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Elbe Watershed (Wikimedia Commons) Click to enlarge
In 2017, the North German Radio Orchestra will have a new home: they’ll move into the Elbphilharmonie (Elbe Philharmonic Hall), now under construction high above the banks of the Elbe River in Hamburg.
The Elbe is one of Europe’s most important rivers. Its source is in the Czech Republic, in the Krkonoše Mountains. It flows from there through Germany to the North Sea at Cuxhaven. Its many tributaries include the famous Moldau.
The city of Hamburg traces its origins to the 9th century. The confluence of the Elbe with the Alster – another of its tributaries – was the perfect place to locate a city.
Not surprisingly, Hamburg became a major European trading center. A vital, bustling industrial region grew up round its port. Even in this grim post-industrial 21st century, even with its once-thriving shipbuilding business in a free-fall, Hamburg is still Europe’s second busiest port.
The Elbphilharmonie will extend Hamburg’s musical heritage out to the Elbe River. But the Elbe has had centuries of links to music, and it can thank Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann for at least part of that.
Telemann moved to Hamburg in 1721 to become the city’s music director. He was in charge of teaching singing, theory, and music history to the boys at the Johanneum Lateinschule (Latin School), and served as composer and music director for the city’s 5 largest churches. (And you thought you had a full plate at work. Imagine all that and classrooms full of adolescent boys too.)
Although he once came close to defecting to Leipzig because of a dispute over his rights to publish his own music, Telemann remained in Hamburg for the rest of his life.
Hamburg’s prosperity was dependent on the trade rolling in and out of its bustling port. With Europe unstable and war-torn in those days, the city developed its own admiralty for defense. Every year Hamburg paid tribute to her fleet with a celebration. Yet another part of Telemann’s endless job was to compose the Kapitänsmusik (Captains’ Music) for that festival. It comprised a sacred oratorio and a secular instrumental piece.
Alas, most of the Kapitänsmusik pieces are lost. Fortunately, a few have survived. Probably the most famous survivor is the one Telemann wrote for the admiralty’s centennial in 1723. It includes the suite Hamburg’s Tides (also called Telemann’s Water Music). If you’re a regular Baroque Era listener, you may remember hearing Hamburg’s Tides.
Although we don’t have a definite date for it – far too few of Telemann’s pieces have come down to us as dated manuscripts – it’s possible that he composed the Alster Overture for another of these Kapitänsmusiken. He also might have written it for a 1725 Hamburg visit by the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg.
The Alster Overture is a mildly chaotic mix of images. Greek mythology kicks in Pallas, Pan and Peleus. Nature and the works of humanity make appearances through the Alster Echo and Hamburg’s church bells. Sailors and nymphs dance through, and a band of village musicians marches by. A swan sings its song and, infamously, a chorus of frogs and crows makes its presence known:
In 2013, the Elbe River is still a vital part of life, musical and otherwise, in Germany and the Czech Republic. But living near any river has its risks, and earlier this month (June 2013) spring rains swelled the Elbe beyond its banks. The flooding drove several thousand residents from their homes. Ten villages had to evacuate everyone.
The Elbe is back in its banks now. Below you can see how it looks today, courtesy of the webcam at Opentopia.com.
If you don’t see anything below, maybe your computer or tablet doesn’t understand Flash. See other viewing options here.
Cover to sheet music for "Song of Love" from Blossom Time (Patricia Burton & Associates)
NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (9 June 2013) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.
From his childhood in Hungary at the end of the 18th century, Zsigmond Romberg had clearly displayed his musical promise. This, his parents thought, would never do! Zsigmond should study something that would guarantee him a solid, stable income. Music, they were certain, was the route to privation. Thus, they sent him away to school to study engineering.
Maybe they’d never been to the city where they sent him. If they had, they might have known that someone with a love of music wouldn’t long resist its pull in Vienna.
