George Templeton Strong: Symphony 2 and more

Labels: , ,

George Templeton-Strong
1. Symphony No. 2 "Sintram" (1888)
Conducted by Adraino with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

George Templeton Strong (1820-1875)
George Templeton Strong (1820-1875) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I. Ziemlich langsam, Rasch - 00:00
II. Langsam - 19:14
III. Die drei entsetzlichen Gefahrten: Tod, Teufel und Irrsinn (Sehr lebhaft) - 29:55
IV. Kampf und Sieg (Rasch, Feierlich) - 41:07

Although his career was chiefly in Europe, George Templeton Strong always considered himself an American composer. He was born in New York City on 26 May 1856, into a musical family, his mother a singer and his father, a lawyer, an amateur organist, a trustee of Columbia College, and for four years the president of the Philharmonic Society of New York. Strong began the study of the piano and violin as a child, becoming proficient on both instruments, but a strong predilection for the oboe led him to abandon the other instruments in its favour. As an oboist he played in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra but his choice of music as a profession led to a breach with his father, healed before the latter's death in 1881. In 1879 he entered the Leipzig Conservatory, studying with Richard Hoffmann and Salomon Jadassohn. Here he once again changed instruments, this time to the viola In 1881 he met Liszt, whose advice he often sought, and made the acquaintance of other leading musicians of the time.

In 1883 Strong composed his third symphonic poem, Undine, Opus 14. When he asked Liszt if this work was worthy of being dedicated to the master, Liszt is said to have suggested that Strong sit down at the piano and play his tone-poem, but when the younger composer stumbled over the orchestral score, Liszt nudged him aside and played it himself. After reading through the score, Liszt wrote on the upper left corner of the first page that he was glad to accept the honour of the dedication. In 1886 Strong moved to Wiesbaden, where he met and became close friends with another American composer, Edward MacDowell, to whom he dedicated his Three Symphonic Idylls for Two Pianos, Opus 29. During his years at Wiesbaden, Strong composed his much acclaimed cantata The Haunted Mill, Three Songs for Mezzo-soprano with Orchestra and the Second Ballad in G minor for piano, and completed his Symphony No.2 in G minor, Opus 50, which he also dedicated to MacDowell.

Symphony No.2 in G minor, Opus 50, entitled Sintram, after de la Motte Fouqué's romance and drawing additional inspiration from Albrecht Dürer's famous Ritter, Tod und Teufel (The Knight, Death and the Devil) was first performed by the Philharmonic Society of New York, under Anton Seidl, on 4 March 1893. The score was published in Leipzig the following year Sintram: The Struggle of Mankind Against the Powers of Evil, to give the work its full name, has additionally, at the head of the score, a quotation from Goethe's Faust:

My weal I seek not in torpidity;
Humanity's best part in awe doth lie
Howe'er the world the sentiment disown,
Once seized we deeply feel the vast, the unknown.

Fouque's Sintram is a tale that revolves around Bjorn, a Norse knight of unbridled temper and relentless cruelty, and his son Sintram, whose life is blighted by a curse, the result of his father's misdeeds. The story culminates in the comforting and saving power of Christianity, in which they finally find peace, as opposed to the indulgence of wild passions nurtured by barbarous feudal customs, two elements that are clearly set forth in the first movement of the symphony by the chorale-like theme and by the fierce, violent counter-themes In an explanatory note to his work Fouqué acknowledges that for the fundamental idea of Sintram he was influenced by a woodcut by Albrecht Dtirer showing a knight riding in companionship with Death through a valley of poisonous plants and hideous creatures. A spectre pursues the two riders, stretching out his arms in a vain effort to seize the knight, who calmly looks forward to his goal, a distant castle.

The first two movements of the symphony, which have no titles according to the composer, suggest the normal development of life in human communities Because there is so much contrast between the first two and last two movements, Strong provided titles for the latter The third movement, The Three Terrible Companions: Death, the Devil and Insanity, is essentially a musical retelling of Fouqué's romance, coloured by Dürer's woodcut. The fourth movement, The Victorious Struggle, is an expression of hope for the future in the struggle against evil.

2. Die Nacht (1913)
Conducted by Adriano with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

I. At Sunset - 00:00
II. Peasant's Battle - March - 6:19
III. In an Old Forest - 10:58
IV. The Awakening of Forest Spirits - 17:41

"The magnificent suite, Die Nacht, unpardonably neglected in modern concert repertoire, was written during the summer of 1913 and first performed by Ernest Ansermet with the Orchestre du Kursaal in Montreux, on 27th November 1913, in an afternoon concert, together with works by Beethoven, Mozart, Weber and Wagner. The following year, on 9th March, Carl Ehrenberg, to whom the suite is dedicated, performed it in Lausanne, where Strong was then living, with the local Société de l'Orchestre. On that occasion, the composer himself participated, playing the English horn. The first American performance of Die Nacht was given by Arturo Toscanini and his NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1939, a broadcast which Strong had heard and of which he, apparently, highly approved. The suite, subtitled Four little symphonic poems for orchestra, is perhaps Strong's most typical work, since it reveals the composer's love for miniatures and characteristic pieces, wrapped up in modest symphonic guise and scored for large symphony orchestra. The suite features different aspects of nocturnal atmosphere from a romantic standpoint, as a lyrical contemplation of nature in the first and second movements, or as a revival of real (second movement) or unreal (fourth movement) events of poetical inspiration. In the first piece, At Sunset, in E flat, a peaceful string melody is gradually brought to a climax involving all orchestral forces, suggesting a moment of despair or tragedy and falling back into serenity. Featuring a melody of almost Mahlerian character, this piece can be considered as Strong's Adagietto, although Mahler's more famous one restricts the orchestral forces to harp and strings. Peasants' Battle-March, in G major, is a homage to Joachim Raff, whose marches from some of his symphonies had become very popular at that time. In fact, Strong's piece reminds us strongly of the March of Leonore, Raff's Fifth Symphony, with the interesting novelty that Strong's is quicker in pace, suggesting peasants either running to battle with extreme fanaticism, or that they have overslept."

