Schubert and Bach: Some Innovations

they shall have music

Many years ago, in the halcyon days of radio, there was a comedy program in which it was announced that the orchestra would next play Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. The number that followed wasn’t exactly Schubert, but it did end on a suspended, unresolved chord. Then came the sound of galloping hooves and the cry “Schubert just finished it!” Whereupon the orchestra played the final, concluding chord. If memory serves, it was the late great Colonel Stoopnagle who was responsible for this monumental feat.

They don’t make Colonel Stoopnagles anymore, as we weary television viewers well know. But they do make earnest musicians like Denis Vaughan, a scholarly young Australian-born conductor and musicologist, who has set about the task of finishing the Unfinished, and whose labors are now on display in an RCA Victor album containing the complete Schubert symphonies (LSC6709, stereo; LM-6709, monaural: five records).

Actually, this is not the first serious attempt to finish the Unfinished on records. In 1928, to mark the centenary of Schubert’s death, the Columbia Record Company of England offered a grand prize of £2000 to the composer who could most satisfactorily complete the Unfinished Symphony in the opinion of an international grand jury, which included such luminaries as Walter Damrosch, Alexander Glazounov, Carl Nielsen, and Donald F. Tovey. Musical sensibilities were more tender then than now, or perhaps it was a more modest age; in any case, cries of indignation greeted the proposal that a mere contemporary composer should add notes to Schubert’s masterpiece. In deference to the protests, Columbia offered the prize instead for a complete, original orchestral work conceived as “an apotheosis of the lyrical genius of Schubert.” The winner was a Swedish composer, Kurt Atterburg, whose symphony, an amalgam of many musical styles, was recorded by Sir Thomas Beecham, and promptly forgotten.

Denis Vaughan’s new attack on the problem of the Unfinished Symphony is more modest in concept. Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, as universally admired and performed for a century, consists of two movements, an allegro moderato and an andante con moto. But Schubert had apparently designed it originally as a four-movement work, like all his other symphonies, and he even left behind an unfinished sketch for a third movement (a scherzo) consisting of nine measures fully scored, and a piano manuscript carrying the musical framework even further. It is this movement which Mr. Vaughan has now completed and orchestrated, and the result is a scherzo amiably scored and agreeably Schubertian.

Of course, it can be objected that even with the scherzo the Unfinished Symphony remains as incomplete as ever. There still is no fourth movement, and the symphony really doesn’t end very satisfactorily with the rather brief and unimposing Schubert-Vaughan scherzo. Listening to its evenly balanced but comparatively lightweight measures, one tends to accept the old theory that Schubert only half completed this symphony simply because he could think of no musical ideas that could stand up to what had gone before. For all Mr. Vaughan’s friendly efforts, the Schubert B Minor Symphony seems likely to remain what it was when its composer laid it aside, not only unfinished, but unfinishable.

Fortunately, Mr. Vaughan’s album of Schubert does not depend for its value solely on his third movement for the Unfinished Symphony. On the contrary, it apparently represents the first recording ever to bring together all eight of the Schubert symphonies in a single album, with two rather obscure Italian Overtures thrown in for good measure. Mr. Vaughan conducts these works with the Alessandro Scarlatti Orchestra of Naples, and although in theory an Australian conductor directing a Neapolitan orchestra in Schubert may seem an unlikely combination, in practice it works out just beautifully.

In fact, although Schubert is universally accepted today as one of the three or four greatest symphonists of all time, it almost takes an album of this kind to establish the full scale and scope of his genius. Such masterpieces as the Unfinished and the Great C Major symphonies came not as isolated achievements but as the climax of a succession of inventive, imaginative, and supremely melodic orchestral works. Some of these earlier symphonies may seem sprawling and repetitive; they may toss off ideas without putting them to much use. But they abound in such musical gracefulness, gaiety, and charm that one listens to them with steadily increasing admiration and delight.

As befits a man who accepts his musical challenges where he finds them, Mr. Vaughan has not been content to conduct the Schubert symphonies as most printed scores give them. Instead, he has gone to the manuscripts in Vienna and emerged with a number of textual corrections. Most of these are minor, but Mr. Vaughan has one interesting finding to offer: that Schubert’s marking for an accent has been misread as a diminuendo by everyone for the last hundred years. This mistake, he contends, has led to a weakening effect in many passages, most notably in the Symphony No. 4, the Tragic. Needless to say, in his new recordings the accents are played as accents.

Just possibly, the change may be less significant than appears on the surface; conductors have a way of ignoring composers’ shadings when they seem misplaced. For example, the final chord of the Great C Major Symphony is clearly marked in the printed score with a diminuendo. Mr. Vaughan, as befits his correction, plays it with a steady, unfaltering tone. But so do Messrs. Toscanini, Furtwängler, and Josef Krips, all of whose recordings were consulted by a curious listener.

If Denis Vaughan is the first conductor to have recorded all the Schubert symphonies, George Szell is the ninth to have recorded all the Beethoven. The others are (alphabetically) Ernest Ansermet, Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, Josef Krips, Hermann Scherchen, Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, and Felix Weingartner.

