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Duke Ellington

by Leon Botstein

Written for Duke Ellington + Marcus Roberts Trio, which will be performed on March 12, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.

During his three-year sojourn in the United States in the early 1890s—as director of a conservatory here in New York—the world-famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorak observed that if composers in the United States were ever to break away from being trapped in the shadow of Europe’s musical culture and make an original lasting American contribution to the world of music, they had to turn for inspiration to two sources for music unique to this country: the traditions of the Native Americans, and the traditions of African-Americans, including the country’s history of slavery, the era of Jim Crow and the ongoing struggle against racism for political, social and economic equality.

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington’s achievement is perhaps the most obvious and prominent vindication of Dvorak’s insight. No American composer and musician demonstrated such originality, consistency, productivity and versatility as Duke Ellington, reached such a wide audience throughout the world and triumphed as a composer and performer in so many varied genres.

Among Ellington’s contributions was his role in bringing the worlds of jazz and orchestral music together and transcending the boundaries of inherited genres. Tonight’s concert consists of music written between the 1930s and the mid 1970s. It features the contributions of Ellington’s brilliant long-time colleague Billy Strayhorn, and ranges from popular melodies to a score commissioned by Arturo Toscanini. One of the unintended consequences of Ellington’s work as a composer for orchestral forces was the deepening of ties between black and white musicians, a feature of mid-twentieth century jazz culture, but less prevalent in the world of “classical music.” The fabulous arrangement on tonight’s program of Satin Doll by Chuck Israels, one of jazz’s greats, is a testimony to those ties. The ASO is also delighted to have the opportunity of working with Marcus Roberts again and with Catherine Russell. And it is proud to feature the contributions of three leading figures in American musical life who worked with Ellington, all of whom had ties to the ASO: Morton Gould, Maurice Peress, and Gunther Schuller.

For the past two decades the ASO has presented concerts featuring the music of one single composer under the rubric “American Masters.” No American musician so unreservedly merits the designation “American Master” as Duke Ellington.

Beyond Beethoven

by Byron Adams

Written for Beyond Beethoven, which was performed on January 31, 2020 at Carnegie Hall

Louis Spohr
Born April 5, 1784, Brunswick, Germany
Died October 22, 1859, Kassel, Germany

Symphony No. 6, “Historical Symphony”
Composed in 1839
Performance Time: Approximately 26 minutes

After Beethoven’s death in 1827, European critics and audiences generally agreed that Louis (née Ludwig) Spohr was the greatest German composer. Until the rise of Mendelssohn, Spohr was considered Beethoven’s heir. Their opinion might have surprised Beethoven himself, who was sharply critical of Spohr: “He is too rich in dissonances; pleasure in his music is marred by his chromatic melody.” For his part, Spohr initially detested Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony calling its choral finale “tasteless,” and the setting of Schiller’s Ode “trivial.”

Spohr’s aspersions on the Ninth Symphony are an unusual criticism of a score by a composer whose work he generally admired. Spohr, who was one of the finest violinists of his day, had earlier championed Beethoven’s String Quartets, Op. 18. For one year beginning in 1812, Spohr was the Kapellmeister—concertmaster—of the Theater an die Vien in Vienna, where he formed a cordial acquaintance with Beethoven. In 1820, Beethoven’s student Ferdinand Ries secured an engagement for Spohr with the London Philharmonic Society, beginning his protracted and lucrative relationship with that organization as a composer, conductor, and violinist.

Spohr is now generally considered a “conservative” composer, but such a description hardly does justice to his innovative streak. Foremost among Spohr’s formal experiments is his Symphony no. 6 in G major, Op. 116, subtitled “Historical Symphony in the style and taste of four different periods.” Happily, Spohr avoids pastiche by evoking the past through his own idioms. The first movement celebrates the style of J.S. Bach and Handel (1720); the second evokes the styles of Haydn and Mozart (1780); and the third is a rumbustious scherzo cast in the style of Beethoven (1810). In the finale, Spohr burlesques the “latest contemporary” style (1840): loud, brash, vulgar, and French. At its premiere, conducted by Beethoven’s friend Sir George Smart at the London Philharmonic Society on 6 April 1840, the audience sat in respectful silence during the first three movements, but hissed at the end of the finale. The score met with a warmer response in Germany and remained in the repertory until the end of the nineteenth century.

Galina Ustvolskaya
Born June 17, 1919, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died December 22, 2006, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Piano Concerto
Composed in 1964
Performance Time: Approximately 17 minutes.

Galina Ivanova Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) is an enigmatic figure in the history of Soviet music. As David Fanning notes, she was “a composer famous for a relatively small number of uncompromisingly ascetic, hyper-dissonant, super concentrated works … she purged her catalogue of almost everything with Socialist Realist connections.” In an obituary notice, Arnold Whittall throws up his hands, asking: “Was Ustvolskaya another liberating eccentric, capable, like Satie or Scelsi, of powerful musical thinking from time to time?”

Born in Petrograd, Ustvolskaya studied at the Leningrad (as it had become by then) Conservatory with Maximilian Steinberg and Dmitri Shostakovich. Ustvolskaya and Shostakovich developed such a close artistic and personal relationship that he quoted a theme from her Trio for clarinet, violin, and piano (1949) in his Fifth String Quartet, Op. 92 (1952). (Ustvolskaya broke with Shostakovich decisively in the early 1960s in part because he had joined the Communist Party.) After serving at a military hospital during World War II, she taught at the Rimsky-Korsakov College of Music in Leningrad, where she was a respected and demanding teacher. Although she started out in a broadly neo-classical idiom influenced by Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya’s hermetic and highly dissonant later music reflects the intensity of her religious convictions.

Ustvolskaya’s early Concerto for piano, strings, and timpani (1946), cast in five movements played without pause, exemplifies some of the traits that persisted throughout her career, including the juxtaposition of very loud with very soft passages. The overall form is that of an arch, with the third section as its capstone. The two allegro sections are concise, contrapuntal, and virtuosic. The listener will detect the unmistakable influence of Shostakovich, especially the bustling finale of his Concerto in c minor for piano, trumpet and strings, Op. 35 (1933). However, the outer movements are wholly original, foreshadowing Ustvolskaya’s later religious music. Musicologist Susan Bradshaw comments, “the majestic outer sections reflect an unashamedly Beethovenian grandeur.” Pianist Ingrid Jacoby, who recorded this concerto, describes the remarkable ending as “akin to minimalism,” noting further that “Ustvolskaya drives home her message, steadily, slowly, and relentlessly.”

Franz Liszt
Born October 22, 1811, Raiding, Austria
Died July 31, 1886, Bayreuth, Germany

Fantasy on Motifs from Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens
Composed in 1808
Performance Time: Approximately 11 minutes.

In May of 1822, eleven-year-old Franz Liszt and his family arrived in Vienna so that the boy could study piano with Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny. On April 13 of the next year, Liszt gave a farewell recital in the small Redoutensaal. This concert was the basis of several myths concerning Liszt and Beethoven that were later woven by Liszt’s biographers and by the composer himself. While it is true that Beethoven’s amanuensis Anton Schindler suggested that Beethoven be invited to this concert and perhaps supply a theme upon which Liszt could improvise, the rest is clouded by legend. Liszt’s early biographers claimed that Beethoven attended this concert and bestowed on a “kiss of consecration,” prophesying about Liszt’s future greatness. While it is possible that Czerny introduced Liszt to his former teacher and that Beethoven may have kissed the boy, features of this oft-repeated story, make it highly unlikely to have occurred. However, Liszt himself mentioned this story in a letter to the Grand Duke Carl Alexander dated November 1, 1862, almost forty years after the event and after it had become part of Liszt’s personal legend.

