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Mahler Symphony 1 – Chausson Poème – Sarasate Zigeunerweisen

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By Jeanne A. Hansen, PhD

Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) Op. 20 by Pablo De Sarasate

Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), Spanish solo violinist and composer, won first prize in the violin class in 1857 at the Paris Conservatory. In his early 20s, Queen Isabella gave him a Stradivarius violin, and he made his debut in Vienna in 1876. Throughout his life he concertized extensively in Europe; North and South America (1867-71/1889-90); South Africa, and with London appearances from 1961 through 1885. 

From a blog on the G. Henle Verlag website, written by Peter Jost, we are reminded that the use of folk tunes in art music has a long tradition reaching back to the late Middle Ages. Sarasate probably got the inspiration for his Zigeunerweisen during an 1877 visit to Budapest. Zigeunerweisen was published for violin and piano in 1878 followed by the orchestral version in 1881. Sarasate chose dances and songs already arranged by folksong collectors and composers and then further arranged them by adding ornamentation, runs, cadenzas and other insertions. However, one melody borrowed for the third part of his composition was written by the Hungarian composer Elemér Szentirmay(1836–1908). Sarasate’s piano accompanist and secretary wrote an apology letter to Szentirmay, expressing, “Mr. Sarasate had heard the melody from gypsies and had been told that it is popular and used it without further ado.” Szentirmay did not expect compensation for the infringement, he only wanted to be mentioned as the originator of the melody, “There’s Only One Lovely Maid in the World” that he composed in 1873 and was adopted virtually unchanged by Sarasate. In a reprint of the score from 1884, Szentirmay is acknowledged. From a 1904 recording of Sarasate playing  Zigeunerweisen, he omits this part of the composition and jumps directly to the closing section.

Zigeunerweisen is in one movement but can be divided into four sections, the first three in the key of C minor and the last in A minor.

Moderato – An imposing, virtuosic introduction with slow, majestic energy by the orchestra,       followed by softer orchestral playing

Lento – The violin plays in lugubrious lento 4/4. This section has an improvisational quality; the   melody, which essentially consists of pairs of 4-bar phrases, is punctuated with difficult runs and other technically demanding figures, including flying spiccato and ricochet bowings.

Un poco più lento – The soloist plays a muted, melancholic melody in 2/4 time.

Allegro molto vivace –long spiccato runs, along with double stopsartificial harmonics and left-hand pizzicato, in 2/4.

Poéme by Ernest Chausson

Ralph Scott Grover, biographer of Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), writes that Poème, based on Ivan Turgenev’s short story The Song of Love Triumphant, was composed over a three-month period from mid-April 1896 to June 29. It is dedicated to the Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), a close friend of Chausson. Ysaÿe was the soloist at a private performance in Spain before the public debut at Nancy on December 27, 1896. He also performed for the Paris debut, April 4, 1897. Exactly one week following Chausson’s death, Ysaÿe played the composition in London—a performance Chausson had planned to attend.

Chausson conducted the Spanish premiere of his First Symphony in Barcelona on October 31, 1896. The violinist Mathieu Crickboom was the newly-appointed conductor of the Catalan Society Orchestra and had enlisted the aid of both Chausson and Ysaÿe in launching his first season. On the November 5th and 8th concerts, Ysaÿe was the featured soloist for both the Beethoven and Mendelssohn violin concerti, as well as Bach’s Chaconne in D minor. During Chausson’s stay in Spain, Poème received its first hearing when Ysaÿe was the soloist at a party attended by painters and musicians, including Enrique Granados.

The publication of Poème involved another prominent Spanish composer, Isaac Albéniz, who had arrived in Paris in 1893. Chausson had introduced him to Gabriel Faure, Vincent d’Indy, and Paul Dukas. Albéniz returned Chausson’s kindness by making arrangements with Breitkopf & Haertel for the publication of Poème, however, Chausson was unaware that Albéniz paid a substantial amount from his own resources to have the work published.

Chausson studied with Jules Massenet and César Franck and left a relatively small body of musical compositions due to his premature tragic cycling accident at age 44.

Written in five sections, the first, third and fifth are in 3/4 meter, with a tempo marking of Lento. The thematic material is presented with an overall restrained, reserved, and beautifully balanced contour. The second and fourth sections are in 6/8 meter; marked animato and allegro, respectively.

Symphony No. 1 “Titan” by Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) used sketches from the late 1870s and early 1880s for the actual writing of his First Symphony which occurred during February and March of 1888 when he was the second conductor at the Leipzig City Theatre. For its premiere with the Budapest Philharmonic on November 20, 1889, with Mahler conducting, it was called a Symphonic Poem in Two Parts. The day before the premiere, a newspaper article outlined a program that identified the first three movements with spring, happy daydreams, and a wedding procession and the second part as a funeral march followed by spiritual victory. Labeling individual movements and providing references to literary sources was common in late Romantic musical compositions, namely with Richard Strauss, the leading composer of program music. However, Mahler wanted to distance himself from his fellow composer since he did not consider his compositions to be program music.

Michael Steinberg explains in his book titled Symphony, that the extramusical ideas surrounding Mahler’s First Symphony’s premiere “would not disappear, and, somewhat uncomfortably and unconvincingly, he seemed now to have it both ways. He found, moreover, that there was no pleasing the critics on this issue: in Berlin he was faulted for omitting the program and in Frankfurt for keeping it.” 

Mahler made numerous revisions to his First Symphony. After the premiere, he omitted the original second movement titled “Blumine” (Bouquet), thus reducing the symphony to four movements. He also affixed the title Titan. This was not in reference to Greek mythology, but for the eponymous novel by Jean Paus (1763-1925), a key figure in German literary Romanticism and one of Mahler’s favorite writers. Before the Vienna performance in 1900, Mahler again leaked a program to a friendly critic. He wrote that the title Titan is to be rejected as well as “all other titles and inscriptions, which , like all ‘programs’ are always misinterpreted.”

According to Mahler, the fourth movement was inspired by a woodcut by Moritz von Schwind, a friend of Franz Schubert, after the satirical drawing The Hunter’s Funeral, in the manner of Jacques Callot, a French engraver of the seventeenth century. It refers to an old, well-known folk tale in which the story’s narrative is told through the eyes of forest animals written in a jocular character. The story features the burial of a hunter whose funeral procession is composed not of humans, but wild animals, including a bear, foxes, hares, a wolf, cranes, partridges, and song-birds. The animals seem to derive great joy from the occasion with rabbits leading the procession holding banners and music been sung by all the animals, accompanied by the musical cats and a group of Bohemian musicians.

First movement: D Major—Langsam, schleppend wie ein Naurlaut (Slow, drawn out, very restrained. Like a sound of nature). Incorporates “I Went This Morning over the Field” from his Songs of the Wayfarer.

Second movement: A Major, trio in F Major—Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell (Busily agitated, but not too fast). Mahler replaces the traditional minuet with a ländler, a 3/4 dance-form, “a heavy-footed Austrian peasant dance” that was a precursor to the Viennese waltz. The movement is in three separate parts—landler, trio, landler  

Third movement: D minor—Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen (Solemn and measured, without dragging). Macabre fantasy and ironic burlesque with the French canon “Frère Jacques” played with somber satire in minor. Twice, the composer interrupts the funeral march—first with a parody of a Hassidic-sounding song and then with an eloquent quotation from another Wayfarer song. “The Two Blue Eyes of my Beloved.”      

Fourth movement: F minor to D Major – Stürmisch bewegt (Stormily agitated)