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8.223853 - LAZZARI: Symphony in E-Flat Major / Maritime Pictures

Sylvio Lazzari (1857–1944)
Symphony in E Flat Major – Maritime Pictures


Lazzari (his real first names were Josef Fortunat Silvester) was born in Bozen, Southern Tyrol, on 30 December 1857. His father was from Naples, his mother an Austrian. To give in to his parent’s wishes he interrupted his training as a violinist to study in Innsbruck, Munich and Vienna, where in 1882 he obtained his doctor’s degree. The same year, during a visit to Paris, following the advice of Ernest Chausson and Charles Gounod who both had recognised his gifts, Lazzari decided to devote himself entirely to music. At the Conservatoire he became a pupil of Emest Guiraud and of César Franck. Already in his Austrian period, a collection of songs by Lazzari had been published by Breitkopf & Härtel. During his Conservatoire period, a Trio (1886), a Quatuor (1887) and an Octuor (1889) were produced and performed with considerable success. It was Lazzari’s magnificent Quatuor en la mineur the first string quartet ever composed at the time of the so-called modern school,that whetted the appetite of French musicians and concert-goers for chamber music. César Franck’s own Quatuor en ré majeur followed two years later, most probably inspired by Lazzari’s.

Lazzari is occasionally remembered today as a composer of five operas: Armor (1889–94), La Lépreuse (1899–1902), Maelenis (1905–1912), Le Sauteriot (1913–17) and La Tour de Feu (1928), practically all of which had suffered unfortunate events before performance and now still await revival. The fate of La Lépreuse, considered Lazzari’s masterwork, is one of the most eventful. The work remained blocked for almost twelve years, not because of the “terrifying subject” of its libretto, but mainly owing to contractual misunderstandings between the composer and the management of the Paris Opera, which ended in a painful court case. Armor, after having been accepted, but later rejected by the Brussels Opera in favour of Vincent d’Indy’s Fervaal, was only produced at the Deutsches Theater of Prague under the composer’s baton ten years later. Maelenis had to wait fifteen years before its first performance and La Tour de Feu was withdrawn after its third performance owing to some “matters of distribution”. Only Le Sauteriot could be performed shortly after its completion, and this under the composer’s baton at the Chicago Opera, with further guest performances in New York.

Lazzari, who for some time was president of the Paris Wagner-Verein and chorus master at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, died of pulmonary embolism in his house at Suresnes on 10 June 1944, two weeks before he was due to attend a broadcast concert performance of extended selections from La Tour de Feu. This has survived in the archives and had to be interrupted because of an air-raid. Lazzari retired to the Paris suburbs for forty years and during his last decade suffered from deteriorating eyesight. In a vivid broadcast interview we can hear the 85-year-old composer telling us how he amused himself sometimes by “turning the tap on” to listen to some music from the Radio, and stumbling occasionally over one of his own pieces. In the same interview he reveals “his love and admiration of the Bach of the Mass in B Minor, the Beethoven of the Ninth Symphony and the string quartets, his tenderness for Schumann and his passion for Wagner”.

Emile Vuillermoz, a contemporary of Lazzari, describes him as a “dry and strong man, looking like a retired cavalry officer, with an energetic face and commanding in talk, always ready to be aroused and to throw himself into a passionate discussion”. He loathed all kind of intrigues, often indispensable to self-promotion. With his temper, his instinct of self-defence and tendency to speak out the truth, he raised countless obstacles to his own career. The report of his struggles could make a long story. What made Lazzari’s character even greater was that he showed a sincere and impartial interest in his fellow composers, including those of the younger generation.

Although Lazzari’s music is influenced by Richard Wagner, Ernest Chausson and César Franck, it is highly individual in style and of a decidedly more virile temper than those three he considered his masters. It always sounds uncompromising, well-constructed and mature. Lazzari had a way with absolute, program and theatre music, and knew how to write for singers and for instrumental soloists. A predilection for Breton legends had brought him into contact with the folklore of that region and three of his operas (Armor, La Lépreuse and La Tour de Feu) deal with such subjects, either from the times of King Arthur, or from the Middle Ages, or from the seventeenth Century. On La Tour de Feu it may be interesting to mention that it was Lazzari himself who wrote its libretto and that at its 1928 premiere and for the first time in the history of opera, a cinematic sequence was included.

