glorious CD. Unfortunately, I can't find the identical disc on Amazon, so I've substituted a link to an exceptionally high-quality collection of the complete Mozart symphonies below.

Listener notes for Symphony #30:
1) Throughout the 30th symphony Mozart repeats entire sections of music, sometime more than once. And what Mozart does in the first movement is particularly interesting: he repeats sections within other repeated sections, creating an involuted, Escher-like piece of music. Yet it sounds neither repetitive nor confusing; instead it sounds perfectly logical, as if it couldn't be written any other way.

2) Note that Mozart was only 18 when he wrote this symphony. His precocity never fails to shock.

2) How about in the third movement how the music modulates from major to minor key? Creates some compelling tensions in an otherwise light and lilting symphony.

3) Listen for the strings playing upbeats at three separate points in the third movement at 0:37, at 1:11 and then most in its most complex form, at 1:45. Highly incredible for an 18-year-old to come up with that kind of special effect, isn't it?

4) What did I say before about Mozart and Haydn and any movement labeled Presto? Get ready for some fun.

6) I have to make a comment on the horrendous afterthought parts for the trumpets (or as I've called them before, oom-pah parts). Not only do they not get to play at all until the fourth and final movement, but they only get to pipe in for some nearly irrelevant backup notes. I need to let go of this, obviously. But imagine what it's like, being a teen-age boy in school band, sitting in rehearsal all day long, having to pay close attention (against all your biological urges by the way), and count rests so you don't miss your entrance and get in trouble, and then "getting" to come in for some irrelevant notes in the last 120 seconds of a symphony? I'm not bitter or anything.

7) An interesting pianissimo coda at the very end of the 30th symphony. Even if I were an 18-year-old genius composer, I don't think I would have the confidence to take compositional risks like that. Clearly Mozart ignored the proverbial classical music rulebook from an early age.

Listener notes for Symphony #31:
1) Note the "power chord" which opens the first movement. Mozart composed this symphony while in Paris, and this was apparently a typical feature of Parisian classical music of the time.

2) This symphony sounds quite a bit more difficult to perform than #30. In Paris, Mozart could use musicians--as well as instruments (e.g. clarinets)--that were beyond what was available to him in Salzburg.

3) It's funny but the introductory power chord of this symphony makes me dream of what Mozart could do if he lived 100 years later and could compose music using the full armament of a modern symphony.

Listener notes for Symphony #32:
1) With a length of less than eight minutes (yes, this entire symphony is only 7:23 long), this beautiful work is over practically before it begins!

2) An unusual feature of this symphony is the use of four french horns, unheard of for symphonies of this era. At least their parts are halfway decent. Unlike--once again--the trumpet parts.




Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Classical Music Jokes

Band directors and music instructors around the world might cry rather than laugh at many of these classical music jokes, but to the rest of us they should provide some laughs and good memories from school band.

From David Ward, posted on The Fun People Archive at Langston.com. Enjoy!
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OUT-TAKES FROM HARVARD DICTIONARY OF MUSIC

Accidentals: The wrong notes.

Audition: The act of putting oneself under extreme duress to satisfy the sadistic intentions of someone who has already made up his mind.

Accelerando: What happens when drummers have to keep a steady beat.

Conductor: An ignorable figure capable of following numerous individuals at once.

Cut Time: When you suddenly realize that everyone else is playing twice as fast as you are.

Crescendo: A reminder to the performer that he has been playing too loud.

Cymbals: Percussion instrument to be dropped while the band plays pianissimo

Fermata: A chance for the conductor to catch his breath while attempting to make his wind players pass out.

Glissando: The way string players play difficult runs

Key Change: A change in the main pitch or "tonal center" which takes full effect three to five bars after it is noted in the music.

Page Turn: A good way to avoid playing the hard parts.

Practice: Don't worry about it. Musicians never do it anyway.

Ritard: The idiot behind the stick.

Tempo Change: Signal for the musicians to ignore the conductor.

Unison: See "minor second."

Vibrato: How musicians hide the fact that they are on the wrong pitch.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture and Capriccio Espagnol

Let's briefly reprise my favorite classical music quote about Rimsky-Korsakov:

"The works of Rimsky-Korsakov music may be conveniently divided into two groups: the overplayed and the unknown."
--Richard Taruskin, author, The Oxford History of Western Music (6 Volume Set)

And now that we've already covered three "unknown"works by this composer, it's time to listen to two of the "overplayed" ones. Today we'll cover the Russian Easter Festival Overture and the Capriccio Espagnol, and at last we'll have finished off this amazing two-CD set of Rimsky-Korsakov's works.
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Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Three Symphonies; Capriccio Espagnol; Russian Easter Festival Overture
Deutsche Grammophon, 1988

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Listener notes:
Russian Easter Festival Overture:
1) The slightly out of tune oboe solos in the early minutes of the work detracts from the performance. The oboe, much like the clarinet, can be a mournful and beautiful instrument when played well. When played even slightly poorly however, it can be highly distracting. There's just not a lot of room for error with this instrument.

