Author Topic: Elgar and Berlioz Compared  (Read 28501 times)

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Offline 71 dB

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #100 on: April 14, 2007, 01:04:02 AM »
Elgar's orchestration is like a Victorian living room: chock full of heavy, upholstered furniture, overlaid with doilies and swaths of fabrics, hung with ancestral armour and old brasses, carved oak and tapestry from distant Rome, rare "blue and white" Venetian finger-glasses, rich oriental rugs, luxurious sofa pillows, and everything that isn't old, from Gillow's.

He never wrote a woodwind solo he didn't feel the need to double in some other instrument.

If I may say so your opinion of Elgar's orchestration may be prejudiced. Try Elgar's lighter works.

Hmm, that may be a slight exaggeration! Actually, what is unusual about Elgar's orchestration is its extreme precision - the most careful calculation of doubling I've seen in music of this period, so that the colours are constantly shifting, mosaic-like (as McVeagh puts it). There is also his amazing attention to detail in matters of articulation (!) and subtleties of notation - I've been re-reading through Gerontius and some other works these last days and noticed all sorts of notational oddities that can only really be explained by an ultra-sensitivity to nuance and indeed to an understanding of the mentality of the orchestral player. So it won't do to cariacature him as just ladling on the doublings unthinkingly. It seems he was often praised by his performers for his practical considerations - writing music that was always playable, and that always 'sounded', and that always had purpose, (even if the purpose was a practical one, such as a pp bass clarinet doubling that is actually a way for the the player to warm up their instrument before a big solo). In this, he has been seen by some orchestral players as unique, exceeding Wagner, Strauss etc. in these matter.

Just to be fair.... ;)

Wow! I feel like reading my own text! Thanks lukeottevanger for explaning something that is diffucult for me. Elgar's attention to orchestral details is something I haven't experienced elsewhere in classical music. All the constant shifts of colour and harmony bring the musical dimensions to life.
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Offline quintett op.57

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #101 on: April 14, 2007, 01:15:20 AM »
Elgar's orchestration is like a Victorian living room: chock full of heavy, upholstered furniture, overlaid with doilies and swaths of fabrics, hung with ancestral armour and old brasses, carved oak and tapestry from distant Rome, rare "blue and white" Venetian finger-glasses, rich oriental rugs, luxurious sofa pillows, and everything that isn't old, from Gillow's.

He never wrote a woodwind solo he didn't feel the need to double in some other instrument.
I tend to agree but it's good anyway

Offline T-C

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #102 on: April 14, 2007, 01:17:55 AM »
Jenufa is a very great, significant and powerful work, but I've never honestly considered it the equal of the last five, which taken together present a much more mature, integrated and fully-rounded picture of Janacek (Broucek being the one I would drop first, though, of those five). [...]
Taras Bulba I think is the weakest of Janacek's well-known orchestral pieces (there are lesser ones, even among his mature pieces, such as the Ballad of Blanik, which is relatively uninspired, I think, though even then a very memorable and interesting piece);

I don’t know if Jenufa is Janacek’s greatest opera, but for my taste, it is definitely the opera I love most. My own preferences:

1. Jenufa
2. Kata Kabanova
3. The Cunning little vixen Opera
4. From the House of the Dead
5. Vec Makropulos
6. Osud
7. The Excursions of Mr. Broucek
8. Sarka

It is true that in Jenufa Janacek’s mature operatic style is still in the formation. But for me opera is not only about integrated and mature style, but first and foremost about the conveying of human feelings in music. In a brilliant performance, Jenufa is one of the most moving operas there is. In that aspect nothing in the other Janacek’s operas, which I adore, can compete with for example, Jenufa’s Act II. Just take for example the orchestral accompaniment to Jenufa’s farewell to her step mother before she goes to sleep: Dobrou noc, mamiuko. This is music of sublime beauty, of rare quality even with Janacek…

As for Taras Bulba being one of Janacek's weakest orchestral pieces, I couldn’t disagree more. I know all the pieces that you mentioned. Again, for me, not being a professional musician, music is not only about form and structure; it is also about beauty, feelings and excitement. For my taste, Taras Bulba third movement, where Janacek draws in sound in a most realistic way Bulba’s last battle, where he is being tortured and burnt live, and with brilliant orchestration, is a great and moving piece of music because of what it succeeds to convey.

