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"Five Symphonies That Changed Music"


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Neil McGowan
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« on: November 04, 2011, 03:47:16 pm »

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/nov/03/five-symphonies-that-changed-music

Sir Mark Elder is about to present a series called "Five Symphonies That Changed Music".  Is that title hubristic, or deserved?

Elder's five are:

  • Haydn, Symphony no. 22, 'The Philosopher' (1764)
  • Beethoven, Symphony no. 3, 'Eroica' (1804)
  • Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6, 'Pathétique' (1893)
  • Mahler, Symphony no. 9 (1909-10)
  • Shostakovich, Symphony no. 7, 'Leningrad' (1941)

He lays out his reasons for choosing these five, and what they mean to him, in the Grauniad link above.

How do members assess this choice? 
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ahinton
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« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2011, 04:31:51 pm »

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/nov/03/five-symphonies-that-changed-music

    Sir Mark Elder is about to present a series called "Five Symphonies That Changed Music".  Is that title hubristic, or deserved?

    Elder's five are:

    • Haydn, Symphony no. 22, 'The Philosopher' (1764)
    • Beethoven, Symphony no. 3, 'Eroica' (1804)
    • Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 6, 'Pathétique' (1893)
    • Mahler, Symphony no. 9 (1909-10)
    • Shostakovich, Symphony no. 7, 'Leningrad' (1941)

    He lays out his reasons for choosing these five, and what they mean to him, in the Grauniad link above.

    How do members assess this choice? 
    [/list]
    Well, first of all, it is, of course, impossible to expect any kind of general consensus on such a thing although, to me, the only rather surprising inclusion in Sir Mark's list is the last, given that it's by no means its composer's finest symphony and, since Shostakovich was one of the truly great symphonic composers of all time, the choice of this particular one seems all the more puzzling if not actually perplexing. Sir Mark's observations about all of these symphonies contain ample eminent good sense - even about the Shostakovich work - yet I cannot help but feel that what is perhaps most remarkable about the Leningrad is an historically important sense of time and place rather than anything more timeless that which one could arguably associate more readily with any of the other four that he has chosen. In so saying, I am not in any way seeking to undermine Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony so much as to try to place it in a more meaningful and realistic perspective alongisde its immediate predecessor, the Eighth, Tenth or Thirteenth, the remarkable youthful yet not-so-youthful First and, above all, the truly astonishing Fourth. I would also note that, for all that I can accept much of what Sir Mark has to say about Mahler's Ninth Symphony, whilst his association of its heart-rending finale with Mahler's conscience and feelings about the death of his daughter may indeed count for quite a lot, any proportional view of that symphony has surely to be taken in the context of the one that followed, given just how much of it Mahler had managed to compose before his death in 1911, to the extent that the overwhelming sense of the valedictory that inhabits every measure of the finale of the Ninth is not, after all, "the end of the Mahlerian story" or the composer's "farewell to life", so to speak.
    « Last Edit: December 05, 2012, 07:27:12 am by ahinton » Report Spam   Logged
    Neil McGowan
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    « Reply #2 on: November 04, 2011, 05:15:56 pm »

    I was certainly pleased to see two Russian works in the list - if you do a bog-standard BMus as I did, you'd think no music was written in Russia at all. But I share a certain amount of Mr H's scepticism about the choice of DSCH 7. I'm not really sure that pieces should win listings on the strength of the extra-musical circumstances which shaped their creation?  Of course it might be possible to put forward a purely musical rationale for including the 7th on the list, but I fear that in fact it's been included because it's the most popular of Shostakovich's symphonies.  Personally I would have chosen the 8th (which I think is the finest of them all), the 14th (for several very personal reasons... I like the poetry in it, my other half has sung it - and is due to sing it again with Elder next year - and I've performed in it myself, the celeste part).  Or of course the 5th.  Or the 15th.