Sure enough, young Zsigmond quickly fell under the spell of Johann Strauss Junior and Franz Lehar. He signed up for composition lessons with Richard Heuberger, creator of the operetta Der Opernball – who, coincidentally, had also given up engineering to become a composer. After serving in Hungary’s army, Romberg headed for the States, hoping that the Land of Opportunity would be kind to an aspiring composer. When he arrived here in 1909, Romberg, now calling himself Sigmund, was just 22 years old.
Romberg’s first opportunity wasn’t as auspicious as he’d hoped: he found himself working in a pencil factory. However, it wasn’t long before he was playing piano in a cafe. That led to a gig leading the house orchestra at Andre Bustanoby’s tony New York restaurant. Romberg soon expanded the orchestra’s repertoire with his own waltzes and other compositions.
Bustanoby’s was at 39th and Broadway, so it was inevitable that Broadway would discover Romberg’s talent. Sure enough, producers JJ and Lee Shubert hired Romberg as a staff composer for their shop. In 1914 Romberg composed his first musical for the Shuberts, The Whirl of the World.
Three years later, Romberg had 17 musicals and revues to his name, and his first major hit on the stage: Maytime, an English adaptation of Walter Kollo’s Viennese operetta Wie einst im Mai (As Once in May).
In 1916, at the height of the Great War, the Hungarian composer Heinrich Berté had filled theatres in Vienna (and later Germany) with his long-running nostalgic (and utterly fictional) portrait of composer Franz Schubert’s love life, Das Dreimäderlhaus (The House of Three Maidens). Largely at the insistence of his producer, Berté had borrowed most of his musical themes from Schubert’s compositions. As it turned out, that was the right choice. The familiar tunes – and the sentimental subject – resonated strongly with audiences worn down by war. Das Dreimäderlhaus was, in a way, the opera stage success that had eluded Franz Schubert in his lifetime.
The US was on the other side in WW I, but by 1921, American listeners were again ready to embrace Austrian culture. In that year, Romberg applied his 1917 Maytime formula to Das Dreimäderlhaus. Blossom Time opened at Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre on 29 September.
In creating Blossom Time, Romberg didn’t just fit Das Dreimäderlhaus‘s melodies to Dorothy Donnelly’s English libretto. He effectively recomposed the operetta’s music, changing the rhythms of many tunes, and adopting a theme from Schubert’s Unfinished symphony as Blossom Time‘s love theme.
The result was Romberg’s biggest hit yet. Blossom Time‘s legs carried it for almost 600 performances – one of the longest first runs in Broadway history.
Act 1 opens at Domayer’s, an outdoor cafe in Vienna. It’s May, 1826. Composer Franz Schubert’s friends Kuppelweiser, Vogl, and Schwind reveal that their better-heeled friend Baron Franz Schober is carrying on an affair with the married singer La Bellabruna. Bellabruna enters with her husband Count Scharntoff, who wonders what she finds so extraordinary about artists. She asks him, "Can you write a song?"
Sharntoff can’t, but he knows someone who can. He offers Schubert the astronomical sum of 250 Gulden (about 66,500 of today’s US dollars!) for a love song he can pass off as his own work.
We meet Mitzi Kranz and her sisters Fritzi and Kitzi. The latter two are secretly engaged, against their father’s wishes, and are here for a rendevous with their fiancees – Schubert’s friends Binder and Erkmann respectively.
Schubert joins his friends. He pays their bill – and tips the waiter. This is the eternally penniless composer? Schubert reveals his good fortune.
Herr Christian Kranz arrives, looking for his daughters, soon followed by Bellabruna’s wealthy lover, Baron Schober. Schober fears Count Scharntoff will challenge him to a duel over Bellabruna’s affections. He promises the Kranz sisters that he will persuade their father to accept Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s fiancees.
Mitzi reveals that she sings Schubert’s songs. Schubert is smitten. Schober tells Kranz that his daughters are at the restaurant so Mitzi can arrange to study singing with Schubert. Binder and Erkmann ask Herr Kranz for Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s hands. Tipsy with Schober’s wine, he agrees to consider the proposal.
