Lost Romantics

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
(Transcribed by Leopold Stokowski)

Long before his conducting triumphs, Stokowski workedas a church organist. The experience inspired some forty transcriptions for orchestra, many from keyboard works by Bach.

“Bach himself was the greatest transcriber of another’s music,” said Stokowski, “so the freedom of his thought encourages me to be a little free myself sometimes. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me orchestrating his keyboard pieces. He might not like the way I did it, but he wouldn’t mind the principle.” Stokowski transcribed the Toccata and Fugue in D minor in 1927, when he was music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Bach wrote the original version—for organ—in Weimar around 1709. “Of all the music of Bach, this Toccata and Fugue is among the freest in form and expression,” wrote Stokowski. “The thundering harmonies must have echoed long and tempestuously, for this music has a power and majesty that is cosmic. Its main characteristics are immense freedom of rhythm and plasticity of melodic outline. In the sequence of harmonies it is bold and path-breaking. Its tonal architecture is irregular and asymmetric. Of all the creations of Bach this is one of the most original. Its inspiration flows unending.”

Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25

“A thing rapidly tossed off ” was Mendelssohn’s description of his G minor Piano Concerto. The work was dedicated to Delphine von Schauroth, a seventeen- year-old pianist whom Mendelssohn met in Munich. An affair blossomed. She and her family implied that marriage would be suitable; he and his family thought he was too young for such a step (he was twenty-two).

At one point even the King of Bavaria got into the act. From Munich in 1831, Felix wrote to his father: “The main thing that the King said to me, though, was that I should marry Fräulein von Schauroth; that would be an excellent match, and why didn’t I want to do it? That, from a king, annoyed me, and somewhat piqued, I was going to answer him, when he, not even waiting for my answer, jumped to something else and then to a third thing.” (Bavarian kings were known for their eccentricities.) Two other letters from this period are missing, possibly destroyed later by Mendelssohn’s wife Cecile.

Delphine eventually married another. When Felix saw her again—according to a friend—he “was quite crushed…he had been much struck with Delphine, she however, being another’s, is quite out of the question.”

Mendelssohn was the soloist at the first performance of the Piano Concerto on October 17, 1831, in Munich. “I was applauded long and loud,” he said. “The orchestra accompanied well and the work itself was really mad: the audience really liked it. They applauded to make me come out and take a bow, which is custom here, but I was too modest and didn’t.”

With increasing frequency, Franz Liszt and others began playing the Concerto. Berlioz was moved to write a fanciful account of the piano maker Erard’s attempts to cure one instrument of too many performances of the Mendelssohn Concerto. He tries holy water, removing the keyboard, chopping it up with an ax, finally arson. “Such a fine instrument! We were heart-broken, but what could we do? There was no other way to loose its grip.”

The three movements are played without pause, separated by brass fanfares. Phillip Ramey writes: “The first movement is in fairly orthodox sonata form, somewhat dramatic and bravura in character. Both themes are stated by the piano. The Andante is a restful and singing ’romanza,’ not unlike certain of the Songs Without Words. The brash, agitated finale… is positively Weberesque in the all-pervasive brilliance of the piano writing.”

Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 25
VICTOR BENDIX (1851-1926)

Born in Copenhagen, Bendix was the most important Danish composer between Niels Gade and Carl Nielsen. He wrote his first composition at the age of ten. At fifteen, he was admitted to the Copenhagen Conservatory, where he studied with Gade. He took lessons from Franz Liszt in Weimar, then returned to become Gade’s assistant at the Conservatory. His works were performed all over Europe and America, but scandals involving former students probably account for his loss of popularity. The Royal Danish Orchestra never played a note of his music.

“Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert” from Act I of Giuditta 
FRANZ LEHÁR (1870-1948)

Giuditta was first produced in Vienna on January 20, 1934. The plot concerns a birdcage-
seller’s wife who leaves her husband for a soldier, then leaves the soldier for a career as a nightclub dancer. In the first act, the soldier Octavio sings of the joys of life, especially beautiful women, in Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert!

“Au mont Ida” from Act I of La Belle Hélène 

La Belle Hélène (The Beautiful Helen) was a huge success at its first performance in Paris on December 17, 1864. The plot concerns the love of Paris and Helen that led to the Trojan war. The text was used as a satire on the social and political mores of Napoleon III’s Paris. In the first act, Venus promises Paris the hand of the most beautiful woman in the world (Helen). Disguised as a shepherd, he answers the high priest’s question about what Venus is like in his big aria, “Au mont Ida.” In it, he offers an apple to Minerva, Juno and Venus. Each recounts her virtues, and Paris answers with the refrain.

“Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Act II of Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles) 
FRANZ LEHÁR (1870-1948)

First performed in Berlin on October 10, 1929, The Land of Smiles was a revision of Lehar’s 1923 operetta Die gelbe Jacke (The Yellow Jacket). In its latter incarnation, Richard Tauber created an international hit in “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” (Yours Is My Heart Alone). In it, the Chinese prince Sou-Chong tries to convince his Austrian bride that she is the favorite of his four wives.