HERMANN GOETZ (1840-1876)
From a very subjective point of view, the greatest Romantic piano concerto is, to me, the B flat major concerto by Hermann Goetz. As I said, this is a personal idiosyncrasy, and my more sober judgement would certainly give precedence to, say, Schumann or Liszt - but for some reason or other, the juvenile experience of Goetz' concerto has marked me, probably for life. This is a fairly restrained, un-showy piece, which can't, without being embarassingly epigonic, deny its descendance from Schumann; lyric Romanticism, suffused with a soft glow of poetic ecstasy - so if you rather fancy something of the dashing, thundering, wildly cascading sort, you'd better stay away. As to Goetz' other music (there isn't all that much; he fell victim to consumption when still comparatively young), nothing ever moves me in the same way as this concerto, but his symphony (delightful scherzo), violin concerto etc. are nonetheless worth getting hold of. I'll just add that his opera 'The Taming of the Shrew' is reputed to be a major achievement of 19th century comic opera and that amateur pianists with limited proficiency tired of their staple fare might like to cast a glance at his sonatinas (probably also well suited for educational purposes).
JOACHIM RAFF (1822-1882)
I took conscious notice of Raff's music for the first time when I bought a second hand CD recording of his 3rd symphony entitled 'In the forest'. Suspicions that I might be treated to a specimen of all too homely, provincial German Romanticism turned out to be unfounded; and though not bearing the stamp of genius, the music is evocative enough not to make one regret accompanying the composer on his 45 minute rambling through the woods. It wasn't even all purely idyllic: after a scherzo overtly taking its cue from the standard elfin idiom developed by Mendelssohn, there came, somewhat as a surprise, a finale of considerable ferocity, obviously depicting the nocturnal hunting romps of pagan sylvan deities. I certainly won't mind making the acquaintance of further Raff symphonies if they happen to cross my path, and I gather that Raff's biography is of some interest, too: he was one of those whose help Liszt enlisted when setting his own music for orchestra. I also remember a hint somewhere that Liszt was very much taken indeed with Raff's outward appearance - anyone out there who cares to load a picture of him?
ERNST THEODOR AMADEUS HOFFMANN (1776-1822)
E.T.A. Hoffmann is of course well recognized as a major figure of the Romantic movement, and quite apart from his extravagant and accomplished story-telling, he's often considered so quintessentially Romantic because he strove to realize the Romantic ideal of artistic universalism by trying his hand at music and, to a much lesser extent, at painting and drawing. While many music lovers are at least dimly aware that Hoffmann composed, or even know that his 'Undine' may lay claim to a prominent rank in the history of Romantic opera, for most, I suppose, the association Hoffmann - music rather points to Offenbach's Tales, Delibes' Coppelia, Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker etc. than to the man's music itself. When approaching this music, one mustn't expect something as bizarrely original and adventurous as his tales, but must bear in mind that one of his idols was Mozart (which made him give up his third Christian name Wilhelm and replace it by Amadeus). Thus, his music is of classical restraint with hints of the Romantic idiom to be explored by Weber etc. and with occasional harking back to the contrapuntal devices of earlier periods. These retrospective leanings (in themselves very Romantic) are also, though not over-obtrusively, present in the work I particularly want to recommend, the Miserere in b flat minor, a psalm setting for soli, choir and orchestra. Hoffmann, himself a Protestant from Koenigsberg in East Prussia, wrote it inspired by the Roman Catholic atmosphere of Bamberg, a most spectacularly picturesque town in Franconia, which became an important stage in his life and offered him the opportunity to exert his skills as a director of music at the local theatre. I leave it open if this Miserere is to be labelled a masterpiece, but there are certainly passages, especially for the soloists, that have the power to move, and there is one bit that has always given me particular pleasure - a short tenor aria where the text speaks of rejoicing, which rejoicing is very delicately, if somewhat quaintly, expressed by a bassoon.
EMIL NIKOLAUS VON REZNICZEK (1866-1945) Some 20 years ago, more or less every German/Austrian interested in classical music would probbaly have been familiar with a tune by Rezniczek, as a popuolar TV quiz on musical theatre had chosen a few bars from his overture to 'Donna Diana' as its signature tune. Some time ago, a bargain CD with two of Rezniczek's for symphonies provided me with some deeper insight into Reznickek's merits. The D major symphony probably isn't more than a charming anachronism - a holiday from the startling and disturbing musical innovations Rezniczek witnessed during his lifetime, a turning-away from the even more startling and disturbing spectacle of battlefields strewn with corpses (the symphony was published in 1918). It might be considered irresponsible to write at such a depressing point of modern history music so uncompromisingly harking back to Weber or Mendelssohn at their most care-free, but I find it difficult to resist its uncomplicated, yet never vulgar buoyancy. My favourite moment occurs when the second theme of the last movement makes its first appearance as a cello cantilene of restrained grandeur; a moment for which the term 'nobilmente', so dear to Elgar, would be a fitting designation.
The f minor symphony is an altogether more serious and ambitious affair. The first and last movement sound as if Rezniczek had had it in his mind to recast Schumann's nervously rambling 'Weltschmerz' idiom in late romantic style, and though the result by no means tries to keep abreast with the more progressive tendencies of the time, it isn't smooth epigonism either - repeated listening is likely to make one aware of quite a few surprising harmonic and melodic turns in this reflective, melancholy meandering and to reveal the composer's keen sense of instrumental colours, which makes him more often rely on the transparent interweaving of few lines than on the impact of the full orchestral blast. (There is, however, a sort of final apotheosis.) The second movement's title, 'Funeral March for a Comedian', may call to mind Mahler; the music, however, entirely lacks grotesque elements ; harshness and suppressed anger seem to be the key notes.
There are some more people I might like to comment on (Franz Lachner, Johann
Nepomuk Hummel); but let's leave it at that for the time being.
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