RECITAL 1982--PROGRAM NOTES
Arnold Schoenberg: Sonata after the Wind Quintet op. 26
(Transcribed by Felix Greissle)
- Intermission -
Franz Schubert: Trockne Blumen, from Die Schöne Müllerin
Franz Schubert: Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen
At the end of the Baroque era it was considered an honor for one composer to borrow themes or even entire movements from another. We need look no farther than the example of Bach, who throughout his compositional career borrowed freely from his own works and those of others, often transposing the music, filling out implied harmony, reworking instrumental figuration, or changing instrumentation to adapt the original material to its new purpose. With Beethoven transcription played a less central role. While a half-dozen of his 138 opus numbers are attached to his own arrangements of earlier works, he did not transcribe the music of other composers. Through the rest of the nineteenth century the practice of transcription was cultivated primarily by such pianist-composers as Liszt. The widespread practice of making piano reductions of the orchestral repertoire for study and home use contributed to the diminished reputation of the transcription as a mere utilitarian imitation of the original. Our present era, with its emphasis on Urtext editions and original instruments, tends to reinforce this prejudice.
The first decades of the twentieth century saw a renewed interest in transcription. A sizable portion of Ravel's orchestral music was originally written for piano, and his orchestration of Mussorgksky's Pictures at an Exhibition has long since eclipsed the original in popularity. And in particular Schoenberg and his followers were imaginative and prolific in their reworking of each other's music and that of past masters. Some of these transcriptions were utilitarian, such as the reductions of orchestral works made to permit presentation by the limited forces of Schoenberg's Association for Private Musical Performances. Some transcriptions were made with the hope of reaching a larger audience through a more accessible medium, or with the expectation that a more conventional instrumentation might lead to more frequent performance. And, most notably, some transcriptions, such as Schoenberg's orchestration of Brahms or Webern's orchestrations of Bach, were done as a tribute to the older masters.
The present transcription of Schoenberg's Wind Quintet Op.26 was made by Felix Greissle, a composer in his own right who was a student and close associate of Schoenberg. The master, though not involved in the actual process of transcription, closely supervised and corrected Greissle's work. Greissle, who was actually living in the Schoenberg household at the time, recalls conferring regularly with Schoenberg as the transcription took shape. The two would meet after dinner to decide on octave transpositions, the distribution of parts, or other particulars of the work. The Sonata, as the transcription is entitled, was copyrighted by Schoenberg's publisher Universal Edition in 1926, just a year after publication of the Quintet. It is published under Schoenberg's name, with an annotation of the title page which reads "transcribed for piano and high instrument by Felix Greissle." Performance material is provided for flute, violin, or clarinet.
The Sonata has not proved popular. Greissle is aware of its having been performed once in Tokyo some years ago, and the Schoenberg Institute was able to substantiate only one other performance, by Nicolas Slonimsky and violinist Rebecca Dulfer at the Women's Republican Club of Boston in 1936. Yet the Sonata is a valuable addition to the repertoire of any of the instruments to which it is suited. That it has otherwise languished in total obscurity for over half a century is surely due to the often impossible awkwardness of the piano part. At the time the transcription was made, Schoenberg was so anxious that the original be accurately represented that he obliged Greissle to stuff into the keyboard part every note not accounted for in the solo line. Schoenberg was well aware of the practical difficulties this caused, and expected some material necessarily to be omitted in performance. But he was unwilling to make such compromises himself.
Schoenberg relented in later years. When Greissle undertook the piano reduction of his Violin Concerto, Schoenberg allowed him to place impractical or unplayable voices in small notes outside the staff--and he agreed that this did not unduly compromise the realization of his musical intent. Had Schoenberg reached this concession earlier, the Sonata might by now be better known in the concert hall.
With this knowledge of the circumstances attending the transcription of the Quintet, and with Greissle's blessing, Randall Hodgkinson and I have resorted to occasional octave transpositions in the flute part. In the keyboard part certain notes, and a few fragments of counterpoint have been omitted, and some spots of awkward figuration have been better adapted to the keyboard. With these changes the Sonata is no longer impossible but merely fiendishly difficult.
