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8.223342 - MARSCHNER: Overtures

Heinrich August Marschner (1795 -1861 ) Overtures

Heinrich August Marschner (1795-1861)


Kaiser Adolph von Nassau, Op. 130

Des Falkners Braut, Op. 65

Prinz Friedrich von Hornburg, Op. 56

Lukretia, Op. 67

Der Bäbu, Op. 98

Der Goldschmied von Ulm

Der Templer und die Jüdin, Op. 60

Grande Ouverture solenne, Op. 78


Heinrich Marschner was one of the most important composers of German romantic opera in the generation after Weber. He was born in 1795 in Zittau, where his parents had settled. Both his parents had a keen amateur interest in music, his mother as a singer and his father, by trade a craftsman horn-turner, a flautist and harpist. Marschner was a pupil at the Gymnasium in Zittau and sang in the School choir. In 1807 he moved briefly to Bautzen to study at the Gymnasium there and profit from a small stipend and instruction from the organist and cantor Christoph Bergt, whose oratorios he greatly admired. By 1808 he was in Zittau again, shortly to seek lessons in Composition from Karl Gottlob Hering. Five years later he left the Zittau Gymnasium, travelling first to Prague, where he had help from Tomášek, and thence to Leipzig, where he enrolled in the university to study law. In Leipzig he was able to benefit from the instruction of the Thomascantor Schicht and to continue writing music with even greater confidence, now persuaded that his career would be as a musician. A meeting in Karlsbad in 1815 with Count de Varkony led to a journey to Vienna and a visit to and possibly lessons of a kind with Beethoven, in spite of what he at first had perceived as graft discouragement.


Marschner now took employment as a music teacher in the household of Count Johann Nepornuk Zichy at his palace in Pressburg (the modern Bratislava) and at the Count's Hungarian estate. A year later, in 1817, he married and on the death of his wife married in 1820 the pianist Franziska Jaeggi, Who was to die five years later. During the years he spent in Pressburg Marschner made his first serious attempts at the composition of opera with Heinrich IV und d'Aubigné and Saidar und Zulima, both with libretti by his friend Dr. August Gottlieb Hornbostel, writing here under the pen-name of Heinrich Alberti. The first of these works was accepted by Weber for production in Dresden, where Marschner settled in 1821. Here he enjoyed a richer cultural life and there were commissions for incidental music from the theatre Intendant Könneritz, although Weber opposed his appointment in 1824 to succeed Morlacchi as Kapellmeister.


An early commission in Dresden was for incidental music to Kleist's Prinz Friedrich von Homburg. The hero of the title, a general in the service of Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg, appears first sleep-walking and observed by fellow courtiers, as he weaves a laurel wreath, decked with gold by the Elector and offered to him by the Elector's niece, Princess Natalie, for whom Prince Friedrich declares his love. The drama lies in his impetuous disregard of orders at the battle of Fehrbellin, a cavalry charge, contrary to the plan of battle, and triumph in victory, rewarded by sentence of death for disobedience. His admission of guilt earns him final pardon and the hand of Princess Natalie in a scene that recalls the opening. The compelling overture makes a dramatic introduction to the play, the initial rejection of which had been partly instrumental in Kleist's suicide ten years earlier. The Dresden production of 1821 marked a turn in its fortunes and successful productions followed in other cities, generally with the incidental music that Marschner had provided. The overture starts with a slow introduction that includes a romantic clarinet melody, before the Tempo di marcia and an Allegro con fuoco, the last introduced by the strings. The military theme re-appears to provide a secondary element in the sonata-form movement, much more than Kapellmeistermusik, as Anton Rubinstein alleged, from the security of w hat might be thought a fragile enough glass house.


On Weber's death in 1826, Marschner was not appointed to succeed him in Dresden. Now with a third wife, a singer, the second having died in 1825, he travelled to Berlin and thence to Breslau and to Danzig, where he and his wife were given a six month contract. Here in January 1827 his two-act opera Lukretia was staged. The libretto, by August Eckschlager, Kapellmeister of the German opera in Pressburg, retells the story of Lucretia and the tyrant Tarquinius, defeated by the Romans after Lucrelia, a rôle taken by Marschner's wife Marianne, had killed herself. There were only three performances, although Marschner sought to defend this as not unusual with German opera. The overture is impressive enough, with its slow introduction to summon attention leading to an Allegro vivace, duly worked out in familiar form.


