Thursday, September 03, 2015

Bruno Walter, famous conductor of Mahler, composed his own symphonies

When I was a teen, Bruno Walter was the main accepted interpreter of Mahler, and he only conducted the symphonies thought to be the “best” (he skipped 6, 7, 8, and 10, as well as the “Blumie” movement of #1). Over time (largely because of the effort of Leonard Bernstein in the 1960s) middle Mahler became a lot more mainstream.  A few conductors like Scherchen and Horenstein had also conducted Mahler on recordings before 1960.

Walter was also popular with Brahms and Beethoven, and usually appeared on Columbia Records, with his own Columbia Symphony Orchestra (recording in California).

Not too many people realize that Walter also composed.  His Symphony #1 in D Minor (1907), with an unknown orchestra conducted by Leon Botstein, can be played on YouTube.

The work, running 59 minutes, has been compared to the Mahler Sixth by at least one comment, although the layout and sonic environment is a bit different (sometimes sounding like Richard Strauss more than Mahler or Bruckner). The first movement, Moderato, is rather dour, with long sad melodic lines in strings, but it is followed by a true slow movement, that is not that remarkable.  The most interesting part seemed to be the lively Scherzo, which is in the oddly matched key of B Minor and Major.  The Finale seems to recapitulate earlier movements (as would happen with Mahler and Bruckner), and toward the end, it does adopt the martial mood of the Mahler “Tragic”, ending on loud minor chords (without dying away as in the Mahler). If Walter did not want to conduct the Sixth, it’s interesting that he composed his own symphony to convey a somewhat similar message to listeners.

Walter would not leave Germany (to escape the Nazis) for over 25 years after composing the work, but maybe he sense what could come.

Something about the art work on many YouTube classical performances.  Note the “Middle Earth” landscape, where the jagged mountains dwarf (by orders of magnitude) the settlement below, but where there may be towers on top of the highest pinnacles.  Imagine a luxury hotel room in a high castle on another planet.  Maybe this is Clive Barker’s Yzordderrex.

Some other memory occurred to me listening to this music.  There’s a relationship between the “Octave” theme in the first movement Bruckner Ninth (which comes back in the completed Finale in fugal form) and the opening theme of the Mahler Sixth.

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