Starting in the 1830s Liszt began to evangelize for Beethoven’s music across Europe, performing his own transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies.  Liszt was the co-director, with Louis Spohr, (who had an equivocal relationship to Beethoven’s later music), of the 1845 Beethoven Festival at Bonn, at which a statue of Beethoven, the greatest of the town’s native sons, was unveiled. Liszt was the undisputed star of this event, which further enhanced his reputation as Beethoven’s champion.

In the year preceding this festival, Liszt had made his connection to Beethoven musically explicit by commencing the composition of his Fantasie über Motive aus Beethovens Ruinen von Athen (“Fantasy on Motifs from Beethoven’s ‘Ruins of Athens’”) for piano and orchestra This score was premiered in Pest on June 1, 1853. For this fantasy, Liszt selected three excerpts Beethoven’s incidental music written in 1811 for August von Kotzebue’s play The Ruins of Athens; ever the showman, Liszt concludes the piece with virtuosic variations on the popular Turkish March.

Max Reger
Born March 19, 1873, Brand, Germany
Died May 11, 1916, Leipzig, Germany

Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, Op.86
Composed in 1904
Performance Time: Approximately 22 minutes.

Max Reger died in 1916 at the early age of forty-three, leaving behind a prodigious and varied output: lieder, piano music, chamber music, organ music, choral music, and orchestral acores. Certain historians have pigeonholed Reger as merely a “transitional” figure between Brahms and Schoenberg. Christopher Palmer writes that “like Schoenberg he took the labyrinthine chromatic entanglements of [Wagner’s] Parsifal a stage further, but his music never acquired the intransigently linear orientation which resulted elsewhere in the utter demolition of tonality.”  Because he recoiled from atonality, Reger has not received the status or attention that his music merits. He has always had discerning admirers, however: Schoenberg declared forthrightly, “I consider Reger a genius.”

Although he was a loving paterfamilias and a successful pedagogue, aspects of Reger’s rebarbative personality—his tactlessness and heavy-handed sense of humor—have contributed to a superficial dismissal of his work. Even his astounding contrapuntal skill is held against him as the antiquarianism of a conservative crank. As Leon Botstein writes, “Reger is one of those composers to whom certain clichés stick whether or not they fit.” As Botstein continues, “His music is considered academic, knotty, dense, and thick.” Reger’s variety of invention, harmonic daring, contrapuntal mastery, and iridescent orchestration should not be casually dismissed.

Walter Frisch has pointed out Reger’s espousal of “historical modernism,” which he characterizes as “reflective, self-aware and always ready to acknowledge a temporal gulf.” Reger was no antiquarian. As Frisch observes, “Reger proudly included himself among the ‘moderns’” and revered tradition while not cutting himself off from innovation. Reger’s flexible sense of the past is exemplified in the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Beethoven, Op. 86 (1904; orchestrated by the composer in 1915), which was originally scored for two pianos. Taking Beethoven’s Bagatelle for piano, Op. 119, no. 11 in B-flat major as his theme, Reger models his developmental procedures on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, Op. 120 (1823).  Reger constructs a set of eight variations followed by a vivacious fugue that pays homage to the counterpoint of Beethoven’s late scores: the piano sonatas, the two ‘cello sonatas, and string quartets.

 

Celebrating Beethoven

by Leon Botstein

Written for Beyond Beethoven, which was performed on January 31, 2020 at Carnegie Hall.

Our habit of marking anniversaries in our culture of concert programming has to inspire some ambivalence. Mathematical symmetries in chronology are superstitions. If we want to exploit them to attract the attention of the audience, we ought to celebrate composers who need remembering, those whom we have forgotten but should not have, or those in the process of being forgotten unfairly.

We certainly need no reminding about Beethoven. One can hardly think of a figure in Western music who has so completely and consistently eluded obscurity, both in his lifetime and after. Even Bach and Mozart had their brush with oblivion. Luckily there was a Mozart revival at the end of the 19th century, an inspired antidote to the unrelentingly heavy diet of post-Wagnerian romanticism. And there were two significant Bach revivals, a hundred years apart, first in German-speaking Europe in the late 1820s, and then after World War I in Paris. But Beethoven’s presence in the repertory and history of music has never ceased to be overwhelming. It is said that his funeral in 1827 was the largest public event in Vienna’s history. Were he to be reburied, that event might again break the record for public gatherings.

The essential meaninglessness of marking anniversaries should, therefore, properly be reserved for those for whom it might do some good. Anniversaries can provide neglected figures from the past some overdue attention. That happens to be the case for Galina Ustvolskaya, whose hundredth birthday the ASO is marking with a rare performance of her piano concerto. Ustvolskaya (1919–2006) was a remarkable iconoclast. Her music is strikingly original and gripping in its use of sound. We need to stop remembering her, if at all, in the context of her teacher Dimitri Shostakovich, towards whom Ustvolskaya had decidedly ambivalent feelings. Ustvolskaya produced a wide range of works but ended up condemning most of them to oblivion. Of the handful of works Ustvolskaya agreed to sanction, the piano concerto is among the earliest. One hundred years after her birth, here is a composer who is original and compelling and whose music should be played and heard.

We ought to be marking the anniversaries of more Ustvolskaya and fewer Beethovens, even though there are precious few in his league in terms of historical influence. Although music of Beethoven needs no further exposure— except perhaps for the lesser works, many of which are shockingly bad (in contrast to the so called “minor” works of Bach, Mozart, and Haydn, which are all startlingly well made). We did not want to be left out of the party this year. So the ASO has decided to look into Beethoven’s impact and legacy in the first hundred years of posthumous fame.

In the decades that immediately followed Beethoven’s death, his music and the legend of his life and personality gained enormous international currency among musicians and the rapidly growing audience for music of amateurs and listeners. The recognition of Beethoven’s centrality was audible already in the work of his younger contemporaries, Schubert and Spohr. The generation of composers born in the early nineteenth century—including Mendelssohn and Schumann—went further and saw him as a titan whose shadow they could not escape. Despite the burden of being heirs to Beethoven’s achievement, they sought to honor him by emulating his own artistic example and making their own distinct mark. That sense of having Beethoven standing closely over one’s shoulders was shared as well by Brahms.

Two of Mendelssohn and Schumann’s contemporaries, Berlioz and Liszt, led their own campaigns to establish Beethoven as the starting point of a new musical culture in the contemporary world. Berlioz pioneered in creating a pivotal place for Beethoven in French musical life. He succeeded. The high point of the French enthusiasm for Beethoven was marked by the publication in 1904 of the monumental novel, transparently drawn from the life of Beethoven, Jean Christophe, by Romain Rolland, which earned the author the Nobel Prize in 1915. And Liszt’s tireless championing of Beethoven, through piano transcriptions of the symphonies and festivals he organized led directly to the transformative re-imagining of Beethoven by Richard Wagner, his future son-in-law. Wagner’s writings on Beethoven as musical dramatist would dominate Beethoven interpretation and reception between 1870 and 1945.

