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8.223502 - LACHNER: Symphony No. 5, 'Passionata'

Franz Paul Lachner (1803–1890)
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 52, ‘Preis-Symphonie’


Franz Lachner was born at Rain am Lech in Upper Bavaria in 1803, the son of an organist and clock-maker whose other children also became musicians. His step-brother Theodor, born in 1788, was court organist in Munich and a composer of lieder, part-songs and choral works. Two sisters, Thekla and Christiane, were organists, while Ignaz, born in 1807, a pupil of his brother Franz, had a long and busy career as a composer and conductor, for the fourteen years up to his retirement in 1875 as principal conductor in Frankfurt am Main. A younger brother, Vinzenz, born in 1811, was also a conductor, serving for a time as Kapellmeister at the Kärntnerthor Theatre in Vienna and in Mannheim. The four brothers enjoyed considerable longevity. Theodor died in 1877 at the age of 89, Franzin 1890 at the age of 86, Ignaz in 1895 at the age of 87 and Vinzenzin 1893 at the age of 82. In a remarkable way the Lachners link the age of Beethoven and Schubert to that of Wagner, Liszt and Brahms.

Franz Lachner was taught at first by his father, and at his father’s death in 1822 moved to Munich, where he earned a living for himself as best he could as a teacher and organist. The following year he became organist of the Lutheran church in Vienna. Soon after his arrival in the city he met Schubert, an encounter he recalled in old age. The two would take frequent long walks together and there were convivial gatherings at the Inn Zum Stern with other members of Schubert’s circle, of which he became an intimate member. At the same time he continued his musical training with lessons from the court organist Simon Sechter, with whom Schubert began lessons shortly before his death in 1828. Sechter, a remarkably prolific composer with some 8000 compositions to his credit by the time of his death in 1833, had a considerable academic reputation and counted Bruckner among his many pupils. He is reputed to have written a fugue everyday, but it must be principally as a teacher that he is remembered. Lachner was also able to take lessons from the learned Abbe Stadler, Sechter’s patron. In 1827 he was appointed assistant Kapellmeister at the Kärntnerthor Theatre and two years later Kapellmeister, a position later held by his brother Vinzenz. He was responsible for the first regular series of professional subscription concerts in Vienna, using the theatre orchestra, but the attempt proved premature.

In 1834 Lachner was appointed Kapellmeister at the opera in Mannheim and two years later moved back to Munich, where he won a position of considerable importance, serving as conductor at the court opera and directing the royal Vokalkapelle and the concerts of the Musikalische Akademie. In 1848 he provided Bavaria with its national anthem, Bayern, o Heimatland, and his very successful career in Munich only came to an end with the arrival of Wagner in 1864, when he was forced into reluctant retirement by the royal favourite and his supporters. Wagner’s reign was transitory, and Lachner retained an honoured position in the city, where he died in 1890.

In 1881 Lachner published his memoirs of Schubert. Twenty years earlier, in 1862, when Lachner was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Munich, the artist Moritz Schwind, another member of Schubert’s circle, had honoured Lachner with his water-colour sketches, the so-called “Lachnerrolle”, recalling escapades in which they had taken part as young men in Vienna. One of the sketches shows Lachner, Schubert and the writer Eduard von Bauernfeld drinking at an inn at Grinzing, and another the occasion when Lachner and Schubert, with Schwind and the singer Vogl, returning home late at night, serenaded at the tops of their voices the future inhabitants of a building then in course of construction. It is tempting to hear in Lachner’s later music something of what his friend Schubert might have written, had he lived to complete his counterpoint lessons with Sechter and to continue his career into a later age. Lachner was obviously out of sympathy with Wagner, whose Flying Dutchman he rehearsed for the composer to direct in Munich shortly before he was supplanted as Kapellmeister, although he always behaved with generosity towards him. Liszt too represented a quite different trend in music and castigated Lachner’s opera Catarina Cornaro, which won contemporary success, as a work of thundering philistinism.

The fifth of Lachner’s eight symphonies, the Symphony in C minor, Opus 52, generally known as the “Preis-Symphonie”, and in Germany as the “Passionata”, was written in 1835, when Lachner was conductor of the opera at Mannheim. The symphony won a prize offered by the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, but Schumann, an acute critic, thought the following symphony, No. 6 in D major, twice as good. There is an effective slow introduction to the first movement, followed by an energetic outburst from the orchestra, leading to gentler woodwind recitatives, before the mounting excitement of the first subject of the Allegro, with elements that lend themselves to contrapuntal development before a relaxation of tension into a more lyrical mood. The contrasting elements that had opened the Allegro re-appear to introduce the recapitulation section of a movement conceived in customary classical terms. The slow movement weaves its way gently forward with music of considerable leisurely charm, its spell broken by a Minuet of heavier footed determination. The Trio does not lack weight, but offers a lyrical contrast to the more sombre Minuet that frames it. The symphony ends with a vigorous final movement, starting with music of ominous drama that soon brightens in colour. The movement, however, is predominantly serious in tone and ends in an emphatic C minor coda, with all the strength of Beethoven.

Keith Anderson

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