Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Class 3 - The Austrian Tradition - Rough Draft

I was going to skip Mozart, but then I realized that in order to talk about any of the Schubert symphonies, you have to talk about Mozart first, and particularly we have to talk about why we're not talking about Mozart. Because Mozart, before Schubert, was the first great symphonist who had a completely un-symphonic conception what a symphony was. Haydn and Beethoven became great at this very new form of music because they were not naturally great at the more traditional stuff. What's, traditionally speaking, the fundamental building block of music?

Wait for someone to say melody...

Melody! So great melodists have it a little easier as composers because what's great about their music is easier to remember. They write a tune, either for themselves or someone else, the tune gets played, it's catchy, it gets into your head, you remember it years later. But the rest of us have to work a little harder at it and get you to notice a different way of making music. Paul McCartney is a great melodist, just think of Hey Jude and Let It Be and Yesterday - he basically wanted to be like the Fifties rock stars he and John grew up hearing on records like Elvis and Fats Domino, and it's been shockingly easy for him. He pretty much does the same show now that he did the moment he left The Beatles. John Lennon was not a natural melodist - think of Help or Come Together or Imagine, it's just the same little cell or motif over and over again. His Beatles songs had to be more creative with harmony and instrumental color to compete with Paul's because in order to get noticed, he had to bypass the more traditional way of making music. His great influences are much much further afield than the music the two of them grew up hearing - like Ravi Shankar or Allen Ginsberg. 

Mozart was a McCartney, Schubert was especially. Haydn and Beethoven were Lennons, who had to think outside the box. And the Symphony developed in the first place as a different way of thinking about music. Like a lot of Church music, it's much more about the architecture than the appeal. And in some ways it's therefore a more emotionally distant way of making music. 

Haydn was not a natural melodist, and because of that, he needed create music from smaller building blocks. Small motifs, and that's exactly what Beethoven did better than anybody, except maybe Brahms whom we'll probably get to next week. For Haydn, this way of making music was perfect, it gave him a space which he could fill with whatever weird things he could imagine - no pun on Lennon intended. But for Mozart, this was far from ideal.

Haydn Quartets vs. Mozart Quartets

Listen to the first thirty seconds of what's probably the most famous Haydn Quartet (at least that doesn't have a national anthem from it), the Lark. Listen to how Haydn creates one simple melody for the first violin, and gives a completely different simple melody to the other three instruments, and you're not entirely sure which if any of the four is supposed to be the principal melody. Neither of the melodies is particularly great, but he puts it together in such a way that you have no idea which is the main melody, and that in itself is the mark of a genius. 

Now let's listen to the first two-and-a-half minutes of the Dissonance Quartet by Mozart. 

The difference is that Mozart thought of music like star, and Haydn thought of music like a gigging musician. A gigging musician is just one of the guys, and is perfectly happy to give somebody else the spotlight. One musician gets a moment to shine, then passes it to the next. Mozart was a star from earliest childhood, and you'd be amazed, looking at his chamber music, how much it feels like a star's music. Mozart had every possible musical gift, and when you have every possible musical tool, melody becomes the easiest one to fall back on. The high voice is clearly the star of the whole thing, and the only time anybody gets equal footing is in moments like the beginning of this piece, when Mozart needs all the musicians to create an effect that's truly mindboggling, It took Mozart, the brilliant six year old, basically until he was twenty-five to write like an adult. 

Mozart was a great symphonist, he was a great at every form he applied himself to, and he applied himself to just about every traditional form of music: chamber, solo, orchestral, and vocal; but the truth is that Mozart only became Mozart in the last ten or so years of his life, around the time he was twenty-five. Schubert and Mendelssohn were both writing consistently brilliant music at much younger ages than Mozart. Until Mozart was about twenty-five, he was still sort of a brilliant but over the hill prodigy - he wrote pieces here and there which showed the true extent of his genius, but most of them weren't that much more distinguished than any other talented composer of the period. When Mozart was six, what was amazing was not that he composed great music, but that he composed music at all. His first twenty-four-or-so symphonies are not the music of a brilliant composer. In just about everybody's opinion, he struck gold twice when he was about seventeen - #'s 25 and 29. But other than those two, the only symphonies anybody plays of Mozart more than rarely are the last six, which, like the seven operas everybody plays, were written during his last eleven years. 

Perhaps what it took for Mozart was a long process of building empathy for other people, which doesn't come to any child prodigy naturally. Mozart was simply too gifted - he had no limitations, and after that brilliant childhood, he had to learn how to be an adult musician, and he never truly learned that. He was employed in Salzburg twice, which was his hometown in Central Austria. After his first employment didn't work out, Mozart went to Paris to re-establish a name for himself and brought along his mother. His mother got sick while they were there and Mozart didn't have the money to get a doctor until it was too late. On his way back, he stopped in Munich and seems to have proposed marriage to a girl he was probably in love with for at least five years, and was rejected. 