Further travel followed the contract in Danzig, with Marschner continuing to compose and to write on musical subjects, not least in support of his own claims to notice as a composer. In the autumn of 1827 he and his wife were in Leipzig, where the latter had been offered a short contract at the Stadt-theater. It was here in 1828 that Marschner's first operatic collaboration with his brother-in-law Wilhelm August Wohlbrück look place, Der Vampyr, on a fashionably horrifying subject. Wohlbrück, an actor like his father before him, also provided Marschner with a libretto for his next romantic opera Der Templer und die Jüdin, based on a play derived from Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, staged in Leipzig in 1829, and an adaptation of a work by the actor and writer Karl Spindler, Des Falkners Braut, mounted in Leipzig in 1832. The first, not entirely true to Scott, is based on the heroism of Rebecca, defended by Wilfred of Ivanhoe, her champion, against her would-be lover and enforced challenger Bois-Guilbert. The overture, here in a version edited by Hans Pfitzner, has an appropriately dramatic slower introduction followed by an Allegro con fuoco ed energico with the customary thematic contrast and development in music well designed to prepare an audience for the coming drama.


In 1830 Marschner accepted an appointment as conductor at the Hanover Hoftheater. He now enjoyed a very considerable reputation as a composer, but hoped to make an impression in the theatre in Berlin. It was with this end in view that he worked on Des Falkners Braut (The Falconer's Bride), which seemed to suit his purpose. The plot, unduly extended to three acts, centres on Rosine, at first engaged to marry the falconer, who already has obligations to another, Johanne, and then plighted to a French officer, Letellier, one of the invading army. Johanne remains faithful always to her falconer, whom she eventually marries, becoming the falconer's bride of the title, while Rosine is abandoned by her French lover, when the invading army is ordered back home once more. Intrigue prevented the planned production in Berlin, where Spontini was in a position of over-riding importance, leading to the eventual staging in Leipzig. The overture opens with the sound of a military side-drum and a lively piccolo tune, suggesting the military fife. This leads to an Allegro vivace in which the fife and drum re-appear as a third thematic element in a sonata-form movement. Marschner's most successful opera, Hans Heiling, however, was produced in Berlin in 1833 to an enthusiastic welcome. In Leipzig the work was instrumental in the award of an honorary doctorate from the university. It was in Leipzig too that the romantic opera Das Schloss am Ätna was first staged.


In 1837 Marschner completed the first of his operas to be staged for the first time in Hanover. Mounted there in 1838, Der Bäbu has a libretto by Wohlbrück, and a plot of some complexity that centres on the cunning trickster of the title, a slave in the household of the Sultan Ali, who nevertheless cheats his master out of his property and causes a great deal of further mischief, before final retribution. Set in Calcutta, the characters include Muslims, Hindus and English. The overture provides a conventional introduction, without much trace of local colour or exoticism. The Vivo first section introduces the first melodic material, followed by an Andantino with a more sentimental clarinet theme, before the return of the livelier principal theme, its progress broken by a brief cello solo and a subsidiary subject, to be duly developed and recapitulated.


The year 1842 brought a novel use of the English national anthem in a Grand Overture in celebration of the birth of a son to Queen Victoria, a work that treats the material with some ingenuity. An Andante maestoso presents the theme in unusually dramatic form. There follows an Allegro brillante with a cheerfully operatic first subject and various transformations of the national anthem, which is subject to harmonic variation, fragmented and even treated fugally. The following year there was music for a pageant to celebrate the marriage of the Hanoverian Crown Prince and Princess Marie von Altenburg, a short dramatic piece, and in 1845 a romantic opera Kaiser Adolph von Nassau, with a libretto by the clergyman Heribert Rau, better known for his imaginative kulturhistorische Romane, novels based on the lives of famous poets and composers. Adolph of Nassau, declared Emperor, finds himself pitted against Gerhard, an ambitious general, and a rival in love, Count Gerolseck. The Emperor is killed by Gerolseck, who is then condemned to death by Gerhard. The opera ends as Adolph dies in the arms of his beloved Imagina, and the magnanimous Habsburg Albrecht is declared Emperor. There was no performance in Hanover, but Wagner was instrumental in securing a first performance in Dresden in 1845. There, according to Wagner, it was a signal failure. The overture, however, is imposing enough, with its ominous slow introduction, followed by an Allegro molto con fuoco, a sonata-form movement that sets the mood for the drama that follows.


