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Marek Janowski is one of the great masters of the music of the German tradition. He is recognised throughout the world for his interpretation of Wagner, Strauss, Bruckner and Brahms, Hindemith and the Second Viennese School, and has an extensive and distinguished discography in this repertoire. From 2002 to 2016 he was Artistic Director of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin and his Wagner opera cycle with the orchestra in Berlin’s Philharmonie in 2012 and 2013 was held to have set a new standard of performance in concertante opera. The complete cycle was recorded live on Pentatone and released in 2016.

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The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles.


Originally broadcast on April 17, 2018 on 90.9 WGUC in Cincinnati, OH

FRI MAR 2, 8 pm • SAT MAR 3, 8 pm


WAGNER (1813–1883)

Siegfried Idyll


Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde


BRUCKNER (1824–1896)

Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major, Romantic

• Bewegt, nicht zu schnell
• Andante quasi allegretto
• Scherzo: Bewegt
• Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell

Siegfried Idyll

Born: May 22, 1813, LeipzigDied: February 13, 1883, Venice

Work composed: 1870

Premiere: Christmas Day 1870, Wagner family home on Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Instrumentation: flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, trumpet, strings

CSO notable performances: 123 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: March 1896 (Pike Opera House), Frank Van der Stucken conducting | Most recent: February 2014, David Afkham conducting

Duration: approx. approx. 20 minutes

The Siegfried Idyll is the only purely instrumental composition of Wagner’s maturity. It is also his only “private” work—the only time he chose to celebrate a private event (his wife’s birthday), rather than pondering universal questions of history, mythology and the union of all the arts. But of course, the personal and the universal were quite strongly intertwined in Wagner’s case. In 1869, the year his only son was born, he had just resumed work on his Ring of the Nibelung cycle, interrupted twelve years earlier at the end of Siegfried, Act II. Obviously, his son could not have been named anything but Siegfried, just as Siegfried’s older sisters had been named Isolde and Eva, after the heroines of Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger, respectively.

Then again, the Wagners were no ordinary family. All three of Wagner’s children were born while their mother, Cosima Liszt (the daughter of Franz Liszt and Countess Marie d’Agoult), was still married to the great pianist-conductor Hans von Bülow, who conducted the premieres of both Tristan and Meister-singer. Bülow had accepted the two girls as his own children; Cosima did not actually leave him until she became pregnant with Siegfried. The scandal erupting over all this was itself nothing short of high drama. Public opinion was not appeased until Cosima finally divorced Bülow and married Wagner in the summer of 1870 (little Siegfried, or Fidi, as he was called in the family, was 14 months old by then). The Siegfried Idyll was written to celebrate Cosima’s first birthday as Mrs. Wagner, on Christmas Eve 1870. (In the meantime, the Franco-Prussian War had broken out, making the Wagner-Bülow scandal seem an affair of little consequence.) Wagner dedicated his work with the words: “Tribschen Idyll, with Fidi’s Bird-song and Orange Sunrise, Presented as a Birthday Greeting to his Cosima by her Richard, 1870.” (Tribschen was the name of the suburb of Lucerne, Switzerland, where the Wagners lived at the time.)

Cosima recorded the events of the memorable day in her diary:

I can give you no idea, my children, about that day, nor about my feelings. As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and what music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears, but so were all the rest of the household.

Also present, in addition to the Wagner children (and Cosima’s two daughters from her first marriage), was a young philosophy professor named Friedrich Nietzsche, who belonged to the Wagners’ closest circle of friends at the time.

Sixteen musicians participated in the performance, including Hans Richter, who would soon become a famous conductor, and who played the trumpet part. Later, after Wagner decided to publish the piece (under financial duress, and much to Cosima’s chagrin), the piece was usually played with a larger string complement, and the chamber version became something of a rarity.

KEYNOTE. In this sweet and tender work, Wagner wove together a number of themes from Siegfried, Act III, on which he had been working throughout 1870, and a lullaby he had jotted down in his “Brown Book” on New Year’s Eve 1868. (Since Siegfried was not yet born at the time, the lullaby must have been intended for Isolde and Eva.) Note, in particular, the “tenderness” of the final line of the lullaby:

Sleep, baby, sleep,
in the garden are two sheep,
a black one and a white one;
and if baby doesn’t go to sleep
the black one will come and bite it.