Symphonie en mi bemol

The Symphony in E flat major, on the manuscript of which there is no date of composition, is undeservedly neglected besides those magnificent Symphonies of César Franck, Ernest Chausson, Paul Dukas and Louis Vierne, which are the pride of French music history. It follows the so-called “cyclic” form Franck had launched with his Symphony in D minor (1886–88), that of a new kind of three-movement symphony, (a slow introduction with two allegros framing a slow movement), in which the sonata principles were still respected, but which was based on themes not contrasting, but mainly related to each other. This pattern had also been more or less adopted by Vincent d’Indy in his Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français (1886), by Chausson in his Symphony in B flat major (1890) and by Dukas in his Symphony in C major (1895–6). Lazzari re-introduced a Scherzo, though still not in its full A-B-A pattern, to the central part of his slow movement, after Franck and Chausson had only used scherzo-like themes. It was Louis Vierne who offered an extended and independent Scherzo in his Symphony in A minor, written probably one or two years later than Lazzari’s Symphony. Franck’s characteristics also included the use of chorale-like themes and of an opening nucleus motif, displayed through a slow introduction, making up the main theme of the first movement, finally to span the whole work and to bring it to a triumphant finale, in which most of the previous material was to be recapitulated and combined.

Lazzari’s Symphony was first performed in Paris by the Association des Concerts Lamoureux under the baton of Camille Chevillard, the conductor who was to give the first performance of Vierne’s Symphony twelve years later on 24 March 1907. The program included the Prelude du Deluge by Saint-Saëns and vocal and orchestral selections from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. A further performance by the same artists occurred on 6 March 1910, this time followed by the Overture to Weber’s Freischütz and selections from Wagner’s Siegfried and Chabrier’s Gwendoline.

It is scored for normal orchestral forces and, compared to Franck’s Symphony, augmented by a flute, a bassoon and a triangle, but with only three trumpets, and not two trumpets and two valve cornets. It is interesting to note that Chausson had used four trumpets (and no cornets), but only two bassoons, and that both Chausson and Lazzari had insisted on the use of the cor anglais in the slow movement, particularly after Franck had been reproached by the critics. In other words, Lazzari’s Symphony requires an ensemble of three flutes (the third doubling piccolo), two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, tuba, timpani, percussion (triangle and cymbals only), harp and Strings.

In character, Lazzari’s Symphony appears more energetic than both his predecessor’s, not as rigid in its form as Franck’s, but still not as nearly rhapsodic in the use of its themes and transparent in its orchestration as Chausson’s, whose music sounds closer to Wagner. Indeed, Chausson’s Symphony remains unequalled as far as drama and passion are concerned. Lazzari’s themes, musical build-up and orchestration reveal a more straightforward, masculine character, conforming to his alpine origins. His merits are that not only did he achieve a more sophisticated and complex formal and contrapuntal setting than his predecessors, but also a slightly more modern and “rough” sound through the use of dissonances and an instrumentation reaching sometimes extremes which Franck and Chausson had not dared to explore. It is just one of those extremes, a very high part for the first violins in various sections (a somehow unbalanced and dangerous one, compared to the other strings), which probably makes impatient orchestras and conductors hesitate, or even capitulate in front of Lazzari’s Symphony. Another interesting feature in the orchestration is that the part of the first trumpet is quite demanding and has to sustain some difficult solo passages over densely set tutti.

The fascination of this Symphony makes it easy to overlook some stylistic and a few puzzling (perhaps unconscious) thematic allusions to other composers like Franck and d’Indy. In some aspects it may already be in shy sympathy with those symphonies by Albéric Magnard, Guy Ropartz, Florent Schmitt and Charles Tournemire, which had successfully detached themselves from the Franckian school and already laid the ground for the French music of the twentieth Century. No wonder that Arthur Honegger, who in 1942, to celebrate the composer’s 85th birthday, had proposed a revival of Lazzari’s Symphony, wrote: “It is a work full of rich music, sounding magnificent and of powerful structure.”