Act 2 takes place 3 months later. We are at the Kranz home for Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s wedding. La Bellabruna realizes that Schober has fallen for Mitzi Kranz, and they agree to end their affair. In a duet, Mitzi and Schubert wonder about each other’s feelings.
Bellabruna tells Mitzi that "F S" is in love with her, and warns her that this "F S" is a cad. Bellabruna means Franz Schober, but Mitzi thinks she is speaking of Franz Schubert! Bellabruna’s warning thus confounds her intent: Mitzi, believing her trust in Schubert betrayed, falls under the romantic spell of her childhood friend, Schober.
The shy, quiet Schubert, unaware of Schober’s feelings for Mitzi, asks him to intercede on his behalf with Mitzi, taking Schubert’s love songs to her. The effort works, but not as Schubert intended: it further intensifies Mitzi’s attraction to Schober.
Act 3 finds us in Schubert’s apartment. Schubert has been accepted as a member of the Music Society, but he is despondent over his lost love. His Unfinished symphony is to be performed, but he is too ill to attend.
Count Scharntoff returns the song that Schubert composed for him; Bellabruna, he says, is unworthy of it. He will duel with Schober tomorrow. Despite his own unrequited love for Mitzi, Schubert tells Scharntoff that Schober loves Mitzi, not the Count’s wife Bellabruna. He persuades Scharntoff to cancel the duel, for Mitzi’s sake.
Mitzi apologizes to Schubert for her confusion and offers to help him through his illness. Recognizing that she and Schober are meant for each other, he urges her to follow her heart.
Danielle McCormick Knox
OHIO LIGHT OPERA
WORKS BY SCHUBERT USED IN BLOSSOM TIME
Rosamunde: Incidental Music
Three Little Maids
Ecossaise D735 #2 & Trauerwalzer D365 #2
My Springtime Thou Art
Love’s A Riddle
Symphony #8 "Unfinished"
Tell Me Daisy
Die Forelle D550 & Piano Sonata in Eb D568
Only One Love
Die schöne Müllerin D795: "Ungeduld"
Thou Art My Love
Ave Maria D839 (Liederzyklus vom Fräulein vom See: "Ellens dritter Gesang")
NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (2 June 2013) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.
Emmerich Kálmán’s operetta Zsuzsi Kisasszony (Miss Susie) premiered in Hungarian in February of 1915 at Budapest’s Vig Theatre.
The next year it made its way to Broadway – effectively rewritten in English by none other than P G Wodehouse – under the title of Miss Springtime. In 1917 it was presented in German at Vienna’s Johann Strauss Theater as Die Faschingsfee (The Carnival Fairy), with a libretto by A M Willner and Rudolf Oesterreicher.
Kálmán’s name changed about as many times as his operetta’s! He was born in Siófok, Hungary on 24 October 1882 as Imre Koppstein. His heritage was Jewish, and when he applied for entrance to the Protestant gymnasium (secondary school) in Budapest, he took the surname Kálmán. He changed his first name to Emmerich when his works began to gain popularity in Vienna.
Like many composers of earlier times, Kálmán first studied law, after abandoning an initial desire to be a tailor. For a time he thought he might become a pianist, but physical problems – neuritis – drove him toward composition. He studied at the Budapest Music Academy (now the National Hungarian Royal Academy of Music).
Kálmán’s early orchestral works brought him the Franz Josef Prize of Budapest. However, he found popular success in musical theatre with his first operetta, Tatarjaras, Ein Herbstmanoever (An Autumn Maneuver, which OLO produced as Autumn Maneuvers in 2002). After it became a massive hit in Vienna, he moved there, and quickly expanded his popularity with such works as Die Csardasfuerstin (OLO, The Gypsy Princess, 1986, 1993, 2010) and Graefin Mariza (OLO, Countess Maritza, 1985, 1989, 1994, 2003).