The following years in Hanover brought two allegorical pageants by the Hanover theatre-director August Conway von Waterford-Perglass and a further romantic opera, Austin, with a libretto by Marschner's wife Marianne, staged in Hanover in 1852, its failure due largely to the poor quality of the libretto, as had been the case with Kaiser Adolph von Nassau. After the death of his third wife in 1854, Marschner married again, finding consolation for his loss with another singer, Therese Jander, the inspiration of a number of songs. In 1856 he wrote incidental music for a play by Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal, a writer of some distinction and the librettist of Nicolai's Merry Wives of Windsor. Der Goldschmied von Ulm (The Goldsmith of Ulm) recalls Hans Heiling in its magic plot. Heinrich, a goldsmith's apprentice, makes a bargain with the Devil, which brings him riches, if not at first the girl he loves. All ends well, after various changes of fortune, when Heinrich, poor, rich, then poor again, is released from his pact and re-united with his beloved Katharina. The effective overture opens ominously enough with a slow introduction that leads, by way of a passage in which the horns assure importance, to a Tempo di Marcia for the wind instruments, followed by an Allegro ma non troppo, the main section of the overture. The principal theme leads to a more tranquil and lyrical secondary theme, developed with colourful orchestration, scored as it is for a wind section that includes four horns, trumpets, trombones and tuba. Earlier elements re-appear as the music rises to a triumphant conclusion.


Marschner's last opera was Sangeskönig Hiarne, set in Orkney in the eighth century with a libretto by Wilhelm Grote and suggestions of Wagnerian myth. Marschner, failing to find a German opera-house to stage the work, took it to Paris, where his wife entertained strong ambitions for herself. Efforts were made to persuade the French that he was a much worthier representative of German art than Wagner, then occupied in the Paris production of Tannhäuser, but to no effect. Marschner's assistance to Ignaz Lachner, who was seeking appointment as Kapellmeister in Frankfurt-am-Main, led to a posthumous production there in 1863 and attempts by Franz Lachner to stage the work in Munich. The latter came to nothing, while the former gave rise only to a few performances. Marschner himself died in Hanover in December 1861.


Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice)


The East Slovakian town of Košice boasts a long and distinguished musical tradition, as part of a province that once provided Vienna with musicians. The State Philharmonic Orchestra is of relatively recent origin and was established in 1968 under the conductor Bystrik Rezucha. Subsequent principal conductors have included Stanislav Macura and Ladislav Slovák, the latter succeeded in 1985 by his pupil Richard Zimmer. The orchestra has toured widely in Eastern and Western Europe and plays an important part in the Košice Musical Spring and the Košice International Organ Festival.


For Marco Polo the orchestra has made the first compact disc recordings of rare works by Granville Bantock and Joachim Raff. Writing on the last of these, one critic praised the orchestra for its competence comparable to that of the major orchestras of Vienna and Prague. The orchestra has contributed many successful volumes to the complete compact disc Johann Strauss II and for Naxos has recorded a varied repertoire.


Alfred Walter


Alfred Walter was born in Southern Bohemia in 1929 of Austrian parents. He studied at the University of Graz and in 1948 was appointed assistant conductor to the Opera of Ravensburg. At the age of 22 he became conductor of the Graz Opera, where he continued until 1965, while serving at Bayreuth as assistant to Hans Knappertsbusch and Karl Böhm. From 1966 until 1969 he was Principal Conductor of the Durban Symphony Orchestra in South Africa, followed by a period of fifteen years as General Director of Music in Münster. In Vienna he has worked as guest conductor at the State Opera and in 1986 was given the title of Professor by the Austrian Government. In 1980 he was awarded the Golden Medal of the International Gustav Mahler Society. For Marco Polo, Alfred Walter has recorded more than 15 volumes of the label's Johann Strauss II Edition, works by von Schillings, von Einem, de Bériot, Reinecke and all the symphonic works of Furtwängler. He is currently engaged in recording the complete symphonies of Spohr.

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