    And I would have chosen Tchaikovsky 4 instead of 6...  if we are looking for pieces which really "changed music". The moment at which the material from the first movement returns in the last movement is truly a revolutionary way of putting a symphony together. Now that did change music! I was lucky enough to hear Dmitry Jurowsky (Vladimir's younger brother) conduct it a few months ago, in a revelatory and gripping performance with the Russian Philharmonia... formerly an also-ran among the Moscow orchestra's that he's licked into fine shape since taking the helm.
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    ahinton
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    « Reply #3 on: November 04, 2011, 06:24:42 pm »

    I was certainly pleased to see two Russian works in the list - if you do a bog-standard BMus as I did, you'd think no music was written in Russia at all. But I share a certain amount of Mr H's scepticism about the choice of DSCH 7. I'm not really sure that pieces should win listings on the strength of the extra-musical circumstances which shaped their creation?  Of course it might be possible to put forward a purely musical rationale for including the 7th on the list, but I fear that in fact it's been included because it's the most popular of Shostakovich's symphonies.  Personally I would have chosen the 8th (which I think is the finest of them all), the 14th (for several very personal reasons... I like the poetry in it, my other half has sung it - and is due to sing it again with Elder next year - and I've performed in it myself, the celeste part).  Or of course the 5th.  Or the 15th.
    Is 7 really Shostakovich's "most popular" symphony? One of the more popular ones, undoubtedly, but I'd have though that such a accolade would more likely be awarded to 5. Anyway, I just don't know about 14; it's a fascinating work, undoubtedly, but I still have trouble accepting it as a symphony rather than as a song-cycle (I treasure a lovely letter from a most excited Britten writing in advance of conducting its UK première). 8 is unquestionably on of the most powerful of the fifteen (thoug how he composed it in so short a space of time is utterly beyond me), 6 is still, quite unjustly, rather the Cinderella of them all, 1 is a terrific piece of writing that displays far more maturity than anyone had a right to expect from a composer of so tender an age with so few works already behind him, 10 has the dual virtues of great power and comparative approachability but, ultmately, it's no. 4 that somehow trumps them all - and I believe that the composer more or less felt the same way in his reaction to Isaac Glickman at its appallingly delayed première (by which time he was already about to embark on the weakest of the lot, no. 12) - it's the closest that he ever got to Mahler (for all that the earlier composer's symphonies display quite different proportions of tender lyricism and abrasive sardonicism than do those of the later one), but it has both a wildness and a monumentality that ser perhaps to be found nowhere else in the composer's symphonic output to quite that extent.

    And I would have chosen Tchaikovsky 4 instead of 6...  if we are looking for pieces which really "changed music". The moment at which the material from the first movement returns in the last movement is truly a revolutionary way of putting a symphony together. Now that did change music! I was lucky enough to hear Dmitry Jurowsky (Vladimir's younger brother) conduct it a few months ago, in a revelatory and gripping performance with the Russian Philharmonia... formerly an also-ran among the Moscow orchestra's that he's licked into fine shape since taking the helm.
    I should very much like to have heard that performance. The Fourth is indeed one of its composer's finest achievements, so it would probably be something of a toss-up between it and no. 6 were I forced to have to make so impossible a choice...
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    Neil McGowan
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    « Reply #4 on: November 04, 2011, 06:44:05 pm »

    Is 7 really Shostakovich's "most popular" symphony?

    Mea culpa, what I meant was "the most recorded/pressed/performed" - which I believe it is?

    There is some dispute among the DSCH scholars that the 7th was really the composer's reaction to the invasion of the USSR by the Third Reich.  Apparently sketches predate the invasion (which came as a complete surprise to the USSR's top brass) so extensively that it's hard to make this case.  Legend persists that Khrennikov persuaded DSCH to retitle a work that he had wanted to call "The Legendary", and to put the symphony at the country's disposal in time of war.  I see Elder hasn't mentioned any of this.  Volkhov's Russian-language book ("The Tsar & The Composer") is more overt than the boiled-down English version titled "Shostakovich & Stalin". I should be interested to know what experts like McBurney think about this matter?

    Works of art shouldn't float to the top on the sympathy vote, because they happened to be created in dreadful circumstances or fearful times*. They have to succeed as works of art, first and foremost.  And if the sympathy vote has been rigged - because the composer had a different idea in his mind about whom Russia's "enemy" was in "the Legendary", as Volkhov states, and as Rostro claimed - then the touching stories attached to it lose credibility considerably.