His second employment in his hometown literally ended with his being kicked out the door in the rear end. He was supposed to be the Archbishop's personal composer, but the Archbishop saw musicians as just another servant who operated for him only. Mozart wanted to play concerts for others, including the Emperor, and the Archbishop did everything he could to stop him. No servant serves anyone but his master so why would a musician be so special? Mozart tried to resign, and the Archbishop wouldn't even let him resign for a month. His father, a very distinguished musician in his own right, was beside himself that Mozart would ever try to dictate terms to his employer, and begged Mozart to stay with the Archbishop. And even what happened to Mozart was better than what happened to Bach. Bach tendered his resignation from one job and he was imprisoned for four months for daring to resign. These are the things that happen when a genius tries to operate the way a normal person would. But just because Mozart was a very difficult employee doesn't mean that he wasn't a very friendly person, very good company, he clearly knew how to entertain people from the earliest age. And he was a person whom, if the operas tell us anything, could read people like a book. But it's possible that he learned about human motivations from living through some extraordinarily difficult periods. 

Few people appreciate a genius, a genius can't truly work for anybody else because a genius is already a slave to what's going on in his head. Imagine for a moment that Haydn was anything but the world's most well-adjusted human being. The Esterhazy's would have never hired him. And Haydn probably remained the world's most well-adjusted human being because he had every musical requirement his genius could possibly want. 

But just because Mozart wasn't nearly as difficult as Beethoven doesn't mean he wasn't very difficult. You may think you want a genius in your staff, but when you have a real genius like Mozart, he can operate only by his own terms. Geniuses don't operate like normal people, they have a deep kind of obsessive hyperfocus which seems to others like a lack of focus. They can only direct their extreme understanding on the things which they naturally understand, and the things which can't they will never master, no matter how much they want to. And no matter how much Mozart wanted to write tasteful music that was to the tastes of his employers rather than his inner voice, he was never going to be able to square that circle.

What this ultimately means for Mozart's symphonies is that he was never a natural symphonist. He was always more comfortable writing piano concertos, where you can give the pianist the melodies and the effects, and the orchestra simply functions like a backup band. Or operas, where he could write for ten characters in The Marriage of Figaro and every one of them gets amazing star turns. Even in his most famous symphonies, you get all sorts of moments like the minuet of the Jupiter Symphony in which everybody basically functions as backup for the first violins' melody: 

This doesn't mean that this is anything but great music, it just means that even Mozart has limitations that he needs to find a way around. The art in great art is not in mastering every technical facet of it, because that would just lead to something generic and there are all sorts of artists in every period and form who create work that meets all the technical requirements of what great art of their period does, but they have no personality outside of what's required, so when a new time or place has a different conception of what's great in art, these pieces have nothing to offer, and they disappear. The art in great art is in finding your weaknesses and negotiating ways around it. Mozart's weakness was that he had no musical weaknesses, he was both too gifted and too well-trained, and too much gift one of the biggest weaknesses any person can have. It makes you lazy, and Mozart could sometimes compose very lazily. The high voice getting a very nice melody and everybody else vamping underneath, or a series of very scales that don't really have a harmonic goal and only draw attention to themselves because of their speed. 

But had Mozart lived long enough, he might have solved these problems. Had he lived as long as Shakespeare, he could have been the operatic equivalent to Shakespeare. There's no musician who dominates music the way Shakespeare dominates literature.  Imagine Mozart lived long enough to tour America or take cover during a Napoleonic war, or read Blake or the Marquis de Sade. No one could live through the two decades without their entire sense of what the world is changing completely. Imagine literature without the great Shakespearean tragedies and you begin to have a sense of what we lost when Mozart died. But music had at least two more chances of having an equivalent to Shakespeare, and one of them was Schubert. Had Schubert lived even as long as Mozart, he might have eclipsed both Mozart and Beethoven. He was already writing consistently great, original music by the time he was sixteen or seventeen. But like every gifted person, like the three composers we've talked about, part of that gift was that he had great limitations. 

In the Symphony, he found his way around these limitations by Beethoven's example, and particularly Beethoven's example in the Seventh Symphony. 

Beethoven published his First Symphony in 1801, and his Fifth and Sixth in 1808. This means that in that time, he averaged roughly a symphony a year. I almost think that you could view Beethoven's 2nd to his 6th as one long piece of music that outlines a kind of spiritual biography. I think it would be a rewarding if very exhausting concert to do all five symphonies in one night. 

But suddenly, Beethoven doesn't publish another symphony for five years. Haydn dies a year after the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and Beethoven is now the uncontested greatest living composer. He's lived through the crisis of his life, so how does he challenge himself during those five years? He tries all sorts of bizarre experiments like this one, a trio for two oboes and an English horn. 

Or listen to a bit of the Choral Fantasy - which is a kind of rough draft for the Ninth Symphony. It's basically a written down fifteen minute piano improv that grows into a gigantic orchestra and choral piece. 

He writes music for a play, Egmont, and all anybody regularly plays of that is the overture. He still wants to be a full-time opera composer tries to revise his only opera, and gives it a new name, Fidelio, but clearly Beethoven does not have the melodic gift that a traditional opera composer needs. 

And then, there's Wellington's Victory. Y'know how every movie director, no matter how good, has a couple of clunkers that are just unwatchable? Well, Beethoven has Wellington's Victory
Beethoven is clearly going to be Beethoven, no matter what he does. But you can't simply become the person you were five years ago. You have to find a new way forward, and clearly Beethoven found the muse a little more difficult in the 1810's than he did in the 1820's, when he turned what was perhaps a diminished natural inspiration into the greatest music of his life. His style became much more disorganized, and much more bizarre and spontaneous, a lot of people find the late works hard to understand - it's a kind of  everything but the kitchen sink way of composing that gives you every kind of music that ever meant anything to Beethoven at all. 