2) Once again, R-K uses unusual, as well as varying, meters during this composition. Portions of it are in 5/2 time, other portions are in 2/1 and 3/1 time.

3) How about at the 12:30 mark when the tubas and trombones come in with a ponderous rendering of the primary theme? The tuba player must have lungs the size of a refrigerator.

4) The final minute of this work might be one of the most rousing minutes in all of classical music. no wonder this work is among the "overplayed" of Rimsky-Korsakov's works.

Capriccio Espagnol:
1) My favorite movement is the second (Variazioni), with the opening melody by the french horn section, transferring to the strings, and then to a call and response between the english horn, a french horn and an answering muted french horn (a side note: the english horn is one of classical music's most illogically named instruments. A reeded instrument, it is neither English, nor a horn!).

2) The last couple of minutes of the second movement simply washes over the audience with wave after wave and layer after layer of sound. What is it about these Russian composers that gives them the ability to compose such gripping music?

3) Interesting effects with the clarinet runs in the last few seconds of the third movement.

4) I'm sure even novice classical music listeners will recognize the opening bars of the fourth movement. And does the ensuing violin solo remind you at all of Scheherazade? It should. Next, how about that flute solo, ending in (for a flute at least) a rippingly loud high note?

5) Unlike R-K's symphonies, which were neither technically nor physically difficult to play, the Capriccio Espagnol has some extremely difficult (as well as unusual) parts for several different instruments.

6) And the rousing finish to the fifth movement (Fandango Asturiano) is guaranteed to bring any classical music audience leaping out of their seats. No wonder it's a staple of the symphonic repertoire.



Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rimsky-Korsakov: Symphony #3

Today we'll cover the third of Rimsky-Korsakov's three symphonies, yet another of his works that, surprisingly, tends to be unknown by most classical music listeners.
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Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

3 Symphonies; Capriccio espagnol; Russian Easter Overture
Deutsche Grammophon, 1988

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I've talked about Rimsky-Korsakov twice before (see Scheherazade and Symphonies 1 and 2) , but I haven't yet talked about his Brucknerian self-consciousness, a trait that sadly seems all too common among the great classical music composers. In his own autobiography, entitled My Musical Life, he described himself as a "dilettante" who was "undeservedly accepted at the [St. Petersburg] Conservatory as a professor."

All three of his symphonies were written before age 30, and each was revised mercilessly by the sheepishly embarrassed composer. And, as we saw with Bruckner, no one hears his works in their original form.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Third Symphony was composed in 1873, but was heavily revised in the years 1884-1886. And after finishing his Third, Rimsky-Korsakov dropped symphonic composition and for the rest of his life he wrote mostly operas, all of which remain obscure and are almost never performed for modern audiences.

Listener notes on Rimsky-Korsakov's Symphony #3:
1) This symphony is surprisingly easy to play; in fact it could be capably performed by any above-average community band. The parts don't sound technically or physically demanding (and the trumpet parts sound particularly easy). Just goes to show that you can make gripping, beautiful music without torturing your musicians.

2) Note the unusual meter in the second movement? The sense that there's an extra beat or note in every measure comes from the fact that the movement is in a fast 5/4 time. R-K's choice of meter adds extra stress and tension to what would otherwise be a calming, beautiful movement. It's an interesting device.

3) Listen to the rich voices and layers of sound throughout the third movement. It's shocking to me that this symphony isn't more popular. To me, it's just as beautiful as any Mahler or Bruckner symphony. And yet in my otherwise exceptional music reference book,Rimsky-Korsakov's Third Symphony doesn't even warrant a mention.

Stay tuned for one last post on Rimsky-Korsakov, where we'll discuss his Russian Easter Festival Overture and his Capriccio Espagnol.




Sunday, July 6, 2008

Haydn: The London Symphonies: Symphony #101 "Clock"

Going through each of these six London Symphonies (after today, we'll have finished three of them) has been a wonderful experience. I can't believe I went this long through life and, until recently, never really listened to Haydn's symphonic works.
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Sir Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw Orchestra
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Haydn: 6 "London" Symphonies (Nos. 94, 100, 101, 96, 103 and 104)
Philips, 1977/2001

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In fact, when I was a student, my limited familiarity with Haydn quickly morphed into contempt after playing his Trumpet Concerto a few hundred times too many at auditions for various All-State and All-County music competitions. Unfortunately, even the best music doesn't age well after countless repetitions.