    * Two years ago I turned down the offer to direct a "Holocaust" opera - because the piece was woeful tear-jerking bunk. Unfortunately, sad stories often attract works which fail to address their difficult theme with suitable and appropriate material.  As I told the composer at the time, "oh dear, oh dear, oh dear" isn't a libretto. Someone else decided to take a crack, and the results were so far from what those who'd commissioned it wanted that they were almost laughable - it lasted just one performance, and they cancelled the rest of the run. I had friends in the show, and I felt bad for them that they'd learned all that twaddle for nothing. It would be invidious to say more, because the composer had genuine intentions in writing the piece - it was a pity he wouldn't respond to offers to help reshape the piece to make it more telling in the way he had wanted.  Having the main character sat dead still on a chair in the middle of an empty stage for 25 minutes emptied the hall out after the interval.  Shocked
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    Neil McGowan
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    « Reply #5 on: November 04, 2011, 06:49:26 pm »

    I should very much like to have heard that performance.

    The Russian Philharmonia have got "bionic brass", and played like heroes Smiley
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    ahinton
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    « Reply #6 on: November 04, 2011, 10:57:26 pm »

    Is 7 really Shostakovich's "most popular" symphony?
    Mea culpa, what I meant was "the most recorded/pressed/performed" - which I believe it is?
    I cannot be certain about that, but it may well be just that.

    There is some dispute among the DSCH scholars that the 7th was really the composer's reaction to the invasion of the USSR by the Third Reich.  Apparently sketches predate the invasion (which came as a complete surprise to the USSR's top brass) so extensively that it's hard to make this case.  Legend persists that Khrennikov persuaded DSCH to retitle a work that he had wanted to call "The Legendary", and to put the symphony at the country's disposal in time of war.  I see Elder hasn't mentioned any of this.  Volkhov's Russian-language book ("The Tsar & The Composer") is more overt than the boiled-down English version titled "Shostakovich & Stalin". I should be interested to know what experts like McBurney think about this matter?
    And so would I - but then even the remarkable Elizabeth Wilson, who has arguably gotten as near as it might be possible to get to address the secrets of Shostakovich, cannot really help us here, so I suspect that such help is simply not forthcoming and we'll accordingly have to form our own conclusions.

    Works of art shouldn't float to the top on the sympathy vote, because they happened to be created in dreadful circumstances or fearful times*. They have to succeed as works of art, first and foremost.  And if the sympathy vote has been rigged - because the composer had a different idea in his mind about whom Russia's "enemy" was in "the Legendary", as Volkhov states, and as Rostro claimed - then the touching stories attached to it lose credibility considerably.
    If by "Volkhov" you mean Solomon of that ilk, then I'd rather move away, thanks - but I agree with the rest of what you write here, without question.
    « Last Edit: December 05, 2012, 07:29:00 am by ahinton » Report Spam   Logged
    Neil McGowan
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    « Reply #7 on: November 05, 2011, 08:00:35 am »

    If by "Volkhov" you mean Solomon of that ilk, then I'd rather move away, thanks - but I agree with the rest of what you write here, without question.

    I agree that Volkhov's credibility has been questioned on a number of issues. What is tantalising, however, is that Rostropovich - in one of his typically impish moments, and impromptu during a talk at the Conservatoire about something else - said that Volkhov was right about the dedication of the Seventh.  Of course, Rostro had his own reasons to dislike the soviet regime, and to denigrate it when he got the chance.  Nor did he like Khrennikov personally.  Nor was this remark - allegedly made in an answer to a question after the end of his talk - on the record, and there's no official record of it.  It's simply something that many people allege was said - but what exactly he said, we don't know. And the Russian Rumour-Mill works more efficiently and with greater output than all other Rumour-Mills.
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    Elliot
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    « Reply #8 on: December 02, 2011, 11:37:16 am »

    It is because of Haydn that the symphony had become the place in which a composer's grandest, most unique, and most bold thoughts may be discovered. Their very first symphonies are more such as fits, the actual historical type of that the symphony developed. These were composed in Esterhazy for the courtroom where he worked. There's a high quality of getting their feet on the ground that provides all their symphonies an amazing humanist width. He gave his first symphonies a brand new feeling of comedy along with a brand new sense of pictorialism, and he also composed with a brand new virtuosity in the wind and metal components, too making a few astonishing excitement within the chain composing. Haydn's 22 Concert, the actual so-called Thinker -- although nobody really knows why -- is an extraordinary illustration of the number that he offered to the type. No one up to that point had considered starting the symphony having a respectable slow movement, as he does in this item, nor had anyone every considered of the extraordinary seem the concert starts with: a chorale performed through 2 horns and two cor anglais against an incessant pattern associated with information within the guitar strings. Everything provides this movement a strange, unexpected elegance. Which nature of adventure proceeds within the rest of the symphony's three movements. It's among those items in which you have the concert as genre expanding into a discussion board for the expression of the composer's most serious thoughts.
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    « Reply #9 on: December 05, 2012, 07:16:08 am »

