Tchaikovsky – Manfred Symphony (hr-Sinfonieorchester)

Conducted by the Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko, hr-Sinfonieorchester (the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) performs Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony in B minor, Op. 58. Recorded at the Alte Oper Frankfurt on March 18, 2016.

Vasily Eduardovich Petrenko (born 7 July 1976, Leningrad, USSR) is a Russian conductor. Since 2006 he has been principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and, since 2013, also chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra.

Manfred Symphony in B minor, Op. 58, is a programmatic symphony(1) composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky between May and September 1885. It is based on the poem “Manfred”(2) written by the English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement, Lord Byron (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824) in 1817. It is the only one of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies he completed that is not numbered (the Symphony in E flat is a conjectural work left unfinished by the composer) and was written between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies.

Movements

  1. Lento lugubre (in B minor). Manfred wanders in the Alps. Weary of the fatal question of existence, tormented by hopeless longings and the memory of past crimes, he suffers cruel spiritual pangs. He has plunged into occult sciences and commands the mighty powers of darkness, but neither they nor anything in this world can give him the forgetfulness to which alone he vainly aspires. The memory of the lost Astarte, once passionately loved, gnaws his heart and there is neither limit nor end to Manfred’s despair.
    The musical embodiment of this program note is presented in five extensive musical slabs spaced out by four silences. A brooding first theme, briefly unharmonized, builds to music both spacious and monolithic. A second theme leads to a second musical slab, this time pushing forward with the loudest climax Tchaikovsky ever wrote. The music in the third slab seems calmer, while the fourth slab marks the appearance of Astarte. The fifth slab culminates in a frantic climax and a series of abrupt, final chords.
  2. Vivace con spirito (in B minor). The Alpine fairy appears before Manfred in the rainbow from the spray of a waterfall.
    Tchaikovsky’s efforts in exploring fresh possibilities in scoring allowed him to present his music with new colors and more refined contrasts. In this scherzo, it seems as though the orchestration creates the music, as though Tchaikovsky has thought directly in colors and textures, making these the primary focus. Put simply, there is no tune and little definition of any harmonic base, creating a world alluring, fragile and magical. The point becomes clear when an actual and lyrical tune enters the central section of the movement.
  3. Andante con moto (in G major). A picture of the bare, simple, free life of the mountain folk.
    This pastorale opens with a siciliana, then the three-note call of a hunter. The opening theme returns. We hear a brief and lively peasant dance, then an agitated outburst, before the opening theme returns. The opening pastoral theme eventually returns more spaciously and in a fuller, more decorative scoring. The hunter sounds his horn; the music fades.
  4. Allegro con fuoco (in B minor, ending in B major). The subterranean palace of Arimanes. Infernal orgy. Appearance of Manfred in the middle of the bacchanal. Evocation and appearance of the shade of Astarte. He is pardoned. Death of Manfred.
    Many critics consider the finale to be fatally flawed, but the problem lies less with music than with the program. Up to this point Tchaikovsky has done well at reconciling the extra-musical requirements for each movement with the music itself. Now, however, the program takes over, beginning with a fugue, which is by its nature academic and undramatic, to depict the horde’s discovery of Manfred within their midst. The result, though in many ways becoming a condensed recapitulation of the latter half of the first movement, becomes a fragmented movement with musical disruption and non-sequiturs, ending with the Germanic chorale depicting Manfred’s death scene.

Notes

  1. Program music or programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the form of program notes, inviting imaginative correlations with the music. A classic example is Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, which relates a drug-induced series of morbid fantasies concerning the unrequited love of a sensitive poet involving murder, execution, and the torments of Hell. The genre culminates in the symphonic works of Richard Strauss that include narrations of the adventures of Don Quixote, Till Eulenspiegel, the composer’s domestic life, and an interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy of the Superman. Following Strauss, the genre declined and new works with explicitly narrative content are rare. Nevertheless the genre continues to exert an influence on film music, especially where this draws upon the techniques of late romantic music.

    The term is almost exclusively applied to works in the European classical music tradition, particularly those from the Romantic music period of the 19th century, during which the concept was popular, but pieces which fit the description have long been a part of music. The term is usually reserved for purely instrumental works (pieces without singers and lyrics), and not used, for example for Opera or Lieder. Single movement orchestral pieces of program music are often called symphonic poems.

    Absolute music, in contrast, is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world.

  2. Manfred: A dramatic poem is a poem written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama.

    Byron commenced this work in late 1816, only a few months after the famed ghost-story sessions which provided the initial impetus for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The supernatural references are made clear throughout the poem.

    Manfred was adapted musically by Robert Schumann in 1852, in a composition entitled Manfred: Dramatic Poem with music in Three Parts, and later by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in his Manfred Symphony. Friedrich Nietzsche was impressed by the poem’s depiction of a super-human being, and wrote some music for it.

Sources

  1. Manfred Symphony on wikipedia
  2. Program music on wikipedia
  3. Manfred on wikipedia

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