Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Sunday Series: Sunday May 31, 2015

The Sunday Series:

Sunday May 31, 2015

I do not have the foggiest idea why I'm obsessed with Brahms' 4th Symphony.   I'm not a huge fan of classical music - especially symphonies.   I must have first heard Brahms' 4th Symphony in a movie or perhaps music being reproduced in a shopping area.  Nevertheless the melodies tugged my heart in such a fashion that over the years I have purchased every version of this music possible.  My two favorite recordings are Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra.   Although the same music, the feelings are quite different from each other.  The Toscanini version is more forceful, energetic, and perhaps the pace is faster as well.  The Klemperer is more thoughtful, and therefore more sexual.  Perhaps even obscene. 

Symphony No. 4, Op. 98 in E Minor, Op. 96 l. Allegro non Troppo

The lushness of the first movement of the symphony always reminded me of a personal loss, that even now, and after so many years, it is even difficult for me to write about it.  So I won't go into the specifics, except that it was a great loss and I will never regain the time or moment when it was mine to grasp.   Toscanini frames the feeling not perfectly, but more of a sketch of the moment together as fleeting.  He's using oil paints to carry out this picture, when Klemperer would use watercolor.   When I hear his opening of the first movement, I feel like I'm slipping on a newly waxed marble floor.  I will fall, and it will hurt, but the elegance of the surroundings is what I wish to be surrounded by.  I feel that I'm falling in love, but not a living being, but with a spirit.  Or perhaps with someone I don't know or never will know.  Love letters handed back and forth, and besides me and my lovers fingerprints, will be the fingerprints of the mailman delivering the letter to my mailbox.  Toscanini's letter smell of a strong perfume scent such as Estee Lauder Youth-Dew Eau de Parfum, while Klemperer's letter will be the faint fragrance of Mugler Cologne, which has been reported that the scent disappears within fifteen minutes after putting it on. The heavy coating of the arrangements for the NBC Orchestra, is one where it is quite warm, and you want to take your coat off.  Yet, Toscanini refuses to have the musicians to remove their clothing - while Klempperer is actually 'insisting' that you do so. 

Symphony No. 4, Op. 98 in E Minor, Op. 96 ll. Andante moderato

The faint battle cry of the opening of the second movement is like being on the back of the paper plane, and one is drifting on the air current of a hot and very still summer afternoon.  Though Toscanini's conducting, it feels like an angel is flying beside you, but we both know that the paper will evenly be torn from the sky and gravity will force it to crash into the pavement.  With Klemperer, one will still crash to the earth, but it more likely into a field of irises.  It is a reflective piece of music, that one feels being pushed into the flames by Toscanini, and you will clearly die in Klemperer's hands, but he will poison you first, and then once dead, throw you into the flames.  In both versions, it's the french horns that inform you what will take place.  But the big difference here is one saying 'Hey buddy," and the other is saying "hey friend."   A big difference, but that is the nature of translating one language into another language - and that goes the same when interpreting a piece of music. 

"Symphony No. 4, Op. 98 in E Minor, Op. 96  lll. Allegro glocoso"

It's murder. Toscanini is committing an act of murder in front of his orchestra and his audience.  It is like he's wearing a cloak with a dagger in his white gloved hand and he's stabbing each musician in the NBC Orchestra.  Blood flows as my ears warm up to his intensity.  I have sat in the high seats at the Disney Music Hall in Downtown Los Angeles, and felt like I was going to slip out of the seat onto the stage.  The stage, the seating and even the music gives me vertigo.  Klemperer's version is more of a fore-warning.  There is a hesitation as if he is holding the melody in his hands gently.   Yet the listener is cautious that he may drop the melody onto the floor.  Also, listening to his take on the third movement, I feel like I'm speeding in a car in the darkened woods.  Only the headlights from my car are exposing what is out there.   The 'there" that I both fear and crave.  

"Symphony No. 4, Op. 98 in E Minor, Op. 96 lV.   Allegro energico e passionata"

Forlorn.  It is unlikely to succeed or be fulfilled.  I have often felt like I was thrown in front of a speeding automobile.  I try to grasp her gloved hand, to keep my balance, but alas, I'm left with tire-marks on my face and my clutched hand containing the loose glove.  As I glanced back, I can see the members of the NBC Orchestra mocking me as I try to breathe on the smooth pavement.  Each member of the orchestra come by my broken body, and smashes me in the face with their chosen instrument.   As I lay on my hospital bed, I listened to Klemperer's version of the last movement, and what I find is a purity that soothed my broken body and spirit.  It is like if someone spread out a bed of feathers on the wooden floor, where I can't touch the foundation with my feet.   I feel embraced by the arms of Otto Klemperer, and I can sense the fear by his touch.  History will treat both Klemperer and Toscanini in a different manner. Yet they, and me, in other words, we, will always have Brahms' 4th Symphony.  

- Tosh Berman

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