Author Topic: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)  (Read 8328 times)

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Offline Dundonnell

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Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« on: October 21, 2008, 04:43:05 PM »
for my 1,000th post on this site I would like to pay tribute to a composer for whom I have long had great admiration-the Austrian composer, scholar and teacher Egon Wellesz.

(Before continuing however I would just like to say how much I have enjoyed membership of this site over the past year, how indebted I am to all those who have alerted me to music of which I was unaware and those who have reawakened an interest and appreciation in music which I knew but had forgotten or under-valued in the past, and how grateful I am to have made real and valued friendships here.
Contributing to this site is an activity I very much hope to continue for as long as possible and is something I hugely enjoy :) Thanks for that opportunity :))

The best introductions to Wellesz can be found in these linked articles-

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Wellesz

http://www.musicweb-international.com/wellesz/wellesz.htm

I will not pretend that Wellesz is the most 'accessible' composer of those who rank among my own personal favourites but he is one for whom I do have profound respect. Born to prosperous Jewish parents in Vienna in 1885, the experience of hearing Mahler conducting influenced him in seeking to pursue a musical career. A student of Guido Adler, he also took private lessons in harmony and counterpoint from Arnold Schoenberg. Following advice from the conductor Bruno Walter however, Wellesz sought to establish himself as a composer who stood apart from Schoenberg and his other pupils. Although he is counted as a member of 'The Second Viennese School' his early influences stem more from composers like Mahler, Debussy and Bartok. Despite this he remained on good personal terms with Schoenberg and was that composer's first biographer.

In the 1920s Wellesz had established himself as one of the most promising of the composers working in Central Europe with performances of his five operas and four ballets in the top houses of Austria and Germany. He also forged a distinguished reputation as a scholar at the University of Vienna, specialising in, among other subjects, Byzantine music. Wellesz was one of the principal founders of the International Society for Contemporary Music.  As with other Jewish composers his music suffered from the Nazi takeover in Germany in 1933 but he was fortunate enough to be in Amsterdam on the day of the Anschluss in 1938 and was warned by friends not to return to Austria.

Wellesz travelled to Britain(to be joined later-after considerable difficulties- by his family) and settled in Oxford. He had already, in 1932, been awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University(the first Austrian to be so honoured since Haydn). For the rest of his life he remained in Oxford as a Fellow of Lincoln College and latterly also a Professor.

The trauma of leaving his native country together with other wartime difficulties meant that Wellesz wrote no music in Britain until-inspired by Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo"- he rediscovered his muse. Beginning in 1945 Wellesz embarked on the 1st of what became a cycle of nine symphonies(1945-1971). Although these were broadcast long ago by the BBC they had very little public exposure during Wellesz's lifetime either in his adopted country or in Austria(where the composer was showered with academic honours but, to his deep sadness, no offer of a return to a teaching position). These have all been recorded by CPO with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gottfried Rabl. The long-awaited premiere of the Third Symphony in Vienna in 2000 was a triumph-
http://www.musicweb-international.com/wellesz/third.htm

The first four symphonies are tonal and stand in line of succession from Bruckner and Mahler although they considerably extend traditional tonalities. Starting with Symphony No.5 however Wellesz's idiom developed into much more Expressionist and serial territory.
That makes the last four symphonies, in particular, 'tougher nuts'(for me at least) to crack but my respect for the sincerity, integrity and orchestral mastery of Wellesz has always persuaded me to make the effort.

There are a number of big late choral compositions-the Duineser Elegie for soprano, choir and orchestra(1963), Mirabile Mysterium for soloist, choir and orchestra(1967) and Canticum Sapientiae for baritone, choir and orchestra(1968)-which I would dearly love to hear.
At least however the Violin Concerto(1961) is available on Orfeo coupled with the Symphonic Suite "Prosperos beschworungen"(the work whose Dutch performance Wellesz was attending in Amsterdam in 1938) and there is a collection of orchestral songs on Capriccio.

Wellesz will never-I suspect-be a popular composer but he was an adornment to 20th century music as a composer and a scholar and deserves the recognition he is belatedly receiving!