But Beethoven wasn't there yet, and I have to give my personal opinion here. The Seventh Symphony is of course, amazing. It's in some ways his most beloved symphony. It's been beloved from its very first performance at which he also premiered the eighth, and Beethoven complained that the audience obviously preferred the seventh much more even though the eighth was better. I may be the only person who agrees with Beethoven. At this point in my life I don't find the Seventh quite as extraordinary as some of the others. If it falls short, it's only by the standards of Beethoven. The why of that will come out when I talk about it's great strengths because it's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. It is an absolutely obsessive piece of music, it's almost like Philip Glass minimalism - over the span of every movement, it takes one rhythmic cell and makes it into an entire movement. The great and very funny English conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, said of the first movement that it sounds like a 'bunch of yaks jumping about.' 

But Wagner put it very very differently. He called it, and I quote: "The Apotheosis of the Dance; the Dance in its highest condition; the happiest realization of the movements of the body in an ideal form.”

The Seventh is exactly that. A dance symphony. And to me, Beethoven is clearly trying to evoke dance music. And in order to do that, he has to write a decent melody - which is his great weakness.
So Beethoven comes up with half a great melody for the first movement, but he never ends it: (Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim)

The writer of the Fifth Symphony obviously doesn't think in terms of melody. He thinks in terms of motifs, and he can't quite bring himself to finish the melody because once he finishes one, he has to come up with a completely different one. He seems like he kind of tries to finish the melody in the second subject, but this isn't quite a melody either. A good melody is almost always self contained, it's a tune you can recall to yourself years later. Everybody remembers the beginning of this tune, but everybody forgets the ending, and that's because there isn't an ending. 

What Beethoven does is in some ways even more ingenious, he takes something resembling a melody and he converts it into something he can grow into proper symphonic material. But the problem becomes that in order to give this quasi-melody the discipline it needs to make a proper symphony out of it, he has to clamp down that much more tightly. The Fifth Symphony is based on four notes, the Seventh is based on three. That simple dotted rhythm - daaa-da-daa. And the first movement is that rhythm for more than ten minutes straight, almost without a break. The breaks come ingeniously, because it's almost as though Beethoven realizes that we're all a little tired. And he has these little pauses in which sound almost like a person tiring out before he winds himself back up to keep dancing. 

Listen to this one, which almost sounds exactly like a person who's trying to catch his breath (Mengelberg/Concertgebouw), and then tries to summon back all the energy he needs to keep dancing.  

What people really remember about this symphony is the second movement and the finale. People remember the second movement because it's literally not a melody. It's pure harmony and rhythm that creates the impression of melody when in fact, the melody note almost never changes. He takes three note dotted rhythm, streamlines it into one long and two short notes, and creates a whole edifice from it. Only a genius could create the first three minutes of the Allegretto. Maybe it's a funeral march, maybe it's a slow Baroque dance, but what it's clearly not is a melody

What makes Beethoven great is not that he has infinite powers of musical invention, it's that he can get infinite things from limited powers of invention. Here's Leonard Bernstein talking particularly about this symphony with, for some reason, Maximillian Schell. 

Bernstein might be exaggerating slightly for effect, but he's not entirely wrong. The point is that Beethoven's natural home is in what we call Sonata Form which we talked about when we did Haydn, let me know if you need a refresher, and he was at his best in the works that best use sonata form - Symphonies, Piano Sonatas, String Quartets, in which many voices pass around these small musical cells that seem to grow organically as though on a farm. It's an entirely new way of composing in which what matters is not your ability at melody or harmony or rhythm, but your ability to use all of them together in the most effective possible way. 

Then there's the third movement, the scherzo, a jig which feels to me like being trapped in a pinball machine. (Furtwangler/Berlin). But Beethoven does something very very important in the middle section, the trio, of this movement. (wait for the trio to play)

For the moment, I can't find the name of the folk song this is based on, but I remember that Beethoven based it on a German folk song. This juxtaposition of song and dance becomes incredibly important in Schubert.

Anyway, let's listen to the last three minutes of the finale in a performance of the finale that in 75 years has never been equalled. We see, finally, what Beethoven is really getting at here. Pure frenzy, pure physical excitement. For forty minutes Beethoven traps you in a series of melodic cells that don't really do much. The rhythms rarely change, and neither, really, do the harmonies. Beethoven's forced you to adjust to your personal clock to his timetable, so that when the slightest harmonic change happens, it becomes the most thrilling thing in the world, and Beethoven whisks his musical cells through a harmonic whirlwind only in the last two minutes. The more he puts these cells through the harmonic accelarator, the exponentially more exciting the music becomes until you have an almost psychedelic experience. (Furtwangler/Berlin).

And so we come to the Schubert symphonies, and to talk about Schubert, we have to briefly go back to Mozart and Beethoven, because if Beethoven could be a musical plagiarist, Schubert was an outright musical thief. Let's look for a moment at the first movement of Schubert's Second Symphony - which, mind you, is my favorite Schubert Symphony and one of my favorite Symphonies outright, but it's not necessarily a particularly original symphony. Schubert wrote it when he was seventeen, and the only composer who was writing truly original music at that age was Mendelssohn.

