April 26, 2015
Sterling, a Swedish CD company, has just made available an exciting new release of 1st time recordings on CD of Joachim Raff (1822-1882) in a two CD set the first of which is the original Overture to Promethus Unbound, composed by Franz Liszt (1811-1886) but arranged and orchestrated by Raff in 1850, an assignment given to him when he first began to work for Liszt. It was written for a play by Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) to celebrate his 100th birthday in 1844. Liszt had only sketches at the time for the play which was only performed once. In 1855 Liszt re-orchestrated the work and called it a symphony poem. Until the release of this recording from Sterling you likely heard Promethus in a set which included all of his tone poems. It is a few minutes shorter 443 measures compared to 832 for the Raff. The pace is quicker and at times frantic. The liner notes written by Dr. Leichtling give a detailed explanation of the differences in the 32 page booklet. I would encourage the listener to listen to both versions and compare something we normally are not able to do. The difference is striking in each man’s interpretation.
It begins with a striking melody quite bold that you’ll instantly identify as the Promethus theme, one that sounds like the wrath of god (in this case Zeus) with thunder coming down on you. This theme has variations through the overture and is repeated in full again two thirds into the work. A quiet section with lower strings and woodwinds occur and the works builds itself up again with another theme to a frenzy making you think of a storm which subsides into a calming section still continuing with the same theme featured by the strings and woodwinds. There is a fugal section after the andante section. The tempo and loudness begins until the beginning staccato chords begin again followed by the brass taking over as they fanfare with timpani in the background. This brings on a rousing conclusion. I would encourage the listener to compare the two different versions something that we normally aren’t able to do as it is rare for two composers to work on the same piece. Neither is better just different from each other.
INCIDENTAL MUSIC TO THE DRAMA BERNHARD von WEIMAR (1854)
The play, written by Wilhelm Genast who would become Raff’s brother-in-law in 1859, was the reason that Raff took on this project. The work is really two separate sections the overture and the two marches. The play was written about Weimar who was one of the important military commanders in the 30 year war. The opening overture is based on Einn feste Bourg an important Lutheran hymn that perhaps gave Raff a bit of difficulty as he was Catholic. It is very much a religious overture with parts being solemn and other parts being very proud and majestic but both styles being built around the Einn feste Bourg theme.
The second movement is the first of two marches this one being in Allegro vivace. It immediately begins with a very majestic theme that has wonderful brass measures that are an important part of the development of the work. I would classify this as a fun piece to listen to and one that Raff could easily have classified as a festive overture. He relates feeling of happy times. Raff’s theme for the march was reused by Raff 17 years later in his last movement of the piano concerto. How many of you picked up on that?
The third movement, another march is quite the opposite of the first one. It is quite serious, very proud, and courtly in nature. The horns again play a prominent role with assistance from the strings and woodwinds. The work shifts gears and becomes more serious witha funeral like pace until the horns return along with the proud stately manner that it began with. A nice contrast from the previous movement. Keep in mind that this is another premiere work from Raff and needs to be in your collection if you have any interest in his works.
ORCHESTRAL INTERMEZZI FROM THE ORATORIO WORLD’S END JUDGMENT-NEW WORLD, OP. 212
Written at the very end of Raff’s life we now hear a very different sound. Gone are the broad classical romantic sounds which are being replaced with a simpler approach definitely leaning toward the minimalism that would take over. Look at this as a last statement, a hurrah if you will. The work like the von Weimar work is divided into three sections “Worlds End,” “Judgment,” and “New World.”
The first section deals with The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse beginning with “Pestilence” a very simple movement filled with endless repetition from the strings. Dr. Leichtling reminds us that Bernard Herrmann, an ardent admirer of Raff used some of the techniques you hear in his film scores. “The War” section ges away from the minimal approach and offers the listener a mini overture. Beginning with a gallop the horns soon enter and dominate the cue. The track ends with a fanfare of horns. “Famine” returns to the minimalist approach from the strings with the woodwinds offering notes almost random sounding. “Death and Hell” again begins with the strings building up to a rousing crescendo of wind and rain. This reviewer gets the feeling that Raff is holding back. “The Judgment” is a fanfare for brass which slowly fades into the lower bowels of the orchestra then continues the lower notes as a background for bassoon and horns. The “Resurrection” continues with the previous cue building in intensity. It is solemn without hope. The final track “New World”is as you would expect a simple cue with fugal overtones, a lovely way to end the work.
This is a release that any follower of Raff is going to want to have in his collection. The works are solid, good sound, well performed and conducted, and it is something that I’ll return to on a regular basis.
April 15, 2015
The Sea Garden
A couple of awards should be given to “Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef,” a film starring Robert Wagner, Gilbert Roland, Richard Boone, Peter Graves and Terry Moore. The first is the best soundtrack written for the worst film. The other is the only soundtrack to feature nine harps in the score which makes it one of my favorite Herrmann soundtracks. It was one of the earlier CinemaScope efforts from Fox and the underwater sequences must have been nice to see on the wide screen along with the harp music which added to the danger and mystery of the reef. The story is about two sponge boats who are establishing territorial areas and the one place both are reluctant to go to which is the twelve mile reef. Of course the daughter of one of the boats falls in love with a young boy from the other side which ignites the situation even more. Directed by Robert Webb whose claim to fame was he directed Elvis Presley’s first film “Love Me Tender.”
“The Prelude” sets the stage for the film as the background is a water scene with a beautiful sunset. It is a bright with trumpets playing the melody against upbeat harp chords. A second theme somewhat romantic very brief is introduced but one that you’ll hear again throughout the soundtrack. “The Undersea” gives us our first offering of the underwater music that is the basis for other tracks. It’s background is a sponge diver in the murky depths with dark morbid strings and the harps playing a prominent roll somewhat synchronized to the slow movements of the diver as he gathers sponges. Whether this was the first film to use this idea of the harp as an underwater association I’m not sure but since this film it has been used often. Keeping in mind that part of this film is underwater ( director of photography Edward Cronjager was nominated for Oscar) this style of music was used, enhancing what you see on the screen. “The Boat” begins with a melody soft in nature with the harp and segues into a third theme, romantic in nature that you’ll again. “The Homecoming” returns to the main title theme as the boat docks and the crew is greeted by family. “The Glades” paint a different picture as it begins with the softer version of the main title changing into a somewhat dissonant passage. “Flirtation” is a nice track which begins in a very playful manner and ends up on a romantic note. “The Quiet Sea” makes use of the second theme from the main title. In “The Undersea Forest” you’ll hear a great example of how the harps and the lower strings and woodwinds play together, one complementing the other. The lower strings have a lumbering effect mimicking the slow movement of the diver. “Elegy” a slow sad movement which is lead by the oboe. The strings play very sadly but the music has a tribute to the death of Tony. Few can write as sorrowful as Herrmann and the short “Sorrow” shows that with oboe as it plays out a variation of the main title in a minor key. I’m including “The Sea Garden” as an audio track which will give you a good idea how the underwater sound was created.
As far as audio quality is concerned this soundtrack while recorded in three track stereo has not stood the test of time very well. There is some wow and flutter and some of it suffers from overall muddiness. Let’s just call this an archival recording. There is little difference between the FSM and this recording other than there were some tracks combined on the FSM. This soundtrack is really a study in how underscore material should be written. Each track assumes one of the themes created by Herrmann and it is used in a different way depending upon what you’re watching on the screen and I found myself listening to the music and not watching the film. Remember I said that this wasn’t a very good film. I consider this to be a top 100 recording and a must have in you’re collection. If you don’t have it get it before this small limited edition is sold out.
