Our appetizer today: Death and the Maiden. For the Mahler fans...
If you're not a Schubert fan, you might remember Death and the Maiden from Ariel Dorfman's use of it in his play of the same name about Chilean state torture, or the Roman Polanski film based on Dorfman's play. I'm not going to analyze any of the piece. We'll have a full diary on Death and the Maiden some day. It deserves full attention.
I had heard for years that Mahler had prepared an orchestral version of Schubert's Death and the Maiden, but never actually heard it myself. The Internet is so cool, though, eh? There isn't just one live performance of the Mahler version on Youtube, but several.
If you prefer Schubert's original quartet version, that's fine with me.
A Mahler piece below, some bloviation, a shameless appeal for a donation, and then the magnificent last two movements of Schubert's Ninth Symphony, of which we heard and discussed the first two movements last week.
Turnabout is fair play, eh? Here's a jazz arrangement of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder (Dead Baby Songs) for double bass, viola, vibraphone, electric guitars and drums. I think I actually prefer this version to the original.
I used to be confused when people compared Schubert to Mahler. There styles really are so vastly different and decades apart. But there are small elements. For one, there is the mixing of major and minor, one of the distinguishing features of Schubert's own voice. Listen, for example, to how Mahler uses it above at about between 0:40 and 1:05.
Now, major/minor mixing isn't really advanced. It's just a technique, one that when used a certain way can create a certain kind of bittersweet or nostalgic sound. Or morbid. And there's the link between Mahler and Schubert -- that bittersweet, anxious, nostalgic sound that infuses some of Schubert's music, like the middle section of last week's Andante.
And now an appeal...
I'm going to risk losing my amateur status for just a moment. I'm in dire need. Rather than simply beg, I'm going to ask for it the way my mother would ask.
As I mentioned in last week's diary, I really do need a new coffee cup. However, I'm very, very picky. I didn't have enough time last week to really explain just how picky. I made the following graphic to explain just what kind of cup I need.
(If the diary's late tonight, you can blame it on that pic.)
How much are these diaries worth to you? Do you throw away $100 at a time on PBS begathons where you get the subscriber bonus of Andrea Bocelli singing the Best of The Moody Blues? Do you throw away $200 on progressive candidates like Bill Halter, making you what Rahm Emanuel described as a "fucking retard?"
So now ask yourself, how much is this diary worth to you? Is it worth a lousy coffee cup? Just remember: without coffee, NONE OF MY DIARIES WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE. (I can't speak for the many diaries by the other diary contributors, though. They must have their own dirty habits.) Just as a Daytona 500 racing car will come to a screeching sputtering halt without umpty-ump gallons of high-octane aviation fuel, my brain becomes a popping sputtering blob of gray goose pate without morning coffee. I'm pitiful that way. You should pity me.
Should you decide to send me, pitiful Dumbo, a coffee cup, my address is the following. In Morse Code. And yes, it's real Morse code and it's my real home address. I'm not stupid enough to post my real address online without some minimal kind of fakery.
.-. --- -. ..- -. -.. . .-. .-- --- --- -.. ...-- ..--- --... . .-.-.- ..... ----. - .... ... - .-.-.- .-.. --- -. --. -... . .- -.-. .... -.-. .- .-.. .. ..-. --- .-. -. .. .- ----. ----- ---.. ----- .....
Now back to the Schubert...
To recap, Schubert heard Beethoven's Ninth in 1824 and started composing his own last symphony a year later. So there are some similarities between the two symphonies, some obvious homages to Beethoven, whom Schubert, like the one in Peanuts, looked up to as a God. Personally, given my choice of listening to two radio stations, one playing Beethoven's Ninth and the other one playing Schubert's Ninth, I choose the Schubert, but that's just me.
The third movement scherzo follows a similar gigantic form to the scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth. I.e., it's a Sonata-allegro movement on both ends with a middle trio section. When we did Beethoven, somebody asked what a trio is. It means the middle section of a symmetrical movement. Thus, my calling it a middle trio section is redundant, but much of what I say is.
If a movement is in the form A-B-A... then B is the trio.
If a movement is in the form ABA-CDC-ABA... then CDC is the trio.
Like the scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth, this movement is a weird hybrid of symmetrical and Sonata-Allegro form. Let's remember quickly what Sonata-Allegro form is with my handy dandy blue graphic that saves me typing.