First, let's hear the beginning of Mozart's 39th Symphony. It's a magnificent piece of music that had a huge influence on Beethoven's Eroica.

Now let's hear the opening of Schubert's Second.

I'm sure you hear a similarity. Now let's hear Beethoven's overture to his Ballet, the Creatures of Prometheus.

And now, the first subject of Schubert's 2nd Symphony.

Now let's listen to the moment when the Commendatore, the Statue, drags Don Giovanni down to hell.  (Abbado/Keenlyside)

Now let's listen to the climax of the Great C-Major Symphony.  (Mackerras/Philharmonia)

And before we go back to a bit of the 2nd symphony, I want to emphasize how big of an impact the 7th Symphony had on Schubert. First, let's listen to the beginning of the Allegretto from the 7th again

Beethoven 7 Allegretto - Kleiber

Now let's listen to the second movement of Schubert's penultimate Quartet, known as Death and the Maiden.

Death and the Maiden Andante con Moto - Alban Berg Quartet

Now I want you to do something for a moment. I want you to imagine the next three minutes of music as if it was a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song like the Major General song in Pirates of Penzance.

Schubert Symphony no. 2 - Harnoncourt

This goes on for nearly fifteen minutes. Schubert was such a naturally gifted melodist that he literally could not write music that was not melodic, even at the top possible speed. His symphonies are like collections of four ten minute songs in which the melody is spun out to lengths that no human being should be able to span melodies. The only thing that truly imposes any symphonic discipline on Schubert's symphonies is the same kind of rhythmic obsessiveness that you get from Beethoven's 7th Symphony. In this way, Schubert does what Beethoven does in the 7th, but he does it still better.

I called this class the Austrian Symphony, so the question obviously then becomes - how is all this particularly Austrian. The answer of course is, it isn't necessarily. But ask yourself this, why did the Symphony as we think of it today originate in Vienna and not anywhere else? Instead, let's listen to snippets of the folk music of certain regions of Europe. 

Let's start with Russian folk music.

'Epic Song' - Pokrovsky Ensemble

Harmonically, it's not that different from classical music. But Russian folk music, rhythmically, is completely different from traditional classical music, and by the standards of the 18th century, nobody would know how to translate the complex meters in which it's sung. Nobody really figured out how to translate the weird rhythms of Russian Folk Music until Mussorgsky, and Mussorgsky was perhaps the only 19th century composer to develop a completely 20th century way of thinking about music. Think of the Promenade of Pictures at an Exhibition - it's may sound normal, but it's in 11 (count sing Promenade).

Now let's listen to some Gypsy or Romani Folk Music in the Balkans. 

Romanian Folk Dances - Taraf de Haidouks

How do you even begin to translate the flavor of this in classical music? Gypsy music captured the imagination of all sorts of composers - Haydn, Schubert, Liszt, Brahms, Ravel, Enescu. But nobody really captured any of the true flavor of it until Bartok.

Last two Romanian Folk Dances - Kocsis

Bartok found classical equivalents to gypsy music that got the weird harmonies, the odd rhythms, the asymmetrical phrase lengths.

But now let's listen to an Austrian folk dance. 

It's in three, it's basically just tonic to dominant, every phrase is in multiples of four bars. Composers from other lands had to basically learn to speak 19th century classical music as a foreign language. But for Austrians and Germans, the music which went into making classical music was all around them, not just something they learn in music lessons, but they could go out into the street, into the cafés, into pubs, and hear dance music not all that different from the concert hall. It goes by the exact same rules of harmony and rhythm as Bach. All you have to do is learn how to incorporate some chromaticism and a diminished chord, and you have all the tools you need to write a symphony. Let's go back to Mozart's Symphony no 39, and this time we'll listen to a bit of the minuet. It used to be that all minuets were thought of as courtly dances. This is how it used to be played.

Mozart 39 Minuet Davis/Dresden

But somebody noticed that it's not just a minuet. Most minuets don't have a tempo marking attached, but this one is called Minuet: Allegretto. So here's how it's often played now:

Mozart 39 Minuet: Allegretto Harnoncourt/Concentus Musicus Wien

It's so clearly a country dance. Now let's listen to the second subject of this minuet.

This is so obviously a folk song. 

So fast forward again to Schubert. Let's go to his Fourth Symphony, the Tragic. Let's focus on a non-tragic movement, the third, the scherzo.

Schubert 4 - Scherzo - Harnoncourt/Vienna Philharmonic

Schubert plays a trick that Dvorak is most famous for. This is quite like a Czech dance called the Furiant which Dvorak made famous in the Slavonic Dances. You can never tell exactly what the rhythm is. Schubert wrote it in a very fast three (sing and clap on each note), but it could just as easily be in a slower three (sing it with clapping on every other note) or in two or six (clap on every third note). Furthermore, Schubert writes it in such a way that you don't know where the down beat is. You'd probably assume it's on the first note (sing it and clap on first and fourth notes), but in fact, it's on the second note (sing it and clap on second and fifth notes), and could just as easily be on the third and six (sing and clap on third and sixth notes).

So what does the beat feel like? The answer is that it feels like them all at the exact same time.  That's the musical genius of it.