(According to Ernest Newman’s classic Wagner biography, the parallel thirds of the lullaby’s accompaniment represent the two sheep walking side by side.)

The main theme is the melody from the last scene of Siegfried, where Brünnhilde, just awakened from her long slumber by the young hero, sings of her timeless feelings for him. This is followed, in the opera as in the Idyll, by “O Siegfried, Herrlicher, Hort der Welt” (“O Siegfried, you magnificent, treasure of the world”) and, finally, by the triumphant horn call that celebrates Siegfried’s and Brünnhilde’s love in the opera, and the Wagners’ family bliss in the Idyll. The ending, then, is gentle and lyrical—a complete if brief respite from all the internal and external turmoil in the life of an extraordinary man and artist.

—Peter Laki

Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

Work composed: 1857–1859

Premiere: March 10, 1863, St. Petersburg, Russia, Richard Wagner conducting

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, strings

CSO notable performances: 27 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: February 1895 (Pike Opera House), Anton Seidl conducting | Most recent: January 2004, Gianandrea Noseda conducting | The CSO performed this work on its first World Tour in 1966 (at stops in Seoul and Athens), Max Rudolf conducting; the Orchestra recorded the work for Telarc under Jesús López-Cobos in 1994; the CSO has also performed the Prelude and Liebestod in a version that includes soprano soloist—among the sopranos are Florence Quivar, Jessye Norman, Eileen Farrell and (at the 1967 May Festival) Birgit Nilsson.

Duration: approx. 17 minutes

Wagner composed his opera Tristan and Isolde between 1857 and 1859. The premiere took place in Munich on June 10, 1865, under the direction of Hans von Bülow. Bülow had earlier conducted the Prelude (with his own concert ending) at a concert in Prague on March 12, 1859. The first performance of the Prelude and Love-Death as a concert piece was conducted by Wagner in St. Petersburg, Russia, on March 10, 1863. The first American performance of the Prelude was given at a Thomas Symphony Soirée in New York on February 10, 1866; Theodore Thomas presented the Love-Death on December 6, 1871 in Boston. The American premiere of the complete opera took place on December 1, 1886, conducted by Anton Seidl.

The opening chord of Tristan und Isolde has no place in the theoretical system in which all Western musicians have been brought up. It is a chord that has generated a virtually endless flow of commentaries and explanations, and was written on the banner of what Wagner’s most enthusiastic supporters called “the music of the future.” At the same time, this chord has nothing aggressive, barbarian or destructive in it; it was dictated by Wagner’s desire to express the passion of love in music with uncommon power and intensity. Everything else, from the unrelenting chromaticism (use of tonally unstable half-steps) to the magnificence of the great climaxes, flows logically from this one chord.

The Prelude to Tristan und Isolde was first performed in concert in 1859, before the entire opera was even finished. Wagner joined it together with the Liebestod (“Love-Death”), the opera’s final scene, and presented the two excerpts in concert in 1863, two years before the stage premiere. At this point, it had been more than a decade since a new Wagner opera had been staged and, during these years, Wagner had worked harder than ever. After Lohengrin (1848), the composer had to flee Germany because of his role in the Dresden uprising of 1849. Settling in Switzerland, Wagner produced his groundbreaking theoretical works on music drama, and began composing the Ring cycle. Twice, he interrupted the composition of the Ring in favor of projects that seemed easier to realize—first for Tristan which, at first, promised to be the “lighter fare” that could be produced quickly and yield some immediate profit while the much greater demands of the Ring could be met. The other interruption was Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

With the knowledge of what Tristan eventually became, it is amusing to read the following passage in Wagner’s autobiography:

A man who rejoiced in the name of Ferreiro introduced himself to me as the Brazilian consul in Leipzig, and told me that the Emperor of Brazil was greatly attracted to my music.... The Emperor loved everything German and wanted me very much to come to Rio [de] Janeiro, so that I might conduct my operas in person. As only Italian was sung in that country, it would be necessary to translate my libretto, which the Emperor regarded as a very easy matter, and actually an improvement of the libretto itself.... I felt I could easily produce a passionate musical poem that would turn out quite excellent in Italian, and I turned my thoughts once more, with an ever-reviving preference, towards Tristan and Isolde.

