Posts Tagged 'Baerenreiter'

Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9: A National Culture for the New World

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Antonín Dvořák

Even in a cultural era ripe with nationalism, Antonín Dvořák was one of the most nationalistic. Slavic folk music, especially from his native Bohemia, permeates his entire oeuvre. He develops these simplistic folk elements into sophisticated symphonies, operas and concertos through Romantic compositional techniques, while retaining a certain innocence that makes his music approachable and beloved by musicians and audiences alike.

For Dvořák incorporating Slavic folk elements into his music wasn’t so much a political gesture as it was a matter of musical philosophy. Having grown up in the Bohemian countryside playing folk tunes in his father’s tavern, he intuited an intimate relationship between music and the place it came from, and he believed that all peoples of the world should develop their own music stemming from their homegrown culture.

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Harry T. Burleigh

Driven perhaps by this core belief, Dvořák became fascinated by Native-American music and African-American spirituals during his time as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America from 1892 to 1895. An African-American student at the Conservatory and later a composer himself, Harry T. Burleigh, sang spirituals to Dvořák to help acquaint him with the genre. Seeing parallels between these songs and the folk music of his homeland — in the connection to the countryside, to the joys and sorrows that come with close dependence on nature, and to the struggles of an oppressed people — and perhaps also delighting in the warm familiar tonality of the pentatonic scale, on which both genres are based, Dvořák asserted:

“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”

In constructing a piece for the New World, then, Dvořák’s philosophy naturally led him to these melodies.

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Placard from the 1893 Premiere of Dvořák’s New World Symphony

Composed in 1893 on a commission from the New York Philharmonic, Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World,” takes inspiration from the “wide open spaces” of America’s physical landscape and the music unique to its people: Native-American music and African-American spirituals, the “spirit” of which Burleigh had credited Dvořák with absorbing before writing his own melodies. In much the same way as he does with Slavic folk music, Dvořák translates this New World folk music into a more general language in this Symphony, which lets him introduce these sounds to the rest of the world.

In many ways this “New World” Symphony, which also contains folk elements that seem to recall Dvořák’s homeland and Romantic symphonic impulses alike, is distinctly emblematic of the cultural melting pot of America, and perhaps that is its power. Starting from its premiere under the baton of Anton Seidl, where it received tumultuous applause, it has been a crowd favorite, and today it remains one of the most recognizable symphonic works in history. Neil Armstrong even took a recording of it to the moon in 1969.

Bärenreiter has recently released a new Urtext edition of the piece edited by Jonathan Del Mar, following on Del Mar’s recent work on Dvořák’s Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. The new edition clarifies many uncertainties, as Del Mar himself explains:

DvorakSymphony9CoverIf Dvořák’s Eighth has always been the most error-ridden symphony in the standard repertoire, the New World has been the one with the most problems. Even a couple of Urtext Editions, one Czech from half a century ago, the other more recent, have caused more difficulties than they solved.

The dilemma, as so often, is the many discrepancies between autograph and first edition; which do we trust? Until now the answers have been more or less guesswork, editors tending (reasonably enough, perhaps) to be beguiled by the hallowed evidence of the composer’s own handwriting, especially tempting due to the fact that publication was not supervised by Dvořák, who was stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean, but was left in the good hands of Brahms. But of course the autograph is not always the last word. And now at last we have a new source which can help us to sort the sheep from the goats. This was discovered about 30 years ago, and is — amazingly — almost the complete set of parts used for the first performance in New York, which still survives in the archive of the New York Philharmonic. These were copied directly from the lost Stichvorlage copyist’s manuscript, and therefore give us much crucial information as to which readings that manuscript score, which included Dvořák’s final revisions, is likely to have had. From the huge number of places where these parts agree with Dvořák’s autograph, we can also see exactly which readings in the first edition score emanate from Brahms.

But even the first performance parts do not provide the conclusive answer to the most important question of all: the placing of the peremptory horn call in the fourth bar. For that, we can now summon a much more recent discovery, one of just a few months ago: a sheet of manuscript paper on which Dvořák jotted down the main themes of the work for a lecture recital he gave shortly after the first performance. This at last shows unambiguously his final version of this controversial bar, which has not been heard correctly for over a hundred years.

Jonathan Del Mar

Discovering Mårten Jansson & Bärenreiter’s Jansson Choral Competition

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Mårten Jansson

Every time we listen to Swedish composer Mårten Jansson we can’t help but get swept up in the whirlwind of emotions he creates. His music is full of all of the compositional elements that choristers love to sing: sweeping melodic lines, open chords and expressive dissonance.

Ultimately, though, performers and audiences alike fall in love with his music because they are drawn to the fundamental honesty at its core. Jansson approaches traditional sacred texts with humility, and he openly shares his experience of it through his music in a way that amplifies the text without pretense or contradiction.