Now let's listen to the first subject of his third symphony. (Kleiber/Vienna Philharmonic)

This is a Hungarian Czardas like so many which Haydn wrote. Perhaps it even goes into a completely different dance in those longer chords.

So now let's listen to the first subject of the Scherzo. Another country folk dance: (Abbado/COE)

And now the second subject, the trio, which is clearly a folk song.

What separates the Austria of the time from Germany is that Germany was monocultural. Aside from a couple Jews who desperately wanted to be Germans, there really wasn't anybody who  lived in Germany that did not seem of uniform race or language. There were plenty of German dialects, and God knows the politics of Germany were incredibly dysfunctional in this period. But the only truly enormous difference in culture between Germans was religion. Everything else was eventually surmountable, but the northern two thirds of Germany was Protestant, the southern third was Catholic - and we'll talk a lot more about German history in the coming weeks.

But Austria was the great melting pot of its time. It was in many ways the last vestige of the Holy Roman Empire that went back to Charlemagne a millennium earlier. It encompassed the vast majorities of the European countries to its south, and when you lived in Vienna you were at different eras exposed to the cultures of Hungarians, Czechs, Romanians, Serbians, Croations, Bosnians, Slovenians, Gypsies, and all sorts of still smaller subgroups within each people.

What this meant for music was that you had an inherent tension between the traditional Austrian folk music and classical music which you heard as a native German speaker, and all the folk traditions that were moving in and out of Vienna that were completely different, and that a great composer could incorporate into his music, music and culture that no German would ever be exposed to.

So this is preparation to talk about Schubert's one truly major complete symphony, the 'Great' C-Major Symphony, and after that to talk about Bruckner. We'll get there after the break.


I think the place to begin talking about Schubert 9 is with Bernard Shaw and his description of this piece in 1892:

"...For it seems to me all but wicked to give the public so irresistible a description of all the manifold charms and winningnesses of this astonishing symphony, and not tell them, on the other side of the question, the lamentable truth that a more exasperatingly brainless composition was never put on paper. Fresh as I was this time from the Rossini centenary, I could not help thinking, as I listened to those outrageously overdone and often abortive climaxes in the last movement, how much better than Schubert the wily composer of Tancredi could engineer this sort of sensationalism. It was not only his simple mechanism and infallible certainty which it wound you up to striking-point in exactly sixteen bars: it was his cool appreciation of the precise worth of the trick when he had done it.

Poor Schubert, who laughed at Rossini's overtures, and even burlesqued them, here lays out crescendo after crescendo, double after quickstep, gallopade after gallpade, with an absurdly sincere and excited conviction that if he only hurries fast enough he will presently overtake Mozart and Beethoven, who are not to be caught up in a thousand miles by any man with second-rate rains, however wonderful his musical endowment...." 

George Bernard Shaw was a great music critic, and like so many great critics, his judgement was often terrible. Great critics are the ones who make you think provocatively and differently, not the ones who are always right - and no critic is always right.

Schubert was a very different from both Mozart and particularly Beethoven, and unlike his two forerunners, he has no sense of when he's outstayed his welcome. Schubert's Great C-Major Symphony is an astonishingly great piece of music for reasons we'll get into shortly, but like a lot of pieces toward the end of Schubert's life, it is incredibly long winded and can just barely sustain the amount of musical material it has.

And it's because of its imperfection that it does not tolerate the kind of romantic excess that you get from Beethoven performers and conductors. If the standard of Beethoven performance has gone precipitously down in the last generation or two, then the standard of Schubert has gone correspondingly up. Until fairly recently, very few musicians had a particularly deep knowledge of Schubert's music, and so they didn't really find the 'Schubertness' in Schubert the way they should have. 

Beethoven requires a grand manner, but too much bravado and Schubert wilts. Whereas are a lot of conductors of later, more understated, generations, either senior conductors of our time, or recently deceased, who mastered Schubert the way older musicians rarely ever did: Gunter Wand, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Colin Davis, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Herbert Blomstedt, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Charles Mackerras. 

Let's just look for a moment at each movement of the Great C-Major Symphony, and I'll show you very quickly what the problem is.

Let's listen to the beginning of the first subject.

Now let's listen to a full eleven minutes later...

In the meantime, Schubert brings back this theme, not a particularly great theme mind you, four times in the exact key that it was in to begin with and only once in a different key. If he were Beethoven's student, Beethoven would have slapped him for musical laziness.

Now let's listen to the beginning of the second movement. 

Now let's listen to a full eleven minutes and forty seconds later.

Now let's listen to the beginning of the third movement:

Now let's listen to ten-and-a-half minutes later.  It's also worth noting that the last five minutes of this movement are the exact same music as the first five minutes with not a single change at all.

The last movement, fortunately, doesn't have the same problem. Schubert finally does some things a proper symphonist is supposed to do. But the problem is unmistakable. Schubert is the most talented melodist who ever lived, he's a better orchestrator than Beethoven, he has good harmonic ideas, and he doesn't have a clue how to develop music from small motifs the way Haydn and Beethoven did. Wherever Schubert can get away with the barest changes in musical material, wherever he can slap a repeat down, wherever he can add the smallest amount of harmony, that's exactly what he does, and not only does he do that, but he doubles down and makes his last symphony a good 30% longer than all of Beethoven's except the ninth.