In the end, Tristan, influenced by Wagner’s reading of Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy and a passionate love affair with Mathilde Wesendonck (whose husband was one of Wagner’s benefactors), did not exactly turn out as “lighter fare.” It certainly proved much more difficult to perform than Wagner had anticipated. (And, needless to say, the Brazilian plans came to nothing.) For this reason, Wagner turned to concertizing, and the Tristan Prelude, as a representative new work, naturally had pride of place on his programs.

KEYNOTE.Tristan was based on several medieval romances telling the story of an illicit love between Tristan, King Mark’s vassal, and Isolde, engaged to be married to the King. One could tell the story more simply than Wagner did, but it would be hard to give a summary that would put us in the right mood like the following paragraphs can do:

An old, old tale, inexhaustible in its variations, and ever sung anew in all the languages of medieval Europe, tells us of Tristan and Isolde. For this king the trusty vassal had wooed a maid he dared not tell himself he loved, Isolde; as his master’s bride she followed him, because, powerless, she had no choice but to follow the suitor. The Goddess of Love, jealous of her downtrodden rights, avenged herself: the love potion destined by the bride’s careful mother for the partners in this merely political marriage, in accordance with the customs of the age, the Goddess foists on the youthful pair through a blunder diversely accounted for; fired by its draught, their love leaps suddenly to vivid flame, and they have to acknowledge that they belong only to each other. Henceforth no end to the yearning, longing, rapture, and misery of love: world, power, fame, honor, chivalry, loyalty and friendship, scattered like an insubstantial dream; one thing alone left living: longing, longing unquenchable, desire forever renewing itself, craving and languishing; one sole redemption: death, surcease of being, the sleep that knows no waking!

Here in music’s own most unrestricted element, the musician who chose this theme for the introduction to his drama of love could have but one care: how to impose restraint on himself, since exhaustion of the subject is impossible. So just once, in one long-articulated impulse, he let that insatiable longing swell up from the timidest avowal of the most delicate attraction, through anxious sighs, hopes and fears, laments and wishes, raptures and torments, to the mightiest onset and to the most powerful effort to find the breach that will reveal to the infinitely craving heart the path into the sea of love’s endless rapture. In vain! Its power spent, the heart sinks back to languish in longing, in longing without attainment, since each attainment brings in its wake only renewed desire, until in final exhaustion the breaking glance catches a glimmer of the attainment of the highest rapture: it is the rapture of dying, of ceasing to be, of the final redemption into that wondrous realm from which we stray the furthest when we strive to enter it by force. Shall we call it Death? Or is it the miraculous world of Night, from which, as the story tells, an ivy and a vine sprang of old in inseparable embrace over the grave of Tristan and Isolde?

—Peter Laki

Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major, Romantic

Born: September 4, 1824, Ansfelden, near Linz, Austria Died: October 11, 1896, Vienna

Work composed: 1874, revised in 1878 and 1880 (the 1880 version is heard at these concerts)

Premiere: 1880 version first performed February 20, 1881, Vienna, Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings

CSO notable performances: Five previous subscription weekends | Premiere: March 1946, Eugene Goossens conducting | Most recent: February 1998, Christof Perick conducting | The CSO has performed other editions of the Symphony No. 4 at four additional subscription weekends since 1906; Jesús López-Cobos led the CSO in a recording of the Haas edition of the 1874 version in 2001.

Duration: approx. 70 minutes

Bruckner first completed his Fourth Symphony in 1874. He revised it extensively between 1878 and 1880, working in two stages. In 1878 he revised the first two movements and substituted an entirely new scherzo for the original one. Then in June 1880, he completely rewrote the finale. The first performance of the revised score—on February 20, 1881, with Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic—was Bruckner’s first great success with the Viennese public; such moments remained rare during his lifetime. The first performance in the United States was given by Anton Seidl and the New York Philharmonic on April 4, 1888. Bruckner revised the symphony a second time in 1888, with help from his students, Ferdinand Löwe and the brothers Franz and Joseph Schalk. This last revision, which for many years was the only one in print, was later largely (but maybe not entirely fairly) dismissed as inauthentic. The second version was first edited by Robert Haas in the Critical Edition of Bruckner’s works in 1936. In 1953, Leopold Nowak brought out a new edition of this version, incorporating some emendations in Bruckner’s hand discovered after Haas’s edition came out.

