Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor, Op. 1 (1893)

By James Parakilas, Bates College

Written for the concert Berlin 1894: A Concert Recreated performed on Dec 11, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

We can easily imagine what it meant to Wilhelm Stenhammar to play his Piano Concerto, Op. 1, with the Berlin Philharmonic under Richard Strauss on December 10, 1894. Stenhammar (1871-1927) was twenty-three, had completed the work just the year before, and had played the solo part already in performances in Stockholm and Copenhagen. But Berlin was different. Berlin was at the center of the musical universe, and Strauss, himself only thirty, embodied the boldest new directions in music. Swedish composers, no matter what their age, were not accustomed to opportunities like this to display their work.

It is true that Edward Grieg (1843-1907), then at the height of his international fame, had already made the rest of Europe take notice of Nordic music. But since his early Piano Concerto, Grieg had avoided the prestigious orchestral genres. Stenhammar would more naturally have compared himself to composers of his own generation who were beginning to produce the first major body of Nordic symphonies and concertos to have an impact on the international repertory: the Norwegian Christian (Rustles of Spring) Sinding (b. 1856), whose Piano Concerto had been performed in Berlin in 1889; the Dane Carl Nielsen (b. 1865); and the Finn, Jean Sibelius (also b. 1865).

Perhaps we can also imagine how the Berlin Philharmonic audience might have anticipated this first work of a young Swedish composer. Would it show the marks of a promising talent? Would this composer already have found a distinctive voice? Would it be a distinctively Swedish voice? What trends or models of piano concertos would Stenhammar follow? What kind of advocate would he be, as soloist, for his own work?

Except for the last, these are the same questions we can bring to this performance of the work a hundred years later. We can ask them with some of the same openness as that Berlin audience did, because after a number of performances in its first years, this Concerto, like all of Stenhammar’s music, virtually disappeared from the international repertory. In fact, what was believed to be the only orchestral score of the work was destroyed in World War II, and a new orchestration was created by the eminent Swedish composer, Kurt Atterberg in 1946, before another copy of the original orchestration was discovered by Prof. Allan Ho of Southern Illinois University in 1990. Now, though the Concerto can be heard on three different recordings, it is in a sense almost as new to concert-goers as it was a hundred years ago. In fact, hearing such an unfamiliar work from a century ago allows us to imagine the anticipation that audiences then would have felt for all new works – including the Strauss tone poems or Rachmaninoff piano concertos of that time – that we can never again hear with such curiosity.

The Concerto leaves no doubt about Stenhammar’s ambition: it is as long as the Brahms Second Piano Concerto (then just thirteen years old) and in the same four-movement form. And while he didn’t get his piano writing from the school of razzle-dazzle, Stenhammar does require a heroic span of nearly continuous playing from his pianist.

He sets the tone of the first movement (and much of its thematic agenda) in the opening two chords from the orchestra – a minor chord falling gloomily by the interval of a fourth to another minor chord – very much like the pair of chords that opens Brahms’ Tragic Overture. The piano answers with a cadenza of double octaves, and the Concerto is underway with a dialogue between these two elements -orchestra and piano – instead of the traditional orchestral ritornello. After this introduction, the piano plays the main theme, a quiet, songful melody that begins with the same pair of chords that opened the movement. The exposition of the movement has two other themes: an urgent theme, first played by the piano, starting with a rising scale, and a tranquil, hymn-like theme, that in its first hearing is one of the longest stretches for solo piano in the whole Concerto. The development of these themes and the thunderous recapitulation of the main theme, hold fewer surprises than the serene apotheosis of the rising-scale theme (coming out of order, after the hymn theme), followed by the return of the introduction–a return that prevents what promised to be a major-mode resolution and restores the bleak mood of the opening.

Having established his credentials as a suffering Byronic artist in this movement, Stenhammar indulges in more of the pleasures of instrumental color, rhythm, and thematic play in the later movements. The second movement, for instance, is like a scherzo of Schumann in its playful conception, but with the more glittering sonorities of the 1890s–especially right at the end, when the action is done and the glitter keeps on glittering.