By the turn of the twentieth century Beethoven was firmly established in European and American culture as the ideal synthesis of the romantic and the classical, as the master of instrumental music that conveyed intense emotion and profound meaning, and as the embodiment of the artist as free spirit and rebel against authority and convention—the quintessential artist as outsider and prophet. The founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Henry Lee Higginson (who died a hundred years ago) was inspired to create a symphony orchestra in 1881 because he was a Beethoven fanatic. The first great comprehensive (and still standard) biography of Beethoven was written in the 1860s and 1870s by an American, Alexander Wheelock Thayer.

At the same time, the 19th century cult of Beethoven, precisely because it was so wide and deep not only among musicians and connoisseurs, but in popular culture, fueled German national pride and cultural chauvinism. Gustav Mahler and Max Reger—two of the leading composers in German-speaking Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century had no doubt that Beethoven was a central figure in a uniquely German cultural achievement. Beethoven, at one and the same time, became appropriated on behalf of universalist ideals of freedom, justice, and equality, as well as on behalf of ideas of German superiority. Beethoven’s music was therefore central to Nazi cultural policy during the Third Reich. The 9th Symphony, the best-known example of Beethoven as proponent of universalist humanistic ideals, was performed to celebrate Hitler’s birthday during the war years at the same time as the opening bars of the 5th Symphony were being used as an emblem of Allied victory.

In 2020 musical organizations all over the world will mark and exploit the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. But to what end? Leonard Bernstein performed the 9th Symphony to celebrate the fall of the Berlin War and the end of communism and the Soviet empire. That was in 1989. Where are we today? Was the conceit that Beethoven represented the triumph of human solidarity and freedom over tyranny justified? Now that we are facing the rise of illiberalism and autocracy all over the world, rising economic inequality, and witnessing the spread of intolerance and violence, in the name of what cause do we perform and listen to Beethoven? What is the purpose of doing so? And what will we do, and why, in seven years when we confront the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s death?

There are no neat answers. But the good news is that Beethoven’s music has resisted all efforts to harness it to tyranny and inhumanity. His achievement is a tribute to the resilience of the human imagination and the power of individuals, through the aesthetic dimension, to resist and sustain freedom, originality, courage, and the sanctity of all human life. Beethoven needs to be celebrated as an experience of what may still be possible within the human community; his is a language of aspiration and hope. That is how the composers who came after him on this program understood him: as an exemplar of greatness who communicated the best of humanity through a sacred medium, music. In celebrating Beethoven through performance this year we must remember that in performing his music, and music inspired by his work, there is more at stake than embracing music as an experience divorced from the human condition.

 

A Miraculous Family

by Leon Botstein

Written for Sons of Bach, which will be performed on December 19, 2019 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

There are probably enough members of tonight’s audience who will readily recognize—with a smile–the name P.D.Q. Bach—whose music does not appear on the program. P.D.Q.’s creator, the American composer Peter Schickele (whose aptitude for musical jokes was unparalleled) described him as “the last and unquestionably the least of the great Johann Sebastian Bach’s many children.” Schickele’s invention of a son whose dates were “(1807-1742)?” was a resounding success for decades, in part because it was a brilliant parody of two simple and widely known facts: that J.S. Bach was arguably the greatest composer in the history of Western “classical” music and that he was notorious for having very many children, and among them an improbably large group of four who went on to have distinguished careers of their own as composers. These twin feats were as astonishing as they were legendary. Mozart had a son who became a composer, but he is long forgotten, even more than Mozart’s quite admirable and respectable father, Leopold. There are other parent-child phenomena—Ernest Boulanger and his two daughters, Nadia and Lili, the two Oistrakh violinists David and Igor, Rudolf and Peter Serkin—but nothing approaches the case of the Bach family. There are three composers with the surname Tchaikovsky, but they are not related.

J.S. Bach’s lot as a parent was directly opposite of that of the father of Felix Mendelssohn, Abraham Mendelssohn, who once quipped “I grew up being the son of my father [the great philosopher Moses Mendelssohn] only to become the father of my son.” Bach’s sons may never quite have eclipsed the fame and achievement of their father, but they came quite close to doing so. Of the four sons of Bach on this program, Johann Christian Bach, the youngest, and Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, his older half-brother, were prolific, inspired, famous and eminent composers in their lifetimes. When Johann Christian Bach, who impressed and influenced the young Mozart, died in London in 1782, Mozart reported the death to his own father as a “loss to the musical world.”

Myths that masquerade as history die hard, especially alluring myths, and especially in music history. Among the most enduring myth that won’t die under the weight of evidence is the notion that J.S. Bach and his music were entirely forgotten in the decades following J.S. Bach’s death in 1750. A Bach revival is said to have begun with Felix Mendelssohn’s legendary 1829 Berlin performance of the St. Matthew Passion. In fact, Bach had never been forgotten. Rather his large-scale works, particularly sacred choral works, had not yet entered the repertoire of a rapidly emerging world of public concert life on the continent after the fall of Napoleon. Bach remained a revered figure among musicians and connoisseurs. Sara Levy, Mendelssohn’s great aunt, actually studied with Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the eldest of Bach’s sons on today’s program, and amassed a collection of J.S. Bach manuscripts.

Bach’s sons not only benefitted from the fame of their father but, through their careers and their advocacy also helped sustain his memory. No one who encountered them was oblivious to who their father was. The mix of ambivalence, pride, anxiety, and rivalry involved in being a son of J.S. Bach and a musician is daunting to contemplate. Nonetheless, taken together, these four sons of Bach and their father constituted a dynasty without peer in the history of music. Wilhelm Friedemann was twenty-five years older than Johann Christian. He kept in close contact during the 1740s with his father J.S. Bach and his music owes the most to his father’s example. Wilhelm Friedemann’s life was quite colorful, marked by intrigues and financial instability and the subject of fictional accounts. Towards the end of his career he focused less on composition than on performance. He became famous as an organ virtuoso and a master of improvisation.

Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, just four years younger than Wilhelm Friedemann, became most famous as a composer for the keyboard, primarily for the clavichord. My colleague at Bard, Peter Serkin, is in the midst of recording a host of C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard music. C.P.E Bach also wrote a treatise, the Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, published in 1753 that became a standard text for teachers. C.P.E’s music became a defining part of the repertoire for the burgeoning community throughout nineteenth century Europe of amateur keyboard enthusiasts. One single example, a Solfegietto, or Solfeggio in c minor, from 1766, entered the piano teaching repertoire as a staple and has remained there ever since, as millions of veterans of piano instruction all over the world can testify.

But as the 100 volumes now in existence in the massive new complete critical edition of C.P.E. Bach’s works testify, C.P.E. Bach was a versatile composer with a range that extended to chamber music, orchestral music, sacred oratorios and passions, cantatas, secular vocal and choral music, and arrangements of his father’s music. The Magnificat on this program is among his most enduring and powerful works and is, at one and the same time homage to, commentary on, and departure from his father’s famous setting of the same text. C.P.E. Bach earned legitimately a reputation as an innovator and a leader in fashioning a new style in music in Germany during the second half of the 18th century. He influenced the direction taken by the Viennese classicism of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven and he was widely considered, at the end of his life, as one of the great composers of the age.

Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, one of the two sons of Anna Magdalena Bach on this program, never quite achieved the prominence of his younger brother or older half-brothers. Attached to court of Count Wilhelm of Schaumburg-Lippe in Bückeburg for a good part of his career, he sought to adapt to the shifting tastes of the court in secular music while maintaining an output of sacred Protestant oratorios and cantatas. He produced fewer works but among the most successful and prominent were his secular vocal compositions, some of which were to texts by the writer, philologist, theologian, and philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), who had an enormous influence on modern ideas of history and culture and was Bach’s colleague during his tenure as court preacher in the 1770s.

Not surprisingly, the youngest of Bach’s sons, whose fame and reputation rivaled that of C.P.E Bach and J.S. Bach, wrote music with the least evident debt to his father. Central to J.C. Bach was the genre of Italian opera. He composed at least 11 operas for the London stage, one masque, and an opera in French for Paris. He contributed to pastiche stage productions that combined the work of more than one composer. But J.C. Bach also composed a large body of liturgical music, setting Latin and English texts. Some of his oratorios resemble operas, and the influence of Handel is audible. Indeed, unlike his brothers, J.C. Bach’s career flourished in London, and not on the continent. Apart from opera and vocal music, J.C. Bach was as well a prolific and inventive composer of symphonies, the multi-movement instrumental form for orchestra that came to dominate the nineteenth century.

These four remarkable sons of J.S. Bach represent an astonishing bridge, constructed out of one single family. It spanned the North German Protestant Baroque tradition of the early 18th century, the world of Italian opera seria, and the classicism of the late 18th century. Their achievement is a testament to the idea of music as a craft, and as an artisan tradition, handed from one generation to the next—a family business, so to speak, much like the Stradivari family. That might make the continuity of creativity between J.S. Bach and his sons appear to be just one example of a widespread phenomenon. In fact, it was not.  The imagination, beauty, consistency, and scale of the output of the sons of Bach remain unique as a miracle in the history of family traditions. There may indeed be many examples of how one offspring continues in a path set by a parent, in both science and art, but four supremely gifted children?

If any figure in the history of music deserved such a legacy it was J.S. Bach.

The Sons of Bach

by Paul Corneilson

Written for Sons of Bach, which will be performed on December 19, 2019 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1785–1750) wrote more than a thousand musical works, and had twenty children. Four of his six sons became respected composers in their own right. Though they had the same father, the two eldest—Wilhelm Friedemann (1710–1784) and Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714–1788) had a different mother, Maria Barbara (1684–1720), than the two younger sons—Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732–1795) and Johann Christian (1735–1782), who were born to Anna Magdalena (1701–1760). Indeed, the two pairs of half brothers belong to different generations, and this is apparent in the four works on the concert tonight.

Friedemann’s first job was as organist at St. Sophia’s Church, Dresden; his father wrote the letter of application for him in 1733. W.F. might have exceeded his father as an organist, and in 1746 he was hired as organist of the Liebfrauenkirche (Our Lady Church) in Halle. He eventually became music director and wrote several church cantatas in the 1750s. The cantata Erzittert und Fallet (Tremble and Falter) dates from this period and was first performed on Easter Sunday. The seven movements unfold in an arrangement much like many of his father’s cantatas for Leipzig in the 1720s and 1730s, closing with a four-part harmonization of a chorale. The opening chorus sets a festive mood with two trumpets and timpani plus strings. The voices enter before the instruments, imitative entries of the “roaring crowds” to celebrate the risen Savior. The first aria for tenor, two flutes (suggesting the “reizend sanfte Blicke”), and basso continuo shows Friedemann in his original, mannered voice. Following a recitative for tenor and soprano, the duet for soprano and bass with oboe recalls the two allegorical duets between Jesus and the Soul in Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140), though in W.F.’s cantata you could easily imagine the shepherd (Hirte) as a secular figure in a pastoral cantata. After another simple recitative for soprano and alto, the aria for soprano and two violins is full of imagery of natural disaster: floods, thunderous lightnings, and terrifying flames (Fluten, donnernd Blitzen, Schreckensflammen). Clearly, the poetry inspired Friedemann to set the text vividly.

Unfortunately, much of his music is either lost or perhaps was never written down. In 1764 he abruptly resigned his position in Halle and was unable to secure another one, though he did receive support from Princess Amalia of Prussia in his later years. Johann Nikolaus Forkel, J.S. Bach’s first biographer, wrote that W.F. “approached the nearest to his father in the originality of all his thoughts. All his melodies have a different turn from those of other composers, and yet they are not only extremely natural, but, at the same time, uncommonly fine and elegant.”

Emanuel spent a few years at the university in Frankfurt an der Oder before joining the musical entourage of Friedrich II and spent almost thirty years in his service. C.P.E.’s Magnificat (Wq 215) exists in two distinct versions. It was originally completed in Potsdam in 1749, and was likely performed in Leipzig as a tryout piece to replace his father as Cantor there. At least one account claims that J.S. Bach heard it before his death in July 1750. In any event, C.P.E. Bach eventually succeeded his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann as music director of the Hamburg municipal churches in 1768. Having no need for a Latin Magnificat in Hamburg, Emanuel adapted most of the movements in his church cantatas, with parody (German) texts, including his Passion Cantata (Wq 233), a work that was performed each Lent in Hamburg. Thus when he decided to perform the Magnificat on a concert in 1779, he felt compelled to write a new chorus no. 4, the “Et misericordia eius” to replace the original setting that was now more familiar as chorus no. 2, “Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit” in his Passion Cantata. This new chorus, written thirty years later, is a good example of the “empfinsamer Stil” (sensitive style), full of refined, expressive chromatic harmony. In 1779 he also took the opportunity to add three trumpets and timpani to the opening and closing choruses and aria no. 5, plus two horns to aria no. 3 and duet no. 6.

C.P.E.’s setting of the Magnificat is partly modeled on his father’s setting (BWV 243) also in D major, which the son might have sung in the Thomas choir in Leipzig. But there are also substantial differences. J.S. divides the text into twelve distinct movements, while C.P.E. has only nine. J.S. brings back the opening music only at the end of the doxology (“Sicut erat in principio” = as it was in the beginning), but C.P.E. uses the opening music for the “Gloria Patria” and then writes a massive double fugue for the “Sicut erat in principio” that he extends and embellishes for the concluding “Amen.” (By contrast, J.S. Bach’s “Amen” is only two short statements.) If J.S. Bach heard his son’s Magnificat, he would have been proud of the harmonic richness. C.P.E. Bach told Forkel that he had to choose a style of his own, because he could never have equaled his father’s style.

Friedrich received his musical training from his father then joined the court musical establishment of Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe at Bückeburg in 1750 and remained there the rest of his life. (His son, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst, studied with his uncle Christian in London from 1778 until the latter’s death, and eventually became the music director to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.) It is perhaps no coincidence that J.C.F. published his cantata Die Amerikanerin (The American Woman) in 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was written and signed. The poem by Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg was published in 1815 as “Lied eines Mohren” (song of a Moor) and set in the Middle East, not the American colonies, but to a north German of the late eighteenth century the two places were equally exotic.

J.C.F. set the text as a solo cantata for soprano and orchestra and called it “ein lyrisches Gemählde” (a lyric picture). The first two stanzas are treated as two
separate numbers, with the opening Andante (“Saide, komm!”), followed by an Andantino grazioso (“Schön ist mein Mädchen!”). An accompanied recitative, marked Poco allegro and full of wilderness imagery, leads directly to another aria in two parts: an Allegro (“Mein Herz fleucht ihr entgegen!”) with a concluding Larghetto grazioso (“Wie Ambraduft will ich dich, Tod”). Overall, the cantata is very much in the same vein as C.P.E. Bach’s late cantata for solo voice and keyboard, “Die Grazien” (Wq 200/20), also to a poem by Gerstenberg.

