Symphony No. 1 (1948), Symphony No. 6 (1953)

By Robert Maxham, Executive Director, Ames International Orchestra Festival

Written for the concert The Composer’s Voice, performed on Oct 6, 1996 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

As single-minded as Karl Amadeus Hartmann was as an opponent of Nazism, he was equally multiform as a composer. When, as a seasoned craftsman of 36, he studied with Anton Webern, he absorbed little more than the master’s quasi-mystical reverence for exquisite, isolated musical moments. He had, after all, come to Webern having already gathered the raw materials for his personal fusion of early modern styles and pre-modern forms: rhythms as demonically driving–and woodwind sonorities as pungent–as Stravinsky’s, ultrasonic string passages as expressionistic as Berg’s, Sprechstimme as haunting as Schoenberg’s, combinations of strings and percussion as eerie as Bartók’s, fugues as austerely boisterous as Hindemith’s, meters as fluid as Blacher’s, and percussion batteries as daunting as Orff’s. Writing in his highly chromatic, stylistically polyglot idiolect, he could make clusters of dissonances sound uncannily consonant, and simple triads, suprisingly dissonant. And he bound everything together with a dramatic logic so compelling that even the wildest improvisatory passages appeared to drive inevitably to their characteristic, overwhelming climaxes. As Martin Luther said of Josquin four centuries earlier, Hartmann was master of the notes, making them do as he willed rather than following their lead.

This unstable symbiosis of fertility and discipline resulted in a Brucknerian inability to let works go forth into the world in a finished form–it was clearly no accident that Hartmann wrote an article on Bruckner’s compositional neuroses. Hartmann’s First and Sixth Symphonies (1948 and 1951-53) were, in fact, reincarnations of earlier works from the 1930s, when he was oppressed by a sense of civilization’s impending doom. The subject of the first symphony (Requiem) foreshadowed the somber meditations of the Concerto funebre for violin, written in 1939 and also revised later. The Symphony’s five symmetrical movements recall similar Bartókian structural patterns, and the instrumentally framed poetry (from Walt Whitman) assigned to alto in the four outer movements–Sprechstimme in the Fifth–prefigure, and overshadow in their power, counterparts in Gorecki’s popular Third Symphony. The Sixth Symphony, a searing introductory movement followed by a Toccata variata–a series of three interrelated fugues that crackle to a peroration of irresistible virtuosity and power–seems more than occasionally denser and less translucent than the first symphony. Yet it is based on a composition (L’oeuvre, 1938, after the novel by Emile Zola) only two years later than the fragments reworked into the First Symphony–fragments that, like so many others, Hartmann renounced or destroyed at the end of the Second World War.

The cogency and power of these two works, as of his entire output, leave no doubt that Hartmann was missing the symphonic link, spiritually if not stylistically, between Gustav Mahler and Hans Werner Henze. In little more than an hour, they convey the depth and integrity of a composer whose very life, no less than his explicit artistic credo, resonated plangently to the triadic harmony of truth, joy, and sorrow.

Das klagende Lied (1901)

By Edward R. Reilly, Vassar College

Written for the concert The Composer’s Voice, performed on Oct 6, 1996 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Das klagende Lied is a unique work in Mahler’s output. It is also, as Mahler himself described it, his Schmerzenkind (child of sorrow). In genre it is an extended cantata, a type of composition he never again attempted. In later years he recognized it as the work in which he had first achieved his own voice: “The first work in which I really came into my own as‘Mahler’ was a fairy-tale (Märchen) for choir, soloists and orchestra: Das klagende Lied. I number that work Opus 1.” And in fact in its mastery of large-scale structure, command of motivic transformation, and evocative orchestration, Das klagende Lied is a most remarkable youthful composition.

