SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 4 / Symphony in C Major (Failoni Chamber Orchestra/ Michael Halasz) (Naxos: 8.553095)
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Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Symphony No.4 in C Minor, D. 417, \Tragic"
Symphony in C Major
(Orchestrated from "Grand Duo" Sonata, D. 812, by J. Joachim)
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797, the son of a schoolmaster who had settled in the city some fourteen years before. He showed early musical ability, exercised in the family quartet with his father and older brothers, and in 1808 was successful in winning a place as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, enabling him to continue his general education at the Staatskonvikt, a school of the highest prestige. It was here that he was exposed to a wider musical world and began to compose. At the Konvikt he could profit from the presence of the old Kapellmeister Salieri and broaden his practical experience by playing the violin in the student orchestra, which he sometimes led. His voice broke in 1812 and he rejected the offer of a scholarship for further study, instead entering the Normal School of St. Anna to train as an elementary teacher. In this capacity he joined his father in the school-room in 1815. The following year he was unsuccessful in an application for a position as music teacher at the Normal School in Laibach (Ljubljana) but left home to lodge instead with his friend Franz von Schober.
The remaining years of Schubert's life were spent predominantly in Vienna, more often than not in the company of friends. There were occasions when he returned briefly to teaching at his father's school, but as a composer he proved increasingly prolific, particularly in the writing of songs, welcomed among his own circle and winning him gradually a wider reputation. Some of his songs proved immediately successful, particularly through the advocacy of his friend, the singer Michael Vogl, and there were commissions for the theatre and publication of piano pieces and songs well suited to the new domestic market. His last years, however, were clouded by illness. A syphilitic infection, in those days incurable, took its intermittent course, and he died in November 1828, twenty months after the death of Beethoven. While the latter had from the first enjoyed distinguished patronage and had had an early career as a virtuoso pianist, Schubert had occupied a different position in society, part, rather, of the society of Biedermeier Vienna.
Lacking the esteem and patronage from which Beethoven had profited, Schubert published relatively little and consequently left a great deal of music to be rediscovered posthumously. His orchestral writing was clearly influenced by the repertoire of the Staatskonvikt orchestra, which included symphonies by Mozart and Haydn, as well as the earlier Beethoven symphonies. The family quartet tackled four-part versions of Haydn symphonies and the ensemble grew so that by 1815, under the leadership of the violinist Otto Hatwig, it could muster some twenty string players, as well as double woodwind and percussion, providing an orchestra for which Schubert, who played viola, wrote his earlier symphonies and overtures.
Schubert wrote his Symphony No.4 in C minor in April 1816, later adding the descriptive title "Tragic" to the score. The instrumentation is for the usual pairs of woodwind instruments, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings. The first movement opens with a slow introduction leading to an Allegro vivace that suggests, like the symphony that followed in the same year, the influence of Mozart, a composer for whom he had an overwhelming admiration, expressed during the summer in a diary that he began to keep. Tragedy is dispelled in the major coda with which the sonata-form movement ends. There follows an A flat major Andante, introduced gently by the strings, joined by a solo oboe and then by the other woodwind instruments and a sustained horn note. A hint of tragedy intervenes in a more agitated F minor, soon turning to a gentle lyricism, before the return of the first thematic material. The secondary theme re-appears, now in B flat minor, melting as before, with a languishing descending melodic figure. The movement ends with a figure from the principal theme, repeated over a triplet accompaniment. The spirit of Beethoven seems to emerge in the third movement Minuet, although the movement is not quite in the mood of the giant at play that characterizes that composer. The same key of E flat major is kept in the Trio, with its dance-like interplay of flute, oboe and clarinet. The original key of C minor is restored at the start of the final Allegro and something of the mood of the first movement. The exposition, which is repeated, ends in E flat, after a secondary subject shared between strings and woodwind and an almost Wagnerian conclusion. More distant keys are explored in the central development, which quickly and briefly modulates to A major, eventually allowing cellos and bassoons to lead to a final C major, ensuring a triumphal conclusion.
Schubert wrote his Sonata in C major, known as the Grand Duo, in June 1824. He had first been employed as music-master to the two daughters of Count Johann Karl Esterházy in 1818, when he spent the summer at the Count's estate at Zseliz in Hungary. It may be presumed that his connection with this branch of the Esterházy family continued in Vienna, and in the summer of 1824 he was again at Zseliz, treated, now that his pupils had reached maturity, on a more equal footing than before. In May he had heard the first performance of Beethoven's Choral Symphony in Vienna. The following month in Zseliz he turned his attention again to composition for piano duet. Much had happened since 1818, not least the illness that the year before had caused such anxiety, bringing fears of death. In a letter to his friend the painter Leopold Kupelwieser in Rome at the end of March he had confided his feelings and fears, but at the same time had expressed the intention of working towards a grand symphony through chamber music. Others, from Schumann onwards, have seen in the Grand Duo just such a grand symphony, needing nothing more than instrumentation to justify the name. Schumann, indeed, suspected that this was a piano duet arrangement of a symphony, and awaited the discovery of the original, hearing in it, perhaps, the veiled symphonies in sound that he had detected in the early work of Brahms. The Duo is written on a very substantial scale and contains reminiscences of Beethoven symphonies, perceived by Schumann particularly in the second movement and the finale, where he found connections with the second movement of Beethoven's Second Symphony and of the Symphony in A major in particular. Others have disagreed with Schumann, finding the Duo essentially a piano work. Nevertheless the great violinist Josef Joachim, friend of Schumann and of Brahms, had some weighty authority behind him when he orchestrated the work, however characteristic the instrumentation may be of a later age. Brahms himself included the arrangement in concerts given for the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in the early 1870s. The Duo is in four movements, a sonata-form Allegro, a slow movement Andante, a lively enough Scherzo and a final Allegro vivace that again exhibits Schubert's capacity for heavenly length.
Failoni Orchestra, Budapest
The Failoni Orchestra was founded in 1981 by members of the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra. Under the leadership of the violinist Béla Nagy, the orchestra has taken part in a number of important international festivals. The orchestra takes its name from the distinguished Italian conductor Sergio Failoni, conductor of the Hungarian State Opera from 1928 until his death twenty years later.