After his father died in 1750, Christian came to Berlin to live and study with C.P.E. In 1755 J.C. became the only member of his family to travel to Italy and absorb the Italian style through the tutelage of Padre Martini in Bologna. While serving as organist at the Cathedral in Milan, J.C. wrote an opera for Turin and then two for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Their success led to his appointment as music master to Queen Charlotte in London in 1762, and he eventually achieved commercial success in Great Britain. With Carl Friedrich Abel, Bach organized annual concert series for which he wrote orchestral and chamber music; he continued to compose operas and one oratorio for the King’s Theatre, and songs for Vauxhall Gardens; and published sets of sonatas, concertos, symphonies, and chamber music in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

His Symphony in G Minor, Op. 6, no. 6 shares the same key as Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 (c. 1768) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 (K. 183, 1773), and likewise has many of the same “Sturm und Drang” elements. This is Bach‘s only known symphony in a minor key, and the outer movements are in G minor, and the  Andante più tosto adagio is in C minor. But it is not the minor key alone that creates the “storm and stress,” rather the angular melodies and the driving rhythms, the sudden contrasts between dynamics, and the contrasting themes: agitated one moment, full of sentimentality the next.

It is unlikely that Haydn or Mozart knew any of the pieces on the program, but at least two of the sons of Bach, C.P.E. and J.C., had a significant impact on their musical development.

Paul Corneilson is managing editor of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works.

The Sons of Bach

by Paul Corneilson

Written for the concert, Sons of Bach, which will be performed on December 19, 2019 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1785–1750) wrote more than a thousand musical works, and had twenty children. Four of his six sons became respected composers in their own right. Though they had the same father, the two eldest—Wilhelm Friedemann (1710–1784) and Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714–1788) had a different mother, Maria Barbara (1684–1720), than the two younger sons—Johann Christoph Friedrich (1732–1795) and Johann Christian (1735–1782), who were born to Anna Magdalena (1701–1760). Indeed, the two pairs of half brothers belong to different generations, and this is apparent in the four works on the concert tonight.

Friedemann’s first job was as organist at St. Sophia’s Church, Dresden; his father wrote the letter of application for him in 1733. W.F. might have exceeded his father as an organist, and in 1746 he was hired as organist of the Liebfrauenkirche (Our Lady Church) in Halle. He eventually became music director and wrote several church cantatas in the 1750s. The cantata Erzittert und Fallet (Tremble and Falter) dates from this period and was first performed on Easter Sunday. The seven movements unfold in an arrangement much like many of his father’s cantatas for Leipzig in the 1720s and 1730s, closing with a four-part harmonization of a chorale. The opening chorus sets a festive mood with two trumpets and timpani plus strings. The voices enter before the instruments, imitative entries of the “roaring crowds” to celebrate the risen Savior. The first aria for tenor, two flutes (suggesting the “reizend sanfte Blicke”), and basso continuo shows Friedemann in his original, mannered voice. Following a recitative for tenor and soprano, the duet for soprano and bass with oboe recalls the two allegorical duets between Jesus and the Soul in Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140), though in W.F.’s cantata you could easily imagine the shepherd (Hirte) as a secular figure in a pastoral cantata. After another simple recitative for soprano and alto, the aria for soprano and two violins is full of imagery of natural disaster: floods, thunderous lightnings, and terrifying flames (Fluten, donnernd Blitzen, Schreckensflammen). Clearly, the poetry inspired Friedemann to set the text vividly.

Unfortunately, much of his music is either lost or perhaps was never written down. In 1764 he abruptly resigned his position in Halle and was unable to secure another one, though he did receive support from Princess Amalia of Prussia in his later years. Johann Nikolaus Forkel, J.S. Bach’s first biographer, wrote that W.F. “approached the nearest to his father in the originality of all his thoughts. All his melodies have a different turn from those of other composers, and yet they are not only extremely natural, but, at the same time, uncommonly fine and elegant.”

Emanuel spent a few years at the university in Frankfurt an der Oder before joining the musical entourage of Friedrich II and spent almost thirty years in his service. C.P.E.’s Magnificat (Wq 215) exists in two distinct versions. It was originally completed in Potsdam in 1749, and was likely performed in Leipzig as a tryout piece to replace his father as Cantor there. At least one account claims that J.S. Bach heard it before his death in July 1750. In any event, C.P.E. Bach eventually succeeded his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann as music director of the Hamburg municipal churches in 1768. Having no need for a Latin Magnificat in Hamburg, Emanuel adapted most of the movements in his church cantatas, with parody (German) texts, including his Passion Cantata (Wq 233), a work that was performed each Lent in Hamburg. Thus when he decided to perform the Magnificat on a concert in 1779, he felt compelled to write a new chorus no. 4, the “Et misericordia eius” to replace the original setting that was now more familiar as chorus no. 2, “Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit” in his Passion Cantata. This new chorus, written thirty years later, is a good example of the “empfinsamer Stil” (sensitive style), full of refined, expressive chromatic harmony. In 1779 he also took the opportunity to add three trumpets and timpani to the opening and closing choruses and aria no. 5, plus two horns to aria no. 3 and duet no. 6.

C.P.E.’s setting of the Magnificat is partly modeled on his father’s setting (BWV 243) also in D major, which the son might have sung in the Thomas choir in Leipzig. But there are also substantial differences. J.S. divides the text into twelve distinct movements, while C.P.E. has only nine. J.S. brings back the opening music only at the end of the doxology (“Sicut erat in principio” = as it was in the beginning), but C.P.E. uses the opening music for the “Gloria Patria” and then writes a massive double fugue for the “Sicut erat in principio” that he extends and embellishes for the concluding “Amen.” (By contrast, J.S. Bach’s “Amen” is only two short statements.) If J.S. Bach heard his son’s Magnificat, he would have been proud of the harmonic richness. C.P.E. Bach told Forkel that he had to choose a style of his own, because he could never have equaled his father’s style.

Friedrich received his musical training from his father then joined the court musical establishment of Count Wilhelm von Schaumburg-Lippe at Bückeburg in 1750 and remained there the rest of his life. (His son, Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst, studied with his uncle Christian in London from 1778 until the latter’s death, and eventually became the music director to King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia.) It is perhaps no coincidence that J.C.F. published his cantata Die Amerikanerin (The American Woman) in 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was written and signed. The poem by Heinrich Wilhelm von Gerstenberg was published in 1815 as “Lied eines Mohren” (song of a Moor) and set in the Middle East, not the American colonies, but to a north German of the late eighteenth century the two places were equally exotic.

J.C.F. set the text as a solo cantata for soprano and orchestra and called it “ein lyrisches Gemählde” (a lyric picture). The first two stanzas are treated as a da capo aria, with the opening Andante (“Saide, komm!”) repeated after the second Andantino grazioso (“Schön ist mein Mädchen!). An accompanied recitative, marked Poco allegro and full of wilderness imagery, leads directly to another aria in two parts: an Allegro (“Mein Herz fleucht ihr entgegen!”) with a concluding Larghetto grazioso (“Wie Ambraduft will ich dich, Tod”). Overall, the cantata is very much in the same vein as C.P.E. Bach’s late cantata for solo voice and keyboard, “Die Grazien” (Wq 200/20), also to a poem by Gerstenberg.