The thematic nucleus (or germ cell) of Lazzari’s Symphony in E flat is a three-note motif, A - B-flat - G, of similar answering character to Chausson’s more extended B-flat - C - D - C - B-flat - F, compared to Franck’s “Muss es sein?”-like the questioning motif D - C-sharp - F. Contrary, however, to his two predecessors, Lazzari does not indulge in an extended introduction, his nucleus is modestly presented in six bars before the Symphony takes its way. This short opening will be heard again in a different orchestration before the recapitulation. It is also interesting to note that the nucleus is mostly followed by a syncopated extension including one more note, C, to become clearly related to Beethoven’s “Es muss sein!”—motif of his F major String Quartet, Op 135. In the course of the Symphony, the nucleus is used in many ways, first to appear at critical moments, as necessarily in the first movement’s climaxes and coda and in the third movement, then to return more or less in a hidden form and sometimes transposed, as already in the introduction, in some other themes or counter-themes, or to link together the movement’s sections, or even to serve here and there as an ostinato accompaniment figuration. While, for example, in the slow movement the nucleus is not explicitly present, it can be discovered in the final bar’s triplets of the main theme and later in a transition section preceding the movement’s second theme. These few thematic examples only refer to characteristics of the principal themes and it would take more space to illustrate all the Symphony’s interesting correlations.

The first movement, set in a duple rhythm of 6/8 and 2/4, contains three themes: the principal one in the main key, variation of the nucleus and its extension, a marching chorale theme in C minor and a syncopated triplet theme in B flat major of dance-like character, dangerously related to the main theme of d’Indy’s Symphonie sur un chant montagnard français. The development section, involving the main theme and its transitory variation only, is announced by a short, incomplete fugue (also on the main theme) leading to the first climax. The remaining two themes make up their own secondary development sections through competing activity before each climax. The recapitulation leads to the second climax, in which the nucleus and its extension are, again, passionately displayed canon-like, reaching peace again in a lyrical coda of Wagnerian complexion.

In the following Lent in 3/4, a plaintive melody in G minor is followed by a dotted, more chromatic secondary theme, related to Franck’s secondary theme in his slow movement. This will undergo different modulations and transitions before being confronted again with the first theme. In the rather fiery scherzo interlude in D minor, which even produces a tiny trio-like episode, but lacks the repetition of the first section, the main theme of the third movement can be heard as anticipated in a slightly hidden way. On the other hand, the same theme originates from the final triplet bars of the movement’s main theme, which are nothing more than a Variation of the B flat major theme of the first movement. The main theme has an early climax, a chorale-like affirmation in the key of F sharp minor and, after the Trio, a further one, returning to its original key, where it is set against a rather nervous, running accompaniment (first violins), also deriving from the scherzo. A further affirmation of the second theme is of passionate character and unexpectedly its lyrical dying away is followed by an outburst, sounding as if the interrupted scherzo might have been composed in full.

The third movement, in an animated 4/4, opens with an energetic horn theme in E flat major, again strongly related to Franck, in the same place in his Symphony. The movement is conceived as a quasi-rondo with development sections, transitions and modulations wandering to more distant keys than in the previous movements, ending with a triumphant conclusion, in which not only the nucleus will have to affirm itself against the movement’s main theme, but also against the B flat major triplet theme of the first movement through rather daring harmonic overlappings. This happens with the help of two ascending transition themes, a lively one (a varied inversion of the E flat major theme’s ending) and another of a rather emphatic march-like character. The second theme of the finale, which will also be transformed into an elaborate fugue, is quite gracious and in G minor. It makes us for a while take breath between the general moving forward, impelled onwards. Here can be recognized not only a Variation of the main theme of this movement, but also of the nucleus and its extension.

Tableaux maritimes

A chronological list of some symphonic works by French Composers which were inspired by the sea within some fifty years around the turn of the Century may appear as follows:

1882–1887 - Poème de l’amour et de la mer (for voice and orchestra by Ernest Chausson)
1903–1905 - La mer (Claude Debussy, possibly inspired by the composition of the same title by Belgian composer Paul Gilson)
1919–1920 - Tableaux maritimes (Sylvio Lazzari)
1919–1921 - Poème des rivages (Vincent d’Indy)
1920–1922 - Escales (Jacques Ibert)
1925–1926 - Dyptique méditerranéen (Vincent d’Indy)
1931 - Symphonie marine (Jacques Ibert)

On La mer, subtitled esquisses symphoniques, Debussy sarcastically declared that he had intended to demonstrate that “after Beethoven, the proof of the uselessness of the Symphony has been provided”. “A secret harmony of nature and imagination” would be the goal of his music, contrary to the purely descriptive style of the romantic or post-romantic program music composers. Debussy, however, whose marine piece was the only one from above list to become world famous, could not guess yet that some of his contemporaries like d’Indy and Lazzari would both be able to write excellent marine tone-poems, and this without offending Beethoven at all, since they had had the courage actually to write symphonies.

