Monday, January 15, 2018

Mahler's Kindertotenlieder

Controversy surrounds the music of Gustav Mahler, with one great example being his Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”). Mahler first began work on this orchestral song cycle in 1901. An orchestral song cycle is a group of songs meant for performance as a unit and accompanied by an orchestra. The texts that Mahler chose for his song cycle were taken from poems by Friedrich Rueckert, who originally wrote these poems along with many others as a form of mourning the death of his children. Mahler felt a special connection to the poetry as one of Rueckert’s children (Ernst) shared a name with his deceased brother.                                                              
Not long after he began work on Kindertotenlieder, Mahler met the woman who would become his wife the following year. His marriage to Alma Mahler and the birth of two daughters fairly quickly would change the circumstances surrounding his song cycle, resulting in a strong difference in opinion between the composer and his new bride and a haunting story for the Mahler family.

Join me on Wednesday for more on the eerie tale surrounding Kindertotenlieder.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Stravinsky had to say about The Rite of Spring

Previously we discussed Stravinsky’s famous The Rite of Spring. We know that this piece quickly became one of the most well-known works of the early 20th century. But why so controversial? At the premiere of the ballet in 1913, a riot began amongst members of the audience. Historians believe that it was the choreography created by dancer Vaclav Nijinsky that provoked the majority of controversy rather than Stravinsky’s score. Years following this scandalous premiere, here is what Stravinsky had to say about the experience:

“That the first performance of The Rite of Spring was attended by a scandal must be known to everybody. Strange as it may seem, however, I was unprepared for the explosion myself…
                                               
Mild protests against the music could be heard from the very beginning of the performance. Then, when the curtain opened on the group of knock-kneed and long-braided Lolitas jumping up and down, the storm broke. Cries of “Shut up!” came from behind me. I heard Florent Schmitt shout “Be quiet, you bitches of the sixteenth”; the “bitches” of the sixteenth arrondissement were, of course, the most elegant ladies in Paris. The uproar continued, however, and a few minutes later I left the hall in a rage; I was sitting on the right near the orchestra, and I remember slamming the door. I have never again been that angry. The music was so familiar to me; I loved it, and I could not understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance. I arrived in a fury backstage, where I saw Diaghilev flicking the house lights in a last effort to quiet the hall. For the rest of the performance I stood in the wings behind Nijinsky holding the tails of his frac, while he stood on a chair shouting numbers to the dancers, like a coxswain.”


Listen to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring here and let me know if you can understand why it was controversial in 1913. Also, does the piece move your “affections” (emotions) in any particular way? If so, how? Did your enjoyment of the piece change now that you know the story behind the music?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Controversy Behind The Rite of Spring

Controversy in music? Many would be surprised at how often controversial circumstances surrounded the music and composers we enjoy most. This month, join me as I discuss four fascinating examples found in prominent works throughout history.

You may be familiar with Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. A Russian nationalist composer at the start of his career, Stravinsky had his first great success with The Firebird in 1910. The work was written as a ballet commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario for the Ballets Russes based in Paris. Shortly after this, Stravinsky began work on The Rite of Spring, a ballet based on prehistoric Russia and primitivism. The plot revolves around a young girl who is chosen as a sacrifice and forced to dance until she dies.

Stravinsky used The Rite of Spring as a means to develop his unique voice in the classical music world. Known for its irregular meter, frequent alternations of notes and rests, and use of dissonant scales, Stravinsky’s composition is a powerful display of his avant-garde capabilities.


To those accustomed to 18th and 19th-century repertoire, this ballet may have crude subject matter and include unusual compositional techniques. But why do we consider it to be one of the controversial pieces in music history? Find out on next time when I blog about what Stravinsky had to say following the premiere of his work.