What I Like About...
Ein deutsches Requiem
, No. 4: Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Tracks 38-42
There are two images of Brahms most salient in my generational memory of him (neither of which I have found online). One is of the beardless young pianist who met Jospeh Joachim
while touring with Hungarian Rhapsodies. Together, they would decry the merit of Wagner's new music. The other is of the bearded, cigar smoking, heavy man in old clothes sometimes reading Wagner's scores and sometimes reflecting on the long past hardships suffered by the Schumanns
. In this piece, especially in this excerpt, Brahms is somehow both of those points
in his life at once.
In part, perhaps, this unity is achieved by his orchestration. The choral writing, informed by Bach chorales, provides the total ensemble with a rich center. None of the instrumental parts attempt significant contrast from the vocal parts. There is almost a sense of Klangfarbenmelodie
in the orchestral doubling of the vocal lines. This concord is helped by the loudest sections of the orchestra--the brass (French horn notwithstanding) and percussion--taking a break for this movement.
We have recently heard from Gluck
, and Berlioz
in this anthology. Each of those composers used the orchestra to achieve contrast, though each with a different goal and result. Our esteemed scholars have found, in Brahms' oeuvre, a reminder of the homophonic vocal tradition that is the foundation of this "Western Music."
On the topic of Brahms, there are many wonderful comments to this post
from the Helen Radice archive.
Pope Marcellus for the Very Young
As we listen to the Brahms Requiem we should remember the lessons from the Pope Marcellus Mass (which appears in this anthology in two excerpts: Credo
and Agnus Dei
.) I was reminded of that piece the other day by Helen Radice
as she was commenting on Jessica Duchen’s Memory Lane
which referred to a wonderful post on Palestrina
by David Salvage
. In the comments responding to David Salvage’s post I found this interesting comment by Lawrence Dillon
In a perfect world, everybody (not just musicians) would take a course in 16th-century counterpoint. It requires almost no previous knowledge, and it teaches balance, aesthetic focus, patience and an appreciation for minor miracles.
In a perfect world, 16th-century counterpoint would be put in the required elementary or middle school curriculum, as a discipline that unites art and math studies.
Unfortunately, that will never happen in the world I live in.
My feeling is that it is not unlikely that this could happen in the world Dr. Dillon lives in. In fact, as a general music teacher at a Catholic school, I’ve been hoping to do something like that with my fourth and fifth grade recorder classes this year. The first half of the year we need to work on pitch, tone, and playing together. But, for the second half of the year we are open to taking on some 16th century counterpoint. I don't have a text for this as of yet, but we will see how it develops.
As far as the counterpoint becoming a part of their curriculum in other classes, that is also not impossible. At this school, a Catholic School, that would take some time. It is my observation that the Catholic School approach—and this is only my limited observation—seems to be very compartmentalized. But, other schools not far from us, the Waldorf and Montessori schools for example, I know rely heavily on coordinating lesson plans and prioritize the music curriculum. If they are not already, they may using Palestrina's counterpoint and the Pope Marcellus Mass in their lesson plans for the very young.
I would like to say that, in Brahmsian style, my internet hiatus--which in blogsphere years must be decades, has been due to an overly self-critical, cigar smoking approach to writing that really takes the time to get it just right and that I have produced a post on Brahms that is as well written as any one of his four symphonies. Sadly, I cannot claim that to be the case.
What I can say is that I am almost finished with an English Horn concerto I have been writing for about three years. I do not have a performance lined up or even an English Horn player in mind. Nonetheless, I am at the final editing stage and I am so eager to be done that I have been neglecting this blog in favor of the English Horn.
But I have still been thinking about this anthology. For instance, when I listen to Brahms' music, with my concerto almost finished nearby, I am humbled by how well he listened. His music has what any composer would want for their own works: it has a sensitivity to the accomplishments of others as well as a unique character.
I heard, each to each and together,
The distance between myself and those
Who were singing.
The ground was indistinct and vast yet
Provided no obstacle against
The waves of sound.
The air, dark, unlimited, was clean
And would have flowed as easily back
Were I singing.
It was my desire to listen.
Though I cannot say what I understood,
I lived in sound.
Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Track 37
It is not difficult to find people who dislike Mr. Bruckner's music. You may recall the tour bus metaphor offered by Tom Strini
last March (which I came across via Alex Ross
). And I do not think I could distance myself from opinions like Mr. Strini's too easily. As much as I admire maestro Skrowaczewski
, I have not followed his admiration for Bruckner. However, I have not ignored Bruckner entirely either and perhaps, in the future, I may be able to appreciate the substance of Mr. Bruckner's musical effort.
It seems that Bruckner's current fame is due to his symphonic output and specifically his Symphony Number 9. Which makes the choice of this piece, for a cappella choir, an interesting choice for the anthology. I am not sure that an excerpt of a Bruckner symphony would have shown us anything we had not already seen in the Marche au supplice
and I suspect that, unlike Berlioz, Bruckner does not do well in excerpts. With this choice we have a complete Bruckner work without taking too much time that shows a beautiful concern for music of antiquity blended with a personal creative spark.
The most lovely feature of this very modern choral writing is that the dynamics are a vital part of the thematic material. Not being familiar with the modern choral repertoire I hoped to find some commentary on this piece over at the Fredösphere
. No such luck. Was it there and I simply could not find it? At any rate, this piece would be a good one to serve as an introduction to Bruckner. It shows the straightforwardness and inventiveness of the man in a way that does not ask too much of the listener.
Geheimes Flüstern hier und dort
, Op. 23, No. 3
Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 9 Track 36
Her name reminds us of a conflict from the early years of her life: her father's vision of her future challenged by Robert's interest in her future. This child of divorced parents, who made good of her father's influence as a piano teacher, became a devoted wife. And, most interestingly, would survive her husband forty years.
It is my impression that in those forty some years, the Wieck/Schumann argument far behind her, Ms. Schumann was in a unique place in music history. She had the support of two of her children and a few friends. With her friends, good health and remarkable piano skills she was able to use that time to become perhaps the first pianist to thoroughly delve into the repertoire her late husband left behind. The tune we have here is memento of her marriage and the belief she shared with her husband that music should not do anything without meaning.
What I like about her song, written when she was thirty-four, is the appearance of seconds in the third line of the poem. Because the piano part, written by one with as speedy fingers as Liszt, is so understated, the listener is not overwhelmed and thus more sensitive to a change from thirds to seconds and back again.
Soon to return...
I've been preoccupied with the last few days of school and have been missing the blogsphere. I'll be back soon. Meanwhile, I posted the poem that was on my sidebar in order to have it in my archives. I also have a new poem for my sidebar.
By the way, should it be Side Bar
See you in a few days.
Some After time
time (when all
is done) id
more and you
this will be
er all de
and love are
has life been
and what is