Monday, November 23, 2009

A Good Year for Haydn: Part 6, The Pre-Concert Talk

Following the concerts this past weekend with performances of Haydn's “Creation,” several people (including some of the musicians) who couldn't make the pre-concert talks asked me I'd be posting it on line. There are already several posts about Haydn's Biography (in this Haydn Anniversary Year), about “Creativity” in general and about the oratorio specifically previously posted here: my talk in some way recaps some of that but also adds some additional information. And the discussion afterwards prompted me to look at the issues of Haydn's text and especially Milton's original poem (I'll post that over at Thoughts on a Train). So, that said, here's another 4,000 words about Haydn:

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First of all, a disclaimer – which the late-comers of course will miss... When I first started working in radio almost 20 years ago, a host of a broadcast concert series was introducing that night's performance of Haydn's “The Creation.” At one point, she said “The Creation took place in 1798...” then caught herself and said “Ha... fat chance... the PREMIERE of Haydn's 'The Creation' took place in 1798.” And of course the next day, someone who was only HALF-listening called in to complain, with righteous indignation, that “your announcer last night” – implying me as far as my boss could tell – “denied that the creation ever took place!” -- So whenever I mention “The Creation” in the context of this pre-concert talk, I am speaking of Haydn's oratorio... just so we're clear...

Even further back than those 20 years, when I was living in New York City, two elderly sisters who lived in my building found out that I was a doctor, and proceeded to ask what I'd recommend for their various aches and pains. I tried to explain I wasn't THAT kind of doctor – I was a “Doctor of Music” which didn't seem to make much sense to them, either, so they continued asking me about their sciatica. So I just said “Take 2 Haydn Symphonies and call me in the morning.” Haydn always uplifted my spirits: it made sense to me.

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200 Years ago, Franz Josef Haydn died at the age of 77. He had been regarded as the greatest living composer of his day. His friend Mozart had died 18 years earlier at the age of 35, and his student Beethoven, then pushing 40, had already written some of his greatest works. Europe was in the midst of a generation of wars with Napoleon and Vienna was being bombarded by the French Army as Haydn lay dying in his house. The previous year, Haydn had made his last public appearance, carried into the hall to hear a performance of his oratorio “The Creation.” It proved to be so emotional for him, they had to take him out at the end of Part One, after the chorus “The Heavens Are Telling.”

He had spent 30 years of his life employed as the music director for the Esterhazy family, working for three different princes. The middle one, Nicholas the Magnificent as he was known, lavished money on a new palace called Esterhaza where he had a complete orchestra, an opera house, a theater, even one just for marionette operas which he was very keen on, and two concert halls, one just for chamber music. Haydn wrote for and conducted the orchestra, prepared the opera productions, wrote incidental music for the theater and provided the prince and his guests with a constant stream of music-making that was considered some of the finest in Europe. In one 9 month period, there were 125 opera performances alone, basically one ever 2 or 3 days – not including orchestra concerts and chamber music programs or evenings at the theater!

Though he is probably best known for having written 104 symphonies and some 80 string quartets, most people probably would argue “The Creation” which he started working on when he was 64, was his masterpiece. He had not intended to end his career as a choral composer – six great masses and another oratorio, “The Seasons” to his post-symphonic credit – but the third prince, in addition to not caring that much for music, also had to deal with his father's debt which meant he had to disband the orchestra, the theater and opera companies and much of the music-making. His only requirement of Haydn, whom he kept on the payroll out of gratitude for his long service, was an annual mass to celebrate his wife's Name Day. At the age of 57, Haydn thought he could just move to Vienna and retire – but within a year, he was taken off to London, an internationally famous composer.

While he was there on his first trip, he heard some oratorios by George Frederick Handel who had died over 30 years earlier, particularly a grand large-scale production of “Israel in Egypt” performed by hundreds of musicians. It left him amazed at the power of the sheer sound and power of this music and the genius of this composer he was not familiar with.

During his second visit there a couple of years later, people were trying to talk him into writing an oratorio of his own. A text was given to him that Handel himself had never gotten around to setting: the story of the Creation as told through words from the Book of Genesis and from Milton's Paradise Lost.

A year after returning to Vienna in 1795, a friend of his, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, volunteered to rework this “Creation” text into German for him. And so in October of 1796, Haydn set to work on it. He finished it about a year and a half later, in April of 1798, the longest amount of time he had ever spent on a single work. It was premiered at the end of that month in a private performance. Hundreds of people who couldn't get in crowded around the palace where it was being performed, hoping to hear some of it: 30 extra policemen had to be brought in to contain the crowd. The first public performance was given 11 months later and had sold out long in advance: it became the biggest box-office success of the season. In the remaining 10 years of Haydn's life, it was performed all over Europe over 40 times outside Vienna, something quite unusual for so large-scale a work. It's first American performance took place in Boston in 1818.

An oratorio is basically a work for voices with chorus and soloists and orchestra – unlike an opera, the subject matter is usually sacred, usually taken from the Bible directly or indirectly, but may often involve biblical characters in a very operatic way: however, it is all done without staging, without sets or costumes and was designed to be performed in a church, not an opera house.

In Handel's day, English law closed the opera houses during Lent and so he (and the singers) would lose a lot of income. So he decided to initiate a season of Oratorios performed in churches. Even though some people were disgusted at the idea of biblical stories trussed up in opera-like music, the idea was very successful.

Two terms you need to realize: there are recitatives and there are arias. A Recitative is a form of heightened speech or declaimed music, musically very simple – usually over a simple harmonic structure played by the harpsichord with one cello and bass supporting the bass-line. Their purpose is to carry the action or story-line in the most easily understood way. Other recitatives may be a little more involved, somewhere between that and the style of the aria. Arias are melodic, quite literally “songs” – lyrical meditations on what happened in the recitatives. Haydn, in this case, sets the words from Genesis as simple recitatives – the arias' texts come from Milton's Paradise Lost.

Haydn's 'Creation' is in three parts – the standard approach that Handel had used – and its three main characters are three angels who observe and report on the events: Raphael, the bass; Uriel, the tenor; and Gabriel, the soprano. The third part focuses on Adam and Eve who are usually sung by the same voices singing Raphael and Gabriel. In all, it lasts about an hour and 45 minutes and while it makes a long evening to have two intermissions, it's difficult to find a place where you can break if for just one: at the end Part One would work but the Parts Two and Three combined are way too long; Part Three is the shortest of the parts but it would still be too much to go through without any intermission. In today's performance, there will be an intermission after Part Two. (So, plan your bladders accordingly.)

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One of the things about Haydn's “Creation” that has always interested me is the time it was written in: it's almost the Last Hurrah for 18th Century Classicism, the last great artistic statement of the philosophies of the Enlightenment – with or without its attitudes toward religion – and with its emphasis on humanity. The Classical Era was a time of well-proportioned art – balanced and logical. Premiered in 1798, it was close to the start of a New Century and whether or not there was a sense of a “New Beginning” when they'd reach 1800, in hindsight it's hard to ignore. At the time Haydn was writing 'The Creation,' he had a student, a young 20-something named Beethoven: who knew that in five years, this young man would produce his “Eroica” Symphony which would change the course of music history for the 19th Century? It's not that it changed overnight or that everybody agreed to turn the page at the same time – but this new era that eventually became “The Romantic Era” was not as interested in form and balance and structure and logic and all the nice things that marked the previous generation's music. Beethoven would be all about expanding – if not breaking – the rules. With Beethoven, our modern-day perception of the Creative Artist also changed.

If nothing else, Beethoven was the first successful “free-lance composer.” Not that he didn't accept money from the aristocrats – he still needed their support to live – but he wasn't “beholden” to them in the sense Haydn had been (“Herr Haydn, the Empress is coming to visit next week, we'll need a new opera. Please see that you have one ready.”) Beethoven, with his deafness, became the epitome of the struggling, suffering artist. His personality, considered low-class and rude in his time, turned him into a titan striding the universe, in hindsight... but of course, his music would have been enough to do that for him... because with Beethoven, somehow, everything changed.

For all the arts in Ancient Greece and a scientist yelling “Eureka” when he was taking a bath, the ancient Greeks had no word in their vocabulary for “creativity.” The word for art was “TECHNE” from which we get our words “technique” and “technology.” Art was based on rules. For the most part, Imagination had little to do with it. Even though there were nine muses to assist artists – not just poetry and music and dance and theater but also history and astronomy – the idea that they would come down to earth to inspire artists was something that only developed about a thousand years later.

Things didn't change much during Roman times – with the Christian era, they introduced the word “creatio” which meant Divine Creation, God creating something out of nothing. Men who created art essentially were craftsmen – “facio' meaning “to make,” from which we get the word “factory,” making something out of something else: raw materials – you take this piece of stone and turn it into a beautiful statue.

