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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Columbus Symphony April 22 and 23: A Scandal Concert and Mozart!

Rossen Milanov conducts Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony no. 1; Liszt/Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy and Mozart's Symphony 41, Jupiter Southern Theater, 8 p.m. this Friday and Saturday in the Southern Theatre. Pre-concert talks at 7. Stewart Goodyear is piano soloist.
Stewart Goodyear


The Columbus Symphony 's Vienna Festival continues this weekend with a more than century trajectory of music this weekend. We'll be moving from Mozart's last symphony, not performed in his lifetime, to a synthesis of a Schubert lied which grew into a fantasy for solo piano and was refigured by Franz Liszt, on to what Rossen Milanov refers to the "Mt. Everest of romantic music", Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony 1.

WHEW! Fasten your seatblets.

Let's start at the end. Arnold Schoenberg  (1874-1951) produced a concert in Vienna on March 31, 1913, to introduce some of his own music and that of his pupils, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. This was the Vienna where Mahler had recently died, and the Vienna of Sigmund Freud. Thoughts turned inward were finding their way into deeply personal, often highly chromatic music. The older order passeth, the old Emperor, the waltzes, the pretty tunes and pretty sensations became earthy, dangerous and Schoenberg.

Schoenberg had been working in a rich, heavily romantic style, writing music of well cushioned
Rossen Milanov
beauty mixed with eroticism. His expansive lines nevertheless embraced conventional tonality, providing the listener points of rest and direction throughout. This was about to change.

The Kammersymhonie presented by Schoenberg that night in Vienna is scored for fifteen instruments and runs about twenty minutes. There are tunes, there are points of reference. But such points are presented in short bursts, and seldom repeated. Later on Schoenberg was to say that musical motifs/melodic gems/tunes needed to fulfill their function quickly and move on. This deprived the listener of a road map. Listeners willing to explore get carried away by rapidly shifting sounds and themes. They may sound chaotic at first, but begin to make sense as you listen further and expect more:


About that Scandal Concert. The audience rioted on hearing two of the five Altenberg Songs by Alban Berg. Composer Oscar Strauss was sued for slugging a music critic. Said critic went on to write that the punch was "the only good sound in the entire evening".

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) lived half as long as Beethoven and was twice as prolific, maintaining an astonishingly high quality. The Wanderer Fantasy for solo piano, was suggested by Der Wanderer, Schubert's song to a text by Georg Phillip Schmidt. A lot of romantic poetry, reflected in music, has to do with sehnsucht, or yearning. This can be sexual, or it can mean moving toward a goal, an ideal-- and failing to arrive. That which we love and need the most in unattainable. Such seems to be the thought behind Der Wanderer. 

The piano fantasy flows from one movement to the next, each "riffing" on a different section of the lied.



The adaptation for piano combines sonata form and sets of variations. The adagio part of the song becomes the adagio movement of the piano fantasy. The finale is such a killer that Schubert himself couldn't play it. "It's the devil's own music" he said.

Franz Liszt (1811-1876), classical music's first mega-star who wasn't a castrato singer, adapted the Wanderer Fantasy for piano and orchestra in 1851. Liszt was an old hand at putting his own spin on other composer's music, while not neglecting his own. Rossini, Schubert and later Verdi were favorite subjects. I doubt any of these composers would have minded. They would have appreciated Liszt's ear and his skill at the keyboard, along with his notoriety. Getting those tunes out there was good box office.

Will Mozart's music be a relief as it ends this weekend's programming? It fascinating to work backwards, from Freud's Vienna with his seeming chaos nearing war, to Mozart's expert soothing classicism. Never forget that Mozart had no problem considering himself an entertainer. He didn't set out to make grand personal statements in his music. He set out to write the best music, and he did. The Jupiter was Mozart's last Symphony. It was not played in his lifetime. It is the product of the astonishing summer of 1788, where he wrote his final three symphonies in quick succession. Astonishing too is that fact that Mozart, was passe by 1788. His music was no longer in favor. The nobility who supported to him were off fighting wars. Mozart's final three years, which saw two more operas among several magnificent works, were lonely, difficult and poor. Yet hear what he accomplished in that summer. Even Woody Allen said in Annie Hall "the slow movement of the Jupiter symphony makes life worth living!


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