The slow movement (Andante) combines song with evocations of nature. It is full of songful themes, of which the first, begun with a horn solo, becomes the longest orchestral passage in the concerto. At its later appearances this theme continues to belong to the orchestra, though the piano wraps it in flowing accompaniments. The piano enters with improvisatory musings, in the course of which the orchestra slips back in with its opening melody. At the end, piano and orchestra trade roles, the orchestra taking over the piano’s twittering, while the piano faintly echoes the opening song.

The final movement (Allegro commodo) has the boldest theme of the Concerto, starting with what sounds like a chromatic distortion of the falling-fourth figure at the opening of the concerto and continuing with a series of further chromatic dissonances. As the theme goes, so goes the movement, full of chromaticism of a playful sort. But when the conclusion seems to be near, the composer, in a move he could have learned from the Grieg Piano Concerto, turns off this music, and we hear something altogether different, sounding as if in our memory. This soft, sustained theme, played by the piano in spacious chords, is made from the same motive as Stenhammar’s song “Lutad mot gärdet,” according to the Swedish scholar, Bo Waliner. The memory seems to be banished when the main theme returns in its craziest version yet, but in fact the ending is more like a battle of conscience, which the remembered theme quietly wins.

Berlin 1894: A Concert Recreated

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Berlin 1894: A Concert Recreated performed on Dec 11, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

This concert was designed by Richard Strauss, who, at thirty years of age, was already world famous as a composer and the leading exponent of the New German compositional tradition of Liszt and Wagner.

The purpose of recreating a concert from exactly one hundred years ago is to offer contemporary audiences a better sense of the musical culture of the past. In terms of its relationship to music and the live concert, the audience of a century ago was quite different from the one gathered today. Many of the concert-goers in the past played a musical instrument and sang as amateurs. The music of the home, whether popular or so-called serious music, was more closely related to the music of the concert stage. Consequently, there was a far less strained relationship between the past and the present. Audiences expected to hear the new as well as the old. A sense of continuity with the past was sustained despite an evident and even exciting tension between the ambitions of a new generation of composers at the fin de siècle and the aesthetic tastes of an audience that considered itself musically literate and steeped in good taste formed through an intimate engagement with music history.

By 1894 the beginnings of a rift between the tastes of the audience and the claims of modernism were audible. The audience was increasingly wedded to expectations based on past repertoire. The 1980s became the decade of secessionist movements in both the visual arts and music; of closely knit groups of artists and composers bound together by the explicit aspiration to chart new paths. Strauss was clearly a leader in this regard, and the Berlin audience knew that. Following the well-known pattern validated by Richard Wagner, resistance to the new by a supposedly smug middle-class urban audience was itself a badge of honor. At the same time, composers expected that after a reasonable period of time the new would become accepted. In 1894 the key to that process remained the dissemination of new music through the printing of music and its repetition in the home on the piano and within amateur circles. The concert functioned as the indispensable and periodic public showcase. As with the theater and the exhibition of paintings and sculpture, public display would lead to private consumption and the progressive transformation of taste.

On the eve of World War I this pattern broke down in the world of music. Unlike painting and literature, modernism in music after the fin de siècle failed to claim the affection of the audience to the extent new music had during the nineteenth century. Part of the explanation rests in the most striking change in the access to music-through novel technology of sound reproduction-that developed during the twentieth century but was barely predictable in the 1890s.

The most serious difference between today’s audience and that of a century ago is the presence of high quality recorded sound. Most of today’s concert-goers know music through radio, records, and CDs. One can become entirely familiar with the standard repertoire in music without ever attending a concert. Indeed, often concerts are successful because they come on the heels of recordings. Or, as in the case of the three tenors, concerts exist as a prelude to the mass marketing of videos and records.

Consequently, the concert, particularly the orchestral concert, is less striking. The sound heard at any concert has become comparatively banal. We can hear more volume and the same apparent richness of sound at home and in the movie theater daily. In 1894 the orchestral concert presented a welcome, rare, and stirring contrast to the aural environment of daily life. That fact, combined with the different relationship to making music within the audience, made the concert simply more memorable. For that reason, the integration of non-orchestral items was not unusual. It gave the artists a unique chance to perform for an audience. There were no records or CDs one could buy of the same artists performing other repertoire.