Even in the 1600s, people still argued that a poet claiming to be “creative” was taking on concepts only attributed to God. Only in the mid-18th Century, around the time Haydn began composing, did the “Enlightenment” start humanizing religious interpretations. Still, Haydn would not have expected to have God in any form come down to him to reveal how he should compose a troublesome passage in the symphony he was working on. A devout man – and a Mason – if he was “blocked,” he might walk away from the piano and pick up his rosary: during this process, when his mind was engaged on a spiritual ritual, a solution to his writer's block might occur to him – but he didn't believe it was God speaking to him through the rosary beads. This was no different than what happened to Archimedes when he took his bath – by doing something that freed your mind from the problems you were focused on, you opened your mind to become aware of other possibilities. In a more nature-oriented 19th Century, Beethoven would take walks in the country to clear his mind and do the same thing. It doesn't help to just sit and stare at a blank page, waiting for your new symphony to appear before your eyes.


Haydn said he was never so religious as when he was writing “The Creation,” beginning every day by kneeling beside the piano and praying to God to give him the strength to finish this work – not to compose it for him: Haydn was 64 when he started work on it: who knew how long he would live or how his health would hold out? Would he be able to finish it? He wrote at the end of every new piece he wrote, “Laus Deo” - Praise God. 'The Creation' ends with a whole chorus in Praise of God.

In the mid-20th Century, scientists started talking about the Right Brain and the Left Brain and how each one had certain characteristics that could control our personalities. The Left Brain was more logical, rational, more analytical and methodical, more objective. The Right Brain was more intuitive, irrational, random, spontaneous and subjective. Depending on which side of the brain might be more “dominant,” you might be one personality type or another. Taking those non-scientific tests, I find I score highly “right-brained” with only a few 'left-brained' traits. It might help explain how a particular person views the art he's creating. It might help explain why you like a certain type of music and not another. It might explain why someone would be unhappy at work if they're primarily a right-brained person in a left-brained job.

I was reading last week about composer Elliott Carter – who turns 101 in a few weeks and is still composing, by the way. He kind of laughed at the idea of waiting for “inspiration” to begin work on a new piece. He said he's given a challenge – a commission for a new piece for particular performers or a combination of instruments. He examines the possibilities, thinks about what he'd like the piece to “say” and then sets about solving the problems it presents: that, he says, is where Inspiration comes in. It happens in the middle of the process – for him, it is not the beginning of Creativity.

Aaron Copland said inspiration comes to him in a flash, that he hears the whole piece in an instant and then the problem is trying to get it down on paper. Many composers have said the piece they finish is not necessarily the piece they'd started: somewhere along the way, things change, new ideas are discovered – perhaps Inspiration guides them along different paths than they had initially thought. As many “creative types” as are out there, creating all different kinds of things, there are probably just as many views on how “creativity” works.

So during Haydn's day, all of these things about being an artist were about to change – the role of the artist in society, no longer being an employee of an aristocrat; the artist not as a craftsman but as an inspired creator when people started talking about a God-given Talent driven by a Divine Spark. Artists, following Beethoven's example, could now get away with anti-social behavior because it was generally considered they were always on the verge of 'madness,' wrapped up in the mysteries of creation, or at least of creativity.

And, for better or worse, artists were now expected to compete in a Free-Market Economy – and then as now we can assume Big Concepts and Great Ideas didn't always bring in lots of money, though it might bring you fame, generally after you died. And so the True Artist no longer wrote to entertain people now: the True Artist wrote for the Future. And so on... These are all things Haydn would never have dreamed of – and so in a sense it's held him back in our Pantheon of Great Composers: he was a nice man in a powdered wig who wrote pleasant music to entertain aristocrats... turned out 104 symphonies, 80-some string quartets, a handful of masses and two oratorios... but he is primarily remembered today for having set the groundwork so composers like Mozart could do it better – he was the 'warm-up act” for Beethoven. That's like saying “Too bad Haydn couldn't become an orange.”

(In fact, comments I heard after the Saturday night performance included things like “too bad it wasn't by Beethoven” or “well, it's not Mozart's Requiem.”)

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Arthur Koestler, in his 1964 book, “The Act of Creation,” lists three types of creators -- the artist, the sage and... the jester. In his thoughts, creativity can move freely between humor, discovery and art. And without getting too detailed in it – it's 700 pages of text – it made me think how Haydn attains the level of artistic creation – the sublime – in one of his last works.

When I was first studying what they call music “theory” - which examines the mechanics of music and how notes create scales and chords and how they work in the context of harmony and tonality – one of my teachers wrote two chords up on the board, what we'd call a dominant chord and a tonic chord. We hear them all the time, especially in the sections of “recitative” in today's work - each one brought to a close by these two chords – V – I – as we call them. Then he put another 'I' (or tonic) chord in front of them: “This,” he said, “is not composing – this is a cliché.” Then he put an X between the first tonic chord and the dominant chord and said “Putting something in here – THAT'S composing.”

The cliché is the expected. That X, whatever it may become, is what's UN-expected.

Most people think of PAPA HAYDN, the genial man in the powdered wig with a twinkle in his eye for the musical practical joke that makes us smile: the unexpected loud chord in the middle of a slow soft passage lulling us to sleep; the introduction of a rough peasant dance into a courtly minuet where, amidst the silver-buckled satin shoes one finds the dirt from a peasant's boot; the ticking of a clock, the clucking of a hen; the odd changes in rhythm or pauses in the middle of a phrase, the false endings, the modulations out of left field – or certainly way out of Left Brain. He's playing with our expectations and in the process, catching us – even 200 years later – unawares. Sometimes we smile, or chuckle or L-O-L... but it's these “unexpected things” that also elevate our awareness above the standard operating procedures. They exist because we SENSE the standard operating procedure and when the unexpected happens, we SENSE that something has shifted in our awareness. In some cases, this is pure humor – a special effect for the cause of being able to create a special effect. In some cases, it goes deeper than that: there are humorous examples in “The Creation,” especially in the bass's catalog of the different beasts that God creates – we hear the roar of the lion, the movements of the “flexible” tiger and the galloping stags and mighty steeds... there are bucolic cattle and sheep and, finally, a cloud of insects and a lowly worm – in fact, so low, the singer ends the passage on a low D.

But there are other moments of more serious “tone painting,” the idea of taking a visual idea and suggesting it in music. The first is in the Representation of Chaos, the world without form and void – this “overture” may not sound “chaotic” as WE think of it – how was your Friday? – but chaos in the sense of slowly swirling masses of celestial gas floating in space, perhaps – well, not a concept I think Haydn would have thought of in 1796 (though it's interesting to note that while this year is the 200th Anniversary of the Death of Haydn it's also the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th Anniversary of the publication of his “Origin of Species” – and the controversy continues...)

Musically, we get these shapeless lines that seems to go nowhere slowly, the cadences always stretching to places we didn't expect and leading us on to... well, more ambiguity. It's very unsettled but unsettling because we never really get a sense of “resolution” out of this harmonic motion, just as chaos of ANY kind would not be expected to have any sense of resolution. (It may sound tame to use, today, after listening to 200 years of Beethoven, Wagner and Schoenberg in between.)

But when Haydn sets the words “And God said 'Let there be light'” – he gives us such an unexpected burst of sound – resolving the hushed, murky C Minor of the opening to a brilliant loud C Major chord -- “And there was LIGHT!” - the audience at the first performance broke out in applause and the orchestra could not continue for several minutes.

There are storms with roaring winds and soaring waves – written in a standard “tempest” aria style. Another moment of sublime tone-painting is the first sunrise – after dividing the night from day by creating the sun and the moon: harmonizing a simple D Major scale, Haydn proceeds from a single D played softly, lines expanding outwards both up and down, filling in with some harmonic twists and turns that finally resolves everything to a broad D Major Chord marked fortissimo all in the span of ten measures. After a little silvery moon music, Haydn then begins what is perhaps the oratorio's “greatest hit,” the chorus “The Heavens Are Telling,” one of his most joyous creations.

In one sense – and mostly from a 19th Century Romantic sense – Haydn's Creation is not a universal, emotion-plumbing piece of theatricality that will inspire you with awe at the wonders of God's Creation. It is as much about Praising God for His creation as it is telling us what happened – and in most cases being quite objective about it.

A composer writing this a hundred years later would have had a huge dramatic climax at the Creation of Man – but in Haydn, he comes along after this humorous catalog of other beasts and without any special musical pictorializing. Right after the lowly worm, the bass sings an aria that the Creation wasn't quite complete: it needed one more thing. And in a simple recitative, the tenor sings the words from Genesis, “And God created man in his own image,” followed by a lyrical and noble aria which also includes one of the worst lines in the English translation Haydn was presented with – talking about Adam's forehead (speaking of right brain/left brain), the English reads

The large and archèd front sublime
of wisdom deep declares the seat.

No great chorus, not even a climactic chord on God breathing life into man's nostrils, no rapturous meditation on Man's coming to life – true, he gets a whole aria, not just eight measures like the worm... but Haydn, being a product of 18th Century Enlightenment, focuses on the humanity of Man's creation, not the magic of it. The whole third part of the oratorio, focused on the Happy Pair of Adam and Eve, sounds like domestic bliss that you could find in the resolution of a Mozart opera like “Marriage of Figaro” or “The Magic Flute” except here, Adam and Eve, the first couple, haven't been through the dramatic and often heart-wrenching twists and turns that Mozart's characters had just been through. That wasn't Haydn's “thing.” But whatever his “thing” was, he left us some great music that can lift your spirits and take you beyond our every-day existence.