After his father died in 1750, Christian came to Berlin to live and study with C.P.E. In 1755 J.C. became the only member of his family to travel to Italy and absorb the Italian style through the tutelage of Padre Martini in Bologna. While serving as organist at the Cathedral in Milan, J.C. wrote an opera for Turin and then two for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. Their success led to his appointment as music master to Queen Charlotte in London in 1762, and he eventually achieved commercial success in Great Britain. With Carl Friedrich Abel, Bach organized annual concert series for which he wrote orchestral and chamber music; he continued to compose operas and one oratorio for the King’s Theatre, and songs for Vauxhall Gardens; and published sets of sonatas, concertos, symphonies, and chamber music in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

His Symphony in G Minor, Op. 6, no. 6 shares the same key as Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 (c. 1768) and Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 (K. 183, 1773), and likewise has many of the same “Sturm und Drang” elements. This is Bach‘s only known symphony in a minor key, and the outer movements are in G minor, and the Andante più tosto adagio is in C minor. But it is not the minor key alone that creates the “storm and stress,” rather the angular melodies and the driving rhythms, the sudden contrasts between dynamics, and the contrasting themes: agitated one moment, full of sentimentality the next.

It is unlikely that Haydn or Mozart knew any of the pieces on the program, but at least two of the sons of Bach, C.P.E. and J.C., had a significant impact on their musical development.

Paul Corneilson is managing editor of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works..

The Kingdom

by Byron Adams

Written for The Kingdom, which was performed on October 31, 2019 at Carnegie Hall.

Edward Elgar
Born June 2, 1857, Broadheath, United Kingdom
Died February 23, 1934, Worcester, United Kingdom

The Kingdom, Op. 51
Composed in 1906
Premiered on October 3, 1906 in Birmingham, England at Birmingham Music
Festival conducted by Elgar with soloists Agnes Nicholls, Muriel Foster,
John Coates and William Higley
Performance Time: Approximately 95 minutes

Due to the popularity of Elgar’s first major oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius, the directors of the 1903 Birmingham Festival commissioned him to compose a large choral score on a religious topic. Elgar proposed the subject of the Apostles, which was accepted with relief by the festival organizers. For The Dream of Gerontius, Elgar had redacted St. John Henry Newman’s eponymous poem; the whiff of incense in Newman’s Roman Catholic verse had caused unwelcome controversy among censorious Anglican clergy when the work was premiered during the 1900 Birmingham Festival. By contrast, the text for the new oratorio was to be drawn from the officially sanctioned Authorized Version of the Bible (known in America as the “King James Version”). As Robert Anderson notes, “His method [for creating the libretto] was largely improvisatory, a procedure daring and risky, but very Elgarian.” In the course of creating his text, Elgar took care to consult with two broad-minded and musical Anglican clergymen, Edward Capel Cure and Charles Vincent Gorton.

Elgar had been attracted to the subject of the Apostles since childhood: one of his teachers at the Roman Catholic boys’ school that he had attended in his native Worcester had characterized the Apostles as “poor men, young men, at the time of their calling; perhaps before the descent of the Holy Ghost not cleverer than some of you here.” The project, originally to consist of a trilogy of oratorios, was of grandiose Wagnerian proportions. The trilogy was to cover no less than the calling of the Apostles and their acts; the founding of the early church; and the Last Judgment. As the composer wrote in 1902 to Ivor Atkins, organist of Worcester Cathedral, “I am now plotting GIGANTIC WORK.” Elgar traveled to Bayreuth in 1902 for inspiration, attending performances of the first three of Wagner’s tetralogy of music dramas, Der Ring des Nibelungen, as well as Parsifal.

In the end, Elgar’s ambitious plan proved unworkable due to the openended nature of the subject itself. As Jerrold Northrop Moore observes, “It was literally a story without end, for where was the end of Christian Apostlehood?” Elgar truncated his original design for the 1903 performance of The Apostles. Despite the composer’s procrastination over its composition and proofreading, The Apostles was a success at its premiere on 14 October 1903. Looking to build on that success, the festival committee commissioned Elgar for another large sacred choral score for 1906; this was to be a sequel to The Apostles, in accordance with the
composer’s original plan.

The composition of The Kingdom was fraught with difficulties, not the least of which was Elgar’s growing disenchantment with his Roman Catholic faith and with Christianity in general. Ironically, Elgar’s loss of belief was due in part to his work on the texts of both The Apostles and The Kingdom. Elgar’s religious education had been doctrinal and liturgical rather than theological, so that he was unprepared for the contradictory speculations of the authors that he consulted, such as the skeptical Ernest Renan. The emotional crisis provoked by this work caused Elgar to evince a series of illnesses—possibly psychosomatic—as well as petulant behavior that his long-suffering wife, Alice, endured with almost superhuman patience. This meant that part of the original plan of The Kingdom had to be modified, making it the most concise of Elgar’s three major oratorios.

None of this creative or religious trauma is evident in this score, which centers on St. Peter. High points include a rousing orchestral prelude that recapitulates leitmotifs from The Apostles; the descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost; and a moving solo for the Virgin Mary, “The sun goeth down.” Elgar’s Roman Catholic faith lingers in his use of the Gregorian chant O sacrum convivium, which is sung during Feast of Corpus Christi, a Eucharistic celebration. In an elaborate program essay written for the oratorio’s premiere on 3 October 1906, Elgar’s friend August Jaeger labelled this theme “The Real Presence,” alluding to the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, which posits the transmutation of Eucharistic elements into the actual Body of Christ. Elgar’s use of this chant thus foreshadows the oratorio’s serene conclusion, during which the Apostles sing The Lord’s Prayer in rapt communion.

Byron Adams is a Distinguished Professor of Musicology at the University of California, Riverside.

Martinů and Julietta

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert The Key of Dreams, which was performed on March 22, 2019 at Carnegie Hall.

The career of Bohuslav Martinů mirrors the decisive and tragic character of the century in which he lived. Martinů was born in 1890 and came of age as a citizen of a multinational dynastic empire, only to find himself, in his twenties, a patriot of a newly minted national unit: Czechoslovakia. The triumphant nationalism of post-World War I Europe coexisted, however, with a profound sense of cultural discontinuity, a resistance to the claims of late nineteenth-century romanticism, and an internationalist sense of modernity. Martinů chose to become an expatriate artist in Paris, but the Prague-Paris axis vanished when he was forced into exile in America on account of fascism, the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, and a second world war. He died in exile, caught in the Cold War in which his homeland had become a Soviet satellite. Martinů’s music registers the tensions, ambiguities, and ambivalences that inevitably surrounded the writing of original music by a composer caught in the crosscurrents created by the invention of a new nation, the technological transformation of sound reproduction, the carnage of World War II, the display of a uniquely modern barbarism in Europe, the nuclear age, and the psychic toll of involuntary, as well as self-imposed, exile.

In the young, flourishing, nationalist environment in which he grew up, Martinů demonstrated remarkable gifts and quickly was poised to inherit the mantle of a distinctive Czech nationalist tradition—understood in the terms of the late nineteenth century—in the musical culture bequeathed by Bedřich Smetana and Antonín Dvořák. The 1919 re-drawing of the map of Europe according to notions of self-determination may have created independent and relatively homogeneous political nation states, particularly when compared with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but at the same time, a countercurrent of internationalist ideals in culture and politics emerged that redefined the cosmopolitan and re-imagined its aesthetic possibilities. For this reason, in the early 1920s, Martinů settled in Paris.

