Friday, December 18, 2015
Is this Mahler's Eleventh Symphony?
Back in 2005 a post here looked at the 20th century music that Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted with the Berlin Philharmonic. Among the forgotten composers that Furtwängler programmed was Walter Braunfels, whose music featured in two Berlin Philharmonic concerts in the pre-National Socialism years of 1924 and 1925. Walter Braunfels was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1882. He studied music in Vienna and Munich, and converted to Catholicism in 1918. In the 1920s he achieved considerable success both as a pianist and composer; with the opera Die Vögel (1920) among his early successes, followed by a Te Deum in 1922. His Grosse Messe, modelled on Beethhoven's Missa Solemnis, followed in 1927, and received frenzied applause and lengthy ovation at its premiere in Cologne.
But Braunfel was soon to fall from favour: his half-Jewish bloodline marked him out when Hitler became Chancellor, and in 1933 he was dismissed from all official offices and denounced as a composer of Entartete Musik. Following the Second World War his late Romantic style failed to find favour and he died virtually forgotten in 1954. However recent years have seen a minor revival of interest in his music. and a noteworthy recording of Braunfels Grosse Messa was made in 2010 at a concert by the Staatsopernchor Stuttgart conducted by Manfred Honek*. Critics at the 1927 premiere of the Grosse Messe commented on its indebtedness to Bruckner and particularly Mahler, and the finales of Mahler's Second and Eighth Symphonies clearly influenced Braunfels. But is that a problem? In my book first rate derivative music is preferable to second rate original music, and there is too much of the latter in today's concert programmes.
* Unusually I can find no audio sample of Braunfels Grosse Messa to share with readers. Could a YouTube Law be merging? - the merit of a work is inversely proportional to the number of clips on YouTube. Despite this, details of samples so that other readers can sample the little-known delights of the Grosse Messa would be appreciated. No review CDs used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.