Dumbo's handy dandy blue graphic explaining Sonata-Allegro Form
I suppose this is intimidating anybody who hasn't been around here before. My goal is not to complicate the music or point out irrelevant things, but to help explain them, in the belief that once you know the topography of the nature park map, the forest itself won't be too big to enjoy.
If we substitute that big lump of blue stuff for ABA, then we have a movement like ABA-CDC-ABA, where the ABA section (now a Sonata-Allegro part) repeats at the end. And there's a trio CDC section in the middle. As trios, by definition, are.
There's another thing going on in this movement, the trick of the movement. There are two rhythms embedded within each other, a fast one and a slow one. On the surface, we have a very fast and lively three-beat waltz type rhythm. But if you back up a little and listen again -- and the music forces you to at some points to do this -- you feel the longer, slower, swinging rhythm,.
There are also some absolutely magnificent parts for the brass at key points in this movement.
I'm going to go with the Szell recording again, rather than a video, because Szell NAILS it. Of all four movements, I would say that this is probably the movement that's the hardest on the conductors. The other three have a lot more room for nuances of interpretation, but even conducted without any inspiration, they're brilliant. The third movement, however, is the easiest to screw up. Bad conducting here, without the necessary energy, can make this very lackluster. That probably describes half of all recordings made of this symphony.
Schubert's Symphony #9 in C Major, Third Movement, Allegro vivace, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra
Exposition First Theme (0:00)
And In C major, we're off, the deeper strings starting us off with a fast choppy motif. Dada dada dada DUM DUM DUM. The first theme is short, assertive, and happy.
Exposition Second Theme (0:22)
... And within twenty seconds, we're already into the more lyrical second theme, in G major. Notice how it has that slower, swinging rhythm embedded in it. In the middle, it softens, as if crouching down... and then leaps forward again! Gotcha.
Exposition Repeat (0:43)
All the above repeated from the beginning.
With a sudden key change, we're suddenly in A flat. Thus we begin a journey, passing from key to key with our two themes as the passengers, the slow rhythm one and the fast rhythm one, who turn out to fit and play together very nicely. At 2:00, the "crouching for the spring" music of the exposition returns, but it takes a more elaborate and wandering course, and with a sudden twist... it plops us back down in the home key of C major, ready for...
Recapitulation First Theme Again (2:36)
... the recapitulation. The first theme is back, but it's more subdued now, played by the woodwinds rather than the brusque basses. The forcefulness of the deeper strings returns right at the end, as we segue into...
Recapitulation Second Theme Again (3:05)
... The second theme again. Now in the home key of C major.
Coda/Codetta type thingie, here. (3:22)
The woodwinds take a gentle look back, and then we stomp our way to what would be the end of any normal Sonata-Allegro movement. But noooo... we segue straight into...
The Trio section begins (3:42)
The orchestra drops out. A solo horn sustains a single note. Woodwinds come in, repeating that note.... It rises...
The woodwinds and brass instruments introduce a new, lyrical, flowing theme, a great example of Schubert's melodic inventiveness. It seems slow, but notice in the background the soft but fast playing of the woodwinds, maintaining the dual slow/fast trick. The trombones have some great moments here, especially when the theme darkens a bit, starts to switch to minor, but the brass come alive and straighten it out.
At 5:47, the clarinets end the trio section gently and wistfully, and set us up for the return of
Repeat of the Sonata-Allegro Exposition-Development-Recapitulation thing (6:04)
And this is all the same as before.
-------------- END OF THE THIRD MOVEMENT. ------------
Beginning of the coffee break! I did this last week as well, between the first and second movements, because this symphony does tend to run rather long and I don't want to wear anybody out. So take a breath. Really, make some coffee! Come back. Sit down. And get ready for the final movement.
Which is in Sonata-Allegro form, no surprise there. This movement, like the first movement which we heard last week, is a fantastic exercise in tension management. Schubert paces the movement, ratcheting up tension over time, so the movement becomes like a rising Evel Kneival jump ramp. George Szell again.
And Beethoven's Ninth Symphony's Ode to Joy theme will make a brief cameo appearance here. Schubert thus makes his own Ninth Symphony into the first in a long line of Ode-to-Joy tribute pieces. It's only a few seconds, though; don't expect too much.