The famous British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin, titled one of his most celebrated literary essays The Hedgehog and the Fox, taking his cue from the following ancient Greek fragment: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Berlin applied this distinction to the history of literature, positing that the “hedgehog” types “relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel.” Foxes, on the other hand, “pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory…seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves.” Berlin classified Dante, Plato, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and Proust as hedgehogs, and Shakespeare, Goethe, Balzac and Joyce as foxes.

There is no doubt that among composers, Anton Bruckner was the quintessential hedgehog. His “one big thing” was to write large-scale symphonies that, without being programmatic in the strict sense of the word, would strive to convey the composer’s spiritual world view. That was quite an ambitious proposition, and one that hardly had a precedent in Western music. Beethoven’s Ninth is often cited as Bruckner’s principal source of inspiration, but its tragedy-to-joy program was much more concrete and specific than Bruckner’s transcendent mysticism.

The cornerstone of Bruckner’s existence was his strong, unwavering Catholic faith, which determined the direction of his evolution as a composer. He spent his formative years in the monastery of St. Florian in Upper Austria, a sumptuous architectural complex that is one of the glories of Baroque architecture. It has often been suggested that the grandiosity of St. Florian had a direct impact on the development of Bruckner’s artistic outlook. But the vast spaces in Bruckner’s musical edifices are often filled out with ornamental elements evoking the countryside around the monastery: echoes of Austrian folk music and the works of Franz Schubert account for more than a few building blocks in Bruckner’s expansive cathedrals in sound.

To listen to a Bruckner symphony is to experience the composer putting those blocks on top of one another until the building stands before us in all its splendor. A master of gradual, almost imperceptible changes, Bruckner moves slowly toward his appointed goal, which makes the triumph all the greater, once the goal has been reached.

KEYNOTE.Like many Bruckner symphonies, No. 4 begins with soft string tremolos (very rapid note repeats) before a theme emerges from the mist. But in this particular instance, the theme—played softly by the solo horn—proceeds much more directly than usual to the first entrance of the full orchestra. The gentle inequality of the so-called “Bruckner rhythm” (in which the first half of the measure is divided into two and the second half into three) ensures continuity and coherence through much of the movement, except during the graceful second theme, which represents the Schubertian/folklike moment.

The opening motif and the other theme containing the “Bruckner rhythm” have a built-in potential for massive crescendos leading to structural high points of great dramatic power. The folklike theme, by contrast, brings much-needed relief. Together they provide the musical material of the entire movement through an elaborate, constantly modulating development section, a considerably tightened recapitulation and a masterful coda, which contains a breathtaking final crescendo. At the end, the opening mystical horn theme reappears as a glorious fanfare.

The mood of the second-movement “Andante quasi Allegretto” was best characterized by Robert Simpson, in his influential book The Essence of Bruckner first published in 1967: “The Andante has something of the veiled funeral march about it, as if it were dreamt; sometimes we seem close to it, even involved, sometimes we seem to see it from so great a distance that it appears almost to stand still.” Michael Steinberg, in a program note for the San Francisco Symphony, added: “The sounds are articulate and clearly defined; nevertheless, we perceive the music as though through a scrim.” Long-breathed singing melodies, often featuring the cellos and violas, are the “essence of Bruckner” in this movement, accompanied by a steady pulse. The winds amplify the string melodies but do not actually come into their own until the final repeat of the themes, at which point the “veil” comes off and the melodies receive the “royal” treatment from the entire orchestra. Then, a sudden diminuendo (decrease in volume) brings back the mystery in a brief and subdued coda.

The third movement is the celebrated “hunting” scherzo, so called because of the vigorous horncalls that open it. (Even the hunters use the duple/triple combination of the “Bruckner rhythm”!) The brass clearly dominates this movement which, like other Bruckner scherzos, approaches sonata form in the complexity of its thematic development. (Bruckner may have been inspired to expand scherzo form this way by the example of Schubert’s “Great” C Major symphony.) The grandiosity of the scherzo contrasts with the rustic simplicity of the Trio, a Ländler in the best Schubertian tradition (albeit with a few modulatory quirks à la Bruckner in the middle). As always, the scherzo is subsequently repeated in its entirety.