    The choice of Shostakovich's 7th does seem a bit baffling. I have nothing against the symphony. I think it's one of his best. That Largo truly is a harrowing movement and the first movement is a symphony within itself. I really don't see how the 7th changed music. In truth, I don't see how any of Shostakovich's symphonies changed music and I'm saying this with my most objective lens on. Shostakovich is my absolute favorite composer, so this isn't me getting an opportunity to bash his music, but rather offer a different perspective. It's no question that his music remains widely popular and that he's still held in high regard by scholars, critics, and listeners, but the only symphony I can see being groundbreaking, especially when it comes to form and treatment of musical material is the 15th. The 4th would be another contender with its' unrelenting onslaught of orchestral mayhem and unique structure. It's incredibly hard to evaluate Shostakovich's music without thinking about its' own history and what he personally went through in order to achieve the kind of success he garnered throughout his composing career. From a historical perspective, it was his 5th that saved his life and in this sense I think it's relevant to music history for this reason and for the fact that he had to practically reinvent a new style. Only a truly great composer, which I believe Shostakovich was, could have "fooled" the Soviet government and Stalin time and time again and live to tell about it. Such a brilliant composer. 
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    Jim
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    « Reply #10 on: December 05, 2012, 06:33:30 pm »

    This is a very challenging task. Surely symphonies that changed music would have to include works by composers upon whose shoulders stood some of the great names. For example CPE Bach whose works paved the way for Mozart & Haydn, and Hans Rott who seems to have invented the 'Mahler Sound'. I would agree that Beethoven 3 is a good choice but would have expected to see Sibelius 7 on the list instead of the DSCH.
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    kyjo
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    « Reply #11 on: December 05, 2012, 07:34:24 pm »

    I am also rather surprised by the inclusion of the Leningrad-yes, it is a powerful masterpiece, but did it actually change music? I believe Schubert 9 and Mahler 2 could easily earn a spot on that list Smiley.
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    Gauk
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    « Reply #12 on: March 18, 2013, 11:08:47 am »

    This sort of thing always annoys me. I could just as well say that Brian's Gothic Symphony changed music, because before he wrote is, there was no Gothic Symphony by Brian in existence, but after he had written it, there was. Furthermore, to use that awful phrase, it changed music FOREVER! Because having been written, it can't be unwritten.
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    Neil McGowan
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    « Reply #13 on: March 18, 2013, 12:10:22 pm »

    This sort of thing always annoys me. I could just as well say that Brian's Gothic Symphony changed music, because before he wrote is, there was no Gothic Symphony by Brian in existence, but after he had written it, there was. Furthermore, to use that awful phrase, it changed music FOREVER! Because having been written, it can't be unwritten.

    Entirely agreed Smiley  It seems to be buying in to the contemporary journalistic fashion for making 'lists' - "one hundred things to do before you die", "the ten topmost toasters", "five unmissable French novels" etc.  If this kind of article were conducted, perhaps, as a balloon debate - with the justification for including X but jettisoning Y - there would be some merit to it.  Sadly in most cases - including this one - the rationale for compiling the list has been omitted entirely.
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    ahinton
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    « Reply #14 on: March 18, 2013, 06:53:48 pm »

    This sort of thing always annoys me. I could just as well say that Brian's Gothic Symphony changed music, because before he wrote is, there was no Gothic Symphony by Brian in existence, but after he had written it, there was. Furthermore, to use that awful phrase, it changed music FOREVER! Because having been written, it can't be unwritten.
    More to the point, though, any argument about whether or to what extent Brian's first symphony or the handful that immediately followed might be said to have "changed" anything at all is surely undermined by the fact that none of them did so at all because they weren't performed until many years later so no one could have heard them except Brian himself in his own head.

    There needs to be a realistic distinction drawn between the perceived and actual effects of certain music just as there does between the greatness of a particular composer and the extent to which his/her work might be considered influential and for how long and where, pace the Boulez thread in which one could argue that Dutilleux is a greater composer but a less influential one (which is not meant as any kind of pejorative judgement).
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