1923 in Music

Music reviews I’ve written for music published or premiered in 1923.

1. Arnold Schoenberg: “Suite for Piano” Op. 25 (10/10)

In many ways, sort of the beginning of serialism, Or the proper beginning of it anyway. A very important step, even if I kind of prefer the anarchy of atonalism to serialism. But this is great stuff.

2. Jean Sibelius: Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 24 (10/10)

While everyone zigged Sibelius zagged, looking for inspiration in long forgotten areas. Most times conservatism drives me crazy. But the thing about Sibelius is that he was inspired by past without worshiping it. This symphony doesn’t sound like it was inspired by Medieval and Renaissance music, though it was. It’s not clear revivalism, rather it’s the incorporation of under-appreciate past musical elements into something that sounds pretty modern (maybe not quite as modern as the most radical of the contemporary music of the era, but still modern). Few people manage this so well.

3. Leos Janacek: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ (9/10)

Not named after the Beethoven piece but rather the Tolstoy story inspired by that Beethoven piece, Janacek’s first quartet is perhaps my favourite of all of his music that I’ve heard. It’s got compelling melodies but risky flirtations with the more avant garde music of his contemporaries; it manages to sound both traditional and brave at times throughout, and that’s something I always appreciate.

4. Leos Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen (9/10)

This opera is considered by some to be Janacek’s greatest achievement and it’s easy to understand why. Though significantly lighter in tone than his other operas, it sounds more radical and more forward-thinking, musically. The use of the soprano as this bizarre little interruption – for lack of a better word – is really weird and I don’t know that I’ve heard things like its spoken parts before. And then, of course, there is the music that sounds like Bernard Herrmann’s source for Psycho.

It’s a pretty cool piece. Not quite among the greatest operas of its era, in my opinion, but close.

5. Paul Hindemith:Sonata for Solo Viola, Op. 31 No. 4 (9/10)

The third solo viola sonata is vigorous and engaging in ways that the second (and even the first) is not. Like the first, it jumps around with tempo and its tonal range. It might actually be my favourite of the three Hindemith wrote for solo viola.

6. Ferruccio Busoni: “Short pieces for the cultivation of polyphonic playing on the piano” BV296 (8/10)

Depending on which disc you hear, there are either five, six or seven of these pieces meant to train pianists. Along with pretty much everything Busoni did for the piano, I love this. Though I understand it isn’t quite as significant as some of the other piano compositions of the era.

7. Leoš Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen Suite (6/10)

The suite from The Cunning Little Vixen is even more insubstantial than most – it’s only two pieces (as performed here). It’s hard to know why it is ever performed separately from the opera except as a filler for compilations and performances…The one cool thing about the suite is the echoes of Psycho, perhaps it was the inspiration. Look, it’s engaging, I just don’t understand why we need to listen to it outside of the opera at the expense of another orchestral piece intended for independent listening.

8. Frederick Delius: “Intermezzo” from Hassan (5/10)

Another intermezzo I listened to out of context. Not only is it out of context, it’s incredibly brief. Don’t know what I’m supposed to make of it, frankly.

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