martes, abril 06, 2010

The necessary transformation of symphonic repertoire

            Buenos Aires boasts two professional orchestras dedicated basically to giving concerts: the National Symphony and the B.A. Philharmonic. The Colón Orchestra also contributes sporadically, along with many second-string organisms. All this, plus an already long tradition, make it imperative that the menu offered music lovers be ample and eclectic; it often isn´t. Add to it that most of the visiting orchestras play the tried and true, and we get a low level of renovation, where aberrations happen such as not having premiered certain symphonies by Prokofiev, Nielsen or Ives, or totally ignoring a great symphonist like Berwald. Routine, lack of money, low attendance by a guilty public to important symphonic events, mediocrity of vision in functionaries and artists, all contribute.
            I will leave out of this survey Baroque music, which to my mind should be played by smaller historicist ensembles (notwithstanding some interesting Bach transcriptions make during the Twentieth Century). So I start with Classicism. The early stages need small orchestras of not more than thirty players (Sammartini or the Mannheim School), but as we go from Early to Middle to Mature Classicism, orchestras are gradually bigger. I believe we need a steady diet of Joseph Haydn and Mozart, going beyond the usual symphonies; so many treasures are never played. And we certainly should get to know selectively the other symphonists of that age: Cannabich, Abel, Beck, Kraus, Myslivecek, to name a few. And not just symphonies but also concerts, overtures, symphonic masses, etc.
            Beethoven tends to obliterate everything around him, but it certainly  pays to hear the four Clementi symphonies, and others by Méhul, Gossec, Boccherini, Weber. Plus piano concerti by Hummel and Field, and so many attractive opera  overtures. Even in Beethoven we should hear such things as the incidental music for "King Stephan" or "The Ruins of Athens". And such Schubert scores as the opera "Fierrabras" (concert version) or the oratorio "Lazarus".
            Romanticism still holds many surprises, especially the four Berwald symphonies (and his tone poems), some of Liszt´s tone poems and his big oratorios, the Gade and Raff symphonies, some Berlioz overtures (and we need the complete "Romeo and Juliet", absent since 1973), Mendelssohn´s "Athalia", even operas of great musical quality but not easily viable on the stage, from Weber, Schumann, Berlioz, Glinka, Marschner, Méhul, Spontini (concert opera is quite common in Europe).
            The second half of the Nineteenth Century (Postromanticism) also needs further exploration. Bruckner´s masses, his symphonies 0, 1 and 2 and his cantata "Helgoland", Brahms´ cantata "Rinaldo" and "Nänie", piano concertos by Paderewski and Scharwenka, Franck´s oratorio "Les Béatitudes", the Parry, Sullivan and Stanford symphonies, Grieg´s complete "Peer Gynt", the revival of Smetana´s cycle "Má Vlast" and some other symphonic poems of his , the insistence on Dvorák´s first five symphonies and on his late tone poems, the Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, Balakirev and Taneiev symphonies, works by Novak and Fibich, tone poems by Duparc and Chausson, the piano concertos and the suites by MacDowell, the suites by Tchaikovsky, the Gounod and Lalo symphonies…
            The Twentieth Century is enormously productive in symphonic music. For the sake of clarity, I will consider it in two parts: the first half and the second (roughly). And by zones. FIRST HALF. Germany and Austria: Schönberg´s "Five pieces", "Pelleas and Melisande", the enormous "Gurrelieder", the Variations, the Concerti for piano and for violin; any Webern; Berg´s "Three Pieces" (essential and ignored); many Hindemith works (symphonies, concerti, the Requiem on Whitman texts, the Symphonic dances); symphonies and concerti by Hartmann, Schmidt, Korngold; some Schreker and Zemlinsky. France: works by D´Indy, Roussel, Schmitt, Milhaud, Honegger, Poulenc. Italy: scandalously forgotten apart from Respighi; we need Malipiero, Casella, Ghedini, Pizzetti, Petrassi. Russia: Some Prokofiev and Stravinsky pieces are neglected; of the first, the Portraits from "The Gambler", the Second and Fourth symphonies, the Piano Concerto Nº 4 (for the left hand); of the second, the early Symphony, the Neoclassic pieces of the Thirties and Forties. Myaskovsky, Kabalevsky, some Shostakovich (the Third Symphony, "The execution of Stepan Razin"). The Nordic countries: Finland: some Sibelius symphonies need better acquaintance (the Third, the Fourth, the Sixth), the big choral-symphonic "Kullervo" should be premiered, and there are sorely needed tone poems  ("Pohjola´s Daughter", "En Saga"). Denmark: Nielsen´s First and Sixth Symphonies must be premiered, and we should know some Langgaard and Holmboe. Sweden: Stenhammar, Alfven, Rosenberg, Blomdahl, all are unknown and valuable. Spain: Falla´s "La Atlántida" (finished by Ernesto Halffter) should be revived; some grateful pieces by Turina need remembering; and also Ernesto Halffter´s own Symphonietta. Great Britain: Elgar´s Second Symphony, "Falstaff", "The Dream of Gerontius" should come back; practically all  Bax is unknown except for "Tintagel"; there´s more Holst apart from "The Planets"; we certainly need Walton´s symphonies and concerti, and his Partita; enormous amounts of Delius are missing, especially "Appalachia", "Eventyr", "A Mass of Life"; Vaughan Williams is also neglected, the Sixth Symphony is a masterpiece unplayed for 50 years and there´s plenty more; nice music by Lambert or Berners is  absent. The American School is practically ignored apart from the occasional Copland and Bernstein: there are dozens of worthwhile composers. And the great Mexicans Chávez and Revueltas also have much to offer.
            SECOND HALF. Apart from the Polish School and some minimalists, very little has been played. We need Henze, Rihm, Reimann, Fortner, Blacher, Egk, Von Einem, Rautawaara, Sallinen, Messiaen, Boulez, Tippett, Tavener, Davies, and younger names like Adès.

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