Mahler wrote his own text for the work, and a fair copy of the complete original three-part version of the work is dated March 18, 1878, when Mahler was not yet eighteen years old. At that time its individual parts were titled “Waldmärchen” (“Woodland Tale”), “Der Spielmann” (“The Minstrel”), and “Hochzeitsstück” (“Wedding Piece”), headings which were eventually eliminated. Musical composition seems to have begun the following year, and was accompanied by moments of great turmoil. Speaking to his friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner, he reported in later years that in trying to work out

a seemingly insignificant passage…he could never get through it without being profoundly shaken and overcome by intense excitement. whenever he reached it. he always had a vision of himself emerging out of the wall in a dark corner of the room. He felt such intense physical pain, when his “double” (doppelganger) tried to force its way through the wall the he could never go on with his work and had to rush from the room-until one morning, while working on the same passage, he collapsed in a nervous fever. (Admittedly, he had been working for weeks under the utmost pressure, and at the same time had undermined his strong constitution by a strictly vegetarian diet.)

The earliest surviving manuscript, a preliminary draft of “Hochzeitsstück,” belongs to late October or early November of that year. The work was thus probably completed, orchestrated, and a fair copy prepared, in 1881.

In that year, it was submitted in a competition for a composition Prize–the Beethoven Prize–sponsored by the Gesellschaft Der Musikfreunde in Vienna. The judges included Brahms and Goldmark, among others, and they awarded the prize to a work by Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) rather than to Mahler’s cantata. Less known is the fact that Mahler in 1883 also submitted the work to Liszt for consideration and a possible performance at the festival of the Altgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein. Again it was turned down, with the devastating comment that the text of”Waldmärchen” was not likely to bring the work success.

Thus the composition has the distinction of rejection by two of Mahler’s most outstanding older contemporaries, representing both conservative and radical compositional tendencies of the time. Such rejections may well, as Mahler later claimed, have influenced him to turn to conducting for his livelihood; after them, until 1888, he composed only a handful of songs.

Apparently stimulated by the publication of three volumes of his early Lieder und Gesange by Schott in 1892, and the potential for further publications and performances, Mahler undertook a full-scale revision of Das klagende Lied in 1893-4, when he was in Hamburg. Curiously, in writing of this revision in his correspondence, Mahler fails to mention the most important change, the elimination of the entire first part, “Waldmärchen.” Other changes revolved largely around orchestration and performance markings. Most notably, in revising the scoring for “Hochzeitsstück,” for the sake of practicality Mahler removed his original highly distinctive use of an offstage band. These modifications, however, brought neither publication nor performances of the work.

In Vienna in 1898, once more with a view to publication, Mahler undertook a final revision, in which he retained the two-part format and the majority of the changes in orchestration that he had made in Hamburg. He realized, however, that the offstage orchestra in “Hochzeitsstück” was essential even if impractical, and prepared a new version of it, which appeared in the published score issued by the firm of Josef Weinberger in 1902. The first performance took place under Mahler on February 17, 1901 in Vienna.

Mahler drew on several sources for his version of Das klagende Lied, principally the story of the same name by Ludwig Bechstein and “Der singende Knochen” (“The Singing Bone”) by the Brothers Grimm, and possibly an oral version of the story that Mahler reportedly heard as a boy. In Mahler’s version of the story, the older of two brothers kills the younger in order to obtain the hand of a proud young queen. A minstrel (rather than a shepherd, as in the Bechstein story) discovers the bones of the victim, and fashions a flute from one. The ‘singing bone’ recounts the story of his murder. The minstrel then sets off to confront the assassin. In the midst of an apparently jubilant wedding celebration, the murderer faces the accusation of the bone played by the minstrel, and then by the murderer himself. The exposure of the crime brings about the destruction of the guilty brother, the proud queen, and their court. Much has been made of the fact that Mahler substitutes a rivalry between two boys for one between a boy and a girl that appears in Bechstein; but in the Grimm story, two boys do appear. Mahler’s elimination of “Waldmärchen,” in which the story of the murder of the young and innocent brother by the ambitious, evil one has also led to speculation about Mahler’s desire to suppress his own possible sense of guilt about the death of his younger brother Ernst.