What makes today’s event remarkable, therefore, is that most of the repertoire on it has remained relatively unknown. It is either not recorded or, if it is, it’s available on obscure labels. Therefore, the sounds will be as novel today as they were one hundred years ago. One will have to listen, not in comparison to a familiar recording of a well known work, but in response to how the music strikes one for the first time. The two exceptions are the works by Mozart and Wagner.

These exceptions, in part, justify the selection of this particular Berlin Philharmonic concert from the past. The conductor became, after all, one of the great figures in music history and one of the last composers to gain world-wide popularity. Richard Strauss’s musical evolution can be understood, to a great extent, in terms of the creative interplay between the rival aesthetics of Wagner and Mozart that marked Strauss’s development. The young Strauss was nurtured by his father in a love for the classical tradition understood as starting with Mozart and ending with Brahms. At the time of this concert Strauss had gone through a major crisis and shift in his life and work. He had been profoundly influenced by a second father-like mentor, one of Wagner’s disciples, Alexander Ritter. This Wagnerian phase would last until the second decade of the twentieth century. From 1910 on, particularly during his collaborations with Hugo von Hofmannsthal after Elektra, Strauss turned increasingly back to Mozart and to classical ideas. In 1930 he even made his own version of Idomeneo. Even in the last decade of his work, during the 1940s, Mozart and Wagner remained at the center of Strauss’s concerns. His affection for their work and his search for modes of reconciliation, elaboration, and combination never diminished. If critics point correctly to the Mozartian aspects of Strauss’s last works, one need only to listen to Strauss’s last opera, Die Liebe Der Danae from 1940, to sense the continuing lure of Wagner. The Mozart concert aria Strauss chose was written in 1786, around the time Mozart was working on The Marriage of Figaro. The work was written for Anna Selina Storace, who premiered the role of Susanna. She was, according to Alfred Einstein, “beautiful, attractive, an artist and a finished singer” of whom Constanze might very well have been jealous. The piece was written for Storace and Mozart himself, hence the role assigned to the piano. It is appropriate to note that Strauss himself married an accomplished singer and wrote music for her. The use of music as a language of personal communication evident in the Mozart was a lifelong habit of Strauss.

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, which premiered in 1868, was not only among Wagner’s most popular and accessible works; it was Wagner’s only attempt at comedy. Strauss’s attraction to the music and character of this Wagnerian drama–including its explicit inclusion of musical aesthetic controversy as a central theme and subject of the drama itself–would be reflected in much of his later work for the theater. during his career as an opera conductor in Berlin, Strauss conducted Die Meistersinger seventy-three times, more than any other Wagner work and more than any work by another composer. This 1894 Berlin concert, therefore, takes on a special significance as a revealing biographical and aesthetic metaphor for the development of Richard Strauss’s career.

On Richard Strauss and this 1894 Concert

By Linda B. Fairtile, New York University

Written for the concert Berlin 1894: A Concert Recreated performed on Dec 11, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

In December 1894, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and its new conductor, Richard Strauss, were each just beginning to enjoy widespread fame. The twelve-year-old orchestra and the thirty-year-old conductor/composer both owed a large measure of their early success to Hans von Bülow. As the Philharmonic’s music Director from 1887 to 1892, Bülow led the orchestra to prominence by teaching it discipline and a mastery of the symphonic repertoire. He exercised absolute authority over programming, going so far as to ban works that he considered musically insignificant. The Philharmonic’s manager, Hermann Wolff, also had an influence on the orchestra’s repertoire. It was Wolff, rather that Bülow, who chose the soloists that performed with the orchestra. Since some of these guest performers were also composers, their appearances offered the opportunity to present contemporary music alongside Bülow’s revered “three B’s.”

Strauss, meanwhile, had been Bülow’s assistant conductor with the Meiningen Court Orchestra before moving on to similar auxiliary positions in Munich and Weimar. When Bülow took over the Berlin Philharmonic in 1887, he invited Strauss to conduct his own compositions on several occasions. At the conclusion of the 1891-92 season, Bülow resigned from the Berlin Philharmonic and recommended Strauss as his successor. After two seasons of guest conductors such as Hans Richter, Ernst Schuch, and Strauss himself, Hermann Wolff engaged the young conductor/composer for the Philharmonic’s entire 1894-95 season.