Remember that story I started with about “Taking 2 Haydn Symphonies and calling me in the morning”? Well, I was reading an essay about Haydn's 'Creation' that concludes with this story, written down by one of Haydn's first biographers. It was the year after Haydn's “Creation” had been premiered and the writer was in Vienna when he'd come down with a fever. Stuck in his hotel room and not feeling like doing anything, he thought he would go to mass at a near-by church, in hopes, as he put it, the music might cheer him up a bit. It turned out they were performing a recent mass by Haydn which this would-be biographer had not yet heard.

“Scarcely had it begun before I felt myself affected. I broke out into a perspiration, my headache went away: I left the church with a cheerfulness to which I had long been a stranger, and the fever never returned.”

However the power of Haydn's music affects you today, I hope you'll be able to enjoy our performance of “The Creation” by Franz Josef Haydn.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Good Year for Haydn: Part 5 "The Creation" (Finally)

The Harrisburg Symphony, joined by the Susquehanna and Wheatland Chorales and the Messiah College Concert Choir and soprano Ilana Davidson, tenor Benjamin Butterfield and bass Richard Zuch, conducted by Stuart Malina, will perform Franz Josef Haydn's oratorio “The Creation” this weekend, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at the Forum. I'll be doing a pre-concert talk an hour before each performance, some of which will be taken from these posts which were prepared from notes I posted for my class on Haydn at the Harrisburg Area Community College.

You probably don't need a “plot synopsis” to know what's going on, given the familiarity of “the story” but in addition to all the material I've posted about Haydn's life and about the “Creating The Creation,” here is an outline of the different numbers of the oratorio with a few video excerpts.

By way of introduction, let me explain two terms:

Recitative, at its simplest, means “heightened speech” with just a simple bass-line under the declamatory voice, punctuated by cadential chords. The more complex ones have episodes of the orchestra interspersed between fragments of “heightened speech” by the singer. These are generally used for setting the biblical text.

An Aria is a lyrical solo for the voice and is generally a meditation on the events expressed in the preceding Recitative.

In opera, recitatives are where the action (drama) takes place, and arias reflect the reactions of the characters to those actions.

In Haydn's oratorio, the three vocal soloists represent different angels relating the events: in the order of appearance, they are Raphael (bass), Uriel (tenor), and Gabriel (soprano). In Part III, the additional roles of Eve and Adam are usually taken by the same soloists who sing Gabriel and Raphael though additional singers might be added.

In quoting the English translations, I switch back and forth between Baron van Swieten's supplied English and the translation prepared by Robert Shaw and Alice Parker used in their Telarc recording (an excerpt from that performance is included at the end of this section).

The Harrisburg Symphony's performance will use the “standard” van Swieten translation.

The oratorio is in three parts.

SYNOPSIS OF THE ORATORIO, “THE CREATION

Part One begins with its famous “representation of chaos” goes directly into the section with its great dramatic moment, “And there was light!”

(This performance is conducted by John Nelson with soprano Natalie Dessay and baritone Laurent Naouri and Ensemble Orchestral de Paris but the poster doesn't shed much light on the chorus or the identity of the tenor)
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Uriel sings the aria (with chorus) “Now vanished by the holy beams, the ancient ghostly shuddering darkness, the First Day appears.”

Raphael then sings the recitative dividing the water from the firmament (complete with roaring blasts of wind)

Raphael's Recitative: dividing dry land from the waters – Earth and Seas – Aria, complete with roaring waves but ending with the flowing brook.

Gabriel's Recitative – bringing forth grass and fruit-trees; her aria “With verdure clad” is one of the work's more famous excerpts. Here is Sally Matthews singing the original German with Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in October 2007:

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Uriel's Recitative, proclaiming the Third Day, leads to the chorus “Awake the Harp.”

His next Recitative calls for light to be divided day from night. A more involved Recitative follows, with the musical description of the first sunrise, a crescendo from very soft to very loud with a noble resolution to a brilliant D Major chord. The moon is described in silvery tones lead into the chorus (perhaps the oratorio's “greatest hit”), “The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God.”

In this "audio only" video, you can hear the First Sunrise with Uriel's recitative and the chorus "The Heavens Are Telling" - performed by tenor Jan Kobow (it sounded like Ian Bostridge to me) with the VokalEnseble Köln and Capella Augustina (playing period instruments) with Andreas Spering, conductor, from a Naxos recording.

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And thus endeth Part One.

The second part begins with Gabriel's Recitative bringing forth fish in the sea and birds in the air. Her aria describes the various birds (my score's English says “On mighty pens uplifted soars the eagle aloft”): from the proud eagle to the merry lark and cooing doves.

Raphael then tells of the great whales and living creatures – be fruitful and multiply. And thus was the Fifth Day.

This leads into a trio, about the green hills (Gabriel), wafting breezes (Uriel) and the fish leaping in the waters (Raphael) which then adds a grand chorus to the trio, “The Lord is Great.”

In the next sequence – bringing forth the living beasts – Haydn describes musically the appearance of the roaring lion, the “flexible” tiger, the nimble stag and the noble horse as well as more docile cattle and sheep. Among the cloud of insects, there is also the lowly worm (which takes the bass soloist down to a very low D, far below the standard range). Having gotten through that, the baritone now sings the aria, “Now shines the brightest glory of heaven” which includes a few more bellowing beasts along the way.

It's curious that, at the time, critics were divided on this literal depiction of the text in the music – music representing specific images like the lion or the worm. They may have been unaware that Vivaldi had done similar things in his concertos (not just “The Four Seasons”), but by the time Beethoven included bubbling brooks and birdsong in the 2nd Movement of his “Pastoral Symphony,” this was considered brilliant. Go figure.

In this video, you'll hear a largely amateur performance recorded in Sri Lanka with the orchestra and chorus augmented by members of the Amsterdam and Bombay Chamber Orchestras. The conductor is Lalanath de Silva; Raphael is sung by bass Michael Dewis. It's unfortunate he doesn't have the Low D at the end, but he gets an A for effort!

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The aria concludes, “but all the work was incomplete: there wanted yet that wondrous being” and so in the next section, Uriel's Recitative and Aria, God creates Man – and then “the partner for him formed, a woman fair and graceful spouse.”

Here is a performance (with tenor Ian Bostridge, the London Symphony and Sir Colin Davis) of Uriel's aria, “In native worth and honor clad” sung in the original German.

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Raphael's Recitative concludes the Sixth Day, followed by another chorus, “Achieved is the glorious work” and then a trio which begins happily enough before Raphael mentions out “if God turns his face away, with sudden terror they are struck” (shivering strings) as “God takes their breath away and they vanish into dust.” Happier thoughts bring the trio to a conclusion before leading into the chorus, “Achieved is the glorious work: our song let be the praise of God.” Allelujah!

And thus endeth the Second Part.

Part Three, the shortest of the three – typical also of a Handel oratorio – concerns itself with the first days of Adam and Eve, opening with a peaceful instrumental interlude that sounds like it will become a love duet from an opera but instead becomes a Recitative for Uriel who describes the “Happy Pair” walking hand in hand.

The Hymn begins with a duet for Adam (Baritone) and Eve (Soprano) (“By thee, with bliss, oh bounteous Lord... this world, so great, so wonderful”) later joined by the chorus (“forever blessed be his pow'r”), the longest 'number' in the whole work.

A simple Recitative first for Adam then for Eve precedes their delightful duet, “Graceful consort” (or “sweet companion”) that could find a place beside any comparable duet from Mozart's “Marriage of Figaro” or “Magic Flute.” “But without you, what is to me the morning dew? The evening cool? The ripened fruit? The fragrant flower?” Just delicious!

Uriel's “Oh happy pair,” a short recitative, leads to the final chorus, “Sing to God, ye voices all.”

This excerpt is from Robert Shaw's recording with the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus available on Telarc and sung in English: the poster includes the final chorus from Part II (“fulfilled at last the glorious work”) and excerpts from Part III (Adam and Eve's duet, “Sweet Companion” - also included in German in the William Christie promotional video above) then Uriel's Recitative, “Oh happy pair” and the concluding chorus, “Sing to God ye hosts unnumbered”)

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To be continued...

Here's a look at an emotional performance in 1808 which turned out to be Haydn's last public appearance before his death 200 years ago. Haydn had been brought to the performance carried in a chair. At the end of Part One, he had to be taken out of the room: in this scene, a watercolor painted by a witness of the occasion, Haydn is seated in the foreground, just before leaving the performance when the audience turned to bid him farewell and he waved to them as if in benediction.




Dr. Dick

A Good Year for Haydn: Part 4 - Creating "The Creation"

At the end of May, 1791, Franz Josef Haydn, newly arrived in London, attended a Handel Festival at Westminster Abbey. There were, supposedly, one thousand performers including an orchestra that featured contrabassoons, a “gigantic collection” of wind and stringed instruments (including “large double basses”) and larger-than-usual timpani capable of playing an octave below the normal kettledrums. In this way, Haydn – who had heard Handel's music before performed in Vienna with tasteful up-dated arrangements by Mozart – heard Handel as probably Handel himself never imagined. Two complete oratorios were included on the programs – Israel in Egypt and Messiah – along with the brilliant coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest and excerpts from a variety of oratorios like Judas Maccadbeus, Saul, Samson and several others.