And to say something about this thread topic: no, I definitely don’t think that Elgar symphonies are the best there are. Fine, but not even in the vicinity of the greatest…  ;)
« Last Edit: April 14, 2007, 01:26:25 AM by T-C »

Offline 71 dB

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #103 on: April 14, 2007, 01:26:08 AM »
And to say something about this thread topic: no, I definitely don’t think that Elgar symphonies are the best there are. Fine, but not even in the vicinity of the greatest…  ;)

Accepting Elgar's symphonies among other 'fine' symphonies is much better than the current state where Elgar isn't recognized even a symphonist! Sibelius dominates the playground too much (at least here in Finland where other composers are "non-existing") and many other 20th century symphonists (e.g. Nielsen) are in his shadow.
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lukeottevanger

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #104 on: April 14, 2007, 01:28:58 AM »
Wow! I feel like reading my own text! Thanks lukeottevanger for explaning something that is diffucult for me. Elgar's attention to orchestral details is something I haven't experienced elsewhere in classical music. All the constant shifts of colour and harmony bring the musical dimensions to life.

Well, I do think it's important that you know we're not anti-Elgar here - well I am certainly not! :) I am full of praise for certain aspects of his writing, in fact, and his orchestration does seem to me to be pretty faultless,  on its own terms. He also has an original and personal approach to orchestration, which I tried to indicate here. He's not alone in that, though - the best composers do tend to develop their own special ways with the orchestra, which work perfectly for them but which wouldn't transfer to anyone else so well (Janacek is an example of this, in fact - his orchestration is in some respects 'bad', certainly full of faults in the textbook sense, but it is deeply felt, instantly recognisable and suits his aesthetic perfectly, so it ends up being a very strong point).

It seem that Elgar, btw, was dumbfounded by Dvorak's orchestration, among others, not for its extrovert colour or dazzle, but because it always sounds full and beautifully balanced even when only one or two linstruments are playing. This is interesting, I think, because it shows what he prioritised in orchestration. Read in this light, we can see what his complex and ever-shifting doublings are trying to acheive, and why, and I think it works.

I want to add - what is important to me is always the music above all, and respect for the composer, much more than any petty disagreements that might go on on this board. That's why, even if it seems to you I have been taking an anti-Elgarian stance (which isn't actually my standpoint at all), I am always going to leap to Elgar's defence when I think he is misunderstood - in this case, I think Mark was right to the extent that Elgar's scores are undeniably very full; but I think he was wrong to imply that this is a fault, when continuous, carefully-shaded and blended textures are really as deep a part of Elgar's aesthetic as Janacek's exposed lines, peculiar balances, strange tessiture and block orchestration are to his.

OTOH, and in the same vein of fairness-to-all-composers, I'd really like to leap to Sibelius's defence too, though, against your charge of his being a 'non-relative' in contrast to the 'relative' Elgar (have I remembered that right?) because I think that misrepresents a composer who was extremely 'relative' (in the sense you meant). Sibelius is full-to-bursting with these incredible, almost geological layers of texture, all working at different paces and heard in relation to each other, creating a very complex system of relationships. Just wanted to say....

lukeottevanger

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #105 on: April 14, 2007, 01:52:22 AM »
I think - and it's probably a problem with my own post - that you are misreading my reasons for rating Janacek's pieces as I do, putting it down to a kind of academicism on my part v. pure response on your part. And that isn't really fair - I'm simply trying to put into words the reasons for my own responses.

So, for instance...

It is true that in Jenufa Janacek’s mature operatic style is still in the formation. But for me opera is not only about integrated and mature style, but first and foremost about the conveying of human feelings in music.

Absolutely. It is for me too, which is why I continue to rate Jenufa very highly indeed, and above most other operas of its type. Janacek was nothing if not a master of psychological penetration, and it's there in Jenufa as much as in the later operas. But in Janacek, more than any other composer I can think of, and quite consciously on his part, these two factors you put up against each other - Integration (a word Janacek used very specifically and with a quasi-scientific meaning) and 'conveying of human feelings in music' - are actually more or less one-and-the-same-thing. Integration, in Janacek's case, means tightening-up, eliminating extraneous music (unifying melody and accompaniment, for instance), shortening motives, and generally doing everything that can be done to get right to the Truth (J's capitalisation!) of the Human Condition (my capitalisation). 'Integration' only became a conscious aim of Janacek's from about 1917 - which is why it is really synonymous with his mature style -  and it's then that we see his music condense dramatically, so that each and every note really comes from the heart of the singer/player. Bear in mind, too, his theories of the napevky mluvy - speech melody - which state that the intonation of a single word is enough to tell if the speaker is old, young, tired, lying, loving etc. etc. That's the sort of thought which lies at the root of the inward journey of Integration.