"A Trio, opening with a gloomy melody by the English horn, leads to a solemn, but still mysterious variation of the march theme, becoming wilder and wilder and ending in a recapitulation, until the marching peasants disappear into the night. In the Old Forest, in D minor, is another highly lyrical piece in which the string section predominates and manifests itself in the middle section through elaborate rustlings and solo parts from among eleven subdivided sections. As with all the other movements of the suite, the music dies away into night again. In the score of The Awakening of the Forest-Spirits, Strong has provided his own poem:" - Adriano

Oh how I love the whisperings
Of Kobolds, Gnomes, Fairies, Elves, -
These small triumphant Immortals!
A green Gnome, lovelorn sighing,
Was greeted with fairy laughter, -
Elfish, mocking laughter:
When from afar there came the call
O' a wandering hunters horn, all
The Sprites vanished!

3. Le Roi Arhtur (1890)
Conducted by Adriano with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

I. Non Troppo Allegro - Andante - Allegro - 00:00
II. Adagio - Andante - 18:29
III. Solennemente - E Funebre - 25:50

"The extended tone poem for large orchestra, Le Roi Arthur, is Strong's only overt homage to Richard Strauss, but it is so well written, of such impact and with predominantly typical landmarks of Strong's style (incidentally, the second section has nothing Strauss-like) that one almost forgets its stylistic provenance. More than that, the composer creates many episodes in which harmony and dissonance (Strong's "cayenne pepper"), reach further and the orchestration becomes more realistic and harsher. Nevertheless, we can almost certainly consider this piece as Strong's own Heldenleben. The manuscript bears the final date of 1916, but apparently composition had started already around 1890-91, immediately after the completion of the equally ambitious Symphony No.2 "Sintram". Unlike Strauss, who was usually happy to assign subtitles to single movements or sections of his tone poems, Strong avoided this, but felt the necessity of having his score accompanied by a long and detailed thematic analysis. This may be useful to specialists or students, but is clearly too prolix for general audiences. Additionally, three short quotations from Tennyson appear between the music of the first half of the score, revealing that the composer had found there his source of inspiration. The full thematic analysis, as translated and revised by the composer's friend, the Swiss linguist and musicologist Rober Godet, is reproduced as a preface to the printed score of Le Roi Arthur. It is interesting to note that other composers of Strong's time, who had also studied in Germany, had been inspired by the tales of the Round Table, recounted by Sir Thomas Malory in 1470 in Le Morte Darthur, and taken up by Tennyson in his Idylls of the King in 1859, continued ten years later in The Holy Grail. "

"The first movement starts with a slow introduction, in which the leitmotifs of Arthur and Mordred, representing the antagonistic forces of Good and Evil, are displayed. In the first section, of largely heroic atmosphere (Andante-Allegro), King Arthur's youth under the guidance of the magician Merlin and the apparition of the magic sword Excalibur are described, followed by Arthur's mission as mature man and king, and the institution of the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur's wife Guinevere, her adulterous love for Lancelot, discovered and denounced by Mordred, and Guinevere's flight make up the musical material of the second part of this section. The following short Adagio represents Arthur's loneliness, longing for happiness and his despair, interrupted by fits of rage and the urge to revenge himself upon Mordred, who has been the cause of his ruin. The Finale, containing tempo indications like Allegro agitato, Allegro guerriero and Eroico, can be subdivided into two episodes, of which the first represents Arthur's pursuit of Mordred after the latter's provocative challenge to him and the battle between the two mortal enemies in which Mordred is killed by the magic sword and Arthur too is mortally wounded. The second is actually a coda, marked Solennemente e funebre, describing Arthur's body being carried by a ship to the grave. Thematic reminiscences of his youth and his lost love for Guinevere and for Lancelot are heard over murmuring strings, dying away in music of extreme beauty and serenity, after over half an hour of gloomy atmosphere, drama and struggle. As in his Symphony No.2 "Sintram", Strong was obsessed by the musical rendering of the conflict between Good and Evil, a favourite theme of some of his predecessors, writers of romantic-heroic programme symphonies, the Liszt of the Faust-Sinfonie, the Berlioz of Harold en Italie, the Tchaikovsky of Manfred, the Sibelius of Kullervo, the Bartók of Kossuth and the Glière of Il'ya Muromets. In both the Second Symphony and Le Roi Arthur, the hero depicted in the music has to endure terrible ordeals before either winning his cause or succumbing: the composer's focus concentrated on the analysis and description of human struggle for life within a society of enemies and traitors. Strong's private life may hardly have been as tragic as that, but one may presume he had had some reason to identify himself with Sintram or Arthur. That he was of a direct, energetic and uncompromising character has been recorded by many of his friends and can also be seen in his letters. The first performance of Le Roi Arthur took place in the Victoria Hall in Geneva on 12th January 1918, under the baton of Ernest Ansermet, to whom the work is dedicated, conducting the ensemble which a few months later was officially to become the renowned Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. The same performers were to take up this work again in the Casino de Montreux on 7th March 1920." - Adriano