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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Influential Classics

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Composers do not live in a vacuum and thus cannot help but be influenced to some degree by their surroundings and even by the works of other composers. Indeed, some composers have deliberately sought out their cohorts to refresh their thinking or find a new approach. New York-born composer John Corigliano’s (b. 1938) music emphasizes musical architecture, color and dramatic effects, and though steeped in the post-Romantic aesthetic nevertheless shows the influence of the Minimalist and Serialist schools as well. The next Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert opens with Corigliano’s Fantasia on an Ostinato (1986), a work he based on the Allegretto of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 (1811).

“That music is unique in Beethoven’s output because of a relentless ostinato that continues, unvaried except for a long crescendo and added accompanimental voices, for over four minutes,” Corigliano states, in what he describes as “Beethoven’s near-minimalistic use of his material.” As for Beethoven’s Allegretto theme, it itself is similar to a style of ancient Greek metered poetry.

Thus, we have Corigliano influenced by Beethoven, and the latter influenced by forms and styles employed by writers like Homer many centuries earlier. Early in 1884, Czech composer Antonn Dvork (1841-1904) went to Berlin to hear Johannes Brahms’ new Third Symphony for the first time. The importance of this event cannot be exaggerated. Dvork—a Czech conscious of his Slavic roots, but also a Central European with strong leanings toward Germany—found Brahms’ work to be an inspiration, for in it he heard the hallowed traditions of Classical form refreshed without any disturbance to the overall balance (attributes he would find in all of Brahms’ oeuvre). In 1885, Dvork completed his Symphony No. 7 in D Minor, Op. 70, a work that truly cemented his reputation as a first-class symphonist. And while the work clearly displays Brahms’ awesome influence, it is still entirely individual. The example had been understood and internalized, not imitated.

Possibly because he was not a virtuoso instrumentalist himself, Austria’s Joseph Haydn (1732- 1809) composed relatively few concertos. He certainly did, however, compose quite virtuosic music (mainly evident in his chamber works and symphonies). Even so, Haydn’s great talent is evinced in the fact that his only concerto for trumpet is not only one of his most popular works, it is arguably the best-known of all trumpet concertos ever composed. Written in 1796, just after his second trip to London, the scoring for the Concerto for Trumpet & Orchestra in E-Flat Major is masterful, and reminiscent of his previously composed “London” Symphonies. Alison Balsom, winner of a 2006 Gramophone Award and EMI Classics recording artist, is the soloist for this work.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is led by guest conductor Arild Remmereit of Norway, an engaging young conductor who has led orchestras around the world since his debut with the Pittsburgh, Baltimore, La Scala, Vienna and Munich orchestras in 2005. At Uihlein Hall on March 28 and 29.
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