« Last Edit: October 23, 2008, 08:36:29 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2008, 04:44:20 PM »
and-

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2008, 11:16:30 PM »
A pity I couldn't congratulate you in real time, Colin! But you're a veteran now. Your contributions to this forum have been very substantial, and I suspect many composers are smiling (not turning) in their graves in gratitude of your advocacy. Keep posting and enlightening us!

Johan
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Harry

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2008, 11:22:59 PM »
Congrats Colin, regarding your 1000th post. You are for me a highly appreciated poster, that gave me many insights into music. And a friendly mind too!
I have the CPO recordings with the Symphonies of Egon Wellesz, yet to be played, and I am looking forward to it.

springrite

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2008, 11:41:31 PM »
I have just one CD, the Symphony #2 and #9, which I have played several times to great delight! I will definitely look to get more of this composer's work in the future.

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2008, 04:59:50 AM »
Thank you Johan and Harry for your very kind words! I do really appreciate them :-[ :)

I hope that you do explore Wellesz further, Harry and springrite. Wellesz is a composer of real substance who has a sure sense of purpose.

You refer, Johan, to 'advocacy' of composers :) You-above many others ;D ;)-will recognise the respect and admiration which is often engendered by the thought of the composer who during his lifetime did not receive the public exposure which his work undoubtedly deserved but nevertheless continued undaunted to compose the music he wanted to compose without regard for fashion or popularity :)

There are so many examples which spring to mind! Wellesz had the advantage over Havergal Brian in that he had a secure academic position in Oxford and a distinguished reputation as a musical scholar. He also was able to hear most of his symphonies played at least once-although not the fine 3rd which Boult planned to premiere but the BBC cancelled. Only one of the symphonies in fact was first performed in Britain-the 7th by Hugo Rignold(an understimated conductor btw) in Birmingham.

But there are similarities with HB(which just may be part of the attraction to me?). Wellesz was 60 when he came to the symphony(a late starter like his fellow Austrian Ernst Toch-but a better composer than Toch in my opinion) but then produced nine over the next 26 years. He was also someone who took a great interest in contemporary music but was utterly determined to go his own way.
I suppose however that the fact that Wellesz took remarkably little interest in the music of British composers of his time may not have helped his cause :)

(oh, and by the way, I have far from exhausted my list of other less than famous composers to promote here :) :))

pjme

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2008, 06:32:21 AM »


This is the only recording I have by Wellesz. Must listen again....

Colin, as for new recordings : soon new versions of Daniel Sternefeld's two symphonies will be out on Etcetera. I'll keep you informed.
Peter


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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #7 on: October 22, 2008, 06:42:18 AM »
And don't forget the Wellesz string quartets.  Nimbus recently recorded nos. 3, 4 and 6 (nine total).

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #8 on: October 22, 2008, 06:55:56 AM »
Interestingly, whilst going through archived magazine articles for research on Mann's Doktor Faustus, I found an old (1949) review of a book he wrote on Byzantine music — before then he wasn't a name I had known. Is his music influenced by his studies on Byzantine music (however that sounds :o)?

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #9 on: October 22, 2008, 07:51:41 AM »


This is the only recording I have by Wellesz. Must listen again....

Colin, as for new recordings : soon new versions of Daniel Sternefeld's two symphonies will be out on Etcetera. I'll keep you informed.
Peter



I have been looking for that cd of the Piano Concerto without success for sometime :(

Daniel Sternefeld.... another new name to me! From what I have now read about him I am intrigued :) Thanks!

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #10 on: October 22, 2008, 07:56:14 AM »
Interestingly, whilst going through archived magazine articles for research on Mann's Doktor Faustus, I found an old (1949) review of a book he wrote on Byzantine music — before then he wasn't a name I had known. Is his music influenced by his studies on Byzantine music (however that sounds :o)?

I do know that in 1916 he deciphered the secrets of Byzantine musical notation and did indeed write the first scholarly text on the subject. Whether his own music was in any shape or form influenced by Byzantine music and do not know and rather doubt. I have certainly read no references to such influences.

pjme

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2008, 01:40:08 PM »
I found another Wellesz disc.... and it is by far the best of the two I have! Although I have these discs for quite a while, I more or less forgot about them.
I Listened again to : the pianoconcerto op. 49 (1931), Prospero's Beschwörungen opus 53 and the 1961 violinconcerto opus 84.