However one may feel about the loss of some remarkably beautiful and evocative music with the elimination of “Waldmärchen,” and the network of motivic references that go with it, one must also recognize the logic of Mahler’s decisions. The account of the murder in the original Part I is essentially redundant, since the story is told again in “Der Spielmann” by the dead victim. And with the elimination of the redundancy, the true nature of the story comes much more clearly into focus. The tale is not just one of fratricidal rivalry and murder, but one of bringing a murderer to justice, and destroying both him and the society that sustains him. In German, klagen means not only “to lament” to “to accuse” or “to indict.” And who is the agent of this justice? A musician, the minstrel. One could hardly find a clearer example of Wagnerian notions about the power of music to transform society.

Musically, the structure of the work is built up through a complex pattern of leitmotives and skillfully varied recurring refrains associated with the repeated phrases of the poetic text, such as “O Leide, weh, o Leide!” (“O sorrow, woe, sorrow!”) in both parts, and “O Freude, heia! Freude!” (“O joy, heia! Joy!”) in the second. This distinctive voice of the dead boy, for which Mahler calls “if possible a boy’s voice” in parallel passages, provides another major link between the two parts. This instruction was part of a few late emendations that Mahler made in the published score in 1906.

Inventing an American Music

By Nicholas E. Tawa

Written for the concert The Composer’s Voice, performed on Oct 6, 1996 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

A unending cultural debate began in the 1890s on the question of what comprises an American music? Edward MacDowell, an outstanding composer of the 1890s, had maintained it to be music written by any American composer who had lived in the United States and participated in American life, and who could not help but unconsciously capture his American experience in whatever he created. The famous Czech composer Antonin Dvorák, then sojourning in New York City, said this was not enough. He advocated instead, a conscious nationalistic approach that incorporated distinctive vernacular music idioms–popular à la Stephen Foster, Amerindian, or African-American. All of the composers represented on this program have figured largely in the American scene and embody at least the first approach in their works. All of them, too, at some point consciously made use of American idioms. Finally, each one had to find his own way, reconciling past with present trying to invent an American music sincerely his own but that also embraced the American society of which he was a part.

Elie Siegmeister (1909-1991), in birth, in musical education, and stylistic growth, had followed a markedly similar path to that of Aaron Copland. He became a political radical in the 1930s and tried to address ordinary laborers, office workers, and college students with his in music. Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight is a cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra, on a poem by Vachel Lindsay. It was completed in September 1937. The vocal lines interpret the meaning of the text; the harmonies are meant to augment the colors conjured up by the physical milieu delineated in the poem. He lays out his entirely original work guided by the historical and character indications of the poem rather than by any theoretical music laws. A restless Lincoln moves through a dark landscape while anguished over the woes of humanity. Diatonicism, spacious intervals of perfect fourths and fifths, some major-minor attractive choral resonances pervade the measures. The musical ending makes a strong, affirmative, uplifting assertion, all voices homophonically united, on the phrase “He cannot rest until the Workers’ Earth shall come, Bringing peace to Cornland, Alp, and Sea.”

