Violin Fantasies Frank Huang
Schubert Ernst Schoenberg Waxman
Franz Schubert wrote his Fantasy in C major, D.934,relatively late in his short career. The son of a Vienna schoolmaster, he hadserved as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, left after his voice had brokento qualify himself as a schoolteacher, and thereafter spent much of his time inthe company of like-minded friends. Prolific, particularly in his compositionof songs, he had begun to achieve some public success by the time of his death,with the first official concert devoted to his music given in 1828 and growinginterest from music publishers. The Fantasy was written towards the end of 1827for Josef Slavik, one of the first great Czech violin virtuosi, who died inBudapest in 1833 at the age of 27. Slavik gave the first performance of thework in January 1828 with Carl Maria von Bocklet, when the demands it made onthe audience persuaded some, including critics, to leave before the end, inspite of a virtuoso element in the writing that was calculated to appeal tocontemporary taste. The work is in four sections, marked respectively Andantemolto, Allegretto, Andantino and Allegro, before moving to a reminiscentAllegretto and a final Presto, with a key pattern that moves from C major to Aminor and A major, and then, in the third section, to A flat major, a keyrecalled after a return to C major, to which the final Presto returns. The violin first enters above thetremoli of the piano, both suggesting, as so often, a song of serenity andpassing sadness. A violin melody of another kind opens the A minor Allegrettosection, violin and piano taking turns with the melody. Moving into A major,the music becomes rapider, hinting often at Austrian popular musicaltraditions, before the A minor theme returns. There are shifts of key as apreparation for the Andantino, with three variations on the song Sei mirgegr??sst, the heart of the work. The fourth version of the theme ends with acadenza-like passage for the violin, followed by a brief return of the opening,before the cheerful Allegro, its violin tremoli leading to a moment oftranquillity in the mood of the song and variations. The respite isshort-lived, capped soon by a final virtuoso Presto.
The violinist and composer Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst was bornin Brno in 1814 and after early study in his native city entered the ViennaConservatory in 1825 as a pupil of Bohm and of Seyfried. He heard Paganini inVienna three years later and soon abandoned his studies, after disciplinaryaction against him for unauthorised absence. Setting out on a concert tour, hemade his way to Paris, where he was able to hear more of Paganini, whoseunpublished compositions he played by ear, in 1837 anticipating Paganini'sarrival in Marseille by giving his own concert there. He continued to appearthroughout Europe until about 1857, when he turned his attention rather tochamber music, collaborating from 1859 with Joachim, Wieniawski and Piatti inthe Beethoven Quartet Society. In 1864 he retired to Nice, to find some relieffrom gout, and died there the following year. His Fantaisie brillante sur lamarche et la romance d'Otello de Rossini was published in 1839. Rossini's operaOtello had first been staged in 1816 and was later revised. It is very looselybased on Shakespeare's play. Ernst's Fantaisie starts with an Introduction inwhich the march and romance are both heard. A cadenza leads to the return ofthe march, announced by the violin in multiple stopping. The first variationcalls for all the technical command of a Paganini. The second variation givesthe violinist wide leaps to high harmonics, before a change of key into theromance, itself to be varied before a cadenza leads to the third variation, inwhich the solo violin ornaments the march with its own intricate elaborations.There is a return to the more lyrical material of the Introduction before anelegantly virtuosic final section.
With Schoenberg's Phantasy for violin with pianoaccompaniment, an accurate description of the work, there is a move into verydifferent musical territory. Bornin Vienna, Arnold Schoenberg spent much of his earlier career in Berlin, untilthe rise of Hitler made it necessary to take refuge elsewhere. He made hisfinal home in America, where he died in 1951. His influence on the music of thetwentieth century was very great, in particular through his development andpromulgation of theories of composition in which the unity of a work isprovided by the use of a predetermined series of the twelve semitones of theoctave, their order also inverted or used in reverse form, with octave displacement,the use of notes of the same name in a higher or lower register. This serialmusic, coupled with atonality, the avoidance of a key or key centre, if such athing were possible, found much favour, and was extended by some into otheraspects of music. The Phantasy, Op.47, written in 1949, was the last ofSchoenberg's instrumental works. It is based on a series of the twelvesemitones, the first six notes inverted to give the second half of the series.These are stated by the violin at the beginning, while the piano, which has agenerally subsidiary r??le, offers notes of the inversion of the series eitheras chordal clusters or in rapid proximity. Although it is often difficult tofollow the form of works of this kind aurally, it may be possible to distinguishthe three short episodes that make up the opening section, marked Grave. Thesecond episode starts with a glissando and the third with a heavy piano chordand a wide violin leap to a high harmonic. A passage of nine bars follows,marked Pi?? mosso, furioso. A Lento is succeeded by a Grazioso section whichleads to a Scherzando and a Meno mosso that is followed by a return to theopening Grave and a further reference to the Pi?? mosso.
Like Schoenberg, Franz Waxman was also a refugee fromHitler's Germany. Born in 1906 in Upper Silesia, Franz Wachsmann was the son ofan industrialist and had to contend with paternal opposition to his choice ofsuch an insecure profession as that of musician. After a brief period workingin a bank, he saved enough money to study in Dresden and Berlin, finding workas a cafe pianist and, notably, a collaboration with a jazz group known as theWeintraub Syncopators, for which he also made arrangements. He found additionalemployment arranging music for films and a meeting with Friedrich Hollander,later known in America as Frederick Hollander, led to his orchestration of thelatter's score for the Josef von Sternberg film
Der blaue Engel. As a refugee from Germany, where he had hadpersonal experience of the brutality of the supporters of the new regime, hemoved to France and then to America, settling in Los Angeles. Here he found aplace in the film industry, leading to a position with Warner Brothers, one ofa group of gifted composers in Hollywood that included Korngold. It was for the1946 Jean Negrolescu film Humoresque in which the rich socialite Joan Crawfordpursues the indigent but talented violinist played by John Garfield thatWaxman, as he now was, wrote the score, nominated for an Academy Award. Thefilm brings the inevitable composition of the same name by Dvor˘ak, butthe score also includes the Carmen Fantasy, using themes from Bizet's opera.The work opens with the toreador's march, as heard in the opera Overture. Therefollows an embroidered version of the famous Habanera and melody after melody,including Carmen's Seguidilla and a characteristic Spanish dance, all woventogether into a coherent whole, a virtuoso work that undoubtedly aptly servedits original dramatic purpose.