, April 2010
This is part of Phoenix Edition’s ‘Modern Times’ series.
Gurlitt’s Goya Symphony is for orchestra alone and is in four movements of which the last is a Theme and ten variations here thoughtfully presented with each variation separately tracked.
Gurlitt is a lyric composer but he is no lavish late-romantic at least not by George Lloyd or Josef Marx standards. His palette has clear affinities with Mahler in its patteringly confident Allegro deciso and with Hindemith and Siegfried Wagner in the marzipan playfulness of the first two movements. The cantabile is mildly astringent—rather similar to Rawsthorne at one moment—and less disorientatingly with Franz Schmidt in the cheerier reaches of the Husarenlied Variations. The implacably grim and insistent Largo (III) includes, at its apex, a fusillade of rifle fire. This volley is followed by three ringing anvil blows. The theme and variations sequence is lengthy and includes an explosively urgent and ruthlessly exciting Allegro tumultuoso (tr. 8). Much of the cheerier material recalls for me the jaunty Schmidt or Hindemith but there are more serious and even poetic episodes (as in tr. 11). The final (tr. 14) Maestoso has a sourly trudging and tragic mien as the music winds towards catastrophe. A trumpet call is heard that must have been influenced by the trumpet elegy that calls out over Franz Schmidt’s fourth symphony of about the same time. The symphony ends in a Rosenkavalier shimmer amid a distant echo of the trumpet theme.
The Four Dramatic Songs were a musical wedding present to his new Japanese wife in 1952. That was the year in which he divorced Wiltraut Hahn with whom he had travelled to Japan in 1937. These four songs are intense, concentrated, darkly inward but accessible enough. They are not as florid as those by Schulhoff and Zemlinsky but they have a fascination and concentration best exemplified by the last song in which Gurlitt’s own personal situation is perhaps paralleled. A nobleman suffering from leprosy is healed in the arms of a young girl. The last song has the brass making their presence abrasively and dramatically felt. The bells of redemption ring out in healing at 4:43.
The words to the four songs are given in German and in English translation side by side.
I am more than indebted to Antony Beaumont’s liner essay. To him we owe the tantalising prospect/hope of hearing Gurlitt’s Shakespeare Symphony (1952–54) and the cello and violin concertos.
Gurlitt made something of a splash in 1921–5 with his opera Wozzeck which was eclipsed by Berg’s opera of the same name. A similar fate engulfed his opera Soldaten (1929–30) with Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s own opera on the same title. The opera Nana was overshadowed by Berg’s Lulu. Despite having his music blacklisted by the Nazis he continued to write in exile in Japan where between 1933 and 1945 there were three more operas and various substantial instrumental works. There his Goya Symphony was premiered on 14 January 1943.