Szell’s recordings, which have just been packaged in a handsome album by Epic (BSC-150, stereo; BLC-150, monaural: seven records), thus have plenty of company, not to say competition. Nevertheless, the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra for the most part holds his own. He is a crisp, clean modern type of Beethoven, with cool lyricism rather than warm sentiment. Szell favors brisk tempos and a general approach that is thoughtful rather than impassioned. And his orchestra, which in classical Viennese repertory is unexcelled by any in America, plays with precision and sensitivity.

Szell doesn’t offer the taut dramatic power of Toscanini, the gemütlich warmth of Bruno Walter, the granitic grandeur of Klemperer, or the measured intellectualism of von Karajan. But if his performances are less personalized than those of most conductors who have recorded the complete cycle, they nevertheless present a clear and straightforward statement of what Beethoven’s nine symphonies are all about. Or at least what the first eight are all about. In Szell’s recording of the Ninth, he seems, at least to this listener, to play the music without probing it very deeply. And his four vocal soloists in the choral movement, Adele Addison, Jane Hobson, Richard Lewis, and Donald Bell, fail to reach the level of musical exaltation attained in the climaxes of the Toscanini, von Karajan, and old Weingartner recordings of the Ninth.

At the age of eighty-eight Pablo Casals has set himself the goal of conducting Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos (Columbia M2S-731, stereo; M2L-331, monaural: two records plus special rehearsal record). Complete recordings of the Brandenburgs are far from a rarity; the latest issue of the Schwann catalogue lists no fewer than seventeen of them as currently available.

But Casals’ Bach is like no other simply because it is — Casals’ Bach. This is no recording for musical prudes, pedants, or purists. Casals plays Bach in a highly individual way, and since he has been playing him, mostly on the cello but frequently enough on the conductor’s stand, for some seventy years, he should be entitled to his own ideas.

What seems remarkable in these recordings is that Casals, at eightyeight, still commands the enthusiasm and authority to convey those ideas to an orchestra. Casals likes his Bach to be springy, rhythmic, expressive; precise but not delicate; direct but not didactic. And in the orchestra gathered for the Marlboro [Vermont] Festival last summer, Casals has as spirited, responsive, and expert a group of instrumentalists as anyone could wish. Rudolf Serkin plays the piano in Concertos No. 1, 4, and 5, with Peter Serkin, his seventeen-year-old son, playing the harpsichord in No. 2, 3, and 6. Typically, no consistent rule has been established that either the harpsichord or the piano will be used throughout the concertos; instead, they are varied according to Casals’ wishes, presumably as determined by the musical design and texture of the individual work.

For sheer exuberance and vigor, no other recording of the Brandenburgs comes close to Casals’. Perhaps one has to be an octogenarian to insist on so much youthfulness in one’s music.

A bonus record, included with the set, contains excerpts from Casals’ Marlboro rehearsals for each ol the six concertos. Here one may listen to Casals as he shapes the phrasing of the music, articulating the notes in a hoarse voice, making one or two little jokes, working for an effect and calling out, “I hear it now, yes, yes, yes!” The rehearsal for the Concerto No. 2 in F is particularly instructive; Casals works over the musical phrases first with the first violins, then the seconds, then the basses, all at slower tempos than he subsequently adopts for the final performance. Although these glimpses of Casals in action are fleeting, they do convey some sense of his mission as a creative conductor, and at least once, an affecting statement of his musical credo, when he turns to his orchestra and says, “If you do what the notes say, it will be wonderful.”

Record Reviews

Recital Montserrat Caballé

Montserrat Caballé, soprano, with Miguel Zanetti, pianist; Odeon ASDL-833 (stereo) and LALP-668

A young Spanish soprano named Montserrat Caballé made a sensationally successful Carnegie Hall debut last April 20, and the next day the rush was on. She was signed by both the Metropolitan Opera and RCA Victor, neither of which is noted for speculating in untried vocal talent. Miss Caballé’s future presence on the American operatic scene apparently can be taken for granted. More to the immediate point, Capitol’s import division has rushed in a supply of a Spanish-made disc featuring Miss Caballé in a recital of songs by her compatriots Joaquín Rodrigo and Xavier Montsalvatge. For all their native charm and color, these songs are less than ideal display pieces for an important new talent. Nevertheless, they do show the range, sensitivity, and silvery sheen of what is obviously an unusual voice. Even when it ascends to a high pianissimo, Miss Caballé’s voice never seems to lose its body. With Victoria de los Angeles, Spain has already achieved one series of international conquests; with Montserrat Caballé, a second wave may be on the way.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 in D, Opus 29, “Polish”

Lorin Maazel conducting Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; London CS-6428 (stereo) and CM-9428 Tired of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony? Weary of the Fifth? Fed up with the Fourth? Then try the Third — not exactly untouched by human hands, but still relatively fresh and shiny. Actually, this Polish symphony — the name was conferred not by the composer but by a British conductor — is typical Tchaikovsky, melodic, mournful, and pleasingly emotional. The authentic stamp is present from the very start, a stately but warm slow introduction. Lorin Maazel, who is developing into something of a Tchaikovsky specialist (he seems to have conducted all the available symphonies), plays No. 3 as though it were a vintage product, and at the end he just about convinces the listener that it is.

