STRONG: Symphony No. 2, 'Sintram' / Chorale (Adriano/ Alexander Avramenko/ Moscow Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos American Classics: 8.559018)
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George Templeton Strong (1856-1948)
Symphony No.2 "Sintram"
Chorale on a Theme of Leo Hassler
Although his careerwas chiefly in Europe, George Templeton Strong always considered himself anAmerican composer. He was born in New York City on 26 May 1856, into a musicalfamily, his mother a singer and his father, a lawyer, an amateur organist, atrustee of Columbia College, and for four years the president of thePhilharmonic Society of New York. Strong began the study of the piano andviolin as a child, becoming proficient on both instruments, but a strongpredilection for the oboe led him to abandon the other instruments in itsfavour. As an oboist he played in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra but hischoice of music as a profession led to a breach with his father, healed beforethe latter's death in 1881. In 1879 he entered the Leipzig Conservatory,studying with Richard Hoffmann and Salomon Jadassohn. Here he once againchanged instruments, this time to the viola In 1881 he met Liszt, whose advicehe often sought, and made the acquaintance of other leading musicians of thetime.
In 1883 Strongcomposed his third symphonic poem, Undine,Opus 14. When he asked Liszt if this work was worthy of beingdedicated to the master, Liszt is said to have suggested that Strong sit downat the piano and play his tone-poem, but when the younger composer stumbledover the orchestral score, Liszt nudged him aside and played it himself. Afterreading through the score, Liszt wrote on the upper left corner of the firstpage that he was glad to accept the honour of the dedication. In 1886 Strongmoved to Wiesbaden, where he met and became close friends with another Americancomposer, Edward MacDowell, to whom he dedicated his Three Symphonic Idylls for Two Pianos, Opus 29. During hisyears at Wiesbaden, Strong composed his much acclaimed cantata The Haunted Mill, Three Songs for Mezzo-soprano withOrchestra and the Second Balladin G minor for piano,and completed his Symphony No.2 in G minor,Opus 50, which he also dedicated to MacDowell.
After MacDowell'sreturn to the United States the two continued their correspondence, their over120 letters now preserved in a special collection at the Library of Congress inWashington, DC. By 1890 Strong had moved to Vevey in Switzerland and thefollowing year MacDowell persuaded him to become a member of the faculty of theNew England Conservatory. Although he did teach there briefly, illnessprevented him from remaining, and in October 1892 he returned to Vevey, wherehe became absorbed by watercolour painting between 1897 and 1912, founding theSociete Vaudoise des Aquarellistes. He now pursued the working life of aprofessional painter and became friends with one of the best knownwatercolourists in Switzerland, Paul Bouvier. During this period of hiscreative life, Strong wrote virtually no music.
Upon settling inGeneva in 1913, however, Strong again resumed composition, while continuing hiswatercolour painting, with the two arts alternating between hobby and vocationfor the rest of his life. What persuaded him to return to composition was theSwiss premiere of his Symphony No.2("Sintram") in 1912. This was also the start of along andenduring friendship with Carl Ehrenberg, conductor of the Lausanne Orchestrawhich performed the work. In 1913 he completed TheNight Four Little Symphonic Poems for Orchestra, of which ErnestAnsermet gave the first performance on 27 November of the same year. In 1916 hecompleted his symphonic poem Le roi Arthur, whichhe had started in 1891, a major work that was also given its first performanceby Ansermet, with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.
The symphonic poem An der See, known as Symphony No.3, was lost in or betweenChicago and Vevey. There followed the Elegiefor cello and orchestra and Unevie d'artiste for violin and orchestra, dedicated to Joseph Szigeti,with piano suites on fairy-tales and Indian themes as well as songs on his ownand other texts.
In 1923 Strongwrote his lively Hallali for Horn Solo withOrchestra and the Suite for Violoncelloand Orchestra. More songs, a few chamber works and piano pieces werealso published at this time. In 1929 he became dominated by what he called"my piano mistress", writing 58 piano pieces in a period of 98 days,including an extraordinary set of Twenty-FivePreludes. During the summer he spent much time painting and inOctober he wrote the Chorale on a Theme byHans Leo Hassler, for string orchestra. After Pollainiana: Six Piece, for Violoncello and Orchestra(1931) he composed very little. There were works for two pianos,more songs (his last song, composed in 1940, was a setting of the Lord'sPrayer), a String Quartet (1935)and after the war the orchestral D 'uncahier d'imafies I-III and the symphonic poem Ondine (a revision of his earlier Undine), both from around 1945. Much lovedby his adopted country, Strong was honoured every five years from the age of 75to the age of 90 by birthday concerts and special musical evenings. He died inGeneva on 27 June 1948, at the age of 92.
Two of Strong'sbest known works are offered on the present recording Symphony No.2 in G minor, Opus 50,entitled Sintram, after de laMotte Fouque's romance and drawing additional inspiration from Albrecht D??rer'sfamous Ritter, Tod und Teufel (TheKnight, Death and the Devil) was first performed by the Philharmonic Society ofNew York, under Anton Seidl, on 4 March 1893. The score was published inLeipzig the following year Sintram: TheStruggle of Mankind Against the Powers of Evil, to give the work itsfull name, has additionally, at the head of the score, a quotation fromGoethe's Faust:My weal I seek notin torpidity;
Humanity's bestpart in awe doth lie
Howe'er the worldthe sentiment disown,
Once seized wedeeply feel the vast, the unknown.
Fouque's Sintram is a tale that revolves aroundBjorn, a Norse knight of unbridled temper and relentless cruelty, and his sonSintram, whose life is blighted by a curse, the result of his father'smisdeeds. The story culminates in the comforting and saving power of Christianity,in which they finally find peace, as opposed to the indulgence of wild passionsnurtured by barbarous feudal customs, two elements that are clearly set forthin the first movement of the symphony by the chorale-like theme and by thefierce, violent counter-themes In an explanatory note to his work Fouqueacknowledges that for the fundamental idea of Sintram he was influenced by awoodcut by Albrecht Dtirer showing a knight riding in companionship with Deaththrough a valley of poisonous plants and hideous creatures. A spectre pursuesthe 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 twomovements of the symphony, which have no titles according to the composer, suggestthe normal development of life in human communities Because there is so muchcontrast between the first two and last two movements, Strong provided titlesfor the latter The third movement, The ThreeTerrible Companions: Death, the Devil and Insanity, is essentially amusical retelling of Fouque's romance, coloured by D??rer's woodcut. The fourthmovement, The Victorious Struggle, isan expression of hope for the future in the struggle against evil.
Strong's Chorale on a Theme by Hans Leo Hassler
|Symphony No. 2, G minor, Op. 50|
||I. Ziemlich langsam, Rasch
||III. Die drei entsetzlichen Gefahrten: Tod, Teufe
||IV. Kampf und Sieg (Rasch, Feierlich)
||Chorale on a Theme of Hans Leo Hassler
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