But what a mistake I made generalizing from the fact that I got sick of this one work! Just like with my initial, trumpet-centric impression of Mozart, I had no idea what I was missing. Yet again, this blog has caused me to take a new look at a great composer and be overjoyed by what I find.

My reaction each time I fire up one of these symphonies is always a sense of mystification on how I missed out for so long on such wonderful music.

Listener notes for Symphony No. 101:
1) Once again the stylistic similarities between Haydn and Mozart are striking. If a week ago you played the first movement of #101, and told me it was Mozart, I'd believe you. Now that I've started this blog, however, I'll never be tricked again.

2) At 6:27 in the first movement (track 9 of this Philips disc), it sounds like there's a slight engineering error. The volume of the recording drops meaningfully mid-note and then the rest of the track is at that lower output level.

3) I love the whimsical second movement, where the "Clock" Symphony gets its nickname. Listen for the bassoons (with string bass accompaniment) playing the "tick-tock" theme. You think you're in for a pleasant, bouncy little piece of music. But then, at 2:33 into the movement, Papa Haydn pulls the rug out from under you with a booming, minor chord, followed by a loud and thrilling fugue-like passage involving the whole orchestra. Talk about injecting some drama! But then, a minute later, it's back to "tick-tock, tick-tock" whimsy. One again, you can tell Haydn wrote his music with a twinkle in his eye.

4) I'm also beginning to think that a close listen to any of Hadyn's London Symphonies might be an effective cure for depression. It sure worked for me the other day.


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Haydn: The London Symphonies: Symphony #100 "Military"

Today we continue our journey through six of Haydn's London Symphonies with a close listen to Symphony #100, nicknamed The Military Symphony.
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Sir Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw Orchestra
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Haydn: 6 "London" Symphonies (Nos. 94, 100, 101, 96, 103 and 104)
Philips, 1977/2001

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One of the unexpected joys of classical music is that it gives a window into the (often amusingly dainty) tastes and conventions of life hundreds of years ago. Modern listeners hearing Haydn's #100 will hear a fairly sedate symphony, complete with some modestly imposing martial-sounding touches, including triangles, cymbals and percussion not typically used in that era's symphonic works.

But this symphony was not thought of as "sedate" in its time. In fact, a contemporary of Haydn used the phrase "a hellish road to war" to describe this symphony, a phrase that would no doubt seem impossibly quaint to modern listeners. But no more quaint than Georgian-era English ladies jumping in surprise during his Symphony #94.

And, of course, how could classical music listeners of that era possibly imagine the overwhelming renderings of war in later symphonic works such as Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, Holst's Mars or--a symphony I can't wait to listen to--Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony?

And that's what makes listening to classical music such a pleasure. Times change, listeners change, cultural conventions change, even the instruments change. But the truly great music--from every era--thrives and continues to inspire audiences. That's why there's very little risk in buying classical music from these older periods: only the very best stuff survives.

Listener notes for Symphony No. 100:
1) What do you think about the interesting mix of minor and major keys during the first half of the first movement?

2) Back to the "hellish road to war" comment again. It's not until two minutes into the second movement that we hear anything that's remotely military sounding. And honestly, it's hardly "hellish." But again, this was written for a different audience in a vastly different time.

3) At the 5:00 point in the second movement, listen for the trumpet calls. I'm sorry, but valveless trumpets playing in their lower register--even when played well--do not make for a particularly martial sound. We'll have a discussion in future posts about the merits or lack thereof of using "period instruments" when performing classical music of older eras.

4) But let me make a general comment on the overall quality of this recording, which can be boiled down into two words: nearly flawless. Hardly any missed notes or mistakes that I could notice. And for a guy who gets a bizarrely smug satisfaction out of picking out every off-key or chipped note, every recording error, every background noise and every mumbling conductor in any recording, that's saying something. Although on a couple of occasions (you'll need good headphones) you can also hear Sir Colin Davis humming along in Symphony 100.

5) How about that thrilling fourth movement? Any time you see a movement labeled "Presto"--and especially if it's in a symphony by Mozart or Haydn--you know you're in for some excitement.

6) Not to contradict myself in point 4), but at 4:40 in the Presto movement, do I detect an errant extra cymbal crash? I don't know this piece well enough to know for sure, but it sure sounds like he played one more than he should have. Reminds me of the "Far Side" comic strip by Gary Larson where there's a cymbal player thinking "I won't screw up, I won't screw up!" right before he screws up.