Author Topic: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century  (Read 5607 times)

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Offline Lethevich

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Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« on: July 13, 2011, 12:12:41 PM »
I'll leave the big three aside, although acknowledgment of their influence is both necessary and frequent. There are a lot of composers to discover from this interesting time and place, ranging from people who knew Mahler to those who studied under Schoenberg. The musical style was eclectic, ranging from late Romanticism, expressionism, free atonality, serialism, neo-baroque and classical, and everthing in between. But so many of the composers retained a sound which could be described a Viennese. The heyday of the culture came to a close with the national socialists, but many composers elected to leave the country rather than conform to stylistic requirements, meaning that as émigrés some of these composers wrote music in the Viennese manner for decades afterwards.

Alexander Zemlinsky: Studied under Bruckner. More than any composer of this period, Zemlinsky has a "hit" to be remembered by in his Lyric Symphony, which is widely recorded and makes concert appearances outside of Germany on occasion. It is a beautiful post-Mahlerian work finding a perfect fusion of song cycle and symphony. Another memorable work is Die Seejungfrau, a ravishing tone poem from early in his career. His four string quartets are perhaps the most important of this style after after Schoenberg. The two symphonies are okay, but not mature works. The largest section of output is opera, which is undeniably beautifully written, but did not produce many repertoire-level works. Zemlinsky also wrote some of the finest choral music of this period, in a heavily-perfumed style which can be quite intoxicating. The Psalms for chorus and orchestra are quite perfect dramatic works and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Franz Schreker: Studied under Robert Fuchs, the same as Zemlinsky. His music represents some of the greatest heights of early 20th century expressionism, and is highly reminiscent of movements in visual art of the time. A few of his operas are relatively well-known (at least via recordings) for a composer of this period, and it is between these and his orchestral work where his reputation lays. The feelings I have about Zemlinsky's operas can be mirrored in Schreker, although I feel that Schreker may have a few better claims to having written major works in Der ferne Klang and Die Gezeichneten. His output is somewhat diffuse, with many major orchestral pieces being excerpted from his operas, but so much of it is exquisitely written and valuable examples of a certain type of highly-wrought, slightly macabre musical expression. As might be expected from a composer of opera, his songs are beautiful and warrant exploration.

Franz Schmidt: Studied under the omnipresent Robert Fuchs, and also Bruckner. Known for an impressive cycle of four symphonies in a highly personal late Romantic style. The symphonies are major works in the medium and of the period. Their cue, as so often, comes from Anton Bruckner, yet the influence is so internalised that the music sounds only like Schmidt - no small feat when writing tonal music in a crowded market of Johnny-come-latelies. In addition to these qualities, Schmidt introduces a distinctly 20th century sophistication to his harmonic palette, and a complexity which is anything but mere Regerian density. His oratorio Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln many German speakers are adamant is a minor masterpiece, and I enjoy it a great deal. Of his two operas, Notre Dame is vaguely known by the introduction to Act I. Outside of these large works, Schmidt was not a composer to write for the sake of writing - his music has an almost gem-like quality. There is a handfull of chamber music including two string quartets and two quintets for piano, two concerto pieces involving piano, a few piano pieces, and a sizable amount of music for organ.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: A child prodigy who greatly impressed Mahler and Strauss with his compositional abilities. Korngold wrote some of the finest operas of this period. They tend to be criticised for their plots, but I feel that this only underlines what great works they are, as the texts are very typical for their time and to draw such criticism must imply that the works have the musical stature to have attracted such attention. Die tote Stadt and Das Wunder der Heliane are his central works in his output, written when he was at the height of his concert music career, and long before his next opera Die Kathrin was banned from performance before his emigration to the United States. Aside from his popular film scores, Korngold wrote a masterful Symphony and Sinfonietta, some near-perfect chamber music, including three string quartets, and a sizable amount of music for solo piano.

Karl Weigl: Pupil of Zemlinsky. Writer of a notable (if not lovable) symphony cycle, and some very fine string quartets. The symphonies differ somewhat from the Zemlinsky model, taking influence from Bruckner in structure, but not in harmony. There is little sumptuousness in this rugged music, and it makes me wonder whether much later composers such as Robert Simpson may have known this composer's symphonies. Intriguingly the quartets are more lyrical, relishing in the influence of a long line of composers before him, but infusing the works with a spicy folkish quality which perfectly melds with the composer's free use of the harmonic palette of the time. After a period of success, Weigl was forced to emigrate to the United States where he died a decade later.