The programs of Strauss’s eleven concerts with the Berlin Philharmonic suggest a desire to assert his own musical tastes without deviating substantially from earlier formulas. Both Bülow’s and Strauss’s Philharmonic concerts usually opened with either a symphony or an overture, and almost all concluded the same way. The majority also included concertos or operatic arias with guest artists, and some added solo selections by these featured performers. While Bülow’s programs centered on the compositions of Beethoven, Brahms, and Wagner, Strauss’s increased number of works by contemporary composers, particularly those of Slavic origin such as Dvorák and Tchaikovsky.

Strauss’s concert of December 10, 1894, his sixth with the orchestra, was typical of his programs with the Berlin Philharmonic. Three of the five major pieces were written by living composers, while a fourth, the Meistersinger Overture, came from the pen of Richard Wagner. The participation of two soloists was not in itself remarkable, since it was apparently Wolff’s practice to engage an instrumentalist as well whenever a vocalist was scheduled to appear. Strauss’s December 10 program seems to exhibit an underlying tonal plan. Both the first piece, the Rubinstein Symphony, and the last, the Meistersinger Overture are in the key of C major. Since the last Philharmonic concert to begin with Rubinstein’s Second Symphony – conducted by Raphael Maszowski on December 12, 1892 – concluded with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, also in C major, it is likely that this symmetry was more than a coincidence.

Anton Rubinstein’s Second Symphony, the first selection on Strauss’s December 10 concert, was one of the compositions that Bülow had banned from the orchestra’s repertoire, on the grounds that it was an “antiquated atrocity.” It was probably Rubinstein’s tendency to underdevelop his melodic material that alienated Bülow, an ardent follower of Brahms. Nonetheless, the Ocean Symphony was an extremely popular work, reflecting Rubinstein’s eagerness to be as successful a composer as he was a piano virtuoso. Although the symphony was revised twice, ultimately expanding to seven movements by 1880, Strauss performed only the original four movements in Berlin.

The second piece on the program, Mozart’s “Ch’io mi scordi di te” K. 505, is a well-known concert aria that makes use of a text from the composer’s tenth opera, Idomeneo. It is possible that Strauss selected this particular aria, with its piano obbligato, in order to give the evening’s piano soloist, Wilhelm Stenhammar, another performance opportunity. Idomeneo‘s sea imagery may also have struck the conductor as symbolically connected to Rubinstein’s Ocean Symphony. Such thematic programming is not without precedent in Philharmonic’s concerts of the 1890s.

Several compositions by Eugen d’Albert appear in the Berlin Philharmonic’s early programs. Besides the overture that closed the first half of the December 10 concert, the orchestra also performed his Symphony in F, a piano concerto, the Overture to Hyperion. Both d’Albert and his wife, Teresa Carreño , also frequently performed as piano soloists with the Philharmonic. d’Albert ‘s reputation as a Brahms and Liszt specialist cemented his relationship with the orchestra during Bülow’s tenure, while his unique compositional voice, no doubt, appealed to Strauss’s contemporary sensibilities. The Overture on the Philharmonic’s December 10 concert is from d’Albert ‘s Der Rubin, a fairy-tale opera set in the Middle East. Its C-major opening provides a tonal link to both the first and last pieces on the program.

Wilhelm Stenhammar is another composer who probably owed his Berlin Philharmonic debut to Strauss’s interest in contemporary composers outside Germany. While he was influenced by Wagner, Liszt, and Brahms, Stenhammar’s compositions exhibit a specifically Nordic color. It is possible that Hermann Wolff engaged the Swedish composer/pianist to perform with the Philharmonic knowing that his recently-completed concerto would appeal to Strauss. The first Berlin performance of the work had originally been scheduled for November 26. Its postponement until the December 10 concert suggests unanticipated difficulties encountered during the rehearsal period.

The three Lieder sung by Selma Nicklass-Kempner were probably chosen only shortly before the concert. Frequently, advertisements for upcoming concerts did not identify solo selections, suggesting that the guest artist plucked them from his or her repertoire during the rehearsal period. Nicklass-Kempner’s choices are all ingenuously endearing. Rubinstein’s “Gelb rollt mir zu Füssen ,”from the composer’s Persian Songs, suggests a spiritual kinship with d’Albert ‘s exotic Der Rubin, while Strauss’s “Ständchen” represents a tribute to the evening’s conductor.