Miss Springtime, as performed by Ohio Light Opera last summer (2012), was OLO artistic director Stephen Daigle’s English reworking of the Viennese version, Die Faschingsfee. It has been issued on CD by Albany Records under the title The Carnival Fairy.
Act 1 places us amid Carnival celebrations at a Munich tavern. Painter Viktor Ronai is toasting his victory in an art competition – he’ll receive a prize of DM50,000! This is a generous stipend for a starving artist: adjusting for inflation, 1915′s DM50,000 would be over US$266,000 today.
Countess Alexandra, driving her car, has a minor accident and is surrounded by a group of the Carnival revelers. She joins them. Not knowing who she is, they declare her Miss Springtime, the Carnival queen.
After a short chat with Alexandra, Hubert introduces her – incognito – to Viktor. She is immediately drawn to him. They drink champagne. Meanwhile, Hubert’s girlfriend, Lori, threatens to leave him over his brief conversation with Alexandra.
Count Meredith arrives. Thinking the masked Alexandra a commoner, he makes advances to her. She clearly doesn’t appreciate his attention, though, so Viktor steps forward to defend her honor. Unbeknownst to Viktor, however, Meredith has funded his award. Now he withdraws it! "A chaperone of working girls will never get my prize," he vows.
Alexandra begs Viktor’s forgiveness: "I’ve destroyed this opportunity for you … Perhaps I can do something for you?" Viktor asks only that she see him again.
Act 2 opens in Viktor’s studio, where he has painted Miss Springtime from memory. He is entertaining his friends lavishly: he has received his prize after all! Not only that, but his benefactor has also paid to renovate his studio. One thing is missing from his life, though. He still doesn’t know the identity of Miss Springtime – and he’s smitten with her.
The bohemians disperse and Hubert enters. He has two revelations for us. First, this very night, Alexandra is to be betrothed to Duke Ottokar. Second, it’s she, not Meredith, who has funded Viktor’s award and studio. Viktor returns, and it’s again abundantly clear: Alexandra is about to marry the wrong person.
Meredith enters and Viktor thanks him for his generosity. But, says he, I didn’t send the money! Meredith, thinking Hubert provided the prize, reimburses him. But what Meredith really wants to know is – what happened to the "chorus girl" who so attracted him the night of Carnival? Hubert tells him that she is the "Cannon Countess" with the circus.
Meredith has been invited to a party with Duke Ottokar, so he takes his leave. Alexandra frets. The party is her surprise betrothal! What will happen when Meredith recognizes the "Cannon Countess" there? "I can’t help it," she sighs; "It’s my mischievous Hungarian heritage."
Hubert gives Meredith’s prize reimbursement to Alexandra for safekeeping. Hubert’s girlfriend Lori sees this, and in Viktor’s presence, accuses Hubert of proposing to Alexandra. Shocked, Victor rejects Alexandra. Duke Ottokar enters, and Viktor learns that not only has Hubert tried to buy Alexandra’s love, she’s already engaged to the Duke! Devastated, Viktor casts his painting of her into the fire.
Act 3 takes place at the Hotel Regina, where Countess Alexandra and Duke Ottokar are about to announce their engagement. Viktor enters. He tells Hubert he is leaving, and wants to return the stipend that he thinks Hubert funded. Hubert confesses that the money came from Alexandra. Viktor, ashamed, apologizes to Alexandra for his rude behavior. She refuses to speak with him, but instead dictates a letter of acknowledgement to Hubert.
To her shock, when Hubert delivers the letter to Viktor, it has become a declaration of love! Hubert confesses to Duke Ottokar, "Yes, I wrote it. But it’s true: she loves him, he loves her, and they are meant to be together."