So now that we've said that, here's how this work is truly 'great.'

In order to appreciate Schubert, whom I would say was just as talented as Mozart, you have to appreciate that he was a composer of extreme imperfection whose works grew more and more flawed right up to the end of his life. My feeling is that the other 'most talented composer ever' was Mendelssohn, and Mendelssohn had just the opposite goals from Schubert. The vast majority of Mendelssohn's greatest works are absolutely perfect - every note, every instrumental color, every harmony and melody, every rhythm. Schubert was not reaching for perfection, he was reaching for something deeper than perfection. He did thousands of things no composer was supposed to do.  The only formally perfect works of his are the Songs, and the Songs alone would deserve their own class. But in larger forms - the symphony, piano sonatas, chamber music - Schubert was doing something entirely different. He was, for all intents and purposes, creating hour long collections of songs and dances. Beethoven's music was capable of great intimacy, but usually he was clearly more interested in expressing his strength. Schubert was just the opposite. On the one hand, the orchestra of the Great C-Major Symphony is as large as anything in Beethoven, but while Beethoven would save the large brass for the biggest moments, Schubert used them all the time as though they were just another instrument - just more pipes on the organ. On the other hand, Schubert is not generally using all these extra instruments for contrasts, he's not even using them for effect, he's just using them to blend them together in a new palate. Think of a painter like to create sounds and combinations of instruments you've never heard an orchestra use. Think of Rembrandt, the hundred shades in every painting of light and darkness - but you hardly ever notice it because you're so concentrated on the painting itself. You don't notice the subtlety of how its achieved in a way you would from a great color user who cares more about effects like Carravagio or Berlioz.

So what is Schubert's goal? Perhaps the goal of Haydn is wit. In Mozart, the goal is playfulness. In Beethoven, the goal is drama. In Schubert, the goal seems to be, what? Poetry? Intimacy? Maybe it's simple conversation. Schubert was the hipster of his day, always hanging out, drinking, screwing, with a group of artist and musician friends for whom he was always writing music. Even symphonies three through six were written for an amateur orchestra assembled by his friends.    Whatever it is, in every great large-scale work of Schubert, there are these incredible inward moments if poetic intimacy. They're not necessarily seductive, they're not necessarily confessional, they can't even be described in any terminology of this world. But they are innately beautiful in the most poetic way.

Here are just a few of them. D. 959 end of First Movement Quintet Slow Movement Octet Trio of 5th Movement Der Lindenbaum

This is what I call 'Schubert-land.' It can't be described in everyday language, and the closest approximation to it can't really be found in music - though Mozart and Schumann have their moments when they get close - maybe Dvorak and Brahms too. But only Schubert gets there regularly. Nobody else comes close. To find an equivalent, you might have to look to poetry.

John Keats was almost an exact contemporary of Schubert's. The parallels with Schubert are fairly obvious. Like Schubert, he died early. And like Schubert, the works we never got are just as much to make people weep as the works we got. This is the early days of Romanticism - the French Revolution, like every era of great hope in human history so far and probably henceforth, eventually turned out to be a huge bust. When the hopes of a better life are dashed, many people seek renewal as best they can through the beauty of the inner life, for some that's religion, for some it's sports, for some it's the beauty of Art and Music and Literature. It is often in these moments of a revolutions aftermath, when political activism only leads to more suffering, that people turn to art - if there isn't much hope of making the world particularly better than it is, then at least we can cultivate the inner lives.

So maybe Keats can come up with a proper description of Schubert. Let's quickly look and listen to Keats's famous poem - Endymion.

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make'
Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.
Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple's self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o'ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.

And here's the Trio from this Symphony's Scherzo.  (Muti/Vienna)

So what, exactly, does this music mean? If anything at all. Would it, at all, speak to people who lived through the crises of war? It wasn't even performed until 1838 when the French Revolution was nearly 50 years old and given the lifespans of the era, even the youngest veterans were approaching forty and therefore lived past the average life expectancy of their pre-antibiotic era. 

Let me give an example of how that might be. To my thinking, and many others, the greatest movies ever made in Hollywood were made in the 1970's, right after the collapse of the Sixties' Illusions came The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Nashville, Cuckoo's Nest, The Last Picture Show, Chinatown, Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Network, Patton, MASH, American Graffiti, Mean Streets, Blazing Saddles, Deliverance, The Conversation, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Dirty Harry, All The President's Men, Badlands, Sounder, Coming Home, Carrie, Fiddler on the Roof, Kramer vs. Kramer, Being There, The Candidate, Norma Rae, Lenny... There's a reason I'm making a huge list of American movies, and of these particular movies. The reason is that this impressive list of films from the 70s shows that this was the period when American movies, more than any other decade by far, came to grips with exactly what this huge country of ours is and the unfulfilling lives that we have to lead that the Sixties promised us we would lead no longer. More than anything else, I think the movies of that period helped us come to grips with our limitations.