Paris between the two world wars became the center of transnational movements in dance, theater, painting, and music. Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, and Sergei Prokofiev dominated the scene. Whereas the much older Leoš Janáček drew strength and inspiration from the new Czechoslovak republic, Martinů gravitated toward an international style. Even so, although he settled in Paris and French became his second language, Martinů did not sever his ties to the nascent national entity, the Czechoslovakia of Tomáš Masaryk. Martinů in this way resembled his nearest Polish contemporary, Karol Szymanowski. They both balanced their experiences in cosmopolitan Paris with an increasingly romanticized but limited construct of the native homeland to which they felt allegiance. Consequently, even though Martinů experimented with a variety of widespread, fashionable, international approaches to composition, the Czech language and Bohemian materials were never entirely neglected. As the composition and performance history of Julietta suggest, a delicate balance was continually in play. This opera derived from a French novel that then was turned into a Czech libretto by the composer. It premiered in Prague, only to be retranslated back into French later on. But the subject transcends culture; it is not tied to any particular nativist traditions. What distinguished Martinů from Szymanowski, however, was his exceptional compositional facility and productivity. Of his near contemporaries, perhaps only Darius Milhaud was as prolific; but Martinů’s output was better crafted and more consistent than Milhaud’s, and more of it will remain in the repertory.

Martinů fled to America in 1941. Here he came to the attention of Aaron Copland, who brought him to Tanglewood. Though Martinů enjoyed the support of old friends, among them George Szell, Rudolf Firkusny, and Walter Susskind, America never seemed quite right. He never fit in; moody and reclusive, Martinů was not happy. To make matters worse, Communist Czecholsovakia was anathema. Martinů returned to Europe in the 1950s and spent the final years of his life in Switzerland.

Martinů is now increasingly known for his orchestral music, which includes six symphonies, but it is the field of opera that preoccupied him most. In this he resembled the ambitions of the older Czech role models and masters: Dvořák, Smetana, and Janáček. Julietta is widely regarded as the finest and most daring of Martinů’s sixteen operas. Its story line and libretto fit the period of its creation perhaps a bit too neatly, making quick comparisons to Franz Kafka and Sigmund Freud easy. But the score has also been the object of all too facile critical dismissal; it has been described as hard to like, episodic, too dependent on one character, attractive but not memorable. Indeed, Julietta has never been a true success, whether on the stage or in recording, despite several recent and highly praised revivals, including one in Berlin.

Given the evident and long-overdue Martinů revival now underway, particularly with regard to the instrumental and symphonic music, the operas demand a new look. And that suggests that Martinů’s most celebrated and most uniquely twentieth-century opera, in terms of subject and plot, merits a hearing in the United States. The faint praise and condescending rehearsal of the so-called shortcomings of Julietta demand rebuttal through performance. That places it squarely in the mission of the American Symphony Orchestra. There is ample reason to suspect that the time for Julietta has now come, and that it has languished too long. Julietta deserves a place in the repertory of our opera houses as one of the great twentieth-century operas. It is, in my view, an operatic masterpiece.

Julietta, or Symphonic Music is a Sometime Thing

by Jon Meadow and Michael Beckerman

Written for the concert The Key of Dreams, which was performed on March 22, 2019 at Carnegie Hall.

Born December 8, 1890, in Polička, Czechoslovakia
Died August 28, 1959, in Liestal, Switzerland
Composed in 1936–37
Premiered on March 16, 1938, in Prague, at the National Theatre, conducted by Václav Talich
Performance Time: Approximately 3 hours including intermission

Introductions and Possible Bright Futures

On March 16, 1938, inside the hallowed walls of Prague’s National Theatre, Czechoslovak composer Bohuslav Martinů’s three-act lyric opera Julietta (Snář) [Juliette, or the Key of Dreams] made its successful debut. Audience members immediately recognized the power, warmth, and economy of means of Julietta’s often “jazzy” and undulatory music. The premiere’s conductor, Václav Talich, judged Julietta to be one of Martinů’s “creative peaks.” Similarly, many years later, on his death bed, the composer showed his estimation of the work’s quality by retranslating the libretto back into French. Like Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka (1901) or Leoš Janáček’s The Makopulos Case (1926), the opera maintains an iconic status in the Czech Republic, and the work’s reputation has resulted in several excellent, commercially available recordings, a growing body of related scholarship, and an international proliferation of new and innovative productions outside of Martinů’s homeland, such as the English National Opera staging in 2012 and Oper Frankfurt’s 2014 production.

Musical Recognitions

Julietta is the story of a Parisian bookseller’s (Michel) pursuit of an elusive girl (Julietta) in a seaside town. Given the libretto’s oceanside setting, games of chance, sailors, peddlers of “narcotics,” and the elusiveness of its namesake, it is not entirely unreasonable to think that a discussion of Julietta in light of some of its musical similarities to one of opera’s most provocative and notorious coastal works, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1935), might yield something of consequence.

First, Julietta’s raw musical materials occasionally evoke Porgy’s. It is uncertain whether, when he started composing Julietta in May of 1936, Martinů knew the music (and stories) of Gershwin’s opera about a disabled gambling beggar living in an African-American tenement house on the South Carolina coast. However, as the echoes of Rhapsody in Blue (1924) in Julietta’s shopkeeper scene (Act I, scene ii) and the ostinati, syncopations, and accents of the orchestral interlude from Julietta and Michel’s meeting in the woods (Act II, scene v) attest, the composer was certainly no stranger to Gershwin’s globetrotting Jazz Age musical style more broadly. Moreover, even though Martinů had suspended his use of Jazz Age musical commonplaces at the start of the 1930s, his familiarity with Gershwin-esque music is as palpable in stage-works from the previous decade—like 1927’s Kitchen Revue and 1929’s three-act French-language film-opera Three Wishes, or Inconstancy of Life—as it is in select portions of Julietta.

Second, the way that Martinů thought about how symphonic music should interact with actions and words in Julietta shares assumptions with how Gershwin approached Porgy’s symphonic music. Around the summer of 1936, Martinů was able to secure Prague’s grand, late 19th-century National Theatre for Julietta’s premiere. Perhaps the nature of the venue emboldened him to bring into play the elsewhere, or rather the “elsewhen,” of the previous century, from which he salvaged a vaguely (Richard) Wagnerian manner of thinking about symphonic music’s interaction with words and actions that he had jettisoned in the interwar period. In his influential essay The Artwork of the Future (1849), Wagner had summarized the basic ideas of this late 19th-century way of thinking when he claimed that music’s historical progression necessitated that abstract, or absolute, symphonic music, which Wagner figured as a “vast, shoreless ocean” between words and action, would find itself superseded by a symphonic music that resembles a “bridge between [words and action].” Prior to Julietta or Porgy, Martinů and Gershwin had preferred the genres that made Wagner’s manner of thinking obsolete in many interwar circles, because similar to Gershwin with his pre-Porgy Broadway revues and one-act, hokum-filled opera Blue Monday (1922), Martinů had demonstrated a fondness for the one-act opera genre and the revue format with their looser, less-stringent relations between symphonic music and the libretto’s actions and words. Cases in point are stage works like the aforementioned Kitchen Revue, the one-act radio opera The Voice of the Forest (1935), and the prizewinning collection of one-act, Czech-language, neo-medieval opera-ballets The Plays of Mary (Premiered in Brno in 1935). In these pre-Julietta stage works, the manner in which symphonic music reinforces the actions and words of Julietta and Porgy can hardly be found.