Duke Ottokar calls in all the guests. "In the spirit of Carnival, a deception has been played," he announces. "I’ve invited you here not for my own engagement, but to announce the engagement of Countess Alexandra Maria to the painter Viktor Ronai." The company all applaud, and Alexandra and Viktor sing a duet. Once again, love conquers all, as the curtain falls on Miss Springtime.
It’s one of the hazards of concert-going. You’re deeply engrossed in the music. Comes a diminuendo to pianissimo and beyond. You scarcely breathe as the music falls to the limit of audibility.
From three seats over comes a quiet snorfff. The gentleman there has fallen asleep.
It’s hard to imagine a greater insult to a composer. Yet there’s a very well known work which was designed to have this exact effect — well, maybe. Or so legend has it.
J N Forkel
The story comes from Bach’s first biographer, Johann Nicolaus Forkel (1749 – 1818).
Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was one of Bach’s students. He was attached to the household of the former Russian ambassador to the electoral court of Saxony, Count Keyserlingk. The count often traveled to Leipzig. Goldberg usually accompanied him and would visit with Bach for a lesson.
Count Keyserlingk had health problems. Too often, his nights were filled with pain rather than sleep. On those nights he would call for young Goldberg, who would play the harpsichord for him in a room adjoining his bedchamber.
Could Bach compose some keyboard music for him? Perhaps Bach could make the pieces "of a soft and somewhat lively character." Then they might cheer Count Keyserlingk up on his sleepless nights.
Good story, so far. The first question is — assuming it’s true (and we’ll get to that in a moment), is the count asking for music to divert his mind when he can’t sleep, or music that might lull him to sleep?
The usual interpretation of this passage is the former. I might think that too if I were a keyboard player. Trying to sort out these challenging pieces at the harpsichord is definitely not going to lull you to sleep, and playing them on the piano is even more finger-twisting.
The fact that Count Keyserlingk is (according to Forkel) asking to be cheered, not lulled or soothed, is further evidence for the pianists’ side.
But note what Forkel says the count asked for: music "of a soft and somewhat lively character." Is he asking for pieces that are both soft and lively, or does he want some pieces to be soft and others lively?
Well, could "soft" be just a mistranslation? I don’t think so. Forkel writes sanft. I’m no German expert, though I speak a little, so I asked my old friend Herr Langenscheidt. Here are some possible English equivalents he suggests: soft, gentle, mild, calm, sweet, and smooth. In my book that doesn’t leave a lot of room for negotiation about what Keyserlingk was looking for.
You can’t say that the Goldberg Variations’ opening aria doesn’t fit that description — though some might call it a bit melancholy instead — and there are plenty of variations in the set which could easily fall into the "soft" category.
First Edition of the Goldberg Variations
Forkel never says that Goldberg played the entire set of 30 variations from beginning to end. On the contrary, he tells us that "when the sleepless nights came, he [Count Keyserlingk] used to say: ‘Dear Goldberg, do play me one of my variations.’" (Emphasis added.) Don’t you think that a reasonable and thoughtful Goldberg would try to choose an appropriate variation for that night’s situation?
Forkel also says that "Bach thought he could best fulfill [the count's] wish by variations, which, on account of the constant sameness of the fundamental harmony, he had hitherto considered as an ungrateful task." The implication is pretty clear here: Bach thought that variations, as a musical form, tended to be dull. One interpretation of this sentence might be that Bach took this as a challenge — to make his Goldberg Variations stimulating and engaging. But you could just as easily take it to mean that Bach used variations because they (or at least some of them!) were more likely than other forms to send the count into dreamland.
Either way, he seems to have pleased the count. Forkel tells us that Count Keyserlingk never tired of his variations. He rewarded Bach with a golden goblet, filled with 100 louis-d’or. A louis d’or was a gold coin with a weight of 6.75 ounces. Today that much gold would be worth a cool $935,550.
It’s a fine tale, but is it true? Good question. I have to admit, there’s evidence to the contrary.
First, a big one: no other source has yet appeared to corroborate Forkel’s yarn.
