About this Recording

Love and Passion in Music


Love can be evoked in a number of ways, some more direct than others. The love songs of Neapolitan composers such as Ernesto de Curtis, heard in instrumental garb, are very different, naturally, from the anticipatory power of an operatic overture such as Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. The succulent beauty of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe differs in effect wholly from Polish composer Mieczysław Karłowicz’s torrid Eternal Songs. For Wagner, Tristan and Isolde’s love is utterly transcendent. Each composer, in whatever form of music, seeks an appropriate language to convey feelings of love, in all its richness and range.

The great ballets feature glorious pas de deux in which the lovers express their feelings through their bodies, supported by the orchestral tapestries woven for them by composers. The pas de deux in Adam’s Giselle is a classic example, as is Minkus’s Don Quixote, though the waltz in Delibes’ Sylvia co-opts a formal dance for its love object. Tchaikovsky remains one of the purest masters of this genre, and the love music in The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty is expressed with imperishable lyricism and beauty.

Film music has proved a particularly fertile ground for the flammable feelings love engenders. Whether it is the first stirrings of love—a sideways glance, a passionate encounter—or it is love lost or reflected in tranquillity, composers have proved more than able to evoke its manifold forms. Max Steiner was superbly adept in this respect, summoning up great pathos for the death of King Kong, and, in other ways and with a rich orchestral palette, provoking different responses with Tara’s theme in Gone with the Wind and the Reunion scene in All This and Heaven Too.

With their taut narratives, tone poems are often used, at least in part, to express feelings of desire, and love, or both. Richard Strauss, whose mastery of orchestration was almost unrivalled in his time, took that cynical seducer Don Juan and embedded music of succulent richness in his score. He celebrated his own wife, too, in Ein Heldenleben. The American composer Edward MacDowell took figures from literature or from myth—notably Hamlet and Ophelia, and Lancelot and Elaine—to present compelling character studies that drew on the drama of their lives to generate musical contrast. A true orchestral innovator like Berlioz also took literary inspiration in Harold in Italy as well as taking the genre to the edge of psycho-drama in the Symphonie fantastique, represented by the astonishing waltz scene ‘Un Bal’.

Symphonists have been attracted to the theme at least since the time of the Late Romantics. Russians such as Balakirev and Rachmaninov have poured out rich melody in their slow movements. The much less well-known Czech composer Zdeněk Fibich encoded details of his own passionate autobiography into his music. His love for one of his students is manifest in much of his piano music and the powerfully charged emotions appear in his first two symphonies as well. Love is not merely the melody; love can be the story. The most intense exemplification of the symphonic trend in depiction comes with Mahler, whose central symphonies teem with intensity, not least in the Third and Sixth symphonies. The famous Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, a passionate missive to his wife, is striking for the interpretative latitude that can be made of it; either flowing, quickening and surging or, in some conductors’ hands, aching.

So whatever form is chosen—from the deftest ballet scene to the overwhelming might of the symphony orchestra at its most grandiose—love scenes have always been embedded in the fabric of music, from Orpheus to Dr Zhivago, from Spartacus to Cinderella, and from the freshest folk tune to the grandest opera.

Jonathan Woolf

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