Wagner’s Overture to Die Meistersinger, the final piece on Strauss’s December 10 program, was a Philharmonic standard. Since a major theme of Die Meistersinger itself is the conflict between artistic tradition and innovation, no piece could better symbolize the Berlin Philharmonic in 1894, steeped in the classics by its first great music Director, Hans von Bülow, and pointed toward the future by Richard Strauss.

Richard Strauss: A Tireless Advocate of “Modern” Works

By Charles Youmans, Duke University

Written for the concert Berlin 1894: A Concert Recreated performed on Dec 11, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Had Strauss assumed the conductorship of the symphony concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in a year other than 1894, the event probably would have aroused more interest among historians than it actually has. After all, a contract between a world-class orchestra in a full ten-concert season was a significant achievement for a man previously engaged as Musikdirecktor (i.e. third conductor) at the Munich Court Opera and second conductor as the small ducal court in Weimar. But important career developments came in droves for Strauss in 1894, and in this broader context the Berlin appointment has tended to be overshadowed. In the fall he returned to Munich as Kapellmeister, second in rank only to the ailing Hermann Levi (conductor of the premiere of Parsifal) and keen to seize the long-awaited opportunity to conduct his beloved Wagnerian music dramas at a major theater. May saw the premier of his own first opera Guntram, a project seven years in the makeing, and in July he took up the baton at Bayreuth for the first time, in Tannhäuser. Advances came outside the professional sphere as well; on September 10 a long courtship finally culminated in marriage to his student Pauline de Ahna, to whom he offered a wedding gift of four of his finest songs, Op. 27 (“Ruhe, meine Seele”; “Cäcilie”; “Heimliche Afforderung”; and “Morgen”).

In Strauss’s view, the Berlin engagement constituted a major accomplishment, and not the least of its attractions was the chance it gave him to deepen his relationship with that city’s musical establishment and listening public. While he certainly considered his recent move to Munich preferable to another year of directly six first violins in Weimar, past experience with the conservative artistic leaders of the Bavarian capital (the city of his birth) had taught him that he would have to look elsewhere for an agreeable long-term position. Berlin seemed the ideal choice, and rumors that Felix Weingartner planned to leave the Berlin Court Opera in 1896 encourages Strauss to make the sacrifices necessary to hold jobs in two cities separated by a considerable distance. When drawing up his contract with Munich he even added a stipulation that he be allowed to conduct in Berlin, realizing that regular exposure there could tip the balance in his favor when it came time to choose Weingartner’s replacement.

Although the 1894-95 season can be considered a sort of extended audition for Strauss in Berlin, it was not the first time local audiences had heard him, either as a conductor or composer. He made a double debut with the Philharmonic on January 23, 1888, conducting his symphonic fantasy Aus Italien in a concert the remainder of which was lead by Hans von Bülow, the one-time Wagnerian lieutenant whose wife Cosima (daughter of Liszt) deserted him for “der Meister,” had been something of a mentor to Strauss in the mid-1880s, and gave him his first conducting job as an assistant with Bülow’s famous Meiningen Court Orchestra. After leaving Meiningen for Berlin, the elder man consistently issued invitations to Strauss to conduct his latest orchestra works, including the tone poems Don Juan (February 4, 1890), Tod und Verklärung (February 23, 1891) and the final version of Macbeth (February 29, 1892).

Audience response to Strauss’s appearances as guest conductor/composer in Berlin seems to have been quite positive, and Bülow went so far as to call the success of Macbeth “colossal.” Strauss himself found the work’s favorable reception to be directly related to his own manner of conducting, as we read in his appraisal of a performance of Don Juan under Bülow on January 31, 1890: “Bülow has a total misconception of my work, in tempos, in everything, no inkling of the poetic content, and treated it like any other piece of melodious music…” Strauss believed that for the performance of “modern” works, a thorough comprehension on the part of the conductor of the special interpretive requirements of programmatic music was indispensable, particularly in Berlin, where in his words “the Philharmonic Orchestra, which his so proficient in every other respect, does not play much modern music.” When he succeeded Bülow (upon the latter’s death in February 1894), Strauss brought precisely that kind of specialized knowledge to the task.

