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8.223594 - LACHNER: Symphony No. 8 / Ball-Suite

Franz Paul Lachner (1803–1890)
Symphony No. 8 in G Minor, Op. 100 • Ball-Suite in D Major, Op. 170


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, Franz in 1890 at the age of 86, Ignaz in 1895 at the age of 87 and Vinzenz in 1893 at the age of 82. In a remarkable way the Lachners link the age of Beethoven and Schubert to that of Brahms, Liszt and Wagner.

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 every day, but it must be principally as a teacher that he is remembered. Lachner was also able to take lessons from the learned Abbé 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 last of Lachner’s symphonies, the Symphony No. 8 in G minor, Opus 100, was published in Mainz in 1851. It is scored for the usual orchestra of the period, with four horns and three trombones. The first movement opens with a slow and ominous introduction, in which the ascending figure first stated by the violas, assumes some importance. The Allegro maestoso that follows is in the customary form, with a robust first subject contrasted with a relative major second subject of more lyrical character, entrusted to the first violins. The central development finds a place for contrapuntal interplay, using material derived from the introduction and from the Allegro itself. The process is interrupted by a brief flute recitative, followed by a more extended passage for solo oboe. There is a modified recapitulation, a bassoon leading to the final emphatic statement of the tonic key of G minor. The horns usher in violas and bassoons at the opening of the gentle G major Andante, before the violas, divided and accompanied by cellos and double basses, introduce the long-drawn principal theme. Further thematic material of similar characteristics derived from this, moving through other keys. The upper strings bring back the first theme, now with a decorative flute accompaniment, leading to a return of the secondary material drawn from its original accompaniment. The movement ends with the serenity with which it had started. The G minor Scherzo, opens in a mood suggesting Mendelssohn in texture and in the handling of the orchestra. The cellos announce the theme now as a fugal subject, to be answered by violas, second violins, double basses and bassoons and first violins in turn. The flutes take the lead in the G major Trio, after which the Scherzo is repeated. The Finale starts with an energetic G minor theme. Oboes and bassoons offer a secondary theme, leading to material in strong dotted rhythms. A dramatic transition leads to shifts of tonality, before the return of the principal subject and traces of more lyrical material. The symphony ends with a dramatic Presto in the original key of G minor, with no attempt to turn to a more optimistic and triumphant major key.

Lachner’s Ball-Suite was published in Leipzig in 1874. It opens with an introduction, ending in a flute solo that ushers in a D major Polonaise, with a contrasting B major section. A return of the first material is interrupted by a further dramatic and briefer B major passage, before the original Polonaise brings the movement to an end. An F-sharp minor Mazurka follows, with an F-sharp major trio section that gives prominence to the woodwind. The third movement Walzer, in B minor, is heralded by the horns, before the dance begins. There is a contrasting B major passage and the original key is restored, before the concluding B major coda. The fourth movement Intermezzo, marked Andantino grazioso and in the key of G major, has a brief introduction, before a graceful and elegant dance starts. Trumpets announce a more dramatic central section in E minor that allows a solo viola to precede the return of the principal G major material. The E minor Dreher, a dance with an asymmetrical rhythm, brings a G major first Trio and an E major second Trio that opens with a fragment of the theme for the bassoon. The suite continues with Lance, a B minor Allegretto with a gently lilting oboe melody, moving to a livelier B major. The first key is restored for a violin solo. A more animated D major section ushers in a B minor cello solo, the original melody now leading to a quicker D major, a concluding section that still allows the inclusion of contrasting material, before an exhilarating conclusion to the ball.

Keith Anderson

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