Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2,
Zu einem Drama
Klaus Arp, cond;
SWR Kaiserlautern SO
STERLING 10962 (51:07)
This disc is a bit of an oddity with respect to the contents. While released only in 2012 and coming to me this year, the recordings on it were made respectively on October 14, 2002 (a live concert performance of the Klughardt) and July 6, 1995 (a studio recording of the Gernsheim). No explanation is provided as to why the issuance of either item was so long delayed. At any rate, these are world premiere recordings of two works by two significant but hitherto neglected German composers of the Romantic era, whose music has only in the last decade or so become somewhat better known. As I have approvingly reviewed previously issued discs of other works by both composers in these pages, I happily return to both of them again.
In 34:5 and 36:4 I favorably reviewed CDs of chamber music by August Klughardt (1847–1902): two different recordings of his Piano Quintet, coupled respectively to ones of his String Quartet and Piano Quintet. While noting that he became an avowed disciple of the Liszt/Wagner “New German School” after meeting Liszt (an event variously dated to either 1871 or 1873 in different sources; 1871 appears to be correct), the major influences on his chamber music were Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms, with some Liszt thrown in at points for good measure. By contrast, in this Symphony, Klughardt’s allegiance to Liszt and Wagner—albeit the earlier Wagner of
and the scenes of pageantry in
—is complete and self-evident.
The “Lenore” Symphony has a decidedly complicated background story. Klughardt worked on the score between 1871 and 1873, immediately upon first meeting Liszt. At this time he also met Joachim Raff, who was likewise identified with the New German School to the extent that he approved of and wrote program music. Unaware that Raff also was working on a symphony (his No. 5) based on the poetic ballad
by Gottfried August Bürger (1747–1794), Klughardt discussed the poem with Raff and played portions of his draft score for him. Raff apparently said nothing to Klughardt and proceeded to finish and premiere his own work first. When Klughardt later became aware of Raff’s Symphony, he wrote Raff a letter in which he apologized to him for poaching on the latter’s turf. Moreover, he then published his own work as a symphonic poem rather than a symphony, though he continued to number it as a symphony in his personal catalog. This in turn has led to confusion among writers as to whether Klughardt wrote six or seven symphonies. To complicate the numbering of Klughardt’s symphonies further, there are: a) an unpublished early Symphony in F Minor, performed in 1871 but then withdrawn by the composer; and b) another Symphony in F Minor, dating from 1876, that was numbered and published as his Symphony No. 2. Thus, depending on who has counted what, this “Lenore” Symphony has been variously referred to as an unnumbered symphonic poem, Symphony No. 1, or Symphony No. 2.
The “Lenore” Symphony is cast in four movements, although the second and third ones are joined together such that they form one continuous movement and effectively reduce the total to three. The music follows the plot of the poem quite closely (Klughardt prefaces each movement with a quotation from the ballad). The young maiden Lenore anxiously awaits the return of her sweetheart Wilhelm, who has been fighting as a soldier in the army of King Frederick II of Prussia in the Seven Years’ War. The war has ended and soldiers are returning, jubilant, from the battlefield. When Wilhelm fails to appear, the distraught Lenore utters a blasphemous attack upon God, which causes all to withdraw from her in horror. Deserted, she suddenly hears a knock at the house door; she opens it and to her joy Wilhelm is there, clad in armor. He tells her that he has come to take her to their wedding bed; they mount his steed and gallop off. As they ride, the increasingly agitated Lenore asks her lover a series of questions, to which she receives increasingly cryptic and ominous replies. At their destination they dismount; Wilhelm now reveals his true form as a skeleton, and escorts Lenore to their wedding bed—the grave. Her wish is fulfilled, albeit not as she had hoped.
The first movement (
—Violently turbulent) represents the anxious vigil of Lenore. It opens with a dramatic, declamatory theme on the lower strings—one which recurs throughout the entire work—that sounds startlingly like the motif that Modest Mussorgsky later created to signify the brutal boyar Ivan Khovansky in his
. A contrasting lyrical second theme appears occasionally; I presume that this signifies Lenore’s love. The succeeding Scherzo is dominated by a brashly vulgar and raucous march tune, accompanied by loud percussion, depicting the triumphal parade of the returning soldiers. This segues without pause into the third movement (
Langsam, aber durchaus leidenschaftlich
—Slow, but passionate throughout), which depicts Lenore’s despair and her blasphemous outburst with music of a gentle, sweet melodiousness that belies the putative subject matter. The Finale (
—Moderately) opens with a dotted eighth-note theme representing Lenore’s and Wilhelm’s ride, and then at various points recalls material from the previous movements, ending with the opening theme of the first movement transformed into a peaceful close in the major key.
The first time I listened to this piece, without having read the booklet notes in order to avoid creating any
prejudices, I was thrown for a loop and heartily disliked it, thinking it was a piece of ramshackle incompetence because the movements did not follow standard symphonic structures such as sonata or rondo forms. The second time I listened to it, after reading the booklet notes and re-approaching it instead as an extended symphonic poem (or as a symphony after the manner of the
symphonies of Liszt), it began to grow on me, and after several more hearings I have come to like it a great deal, admiring its unconventional boldness. Klughardt reported to friends that Wagner, the work’s dedicatee, said to him: “After reading through your symphony I must confess that I regard you as a notably gifted person: it is no small achievement to bring such a score to this world.” However, the booklet notes for one of the Klughardt chamber music CDs I previously reviewed state that Wagner rejected the dedication with the dismissive comment that he “perceived the whole merely as a study very much in need of correction in terms of style.” Whether only one or both of these is true, I cannot ascertain; I can only say I enjoy it thoroughly.
I have sung the praises of Friedrich Gernsheim (1839–1916) on several occasions, including a review in this issue of a disc of his symphonies Nos. 1 and 3.
Zu einem Drama
, his one other major orchestral work apart from his four symphonies, was composed in 1902 and published in 1910. Here, Gernsheim’s oft-noted close similarity to Brahms is quite evident; indeed, this work is a step-brother of Brahms’s
Overture, not only musically but also thematically in that their titles do not point to any more specific programmatic content. Gernsheim’s work has its own distinctive traits, however; it is far more ambitious in scope, lasting almost 18 minutes as opposed to about 12 for the
Overture, and the orchestration is more brilliant in a way that shows Gernsheim was not impervious to the music of Wagner and Richard Strauss. Laid out in a modified sonata form with contrasting interludes, it is a work of great substance and integrity that grows upon me with each new hearing.
The Anhaltische Philharmonie is based in Dessau, the city where Klughardt spent the last two decades of his life; the Kaiserlautern Symphony is located in the city of that name in the southern Rhineland, very close to Worms where Gernsheim was born and raised. Both orchestras play very well for their respective conductors, who are able interpreters. The recorded sound for both items is excellent; the hall in Dessau obviously has first-rate acoustics. A bit oddly, in the “Lenore” Symphony the audience noise between movements is neither edited down to a seamless transition nor left intact; instead, a few seconds of noise is left after each movement, followed by the sudden break of a silent interval between CD tracks. The very informative program notes for the “Lenore” Symphony are written by Klughardt scholar Alan Krueck; those for Gernsheim’s
Zu einem Drama
by the noted British music critic Malcolm MacDonald. If you are someone who is interested in exploring lesser-known 19th-century orchestral repertoire, this disc provides a most inviting portal into that realm; heartily recommended.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
Works on This Recording
Lenore, Op. 27 by August Klughardt
Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau
Zu einem Drama, Op. 82 by Friedrich Gernsheim
Swr Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslautern
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