Three Bocklin Fantasies, op. 53/Woyrsch

April 10, 2015

 woyrsch 001CPO 777 923-2


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.


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