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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 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.

Elgar’s The Kingdom

by Leon Botstein

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

During the Bard Music Festival in 2007, which had Edward Elgar as its focus, the American Symphony Orchestra planned to present in the New York area the composer’s three great oratorios. The festival, at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, closed with a performance of The Dream of Gerontius. The title role was brilliantly sung by Vinson Cole. The performance took on a special significance when the audience realized that Jessye Norman had come to hear Cole in this daunting but magnificent role. The chorus was prepared by James Bagwell, who also prepared the chorus for today’s performance of The Kingdom. The superb Princeton University volume that accompanies each year’s festival was entitled Elgar and His World, and was edited by the author of the program notes that accompany today’s concert, the distinguished Elgar scholar, Byron Adams.

In 2017 the ASO performed Elgar’s The Apostles on the stage here at Carnegie Hall. The reason for the gap of a decade between Gerontius and The Apostles was a combination of financial and cultural factors. Choral-orchestral works are expensive and, from a comparative standpoint regarding the value of money, extravagant affairs, especially in our society where hoarding money and acquiring permanent assets have gained an improbable prestige. The performing arts that require large forces—many performers with no potential of a CGI-like digital equivalent—suffer, despite the fact that we live in an era of extreme wealth. There is a pervasive sense among those who could support concert life that the cost of putting on one live large-scale professional performance, which remains only in one’s memory, seems utterly wasteful and capricious. Nonetheless, 75 percent of the costs of an evening at the symphony are wages that make it possible for musicians to earn a respectable but modest middle-class living. In a society that is unwilling to provide tax-based economic support for the performing arts, we are dependent on private charity and therefore we can only put on large scale programs intermittently. Furthermore, the number of high-caliber amateur choruses in New York has fallen, making it essential to work with professional singers in the chorus.

Yet, the 2017 Apostles performance was successful. A century had passed between it and the previous performance in New York. The Apostles created a groundswell of support for completing the ASO plan to perform all three Elgar oratorios. Emails and letters came in urging us to schedule The Kingdom—the least well known and least appreciated of Elgar’s oratorios. The ASO is pleased that only a two-year hiatus was needed, not a decade.

The cultural factor behind all this is a lingering prejudice against unfamiliar music within the public. It seems that only a few choral-orchestral works are guaranteed to fill a large concert hall—Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Messiah, the Verdi Requiem. When was the last time one heard, in a major venue in New York, a performance of Dvořák’s Requiem, Schumann’s Scenes from Faust, or Mendelssohn’s St. Paul, all undisputed great works, much less the many less well-known gems from the choralorchestral repertoire?

It is hard not to notice a generous erosion in the public’s interest in history. There is now a welcome enthusiasm for new music, but there is a palpable loss of curiosity in the music of the past, again with the exception of familiar and acknowledged masterpieces. It therefore bears repeating that the way we tell the story of the past influences what we choose to do in the present and future. We neglect the rich history of music at our own peril.

We justify our neglect on account of an appeal to history as the ultimate arbiter of judgment. The world of music suffers from the illusion that the only music worth hearing are works that have survived the test of time. They are said to have persisted as part of the repertory and therefore deserve to be classified as masterpieces. The truth is, however, more complicated. Not all works that one might deem masterpieces survive the test of time. The reasons for that are not issues of quality, but matters of accident, politics, or mere bad luck. As the taste and education of our audiences have shifted from active amateur participation in making music, at home and in the community, to an audience accustomed to listening on electronic devices, more and more pieces of music find themselves passed over, even though some sound document of them can be found on the Internet. Even recent works vanish after a few performances. The music that remains and is played practically every season gets validated by an obsession peculiar to classical music; the obsession with some saintly status of an aesthetic of perfection that is granted to a few works. The audience seems more interested in the next rendering of a well-known work from the past than encountering some glorious but unfamiliar work once considered as great by past generations of musicians and listeners.

Neither literature or painting operate with such an obsession with a small canon deemed to represent unmatched greatness. The recent re-opening of the Museum of Modern Art easily reveals the contrast. A treasure trove of historic works, not all icons and not all hyper-familiar, are displayed alongside more recent art. The ASO has sought to reclaim the rapidly forgotten past for many years through performances. It has hung, on the stage, so to speak, the kind of works proudly displayed by MOMA and visible permanently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Within this somewhat dispiriting context of the absence of enthusiasm for great but unfamiliar music from the past with a slim performance history, English music, written in the 19th and 20th centuries, has struggled. Elgar was the first composer since Henry Purcell to achieve worldwide fame and broad acknowledgement as a major figure. His breakthrough to fame as a composer came rather late in life and it marked the beginning of an English renaissance in music that has continued to this day. But in New York, Elgar’s reputation has failed to lift the works of Parry and Stanford, or Bridge, Bliss, and Walton into view. A concert of English music from the past is not one that seems naturally to draw a crowd, with the possible exception of music by Britten.

Even though among English composers, Elgar remains the best known, The Kingdom has remained virtually hidden from American audiences. Gerontius (I still remember from my childhood a mesmerizing account with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie under Sir John Barbirolli) has gained some currency. But The Apostles and The Kingdom continue to experience resistance. Part of that resistance is once again financial since given the expense of choral works, most organizations retreat to the most popular, works such as the Verdi Requiem and the Messiah. The irony is that the travesty of neglect that persists for orchestral music may be even more severe when it comes to sacred and secular choral music with instrumental accompaniment from the 19th and 20th centuries. Therefore, the ASO is justly proud to present The Kingdom.

This performance is a rare opportunity. The critical evaluation of the work, as Byron Adams has suggested, has been compromised by a sense that Elgar’s own enthusiasm for the subject and the form may have waned. I think that view is unfair, even though there are good reasons to consider Gerontius a “greater” work. In preparing the 2017 performance of The Apostles, I came to the view that The Apostles is not inferior to Gerontius, as most literature on music history would have you believe. That sense of inferiority should also be dismissed in the case of The Kingdom. For all its virtues, the musical and poetic argument of Gerontius is profoundly obscure, subtle, and perhaps even dark. The subject matter of The Kingdom is, in contrast, transparent and, given the ending with the touching setting of The Lord’s Prayer, generously directed toward a broad audience.

Although today’s performance is by a professional chorus, one needs to remember that all three works by Elgar were written with large amateur choruses in mind. These works were also written with the expectation that performances before a listening audience made up of many amateurs would in turn inspire the audience to participate in and organize future performances, much like today’s many amateur, summer stock, provincial, and high school performances of works from the musical theater that began their life with successful premieres and runs on Broadway.

It also should be remembered that the generations of musicians and listeners who immediately preceded us were far more allergic to the on-the-sleeve piety of Elgar’s lush writing. There is something self-consciously emotional and beautiful about the music in this work. Despite its monumental Edwardian and British Imperial grandiosity and rhetoric, The Kingdom has the unmistakable character of using music to turn theology and faith into an accessible democratic experience. It is Elgar’s music that permits the generous dissemination of the highest aspirations of a universal church, one marked by humility and belief in the divine. Elgar may himself have become more skeptical in his faith, but his music, as the audience encounters the music of The Kingdom, enables a religious idealism to triumph. Elgar succeeds in mirroring to us the best of ourselves. Through the quintessentially human art of the imagination— music—the human invention of the divine and its ethics, through faith, suggest the highest standard for human behavior. Human virtue finds its eloquent incarnation in sound.

In our age of strife, hate, greed, invective, and conflict, Elgar’s lyric and dramatic eloquence is a welcome reminder of what we, as a community and a nation, might aspire to, and how we might interact with one another in our public and private lives.

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.

Robert Mann, Fantasy for Orchestra

by Matthew Mugmon

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

Born July 19, 1920, in Portland, Oregon
Died January 1, 2018, in New York City
Composed in 1957
Premiered on February 23, 1957 at Carnegie Hall, with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos
Performance Time: Approximately 13 minutes

A celebrated violinist who died last year at 97, Robert Mann was an outsize figure in the world of chamber music performance. He spent more than 50 years, from 1946 to 1997, as the renowned Juilliard String Quartet’s founding first violinist. By the time Mann’s Fantasy for Orchestra appeared on a New York Philharmonic program in 1957, he was a composer of some note. The Fantasy came about because Dimitri Mitropoulos, the orchestra’s music director, caught wind of some of Mann’s music and asked him for an orchestral work.

The New York Philharmonic never again performed the Fantasy after its premiere—or any of Mann’s other works, for that matter. Nor are commercial recordings available. But program notes for the premiere highlighted the straightforward multipartite structure of this single-movement work; it begins with “a slow introduction, in a somewhat reflective vein,” followed by a fast, bustling section, a return of the introduction’s sensibility, and, finally, “a brief allusion” at the work’s conclusion to the faster material.

Even if the Fantasy faded from view after its premiere, Mann’s stature as a musician in New York certainly lent weight to the event; Harold C. Schonberg, in his review in The New York Times, wrote that Mann “blossomed out as a composer” with the work, which was dedicated to the memory of the distinguished patron Alma Morgenthau (1887–1953). Although Schonberg found the Fantasy to be more of a technical than a “personal” expression, he praised Mann’s orchestration, linked its “rhythmic devices” to American compositional trends, and offered an (admittedly backhanded) compliment about its cinematic quality (“One could easily imagine it as the background music of a very expensive grade A film”). In calling it “an elaborate mood piece with, possibly, a hidden program,” Schonberg hinted at the work’s potential to move audiences with its stirring soundscapes, characterized by what the critic described as pervasive dissonance.