April 12, 2015
DRAGON’S DOMAIN DDR 601 LIMITED EDITION OF 1500
Belstone Fox Theme
Back in the 70’s film soundtracks were filled with melodies, ones that you could remember and hum for days until you heard another one by such composers as John Barry, Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, and John Williams among many others. Part of that group included the extremely talented British composer Laurie Johnson who you might remember as doing the “Avengers” theme. Johnson has written scores for over 400 film and television series. His style reflects at least on this recording his formal training from the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Without investigating the story seems to be an excellent children’s story about a fox, abandoned, and raised with fox hunting dogs. However, if you watch it you’ll see that there is violence in it with the killing of the baby foxes early on and the fox hunting dogs later on. I think it is not terribly popular today due to the banning of fox hunting as a sport. I was also not impressed with the way they spotted the music but neither of these two things has anything to do with the superb score of Laurie Johnson and if your into some of the older classic scores this is a must buy for you. It was released on a Ronco LP in 1973 and this is the second release on the Dragon’s Domain company who will specialize in limited hard to find soundtracks. It is being distributed by BSX.
The “Belstone Fox” theme dominates the first fifteen minutes of the film. It begins with a single low note, a trumpet call and then the English Horn introduces the sad melody who turns it over to the strings who eventually turn it back to the English Horn. This melody will be heard often during this soundtrack. It isn’t until there is a scene with the growing puppies that a second theme appears. “Early Days” begins with fox theme but into the track we hear a second theme, a bouncy upbeat one tht is also used quite often. The theme returns with the clarinet playing the theme with nice harmony from the harp. Johnson makes excellent use of his woodwinds which include Clarinet, Oboe, English horn, and bassoon. His string harmony is also quite unique, something I’ve not heard before. “The Friendship” starts with the strings offering a new theme until a new upbeat theme is introduced from the English horn with the flute participating. It ends with some nice horn work doing double tonguing. The first three tracks give the listener a nice idea of how well Johnson is classically trained. “Reunion” features a fox hunting theme with horns leading the way. If you’re familiar with Bernard Herrmann one can hear a hint of him in a couple of the chords as well as Bruckner from his 4th symphony. “The Belstone Hunt” turns to dissonance coming from all parts of the orchestra to a background of a steady beat with violins repeating the same notes over and over. “Badger Hill,” the final track begins softly with ominous tones in the background as the strings don’t play a theme but chords as do the trumpets. It ends as it began with the return of the fox theme in a heartfelt style.
The sound quality I found to be most adequate if you keep in mind it is an analog recording. I’m glad that Mark and Ford found this hidden gem. Not only are the themes great but the arranging and orchestrating are some of the best I’ve heard.
April 10, 2015
Felix Woyrsch was born in 1860 to a noble family but the death of his father when he was six caused his growing up do be somewhat less than so it didn’t include any formal musical training. Fate entered into his life when he was performing as an art piper at a faire and was noticed by the choirmaster and music teacher Heinrich Chevallier who took the boy under his wing. He eventually secured the position of director of Altone’s largest choir in 1895 and this was the time in his life that his music began to change for the better. His Passion Oratorio, op. 45 was well accepted and performed several times in Germany. Woyrsich wrote a large part of his work in the early 20th century which includes 3 of his 7 symphonies and this reviewed work. Yet another composer who had some success during his lifetime but today is mostly forgotten. Hopefully CPO will offer additional material.
Could it be said that the Swiss Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) paintings especially Die Toteninse (Isle of the Dead) was put to musical inspiration more than any other painting? I think so. Seeing the painting conjures up the feelings of death, eeriness, darkness, and demons. The most played of these works is Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead” which was written a year before Felix Woyrsch did his. While this reviewer can hear some points of similiarity there is no evidence to support this. If anything there is a stronger similarity to the second movement of Miaskovsky’s 5th symphony written in 1918 so perhaps Miaskovsky learned from Woyrsch. Originally Woyrsch only wrote about the Isle of the Dead but he added The Hermit and Playing in the Waters. In fact during this period of time Woyrsch ended up writing several pieces about death. Max Reger went to school on the Woyrsch piece including the same three paintings but adding the Bacchanal as a fourth entry.
