In Memoriam: Music for Solemn Occasions

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In Memoriam

Music when softvoices die

Vibrates in thememory

The present collection of solemn musicoffers works that give expression to deeper emotions, associated, in somecases, with death, and in others simply with moments of calm and serenity .The firstof these is a March taken from Henry Purcell's Music on the Death ofQueen Mary. This heartfelt music was intended to mark the death of theEnglish Queen whose marriage had brought her husband William of Orange to sharethe throne of England, after the expulsion in 1689 of her fatherKing James II. Her patronage was of value to musicians, but, ironically,Purcell's music for the death of the Queen in 1694 came shortly before his owndeath in 1695.

In LondonHandel was much influenced by Purcell, at least when it came to English churchmusic. Bom in Halle in 1685, he had found employment at the opera in Hamburgbefore moving to Italy, where he continued in the Italian melodic style ofwriting before finding employment at court in Hanover and, almost at once,lucrative work in London as a composer of Italian opera. Of this the opera Serseis an example. Handel's Largo allows the king of the title, Xerxes, to contemplatethe beauty of nature. Handel later turned his attention to English oratorio, ofwhich he may be considered the creator. The Dead March from the biblicaloratorio Saul marks the death of the King, the fall of the mighty inbattle, slain with his son Jonathan, to be mourned by David, his successor.

Music of great serenity comes from Johann SebastianBach, notably in the famous Air from the Orchestral Suite in D major,popularly known as the Air on the G string from anarrangement by the violinist August Wilhelm. The calm and peace of Bach's organmusic is heard in the Adagio from his Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in Cmajor and the tranquil happiness of the blessed in a transcription of acantata movement, known in English as Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.

Bach's near contemporaries include threedistinguished composers from Venice, musicians whose work influenced Bach andwhich he even transcribed. His arrangements for harpsichord include aversion ofAlessandro Marcello's splendid Oboe Concerto, the slow movement of whichis heard here in its original version. Antonio Vivaldi, a great violinist andmost prolific composer, is here represented by a pensive slow movement from aconcerto for flautino, the smallest member of the recorder family, while Albinoni,with rather less justification, appears nominally at least in a moving Adagiothat owes its origin rather to the twentieth century Albinoni scholar RenzoGiazotto.

The Baroque leads imperceptibly into theclassical, by way of Christoph Willibald von Gluck, innovator in opera and animportant figure in the theatres of Vienna and Paris. Gluck's opera on the subject of the legendarymusician Orpheus, who tried to bring back his beloved Eurydice from the dead,includes the Dance of the Blessed Spirits, music for those who havedied, yet suffer no more.

The nineteenth century brings changes inmanners and outlook. At its start Ludwig van Beethoven dominates the music of Vienna, gigantic in his musical aspirations, and never moreso in a symphony conceived in celebration of the republican Napoleon, itsdedication discarded when Napoleon declared himself Emperor. The slow movementof the Eroica Symphony, in memory of a great man, although Napoleon wasat the height of his career when it was written, is a funeral march. Thismovement may be heard as the apotheosis of the funeral march, music of infinitegrandeur in its solemn purpose.

The Polish romantic composer and pianist FryderykChopin followed Beethoven, at least, in the inclusion of a funeral marchmovement in his Piano Sonata No.2, here transcribed for orchestra. Itremains among the most familiar of such works.

Later romantic music of sadness is heard inthe Swedish composer Hugo A1fven. His Elegy is taken from incidentalmusic for Nordstrom's play on the life of the great Swedish king Gustavus Adolphusll. The Scandinavian elegaic mood recurs poignantly enough in Grieg's LastSpring, music of great emotional intensity.

A French contemporary, Leon Boellmann, inthe course of his short life, won a reputation as a composer and organist. Hismost famous organ composition, the Suite Gothique, written in 1895, twoyears before his death at the age of thirty-five, contains the moving andheartfelt Priere (Prayer).

Disc: 1
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, "Eroica"
1 March
2 Serse (Xerxes), HWV 40: Ombra mai fu (Largo)
3 Air from Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1069
4 Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Orfeo ed Euridic
5 Largo from Flautino Concerto in C major, RV 443
6 Marche funebre
7 Adagio in G minor
8 Elegy from Gustavus Adolphus Suite, Op. 49
9 Dead March
10 Priere a Notre-Dame from Suite Gothique
11 Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D minor
12 Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
13 Last Spring, Op. 34
14 Marcia funebre
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