Tableaux maritimes were composed between August 1919 and August 1920 on the shores of Moulin de la Sault in Brittany, where Lazzari used to spend his holidays. It is an incredibly appealing work, written for an orchestral ensemble identical to that of the Symphony, only augmented by a bass drum. Each one of its four movements is preceded by a literary program, of which the translation is as follows:

I. Soleil couchant sur la mer (Setting sun over the sea)

Le soleil couchant s’enfonce dans la mer. II rongit encore les crêtes écumeuses des vagues. L’homme venu sur la grève contemple cette mer mélancolique et calme, mystérieuse et grave.

(The setting sun descends into the sea. It still colours red the crests of the waves. A man contemplates from the sandy shore this sad calm sea, so mysterious and serious.)

II. Vagues (Waves)

Rapides en longues files incessantes, les vagues viennent balayer le rivage obscurci. Elles assaillent l’homme vieilli et lasse qui rêve, se souvient et ne peut s’arracher à une méditation qui l’accable. Ne venons-nous pas, nous aussi, nous briser par générations entières sur les bords de l’éternité? Un cri, une plainte persistent parfois, parmi ces assauts et ces rumeurs furieuses. Mais le clapotis se fait plus distinct. Les vagues, en jouant lichent encore la grève, s’étalent, roulent et disparaissent.

(In long and endless rows, waves sweep rapidly over the darkened shore. They take by surprise a weary old man in his dreams. He remembers something and cannot tear himself away from thinking about what worries him. All our generations, do they not also come to nothing again on the shores of eternity? Sometimes a cry, a plaint is heard amid these attacks and sounds of fury. The lapping of the waves grows less. The waves, in sport, lick, the shore, spread out, roll away and disappear.)

III. Berger sur la lande (Shepherd on the heathland)

Voici qu’un berger apparait sur la lande pauvre. II fait rentrer son troupeau. On entend encore sa mélodie si simple. Et ce chant humain calme angoisse du voyageur. Oh! revivre humblement sans les troubles de l’orgueil dans une petite maison antique et fleurie, travailler au sol, s’entourer d’animaux doux et confiants, se résigner dans une Campagne lointaine, oublier la mer et sa grandeur, et ses colères!

(A poor shepherd appears on the heathland, bringing his flock home. His simple melody, soothing the traveller’s anguish, is heard again. How beautiful it would be to live, far from the confusion of human arrogance, in a little old house adorned with flowers, to work in the fields, to surround oneself with sweet, trusting animals, to devote oneself to life in a distant land, forgetting the sea’s grandeur and fury!)

IV. Navire fuyant la tempête (A ship fleeing from the storm)

Le vent qui vient de la mer souffle maintenant avec une force haletante et tragique. II soulève les vagues et les lance rudement sur la digue. Là-bas un navire lutte pour rentrer au port, oscille, et s’égare sur les flots houleux. Les phares tournoient plus vite. L’homme revenu ä lui-même, suit les péripeties du drame. II court sur la plage, réclame du secours. Mais tout se calme peu ä peu. Le navire reprend avec assurance sa route, et aborde. La lune se lève entre les nuages et éclaire le port d’où s’élèvent des clameurs joyeuses.

(The wind coming from the sea now snorts with tragic strength. It lifts the waves and throws them violently against the embankment. Down there a ship struggles while returning to harbour rocking from side to side and losing her way amid the stormy waters. The lamps of the lighthouse spin quicker. The man, coming to himself, follows this dramatic turn of fate. He runs along the shore and calls for help. But gradually everything grows calm. The ship takes her course again with assurance and reaches harbour. The moon appears between the clouds and shines over the harbour from which shout of joy arise.)

Lazzari once dared to admit he did not really like La mer. Nevertheless, he considered Debussy’s Quartet in G minor (1893) not only his best work, but also the best String quartet ever produced in France.

