This concert featured pieces by four composers who were all innovators in the areas of harmony, orchestration, musical form, and music-drama. Here’s some examples of what they did and where they came from:
Carl Maria von Weber (1786 – 1826)
Below is the first part of the famous “Wolf’s Glen” scene in Der Freishchütz. Note Weber’s use of low, dark orchestral string colors and demonic shrieks from the woodwinds to represent cavorting with dark powers in this eerie space. The arrival of Max, the young gamesman, is accompanied by bright horn calls, our constant reminder that he is a man of the hunt.
[The production below, overall, is pretty cool and certainly very striking. If you are easily offended by rabbit pornography, however, I’d recommend skipping 1:40 – 1:50.]
Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869)
The best part about researching 19th century composers is getting to read their own writings. This is especially true in the case of Berlioz. Never has there been or will be a more over-the-top, extravagant musician or man, prone to bouts of depression and, especially, exaggeration. Berlioz’s Memoirs make for immensely entertaining reading, and I recommend them highly. All you have to do is look at some of the chapter and page headings:
Berlioz’s memoirs take us back to a time when artists still presented themselves passionately, vividly, fearlessly. In recent times, this seems to have gone out of fashion.
Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)
The Civic Orchestra concert included the little known Wagner work Eine Faust-Ouvertüre. Another work dating from around the same period (1839 – 40) is the overture Wagner wrote for the German playwright Guido Theodor Apel’s Columbus. Here’s what it sounds like:
Wagner presented this piece on a concert that was attended by Berlioz. He writes in Mein Leben about the experience of presenting this work in Paris:
One great objection was the difficulty of finding capable musicians for the six cornets required, as the music for this instrument, so skillfully played in Germany, could hardly, if ever, be satisfactorily executed in Paris. I was compelled to reduce my six cornets to four, and only two of these could be relied upon.
As a matter of fact, the attempts made at the rehearsal to produce those very passages on which the effect of my work chiefly depended were very discouraging. Not once were the soft high notes played but they were flat or altogether wrong. In addition to this, as I was not going to be allowed to conduct the work myself, I had to rely upon a conductor who, as I was well aware, had fully convinced himself that my composition was the most utter rubbish – an opinion that seemed to be shared by the whole orchestra. Berlioz, who was present at the rehearsal, remained silent throughout. He gave me no encouragement, though he did not dissuade me. He merely said afterwards, with a weary smile, ‘that it was very difficult to get on in Paris.”
Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951)
Schoenberg is so well known both by lovers and haters of 20th century modernism as its radical founding father, that it’s interesting to remember his firm grounding in the Wagnerian Romantic tradition: