Barry Lyndon(1975). Ryan O'Neill and Marisa Berenson. Directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Rather than seeing the above scene as just a good marriage of film and music (in this case, Schubert's Piano Trio in E flat), I suspect that Kubrick really first found the music and then puzzled over how to make a film to justify using it. The slow staging of is is like a small ballet.
Leonard Rosenman won an Oscar for best film score for his arrangements of Schubert and Handel. That seems too easy to me.
More Schubert below, including Schubert's Symphony #9, The Great C Major Symphony. It has to be great if they say so in the title.
I love Schubert's Ninth. When I started this music series a couple of years ago, I intended to do the Schubert Ninth early on. However, I love it so much and hold it in such awe that I didn't get around to it.
When I bought my first cassette tape deck back in the seventies as a punk kid, one of the first things I recorded off the radio, a live performance, was the Schubert Symphony #9. I had never heard it before. I remember I had a Maxell 60 minute tape. The symphony was about 60 and a half minutes long. I missed the very ending, but I didn't care that much. When I got a Ford Granada in 1977 with its own tape player (such luxury, eh?) I played that tape to death. Always without that last half minute! When I hear the complete symphony today, the coda of the finale shocks me, because I subconsciously expect the tape leader to hiss at me.
At some point, while listening to it for the umpteenth time, I must have formed the idea that the Schubert Ninth was so loveable and that it had to be the perfect introduction to classical music. Ha. Subsequent events did not bear that out.
In the late eighties, I organized some Internet get-together parties where I corralled a bunch of people to meet up at Hollywood Bowl in the cheap seats -- way in the back at the top, under the trees, chipmunks running around our feet like rats -- and then ignore the assigned seating so we could clump up and get drunk together. Some of them were very successful. When I started pitching for Schubert's Ninth, people dropped out at the last moment, leaving me and one friend who I was excited to introduce to Schubert's Ninth, which I gushed about, much as I gush about a lot of things in this series, so you can probably imagine it. His reaction afterwards was to say, as an honest critique, (and I would have wanted nothing less), "I found it very long and boring, actually."
That's not a good recommendation for the symphony we're going to hear today is it? Have faith. Because I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing about that. I thought that what was needed was a sherpa guide, somebody to lead us into this enormous landscape.
When I was in high school, I had to learn Shakespeare's Macbeth, Julius Caesar (twice), and Henry V. Hated them all. It was schoolwork. I got the message that this was IMPORTANT LITERATURE. It is. But knowing something is important isn't the same thing as appreciation.
Schubert's Ninth is not Julius Caesar. This symphony is a lot more fun than that, an adventure ride with thrills and chills, not a test of your intellectual skills. But it is very long. A four-volume novel, as Robert Schumann (not Schubert -- a different size Schu) described it:
"... [There] is life in every fiber, color in the finest shadings, meaning everywhere, the acutest etching of detail, and all flooded with a Romanticism which we have encountered elsewhere in Franz Schubert. And this heavenly length, like a fat novel in four volumes by Jean Paul—never-ending, and if only that the reader may go on creating in the same vein afterwards. . . .Yup. Schubert never heard it. In fact, the naming of it as the Ninth Symphony is a matter of dispute -- some having labeled it his seventh, eighth, or his tenth symphony as well), because Schubert never published his symphonies. It was first performed some thirty years after his death at the behest of Schumann and Mendelssohn, and they only got it performed by abridging it. It was many decades after his death before the whole symphony was performed intact.
It is still evidence of an extraordinary talent that he who heard so little of his own instrumental work during his lifetime could achieve such an idiomatic treatment both of individual instruments and of the whole orchestra, securing an effect as of human voices and chorus in discourse. . . . The brilliance and novelty of the instrumentation, the breadth and expanse of the form, the striking changes of mood, the whole new world into which we are transported—all this may be confusing to the listener, like any initial view of the unfamiliar. But there remains a lovely aftertaste, like that which we experience at the conclusion of a play about fairies or magic. There is always the feeling that the composer knew exactly what he wanted to say and how to say it, and the assurance that the gist will become clearer with time.”
The opening day of the Liverpool-Manchester railway, September 15, 1830).
A Brief History Timeline for Historical Context
Beethoven's Ninth received its first performance in 1824. A number of famous people were in the audience, expecting to be wowed. One of them was Schubert. He began work on his own Ninth Symphony in 1825, finishing it a year later. Into a desk drawer it went. Beethoven died in 1827. Schubert, who worshiped Beethoven, was one of his pall-bearers. Two years later, in 1829, Schubert died at the age of 31. In 1830, Berlioz composed the Symphonie Fantastique, which we heard the last two weeks. Also in 1830, the first locomotive railways were constructed in England. This was the pivotal event in the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. Try to imagine the difference between these two worlds, one with and one without mass transport. The world was verging on enormous change. That is our historical context.
The influence of Beethoven's Ninth was clearly on Schubert's mind in the size and scope of his own Ninth Symphony. It's huge. It's ambitious. Unlike Beethoven, it doesn't address universal truths, like "Alle menschen werden Bruder" (All men are brothers.) There is less philosophy, more drama. In particular, Schubert creates a fantastic narrative of building tension in the first movement driven to a powerful targeted climax. But the language of the symphony is very Beethoven influenced. If I had to think of a work to best compare it to, it would be Beethoven's Symphony 7. (He made this comparison himself).
Composing in the Beethoven-mold didn't come automatically to Schubert, who had had success as a song-writer. As I mentioned last week, unlike Beethoven, Schubert was a melodic composer.
Ted Wiprud of the New York Philharmonic explains how this affected the Schubert Ninth:
The first movement begins with a long, slow introduction, a mini-movement in its own right, opened by the playing of a solo French horn. After a mini-climax, the first movement proper begins, and, yup, it's Sonata-Allegro form, like everything else around here.
As becomes apparent, there are some tricks going on in the rhythm, where a three-beat rhythm competes with a two-beat rhythm. When they overlay each other, it creates a slick train-going-uphill locomotion. (Oh, that's why Dumbo's thinking about trains today... Yup.) I think I can I think I can! If you're into roller coasters, you know that the tensest part of the ride is that long slow ratcheting haul to the top of the coaster. The motif of the French horn that began the symphony will show up in disguised form at the climax and again, more clearly, in the triumphant, blazing coda.
Schubert's Symphony #9, "The Great C Major", First movement, Andante -- Allegro ma non troppo.
Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Gardiner.
(You might get better sound by clicking through to the youtube site, clicking the gear icon, and choosing 1080p. It won't improve the video much, but it might improve the audio. S'up to you.)
A solo horn rings out with the main theme of the introduction, all the more majestic for its being solo. The strings and woodwinds come in to flesh it out. All of it very loving.
At 1:41, the woodwinds try to sing the same theme, but they are repeatedly interrupted by the brass and drums.
Notice the slight increase in the tension at 2:05 as we change keys temporarily, and we first begin to feel the two-beat, three-beat conflict. At 2:35, we return back to the home key (C major -- it's in the title, of course), but the pace picks up, the instruments more shrill. We reach a mini-climax! And then it plateaus... Oh where are we going now??
Exposition First Theme (3:09)
The tempo increases to allegro, the tone becomes boisterous. The new theme announces a new DUM daDUM daDUM motif and rhythm. At 3:25, it takes on a V shape as it first walks downhill, then uphill.
Exposition Second Theme (3:59)
We abruptly segue into the second theme, presented by the woodwinds, this in the darker territory of E minor. This theme has two-beats (really four, but same difference). There are three-beat things going on in the background. This motif, and this overlaying rhythm will be with us for a while and will give us the chugga-chugga to pull the roller coaster to the top.
Initially in the dark E-minor, after a slap up the side of the head from the rest of the orchestra, it slips into the positive G major (the dominant of C, key of the symphony, it's in the title).
Exposition Third Theme (5:02)
Now, one of the cool, magical things about this movement. Suddenly, we change keys again and the mood becomes quiet but expectant. A new character is added to the cast. The trombones enigmatically come in with a new theme -- one that's based on the introduction motif. We change keys again... It's getting tense here! Again... And voila! We are back in G major, and we have a triumphant conclusion with full orchestra. To the exposition.
But the journey is just beginning. The rhythm of the second theme is pleasantly chugga-chuggaing us uphill, all very modest and pleasant. At 6:12, the first theme's motif (DUM daDUM daDUM), played by the violins, joins the ride. All very pleasant and modest with a strong sense of forward motion.
But at 6:25, the key begins to change again, and the tension begins to rise, as we approach the top of the coaster. The two-beat/three-beat conflict escalates, escalates, ESCALATES...
6:46 CRISIS! Aaaaarrrgghhh!!!! The trombones, playing the introduction motif, ride us straight downhill to hell. The strings become panicky, shrill, dissonant. The drums and brass bring a brutal end to this ordeal.
At 7:12, in the aftermath, the come out dolefully, as if to ask, "Is it okay to come out now?"
Recapitulation First Theme Again (7:41)
Yes it is, as we slide very gently back into C major and the first theme. Notice how much softer it is than the first time we heard it. Unlike the first time, in the exposition, when we came charging into the first theme, this time, in good narrative style, Schubert makes the entrance with more humility, having just escaped from roller coaster hell. It tiptoes around for a while, but at 8:26, it finally regains its confidence, becomes boisterous, full of brass and drums and piss and vinegar again.
Interesting, isn't it, how so much drama can be packed into music through Sonata-Allegro form? Oftentimes, the recapitulation is just a pro forma thing, something they put in because people expect it. Here, Schubert uses it in a "The protagonist is changed by his experiences," narrative style.
[... There's some distortion in the clip here. Forgive me. I knew that but still preferred it to the other clips available.]
Recapitulation: Second Theme Again (8:58)
The second theme returns, dark at first, as before. It takes an unexpected twist downward to A minor before launching itself upwards into the buoyantly happy home key C major.
