Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Fragment

This weekend’s Kansas City Symphony concerts were supposed to be conducted by guest conductor Asher Fisch who for reasons unknown to me did not make it. Thus Jeffery Kahane filled in an changed the program. Instead of Mahler’s Blumine Movement from the Symphony # 1, Mozart Piano Concerto # 17 and the Brahms/Schoenberg Piano Quartet in g, we got a different Mozart Piano Concerto (#25) with Kahane as solo and conductor and the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony.

Somewhat like the orphan “Blumine”, I was preparing a second “must hear” essay about it to go along with the earlier one about the Brahms/Schoenberg Quartet. Seeing it was now a moot point, I went no further than what you see below. Although the Kahane performances were quite good, I have a pang of regret that the KC audiences were not able to experience two rarely heard and wonderful works. The Brahms/Schoenberg essay was published earlier here but not on the KC Symphony Blog.

Thus, as it is,  I submit my “Blumine”; a bit disjointed and unpolished, much like the work it honors.

The Mahler’s first symphonic essay took a circuitous route in both form and performance venue before emerging as the familiar and popular Symphony # 1 in D major. The “Blumine”, to be performed by the KCS along with the Brahms/Schoenberg Piano Quartet, was once a part of this symphony but was discarded by Mahler after a few performances. After its rediscovery in 1966, it has occasionally been performed as a part of the Symphony but more frequently as a separate piece, as in this case. A little history lesson is in order so as to understand how this movement disappeared for 70 years.

Mahler first conceived of this work as “A Symphonic Poem in Two Parts” when it was premiered in Budapest in 1889. “Blumine” (although not yet labeled as such) was the second movement of this early form which is recognizable as the First Symphony but with many differences in orchestration and some formal reorganization. This performance was not well received and thus Mahler made some extensive revisions for a second performance, this time in Hamburg in 1893. Now titled “Titan, a Tone Poem in Symphonic Form”, the movement gained the title “Blumine” (Flowers, or Flower Chapter) and remained as the second movement. Mahler prepared an elaborate program for the piece; the first part (current first movement, “Blumine” and the Scherzo) was called “From the Days of Youth: Youth, Fruit and Thorns”. The second part “Commedia Umana” consisted of the current “Funeral March” movement and the Finale.

Only a couple of performances were given of this version before a 4th performance in Berlin in 1896 where Blumine was formally struck from the score, all traces of the program and  the name “Titan” were removed. The work was published in its current form in 1899 titled Symphony # 1 in D Major.

Blumine remained unperformed and lost until it was discovered in a copy of an early manuscript donated to Yale University. Benjamin Britten performed it soon after and the enterprising New Haven Symphony under conductor Frank Brieff performed and recorded it, interpolated into the definitive score as the second movement. Since then, several performances have been given and recorded of the early Budapest and Hamburg versions.

So what of the music? Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de La Grange was not too kind:

“There can be no doubt as to the authorship of ‘Blumine,’ and yet few other arguments can be stated in its favor. It is the music of a late-nineteenth-century Mendelssohn, pretty, charming, lightweight, urbane, and repetitious, just what Mahler’s music never is.”

Frankly, I kind of like the early versions with Blumine. Performing much the same services as the Adagietto of the 5th, the short interlude comes as a quiet, simple respite in the hothouse charged atmosphere of the symphony. I do agree with de La Grange, it is a bit like Mendelssohn scored with a decidedly late century palate. However it looks forward to Mahler’s grander creations such as the aforementioned 5th and the 3rd’s posthorn serenade.

Several fine recordings of the Symphony with Blumine are available, mostly including Blumine as an appendix, notably Zinman/Zurich Tonhalle on RCA and Neeme Jarvi/Royal Scottish Orchestra on Chandos. The 1883 Hamburg “Symphonic Poem in Two Movements: Titan” is easiest to find in a Challenge Classics recording with Jan Willem de Vriend conducting the Netherlands SO. Haydn House, an LP to CD reissue source has the original Frank Brieff/New Haven recording.

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