Egon Wellesz: Pupil of Schoenberg. A prolific composer in a variety of forms, he is best known for a symphony cycle of 9 pieces which range from somewhat late-Romantic in manner (though individual) to serial. His string quartets are an important body of work as well, with nine numbered works and a few related pieces. The earlier of these were written at the start of his mature phase and offer interesting shades of Schoenberg and Berg's style. They are tightly-sprung pieces, with a nervous drive, and yet rarely angst-ridden. The works weave into an already interesting fabric shades of neo-baroque to form very lucid, gracious and well-considered works which never outstay their welcome. The symphonies are a rewarding and inspiring achievement. Bruckner is his frame of reference, and his presence is felt throughout, and yet by a great feat of inspiration, Wellesz is able to find a natural avenue to take this model and adapt it to the methods of Schoenberg. From the first symphony Wellesz writes in a highly original manner, which should not be surprising given how he arrived rather late to the form, writing his first after his emigration to England. Hearing Brucknerian gestures even in the later somewhat pan-tonal works is a beautiful tribute to the long-belated recognition of the originality of the older composer. It is intriguing that Wellesz found himself in England, where two native contemporaries of a generation later, Frankel and Searle, were writing symphonies with a similar ambition towards extending the medium of the symphony using modern compositional methods, rather than abandoning it as even Schoenberg had done.

Ernst Krenek: Studied under Schreker. Not requiring the introduction of the others, Krenek went through a bewildering series of stylistic phases, ranging from the sumptuous quality of his teacher Schreker, to straight serialism inspired by Schoenberg. It is hard to discern whether he was a perpetual follower or major innovator, but regardless of this question he did tend to find himself at the forefront of the international stylistic trends of his lifetime. His symphonies are impressive and varied, but perhaps not an outstanding achievement as a whole, his choral music very fine, especially Lamentatio Jeremiae prophetae and the string quartets are among the best of the composers I have listed. His single claim to fame is for his jazz opera Jonny spielt auf, but he wrote so much other theatre music of great quality that this area of his output could be where his legacy lies. We just need more good recordings. Karl V in particular is a minor masterpiece.

Emil von Reznicek: A close contemporary of Strauss, Reznicek was not quite so adventurous as the previous composers, nor was he entirely late Romantic. He is remembered for his operetta Donna Diana. His style is a peculiar mix of the impish, a certain neo-classical/baroque edge which could be mistaken for mere conservatism, but these thoughts are belied by occasionally surprisingly up-to-date harmonic splashes. All in all, a hard composer to pin-down. He wrote five symphonies of debatable quality. The first in particular is less than the sum of its parts, and the others are full of intriguing moments and passages which tend to wander a little. I feel that the composer's taste for irreverence is at times a straitjacket to writing music of lasting impact. His violin concerto is an attractive, and brutally pared-back work, with a chamber-like clarity and a beautiful early Romantic sound, constantly tempered by elements of early 20th century harmony. His "joker" reputation is so deeply ingrained that even merely light sections can sound whimsical, but I feel that there is more than enough moments of gravity and beauty in the composer's music to merit his being taken seriously.

Other composers such as Hans Erich Apostel, etc I don't know enough about to write on. Feel free to add to or correct the information on composers I have already listed. Toch and Strauss I don't think were closely associated with Vienna for the large part of their careers - they just lived there for a while at the beginning and end of their lives, respectively. I hope to find more suggestions, perhaps the thread could cover other composers, such as Richard Wetz, who though German wrote symphonies indebted to Schubert and Bruckner.
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Offline Luke

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2011, 12:17:59 PM »
Interesting thread topic, and great OP, thanks!

(Arguably) impotant and certainly fascinating:

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

And one I've loved since boyhood, for his many wonderful op 15 piano pieces:

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

(an almost empty Wiki page - there's hardly anything around on this composer, but I will always think highly and fondly of thos pieces)

Offline Lethevich

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2011, 01:10:20 PM »
Danke, I was looking into Hauer a while ago during a "find out about early dodecaphony" search, but seem not to have followed up on it. From a quick Amazon scan, it looks as though a surprisingly decent selection of his music has been recorded - there's also an Avant-Garde Project entry :)
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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2011, 07:56:01 PM »
Nimbus has made a second career out of recording this miloo (pardon me, my French is a bit). Schmidt's two are the pick of the litter, IMO, and they get a fair silken treatment, though I'm interested in hearing the Moyzses(?) Quartet's recording of the same. I would like to know about the Wellesz SQ disc.

I don't know if I'm ready to tackle the Krenek SQs yet. The MDG set has gotten mixed reviews, but the Peterson only recorded four out of eight. I'm just not the biggest fan of Hindemith's earlier SQs, so I really don't see liking many of these Composers,... I have a feeling many of them will have that 'hysterical' sound I don't like (Toch).

