Work: Symphony in C major
About This Work
Though Bizet's Symphony in C major (1855) today enjoys regular performances, the mature composer regarded the work as a youthful indiscretion and suppressed it. Indeed, the symphony remained unperformed until 1935, two years after it turned up in a
bundle of manuscripts donated to the Paris Conservatory by composer Reynaldo Hahn. Bizet, whose reputation rests on a mere handful of works, always attached greater importance to his later Symphony in C major (1871), subtitled "Roma." Nonetheless, the decidely less inspired "Roma" remains eclipsed in the shadow of its ebullient predecessor.
The 1855 symphony, written when Bizet was 17, was strongly influenced by the two symphonies of Gounod, which in turn owe something to Schubert and Mozart. The opening Allegro vivo commences with a short, inquiring rhythmic figure, a three-note motive that recalls the terseness of the material from which Beethoven spins the first movement of his Fifth Symphony. The second subject, in which the oboes and flutes figure prominently, is far more relaxed and linear. It is this subject that dominates the energetic development, though the first subject maintains a regular presence in one guise or another.
The Adagio begins with an introductory passage accompanied by a motive derived from the main rhythmic figure of the first movement. The oboe takes up a haunting, Oriental-inflected cantilena, the strings answering with a warm, serene theme of their own, no doubt inspired by bel canto opera. Bizet interrupts this lyrical, luxuriant expanse with a slow fugal section based on the motive that accompanied the introduction. A transition back to the oboe melody carries the movement to a gentle close.
The Scherzo begins with a Scottish tinge, a lively jigging rhythm. Bizet employs this first tune as counterpoint for the broad second subject, a string melody that recalls the soaring lines of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. The first subject pops up again, this time over a rustic drone bass, as the main substance of the movement's central Trio.
The fourth movement, a nimble, breathless Allegro vivo, opens with a whizzing workout for the strings, which take a few bars' rest as the brass and woodwinds play a cheerful march. A third melody affords a moment of lyricism for the strings, though they soon resume the scurrying pace of the opening. The symphony ends in a blaze of colorful virtuosity, an apt conclusion for a work so thoroughly infused with the composer's youthful exuberance.
-- James Reel, All Music Guide
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