Frederick Shepherd Converse (1871-1940) taught, and composed music in Boston for his entire life. His training in aGermanic style came from John Knowles Paine, at Harvard. For much of his life he composed in this style, which lacked a deliberate native orientation. Suddenly, in 1926, he came out with Flivver Ten Million, an innovative musical romp for orchestra on the serio-comic life of an American automobile that incorporated scraps of popular and traditional tunes. The next year, he composed California for orchestra, made up of festival scenes that depicted the state’s history via Spanish, Amerindian, and American vernacular song and dance. In 1929, Converse completed the orchestration of American Sketches, a symphonic suite, which the Boston Symphony premiered in 1935. Some material, originally intended for California, appears in its measures. Its descriptive but not realistic movements begin with “Manhattan,” where the bustle and tension, splendor and meanness, and ultimately the loneliness of the city are described without resorting to jazz or Broadway rhythms. “The Father of Waters” follows. It introduces a broad and tranquil melody to capture the placid flow of the Mississippi and utilizes an old African-American melody, “The Levee Moan,” which Converse had found in Carl Sandburg’s The American Song Bag. “Chicken Reel” is next, a straightforward, scherzo-is presentation of an old country-fiddler’s tune, which also came from Sandburg. Last, “Bright Angel’ Trail (A Legend of the Grand Canyon)” encompasses the feelings aroused by the Canyon’s enigmatic depths, kaleidoscopic lighting, magnificent vistas, and legend of the birth of the Hopi Indian tribe in its chasm.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990), the “composer from Brooklyn,” after study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, had gone through a jazz-Stravinsky stylistic period in the mid-1920s, but then turned to an abstract, atonal, highly dissonant, and off-putting style in 1929 that continued until the mid-1930s. Statements, an example of this second style, was completed in 1935 on a commission from the League of Composers. It did not receive acomplete performance until 1942 with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic. Six succinct orchestral movements, each of striking character, were given suggestive titles to facilitate the public’s understanding of the composer’s intent. The first, “Militant,” features a single theme, five-measures long and markedly bold in rhythm, except in the short, quiet, and slower middle section. The texture is polyphonic; the harmony, non-triadic and sometimes polytonal. The second, “Cryptic,” sets forth three brief ideas heard in fragmentary patterns, implying a serial approach, and exploiting unusual timbres. Mysterious and leaving much unsaid, it proceeds in linear fashion, remaining expressive and personal throughout, and closing as quietly as it had opened. Movement Three, “Dogmatic,” is a satirical scherzo based on a four-note rhythmic motive and makes an impression not unlike Shostakovich’s The Age of Gold ballet suit. The melodic treatment is pointillistic; the chords sound chunky. A discreet insertion of the theme from his Piano Variations (1930) occurs. Number four, “Subjective,” incorporates the first of his Elegies for violin and viola, which he wrote in Mexico in 1932. Placid, poetic lines heard in divided strings, with the string basses silent, project a contemplative mood throughout. Next, “Jingo” presents a humorous, busy-about-nothing rondo where intermittently “The Sidewalks of New York” surfaces. The crass pounding out of a three-quarter-note rhythmical pattern on the same tone characterizes much of the movement. Here, even more than in the third movement, there is a hint of Shostakovich. Finally, “Prophetic” veers between meditative expressivity and strident drama. A slow introduction ushers in the main theme, a chorale whose harmonic background hints at a traditional triadic constructions. One discerns, as if in a distorting mirror, the sounds of the Appalachian Spring, still to come.

Roy Harris (1898-1979) always felt that he was the American composer. Born in Oklahoma, he claimed the West, from the Mississippi to the Pacific, as his territory and considered the music he wrote as embodying the will of the American people. His Third Symphony (1939) had been acclaimed throughout the nation. He hoped to achieve a similar success with his Fourth Symphony, entitled The Folk Song Symphony, written in the autumn of 1939 and January and February of 1940. Its premiere was in Cleveland, in December 1940. Harris said that he conceived the work as a way to bring together high-school, college, and community choruses with their symphony orchestras. The songs come from Cowboy and Other Frontier Ballads and American Ballads and Folksongs, collected by Jon and Alan Lomax or from The American Song Bag of Carl Sandburg. Most of the choral singing is a direct unison rendering of attractive traditional American tunes. Without question the ambience and essential quality of the composition is genuinely American. there is no question of the composer’s sincerity. Harmony is usually unobtrusive and consonant with the spirit of the tunes, only occasionally introducing an element of incongruousness or inappropriateness. For most of its length, however, the symphony remains vital and distinctive. The first movement, “Welcome Party,” relies on an almost exact quotation of the P. S. Gilmore song, published in 1963, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” The rhythms are jaunty and rambunctious. Movement two, “Western Cowboy,” employs two plaintive tunes, “Oh, Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” (which is endlessly repeated) and “As I Walked Out in the Streets of Loredo.” A pleasant “Interlude,” “Dance Tunes for Strings and Percussion,” with fiddle tunes modeled after extant types, closes off the first section.