As H.C. Robbins Landon relates in his essay, “Haydn's 'Creation,'” “Haydn was stunned.” I'm not sure if the pun was intended, considered how a purist might react to such a performance today. After all, Sir Thomas Beecham's over-achieving version of Handel's Messiah is generally held up to ridicule these days, but over two centuries ago, a similar approach was met with “absolute shouts of applause.”

And Haydn was deeply affected by this music.

After seeing the King and everyone in the audience rise to its collective feet at the start of the Hallelujah Chorus, Haydn listened to the music and burst into tears: “He is the master of us all.”

To an English composer, Haydn admitted after hearing “The Nations Tremble” from Joshua, he “had long been acquainted with music but never knew half its power” before hearing this music.

It had to be more than sheer numbers and volume, though, that impressed Haydn so mightily. His biographer wrote “Haydn confessed to me that when he heard Hendl [sic] in London, he was struck as if he had been put back to the beginning of his studies and had known nothing up to that moment. He meditated on every note and drew from those most learned scores the essence of true musical grandeur.”

The sense of grandeur is not something Haydn employed normally in his music. There might be a sense of the sublime in the way he could handle a phrase or reach a cadence but normally, “sublime” and “grandeur” might be less in evidence on the daily rounds of music at Palace Esterháza where his primary role was to provide the prince, his employer, with symphonies, chamber music and operas. It was only recently that he had begun writing choral music on a large scale.

Apparently, the Esterházies did not keep a very active chapel since Haydn wrote few sacred works in the course of his 30 years there (there were two small-scale masses composed shortly after he left school; then six more were written for Esterháza between 1766, when old Werner died, and 1782).Now, as a teen-ager, Mozart had to supply his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, with a regular flow of masses and short organ works designed for the brief but tightly controlled services there.

But only late in his life, Haydn, then on his third prince and living in semi-retirement, only turned to large scale choral works because it was now his principal duty, supplying the annual mass for the Name Day of Prince Anton's wife.

Meanwhile, unexpectedly, he found himself taken off to London to grace the audiences there with new symphonies, string quartets, piano sonatas and songs. He came back with some librettos as his agent, Johann Peter Salomon, had urged him to write an oratorio much like Handel's.

It was during his second trip there that someone had given him a hodge-podge of horrid poetry about the glories of England – not so much a religious work as apparently a political one:

“For England had great wealth posses'd by sea's access and thereby blest with plenties not a few which next the virtue of thy watchful eyes will her secure from foreign miseries...”

(Good grief... and Haydn had trouble with simple English...)

Granted, it was a time of great patriotic pride, England fending off the insanity unleashed by the French Revolution and steeling itself for the inevitable wars with Napoleon that would consume much of the next 15 years. The wretchedness of the text may not have been the only reason he rejected it: but what a coup it would've been for England to have this ballyhooed around the Continent with music by the famous Haydn as a form of musical propaganda while the English were in search of political and diplomatic alliances against the French!

No, what eventually attracted Haydn's attention was nothing less then the opening chapters of the Bible.

The libretto he had been given was one that had originally been prepared for Handel himself who, for whatever reason, never got around to setting it. For the most part, it was taken from Milton's Paradise Lost, interspersed with quotes from the Book of Genesis. Baron van Swieten was a friend of Haydn's, a diplomat at the Austrian court who loved Handel's music and commissioned Mozart to reorchestrate some of his oratorios for late-18th Century sensibilities (on a far more discreet scale than was going on in London, obviously). He now prepared a German version of this libretto and made subtle suggestions to Haydn how to handle certain passages:

“In this chorus, the Darkness could disappear gradually but in such a way that enough of the Darkness remain to make the sudden transition to light very effective. “And there was light” must only be said once.”

Whether Haydn would have thought so or not, we don't know, since he took Swieten's advice. It's one of the most effective moments in the work, as it turned out: the audience at the first performance applauded so vigorously at this point, the orchestra was unable to proceed for several minutes.

It's quite possible Handel would have set this text as a glorious fugue, repeating the line ad infinitem. At least, that's what would have been expected.

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Baron Gottfried van Swieten, btw, is a very fascinating character of the times: originally physician to the Empress and later a diplomat who was ambassador to Prussia, dealing with Frederic the Great during the 1772 partition of Poland, he was also a keen amateur musician and composer who studied with a student of J.S. Bach's while he was in Berlin. He would later become the chief librarian of the Imperial Library, initiating the first card catalog in 1780, then in 1784 proposing a copyright law that, if it had been approved by the Emperor, would have helped Mozart's finances considerably. He was also the Minister of Education but ran afoul of the liberal Emperor by being a little more liberal than expected: “more concerned about the dangers of religious orthodoxy than heresy, he believed students should be taught a system of secular values based upon 'philosophy.'” When Emperor Joseph II died in 1790, his more conservative brother Leopold became emperor and fired Swieten the following year, on the very same day that Mozart died.

Baron van Swieten is probably best known for having introduced Mozart to the music of Bach and Handel, especially commissioning him to modernize the orchestration for some of Handel's oratorios. His other claim to fame is having adapted the libretto for “The Creation,” giving Haydn a German translation to set to music even if the English re-translation he made is a bit unidiomatic (in addition to accents on the wrong syllables, there's the famous line about Adam's forehead: “the large arched front sublime / of wisdom deep declares the seat”...).

Interesting to reconcile his attitudes about secularized education with his work on the text for “The Creation.” But whether, like both Mozart AND Haydn, Swieten was a Mason or not – and the approach to the story was definitely more Masonic than evangelical – consider this collaboration began in 1796 a year after Emperor Franz I, who'd ascended to the imperial throne after his father's brief, barely two-year reign, banned the Masons (which would remain an underground society until the dissolution of the monarchy in 1918).

The idea of “the propagation of a humanity in God's image” was very much a part of the Masonic ethos and had much in common with the attitudes of the Enlightenment of mid-century Central Europe. As Robbins-Landon writes in his essay, it “is perhaps the last witness, and one of the most moving, of a great humanitarian era in Central Europe, a truly golden age which was soon to disappear for ever.”

As a composer, Baron van Swieten had considerably less impact: he wrote three comic operas and ten symphonies, not all of them extant. The Grove Dictionary includes in its entry on him that, “as a composer, van Swieten is insignificant.” Haydn own assessment of his friend and colleague, at one point, described his symphonies “as stiff as the Baron himself.”

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Around this second visit to London, Haydn had already been engaged in choral works, something less frequently represented in his previous output. While “The Seven Last Words from the Cross” was originally an instrumental composition for Good Friday (written for a cathedral in Spain in 1787) which he later arranged for string quartet, he later reworked it as a choral work, a collection of seven motets with instrumental interludes. On his first trip to London, he had heard a performance of it in which a local composer added a chorus to his music: Haydn's typically laconic response was “I would have done the vocal parts better.” Then, after returning from England, he set about doing just that, premiering it in 1796: the popular reaction was enough to prompt friends like Baron van Swieten to ask Haydn to write another oratorio.

With memories of Handel's music heard in London still in his mind, he wrote the first two “Name Day Masses” for Princess Heremngilde Esterhazy, wife of his employer Prince Anton II, including the famous “Mass in Time of War,” both in 1796. In October, he began work setting Baron van Swieten's adaptation of the libretto for “The Creation.”

The first official indication that Haydn was working on it can be found in a letter written to Beethoven by the man young Beethoven had been studying with while Haydn, his official teacher, had been off in London – Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. “Haydn came to see me yesterday; he is occupied with the idea of a big oratorio which intends to call 'The Creation,' and he hope to finish the work soon. He improvised some of it for me and I think it will be very good.”

Haydn didn't finish it “soon.” He worked on it for almost two years, finishing it in April, 1798. He had never spent so much time writing one composition. When he finished it, he had just turned 66.

A devout Catholic, Haydn began each piece by writing “in nomine Domine” (in the name of the Lord) on the top of the page and, at the end of the piece, “Laus Deo” (Praise God). He often turned to the rosary when he was having compositional difficulties, finding its concentration and consolation unblocked his thoughts.

(While faithful artists might find inspiration in prayer, Beethoven found inspiration in walks in nature, something he especially enjoyed during his summertimes spent in the countryside. A modern-day composer might spend time on a treadmill or something and by disengaging the mind from the stress of reality, allow the brain to free up its thoughts to come up with possible solutions and ideas. Many authors and composers have written about the power of “meditating” in one way or another, this process of freeing the mind from everyday surroundings: when I was at Yaddo, a writer's colony in Saratoga Springs, the daily regimen was basically “breakfast in the dining room by 8:00, a walk around the grounds” (there were two pathways through the woods, the shorter one taking about 20 minutes, the longer one about twice that, as I recall) “and then, at 9am, retire to your studio to work uninterrupted till dinner at 5pm.”)

Haydn wrote about his work on the oratorio, "I was never so devout as when I was at work on 'The Creation'; I fell on my knees each day and begged God to give me the strength to finish the work. ... I spent much time over it because I expect it to last for a long time." Frequently working on it till he was exhausted, he collapsed into a period of illness after conducting its premiere.