The violinconcerto made thegreatest impression - a very dark, somber work - almost tragic. 4 substantial movements ,totaling 27.30 mins. :Largo/allegretto/Allegro non troppo - adagio - Scherzo/vivace - Andante sostenuto. The last movement is very strong , (with a large- scale cadenza) . It brings the work to an incredibly still and haunting end. Very impressive .
Prospero's spells ( 1934-35) is a 5 movement orchestral suite ( ca 30 mins) Mahler and Berg loom over this grandly expansive work. Again, the last movement (Ferdinand und Miranda - Sehr breit und ruhevoll -epilog /Misterioso) caught my attention and imagination! Exquisite music in a late Romantic idiom! Well played by the Austrian Radio SO / Gerd Albrecht. Andrea Duka Löwenstein is the violinsoloist.
The pianoconcerto is very different. Possibly the performance is underpowered - but I found the work quite dull , especially the fast movements:neo-classical ( Hindemith, Stravinsky) , repetitious, grey....The slow movement ( a kind of Nocturne) is atmospheric.

Still, music I will return to soon - and I look forward to discover the symphonies.

P.

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #12 on: October 22, 2008, 02:21:37 PM »
Thanks, Peter. Very enticing description!
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #13 on: October 22, 2008, 04:13:35 PM »
I agree with your assessment of the Violin Concerto and Prospero's Beschworungen, Peter :) I would have posted the cd cover image but I thought that four pictures of the CPO symphony series covers was enough ;D The violin concerto is indeed a very fine work! I am sorry that the piano concerto doesn't match it but at least I am not so sorry now that I have never managed to acquire the piece.

The Capriccio disc is worth searching out, It contains-

the early Symphonic Poem "Vorfruhling"(1912)
the late Symphonic Epilogue(1969)
Two Songs for contralto and orchestra "Leben, Traum und Tod"(1936/7)
"Lied der Welt" for soprano and orchestra(1936/38)
Sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning from the Portugese for soprano and strings(1935?)
"Ode an die Musik" for contralto and chamber orchestra(1965)
Vision for soprano and orchestra(1966)

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2008, 02:05:41 AM »
I have listened to Wellesz's First Symphony twice, and I am impressed. It's a fascinating piece of music. It comes in three movements, all with a very strong character of their own. So much so, indeed, that I wonder if the thing really hangs together as a symphony. If it does - and I don't have a score - it is because of the 'emotional logic'. The symphony feels like it progresses.

The opening movement is very serious and rather dark, a tense Largo/Adagio introduction being followed by a rather stern Allegro energico, (I'd say Reger meets Stravinsky), which in the end isn't the dry, fugal affair it could have been because of flashes of bleak poetry, which are among the appealing aspects of Wellesz's style. This attractiveness is really on show in the second movement, a very fresh-sounding Allegro agitato quasi presto. But the movement that really convinces you at once of Wellesz's qualities is the final movement, Molto adagio sostenuto, in which the tradition of Bruckner and Mahler is taken up very movingly. I was reminded of Korngold, the slow movement of his late Symphony in F sharp, although that is more overtly late Romantic. Wellesz is less 'glamorous', he has a rather severe streak, which gives his music 'bite'.

All in all - a great listening experience! The Second Symphony awaits me...
« Last Edit: October 31, 2008, 06:56:16 AM by Jezetha »
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #15 on: October 31, 2008, 06:06:59 AM »
Somehow I seem to have missed this interesting thread; must have coincided with preparations for "The Siege of Leiden" I guess. Firstly, belated congratulations Colin on your 1000th posting (997 of them on J. Braga Santos  ;D)

I don't know much Wellesz but really like Symphony No 2 "The English" (which doesn't sound at all English!) That would be my recommendation as a starting point for this composer. However, I have just discovered that I own a CD of symphonies 1 and 8 (incipient old age means that I no longer know what is in my collection and occasionally end up buying the same CD twice  ::)) I have just taken off Boris Parsadanian's Second Symphony No 2 half-way through to sample Wellesz's No 1, which sounds good.