Nor is there in the published variations any hint of a dedication to either Count Keyserlingk or Goldberg. You’d certainly expect one, especially given the count’s rather generous payment. But Bach’s title page says only Keyboard practice, consisting of an aria with different variations for the harpsichord with two manuals, prepared for the enjoyment of music lovers by Johann Sebastian Bach, Polish royal and Saxon electoral court composer, director and chorusmaster in Leipzig.
Third, the inventory of Bach’s estate lists no golden goblet.
And finally — most damning in the view of generations of pianists who have struggled mightily with the Goldberg Variations — at the time the Goldberg Variations appeared, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg was only 14 years old.
It’s pretty tough to argue with the lack of corroboration, but remember that Forkel got much of his biographical information directly from two of Bach’s sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, who seem to have been generally pretty reliable. The lack of a dedication is telling, though; it definitely runs against common practice at the time.
However, the goblet could have been sold, lost, or given away by 1750. And Goldberg’s age? At 14, Mendelssohn was composing symphonies and Mozart created a full length opera (Mitridate, Re di Ponto). It’s remarkable what a talented kid can accomplish when he’s not distracted by Wii and Facebook, eh?
All that said, until some further documentation turns up — a dedicated copy from the count’s library, for example — I’m afraid we’ll have leave Forkel’s tale of the Goldberg Variations’ origins and use in the "legend, possibly apocryphal" department. But the next 3am when your sheep-count gets into five figures, why not see what the Goldberg Variations will do for you? I’ve listed a few recordings below, and there are many, many more in print.
The War of the Austrian Succession sapped Europe’s prosperity and will from 1740 to 1748. As soon as the ink was dry on the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, England was ready for a celebration. It was set for 27 April, 1749, and it was to be a magnificent party with fireworks and music provided by none other than the great Handel.
For some reason, though, apparently King George wasn’t too keen on the idea of having any music at all! Or so we read in a series of rather huffy letters which flew among Handel, the king’s Master General of Ordnance (who had the say-so over military music), and Charles Frederick, who had been assigned the remarkable title of Comptroller of his Majesty’s Fireworks for War as for Triumph. However, once Handel had assured the King that the music wouldn’t be overly long, "he was better satisfied."
But he "hoped there would be no fiddles."
There were none.
Handel did try a few times to sneak a few violins into the band, but in the end (perhaps placing some significant value on his own head) he bowed to George’s wishes — and to practicality, since for outdoor performance in such a situation, strings wouldn’t really have added much. His ensemble was as "warlike" as they come. And it was big: 9 trumpets, 9 horns, 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, 3 pair of kettledrums, and an unspecified number of side drums. What a magnificent amount of volume it must have made!
A public rehearsal of Handel’s music on 21 April in Vauxhall Gardens drew a record crowd of 12,000, causing a 3-hour traffic jam on London Bridge. Maybe the tie-up was more newsworthy than the music; the press tells us much more about the rehearsal than about the actual performance at Green Park on the 27th. However, one report identifies Handel’s music by its alternate name — A Grand Overture of Warlike Instruments.
Though we know it today as Music for the Royal Fireworks, it appears that Handel’s music didn’t actually play during the fireworks display. That was a good thing for the musicians. The display was apparently a bit disappointing: "The rockets and whatever was thrown up into the air succeeded mighty well; but the wheels, and all that was to compose the principal part, were pitiful and ill-conducted, with no changes of coloured fires and shapes: the illumination was mean, and lighted so slowly that scarce anybody had patience to wait the finishing." But more significantly, one of the pavilions — almost exactly where Handel’s band had been playing the hour before — caught fire during the fireworks and burned to the ground.
Not one to let good music lie, Handel programmed his Grand Overture of Warlike Instruments on many other occasions, including a performance at the Foundling Hospital a month later.
And yes, he often added strings.
This article was originally published in WKSU Classical on 19 June 2009.