Friday, April 1, 2016

John Barbirolli Plays Schoenberg & Strauss

Maurice Maeterlinck’s drama Pelléas et Mélisande had an unusual fascination for composers at the beginning of this century. First produced in Paris in 1893, it inspired, within a dozen years, works by four of the era's most prominent composers. Fauré’s incidental music for the play dates from 1898 and Sibelius’s from 1905. The most famous of all works based on the drama is Debussy’s opera, completed in 1902.
Schoenberg, who was unacquainted with Debussy’s work, had also considered writing an opera on the subject. The suggestion came from Richard Strauss who at the time was keenly interested in the young composer’s work. Schoenberg eventually rejected the idea of an opera in favour of a symphonic poem using Pelleas as a programme. The work was written between 4 July 1902 and 28 February 1903. The composer conducted the first performance on 26 January 1905 in Vienna.
For a project of such ambitious scope, Schoenberg used an orchestra of correspondingly large size which serves less to make massive and virtuosic  effects (although the score abounds in these) than to clarify the intricacies of Schoenberg’s musical thought. Pelleas und Melisande is a work of unsurpassed polyphonic complexity : motives are constantly surrounded by numerous countersubjects and at one point five different motives are superimposed, each of which is then imitated separately.
Written in one continuous movement,
Pelleas consists of four parts, each corresponding to one of the movements of a classical symphony. Part I begins with an introduction, descriptive of how Golaud, the elder step-brother of Pelléas , finds the strange, child-like Melisande (who refuses to reveal her identity) weeping by a brook in the forest. Almost at the beginning the bass clarinet announces the ‘fate’ motive that will appear in many transformations throughout the work. Melisande in her helplessness is represented by a tender descending theme, heard first in the oboe and then on the cor anglais. Golaud’s theme is announced softly by three horns. lt is then expanded by the full orchestra, symbolizing the way in which Golaud leads Melisande to the castle and makes her his wife.
A transitional section, beginning on the trumpet and horns and continued in the strings and woodwind, leads to the statement of the
Pelléas theme : a bold, soaring melody which exemplifies his youthful, knightly character. Following this comes a section describing Melisande’s awakening love for Pelleas.
Part ll (corresponding to the scherzo of a symphony) begins with the scene at the well where Melisande loses the ring given to her by Golaud. Golaud’s growing suspicion of
Pelleas und Melisande is expressed in a short interlude leading to the climactic scene at the castle tower. This is the famous scene where Pelleas arrives to see Melisande combing her long hair at a window. She extends her hand for him to kiss, but her hair falls covering his face and he is ecstatic at its touch. Here the themes of Pelleas und Melisande are combined with each other together with the theme of Melisande’s awakening love. The next section describes Golaud showing Pelléas the subterranean castle vaults filled with stagnant pools. Pelleas becomes apprehensive of Golaud’s strange behaviour and the two leave the vaults in tense silence...
Harry Neville, 1968, from the booklet

John Barbirolli


Arnold Schoenberg

Pelleas & Melisande, Op. 5
1 Anfang  3:57
2 Heftig  3:33
3 Lebhaft  3:31
4 Sehr Rash  6:55
5 Ein wenig bewegt  1:23
6 Langsam  3:17
7 Ein wenig bewegter  3:57
8 Sehr Langsam  4:55
9 Etwas bewegt  2:19
10 In Gehender bewegung  2:26
11 Breit  5:38

Richard Strauss

12 Metamorphosen*  27:13


New Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir John Barbirolli - cond.

Recorded at Kingsway Hall & *N°1 Studio Abbey Road, London ; August, 1967


swamielmo said...

thanks again.

xxx said...

Thanh You! Melanchton!
So far so good with the links that weren't working
sincerely hope it lasts.

glinka21 said...

Glorious John, as Vaughan Williams called him, was one of the greats. And despite his high visibility in his later years, I think his astonishing gifts are only now becoming realized for their full worth.

jm said...

Early Schoenberg and Buddy Collette in close succession! What an education you are proposing. Thank you yet again.

Melanchthon said...

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mel

Damien Wu said...


Would love to listen to this, any new links?