By 1894 Strauss’s reputation as a composer was certainly healthy, if nowhere near the extent of what it was to be at the beginning of the next century. Along with the first three tone poems, works such as Aus Italien, the F-Minor Symphony, and to a lesser extent Wandrers Sturmlied, the C-Minor Piano Quartet, the Burleske and several collections of Lieder had been circulated. Nevertheless, to listeners of the time his fame would have rested primarily on his activities as a conductor, and especially his tireless advocacy of “modern” works. The root of this tendency in Strauss lay in his “conversion” in the 1880s from a relatively conservative aesthetic outlook to the ideal of Zuckeunfstmusik, as represented by the compositions of the so-called “New German” school–Wagner, Liszt, and Berlioz. When Strauss opened the first Philharmonic concert of the 1894-94 season (October 15) with Wagner’s Faust Overture, the audience undoubtedly interpreted this as a proclamation of allegiance, although they cannot have been surprised. As the season unfolded, their willingness to overlook Strauss’s partisanship proved wise. For while Wagner and Liszt did figure prominently (three and five works during the season respectively), Beethoven topped the list (seven), and Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Weber, Spohr, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Brahms all found places in the concerts.

What strikes one nowadays about these programs is not that they seem weighted in favor of “New Germans,” but that they invariably showcase new works by living composers. This may in part be a reflections of the withdrawal from orthodox Wagnerism characteristic of the early tone poems, and aesthetic reorientations worked out most explicitly by Strauss in Guntram. In ten concerts, Strauss performed music by Saint-Saëns, Bruch, Dvorák , Glazunov, Mahler, Ritter, Schillings, Smetana, Johann Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Widor, along with the compositions by Rubinstein, d’Albart, and Stenhammer on this evening’s program. Dvorák, J. Strauss, and Tchaikovsky hardly leap to mind as likely comrades of a strict “music of the future,” and yet Strauss used his new position of leadership in one of Europe’s most important musical centers to champion their music. This is thoroughly consistent with his practice on the many guest-conducting appearances he undertook at the time, and underlines the deep sense of responsibility he felt to promote important new music. In some cases he actually knew the composers of these works. Mahler, for example, the first three movements of whose Second Symphony Strauss conducted (prompting the critics Otto Lessmann to write “the altar consecrated by Bülow has now been defiled by pygmies”), and d’Albert, who four years earlier had convinced Strauss to perform the shelved Burleske with d’Albert as the piano soloist. In other instances, Strauss wrote to artists with whom he was not acquainted, but whose work he knew, to acquire performing rights–e.g. Johann Strauss, whose Perpetuum mobile Strauss conducted at the second concert.

Interestingly, Strauss waited until the last concert of the season to perform any of his own music, and then decided on excerpts from Guntram, which was then (as now) having difficulties finding its way into the operatic repertoire. Personal experience with the obstacles of bringing a new work onto the German stage may have factored into his decision to offer the prelude to d’Albert’s fairy-tale opera Der Rubin, as well as the prelude to the second act of his friend Max Schillings’s Ingwelde. Strauss obviously knew what profound effects a successful performance in Berlin could have on the popularity of a work and its composer. Ironically, his generosity as a programmer may have backfired, for in the fall of 1895 he was replaced by Arthur Nikisch.

Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op.42, “Ocean” (1857)

By Carol Reynolds, Southern Methodist University

Written for the concert Berlin 1894: A Concert Recreated performed on Dec 11, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

When first confronted with a work from the formative period in a composer’s life, listeners cannot help but play musical “guessing-games” as to the influences shaping the work. Anton Rubinstein gave his blessing to all who responded to his music in this way:

If the musical thoughts of different composers resemble each other, it’s not right to look on one as a plagiarist. . . You need to look on this as a coincidence, as might occur when two people look alike, but are not related to each other in any way. The public willingly identifies similar musical likenesses in order to show its musical understanding. It’s a cheap pleasure!

Anton Rubinstein composed the original version of his Symphony No. 2, The Ocean, when he was thirty-two years old. Marvelously secure in his career as a virtuoso pianist, he was still finding his way as a composer. Ahead stretched the years when he and his older brother Nicolas would become the founders of Russia’s first conservatories. Ahead too, lay the acclaimed operas, symphonies, piano pieces, and songs — many of which provided the foundation for Russia’s symphonic and virtuosic piano schools. Yet, with the exception of his charming Melody in F, Rubinstein’s once popular music is seldom played today outside of Russia. The gap between his stellar accomplishments and his dusty reputation among American audiences would not have surprised him:

To Jews, I am a Christian; to Christians, I’m a Jew. To Russians, I’m a German, but to Germans, I’m Russian. To the classicists, I’m an innovator, but to innovators, I’m a reactionary, and so on. The verdict: neither fish nor fowl, a pitiful identity.