But what rewards the working out of those problems brings! The wealth of melodic invention, the dazzling mastery of counterpoint, and the variety of mood and character which Schoenberg summons threaten to burst the bounds of the traditional forms of the Sonata. The first movement, marked Schwungvoll (energetic, with verve) is in sonata allegro form. The long-lined principal theme, announced immediately by the flute, is by turns declamatory, yearning, exultant, and nostalgic. It presents material which is used in myriad transformations, some recognizable and some disguised, in all four movements. It also prepares the listener for the density of event and mercurial variety of mood that typify the entire piece.
The second movement, marked Anmutig und heiter (graceful and cheerful), is a witty, capricious, and occasionally bumptious Ländler, full of mischievous accents on the wrong beat, frenetic strettos, and calmer interludes where performers and audience can collect their wits.
The third movement, Etwas langsam (rather slow), opens with long, sinuous contrapuntal lines weaving about one another, gradually increasing in intensity until a climax is reached. The more congenial central section leads to a wistful recollection of the entertainments of the scherzo, a reference that occurs again shortly before the close of the movement. Both times, though, the these excursions run out of steam, winding down slower and slower until the tempo and material of the opening of the movement return.
The finale, Rondo, an energetic, busy toccata, is seldom diverted from its headlong progress. The opening four notes form a sort of motto which is developed throughout the movement in an inexhaustible variety of harmonic and melodic contexts. Towards the end of the Rondo the kinetic energy dissipates and in the stillness salient fragments from each of the preceding movements are briefly recalled. Then the motion resumes and intensifies, and the coda sweeps all before it with grandiose exuberance.
The performers dedicate this concert to the memory of Felix Greissle, who died April 26, 1992 in his 83rd year.
Die Schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Miller-maid) is a cycle of twenty poems on texts by Wilhelm Müller, composed by Schubert in the Fall of 1823. Trockne Blumen is the eighteenth song in the cycle. By this point the young miller has realized the futility of his love for his boss's daughter, and he indulges in a last flight of melodramatic fancy before seeking consolation in nature. The song opens in E minor with the miller's melancholy contemplation of the bouquet his beloved once gave him. His conviction that she will yet recognize his love--though he be dead in the meantime--carries the music to the brightness and affirmation of the major mode, only to sink back to E minor in the brief coda.
Ihr Blümlein alle, die sie mir gab,
Euch soll man legen mit mir ins grab.
Wie seht ihr alle mich an so weh,
Als ob ihr wüsstet, was mir gescheh?
Ihr Blümlein alle, wie welk, wie blass?
Ihr Blümlein alle, wovon so nass?
Ach, Tränen machen nicht Maiengrün,
Machen tote Liebe nicht wieder blühn.
Und Lenz wird kommen, und Winter wird gehen,
Und Blümlein werden im Grase stehn.
Und Blümlein liegen in meinem Grab,
Die Blümlein alle, die sie mir gab.
Und wenn sie wandelt am Hügel vorbei
Und denkt im Herzen: der meint es treu!
Dann, Blümlein alle, heraus, heraus!
Der Mai ist kommen, der Winter ist aus.
You blossoms, that she gave me,
Shall lie beside me in the grave.
Why do you look at me so sadly,
As if you know my fate?
You blossoms, so faded, so pale,
You blossoms, why so damp?
O, tears do not bring back the green of May,
Do not make dead love flower anew.
And spring will come, and winter will go,
And blossoms will grow amongst the grass.
And blossoms will lie in my grave,
All the blossoms she gave me.
And when she happens by the mound,
And thinks in her heart, "His love is true!"
Then, little flowers, blossom forth!
May is come, winter is past.
When, a few months after completing Die Schöne Müllerin, Schubert wrote the Introduction and Variations for his friend Ferdinand Bogner, he returned to Trockne Blumen for his thematic material. The introduction is in the poignant mood of the song, and in the same dark E minor. Repeated reference is made to the three-note motive which sets the words wovon so nass? The theme is then presented, with a few changes of phrasing and ornamentation to better adapt it to the flute. No reference is made to the coda of the song, so the theme starts out in the minor mode and closes in the major. This pattern is followed in the first few variations, but the last two and the expansive coda are all solidly in E major. Thus the piece as a whole makes the same transition as its theme--from minor to major; from gloom to buoyant affirmation.
--Notes and translations, Fenwick Smith