Here is a promotional video made at a recording session of “The Creation” with William Christie and Les Arts florissant for the Virgin Classics label. It is sung in German:


Recording dress is a lot less formal than concert dress. Included are a few highlights for you: following the opening of “Chaos” and then the appearance of Light, you'll hear “The Heavens are telling” that ends Part I and the duet from Part III between Adam and Eve. The instruments are from the period of Haydn's day (note the horns and trumpets especially).

To be continued: including a synopsis of the oratorio with video excerpts...

- Dr. DIck

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Five More Years! Five More Years!

Fresh from a delightful evening's roast last week as he celebrates his 10th Anniversary as Music Director of the Harrisburg Symphony, Stuart Malina has renewed his contract with the orchestra, extending his stay officially through the 2014-2015 Season.

In case you missed the announcement in Tuesday's Patriot-News, here's the link to David Dunkle's article on-line which was posted Monday afternoon.

As many people have said, quite genuinely, "We're lucky to have him," Stuart has always said he's "the luckiest guy in the world," getting to do what he loves most -- making great music -- with an orchestra he truly enjoys working with. The musicians and the audiences clearly reflect it back.

Congratulations, Stuart. Congratulations, Harrisburg!

- Dr. Dick

A Good Year for Haydn: Part 3 (Muses on the Brain, Right or Left)


When writing about Haydn's “The Creation,” it seems reasonable to talk about “creativity.”

This is part of a series of posts on Haydn in preparation for the Harrisburg Symphony's performance of Haydn's great oratorio this weekend, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at the Forum in Harrisburg. Stuart Malina will conduct the orchestra along with the Susquehanna Chorale, the Wheatland Chorale and the Messiah College Concert Choir with soloists, soprano Ilana Davidson, tenor Benjamin Butterworth and baritone Richard Zuch. I'll be doing a pre-concert talk an hour before each performance.

You can read the other posts in this series beginning here with Part 1.

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When an artist is creative and “creates” some work of art, we throw words around like “creativity” or “inspiration” as well as “imagination” or “God-given talent.” But the ancient Greeks did not have a word for “creativity.” Neither, for that matter, did the Romans.

How could you write about artists and their creations without using the word “creative”?

With the exception of poetry, the word used to describe art in Greece was “techne.” This is the word that gives the English language the root for “technique” or “technology.” Poetry was allowed its freedom but the other arts were subject to rules.

But there were the muses, the nine minor goddesses to whom poets and musicians and artists of all kinds prayed for inspiration, right?

Well, not exactly for inspiration. Originally three in number, they eventually became nine by the Golden Age of Classical Ancient Greece, daughters of Zeus and the goddess Mnemosyne (goddess of memory). Their immediate supervisor was the god Apollo.

The word “muse” also gives us the roots for such English words as museum (from “a place where muses are worshiped”), music (a fairly obvious connection), even amuse and “to muse upon” or musing.

Initially, they were a group of goddesses who worked, I guess you could say, as a Special Unit for artists. It was only later – especially during the Renaissance - that they each became associated with a specific role to play:

Calliope (epic poetry, depicted with a writing tablet),
Clio (history, reading a scroll – because history involved reciting it or writing it down, it was considered an art, perhaps better thought of as “non-fiction”) (see image, above right),
Erato (lyric poetry, playing a kithara or lyre-like instrument with which ancient poets and bards accompanied themselves when reciting or improvising poetry and tales),
Euterpe (music, playing an aulos or wind instrument comparable to a flute),
Melpomene (tragic theater, holding the mask of tragedy), Polyhymnia (choral poetry, wearing a veil),
Terpsichore (dance, playing a lyre),
Thalia (comic theater, holding the mask of comedy) (see image, left) and
Urania (astronomy, not something we'd consider an art but scientists also had their muse-driven inspiration, usually holding a compass or, one assumes after 1492, a globe).

These areas generally encompassed most of what we'd call “learning” in Ancient Greece. They were regarded as the “keys to the good life” and would, when called upon, inspire people to do their best.

Sacrifices – bowl of milk or honey, perhaps – would be placed out as libations to the muses by artists seeking their guidance. This guidance would later be called inspiration, from words meaning “breathed upon” – a kind of “Muse-breath.”

Most great poems from the Classical Age – both Greek and Roman – began with calls to the Muse to inspire their authors' stories: for instance, Homer's Odyssey begins

"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy."
(translation by Robert Fagles)

Shakespeare frequently invokes the muses in his sonnets and Milton begins “Paradise Lost” not with a biblical statement but an invocation to the Heavenly Muse to sing the song of man's first disobedience, a classic interweaving of Christian and mythological traditions.

By Roman times, given the word “ars,” visual arts and poetry were now credited with being inspired, that artists used their imagination, a change over the rules of the Greek “techne.” One could argue, since music is not included here, this attitude to the “creation” of music might explain why so little of it (a few fragments only) have survived, but most of that would be more attributable to the fact no one knew how to write it down. Poetry could be transmitted orally by bards who memorized volumes of texts that were, once written language developed, but no one kept the oral tradition of its music alive until musical notation could be invented, a process which only began around the 9th Century A.D.

But still there was no word for “creativity.”

It wasn't until Christian times that the concept of something being created was introduced, and then “creatio” meant God's Creation, the opening of the story of Genesis, the idea of something being created out of nothing, something only God could do.

Art was not a domain of “creativity.” It was in the hands of craftsmen who created something out of something else: raw materials, if you will – a sculptor created a statue out of a piece of stone; an artisan made furniture or a bowl out of wood or clay. Artists – artisans, craftsmen – used the word “facio” (I made) or “fabrio” (I crafted).

In fact, it wasn't until the 17th Century when a Polish poet, Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski (writing in Latin) began applying “creativity” to what he did. Many people found his taking on this God-like role offensive. Others softened the concept by explaining being an artist was “completing nature as if a second Creator.” Still, this was very controversial.

Then, once the Enlightenment rolled around in the 18th Century and concepts of faith became more secularized, creativity and inspiration became less involved with the Divine, things that mortal men could attain. Perhaps this might explain why “normal” people regard artists so highly – at least in some respects: they were somewhere between Man and God through this connection with their “God-given gift.”

By the 19th Century, the more “Romantic” concept of the artist – where the spark of creativity was considered not far removed from a form of madness – came into play. It is still one of the primary views of the artist in society today. Creativity then became something anyone could tap into: it was finally admitted even scientists could be “creative.”

Which is very curious, considered 2009 is not only the bicentennial of the death of Haydn, it's also the bicentennial of the birth of scientist Charles Darwin. This month marks the 150th Anniversary of the publication of his “Origin of Species.” The controversy continues.

Curiously, in Asian traditions, there was no place for the idea of “creation from nothing.”

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In the 1960s, scientists began discussing the role (or rather roles) of the human brain in all this. The brain is divided into two lobes and it was discovered that the Right Brain was

random – irrational - intuitive – subjective – spontaneous – looked at the whole before understanding the parts

while the Left Brain was

logical – rational – more analytical – sequential – methodical – looked at constituent parts before understanding the whole.

Going back to two standard approaches to describing Art, we've often used terms like “Classical” and “Romantic” for specific eras. In music, “Classical Music” was the dominant approach between, roughly, 1750 and 1800; “Romantic Music,” between 1800 and 1900. But “lower case” classical and romantic traits can be found in other eras, often chronologically concurrent.

In this sense, “classical” elements are those that are based more on rules (techne), logical constructions, leaner textures, more obvious to the listener (objective), not complicated, while “romantic” elements imply greater freedom in regards to harmony and form, more emotional content (subjective), denser textures, less concern with the rules, in fact more with “rule-breaking.”

Looking back at Greek models – mythological tales often used to explain occurrences in every day life – Apollo became the guiding figure of the classical ethos, and Dionysus, the god of wine, helped artists to become uninhibited, free of the constraints of being mere craftsmen.

Haydn, as we think of him today, would be the epitome of the craftsman, writing symphonies and operas to order because, like a good craftsman, it was his job to produce for human consumption, for entertainment.

Beethoven, his pupil, is regarded as the opposite of Haydn: he became the heaven-striding heroic creative artist, writing great symphonies because he wanted to, because he had something universal to say.

Haydn may have written operas on Greek stories to entertain the prince who employed him, but Beethoven wrote an opera speaking to the human condition: at a time of political upheaval in Europe following the French Revolution and the numerous, almost constant warfare with Napoleon, Beethoven's Fidelio was a universal cry for the humanitarian concerns for the democratic principles of freedom and equality. Ironically, the first performance of Fidelio,a decidedly anti-French work, was ruined at its premiere because, wrong place and time, the just defeated city of Vienna was newly occupied by Napoleon's troops, an audience not likely to be sympathetic to Beethoven's theme.

It was during a second occupation by the French troops in 1809 that Haydn died at the age of 77, regarded as one of the greatest composers of his age, but an age that was quickly disappearing in the tide of romantic ideals, retiring with it the image of powdered wigs and composers – creative artists, now, not craftsmen – no longer forced to wear the aristocrats' livery. They were, for better or worse, subject to a free market economy.