Bruckner’s symphonic scheme placed almost superhuman demands on the finale: it had to serve as summation and culmination, the capstone to a magnificent symphonic edifice. It had to surpass in import and complexity three earlier movements that were already quite substantial. No wonder the finale presented Bruckner with extremely difficult problems; at the end of his life, he was unable to write a finale to his Ninth Symphony, which thus remained incomplete.

In the Fourth, Bruckner was still grappling with the finale problem that he was to solve so brilliantly in the Fifth Symphony. The finale of the Fourth proceeds by fits and starts as it retraces the symphonic journey of the earlier movements, from the mysterious opening through grandioso and rustico episodes to the concluding climax. Occasionally, the musical process nearly grinds to a halt in what seem like temporary losses of momentum. But if we can avoid the pitfall of superimposing our own expectations on what Bruckner chose to write, we may discover some deeper sense in what some commentators have dismissed as flaws. In fact, instead of moving ahead slowly but inexorably toward a goal as he often did, Bruckner opted for a more circuitous route here. He allowed himself to voice what sometimes sound like doubts or uncertainties, especially in one particular, strangely fragmented slower section about two-thirds through the movement. Simpson, otherwise a great admirer of Bruckner’s, found that something was “seriously wrong” here, even though he admitted that this was an “extraordinary passage.”

We may choose to see these moments of doubt as structural weaknesses, or we may see them as portrayals of a human weakness; there may be bumps on the road to salvation. In any event, though the edifice does threaten to crumble at a certain point, Bruckner manages to put the pieces back together so the glorious conclusion of the symphony is not in jeopardy. At the very end, the horncall that opened the first movement returns one final time to remind us of the journey we have just completed.

The “bumpy road to salvation” in the last movement of the symphony seems to parallel the road Bruckner himself had to travel before the work found its way to an audience. Many Bruckner symphonies exist in multiple versions, an often confusing situation; but in no other instance are the differences between the extant versions greater than in the case of the Fourth. The first version (1874), which was never performed or published until 1975, is a vastly different work from the one we are hearing this weekend. In the place of the “hunting” scherzo, it contains an entirely different movement. The slow movement and especially the finale, though sharing the same basic thematic material, were so thoroughly reworked in 1878–80 as to be barely recognizable. The first movement is closest to the familiar version, but even there, one finds many changes, large and small.

It is in the version of 1878–80 that the work is most often performed today, but what Bruckner himself heard performed during the last years of his life was an even later revision, dating from 1888 and published the following year. This version amounts to a completely new orchestration of the symphony; the notes themselves were not changed although a few cuts were made. This version has for many years been rejected as inauthentic because it was thought to have been prepared by Bruckner’s pupils Ferdinand Löwe and the Schalk brothers, without much input from the composer. The disciples, so the story goes, falsified the master’s intentions but the shy and eternally insecure Bruckner let them have their way with his score. American musicologist Benjamin Korstvedt, on the other hand, has shown that Bruckner was in fact ultimately responsible for the final revision, in which he participated actively even though he received help from his students. Korstvedt wrote: “If the third version of the Fourth Symphony strikes us as musically absurd [as it did Simpson], at least we can ascribe this absurdity to Bruckner himself.”*

In all its versions, the Fourth Symphony bears the subtitle “Romantic.” The nickname, the only one ever attached to a Bruckner symphony (by the composer, no less**), has understandably invited a lot of speculation. Bruckner himself explained the title to his friends by alluding to medieval towns, knights, hunting scenes and the like. He may well have been haunted by images of far away and long ago, all those times and places the Romantic poets used to long for; but he himself was hardly a Romantic in an emotional sense. The most obvious “Romantic” quality of the symphony is its prominent use of the horns, an instrument evocative of the nature so dear to the hearts of the Romantics; other “Romantic” moments, such as the mysterious tremolos or the mighty crescendos, are by no means peculiar to this work. In the end, Robert Simpson may be right to dismiss the nickname as irrelevant. As he wrote: “the music is so much more than this!… We had better forget the title of No. 4; it leads us away from the music.”

* Benjamin Marcus Korstvedt, “The First Published Edition of Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony: Collaboration and Authenticity,” 19th-Century Music, summer 1996.

** Bruckner occasionally referred to his Fifth Symphony as his “Fantastic,” but that name was never used at a performance or on a printed score.

—Peter Laki