The listener who prepares himself by reading Lazzari’s programs, may be somehow confused on hearing the music, since there is (fortunately) no real “literal” correspondence between words and music as is usual in pieces of this kind. The composer’s intentions were only to have the listener perceive through music the psychological Situation of a human confronting nature. The difference between Lazzari and Debussy can be found here: atmospheric or sensory elements (or symbols) of nature as invoked by music should lead to a further (neo-romantic?) dimension, that of the reaction, or inner process these elements cause in the person whom they involve. That is why in Lazzari’s programmatic text “man” and not “nature” is the real subject. According to the composer’s temper, more sanguine than that of Debussy, we have to accept nature as a less contemplative thing, but full of energy and density, with her dramas identified with man’s own. The most puzzling program of Tableaux maritimes is certainly that of the third movement. All that a simple shepherd’s tune can wake in a composer’s mind, to involve such dramatic symphonic forces and climaxes, makes us suspect more than a longing for simple country life, far from the sea. It is a highly original feature to include a movement in which feelings for the sea are quite unsympathetic, in a suite with a “sea” program and also to declare his attitude towards man’s arrogance in a piece with a pastoral title.

The motif of the first movement of this Suite d’orchestre en quatre parties is based on an ascending half-tone Step, A - B flat, and its imitation, to which an ambiguous ascending cell of three 6 notes, C - C-flat - B-flat, is added, set outside the tonics of D minor (opening) and D major (main) keys. This becomes subsequently an extended and syncopated descending theme, reaching eventually two climaxes, in which curt modulations (as once into the opposite key of G flat minor) occur. Beautiful chorale sequences for both wind and brass sections are characteristics of this movement.

Vagues, entitled Vagues et vents in an earlier manuscript Version, is an impressive alla breve étude for orchestra in D minor / D major. A constantly changing four-note cell for wind instruments, floating over aery string triplets, makes up the main material of this movement, from which a real theme derives only much later, in the form of a beautiful cantabile melody set once more against one of Lazzari’s difficult “first violin upper range” decorating accompaniments (incidentally, nothing less than a bouncing Variation of the thematic cell expansion of the previous movement). Before this theme appears, the insistent chromatic moto perpetuo-like figurations are interrupted by some sudden choc de vagues in arpeggios of the harp and the first violins. The movement ends in an impressive outburst on a modulation from D minor to major through B flat major.

In Berger sur la lande, in D minor, Lazzari’s fabulous writing for wind instruments reaches its peak. We hear at first an ascending hunting call in 3/4, echoed by a pastoral call. This becomes a “simple”, but extended lyric melody (sounding as if inspired by Breton folklore), after having been almost in need to affirm itself against insistent returns of the hunting call. The full orchestra now insists on the interval of a fourth opening the pastoral call, leading to a climactic central episode, in which the hunting theme is taken up again, and quite dramatically, either set in tight counterpoint to the simple pastoral melody, or alone over passionately rustling strings. Finally, fragments of the melody are heard, ending the movement in F major, with a nocturnal atmosphere in which the “fourth” call echoes lonely in the far distance over sustained strings.

The last and longest movement of the suite, in D minor with a D major ending is another etude for orchestra of chromatic, endlessly modulating triplets from which at first a brassy chorale motif emerges, while at times the accompanying triplets contract themselves into syncopated impulses. A main theme in G minor, eventually to be associated with “alarm”, appears after a first climax in which the triplets Start to descend, imitating gusts of wind. This theme reveals itself as a Variation of the lyric theme of Vagues. During two short lyric moments with harp, it also experiences an expansion through the addition of an inversion of the intervals of its first half. Navire fuyant la tempête ends into a terrific orchestral outburst, opened by a motif in which we recognize another Variation of the suite’s opening theme.

The cyclic build-up of the themes and disposition of the keys of Tableaux maritimes may raise the question whether this Suite would have deserved the qualification of “symphonique” in the real sense of the word, and not in its mostly incorrect application to many other suites. In any case tribute is due to Lazzari, a good composer who also succeeded in writing exciting and valuable music by using rather sparse (or modest?) thematic material.

Tableaux maritimes was first performed at the Paris Opera on 15 January 1921, in an afternoon concert of the Association des Concerts Pasdeloup conducted by Rhené-Baton, in a program including works by Weber, Wagner, Ravel, Roussel and Liszt.

© 1995 Adriano
Edited by Keith Anderson

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