Neither of these contrasting views is entirely accurate or even complete: the truth, as usual, would lie somewhere in between.

Haydn has never been regarded as a “great” composer on the same level as his contemporary, Mozart, or his student, Beethoven. He wrote “charming” music that “delighted” his audiences – those funny little inside jokes, the combination of rustic dances in the midst of courtly music, bringing into the prince's salon a whiff of country air, the dirt on a peasant's boot – but he is not credited with plumbing emotional depths or rising to great heights to “inspire” us. Basically, most people think Mozart did it better and Haydn prepared the groundwork to make Beethoven possible.

This is not just an orange complaining that an apple isn't as good as an orange: Haydn would never have thought it was required of him to DO any of that. Not that he wasn't capable of being spontaneous or random or more subjective on occasion: it wasn't his primary motivation. Just as Beethoven could write fugues (or tried to, but being Dionysian about it, didn't write “proper” fugues, according to the followers of Haydn), Haydn could depict chaos in some of the most astounding harmonic progressions heard in the 18th Century.
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(Veiga Jardim conducting the Macao Orchestra and the Hong Kong Oratorio Society in a 2004 performance filmed in a cathedral in Macao, China.)

Curiously, after listening to two centuries' worth of Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg and today's film scores, our reaction to this music is probably much tamer than it would have been in Vienna in 1798.

Though compare his opening of “The Creation” to Jean-Féry Rebel's depiction of chaos that begins his ballet “The Elements,” even more astounding than anything heard until well into the 20th Century, with that opening chord: what must his listeners have thought when they first heard this in 1737, written when Haydn was only 5 years old and only ten years after Bach was annoying people with his new fangled (on one hand), old-fashioned (on the other) St. Matthew Passion in Leipzig?

But then, as things come around again – whether in waves or cycles – the Baroque era would be more on the “romantic” side of the equation for all its reliance on formal structure, compared to the classical style.

This concept of Right Brain/Left Brain is not, scientifically speaking, so black/white as it would seem.

If you take a test to see which you might be, you might be dominantly “Left Brained” but you might have certain elements of “Right Brainedness” in your personality. Or vice versa.

(Perhaps this is why much of the brain is made up of “gray matter”?)

In this particular test – where very few of the questions deal with specific artistic concepts – I scored a 14 for the Right Brain and a 4 for the Left Brain.

What I found intriguing about this, I live my life in my right-brain but the music I compose is strongly rooted in the methodically rational left side of my brain, though my primary focus is trying to infuse it with subjective emotion, a synthesis of both right-brain intuition with left-brain logic.

See how you “stack up” by comparison: keep in mind this is not “scientific” but it might give you a bit of an idea how YOUR brain works and why you may feel yourself a little different from other people around you who might all have different scores across different parts of the spectrum. It may explain – again not scientifically, as the disclaimer goes – why it's so difficult being a right-brained cog in a left-brained job!

Anyway, that bit of pseudo-psychology aside, it may also explain how you react to the music you like or don't like.

I would assume it's possible that Left Brained People might appreciate Haydn more than they would Berlioz or Wagner, or why Right Brained People might find much “classical” music boring. Compare, after all, the psychological realms of most pop music today with the ideals of Apollonian classicism!

To be continued...

Dr. Dick

A Good Year for Haydn: Part 2

This weekend, the Harrisburg Symphony performs Haydn's "Creation" - Saturday November 21st at 8pm and Sunday November 22nd at 3pm in the Forum. This is Part 2 of an "up-close" post about Haydn's Life which begins here...

This violinist friend of Haydn's in turn introduced him to Count Morzin who happened to be looking for a “kapellmeister,” a “music director” for his court orchestra, a combination conductor, performance organizer and composer-in-residence.

Central Europe was not a very unified region: instead of nations like the ones we're used to today, Germany and Austria were loose confederations of small principalities, sometimes city states not much bigger than Harrisburg. Most of the nobility maintained their own “courts,” meant to entertain them and their guests in the days before there were TV sets and home entertainment centers. The more money a nobleman had, the better the music would probably be, able to hire the better musicians and maintain bigger orchestras. There were no concert halls performing for average people who'd just buy tickets: you'd have to be a guest to attend a “house concert.”

And so Count Morzin hired the 26 or 28-year-old Haydn to head his “music department.” Unfortunately, in a year or two, Morzin ran through most of his fortune and had to disband his orchestra, keeping just a few performers, letting his conductor and composer go.

Fortunately, one of Morzin's guests heard some of Haydn's earliest symphonies – maybe the three known as “Morning, Noon and Night” – and liked them very much. This was Prince Anton Esterházy whose mother had known the young Haydn as a neighbor. When he was looking for a new job, he contacted the Prince who invited him to come work for him.

The only catch was, his old kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, was ill and not writing much but because he'd been there so long, the Prince kept him on out of loyalty. It was stipulated that young Haydn (now 28 or 30) would be Werner's assistant but would really do most of Werner's work – writing new pieces as needed, organizing performances and conducting the orchestra.

Haydn would work for the Esterházy family for the next 30 years.

He realized his chief purpose was to entertain his employer by writing ingratiating music and to keep on his employer's good side. He was, after all, an employee and wore a uniform just like other servants. He was considered a “craftsman” and regarded with little difference from the gardener or the chef or the furniture maker.

Haydn's personality suited him to the job: he could be innovative but knew how far he could go. Mozart had little stomach for such deference which in one sense explained why he never got the kind of job Haydn had. Beethoven, who would become Haydn's student, was too much an ego to put up with the aristocracy: even though he was dependent on their support, he never really wanted a kapellmeister's job. Mozart, after he was (quite literally) kicked out of the Archbishop of Salzburg's employ (where he'd grown up) became the first free-lance composer in 1780s Vienna – and Beethoven set the stage for the 19th Century's “independent contractor” who struggled to make a living writing music.
Prince Anton died in 1762, not long after he'd hired Haydn. His younger brother became the next official Prince and because of his more lavish lifestyle, became known as Prince Nicholas the Magnificent. The palace in Eisenstadt – outside Vienna near the Hungarian border – wasn't big enough for him, so he built a new palace called Esterháza (see photo above) which is 53 miles from Vienna – as one guest described it, 53 bone-crunching miles. Built in a swamp that the best thing one could say about it was the duck-hunting was great, the house was patterned on a mini-Versailles. Later, when the Prince became fascinated with opera, he built his own opera house. He was also crazy about Marionette Operas which also had their own theater. In addition, he had his own theater troupe. And one of the finest orchestras in Austria which Haydn conducted.

When Gregor Werner died in 1766, Haydn replaced him officially. His job was to write music for the orchestra he conducted, rehearse and conduct its regular concerts. There was chamber music for other evenings. Once opera became a primary focus after 1776, he would conduct the operas and write many of his own as well. For the theater, he would write incidental music as necessary. And there were the marionette operas to produce and compose. The prince played the “Baryton,” an old-fashioned, now extinct cello-like instrument and so Haydn wrote over 125 trios so his prince could perform for his family and guests. Haydn even learned to play the baryton himself but unfortunately the prince did not like this gesture – perhaps because the place was only big enough for one baryton player. And so Haydn retired his instrument and never played it again.

Haydn did not consider himself a performer: consequently he didn't write concertos for his own performance like Mozart and Beethoven did. But he did write some for his best musicians to play, many of them lost or only recently discovered.

In 1786, between March and December, Haydn conducted 125 performances of 17 different operas, 8 of them new productions he prepared. How many of these were his own operas, I'm not sure, but of his 27 extant operas, none were composed in that particular year. By the way, that amounts to one opera performance every two or three days! That's not including the orchestra and chamber music concerts. You wonder how he had time to compose all that music.

In all, there were 104 symphonies, but some of those in the 80s were written for Paris, and the last 12 were written for London, so not all of them were composed for the Esterházy orchestra. Still, that's a lot of symphonies.

During the 1770s, there was a craze for a more emotional style – often stormy-sounding music – which became known as “Sturm und Drang” or “Storm & Stress.” It was considered avant-agrde and conservative music-lovers or composers like King Frederic the Great of Prussia considered it awful, noisy and beyond the decorum most people expected from good music. Most symphonies were meant to entertain and so they were in major keys, for the most part. Storm und Drang symphonies were more often in minor keys with tempestuous first movements and emotional slow movements.

One of these symphonies is famous for another reason. Now, they didn't live at Esterháza year-round. They stayed in Eisenstadt and apparently spent some time in what was then Pressburg (now Bratislava), a city that went back and forth between Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, as well as Vienna. But this one summer, they were staying at Esterháza longer than usual. The problem was, the musicians' families lived in Vienna: for all the opulence of the palace, the only “married suites” for the musicians were available to Haydn and to the concertmaster. The rest of them lived in dorm-like quarters. Missing their families, the musicians appealed to Haydn to see what could be done about returning “home.” And so he composed his Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp Minor, a typical “Storm und Drang” symphony up until the finale was almost over.

Then a very strange thing happened.

One by one, the musicians got up, snuffed out the candle on their stand and left the stage. Eventually the only musicians left were two violinists on a nearly dark stage.
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The prince got the message and very good-naturedly ordered everyone to pack up for Vienna the next day.

