This week's entry in Juilliard's Wednesdays at One series was a one-hour concert given by the school's Wind Orchestra. It was an interesting program that featured symphonic works for chamber orchestra by two strkingly different German composers - Joachim Raff and Arnold Schoenberg.
The concert opened with Raff's Sinfonietta in F major, Op. 188 (1873), scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns. As a composer, Raff is a perfect example of how capriciously tastes change. Promoted by Mendelssohn, praised by Schumann, and befriended by von Bulow, Raff was by the time of his death in 1882 one of Germany's best known composers. In contrast, he has today been almost entirely forgotten. Judging at least by the present piece, that present lack of recognition is unjust. The four-movement Sinfonietta is, despite its spare instrumentation, a full fledged symphony requiring the direction of a conductor. Lasting roughly twenty minutes, the Sinfonietta is most often, particularly in the brief final movement, very lively and spritely; even the third movement larghetto in C major does not have the extremely slow tempo one would expect from such a marking but was instead more reminiscent of a Mozartian andante.
The next and final work was Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No. 1 in E major, Op. 9 (1906), for which the winds were joined onstage by a string quartet and double bass. It's impossible to mention this piece without noting that it was made forever famous by the riot that broke out when it was conducted by the composer at the 1913 Skandalkonzert held in Vienna's venerable Musikverein. Whether or not the melee was as intense as shown in the above newspaper illustration from the April 6, 1913 edition of Die Zeit, the commotion certainly indicated well enough the difficulties faced by the Second Viennese School in having its music accepted by the city's conservative audiences. (Apparently, this particular audience was even more incensed by Alban Berg's Orchestral Songs than it was by Schoenberg's Kammersymphonie.)
The Chamber Symphony, a single movement work divided into five sections, was composed before Schoenberg had fully developed his twelve-tone system; but the work nevertheless marked an important step forward in the evolution of his music as it made use of both quartal harmony and the technique of developing variation.
This was an excellent concert that allowed me to hear fine renditions of two infrequently performed pieces, here expertly conducted by Juilliard faculty member Alan Kay. The performance of the Kammersymphonie, in particular, was better than that which I would have expected of a far more experienced professional ensemble. Thankfully, Wednesday's audience was much more appreciative of the high level of musicianship than that which attended the infamous Skandalkonzert.