late 19th century symphony problems

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  • 8/12/2019 Late 19th Century Symphony Problems


  • 8/12/2019 Late 19th Century Symphony Problems


    in his Italian Symphony. Having been in the minor mode, the finale is in the major(just as Beethovens 5 th ) and takes on the additional peculiarity of the saltarellodance form. The reverse of the same idea is seen in Tchaikovskys Sixth Symphonywhich ends with an intense adagio lamentoso, still an increased tension but using adifferent means to achieve the same end. The same occurs in Mahler 3 and 9.

    By his third symphony, Mahler had already solved the finale problem once in hisprevious symphony. Michael Steinberg, in The Symphony: A Listeners Guide ,describes how, in imitation of Beethovens ninth, Mahler de cided upon a choralfinale before he chose his text. He chose the text because of its performance at thefuneral of his colleague Hans von Blow. This proved a challenge for those whowished to taxonomize these symphonies with chorus within them. Mendelssohn andA B Marx had called them symphony -cantatas, Berlioz called the choralsymphonies, but all of these were intended to convey what was seen as a paradox.How, if at all, does this exceptional genre reconcile the claims of instrumental andvocal music? If music in the Kantian model is supposed to be autonomous, not

    reliant on another art form, Mahlers solution to the finale problem seems to havecaused theorists as many problems as it sought to solve.

    The truth is that it does not really constitute a genre in itself. Most that could be saidis, as Thomas Bauman quoting Dahlhaus puts it, a genre of exceptions, a disparatecollection of single, historically isolated, and not mutually condit ioned mediatorsbetween symphony and cantata. He goes on, Members of a genre must begoverned by formal norms in order for us to relate them in a meaningful way. Thissimply is not the case with choral-symphonies, symphony-cantatas or whatever onewishes to call them. The forms which Dahlhaus tries to establish are too weak to beable to unite an entire sub- genre the necessity of treating the vocal portion as thegoal of the instrumental part, the countervailing need to fashion the latter assomething more than a mere introduction.

    These criteria are certainly met by the finale of Mahlers Second. The instrumentalmovements which preceed it act as an introduction, their motifs being taken up inthe much longer chorus which is the goal of the Second, but the first threemovements could as well lead to an instrumental finale which was independent ofthem. The chorus however is an attempt to solve the overriding problem of unitythat this creates for the composer. Dahlhauss insistence on a purely formal analysis leads him to necessary contraditctions which Bauman picks up on. In thefinale of a symphony the traits of sonata form, even when weakly delineated, standout conspicuously because sonata form is the scheme expected by the hearer.Baumans objection: how can weakly delineated traits stand out conspicuously,even if we are expecting them? On the contrary, their weakness will tend toproblematize expectation itself.

    Anthony Newcombes approach solves Dahlhauss conceptual problem. Newcombeabandons the Kantian model of analysis and adopts the side of the loser in the Warof the Romantics: program music. He describes the finale of Schumann 2 in terms of

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    an archetypal plot and then builds a form around that. The archetypal form of theindividual work is communicated and elaborated by, among other things, themusical form of the individual work, he claims. When Bauman applies this theory toMahlers Second he finds that it the finale can neatly be explained with thearchetypal plot of a search, perhaps even inspired by Mahlers search for a text.

    The Kantian concept of the object had been the pretext for other attacks onMahler. Though Wagner had suggested reorchestrating Beethovens Ninth in an1873 essay, when Mahler did so three different Vienna critics attacked him ascorrupting it. Beethovens Ninth was widely regarded as the apotheosis of theSymphonic genre and thus was a sacred object to the Kantian music critic. Contraryto their longed for autonomy, they also saw it as a fundamentally German work,relying on an extramuscial criterion. Thus to have a jew attempt to alter such asacred German object was tantamount to vandalism. They seemed to see nocontradiction, the initial reviews state unequivocally that Mahlers Jewishnesswas considered to be a problem and that critics found his insistence on

    reorchestraing other) that is, true German) composers works arrogant anddangerous. This despite the fact that Mahlers concerts, including those of thereorchestrated Beethoven 9 were incredibly successful and that the Hofoper heconducted (to the chagrin of the anti-semitic critics) grew in quality, wealth andprestige during Mahlers tenure. Sanna Penderson ties this two ideas, absolutemusic and germanness, together. While Dahlhaus belie ves that the idea of absolutemusic gradually and against resistance - became the esthetic paradigm of Germanmusical culture in the nineteenth century, Pederson puts it the other way, believingit to be the idea of a German musical culture that gradually and against resistance became the paradigm of absolute music in the nineteenth century. In herunderstanding, Mahlers perceived tampering with Beethovens Ninth was not only

    an attack on the prized object Beethoven Nine, but was an attack upon Germanness itself. The asserted inseparability of the Symphony from its Austro-Germanic roots created further problems for foreign composers and developed ahierarchy in which because the French, for example, had always relied on theintervention of foreigners for their music, they lacked a music they could call theirown and that this lack of character placed the French below the Italians who werein turn below the Autro-German bermenchen.

    When the Kantian philosophy of the object is combined with external pressures ofcultural bigotry and applied to music it produces a cultural stagnation. The Viennasituation required a rescoring of Beethoven 9 in order to include the vast wind

    section appropriately without overwhelming the strings. The listeners by and largewould only have known the symphony in the form of piano transcription so thealterations would have been indistinguishable to them. The insistence that music isa thing itself that should not have been changed could very easily have consignedBeethoven 9 to the fringes of musical life, as it could have done Mahlers own secondsince that defies the ob jectified concept of symphony and of instrumental music. Kantian philosophy is at the root of the canon: we want to collect prized objectstogether and form Lydia Goehrs Imaginary Museum of Musical Works. This can be

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    seen in A B Marxs behavior towa rds music outside his canon, which he went out ofhis way to ignore. How did he expect music to continue if only canonical music fromthe past was going to be treated as worthy? This, according to Friedrich Kittler, wasa widespread attitude of German theorists. In the cultural set up on the 1890s thiswas possible since infrequent and expensive tickets kept the symphony beyond the

    reach of not only [Viennas] vast underclasses but, indeed, much of the middle class.It was ill suited to the mass markets that were soon to open up elsewhere in Europeas the middle classes became significantly more wealthy and the nobility began towobble. The situation that they created, which allowed few Viennese theopportunity ever to hear an orchestral performance of a s ymphony simply wouldnot be able to survive the new Europe.

    Echtsymhponic: truly symphonic. A term used a lot. A set style you had to write in towrite a piece that was truly symphonic. Themes had to be bold statements that hadto be developed and that were intelligible to an audience. By the end of the 19 th century it is the monumental symphonies which took on great value. Thesymphonies of the 1850s and 60s didnt do this and didnt follow on fromBeethoven.

    Holomon 19 th century symphony chapter.


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