This remark, taken from Rubinstein’s manuscript collection of observations written in German entitled Box of Thoughts, exposes the composer’s puzzlement at a dilemma he faced all his life. Distinguished by his exceptional talent, Rubinstein was both embraced and chastised by his circle of musical friends — a circle which included composers such as Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and the major Russian composers and performers of the nineteenth century. When Rubinstein wrote his second symphony, his mentor Franz Liszt nicknamed Rubinstein “Van II’ (after Ludwig van Beethoven) and generously read through his compositions — by the “luggage van,” as Liszt put it –urging him to find his own voice as a composer.

Rubinstein’s artistic roots indeed were planted in the musical culture of Western Europe. His mission as a musician, however, belonged to Russia. He heeded Liszt’s admonition in ways no one expected. Acutely aware of the disorganized and unprofitable venue for musicians in Russia, he was determined to create a Russian educational and professional music system which would approach a European standard. After the death of the iron ruler Tsar Nicholas I in 1855, a more liberal atmosphere encouraged Rubinstein to realize his goal. He organized the Russian Music Society in 1859 and in 1862 founded the first conservatory in Russia, the St. Petersburg Conservatory. His many successful tours to Europe (and even to America in 1872-1873 with the violinist Henry Wieniawski added to his authority at home. His compositions found immediate success with the Russian and European audiences: sixteen operas (including The Demon), eight concertos, six symphonies, multitudes of songs, instrumental sonatas, and character pieces. He interacted with and influenced every important Russian musical figure in the second half of the nineteenth century until his death in 1894.

Tonight’s work, Symphony No. 2, Opus 42, The Ocean (1851), represents the original version of this symphony -a large-scale work in four movements dedicated to Franz Liszt. Its sub-title The Ocean reflected the new trend of applying descriptive names to traditionally structured symphonies (for example, Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, The Rhein, 1850). When the work was first played in St. Petersburg on March 6, 1852, it won the favor of audiences with its magnificent trumpet calls, swirling melodies, and solid structure. The ocean, according to Rubinstein, is depicted in the contrasts between the agitated and peaceful passages, the deep lyricism of the second movement, and the heroic chorale at the end of the fourth movement, when man’s spirit gains domination over the power of the ocean.

Over the next three decades, Rubinstein drastically refashioned The Ocean. The ongoing process of evolution over so many years illustrated one of his beliefs about the creative process, expressed in an aphorism from Box of Thoughts:

THE GRAPE – THAT IS NATURE; BUT WINE – THAT IS ART.

Rubinstein’s expansion of the Second Symphony included adding two large movements in 1863 and a new scherzo seventeen years later. These additions documented his response to the most popular and significant genre of his era: the tone poem. Tone poems, particularly those of Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss, introduced a novel-like drama and scope into the symphonic soundscape and offered irresistible possibilities for creativity. Yet, on the night of December 19, 1894, Richard Strauss decided to forego the seven-movement version of the historic concert and instead programmed the more traditional original version of the symphony. Strauss made this decision despite the lure of the added movements; in particular, the extraordinarily descriptive Lento assai movement added after the first movement in 1863 – in effect an independent tone poemwhich strikingly foreshadows Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead.

The expanded seven-movement version of Rubinstein’s Second Symphony met with disapproval from some, including Tchaikovsky, who greatly admired the original four-movement work. (The trumpet motif of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony attests the degree to which he admired Rubinstein’s Second Symphony!) Also, there is some doubt as to whether Rubinstein wished the complete revised version to be performed at one sitting; the tradition of doing so began only after his death when all seven movements were presented at a memorial concert.

Towards the end of his life, the sage Rubinstein once observed, “Wherever you wish to be well-received, you should appear only rarely!” Certainly the rarity of tonight’s performance will test the truth of this statement, as the American Symphony Orchestra presents the original version of Rubinstein’s Symphony No 2, The Ocean.