1902 in Music

List of my music reviews of music published in 1902.

1. Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 (10/10)

Sibelius’ second symphony is like quantum leap forward from his first. I really like the first one, but there’s a lot more going on here in this second one. It makes his first symphony sound almost simple by comparison. I think it has to be looked on as one of the great symphonies of its era, worthy of Mahler (if sounding nothing like Mahler).

2. Claude Debussy: Pelleas et Melisande (9/10)

Though I am growing in familiarity with late 19th / early 20th century “art” music, I am still not there yet. So it is very hard for me to judge something like this, Debussy’s only completed opera, especially as it relates to other performances of the same work. So forget about that part.

This is like anti-opera, in some ways. It feels as outside the tradition (to my ears anyway) as the “minimalist” American operas of the late 20th century which shouldn’t make any sense but somehow do.

But it takes effort for me to get there. Because to my ears initially it sounds like nothing out of the ordinary. I have to think really hard about what an opera from 1875 would sound like before I go “oh shit”…or something to that effect.

But the more I listen to opera, the more I come to see how revolutionary this one is. Though I don’t know enough to say, this feels like such a crucial moment in the history of opera that much of the revolutionary opera of the 20th century owes its existence to Claude Debussy, on account of this work. But then I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

3. Paul Dukas: Variations, Interlude and Finale on a Theme by Rameau (9/10)

These variations are a remarkable work – they walk a fine line between Romantic (perhaps even Classical) conservatism and the emerging modernism. Unlike much of the Romantic variations I am familiar with Dukas moves way far away from the theme. I detect hints of really late Romantic music here too, with the music straining to stay in key. He also drastically alters tempo, which is much more common.

Certainly a very remarkable work and hard to believe that it had fallen out of favour over the years.

4.Leoš Janáček: Jenůfa (9/10)

This is an opera where it’s probably for the best I can’t understand the words, given that it’s about infanticide.

The music is high Romantic, but infused with Janacek’s usual folk inspirations, including some idiosyncratic vocalizations and relative realism, as realism is always relative in operas – ‘realism’ such as the knocking on the door and the borderline talking. I particularly like the third act.

5. Alexander Glazunov: Ballade in F major for orchestra, op. 78 (8/10)

This is right up my alley: super bombastic for the fact that it is a ballad. And just very “Russian” (or very “Russian trying not to be “Russian”).

6. Charles Ives: Symphony No. 1 in D Minor (8/10)

The first symphony is Ives’ most traditional symphony, something that should not surprise us in the least. It still has echoes of his style but is, to my ears, remarkably Romantic (rather than modernist/post-modernist) compared to his later works.

7. Gabriel Faure: Nocturne No. 8 in D-flat major, Op. 84 (7/10)

The 8th Nocturne begins considerably more up tempo than his last few (at least more up tempo than their beginnings). It’s a more impressive work of playing, for sure, but I’m not sure it moves me quite as much as the earlier nocturnes.

8. Gabriel Faure: “8 Pieces breves”, Op. 84 (7/10)

This is a collection of really short pieces that Faure had written over his career and never intended to publish but apparently when the publisher insisted, Faure insisted they go together. They are literally all over the place and were packaged with the 8th Nocturne. It’s also really short

9. Erik Satie: Poudre d’or (7/10)

A pretty piece that suggests perhaps a bit more of a conservative approach despite its simplicity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.