Friday, April 29, 2011

Orpheus

I posted the following item on another blog on August 20, 2009. I am reposting it here for no particular reason, except that I listened to Liszt's tone poem Orpheus a few days ago and I can report that I am still deeply moved by it. Liszt's son-in-law, Richard Wagner, admired the piece greatly. I have a theory about that, although my knowledge of music theory is virtually nil. In Orpheus Liszt created, I believe, a magnificent fusion of melody and harmony. He didn't create catchy tunes in Orpheus; rather, it's as if the melodies arise out of the harmonic progressions. I vaguely recall reading that the 20th-century composer Arnold Schoenberg tried to accomplish a fusion of melody and harmony in his works.


Last night I listened to Orpheus, a tone poem by Franz Liszt. It is magnificent. It's definitely one of his finer musical creations. I had read years ago that Wagner admired Orpheus and was, in fact, influenced by the piece. A year ago, I purchased a recording of Orpheus and listened to it for the first time. I can understand Wagner's admiration. Wagner's wife Cosima records the following in her diary entry for August 28, 1878: "In the evening . . . my father plays us Beethoven's E major Sonata and his own Orpheus. Beautiful impression. Richard again praises the noble poetic conception in Orpheus." In another diary entry, dated August 27, 1878, Cosima records the following admission by Wagner: "--he says with splendid high spirits that he has himself  'stolen' so much from the symphonic poems." Indeed, Liszt called his tone poems a "den of thieves," referring to the fact that so many composers had borrowed Liszt's musical ideas. I can't understand Mahler's dismissal of Liszt's music as "shoddy."

Last night, as I was listening to Liszt, I began to think about my experience as a "violinist" in junior high school orchestra. The instrumental teacher was Eleanor Betz Alter. Though it was the seventh grade, during the 1965-1966 school year, I can still recall some of the pieces we rehearsed or performed.

An arrangement of Komm, süßer Tod by J.S. Bach

An arrangement of Valse Triste, by Jean Sibelius (not to be confused with Kathleen Sebelius)

An arrangement of melodies from the musical My Fair Lady

An arrangement of the St. Anthony Chorale, attributed to Josef Haydn, the theme on which Brahms wrote his famous set of variations

I have a vague recollection that we rehearsed an arrangement of the famous choral melody from Beethoven's ninth symphony. I also have a vague recollection of the orchestra rehearsing an arrangement of something from Iphigenia in Tauris by Gluck.

That was forty-four years ago. I wonder if David Freund remembers any of this.

2 comments:

Gary Freedman said...

Schoenberg—and Webern followed him in this—distinguishes with terminological exactitude: wherever vertical and horizontal appear as concepts on their own, the explanation is always added: ‘The elements of a musical idea are partly incorporated in the horizontal plane as successive sounds and partly in the vertical plane as simultaneous sounds’; or: ‘In accordance with this [law], harmony and melody, vertical and horizontal, form a musical unit, a space, in both of whose dimensions the musical substance is deposited’, and similarly in the draft for the Princeton lecture. The conception of the dimensions of musical space is therefore connected with ‘harmony and melody’—without ‘vertical’ and ‘harmony’, or ‘horizontal’ and ‘melody’, thereby being identical. But how do matters stand on this plane with the ‘unit(y)’ that primarily interested Schoenberg and with the ‘synthesis’ upon which Webern apparently directed his attention?

Gary Freedman said...

Whatever that means!