Straussian modernism and Viennese Schmaltz
'It is worth noting that the novel's last scene, with it's off-stage procession, tumultuous church-bells and climactic murder, itself resolves a very inward drama in the convention of grand opera. A fact not lost on the twenty-three-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose opera Die tote Stadt (premiered simultaneously in Cologne and Hamburg in December 1920) is based indirectly on Bruges-la-Morte, and is now the form in which the novel is most widely known.
Its immediate source was Le Mirage, the four-act theatrical version of Bruges-la-Morte which Georges Rodenbach prepared at the end of his life, but never saw staged. In dramatising his book he found himself driven to just those kinds of explication through dialogue that the novel pointedly avoids. Korngold, in following him, and in wrapping the play in his precocious melange of Straussian modernism and Viennese Schmaltz, prolonged and broadened the fame of this recondite novel - but at the cost of what makes it so singular and unforgettable.'
Those words are from novelist Alan Hollinghurst's introduction to the new edition of Georges Rodenbach's novel Bruges-la-Morte. It is essential reading and I know many readers will disagree about the Viennese Schmaltz and say that Korngold's opera is also essential listening. Die tote Stadt is available in several versions including one from Naxos. I took the photos of Bruges in February when visiting that evocative city for something well beyond Strauss modernism, the John Cage happening.
Talking of Richard Strauss I will be playing the rarely heard string septet realisation of his Metamorphosen on Future Radio on May 4 as part of a programme marking the anniversary of the surrender of German forces in Europe on May 7, 1945. The main work in the programme will be the equally rarely heard Violin Concerto by Benjamin Frankel. Born in London in 1906 of Polish-Jewish parents Frankel studied in Germany and London, and his 1951 Violin Concerto is sub-titled 'In Memory of the Six Million'.
Two weeks later, on May 18, I will be presenting a programme of works by musicians in exile. The music will be Bohuslav Martinů's Concertino for Piano Trio and String Orchestra, then a very rare treat in the form of Peter Paul Fuch's Five Miniatures in a performance from a private tape made available by the composer's widow and finally the String Quartet No. 5 by Fuchs' teacher Karl Weigl. It is a great privilege to be able to showcase these composers, and my thanks go to Future Radio for making it possible to bring this music to thousands of happy new ears.
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