Recapitulation: Third Theme Again (10:00)
Like before, the trombones return with the theme based on the introduction motif, this time in C# Minor, but it works its way back to C major. And that brings us to a rousing conclusion to the Recapitulation.
Coda means tail, and we're at the tail end. The first theme returns, gentle at first, but then builds up to (at 11:52) a climax.
The movement COULD end here. But no. The tempo picks up... And then the introduction theme returns, but now it's gloriously triumphant, presented by full orchestra, brass turned up to eleven, punctuated by drums. Even here, at the end, we can hear the two-beat/three-beat conflict.
At 12:38, the full orchestra treatment stops, and the strings play the intro theme in unison without harmony. And we end, full orchestra.
NOW TAKE A COFFEE BREAK and come back for the second movement! As your Schubert-sherpa, I suggest doing it that way for this symphony. (Try saying Schubert-sherpa three times really fast. Difficult, isn't it?) It's a lot to process. Take a coffee break. If you have coffee. If you have a cup to drink the coffee in.
I'm going to switch to the George Szell recording for the second movement. I love George Szell and feel guilty about not using him for the first movement but I had my reasons. The recording levels are louder on this one.
Schubert's Symphony #9 in C Major, Second Movement, Andante con moto, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra
The form of this movement is symmetrical, ABA-CDC-ABA-CDC-ABA, but it's much more complicated than that because the repeating sections evolve. For instance, the determined fighting spirit of the first ABA movement is gone by the time we get to the last one. There are also segues between the sections that tie them together, and I've labeled those separately. These segues turn what could be a dumb symmetrical movement into a drama.
So what is the drama of this movement? I'll say it's about defeat. Maybe death. It's about as close to Mahler's music as we will get before Mahler arrives on the scene, decades hence.
ABA section (0:00)
A gritty, trudging rhythm is set up in the deeper strings as an introduction. Atop this comes the main theme, played by a solo oboe. One of the most beautiful themes for oboe. If I had a nickel for every time I've played that on my recorder flute during a TV commercial, I'd be doing quite well. This movement provides a much better example of Schubert at his melodic best. The middle B part is violent with brass and drums. The return of the oboe's A-section acts as a closing buffer around it.
CDC section (3:10)
The mood lightens a little. The harshness fades away. We're in a major key now. An absolutely classic Schubert beautiful, winding melody. But see if you can notice similarities -- or perhaps I should say congruities -- between this theme and the oboe theme. It's not the same theme, but they fit together well. For instance, notice at 3:35, the four descending notes that begin this melody theme are played differently, giving us a connection back to the grimmer oboe theme. A little bit of the ABA section keeps leaking through, even at the most angelic moments.
Segue back to the ABA section (5:08)
I'm going to label this part separately because it's just so magnificent. There's a strange, strange little segue before we get back to the ABA section again. The angelic theme... runs out of air. It sighs. It expires. It fucking dies. This is less like Beethoven, more like Mahler.
ABA section again (5:45)
We're back to the ABA. If you pay attention, you can notice small changes here, small increases in ornamentation. Otherwise, very similar to before.
Until 7:43. That's when things take a twist. Instead of returning to the A part, suddenly, we're in CRISIS MODE! At 8:05, we're back to conflicting 2-beat 3-beat rhythms as in the first movement. The tension escalates. And then...
Segue to the CDC (8:37)
What the hell happened? In some recordings, you might have to turn up the volume just to be sure there's nothing there. The music ratcheted up towards a climax, left us hanging on a harsh, screechy chord (a dim7 chord)... And then nothing?
There's a long rest here. Very softly, a few plucked strings. And then the violas emerge, slowly and softly, playing a more hopeful version of the oboe theme. This acts as a segue to the
The C section is back, but it has changed. It's less confident. There are anxious tweak noises from the violins. The D section is more overwrought. I'm not sure how this is written in the score, but Szell puts a lot more energy into this.
Segue back to ABA (11:11)
Again we segue back to ABA, but this segue is more gentle, less catastrophic.
We are back to ABA, but it is changed. The tromping rhythm has vanished, for now. The mood is somber, defeated.
At 13:03, there is another strong outburst, another display of some fight. But the woodwinds come back each time and gently tamp it down, put it to rest, as if to say, "Why bother."
You can interpret this movement any number of ways, I'm sure. The meaning is in the music.
Next week: We'll complete the Schubert Ninth Symphony. The week after that, unless something intervenes, we'll do Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade.
And I'm thinking of having a private fund-raiser. For me. Yes. I'm THINKING of exploiting Dailykos's generous patronage by asking my few loyal readers to shell out some actual money to buy a contribution for your loyal diarist. In particular, I WANT A NEW COFFEE CUP. It seems unreasonable to have to write these things week after week without at least having a coffee cup. I insist on a coffee cup! Oh sure, Markos will say, First you ask for a coffee cup, then you'll set up a SuperPac, slippery slope, slippery slope... Well, I'm not thinking that big at this time. Just want a coffee cup. I'll include full design specs in the next diary.