I keep looking for beyond sublime with this crew and I just don't know if they're delivering.

Offline Wanderer

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2011, 08:29:59 PM »
An excellent thread opener, Lethe.  8)

Regarding Wellesz, let me note that he also was a prominent scholar of Byzantine music.

Offline Lethevich

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2011, 02:56:03 PM »
He was a rather international figure, but this fits here too. I've been listening to Artur Schnabel's chamber music recently - excellent stuff. It is very typical of the Schoenberg-influenced style of the time, but sounds quite distinctive. Instead of taking the cue from Schoenberg's plush early music, the style is austere, but not forbidding - despite being rather pointed music it has a fine lyrical flow and strong tension through the often quite densely woven textures. His solo vioin sonata in particular has a slight neo-baroque feel in its ambitions - there aren't any borrowed licks, but the piece ending with a 15 minute entangled, probing movement might have been written with Bach in mind. This interest in extended duration is present in other pieces too, and goes somewhat against the Schoenberg/Webern ideal explored later on, and perhaps is an influence from Schnabel's Schubert advocacy?

I listened to Luke's suggestion of Josef Matthias Hauer in the form of his solo piano works. God, it's good. It has all of the stereotypical "untuned" clunking in monstrous undulations that horrified listeners at the time, but it's so musical. The Klavierstücke mit Überschriften nach Worten von Friedrich Hölderlin is so sensitive and nocturnal. Very much an atonal followup to the kind of works Schumann preferred, although it has a distinctly modern "focus" to it - none of Schumann's interaction of moods supporting and exaggerating each other, it has a rather single-minded and crystaline meditative direction.

Edit: Reviews such as this one can be quite depressing to read. I would like to think that the reviewer genuinely tried to enjoy the music yet still did not, but I have concerns that this is not the case in how out of hand he was in his dismissal.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2011, 03:23:00 PM by Lethe Dmitriyevich Shostakovich »
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canninator

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2011, 10:14:25 AM »
Today I listened to a compilation of works (on Wergo) from Berg's pupil Theodor Adorno (yes, the philosopher Theodor Adorno!). Very competent work but lacking anything original to say. He wears Schoenberg/Berg firmly on his sleeve.

Offline Lethevich

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2011, 03:32:58 PM »
Today I listened to a compilation of works (on Wergo) from Berg's pupil Theodor Adorno (yes, the philosopher Theodor Adorno!). Very competent work but lacking anything original to say. He wears Schoenberg/Berg firmly on his sleeve.

Adorno's music does seem very grey - often a less-than-great composer can make up for his shortcomings in writing memorable music by at least being lively, ambitious or detailed (Schnabel does this) but even when coupled with Eisler, Adorno comes off second-best.
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #8 on: August 08, 2011, 04:59:08 PM »
Hugely interesting thread!

Forgive me though..."the big three" who you are leaving aside? Mahler, Schoenberg and........ ?   Bruckner, Berg, Webern?

I am particularly interested in your comments on Karl Weigl. I have only heard his 5th Symphony and was unaware that the other five were accessible. Have you heard them?

Glad to read your excellent paragraph about Egon Wellesz-a composer whose music I much admire. I started a thread about Wellesz some time ago-

http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,9594.msg242513.html#msg242513

There are three composers I would add to your list:

Felix von Weingartner(1863-1942)

Joseph Marx(1882-1964)

Gottfrried von Einem(1918-1996)

CPO has recorded Weingartner's symphonies and other compositions and they have proved to be works of substance and character. ASV did a similar job for Marx. I have to admit though that his lush romanticism is not really my cup of tea!
von Einem, on the other hand, has not received as much attention and there is still much to be recorded. I know his Piano and Violin Concertos which are both interesting and attractive but not his operas(the most famous of which is 'Danton's Tod from 1944-1946).



Offline Lethevich

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2011, 05:25:27 PM »
Thanks for the reply! I have only heard Weigl's 5th and 6th symphonies, both on BIS, and your mentioning this makes me realise that I can't assume the earlier ones are in the same style. With the "three" I did indeed mean Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, but it was weird to discount Mahler. I suppose that I forget that he is as much a 20th century composer as a 19th century one, as Bruckner remains.

At some point I am going to pick up CPO's Weingartner series, as the JPC.de prices are quite low - but for a one-time 100 Euro pop I need to build up a few funds to justify it ;)
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Viennese composers of the early-mid 20th century
« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2011, 03:17:21 AM »
Heavens! I had forgotten the Weigl 6th. I have that too. Can't remember what it sounds like..so I had better give it another go!