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This honesty should not, however, be confused with simplicity or naïveté. Jansson’s stunning Missa Popularis, for instance, manages to connect us to a profound range of emotions, while uniting many layers of thought and tradition into the microcosm of a single piece of music. In addition to all of Jansson’s neoromantic tendencies, the Missa sits atop a foundation of Swedish folk dances and simultaneously also sounds strikingly Medieval. This is perhaps most obvious in the opening of the “Kyrie” and the “Agnus Dei,” but the feeling of the chant is present throughout the entire Mass.

By uniting modern constructions with ancient ones, Jansson not only brings his Mass into the long tradition of the sacred ritual, but also brings the listener into communion with that tradition and with those who have celebrated it for centuries. The past shines through to the present, and the present holds its hand out to the past. Time becomes circular in celebration of the ritual, and Janssons’s Missa Popularis allows the audience to experience that in the music itself.

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A similar combination of modern and ancient also underpins Jansson’s “Maria (IV),” which simultaneously elicits a deep-seated sympathy for the universal, fundamental suffering of motherhood and brings to life Mary’s individual sorrow as the mother of a child who belongs not to her, but to all mankind. Commissioned by the Royal Swedish Court for the Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2013, this piece served as the focal point of Bärenreiter’s Mårten Jansson Choral Competition.

Ten choirs from around the world entered videos of their performances of “Maria (IV)” in the competition, and those videos were judged by an international panel of choral experts. The top three choirs all received vouchers for Bärenreiter choral publications, and the winning choir also received a commission for a new Jansson piece to suit their particular needs.

Here is the video submitted by the winning choir, the Jugendkonzertchor Dortmund from Dortmund, Germany directed by Felix Heitmann. This performance was praised by judges as “an absolutely perfect performance” and one that “really felt like the ensemble wanted to tell you something they feel is important.”

The University of Denver Lamont Chorale from Denver, Colorado, USA, directed by Catherine Sailer, came in second place with a video of a live performance of the piece that judges praised for “a nicely balanced full warm sound” and “an equally great interpretation,” as well as “excellent and well-structured dynamics and agogics.”

Rounding out the top three was Warsaw’s Vocore, a much smaller ensemble of eight singers founded only in 2017. Praised for being “the most ‘together’ performance among the entries,” the judges appreciated the choir’s warm tone and clear and present middle voices.

The Excitement of Editing Debussy’s Works: Interview with Bärenreiter Editor Douglas Woodfull-Harris

Douglas Woodfull-Harris has been working at Bärenreiter as an editor for orchestral and chamber music for more than 25 years and has overseen the production of countless editions. In 2018 we will commemorate Claude Debussy’s death 100 years ago. Among the editions which Woodfull-Harris has personally edited are Debussy’s La Mer, Afternoon of a Faun, his Cello Sonata and String Quartet, Images for piano, Syrinx for Flute, and most recently the Rhapsodie Première for Orchestra with Solo Clarinet (coming in December 2017).

Claude Debussy, c. 1908

Douglas Woodfull-Harris

Why Debussy? What made you turn to his works?

Douglas Woodfull-Harris (DWH): From conversations with musicians I knew that the existing editions had problems such as discrepancies between score and parts of orchestral works. Orchestras had their correction lists and made do with what they had but scholarly-critical editions were badly needed. Also, I simply enjoy the music.

The first work by Debussy which you edited was his cello sonata. How did you proceed?

DWH: Of course, I gathered together all relevant sources as I always do. During this process I investigated a private collection in Winterthur (Switzerland) which nobody appears to have looked into, and there I found sketches to the Cello Sonata.

Now, the final note in measure 18 of the 2nd movement is the lowest note on the cello, a C. In the autograph score, the first edition, and all other published editions a “circle” or “zero” appears above the note (*see example below). This circle today is understood to indicate that the note should be played as an open string. I asked myself why an experienced composer like Debussy would mark a note in such a way that can only be played as the open C string. It simply didn’t make sense to me. The marking seemed redundant. But is it possible Debussy meant something else? Continue reading ‘The Excitement of Editing Debussy’s Works: Interview with Bärenreiter Editor Douglas Woodfull-Harris’

Publisher Spotlight: Bärenreiter

baer_240pixelBärenreiter is a renowned German publisher. Founded in 1923, during an era in which there was a burgeoning interest in early music, Bärenreiter quickly developed its reputation for using musicological research to inform editorial decisions. Their editions are preferred by many musicians worldwide. So what is it about Bärenreiter publications that makes them so popular? Our interview with Bärenreiter staff, below, will answer that question and more! Continue reading ‘Publisher Spotlight: Bärenreiter’


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