Wellesz evidently felt grateful to his adopted refuge from the Nazis, hence the subtitle of the Symphony No 2.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2008, 06:10:31 AM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #16 on: October 31, 2008, 06:16:28 AM »
You have provided an excellent precis of the 1st symphony, Johan, and I do so agree about the final movement :)

It is important to remember how heavy the shadow of Bruckner and Mahler lay over the younger generation of Austrian/German composers. These two great masters were such towering figures and their symphonies such immense masterpieces that it must have seemed to many that the last word had been said about the symphony. We obviously know the history of those who decided to carve out a new path on which the symphony had no place. A young composer/conductor like Bruno Walter, who revered Mahler, simply decided after around 1910 that he could not possibly match the amazing standards set and gave up composing. Others produced pale imitations.

Wellesz in Great Britain and Toch in the USA-both exiles from their native Austria-steered clear of the symphony until they were 60 and 63 respectively. Then, of course, the floodgates opened :) Wellesz produced 9 and Toch 7 but the former is, to my mind, the greater composer.

The Second Symphony, the so-called 'English'(not very much English-sounding about it to my ears!), does show in its four movements a degree more of formal cohesion and is less stern. Let us know how you react.

Only another seven after that! Although Nos. 5-9 do sound rather different ;D

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #17 on: October 31, 2008, 06:26:25 AM »
Somehow I seem to have missed this interesting thread; must have coincided with preparations for "The Siege of Leiden" I guess. Firstly, belated congratulations Colin on your 1000th posting (997 of them on J. Braga Santos  ;D)

I don't know much Wellesz but really like Symphony No 2 "The English" (which doesn't sound at all English!) That would be my recommendation as a starting point for this composer. However, I have just discovered that I own a CD of symphonies 1 and 8 (incipient old age means that I no longer know what is in my collection and occasionally end up buying the same CD twice  ::)) I have just taken off Boris Parsadanian's Second Symphony No 2 half-way through to sample Wellesz's No 1, which sounds good.

Wellesz evidently felt grateful to his adopted refuge from the Nazis, hence the subtitle of the Symphony No 2.

Ah, Jeffrey..our posts crossed!

Thank you for your congratulations :) Don't think it's quite that many on Braga Santos, though ;D ;D  Most about obscure symphonists I do suppose-but I did start a thread about Max Reger-who did not compose a single symphony!

You are quite correct about the 'English' as I had also observed. So many Central European exiles found their way to America-naturally enough! Wellesz was one of those who made their new home here-like Berthold Goldschmidt, Hans Gal, Matyas Seiber. He never lost however his deep love for Austria and the story of him wandering by the lake in Grasmere, being reminded of the Styrian countryside and finding the themes for a symphony stirring within him is moving.

Glad you are enjoying the 1st....try compiling a database of your cds-it is the only way to keep track :) :) I twice have bought the same cd by mistake-once was Boris Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony, if I recall correctly, by failing to check :)

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #18 on: October 31, 2008, 06:47:53 AM »
My apologies(if any are really needed!) for my enthusiasm....but I am listening again to the 3rd symphony. The first movement alone has such a self-confident stride that I am quite bowled over :)

It is a tragedy that this was the symphony which was never performed during Wellesz's lifetime- for all sorts of reasons :(
The premiere in Vienna in 2000 was an unalloyed triumph with repeated ovations from the amazed and ecstatic audience and I can quite see why :) :) The review of the concert is linked in my first post on this thread. If that review doesn't whet your appetite then nothing will :) :)
« Last Edit: October 31, 2008, 07:41:51 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline donaldopato

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Re: Egon Wellesz(1885-1974)
« Reply #19 on: October 31, 2008, 10:31:45 AM »
I acquired the CPO recordings when they came out and enjoyed hearing the works of this fine composer. The disc of Symphonies 4, 6 and 7 is the one I turn to the most. The works abound with touches of Mahler, especially in the slow funeral march movements of 4 and 6 abound, combined with a more economical, compact structure. It has been a while since I heard these works, so this thread has inspired me to break them out again.
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