The fourth movement, “Mountaineer Love Song,” features a haunting melody from North Carolina, “Yandro” or “I’m Goin’ Away for to Stay a Little While.” The result is a superb nostalgic lament. Another instrumental dance “Interlude,” comes after. This time it is for full orchestra, resembles a hoe-down, and turns out very likable. It employs the melodies of “The Birds’ Courting Song” or “The Blackbird and the Crow” and “Jump tip, My Lady.” The sixth movement, “Negro Fantasy,” (Draws on the traditional “Moanin’,” sung by black and white Southern congregations. Real musical development takes place throughout. The composer’s inspiration is convincing. Last, the “Finale” is based on the cowboy song “If Ever I Travel Thus Road Again,” plus a recurrence of the Gilmore song heard in the first movement. This closing movement is extremely brief and barely suffices to round off the entire work.

The Composer’s Voice: Influence and Originality in Hartmann and Mahler

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert The Composer’s Voice, performed on Oct 6, 1996 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Karl Amadeus Hartmann was, as Andrew D. McCredie, the leading Hartmann scholar, has pointed out, an artist of conscience. The central question for his generation–the crucible of its creative work–was the rise of fascism and the Second World War. Hartmann was a Bavarian and born a Catholic. He was the descendant of generations of artisans, artists, and teachers. In contrast to most of his contemporaries, he was unable to come to terms with the horrors of Nazism. Emigration was unreasonable and collaboration impossible. As a result, in his formative years, he found himself driven to silence.

It should therefore come as no surprise that a large portion of the music that appeared publicly after 1950 which made his reputation drew from music written during the 1930s and 1940s. Before 1945, Hartmann could find practically no acceptable venue for expression. Writing music in opposition to the world around oneself with no opportunity for performance and the ever-present possibility that one could put oneself in jeopardy present a psychologically terrifying reality. Hartmann was one of the very few German artists and intellectuals who maintained a truly honorable “inner emigration.” He stayed in obscurity, out of the public eye. At the same time, he composed arguably some of this century’s greatest, most intense music. What characterizes his symphonic work is not only an extraordinary command of the craft of composition, but a thorough commitment to the complex and subtle elaboration of musical ideas. Hartmann’s music, from the first note to the last, reveals an emotional power and a moral honesty. Human decency and talent are transfigured into a distinctive musical voice. Most of his works from the 1930s and 1940s function simultaneously on a formal and programmatic plane. In the formalist matrix, the pain of recognition around the composer is audible throughout. Hartmann’s heroism and achievement are all the more remarkable because his music affects us decades after the political events have passed into history.

The core of Hartmann’s accomplishment is his eight symphonies. In this sense, his work can be compared to that of Dmitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich was another leading composer caught in the web of dictatorship and terror, but he remained a public figure and sought to come to some accommodation with the world around him, despite its evident evil. The cost to Shostakovich was profound and gave rise to elements of satire, banality, crudeness, irony, and bitterness. Hartmnann’s retreat from the world lent his music a pervasive integrity and the aspect of suffering. I believe that Hartmann is a symphonist equal in stature to Shostakovich, and one of the few great symphonic composers of this century.

The First Symphony is typical of Hartmann’s struggle to reconcile music with life. Much of it was written during the 1930’s. Hartmann took his text from the American poet Walt Whitman, who himself was profoundly influenced by the American Civil War. In Hartmann’s First Symphony, then, we have a German composer setting the words of the poet of democracy and the enemy of his own country. But Whitman’s significance for twentieth-century musical modernism was not solely political. By the 1920s, Whitman had become a favorite of the German avant-garde. In 1913, the leading journal of turn-of-the-century musical modernism, Der Merker, published aphorisms by Walt Whitman. Hartmann’s choice was therefore also a statement about the necessity to continue the modernist idiom in music which came into being during the first three decades of this century.

During the 1930s, the Nazi Party spearheaded an aesthetic turn away from modernism toward a nostalgic conservative neoromanticism. Music and text in the First Symphony set the stage for Hartmann to write a symphonic essay that integrated political resistance in the form of aesthetic experimentalism. Although, as Robert Maxham points out, Hartmann was deeply influenced by Bruckner, the First Symphony reminds one also of the Mahler of the Second, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Symphonies. Hartmann’s musical language is an eclectic but thoroughly original achievement. Arnold Schoenberg was reputed to have said to an aspiring composer that no one should write music unless it sounded as if it had to be. There is this aura of necessity in all of Hartmann’s scores. lie never lapses into sentimentality or self-indulgence. Hartmann was severely self-critical and as a result, the final versions of his music are tightly structured and unerringly well-paced, with magical and terrifying timbres.

The Sixth Symphony, like the First, was derived from another case of the symbiosis of the literary and the musical. This time Hartmann chose Emile Zola, who like Whitman had become a symbol of a humanistic social conscience. Zola, more particularly, was the most celebrated opponent of political anti-Semitism owing to his courageous role in the Dreyfus affair. Once again Hartmann’s anti-German feelings are evident in his use of a French writer. His legendary penchant for revision and his difficulty in letting works go may (as in the case of the Sixth Symphony) indeed constitute a final piece of evidence regarding the nobility of his spirit. finlike other composers in the post-World War II era, Hartmann never exploited the public recognition of the war’s atrocities. He never conveniently used the pain and suffering of the past in order to spur his own muse. A listener today will find access to the aesthetic and the emotional in Hartmann’s music without any awareness of the specific historical circumstances which occasioned the music’s composition. It is to be hoped that the music of Hartmann–which is entirely neglected in the American concert hall–will be given its due not only because it reminds us that it is possible to sustain human decency without martyrdom even in the worst of times, but because it is great music that is accessible upon first hearing, which does not lose its magic after repeated exposure.

Today’s listener will have already anticipated many of the links between Hartmann and Mahler. To refer once again to the insights of Schoenberg, Mahler’s integrity as an artist and friend was what made him the idol of a younger generation of musicians, composers, and writers. Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg, three of the most influential twentieth-century composers, saw in Mahler their most significant predecessor. As the distinguished Mahler scholar, Edward R. Reilly, has written, Das klagende Lied held a special place in Mahler’s life. It was his first foray into large-scale composition, and its rejection led to a period of self-doubt. Like Hartmann, Mahler reworked and reutilized his own music. The material of his songs appear inure than once in his symphonies. In Hartmann’s case, the thematic material in the symphonies can be found in other works. It was with a sense of triumph and irony that Mahler chose the revised version of his early work with which to make his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1901, after he had been elected by that orchestra as its conductor. If Hartmann, who was no outsider in his own community in terms of nationality and religion, chose as literary inspiration the writings of foreigners, Mahler, a Jew from Bohemia, chose the quintessential nineteenth-century source of German cultural authenticity–the fairy tales of Grimm–with which to appear in triumph before the Viennese audience. In one clear sense, Mahler, in this work, provided a model for Hartmann. As in Hartmann’s First Symphony, text and the procedure of symphonic writing work together. Both composers believed deeply in the ethical and in oral power of art. If neither of them succeeded in writing music that encouraged more goodness and perhaps even tolerance in listeners in their own time, they nevertheless wrote music which to this day retains the potential to inspire its listener to reflect and to resist evil. The achievement of both of these composers bears witness to the resiliency of the aesthetic imagination in this century.