Musical Misrecognitions and the Question of Leitmotifs

Regardless of their coastal settings, their common fund of situations and vocational types, the occasional similarity and contemporaneity of their musical “raw” materials, and their composers’ comparable manners of thinking about symphonic music’s role in opera, Julietta and Porgy’s librettos are dissimilar: they treat memory and the laws of physics differently, and their plots locate reality in disparate places and times.

On the one hand, Porgy’s “realist” libretto has a plot with a beginning, middle, and end, and its characters are subject to the laws of physics. This is a realm where bodies expire, and people are unable to bend spoons with their minds. This is the domain of the daytime. Also, the libretto’s words and actions have consequences and accrue meaning across all three acts. Memory, whether of the law, the individual, the community, a song, or a leitmotif, is essential to Porgy and Bess.

On the other hand, Michel’s “surreal” pursuit of who (or what) possibly exists behind an adulterated memory of a song fragment begins in medias res and unfolds moment by moment. The sequences of its situations across acts is not additive; its words (while clearly sung) have different inter-act, intra-act, and even intra-scene meanings, and the consequences of its characters’ actions are either suspended in ambiguity or they are cartoon-like in their denial of the laws of physics. This is the domain of nighttime, where and when memory is elusive.

After accounting for these differences, it stands to reason that the action- and word-reinforcing symphonic musics of librettos that have such dissimilar conceptions of reality, memory, and physical necessity are going to unfold in grossly dissimilar ways across three long acts. Because Gershwin both settles on Porgy’s “realistic” libretto and reverts to a late 19th-century call for symphonic music to reinforce words and action, he is emboldened to weave a network of Wagnerian leitmotifs from and through memorable songs and choral ensembles, and this enables him to ensure that every musical decision of Porgy and Bess will reinforce the drive towards the opera’s end, which is also the beginning of Porgy’s quest for the elusive Bess. Even Jasbo Brown’s often-cut onstage piano blues from Porgy’s opening scene provides ambiance and assists in orienting the audience in Catfish Row’s here and now, which is logically connected to its before and later.

This kind of practice finds no resonance in Julietta’s symphonic music. Throughout Julietta, Martinů employs the orchestra to provide unconventional but skillfully crafted and concretely shaped local operatic forms. Occasionally Martinů repeats melodic figures and sonorities that are appropriately associated in some vague, non-conceptual way with the elusive Julietta, and from time to time Martinů will repeat each act’s prelude whole cloth.  However, because the words and the actions of the libretto do not drive toward some univocal, unanimous meaning across all three acts, the symphonic music—because it is acting in accordance with the manner of thinking that Martinů adopted for the grand occasion of Julietta’s National Theater premiere—has no need for the coalescence of leitmotifs across all three acts.

In the end, it will be up to the listener to discover whether, despite this unreality, or perhaps because of it, Julietta, far from disappearing into the morass of non-memory, actually takes on a corporeality of enormous power.  We may imagine, then, that the “miracle” of Julietta, thinking back to Martinů’s previous opera, The Plays of Mary, is that in Martinů’s capable hands, absence becomes presence, dreams become true, and the lack of recall creates indelible operatic memories.

Jon Meadow is a Ph.D. student in Historical Musicology at New York University. His work is focused on the roles of humor and comedy in Bohuslav Martinů’s Great Depression theatre reforms.

Michael Beckerman is the Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Music at New York University. He is the author of numerous articles and books about Czech music.

Composers, Teachers, and New York

by Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Sounds of the American Century, which was performed on January 25, 2019 at Carnegie Hall.

This concert is exemplary of the original and ongoing mission of the ASO. The four composers on the program are all American, and they represent a thirty-year period, from Pearl Harbor to the Vietnam War, that witnessed unprecedented growth in the concert and classical music world of this country. These composers enjoyed enormous recognition and success in their lifetimes.

With the passage of time, however, memories fade and tastes change. Major figures are remembered largely as names in history books, and perhaps then only with a passing mention or a footnote. Their music is now more widely recorded and low resolution postings of performances can be found on the internet. Such a legacy, however, becomes academic, literally and figuratively.

Live performances of the music of the once central figures who have passed into history become rare, and not because the music falls short. Books can be reissued and paintings from the past taken out of storage and sold, downloaded, and hung in public gallery spaces more easily than music, especially music written for large forces, can be put on the stage. And music must be heard live and with an audience to be realized.

Music in the classical field deals with its history as if it were a winner-take-all proposition. But this is wrong because it distorts history and we rarely get the chance to change our minds. This concert of music by Mann, Fine, Druckman, and Schuman could catch someone’s eye because of the name Schuman, only to realize that it is not Robert, nor spelled the same way. The remaining three are not well enough known to be recognized by the audience we should be reaching. The ASO fights against these trends. We are determined to advocate for the unfairly neglected from the past and to push against the winds of fashion.

All these composers overlapped with one another and knew one another. They were centered, for a great part of their careers, in New York City, although some, like Fine, migrated to New York. And all of them taught. They were profoundly influential. Vivian Fine was a legend at Bennington. She, like Schuman, was a tireless organizer and performer in New York. This concert is a journey to our own past, to a different time, with different cultural ambitions and conflicts, and a time of great excitement, energy, confidence, growth, and faith in future generations of musicians and listeners.

It is a particular honor to perform a work by the late Robert Mann, the legendary violinist, quartet leader, and teacher. He was a fine composer and a great advocate of the new music of his time. Dimitri Mitropoulos, the fabulous conductor and music director of the New York Philharmonic, and also a partisan of the new, was himself a composer. Earlier this month I had the privilege of conducting the first performance of a new edition of a Concerto Grosso by Mitropoulos in Athens. Mitropoulos recognized Mann’s gifts and premiered his Fantasy for Orchestra, which opens tonight’s concert. Years ago Mann mentioned the work to me, in passing and all too modestly. The ASO dedicates this performance to Robert Mann’s memory. I would like to think he would be pleased to see the work revived and performed again in Carnegie Hall.

William Schuman is the best-known composer on this program, and his Symphony No. 3 is the one work being performed tonight to approximate a repertory staple. This symphony is a contender for the status of one of the major American symphonies of the twentieth century. We hope that it is brought back regularly, and that more of Schuman’s music gets played. Schuman, like his contemporary Leonard Bernstein, was a man of many talents. He was, like Fine, a terrific organizer and institutional leader, somewhat in the mold of musicians who devoted their time and energy to creating and leading institutions designed to sustain music. He headed Juilliard and Lincoln Center. If Rimsky-Korsakov and Gabriel Fauré could manage it, why not William Schuman?

Jacob Druckman was a widely admired composer until his untimely death in 1996. He taught for many years at Bard and two of his students later became famous as members of Steely Dan. He then moved to Juilliard, where he remained. In his lifetime he won many prizes and was noted for the subtlety, refinement, and distinctiveness of his structures and sonorities.

Vivian Fine was not only a great teacher and an avid performer, but mentor to many generations of American composers. She exemplifies the spirit of this program: a conviction in the potential of new music in America, great craft and ambition, a determination to reach the public, and an abiding belief in how important musical culture is to this city and the nation.