In the same way, the French Revolution promised Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. They could not deliver on any of the three. But the art produced in the wake of the French Revolution, the poetry of the English like Wordsworth and Coleridge and Blake and Shelley and Byron and Keats, the painting of Turner and Goya and Gericault and Ingres and Caspar David Friedrich. These are people who showed helped to show a world broken by revolution and war what it means to have liberty, equality, and fraternity. They reminded this world, which needed to move on when they'd experienced so much death, what they were living for. But the music of era was particularly important. Music is, inherently, the most democratic of all the art-forms. You don't need to be literate, you don't need to speak the same language, you don't even need to have the same frame of visual reference. It's a completely abstract art which everyone from highest born to lowest somehow innately understands. This moment in the generation after the French Revolution collapsed was when old Haydn, and Beethoven, and Schubert sounded the notes of an art-form so democratic that you don't even need a verbal language to express it. Music literally makes you enter the headspace of the people creating it. This music, which communicated so much even though it communicated nothing at all, made people think that understanding between each other was more possible than it was before they'd heard it.  

The Symphony for Schubert was a way of writing the same beautiful melodies he wrote for the voice and for the piano and the string quartet and quintet. But with an orchestra, just got to make different, bigger, more diverse, and in some ways more beautiful sounds than he ever could with just a few instruments. Had he lived another twenty years he'd have heard the Liszt's Symphonic Poems and realized you didn't have to use symphonic form to write large pieces for the orchestra, or maybe he'd have come up with the form himself since he'd already written a great Piano Fantasy with no real symphonic conventions.

The orchestra was, for Schubert, a giant machine of feeling in which you got to write a collection of songs and dances on a much larger scale with much more interesting instruments. But in order to give discipline to his melodic gift, he basically grafted on a rhythmic motif to every movement that pervaded every measure.

Let's listen for a moment to the scherzo. It's both incredibly flawed and incredibly brilliant. It's just a country dance (Harnoncourt/Vienna). It's a country dance, but as Beethoven showed in the country dance from his Pastoral Symphony, the melodies are usually incredibly simple. And yet Schubert spins out a melody that basically doesn't stop for three minutes - or five minutes if you take the repeat - and in that time, he takes you through the entire development you're supposed to go through in symphonic form - two themes, development of the motifs, and recapitulate the themes in a new character at the end. He can't do much with symphonic in ten minutes, but if he uses melody as the connective tissue, it's the easiest thing for him to get through in three minutes.

Let's just take the finale for a moment. At the first read-through, the orchestra laughed at this movement. Listen to this incredibly insipid beginning.

But now let's see what he does with that rhythmic motive, he makes a whole melody out of it, and an interesting one. (53 seconds in) And just when you think the melody is done, it keeps going. (1m30) It's finally done, and you think that he's finally done with melody. But then, he starts an entirely new one.

Now think about the rhythm of this movement. What does is sound like to you?

(wait for someone to say swing music, when they do, or if they don't...)

Play Ellington Take the A Train Wynton Marsallis

I have no idea if Schubert heard this from folk musicians or if he figured this out himself, but Schubert seems to have figured out the Lindy Hop a hundred years before Duke Ellington. Or maybe he got the idea from this passage in Beethoven's final piano sonata. 

It's a terrible mistake to think that either of them somehow invented jazz. The swing rhythm was just a dance rhythm, perhaps one of them thought 'what would happen if a played a jig rhythm at twice the speed.' (sing Dargason?...). Perhaps Schubert would have used it more had he lived longer, and in that case the history of music would have been changed. But the point is not exactly that. The point is to say that we generally think of as originality is not how originality works, even in the most apparently revolutionary of circumstances, originality as we generally think of it is a myth. Nobody emerges from a womb without the DNA of someone before them. But even though we are all part of the same continuum, we're all individuals, and what matters is the uniqueness of the composer, not the originality. There are only a few simple building blocks from which you can build music, but those building blocks yield trillions, perhaps quadrillions and quintillions, of different combinations. The greatest composers are the ones who find the most unique combinations of this shared musical DNA, and whether consciously or unconsciously, whatever they come up with will have lots of resemblances to the music of other musicians. And even if it's conscious, the material might be completely transformed, and talking about this transformation is how we're going to end this class.

Let's listen to a bit of the second movement of Schubert 9. This is clearly a military march, but it's a rather light military march (Sawallisch/Vienna). You can picture Sgt. Bilko here or MASH or Bill Murray in Stripes. Perhaps here you imagine some daydreaming... And then snapping back to attention.... Maybe one of those movie montages of Basic Training...

Now, in a minute we're going to fast forward 80 years. Schubert wrote this symphony in 1826, roughly eleven years after the last of the seven different wars provoked by the French Revolution - count'em, seven. No one seemed to come out of the Napoleonic Wars better than Austria. For the next half-century, the economy was always good and the budget was almost always balanced. The final treaty was negotiated and signed in Vienna and is known as the Congress of Vienna, which redrew the boundaries of Europe in the wake of how Napoleon broke it up and fundamentally kept the peace in Europe for an entire century. It was masterminded by Klemens von Metternich, the Austrian Foreign Minister who afterwards was nearly Foreign Minister and Chancellor for life and would have been if not for the 1848 revolutions, which Austria played no small part in causing.

Thanks to the Concert of Vienna, Austria's power and territories were vastly expanded. It was only by vastly expanding its naval and sea power that Britain could overtake them. Beethoven and Schubert died within a year of each other in 1827 and 1828. At the time, nobody was more stable than Austria or more powerful. They are as synonymous with Austria at the height of its prosperity as a John Ford Western or a Howard Hawks screwball comedy are with mid-century American prosperity.