Die Toteninsel begins in the lower register opens the work and as you’d expect it is dark and foreboding. As it continues the woodwinds take a more active role with the bassoon, oboe, and clarinet offering exchanges. The strings throughout play a key role taking this pastiche and making it hold together very nicely. If you’re familiar with the “Isle of the Dead” you’ll enjoy this additional interpretation.
Der Eremit begins with soft strings and the horns offering a prelude to solo violin which plays the melody while the woodwinds offer counterpoint including a brief passage from an organ which remains in the background. Halfway through the strings offer a sense of urgency with the horns shouting out in between. It ends in a positive upbeat manner.
Im Spiel Der Wellen: Playful is the word to describe the opening of the playing in the waves. One can vision the nymphs running around without a care in the world, love in the air and joyful. The strings offer a major key with brass providing the harmony.
These pieces make a nice listen as they complement each other and would be a nice addition to your collection.
April 1, 2015
PRELUDE TO U BOATS
Thirty years ago a large television station in Los Angeles (KABC) produced a series of thirty minute WWII documentaries which included music from a previously composed material for a forgettable B film Wheels of Fire and used it as the soundtrack for their series. In the thirty years that have followed there has been an lp on Cerebus, a demo CD, and now this 1000 limited edition on BSX. While I’ve not seen any of the episodes I will trust the liner note writer Randall Larson that the material matches up quite well as the Wheels of Fire soundtrack has yet to become available. This was a practice that Hans Salter, composer of Universal horror films did on a regular basis. Christopher Young (1957-) has gone on to become a successful Hollywood composer, teacher at USC and UCLA, and has taken under his wing many budding composers an opportunity to learn and get their foot in the door. Chris has over 120 film credits with a golden globe nomination for perhaps his best work The Shipping News (2002) as well as numerous awards for many of his horror films.
“The Prelude” begins with a nice major keyed melody, a little hint of a Star Wars theme from first the horns and then the strings. It is proud and majestic with military fanfare and I would guess that this theme was the introduction to each of the episodes. “The German War Machine” opens with a prelude that leads to the dark and mysterious and then the track lumbers along without melody in staccato fashion with a mimicking of the clanking of machinery, the piano chords off key and the snare drum indicating military. “The Homefront” offers the listener a harmonica, strings, piano, and snare drum with strings joining forces with the brass to provide a lushness that will tug a bit at the heart strings. Listening to this track you’d be fooled that this is war material except snare drum identifying the tie in with the soldiers. “The Pacific Fleet” is one of my favorite tracks an underscore one which makes effective use of the entire brass as the ascending strings bring it to a climax. What follows is a series of dissonant motifs from vibes, brass, percussion, and piano chords. The low strings in a minor key enhance the track even further. “A North Atlantic Passage” another favorite track begins with a theme from the horns which repeats and segues into another low register display of dissonant trombones with tinkling percussion all around. The track ends with another dissonant motif. “The Prisoners” is another nice piece of orchestration with distorted brass motifs along with an emphasis on the low register. “Aftermath” as the title suggests opens with the lonely horns in a funeral like setting. It is a short track that depicts the horror of war. I can say that each track is unique as there is no central melody that attempts to tie them together. The forty minute length of the CD will go by quickly and you’ll find your own favorites.
Randall Larson summed it up nicely: “Their use in these programs has likely allowed the music to be heard far beyond their use in the original films while at the same time Young’s music gave Jone’s documentaries a powerful musical dynamic that definitely increased their production value.” Isn’t that the job of good film music?
1…. Prelude (1:54)
2…. The German War Machine (1:55)
3…. Invasion (3:28)
4…. Aftermath (1:56)
5…. The Resistance (4:44)
6…. Panzers (1:04)
7…. Fortress Europe (1:38)
8…. Blitzkrieg (2:52)
9…. The Homefront (2:48)
10….The Pacific Fleet (3:04)
11….A North Atlantic Passage (2:58)
12….The Prisoners (3:13)
13….Operation Overload (2:42)
14….The Price of Victory (0:56)
15….The Push to Berlin (2:14)
16….Those Not to Be Forgotten (2:20)
Total Time 41:26