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8.559018 - STRONG: Symphony No. 2, 'Sintram' / Chorale
George Templeton Strong (1856-1948)
Although his career was chiefly in Europe, George Templeton Strong always considered himself an American composer. He was born in New York City on 26 May 1856, into a musical family, his mother a singer and his father, a lawyer, an amateur organist, a trustee of Columbia College, and for four years the president of the Philharmonic Society of New York. Strong began the study of the piano and violin as a child, becoming proficient on both instruments, but a strong predilection for the oboe led him to abandon the other instruments in its favour. As an oboist he played in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra but his choice of music as a profession led to a breach with his father, healed before the latter's death in 1881. In 1879 he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, studying with Richard Hoffmann and Salomon Jadassohn. Here he once again changed instruments, this time to the viola In 1881 he met Liszt, whose advice he often sought, and made the acquaintance of other leading musicians of the time.
In 1883 Strong composed his third symphonic poem, Undine, Opus 14. When he asked Liszt if this work was worthy of being dedicated to the master, Liszt is said to have suggested that Strong sit down at the piano and play his tone-poem, but when the younger composer stumbled over the orchestral score, Liszt nudged him aside and played it himself. After reading through the score, Liszt wrote on the upper left corner of the first page that he was glad to accept the honour of the dedication. In 1886 Strong moved to Wiesbaden, where he met and became close friends with another American composer, Edward MacDowell, to whom he dedicated his Three Symphonic Idylls for Two Pianos, Opus 29. During his years at Wiesbaden, Strong composed his much acclaimed cantata The Haunted Mill, Three Songs for Mezzo-soprano with Orchestra and the Second Ballad in G minor for piano, and completed his Symphony No.2 in G minor, Opus 50, which he also dedicated to MacDowell.
After MacDowell's return to the United States the two continued their correspondence, their over 120 letters now preserved in a special collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. By 1890 Strong had moved to Vevey in Switzerland and the following year MacDowell persuaded him to become a member of the faculty of the New England Conservatory. Although he did teach there briefly, illness prevented him from remaining, and in October 1892 he returned to Vevey, where he became absorbed by watercolour painting between 1897 and 1912, founding the Société Vaudoise des Aquarellistes. He now pursued the working life of a professional painter and became friends with one of the best known watercolourists in Switzerland, Paul Bouvier. During this period of his creative life, Strong wrote virtually no music.
Upon settling in Geneva in 1913, however, Strong again resumed composition, while continuing his watercolour painting, with the two arts alternating between hobby and vocation for the rest of his life. What persuaded him to return to composition was the Swiss premiere of his Symphony No.2 ("Sintram") in 1912. This was also the start of along and enduring friendship with Carl Ehrenberg, conductor of the Lausanne Orchestra which performed the work. In 1913 he completed The Night Four Little Symphonic Poems for Orchestra, of which Ernest Ansermet gave the first performance on 27 November of the same year. In 1916 he completed his symphonic poem Le roi Arthur, which he had started in 1891, a major work that was also given its first performance by Ansermet, with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
The symphonic poem An der See, known as Symphony No.3, was lost in or between Chicago and Vevey. There followed the Elégie for cello and orchestra and Une vie d'artiste for violin and orchestra, dedicated to Joseph Szigeti, with piano suites on fairy-tales and Indian themes as well as songs on his own and other texts.
In 1923 Strong wrote his lively Hallali for Horn Solo with Orchestra and the Suite for Violoncello and Orchestra. More songs, a few chamber works and piano pieces were also published at this time. In 1929 he became dominated by what he called "my piano mistress", writing 58 piano pieces in a period of 98 days, including an extraordinary set of Twenty-Five Preludes. During the summer he spent much time painting and in October he wrote the Chorale on a Theme by Hans Leo Hassler, for string orchestra. After Pollainiana: Six Piece, for Violoncello and Orchestra (1931) he composed very little. There were works for two pianos, more songs (his last song, composed in 1940, was a setting of the Lord's Prayer), a String Quartet (1935) and after the war the orchestral D 'un cahier d'imafies I-III and the symphonic poem Ondine (a revision of his earlier Undine), both from around 1945. Much loved by his adopted country, Strong was honoured every five years from the age of 75 to the age of 90 by birthday concerts and special musical evenings. He died in Geneva on 27 June 1948, at the age of 92.
Two of Strong's best known works are offered on the present recording Symphony No.2 in G minor, Opus 50, entitled Sintram, after de la Motte Fouqué's romance and drawing additional inspiration from Albrecht Dürer's famous Ritter, Tod und Teufel (The Knight, Death and the Devil) was first performed by the Philharmonic Society of New York, under Anton Seidl, on 4 March 1893. The score was published in Leipzig the following year Sintram: The Struggle of Mankind Against the Powers of Evil, to give the work its full name, has additionally, at the head of the score, a quotation from Goethe's Faust:
Fouque's Sintram is a tale that revolves around Bjorn, a Norse knight of unbridled temper and relentless cruelty, and his son Sintram, whose life is blighted by a curse, the result of his father's misdeeds. The story culminates in the comforting and saving power of Christianity, in which they finally find peace, as opposed to the indulgence of wild passions nurtured by barbarous feudal customs, two elements that are clearly set forth in the first movement of the symphony by the chorale-like theme and by the fierce, violent counter-themes In an explanatory note to his work Fouqué acknowledges that for the fundamental idea of Sintram he was influenced by a woodcut by Albrecht Dtirer showing a knight riding in companionship with Death through a valley of poisonous plants and hideous creatures. A spectre pursues the two riders, stretching out his arms in a vain effort to seize the knight, who calmly looks forward to his goal, a distant castle.
The first two movements of the symphony, which have no titles according to the composer, suggest the normal development of life in human communities Because there is so much contrast between the first two and last two movements, Strong provided titles for the latter The third movement, The Three Terrible Companions: Death, the Devil and Insanity, is essentially a musical retelling of Fouqué's romance, coloured by Dürer's woodcut. The fourth movement, The Victorious Struggle, is an expression of hope for the future in the struggle against evil.
Strong's Chorale on a Theme by Hans Leo Hassler was orchestrated in October 1929 and first performed by the Paris Orchestra of St Pierre-Fusterie conducted by Louis Durey on 13 May 1933. It was later performed in Geneva under Ernest Ansermet Hassler's chorale Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden (When the Last Hour Comes) was originally published in 1601. Consisting of five harmonized sections, in Strong's instrumentation the work moves from Adagio to Lento molto e tranquillo, almost as if it were a veiled funeral procession. The writer William Loring finds it ironic that Strong wrote the work around the time of the American stock-market crash and the start of the Great Depression and others have found it finely conceived and immensely moving.
Victor and Marina Ledin
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