But the prosperity of one period inevitably becomes the curse of the next. Prosperous people always think that old formulas will work in new situations, and over time, all objects decay as all life forms do. For the hundred years after the Congress of Vienna, every other world power long since moved on. Metternich was a very strong conservative formed by the French Revolution, and as the most traditionally conservative of the Great European Powers, Austria was almost naturally in the best position after the Revolutionary Wars. But to Metternich's thinking, liberal reforms would inevitably lead to popular revolution. It never occurred to Metternich that preventing liberal reforms could also cause it. What happened next in Austria was an inevitable bottleneck. Metternich put popular revolts down violently, strictly censored freedom of speech and press and educational material, he had a vast network of spies. His most famous successor, Alexander von Bach, was even more conservative, he even let defendants be tried in public, and he literally placed education in the hands of the Catholic Church. He was, however, something resembling an economic libertarian, and the economy seemed to grow still larger even as Austria began to lose wars.  Remind you of anywhere? The Austrian government had become so desperate to keep any kind of democratic reform at bay that they spent the next fifty years playing a kind of catch up in which they tried to appease the peoples under them by giving them ever more tolerant rule of law. Lets read part of the 'Basic State Act' that created the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867 out of an Austria that was clearly already declining.

All races of the empire have equal rights, and every race has an inviolable right to the preservation and use of its own nationality and language. The equality of all customary languages in school, office and public life, is recognized by the state. In those territories in which several races dwell, the public and educational institutions are to be so arranged that, without applying compulsion to learn a second country language, each of the races receives the necessary means of education in its own language.

Astonishingly, they did better at it than a lot of democracies of their day, including the US. England and France were both semi-democratic at this point. France had universal male suffrage from 1848 onward, England was not there yet but they kept lowering the income level at which you were free to exercise your vote so that millions and millions more would participate. And yet both of them ran Empires overseas that, while quite a bit better than Belgium's, were nowhere near so tolerant. Austria was, perhaps, the best evidence the world has so far that liberalism and autocracy can co-exist. The problem is that it's entirely dependent on the ruler. Franz-Josef II was a decent man, but to the very end of his extremely long rule, this decent man insisted that he appoint the Prime Ministers of both Austria and Hungary, and both their entire cabinets. Relative to America, supposedly a democracy, there was not the same intolerance or discrimination of minorities in the late Austro-Hungarian Empire. But they did not have self-determination, and however relatively well they were treated they would inevitably not be treated as well as native-born Austrians. Because they were not allowed a say in how government was run, it was inevitable that they would want to secede.

But whenever people get it into their mind to secede, you have to fight a war to keep the union together, whether the war is just or unjust. The Emperor and his ministers may have thought that by keeping the government away from mob rule, they could establish a more tolerant rule of law than the people could themselves - perhaps they were right. But the end result is that the subjegated people, particularly the Serbs, would stop at nothing to end rule. Including acts which everybody knew might lead to a Europe-wide war that eliminates whole generations. However liberal this autocracy was, it was the determination to keep Austria an autocracy that led to World War I.

So with that in mind, let's hear the beginning of Schubert 9's second movement again.

And now, 80 years later, let's hear the beginning of Mahler's Sixth Symphony.  (Bernstein/Vienna 2)

A military march that has the same basic musical DNA, with a tread from the low string in the exact same key and starting on the exact same note, but of a very, very, VERY different spirit. And there's a second one that sounds not unlike the oboe theme, but transformed again.

And just in case you think that it might be a coincidence and Mahler, the greatest of all symphonic plagiarists, isn't channeling directly from Schubert. Listen to later in the second movement of Schubert 9 that sounds like perhaps it echoes memories of a war.  Perhaps some post-traumatic stress.

But if you think that's a nightmare, listen to how nightmarishly Mahler transforms the same musical material.

A military march is still a military march, a military trumpet is still a military trumpet, there's no way of saying that this is precisely what Mahler's doing. And yet there it is. The evidence is right here, and the difference is the difference of eighty years in a society in which hope continually gets less and less.

I'm sorry to say that the story of the Symphony is a rather tragic story. It tells of the hopes of a particular time and place, and eventually shows that those hopes were largely dashed. And yet, the Symphony isn't over. It's still with us, not just still being played, but still being written, sounding notes of hope from more prosperous times and sometimes from more hopeful ones.

Perhaps the reason for that is that the invention or discovery of the Symphony is larger than any one culture. When the revolutionary nationalist culture which made the symphony so dominant to its time was at its height, its most progressive wanted to ditch the Symphony - the Symphony was thought of as a vestige of Beethoven's era. Berlioz moved further and further away from them, Wagner never wrote one as a mature composer, Mussorgsky never wrote one at all, Liszt and the mature Richard Strauss only wrote them as extended symphonic poems. But the nationalist world these 19th century progressives longed for never came to be, and after violent revolutionary nationalism stopped being the great passion of the intelligensia, the Symphony was taken up again. Symphony, as we said in the first class, means harmonious sound, and as Mahler would later show, there's no reason that the harmonies shouldn't include the sounds of every person in every nation. Next week, the specter of revolutionary nationalism, and the composers who believed in it, is going to hover over everything we talk about and listen to.

See you next week!

No comments:

Post a Comment