The symphony is always known as “The Farewell” Symphony because of this gimmick. (The video above is with Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic.)

Many of Haydn's symphonies have nicknames: with so many in the catalog, nicknames became a way of recalling favorites. Because of the rough dance in the finale of the Symphony No. 82 reminding people of the kind of music a peasant's bear would dance to at a country fair, it became called “The Bear” Symphony. A loud chord appearing out of nowhere in the Symphony No. 94's slow movement gave it the nickname “The Surprise” (the Germans call it “mit dem Paukenschlag” or “with the drum-stroke”). Because Marie Antoinette (an Austrian princess who married the King of France and became famous for her comment about cake) liked the Symphony No. 85, it's known as “The Queen.”

Esterháza became famous as a place for great music. Even the Empress, Maria Theresa, would make the bonecrunching trip to the palace because, as she said, “If you want to hear good music, you have to go to Esterháza.” By the way, it was she who advised her son, the Duke of Milan, NOT to hire the Mozarts (she did not like “these people,” as she referred to them). Her other son who succeeded her as Emperor Joseph II – the one famous for his quip about Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio as “having too many notes” – didn't give Mozart a real court position, either, perhaps for the same prejudice.

Then, in 1790, Prince Nicholas died and his son, named Anton after his uncle, became the prince. Unfortunately, his taste in music was considerably less than his father's. He dismissed the orchestra, disbanded the opera theater and kept only a small wind band and a couple of string players. Because Haydn had been with them for so long and had made Esterháza famous, Prince Anton kept Haydn on the payroll, but he was free to “retire.” His only obligation was to write an annual mass for the Princess' Name Day (the equivalent of a birthday celebration, but on the feast day of the saint you were named after).

At the age of 57, Haydn planned to retire to Vienna where he was somewhat surprised to find himself more famous than he thought. He was aware of the regard Vienna held him in but the international fame was a bit of a surprise. Especially when the impresario Johann Peter Salomon arrived from London.

Salomon's first thought was to engage Mozart but his schedule was too busy, there was a problem with the children (his father did not want to be saddled with baby-sitting them while Mozart and his wife gallivanted off to England). So it was decided he would ask Haydn this time, then come back another year for Mozart.

Haydn was 59 when he left for London and in saying farewell to Mozart was concerned he would die before he'd return. Ironically, it was Mozart who died – at the age of 35 – before Haydn got back.

In London, Haydn wrote chamber music, songs and a half-dozen symphonies that were the toast of the town. A second trip was arranged and with it, new string quartets and another half-dozen symphonies. His twelve "London" Symphonies are regarded as among the finest of the age. His success and popularity was unimaginable to a man who had spent so much of his career isolated in a country estate (granted, a grand palace of a country estate) being a servant wearing the livery of his employer.

He also heard oratorios by George Frederic Handel, especially “Israel in Egypt.” An oratorio was a large-scale work based on a sacred subject sung by chorus with soloists singing arias that made it something like an opera in concert. By law, London closed the opera houses during Lent and so it was Handel's expedient way of still making money writing “sacred operas” for the audiences who missed their operas, even though many objected to hearing such sacred stories all decked out in secular operatic clothing. It was not a form that was popular on the Continent.

So Haydn came back to Vienna with a libretto based on the story of Creation, interspersing arias about the events of the different days with quotes from Genesis. Originally in English, it had been translated into German for Haydn and then retranslated back into English when it was performed in London.

Haydn spent two years working on “The Creation.” Premiered in 1798, it became one of his greatest successes and so Salomon, ever the keen-eyed businessman, immediately proposed a sequel which became the oratorio “The Seasons.” While Haydn had exhausted himself when writing “The Creation,” “The Seasons” was a little easier – not as intense a subject nor as demanding of great music, it was really four little mini-oratorios that could be geared more to popular appeal.

Both works would continue to be performed all over Europe even after most of his symphonies fell into post-classical limbo.

To be continued...

Dr. Dick

A Good Year for Haydn: Part 1


2009 has been a “Haydn Year,” marking the 200th Anniversary of his death, May 31st, 1809. Note that I didn't say “celebrating,” but musicians and music lovers will use any excuse to play a favorite composer's music or take a closer look at the life and times behind the music.

This post, a brief look at Haydn's life, is in preparation for the Harrisburg Symphony's performance of one of his greatest works, his oratorio “The Creation,” this weekend: Saturday November 21st at 8:00 and Sunday November 22nd at 3:00 at the Forum in downtown Harrisburg. Stuart Malina will conduct a performance with the orchestra and the combined choirs of the Susquehanna Chorale, the Wheatland Chorale of Lancaster, and the Messiah College Concert Choir. I'll be doing the pre-concert talk an hour before each performance.

(2009 is also the Bicentennial of the Birth of Felix Mendelssohn – you can read more about him here in other posts. Even though it will be March 2010, Stuart Malina will play Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the orchestra as part of his 10th Anniversary Celebration here in Harrisburg.)

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When I lived in New York City, two elderly sisters who lived in my building heard that I was a doctor. So one evening, they saw me in the lobby and asked me what I would recommend for their various aches and pains.

“Oh,” I said, “I'm not that kind of doctor – my doctorate is in music. I'm a composer.”

That didn't seem to stop them. Finally, I just said “Take two Haydn symphonies and call me in the morning.”

We often think of him as “Papa Haydn,” the genial man in the powdered wig with the sense of humor who wrote all this delightful music that can put a smile on your face when you're feeling down and help relieve some of the day's stress.

Since he wrote 104 symphonies, some 80 string quartets and over 60 piano sonatas, not to mention piano trios, concertos, songs and operas, there's a lot of music to choose from. Granted, not all of it might be the best “musical aspirin” for what ails you, but chances are it might help you more than some of the greatest music in the repertoire.

A doctor once complained, when I was playing a Scriabin symphony on the radio, that he can't listen to the station any more which he used to play in his office's waiting room. Aside from being illegal, I think (you need a license to do that), I'm not sure I want to be taken through the development of a Beethoven or Brahms symphony, either, if the idea is trying to relax people's fears and lower their blood pressure. I recommended getting a CD player and, in addition to some standard favorites to create a useful playlist, a box of Haydn symphonies.

That attitude – Haydn as Mr. Nice Guy – may actually work against him when we think of Great Composers.

It doesn't take an Anniversary Year for people to play lots of music by Beethoven and Mozart. But even in this Haydn year, there aren't the kind of festivals and retrospectives going on one usually finds for the more highly regarded major composers. (Curiously, Mendelssohn too is being overlooked, though his music is certainly pleasant and accessible as well as, in many cases, both popular and great, but that's another issue.)

Considering the sheer amount of music Haydn created, it's no wonder there are no “Complete Works” festivals popping up across the land or, considering the dearth in the CD market, new recordings being made available this Haydn Year. In fact, if you want to find much about him beyond the token article or two, you need to think in terms of so-called catchy marketing phrases like “Haydn Go Seek!”

So here is my token article about Haydn.

Part of the difficulty in getting much more in depth, however, stems from the lack of detail available in his biography. Because he didn't write copious letters like the Mozarts and didn't leave behind other kinds of writings – articles like Schumann or Berlioz, for instance – or he wasn't surrounded by people who felt the urge to jot down every little item they noticed about their famous friend, there's really not a lot to go on and much of that is sometimes vague or contradictory, depending on whose memory is being involved or whether Haydn himself even thought accuracy was important.

Franz Josef Haydn was born in 1732 – a year before Bach wrote the Kyrie and Gloria of what would become his Mass in B Minor and three years before the birth of Bach's youngest son, Johann Christian Bach. Like Bach's family of 20-some children, Haydn was the second child (and oldest son) of twelve (Haydn's father had five more children to his second wife, but all of them died in infancy). He was born in the small Austrian town of Rohrau, a small town not far from Vienna or the modern borders of Hungary and Slovakia, which had a mix of Germans (Austrian), Slavs and Hungarians. No one is quite sure which ethnic group Haydn's family belonged to, but at one time or another, each group has laid claim to his genes. Nonetheless, he grew up in this polyglot culture and heard the folk and popular music of each. This might have become important to him later on, considering his use of such music in his own, except he left the town when he was 8 years old and spent the next 20 years or so in Vienna.

His father loved to play the guitar and sing. Haydn himself showed a real talent as a singer and it was judged he should go off to the Imperial Capital to study at the choir-school of St. Stephen's Cathedral, the most significant church in Vienna which also supplied singers for the Emperor's court. And so off he went. It had been his family's hope he would enter the priesthood but that was something he could still do after he finished his schooling.

That would place him in Vienna around 1740 – which, by the way, is still the “Baroque” Era. Vienna had been an exciting place at this time, not as well known as Leipzig (where Bach was located) or London (where Handel was located). Bach's death marked (somewhat arbitrarily) the end of the Baroque Era; Handel lived until 1759, dying the year Mozart turned 3. But by that time, the Baroque style was already considered old-fashioned, giving way to a newer, cleaner, leaner, melody-oriented style that relied less on the multi-layered texture of the Baroque and more on the concept of melody-plus-accompaniment. Two of the leading proponents of this new style happened to be sons of Johann Sebastian Bach – his 2nd son, Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (who was a major influence on Haydn) and youngest son, Johann Christian Bach, the “London Bach” (who was a major influence on Mozart).

