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Monday, 13 October 2014

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part I)

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part I)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 October

What I am looking forward to in the Cambridge Classical Concert Series… (Part I)

On Friday 17 October at 7.30, Cambridge Corn Exchange (@CambridgeCornEx) hosts the first in its annual Cambridge Classical Concert Series

The series opens with the excellent Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (@rpoonline), again as The Corn Exchange's Orchestra in Residence (reviewed here, at the end of the previous series (earlier in the year), when Nicholas Collon conducted them in an all-British programme of Elgar, Britten, and Vaughan Williams…)

The programme for Friday is as follows:

First half

Robert Schumann (1810–1856) : Manfred Overture (please see below for a more accurate title) [mainly written in 1848, but first performed in 1852]

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943) : Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 [apparently written in July / August 1934, and first performed that November]

Second half

Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) : Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 [more than fifty years earlier, in 1877, but otherwise as with the Rachmaninov : started in the summer, and first performed later that year – please see below]

Extra : Please look here for a further connection, of sorts, between Brahms and Rachmaninov (plus a plethora of other Opus Numbers !)…

This posting – much delayed by the exigencies of trying to write up The 34th Cambridge Film Festival (@camfilmfest) – looks essentially at the reasons why we have the Overture as an isolated piece, whereas those about the Brahms is now linked here, and about the Rachmaninov here, are more personal responses (plus some more music history)

If one stops to investigate the phenomenon, it is remarkable that some pieces achieve a life beyond the work for which they were written :

Not so much in the case of a lovely aria, such as the famous ‘Erbarme dich’ (in Bach’s St Matthew Passion, BWV 244) or Gluck’s equally well-known ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ (from his Orfeo ed Euridice (from 1762)), where it is obvious that the strength of the writing has given birth to a lovely expression of feeling – although it is probably still best understood (first of all, at least) in context.

No. One has in mind, say, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 – or, as the Germans more style it, Ouvertüre zu Coriolan (Overture to Coriolan). The question of naming apart (though as true of the Manfred Overture in this concert), the music was written in 1807 for Heinrich Joseph von Collin's drama Coriolan.

Here, nothing suggests that there was any other incidental music. The complete works of von Collin (Gesammelte Werke, in six volumes) appeared between 1812 and 1814, and are still in print (so presumably still studied), but what really seems to survive with any life is the Overture*.

In the case of Schubert**, maybe his incidental music to Rosamunde*** (Op. 26, D. 797) has survived a little better. Yet the production, withdrawn after two nights, scarcely deviated from his other general lack of success in writing for the stage. Regarding this programme’s piece by Robert Schumann, it is, yet again, an extract – seemingly surviving largely on its own.

The ‘Overture’ is taken from Manfred : Dramatic Poem (with Music) in Three Parts (in the original German, Manfred. Dramatisches Gedicht in drei Abtheitungen), Op. 115, and is a setting of the dramatic work of that name by George, Lord Byron (published in 1817), mainly written in 1848.

Pictured is the title-page of the edition of Manfred that was prepared by Clara Schumann, Robert’s wife (and then widow), and it indicates that it had pretensions to be amongst his greater vocal works. Despite Hugo Wolf’s apparent appreciation for Manfred (Wolf lived from 1860 to 1903), its availability as a score (although modern scores are of the 'Overture' alone) and even as a recording, and the fact that academics are still writing about it (and, inevitably – it appears – with Schumann, his mental state at the time of writing it), the focus remains this ‘Overture’.

The result, seemingly, is that the whole Manfred is not allowed to stand alongside compositions such as Liederkreis, Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben (all earlier, being from 1840).

So it is does not even seem, after all, that this 'Overture' was separated from its musical home quite in the same way as for the other works considered above : they were attached to something that has not really survived, whereas this piece, by being picked out as the best part, has been severed from the body of Manfred and kept alive before us on the concert platform...


* Likewise, to stay with Beethoven, his score to the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43 – the Overture is certainly in the concert repertoire, but what about the rest of the score (maybe only on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3), where it has been broadcast), let alone the ballet itself ?

** If one does not check, Schubert (1797–1828) may seem more contemporary with Schumann (1810–1856) than with Beethoven, but Schubert’s life in fact much overlapped with that of Beethoven (1770–1827), since Schubert died before he was 32, and Schumann lived for more than 25 years beyond him. (As is well known, Schubert both felt himself in Beethoven’s shadow (as did Brahms (1833–1897), and was one of the great man’s torch-bearers.)

*** In full, the play Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern [Countess of Cyprus], by Helmina von Chézy.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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