Here we are on the third day onboard the beautiful AmaViola and as we approach the city of Linz and spend the day in Salzburg, I’d like to give you a few YouTube links of composers who were from these two beautiful and important Austrian cities and, yes, Mozart will be one of them.
But first, I think it’s important that we recognize that today is the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day — Veterans Day in the U.S., commemorating the end of WWI, which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month of the year. It was a devastating war and the world of classical music suffered greatly from this incredibly barbaric conflict. It was not too long ago that every schoolchild in the U.S. recited John McCrae’s, In Flanders Fields, for Veteran’s Day:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
George Butterworth was a promising English composer who was killed at the Battle of the Somme at the age of 31. His body was never found. His song-cycle, A Shropshire Lad, is probably his most famous composition:
Rudi Stephan was a promising German composer whose small body of work is also excellent and quite varied in genre. He died at the age of 28 in Tarnopol at the Galician front. Here is a very compelling piece he wrote in 1910 called, Music for Orchestra:
There were many composers who survived WWI but who were deeply effected by it. Each movement of the incredible six-movement piano piece, Le Tombeau de Couperin, by Maurice Ravel is a remembrance of a friend who lost their life in WWI:
And in one of the greatest examples of creating opportunity out of a seemingly hopeless situation, the pianist Paul Wittgenstein — brother of famed philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein — lost his right arm in WWI. After the war, he spent the rest of his life commissioning the world’s greatest composers to write pieces for piano for the left hand. Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, Erich Korngold, Sergei Prokofiev, Franz Schmidt, and Richard Strauss, among others, all obliged but it is Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand that is the most famous:
The two pillars of English composition, Edward Elgar and Ralph Vaughan Williams, both wrote works in memorium of the Great War. Vaughan Williams’s Symphony №3 is very touching and Elgar’s Cello Concerto has become one of the staples of the genre:
I’ve created a Spotify playlist as well:
Anton Bruckner is Linz’s gift to music. As many of you know, he is one of my favorite composers and while the music of Mahler is also important to me, whose symphonies are often compared with Bruckner’s for no legitimate reason other than they are somewhat contemporary, it is Bruckner’s music that is the closest to my heart.
He wrote two ‘study’ symphonies (Symphony 0 and 00) and nine published symphonies, with the ninth appropriately unfinished, as if there was some sort of Tutankhamen-like curse on Austro-German composers finishing nine symphonies! What is not generally not known, however, is that he didn’t begin writing symphonies until he was in his forties and prior to this, he was considered one of the Europe’s greatest organists, playing for many years on the incredible organ of the St. Florian monastery, just outside of Linz.
His last three symphonies are the most celebrated around the world, although all nine are played frequently by the Bruckner Orchestra Linz and there is a yearly Bruckner festival that I have been threatening to attend for years! Symphony №7 will be played by the California Symphony in May 2019 for our final concert of the season.
Before we get to Salzburg’s most famous son, I’d like to introduce an incredibly important composer of the renaissance, Heinz Ignaz Franz Biber, who was born in Bohemia but spent the last thirty years of his life in Salzburg. His Mystery Sonatas for violin and continuo are extraordinary and are every bit as important to the violin repertoire as works that we’re eventually written by Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
For as beautiful as it is, Salzburg is a small town and while this city has tried its very best to call him their own, the fact remains that the young Mozart couldn’t wait to get to get out of there, “The only thing — I tell you this straight from the heart — that disgusts me in Salzburg is that one can’t have any proper social intercourse with those people — and that music does not have a better reputation…For I assure you, without travel, at least for people from the arts and sciences, one is a miserable creature!”
Salzburg was really Leopold Mozart’s, Amadeus’s father’s, city. Leopold was employed from 1743 as a violinist in the court of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg and is most famous as a celebrated violin teache. His violin treatise is still considered an incredibly important pedagogical document.
Mozart wrote many early masterpieces in Salzburg, but perhaps his greatest is his Symphony №29.
More on Mozart as we head to Vienna to see his dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni!