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8.553230 - MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 4 / TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6, 'Pathetique'
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Felix Mendelssohn, grandson of the distinguished Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, was born in Hamburg in 1809, second of the four children of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn. The additional name Bartholdy was assumed at the suggestion of Felix Mendelssohn's rich uncle, the art-collector and writer Jakob Salomon-Bartholdy, a token of the fact that that branch of the family had become Christian, accepting what the Jewish poet Heine was to describe as" a ticket of admission into European culture".
As a child Mendelssohn showed prodigious talent in composition and as a pianist, gifts that received parental encouragement. It was on the advice of old Cherubini, the dour director of the Conservatoire in Paris, that his father allowed him to become a professional musician, a career in which he was to distinguish himself as a composer and as a conductor.
In his earlier years Mendelssohn wrote twelve string symphonies, one of which he arranged for full orchestra. Of the five later symphonies three form part of standard orchestral repertoire, the so-called Scottish Symphony, the Reformation and the Italian, all of them conceived, at least, during the Grand Tour of Europe that Abraham Mendelssohn had planned for his son in the early 1830s.
Mendelssohn's subsequent career took him to Leipzig, where, from 1835, he conducted the Gewandhaus Orchestra and was later to be instrumental in the establishment of a conservatory. In 1841 he became involved in attempts in Berlin by the new Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, to bring about a general reform of the arts in his kingdom, attempts that were to be largely frustrated.
The association with Potsdam, however, led to the composition of incidental music for plays by Sophocles and Racine, and for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, on the subject of which he had earlier written an Overture
The Italian Symphony was completed in 1833 but remained unpublished in Mendelssohn's lifetime because of his dissatisfaction with it and his intention of revising the first movement. The ideas for the work were developed during his stay in Italy in 1831, and the whole symphony, described by the Vienna critic Eduard Hanslick as "full of sweet enchantment, an intoxicating floral fragrance", fits well enough the composer's own view of it as "the gayest thing I have ever done". The first movement opens with the violins offering the initial cheerful theme, over repeated wind chords. Classical procedure is followed, with clarinets and bassoons playing a second subject over a busy string accompaniment. The central development of the movement introduces a third theme, with the opening figure providing material that leads to the re-appearance of the first subject and the recapitulation. The second movement is the famous Pilgrims' March, the solemn theme of the procession announced by oboes, bassoons and violas, with the melody unfolding over the rhythmic march of the lower strings. A third movement, described by one critic as "a Biedermeier minuet", has about it something of the spirit of Mendelssohn's fairy music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, but it is in the rapid elegance of the final Saltarello and the concluding Neapolitan tarantella that this mood is decisively recaptured.
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all Russian composers, his music offering certain obvious, superficial attractions in its melodies and in the richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more to Tchaikovsky than this, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievement because of what sometimes seems to be an excess of popular attention.
Born in Kamsko-Votkinsk in 1840, the second son of a mining engineer, Tchaikovsky had his early education, in music as in everything else, at home, under the care of his mother and of a beloved governess. From the age of ten he was a pupil at the School of Jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, completing his course there in 1859 to take employment in the Ministry of Justice. During these years he developed his abilities as a musician and it must have seemed probable that he would, like his contemporaries Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, keep music as a secondary occupation, while following another career.
For Tchaikovsky matters turned out differently. The foundation of the new Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg under Anton Rubinstein enabled him to study there as a full-time student from 1863. In 1865 he moved to Moscow as a member of the staff of the new Conservatory established by Anton Rubinstein's brother Nikolay He continued there for some ten years, before financial assistance from a rich widow, Nadezhda von Meck, enabled him to leave the Conservatory and devote himself entirely to composition. There same period in his life brought an unfortunate marriage to a self-proclaimed admirer of his work, a woman who showed early signs of mental in stability and could only add further to Tchaikovsky's own problems of character and inclination. His homosexuality was a torment to him, while his morbid sensitivity and diffidence, coupled with physical revulsion for the woman he had married, led to a severe nervous break-down.
Separation from his wife, which was immediate, still left practical and personal problems to be solved Tchaikovsky's relationship with Nadezhda von Meck, however, provided not only the money that at first was necessary for his career, but also the understanding and support of a woman who, so far from making physical demands of him, never even met him face to face. This curiously remote liaison only came to an end in 1890, when, on the false plea of bankruptcy, Nadezhda von Meck discontinued an allowance that was no longer of importance, and a correspondence on which he had come to depend.
The story of Tchaikovsky's death in St Petersburg in 1893 is now generally known. It seems that a member of the nobility had threatened to complain to the Tsar about an alleged homosexual relationship between Tchaikovsky and his son. To avoid open scandal a court of honour of Tchaikovsky's old school-fellows met and condemned him to death, forcing him to take his own life. His death was announced as the result of cholera, and this official version of the event was, until relatively recently, generally accepted.
Tchaikovsky's last symphony, called, at the prompting of his brother Modest, the Pathetique, rather than simply Programme Symphony, as the composer had originally intended, was first performed in St Petersburg under Tchaikovsky's direction on 16th October (28th October on the Western calender), 1893. The programme of the work, which had been sketched earlier in the year and orchestrated during the summer, was autobiographical. He had jotted down a rough plan in 1892. The whole essence of the plan of the symphony is Life First movement - all impulsive, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short (Finale - Death - result of collapse). Second movement love; third disappointed; fourth ends dying away (also short) In a letter to his nephew Bob Davidov he had suggested that the programme of the symphony was to be a secret, but subjective to the core This it remained, although the details of the original scheme were to be modified.
The first movement opens with a slow introduction, in which the bassoon, over divided double basses, prefigures the theme of the following Allegro. Here there is conflict for life, leading to the tenderness of the second subject, a love theme. This in turn fades into a whispered bassoon fragment, marked, with characteristic exaggeration, pppppp, in a symphony that is later to reach the other dynamic extreme of ffff. Compressed in its use of traditional symphonic form, the movement interrupts the surge of life with the presence of death and with overt references to elements of the Russian Orthodox Requiem. The second movement is in unconventional 5/4 time, something that Hanslick, in his hostile review of the first performance in Vienna in 1895, found loathsome. The melody, however, must seem a particularly fine example of Tchaikovsky's powers of invention, a gift allowed such apt expression in his ballet scores. The middle section of the movement admits the intrusion of an ominous element of mortality, with its descending scale of death. There follows a scherzo, its first subject leading to a march in which triumph is tinged with irony In the succeeding final movement there is a stark confrontation with death, as the music, entrusted as at the beginning to the darker toned lower instruments of the orchestra, fades to nothing.
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
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