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John F
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Post by John F » Mon Apr 30, 2007 6:32 am

BBC Radio 3's CD Review last week began with the second movement, Intermezzo, of Charles Villiers Stanford's Symphony #4, which the announcer described as "Brahmsian." The symphony was composed in 1888, soon after Brahms's 4th, and it was premiered in Berlin. To my ears the resemblance is so close as to amount to actual imitation.

Whether Stanford was conscious of what he was doing, or was so powerfully under Brahms's influence that he couldn't help himself, is more than I know. And I don't want to make a moral issue of it. For those who like Brahms and wish he had written more orchestral music, this symphony (and Parry's Orchestral Variations and other works of that period as well) provide well-made music of the kind they'd like to hear.

A little later in the same program, I heard Alexandre Guilmant's Final alla Schumann sur un noël languedocien, Op.83 (1897), for organ and orchestra. The title declares Guilmant's intention to imitate Schumann's style, and he does a very good job of it; heard "blind" and you might be fooled about the composer, except for the roar of the big Romantic organ.

Stanford was no Brahms, and Guilmant was certainly no Schumann. But even great composers have not just been influenced by their contemporaries and predecessors, but apparently imitated them. Two Beethoven chamber works of the late 1790s are consciously modelled on specific works by Mozart. The quintet for piano and winds, op. 16, is an obvious case, since its instrumentation is the same as Mozart's great quintet of less than 15 years earlier. But in the neutral medium of the string quartet, Beethoven modeled his quartet in A major, op 18 #2, on Mozart's quartet in the same key, K.464, in the set dedicated to Haydn; Charles Rosen gives some of the details in _The Classical Style_.

For listeners, the "sounds like" game is fun to play; you're listening to an unknown English symphony and suddenly you're hit by a phrase, or more than a phrase, right out of Brahms. Or you hear a bit of a string quartet and think it sounds like Mozart, and it turns out to be by Dittersdorf. (Yes, I know that's a name that resonates in this group. <grin>) Indeed, a version of the "sounds like" game is called "Dittersdorf." Why? I've heard it got that name because of a Victor 78 recording of the andante from Dittersdorf's Quartet #3 in G, K.193, played by Mischa Elman et al, which fooled listeners in those days into thinking it was Mozart.

(And yes, Dittersdorf's works also have K. numbers like Mozart's, after the thematic catalog by a certain C. Krebs.)

The contemporary Russian composer Alfred Schnittke plays an elaborate version of "Dittersdorf" in his "(K)ein Sommernachtstraum," a jeu d'esprit in which I also hear some quite serious and broad implications. The stage is filled with an enormous orchestra, but what you hear is a minuet for solo violin and piano--whom you can't see--in 1780s style. It isn't Mozart, you'd probably recognize it, but is it maybe Dittersdorf? (Actually it's Schnittke.) Before long the orchestra is not just varying the minuet but defacing it, tearing it apart, in an unmistakably contemporary way.

(The composer instructs that the violin solo isn't to be played by the concertmaster but by the second player at the last desk of the second violins, which in modern orchestral seating are behind the firsts, while the orchestral piano is tucked into the orchestra next to the percussion. We're meant not to see them; Schnittke is playing a sight gag as well as his musical joke. Something like it, though serious in intent and effect, is the "cadenza visuale" in Schnittke's 4th violin concerto, when the soloist fingers and bows like mad without making a sound while the orchestra rages on. Of course the effect is lost in a sound recording. Finally saw a performance of the concerto in Carnegie Hall last month--an aha! moment.)

Any thoughts about classical pieces that sound like other composers' music? Any other candidates for "Dittersdorf"?
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Post by pizza » Mon Apr 30, 2007 7:25 am

Ives' 2nd contains passages that sound like Dvorak and Brahms. Sections of the last movement of Mahler 7 are parodies of Strauss and Brahms. Then of course there's the Shostakovich/Rossini/Wagner Symphony 15 :wink:

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Post by rasputin » Mon Apr 30, 2007 8:56 am

Borodin's cello sonata. Pure Mendelssohn's.

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Post by MaestroDJS » Mon Apr 30, 2007 9:21 am

Around and around it goes, and who influences whom, anybody knows. When Alexander von Zemlinsky (1871-1942) composed his Lyrische Symphonie in 1923, he was greatly influenced by Das Lied von der Erde by Gustav Mahler. Zemlinsky's work is a 7-movement setting of German translations of poems by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, for soprano, baritone and orchestra. In a letter to his publisher, Zemlinsky himself compared it to Mahler, and they do bear a superficial resemblance, although they are actually somewhat different in approach. It's a nice work.

Zemlinsky himself had an influence on other composers. His Lyrische Symphonie influenced Alban Berg's Lyrische Suite, so much so that Berg dedicated his work to Zemlinsky, and Berg also quotes from Zemlinsky's Lyrische Symphonie.

Incidentally, most recordings of Zemlinsky's Lyrische Symphonie include identical English translations of Tagore's poems. The poet had made the English translations himself of his Bengali originals.
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Post by Ralph » Mon Apr 30, 2007 9:37 am

Mahler's Ninth Symphony is based thematically almost entirely on a work by Dittersdorf.

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Post by Ken » Mon Apr 30, 2007 9:43 am

rasputin wrote:Borodin's cello sonata. Pure Mendelssohn's.
Yes, you are right -- although I am unsure how familiar Borodin would have been with Mendelssohn's repertory.

I wonder what Brahms would have had to say about the similarity of Stanford's Fourth to his own... Perhaps, "any ass can see that!" ;)
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