Wisst ihr wie das wird?(1): The Album-Sonate for Mathilde Wesendonck as Prototype for Richard Wagner’s Unrealized Symphonies
“Don’t look for too many unmentionable motivations in the Album Sonata. I promised it to a young woman who was very kind to me, in return for a beautiful sofa cushion that she gave me as a present.”
So wrote Richard Wagner, nearly twenty-five years after he composed the work in question (2). The little mention which the composer made to this sonata is exclusively dedicated to downplaying its significance; Wagner knew he would be remembered as a composer of dramatic works, not of ‘absolute’ instrumental ones. Aside from Wagner’s relationship with the work’s dedicatee, does this sonata, all but ignored in Wagner studies, offer any insight into a composer for whom so much insight has already been offered up?
Charles Ives’ Central Park in the Dark is a work from the fruitful period that followed his self-imposed exile from professional music-making. During the years 1898- 1906, Ives more and more removed himself from the German-Romantic harmonies which had dominated his earlier works, instead concentrating on the development of his own personal idiom derived from experimental technical procedures and an emphasis on quotation. The work, whose first title was “A contemplation of nothing serious,” serves as a companion piece to “‘A Contemplation of a Serious Matter’,” or The Unanswered Question.” In the work, we find Ives as a young man in a light-hearted contemplative mood, observing the goings-on of the Park while sitting on a bench by one of its ponds. This sort of immersed, nature-inspired reflection was just one of the ways in which Ives’ transcendentalism-- the set of ideas, attitudes, and questions espoused by thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau-- reared its head. By first examining significant elements within the score, and then by examining some those aspects of Transcendentalism which most immediately relate to music generally, this paper intends to broadly convey Ives’ musical translation of philosophical ideas. Foremost among these ideas are those concerning the importance of a communal, emotional language which can be accessed through quotation of popular materials; that the contemplation of Nature is essential to the well-rounded and dynamic life; and that harmony exists between elements which appear to be opposed to or at odds with one another.
Iconic Lexicons of 20th-Century Music: Varèse’s Density 21.5, Babbitt’s Du, and Messian’s Colors of the Celestial City
If one thing could be said to have unified the 20th century, it must be the quality and intensity of the varieties of its disjunction. Nowhere is this more true than in the disparate languages which developed in the wake of atonal music: like bits of cooling matter scattered throughout an ever-increasing universe in the microseconds following the Big Bang (a theory first proposed in 1927), composers soon found themselves in charge of creating their own systems. This solipsism, in which each composer’s language is its own beginning and end, finds its parallel in the increasing individualism prized in the nations from which the three works represented here hail. These three compositions, composed within a span of fewer than thirty years, are not easily made to fit into that paradigm of artificially assembled history: progress! This line of thought, in which Haydn is seen a natural and more perfectly evolved form of CPE Bach, the two bearing the relationship that some bird which nature has bestowed generations of survival does to archaeopteryx (a necessary but eventually discarded stepping stone), fails to cling to composers whose works are detailed below. As such, it is those differences between the composers, rather than their similarities, which will be highlighted. Presented in chronological order, the values displayed within these works differ so wildly that any serious attempt to unite them under any other banner is at best spurious.
The first motif of this movement makes itself known from the first two pitches, e and c. There are a few characteristics about these pitches which embed themselves into the fabric of the work. First, the pitches themselves are structurally important, as they bookend the piece: the first two notes are e followed by c, and the last two chords are a  chord whose root is C followed by a  chord whose root is E. Secondly, the movement by a third, in both its major and minor versions, appears again and again in different voices. Another alternation-motif whose recognition is crucial to the performance of the work is that between the “non-tonal”  and “tonal” . Alerting oneself to these important motives lends itself not only to an understanding of phrasing which is grounded in something more than “sounding right”, but also to a more highly integrated performance of the movement as a whole.
My experience with this cantata first came about when I was to give a short introductory lecture on Bach’s Leipzig cantatas for a class in Fall of 2009. When looking into a heightened use of rhetorical gestures which accompanied Bach’s employment in what would be his home for the remainder of his life, one text pointed to the third movement of this cantata.
While I had hitherto been without much experience in the realm of Bach's cantatas, and had little knowledge of the composer’s use of cantata word-painting in his pre-Leipzig days, this movement, a soprano aria, had a profound effect on me. Furthermore, I had enjoyed the large-scale detective work which was carried out earlier in the year for one of J.S. Bach’s motets and which had served as a primer for a new and interesting kind of analysis for me. I was determined to be able to discover on my own the same kind of eye-opening revelations which were so readily exposed in that motet-- to delve into the text, learn about the circumstances of composition, and to see what role this piece played in Bach’s life.
The motet, though now largely absent from modern concerts, has nonetheless played a crucial role in the development of polyphonic music throughout the history of Western art music. What began as the simple application of new text to older music nearly eight hundred years ago went on to become one of the longest lasting and most influential genres of composition--and the perfect vehicle for early musicians to develop their own distinct voices as composers. Because its history is so expansive--both in its longevity and in its international span-- the term ‘motet’ has meant many things to many different people. While its origins can be traced back to early 13th century France, it was a very different motet which was popularized and exported to surrounding nations. The motet, like many other musical genres, found its polyphonic culmination in the learned hands of Johann Sebastian Bach though he was here again standing on the shoulders of more giants than many of his idolizers may care to admit to. An important aspect of motet writing--if not the most important-- was that as it grew, it necessitated the evolution of many technical parts of music writing--and changed people’s ideas about how music could be composed. The motet had passed through perhaps more hands than any other kind of polyphonic genre before it reached Bach, and those skilled hands left it grown and changed. Pérotin was the one who perhaps started the practice, though some time would pass before ideas changed and the more rhythmically complex motets of Guillaume de Machaut were to be possible. The well-traveled and cosmopolitan Guillaume Du Fay exemplified the newer, more consonant harmonies which were being disseminated throughout continental Europe in the fifteenth century (and in effect contributed to the more international harmonic language that was to be found there), and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, the so-called “Prince of Music," brought the counterpoint found in motets to heights never before explored. All of these composers, and many more, played a crucial role in delivering the motet to Johann Sebastian Bach (who called only seven of his compositions “motet”).