Monday, July 5, 2010

Thinking Freischütz; an overture of echos and a late smile

This performance of the overture to Freischütz by Carl Maria Von Weber from 1970 features the young Carlos Kleiber conducting the Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester. It is an overture of echos that sounds great in black-and-white.

What is meant by an overture of echos?

There are several places in this overture where musical ideas return unexpectedly. Ideas return like echos. Echos, like good ideas, are not random: they need structural support.

Several of these supports are planted in the introduction of this overture. It is rare to find a major key introduction to a sonata in the minor, but Weber planned to echo this introduction and to encase his minor key sonata within a major key framing.

After an initial statement of octaves answered by falling arpeggios, there is an extended passage for the section horns [1:11]. It was written for natural horns (without valves), so the only way to make it happen was to crook two horns in C and the other two in F.

Immediately after the horn music [2:41], a haunted sound is created as the timpani and bass play the 7th of a diminished chord (C,Eb,F#,A), and the clarinets sustain the F-sharp and E-flat in their lowest register.

The exposition begins [3:41] with syncopations imposed upon a march-like theme. The explosive transition [4:06] is developed by expanding music from within the first theme group [3:51-3:58]. Music that lasts seven seconds in the first theme group is stretched to 18 seconds in transition, to [4:24] where the actual modulation takes place.

The second theme group, in E-flat major [4:38], features a lyrical clarinet solo, then introduces a theme often called "Agatha's Aria" [5:17] because it is derived from music in the second act of the opera.

The development [6:01] is an echo of the transition; moving from E-flat to moves to G instead of C to E-flat. This leaves us in position to hear "Agatha's Aria" in G major [6:37] and finish the deep-structure arpeggiation of a C minor chord [C, E-flat, G] in the tonal regions through which it modulates.

Motion to D-flat major [6:58-7:12] is an echo of the progression that connected the introduction to the exposition [3:20-3:40].

The first theme group of the recapitulation [7:13] is abbreviated slightly, as is the transition [7:29]. Music from the introduction returns at [7:49] as another echo.

In a fabulous juxtaposition, the coda brings back C major in sudden fortissimo. Kleiber gives us his best Paul Newman smile at [8:36], and again at [8:43]. It is a smile of musical recognition.

From here to the close a mixture of Agatha's Aria in C major and inspired closing gestures bring us home. Weber's overture of echos, where a deep-structure C minor triad is encased in a C major frame--has been sealed with a smile from Kleiber.

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