Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Richard Strauss: Symphony #1 in D Minor, composed at age 16, deserves more performances; also, Marion Bauer's "American Youth Concerto"

Here’s a nice find, the Symphony #1 in D Minor (37 minutes) by Richard Strauss, composed in 1880, at the age of 16, played by the Hong Kong Philharmonic on the Marco Polo label here.
The work has a bit of “storm and stress” rhetoric, and often sounds a bit like Mendelssohn, but has several amazingly familiar themes, especially in the finale.  Is this obscure work familiar to Hollywood film composers?  (I used to ask that about the Mahler Seventh, whose “Night Music” seemed to get quoted a lot in the movies before the work became part of standard repertoire thanks to Leonard Bernstein.)   There is some strong contrapuntal writing in the finale, too.

It’s not just Mozart;  a lot of composers wrote very strong works in their teens and early 20s.  I’ve talked about D’Albert here.  Brahms would not compose a symphony until age 40, but the passionate first piano concerto was written at age 25, and the big piano sonatas are youthful.  True, a lot of Bruckner’s work is from an older person, as is much the case with, say, Vaughn Williams.  Mahler’s Piano Quarter was composed at age 16, and the impressive “Das Klagende Lied” was finished at 18, but the first symphony waited to age 28.

It seems that major symphony orchestras could organize concerts around the idea of works composed before age 20.  I used to “call” for the Minnesota Orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts (in 2002-2003 when still living in Minneapolis, after “The Big Layoff” at the end of 2001 at my old job).  It strikes me that works like this one by Strauss could be a good selection (you could pair it with youthful contemporary works).

Richard Strauss, as a composer, has always been recognized for the strength of programmatic tone poems that he composed early in adulthood, as some consider the later orchestral works weaker.

While on the topic of "youth", I mention the Piano Concerto in G Minor (1943, 16 minutes) by Marion Bauer, titled the "American Youth Concerto" which I read when taking piano lessons, here. I may have an old hardcopy score lying around in a moving box somewhere.  The majestic (turning to lively) theme in the finale will sound familiar.  Bauer's style recalls Amy Beach.
(I had reviewed the big F Minor Symphony, #2, here on June 19, 2011).

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