Schubert's Symphony #9 in C Major, Fourth(final) Movement, Allegro vivace, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra
Exposition First Theme (0:00)
After a strong fanfare from the brass, the first theme begins, simple enough in its beginnings in the violins. But notice the fast whirling accompaniment in the background. As the theme progresses, it gathers more instruments. The horn fanfare returns (0:50), bookending the theme, and giving us a dramatic transition to the key of G, setting us up for...
Exposition Second Theme (1:30)
The slightly more relaxed second theme is introduced by the woodwinds. Simple enough, it's main motif is four notes. Da ... da ... da ... da ... That will be one of the building blocks of the movement.
The very rapid accompaniment of the strings continues in the background through this theme. NOTE: That fast string work is one reason why many less well-trained orchestras won't touch this symphony. George Szell's Cleveland Orchestra, though, was unsurpassed at this kind of thing. That fast accompaniment -- a very rapid du-bu-du-BUM sound, will be with us through much of the rest of the movement and will help provide and control some of the growing tension as it swells and subsides.
Exposition Codetta (2:20)
The second theme fades away, and a fast figure in the violins rockets forward. The Da...da...da...da... motif returns, but now more forcefully, struggling forwards. We reach a moment of crisis at 2:50 as the brass, in a minor key, tear in there in a dramatic and forceful way.
Oh, what's going to happen to us!
And then... AH.... (3:01) It BURSTS out into a climactic cadence that sums up and releases all the tension built up during the exposition.
And the orchestra fades away... And fades... And fades, gently, blissfully. Postcoital cigarette time.
This itself is very interesting. You never hear that in Beethoven or Mozart. Schubert ends the exposition with the climactic moment fading away, almost into infinity. Almost... Notice the ominous rumble in the bass there at the end.
Development Section (3:27)
The rumble begins a transition to a new key. A new lyrical theme is introduced by a clarinet. It's not obvious at first, but the theme as it evolves has a striking similarity to Beethoven's Ode to Joy, and that was probably intentional.
4:00. The theme passes from the woodwinds to the strings, where it becomes more tense. The music rises... rises...
4:18. DAH! DAH! DAH! DAH! The horns are back with the four note motif. This too reaches a mini-climax and then fades away. Fades away, fades away...
Recapitulation: First Theme Again (5:14)
... But not completely. It rallies. The opening fanfare sounds out, as if we're at recapitulation. But we can't be -- we're in the wrong key, E-flat! There's some double-dealing going on here. It clearly says on the program "Schubert's Great Symphony in C Major."
Schubert here is playing complicated games with Sonata-Allegro form, and we've seen him do this before, like with the Quartet in G two weeks ago. The first many times I heard this symphony, I didn't understand this shit, and I enjoyed it immensely without it. But if you're invested in it enough to be reading this, it's worth knowing what he's doing here; it's sophisticated business and deserves to be fully appreciated. Rather than returning us to the tension relieving home key as my little blue graphic says all good recapitulations do, Schubert here uses the recapitulation to toss us around some more, increasing the drama, passing us from key to key. Until we reach...
Recapitulation Second Theme Again (6:51)
And suddenly we emerge, with a sudden and strange twist into the home key. The second theme returns intact (da... da... da... da...). But this time it's stronger, reinforced by the horns.
Recapitulation Codetta Again (7:37)
I called this the Codetta before, so I'll call it that again. But there's a new urgency to it, especially as Szell conducts it here.
At 8:20, we get the fade away again. Fading away... fading away. But we can clearly see on the clip that we have several minutes left! What's that all about?
That's what. The rumble again. But the tension begins to build up to the big finale we waited an hour in the concert hall for, and this is just fucking magnificent.
9:30. DAH! DAH! DAH! DAH!!! Pummeling us! The strings become a whirlwind. And the full orchestra, brass leading the charge, bring us HOME!
------------------- THE END ----------------------
God I love Schubert's Ninth. I realize it may be an acquired taste, but I feel as if I own it. I've listened to it enough times, absorbed it into the pores of my skin, to the point where it just feels as if it's part of me, something that can't be taken away from me. If I were rounded up and stuck in a FEMA concentration camp tomorrow, I'd still have Schubert's Ninth with me, in my head. I know it that well from having listened to it that many times.
NEXT WEEK: Unless we have some volunteers who want to do an intervening diary, next week will be Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, the first two movements.