That's the 'academic' reason. But it translates into the way I hear Janacek too - it is, aurally and experientially, the reason that late Janacek, culminating in his supreme opera, From the House of the Dead is so overwhelmingly powerful on a human level, from first note to last. Jenufa, as I have said, is also an extremely intense experience, partly, of course, because of the plot etc. but for me, musically, it doesn't speak with the same end-to-end, every-single-note burning fire that Katya or House of the Dead have.


As for Taras Bulba being one of Janacek's weakest orchestral pieces, I couldn’t disagree more. I know all the pieces that you mentioned. Again, for me, not being a professional musician, music is not only about form and structure; it is also about beauty, feelings and excitement. For my taste, Taras Bulba third movement, where Janacek draws in sound in a most realistic way Bulba’s last battle, where he is being tortured and burnt live, and with brilliant orchestration, is a great and moving piece of music because of what it succeeds to convey.

One of his weakest well-known pieces, I said; I still think, as pure music, it is very fine indeed. So, basically, I was comparing it to the Sinfonietta, as the only other widely-known orchestral work of his. Again, your 'for me, not being a professional musician, music is not only about form and structure; it is also about beauty, feelings and excitement' is an attempt to play the old mind vs heart card and portray me as over-analysing things (note for instance that my comment about structure was an aside, and that it referred to other peoples' issues with the piece, not mine). In fact, my POV is quite the opposite from the one you imply - my mind would love to react to Taras Bulba in a visceral way (it would make things so much easier!), but my heart can't do so. Why? Because however realistic the battle and torture scenes, I don't get the feeling they are really coming from the heart as most of Janacek's later music does (he's always at his best in the intimate and personal anyway, as his operas amply demonstrate). He wrote the piece because he was a Russophile, not, I think, out of any great identification for the hero, and to me that shows. It's more of a standard symphonic poem as other composers have written - and on these terms an excellent one indeed - but Janacek doesn't mean that to me. He is bigger than that.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2007, 02:00:26 AM by lukeottevanger »

Offline T-C

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #106 on: April 14, 2007, 03:46:25 AM »
You named your first post on this matter - essential Janacek.

The bottom line of my post was to stress that for me (and for quite a few others I know...) both Jenufa and Taras Bulba are very essential Janacek. You think these are good pieces but second rate in Janacek’s oeuvre.

I think that if Mladi, Riklada etc. are mentioned in a list of Janacek works, than a major work that I consider as a great masterpiece like Jenufa has to be there too.

I know dozens of symphonic poems: Liszt, Dvorak, Sibelius, Nielsen, Smetana, Tchaikovsky etc. I think that Taras Bulba is unique. Definitely not the ‘standard symphonic poem as other composers have written’. And even if it were a standard symphonic poem, it could still be a masterpiece…

You obviously don’t agree with me...   

lukeottevanger

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #107 on: April 14, 2007, 03:56:15 AM »
You named your first post on this matter - essential Janacek.

Yes, I didn't think I had to add a qualifying 'IMO'  ::)

In any event, my post was answering one which asked which genres to explore first with Janacek - that's the context in which I offered Riklada, Mladi etc as being essential, i.e. in their genre. For all that Jenufa is a spectacular and very affecting work, I don't think it is quite as essential to understanding Janacek opera as the five I mentioned, which 'cover all the bases', so to speak. Surely I'm free to that opinion? I should have added, btw, the Violin Sonata too (simply forgot), though not the cello and piano Pohadka, even though I like it equally, on the same basis that is probably not quite as echt-Janacek.

And I think, btw, that these two pieces we are discussing are more than 'good' - they are both masterpieces, utterly so. I just think that, in their repsective genres, there are even finer and more representative works in Janacek's output. So don't try to dampen down the fact that I've used superlatives aplenty about them.