Matthew Mugmon is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Arizona.

Vivian Fine, Concertante for Piano and Orchestra

by Matthew Mugmon

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

Born September 28, 1913, in Chicago, Illinois
Died March 20, 2000, in Bennington, Vermont
Composed in 1943–44
Premiered in 1944
Performance Time: Approximately 17 minutes

Vivian Fine’s multifaceted output as a composer included vocal, chamber, orchestral, and theater works. Fine was also a highly regarded pianist, and her Concertante reflects her deep attachment to the keyboard. The work is readily connected to neoclassicism—a term that suggests a strong interest in forms and styles of the baroque and classical periods. A number of significant twentieth-century musical figures were associated with neoclassicism, including Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. Both Copland and Stravinsky wrote piano concertos, but Fine’s term “concertante” suggests something subtly different: it points to the work’s heritage in compositions that featured multiple soloists. In Fine’s piece, the piano is obviously the highlighted soloist, complete with a cadenza in the second (and final) movement. But the title “concertante” invites us to hear the piano and orchestra as existing on a more equal footing than they might in a typical classical or romantic concerto. In fact, Fine said that the work was “modeled after the concerti grossi” of baroque composers. Following the spirit of such works, Fine’s Concertante eschews extended passages for the soloist in favor of a more extensive interplay among instrumental forces.

For Fine, its heritage in baroque music meant that the musical language of the Concertante was tonal—“deliberately” so, as Fine said, “while most of my other pieces, while not atonal, are freely atonal and freely tonal at the same time.” The Concertante begins with a study of contrasts: forceful, declamatory orchestral declarations yield to songlike piano passages. This alternation quickly gives way to a more fluid interaction between soloist and orchestra, but the basic sense of division—sometimes jarring and sudden—between sweeping and delicate melodies, on the one hand, and gritty, even strident passages, on the other, characterize the wide-ranging and dramatic opening movement. A faster and more playful second movement rounds out the work. Here, rhythmic energy and verve suggest a swirling dance between piano and orchestra. One highlight, though, is a brief, tender woodwind passage that temporarily interrupts the movement’s defining buoyancy. A lively piano cadenza flows into a jovial conclusion for piano and orchestra.

Matthew Mugmon is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Arizona.

Jacob Druckman, Prism

by Matthew Mugmon

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

Born June 26, 1928, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died May 24, 1996, in New Haven, Connecticut
Composed in 1979–80
Premiered on May 21, 1980 in Baltimore, with the Baltimore Symphony, conducted by Sergiu Comissiona
Performance Time: Approximately 22 minutes

Jacob Druckman’s Prism is perhaps best understood, at first, through the lens of a work Druckman admired: the Italian composer Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (1968), which Druckman called “a masterful example of the general tendency to reach backwards and forwards simultaneously.” The third movement of Berio’s Sinfonia employs the scherzo of Gustav Mahler’s (1860–1911) Second Symphony as the backdrop for a dizzying array of sonic explorations. Composed twelve years after the Sinfonia, Prism, like its predecessor, carries its own blend of reminiscence and innovation. In Druckman’s case, the “backwards” is not just the operatic work of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century composers he quotes—Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Médée), Francesco Cavalli (Il Giasone), and Luigi Cherubini (Médée)—but the ancient myth of Jason and Medea, the subject of those operas. The “forwards” is in Druckman’s inventive use of the orchestra, what Bernard Holland in a New York Times review described as “timbral devices” that “whirl around us in Cineramic brilliance.” It is also, to some extent, in the idea of splicing together a composition out of old masterpieces, fascinating effects, and surprising juxtapositions, allowing Druckman to capture not the myth itself but what he called “the many-layered quality of the telling and re-telling of the story. It is a reflection on the persistent re-emergence of the myth that lies at the center of the new work.”

Far from another retelling of the myth, then, Druckman’s Prism views the myth, and the operas that use it as the subject, through a kind of musical prism. Prism also hints at a narrative shape of its own through a fairly straightforward, even conventional, three-movement format. In the introductory first (and shortest) movement, what Druckman called Charpentier’s “pageantry”—complete with regal brass motifs—emerges from and recedes behind a dissonant, mysterious orchestral wash. The mostly slow and atmospheric but also whimsical second movement follows Cavalli’s interpretation of the myth “as a tender and comic love story.” The pace quickens in the finale, which takes as its starting point the way Cherubini “drives relentlessly toward [the myth’s] tragic conclusion.”

Matthew Mugmon is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Arizona.