Leonard Bernstein Conducts Music of Our Time

Leonard Bernstein conducting New York Philharmonic, with Don Ellis, trumpet, Barre Phillips, bass, and Joe Cocuzzo, drums; Columbia MS-6733 (stereo) and ML-6133

This recording is a by-product of an avant-garde series of concerts offered last year by Leonard Bernstein to New York Philharmonic subscribers, a goodly number of whom fled the hall when the music started. A similar impulse may stir within the breasts of those exposed for the first time on this record to the screeches, whaps, and whams that constitute a large portion of these contemporary scores, one of which, Morton Feldman’s Out of “Last Pieces,” has been composed on graph paper in a new system of notation. The other composers represented are György Ligeti with Atmosphères and Larry Austin with Improvisations for Orchestra and Jazz Soloists. Finally, the orchestra itself indulges in four spontaneous improvisations. As exercises in orchestral sonorities, this rootless music may command a certain attention, and its eeriness may not be unrelated to man’s first attempts at exploration beyond the earth. But one hates to think of it as a foretaste of the musical feast that lies ahead in the space age.

Art Buchwald: Sex and the College Boy

Art Buchwald, speaker, recorded at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Capitol T-2205 (monaural)

Art Buchwald is every bit as funny before the microphone as at the typewriter. This “lecture,” delivered before an appreciative audience of collegians, touches on a good many of the subjects familiar to Buchwald’s newspaper readers, from his discovery of Paris in the post-war years to his realization of the perils, and expenses, of parenthood. Buchwald is at his best in buying a suit in Hong Kong (where the customs officer makes the chalk marks), in volunteering for Peace Corps duty on the Riviera (to work among the half-naked), in arranging a six-minute tour of the Louvre (one views only three exhibits but gains a world’s record), and in maintaining a family of Barbie dolls (it’s not the doll but the wardrobe that breaks the bank). His wit is barbed, but always good-natured and genial, and it keeps its flavor the second time around.

Military Fanfares, Marches and Choruses from the Time of Napoleon

Désiré Dondeyne conducting Brass and Percussion Ensembles of Gardiens de la Paix de Paris, with vocal ensemble directed by Jean Rollin; Nonesuch H-71075 (stereo) and H-1075 The marches of Napoleon I were short, businesslike, and not very gay — marches for going into battle, not showing off on parade. There is splendor and ceremony, to be sure, in these rolling drums and rhythmic brasses, but also an underlying grimly functional tone. The numbers, most of which have long passed from the modern French military repertory, include “Champ d’Honneur,” “Salut des Aigles,” and “ Veillons au Salut de l’Empire,” which became the anthem of Napoleon’s France. The performers are none other than an ensemble of Paris agents de police, who thereby divulge musical talents hitherto unsuspected by most tourists.

September of My Years

Frank Sinatra, singer, with orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins; Reprise F-1014 {monaural)

“Sinatra in the Sere and Yellow Leaf” might have been a good alternative title for this record, a collection of songs about middle age, shattered hopes, and lost loves. Sinatra, who remains unchallenged for his ability to impart feeling and meaning to a popular song, seems to find an especial affinity for these rather mournful and bitter ballads, which have been imaginatively arranged by Gordon Jenkins. Among the titles are “Once Upon a Time,” “How Old Am I?”, and “It Gets Lonely Early.” More familiar are “Hello Young Lovers” and “September Song,” which is performed with a customarily omitted second stanza, and with admirable straightforwardness. Perhaps the most striking performance on the record is that of Ervin Drake’s “It Was a Very Good Year,” a rueful recollection of girls gone by, including the teen-ager who perfumed her hair, and the society girl with the chauffeurecl limousine. Sinatra sings it almost as if it were autobiographical, and who is to say it’s not?

Stuart Little

Read by Julie Harris; Pathways of Sound POS-1036f37 {monaural): two records, available individually The Most of Winnie-the-Pooh Read by Maurice Evans; Pathways of Sound POS-1038 {monaural)

The best children’s records are those that tell stories, provided (a) the stories are worth telling and (b) they are told well. These Pathways of Sound releases meet both tests admirably. Julie Harris reads Stuart Little, E. B. White’s fable about an adventurous and personable little mouse, in a straightforward manner; there is no incidental music, but her pleasant voice supplies plenty of its own. Mr. Evans by now is an old hand at narrating A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. This is his third Pooh record for Pathways of Sound; as in the two previous, he gives each of the denizens of the Forest of Six Pines a deliciously characteristic voice: a lisp for Rabbit, a squeak for Piglet, and just a touch of stuffiness for Kanga. Three of Pooh’s adventures are included on the record: “Kanga Gomes to the Forest,” “The Discovery of the North Pole,” “Search for Small.”