Offline T-C

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #108 on: April 14, 2007, 04:17:12 AM »
Actually you wrote essential Janacek IMO…  ;)

But everything we write here about the evaluation of works of art is IMO.

I just wondered if you really think that Broucek is a better opera than Jenufa.

Although I love Broucek, I don’t think it is essential Janacek. Jenufa is.


lukeottevanger

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #109 on: April 14, 2007, 04:32:38 AM »
I just wondered if you really think that Broucek is a better opera than Jenufa.

Although I love Broucek, I don’t think it is essential Janacek. Jenufa is.

All this perhaps hinges on your reading of 'essential', then. Does it mean favourite/best? or does it mean 'contains the essence of'? You're choosing the former, my choice, opera-wise is really geared towards helping with the latter, in as few purchases as possible!

So, it's possible that I prefer Jenufa, as whole, to Broucek, which lacks in intensity compared to the other operas, though there are long passages of Broucek I love just as much, and it is one of Janacek's most fantastically coloured scores. But Broucek, whether one thinks it is as great as Jenufa or not, is (IMO) just as essential a part of 'who Janacek is' (in the sense that, - again IMO - Taras Bulba is not). Those last five operas present five completely different sides to him, all important, though some more immediate than others. Jenufa, as I said earlier, seems to be something fairly similar to Katya in this matter, for all their many differences, and so to choose one over the other I go for Katya.

So that's it, really - 'essential' to me, and in the context of the question, meant both 'in terms of different genres' (hence Riklada and the Bezruc choruses etc) and also 'the works which taken together sum him up quickest' (hence, of the operas, the last five). But, please, add Jenufa in if it's so important to you! - I've already said many times that it is a magnificent work. I am the last person to criticise Janacek, I assure you, as a look at my posting and personal history will tell you.
« Last Edit: April 14, 2007, 04:40:55 AM by lukeottevanger »

Offline Catison

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #110 on: April 15, 2007, 09:56:28 AM »
I would start a Janacek thread, Luke, but I think such a task should be left to our resident expert.  These insightful posts really belong there, when they will be more useful to us all.
-Brett

karlhenning

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Re: Elgar and Berlioz Compared
« Reply #111 on: June 12, 2009, 04:42:10 AM »
I'd clean forgotten about this thread, but had to revive this wonderful post of our Luke's:

Well, I do think it's important that you know we're not anti-Elgar here - well I am certainly not! :) I am full of praise for certain aspects of his writing, in fact, and his orchestration does seem to me to be pretty faultless,  on its own terms. He also has an original and personal approach to orchestration, which I tried to indicate here. He's not alone in that, though - the best composers do tend to develop their own special ways with the orchestra, which work perfectly for them but which wouldn't transfer to anyone else so well (Janacek is an example of this, in fact - his orchestration is in some respects 'bad', certainly full of faults in the textbook sense, but it is deeply felt, instantly recognisable and suits his aesthetic perfectly, so it ends up being a very strong point).

It seem that Elgar, btw, was dumbfounded by Dvorak's orchestration, among others, not for its extrovert colour or dazzle, but because it always sounds full and beautifully balanced even when only one or two linstruments are playing. This is interesting, I think, because it shows what he prioritised in orchestration. Read in this light, we can see what his complex and ever-shifting doublings are trying to acheive, and why, and I think it works.

I want to add - what is important to me is always the music above all, and respect for the composer, much more than any petty disagreements that might go on on this board. That's why, even if it seems to you I have been taking an anti-Elgarian stance (which isn't actually my standpoint at all), I am always going to leap to Elgar's defence when I think he is misunderstood - in this case, I think Mark was right to the extent that Elgar's scores are undeniably very full; but I think he was wrong to imply that this is a fault, when continuous, carefully-shaded and blended textures are really as deep a part of Elgar's aesthetic as Janacek's exposed lines, peculiar balances, strange tessiture and block orchestration are to his.

OTOH, and in the same vein of fairness-to-all-composers, I'd really like to leap to Sibelius's defence too, though, against your charge of his being a 'non-relative' in contrast to the 'relative' Elgar (have I remembered that right?) because I think that misrepresents a composer who was extremely 'relative' (in the sense you meant). Sibelius is full-to-bursting with these incredible, almost geological layers of texture, all working at different paces and heard in relation to each other, creating a very complex system of relationships. Just wanted to say....