THE GERMAN ROMANTIC SYMPHONY 101
posted by James Reel
Through January, Classical 90.5 will explore German Romantic symphonies. Every morning between 10 and 11 (except New Year's Day, when we actually launch the series around 11:30), we'll be working our way through the most popular compositions that define the very notion of "symphony"--at least as defined in Germany and Austria.
We'll begin with Ludwig van Beethoven, highlighting one of his symphonies per day Jan. 1 through 9. We'll hear how Beethoven inherited the elegant, Classical symphonic form from Mozart and Haydn and gradually transformed it into something more personal and dramatic. Then, starting Jan. 10, we'll work through the eight canonical symphonies of Franz Schubert (they're numbered through 9, but there's a hole in his catalog where No. 7 should be). Again, this is the work of a pioneer in the Romantic style, building on the Mozart and Haydn models until he takes full possession of the form with the intense lyricism of his "Unfinished" Symphony and nearly bursts from the symphonic seams with his big, irrepressible Ninth.
On Jan. 18, we turn to Robert Schumann, whose four symphonies begin to blur the line between symphony and symphonic poem--particularly with No. 3, a musical voyage along the Rhine River. Then, Jan. 22 through 25 will be devoted to Schumann's good friend Johannes Brahms, whose four symphonies prove that purely abstract forms are capable of high drama.
New attitudes toward just what a symphony should be emerge as we hear the five symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn Jan. 26 through 30. Three of them are homages to specific times or places--the German Reformation, Scotland, Italy--and No. 2, inspired by Beethoven's monumental Ninth, is nothing less than a huge cantata in praise of the printing press and the first printed Bible. We'll wrap things up Jan. 31 with a work that completely erases the distinction between the symphony and the symphonic poem, the "Faust" Symphony by Franz Liszt, the leader of what was, by Romantic standards, the avant-garde in the middle of the 19th century.
One German Romantic symphony will be played each January morning between 10 and 11 (between 11 and noon on Jan. 1, shortly following our New Year's Day in Vienna broadcast).