Anyway, 1740 turned out not to be the best time to arrive in Vienna to experience a great musical world – the economy changed, the best known composers had just died and shortly the Emperor died as well, replaced by Empress Maria Theresa who spent much of her early reign fending off attacks from Prussia, mostly, trying to nibble away at her empire on the assumption that a woman on the throne was an opportunity.

As a result, much of her budget had to be redirected to the military which meant the imperial arts budget was slashed. Without a more stimulating environment, no new composers were gravitating toward Vienna and so there was now an artistic vacuum in Vienna.

At the choir school, they didn't teach the students much more than what they needed to become singers – very little theory, no composition, not much in the way of academics. When Haydn's voice broke, he was no longer kept on at the school and so at either 16 or 18, he left the school with very little hope of a career.

He played the violin and piano well enough to teach students but not to become a professional performer. He played the odd-job free-lance gigs as a violinist and spent what time he had studying books about composing by C.P.E. Bach and buying as much music as he could afford so he could study.

He also had the luck to be teaching the daughter of a well-to-do family who offered him free room and board in their apartment's spare room. Also in this building lived

(1) the dowager princess Esterházy whose two sons would later become Haydn's employers

(2) the court poet Metastasio who was perhaps the most famous opera librettist of the Baroque/Early Classical era – in addition to teaching the same daughter, he introduced Haydn to some important court musicians including

(3) Nicola Porpora, a singer and composer – Haydn became his accompanist and Porpora gave him some instruction in writing for the voice, in Italian and in general principles of composition.

Porpora also introduced him to some string players – another violinist, a violist and a cellist. At the time, standard Baroque ensembles were based on a melody instrument or two (often 2 violins or a violin and flute) plus a bass instrument to emphasize the bass-line of the harmony and a keyboard instrument to fill in the inner harmonies. This bass-line and keyboard role, called basso continuo, was considered one part though it took two players to perform it (a trio sonata actually took 4 people to play it). So there was no such thing as an actual “string quartet” of two violins, viola and cello.

So in order to have something to play with these three string-playing friends of his, he started writing “string quartets.”

Another story is that, rather than lugging a keyboard around for free-lance jobs, it was better to use the two violins and bass-line instrument (cello) and add the viola to help fill in the middle of the harmony. Standard chords consisted of three pitches – by judicious doubling, four instruments could then play all the harmony a keyboard would have filled in before.

Whether Haydn “invented” it or not, he had a great deal to do with turning it into a serious combination of instruments which became one of the leading genres of chamber music in the late-18th and 19th Centuries.

Haydn is also called the “Father of the Symphony” even though other composers wrote symphonies before he did. Again, he helped codify what the symphony could be – and by writing 104 of them during his life, he certainly created a body of work that set the standard for the form.

To be continued...

Dr. Dick

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dvořák's New World: The Video

The Harrisburg Symphony will be performing Dvořák's New World Symphony at the opening concert of the season - along with Rossini's Semiramide Overture and, joined by violinist Alexander Kerr, a violin concerto by Astor Piazzolla, "The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires." Performances are Saturday, October 3rd, 8pm, and Sunday, October 4th, 3pm, at the Forum in downtown Harrisburg.

You can read more about Dvořák's Symphony in one of my "up close & personal" posts here - with more information about Dvořák's time spent in the United States, here.

Here are videos (posted at YouTube) with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the Symphony No. 9 in E Minor "From the New World," by Antonin Dvořák, recorded in 1985. (Because of time limits to video-posts of 10 minutes or so, the 2nd & 4th Movements are broken into two parts.)

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The 1st Movement begins hesitantly with a slow introduction with fits and starts, including some fragments (motives) that will become important once the main part of the movement begins at 2:01 with its horn-call theme. A secondary theme begins at 3:10, contrasting in its narrower range but leads to the "real" second theme which begins with the flute solo at 4:16, a theme that might remind you of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." It's not that much of a contrast to the main theme: the rhythms are very similar and both are built on triadic motion rather than something more linear. At 5:01, the solo horn begins developing these ideas with fragments tossed around from each of these three musical ideas, becoming increasingly more unstable, harmonically and dramatically until - at 6:32 - the opening main theme returns quietly in the horn. The narrow secondary theme returns at 7:14 and the real second theme at 8:19 (both in the flute).

At 8:48, the composer brings back a fanfare-like version of the 2nd Theme but combines it with the opening of the main theme at 8:56, bringing this first movement to well-rounded if dramatic close. We'll hear more from these musical ideas - even if just suggestions of them - in other movements of the symphony, as well.
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2nd Movement (Part 1) - after mysterious chords begin the slow movement, the English Horn enters at 0:50 with the famous "Largo Theme" which later became a popular arrangement called "Goin' Home," inspired by the similarity of Dvořák's tune to what sounded like a Negro Spiritual. At 4:52, a contrasting section begins, followed at 8:24 by a new, lighter dance-like interruption that ends the first clip but continues in the next one.

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2nd Movement (Part 2) - begins with the 'dance interruption' that builds to the return of the main theme of the first movement combined with the first phrase of the English horn theme, which then returns at 0:57. At 1:26, Dvořák gives the last part of the theme to the concertmaster: one of those great smaller moments is that "catch-in-the-breath" at 1:42 as if we're saying good-bye to an old friend.

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The 3rd Movement - Scherzo - is a dance movement that Dvořák says was inspired by a scene in Longfellow's Hiawatha, where the guests at the feast begin to dance. Today, it might sound more like Bohemian peasants to us. At 1:49, a contrasting lyrical theme is introduced by the winds but at 2:34, the initial rhythmic dance-theme returns. Another contrasting dance, more typical of Czech folk-dances, begins at 3:38. Then at 5:38, we start going back to the opening section again, the first contrasting theme, after a switch from the minor key to the major key (note the 'raised eyebrow' at 6:38) returning at 6:39 to round off the dance with reminiscences from the 1st Movement starting at 8:01.


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The 4th Movement begins with a series of chords before stating its main theme - at 0:16 - that has the flavor of a folk song: in the key of E Minor, it should have a D-sharp in it, according to the traditional "rules" of classical music, but like many folk songs, it has a D-natural instead. At 1:15, there's a new idea, "skipping" along with a lot of D-naturals as well. At 1:53. a new contrasting lyrical theme is announced in the clarinet. Then, at 2:44, he introduces another idea in the violins (usually overshadowed by the fanfare in the trumpets). Then at 3:14, there's yet another fragment introduced which nobody ever suggested should be a quote from "Three Blind Mice," but hey... With that, he ends the opening "Exposition" of the movement, and begins tearing all of them apart and remixing them in the "Development" which begins at 3:45 - note the reappearance of the first theme, menacingly in the horns at 3:52. Hear how he takes the opening of that first theme at 4:13, then answers it with a fragment of the "skipping" theme two seconds later. That's how he builds unity out of the material but keeps pushing your forward, expanding the material into further directions.

But what's going on at 4:34 in the woodwinds? Isn't that the theme from the 2nd Movement, now played in a faster tempo? Underneath that, the strings are quietly playing a variation on the stately opening theme that now almost bounces along like "Yankee Doodle"! He's bringing back ideas from the other movements to tie the whole symphony together in the finale.


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Moving on to the second clip from the Finale - it starts off with Dvořák sneaking in a re-statement of the main theme of the first movement in the basses just before reaching a climax with the finale's main theme in the brass at 0:14 and again at 0:31. After that, it breaks down to a more subdued, lyrical passage. At 1:16 the strings play the finale's 2nd theme (see 1:55 from the first clip) but reverses the roles: originally, it was in the clarinet with a sprightly answer in the cellos; now the theme is mostly in the cellos, with the sprightly response in the woodwinds. At 2:07, the Largo theme returns in a nostalgic mood, capped by the horn theme from the first movement in the horns at 2:48. One dramatic outburst at 3:07 leads to those chords at 3:49 - trying to ignore the timpani, have you heard them before? They're the chords that mysteriously opened and closed the 2nd Movement - but what a difference a finale makes! Winding down again, the Largo theme floats almost like a memory at 4:15. Oh, and do you recognize the little woodwind blips at 4:18? That's from the main theme of the third movement, the scherzo! Two more climactic statements of the finale's main theme occur at 4:51 - lots of pulling around that D-natural or should it be D-sharp - and again at 5:08, this time supported by the first movement's main theme in the horns, bringing the symphony to a dramatic close - and a unified one - in E Minor, rather than switching over to the brighter Major key as most minor-key symphonies would normally do for a triumphant conclusion.
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By the way, if you wonder what conductors bring to performances of the same work over different performances across the years, here is a clip of the New World Finale which von Karajan conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1966, about nineteen years earlier!
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No matter where it was written, no matter what may have inspired Dvořák to write it, it still basically sounds like a Czech symphony full of Bohemian folk elements which shouldn't be so surprising, after all. Wherever Dvořák may have been living at the time, his roots were still in his native Bohemia. Call it cross-pollination, if you want, but the stimulus of living in New York in 1893 no doubt helped it become what it is - one of Dvořák's greatest works and one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire today.

- Dr. Dick