On the ﬁrst Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (seven years and counting) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.
Saturday, April 4th, 2009, 5:00-6:00 p.m.
Albert Hurwit (b.1931). Symphony No. 1 “Remembrance” (2002), Movement 3, Remembrance. Michael Lankester, Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra. MSR Classics MS 1134. Tr 3. 16:09
Felix Draeseke (1835-1913). Piano Concerto in E-flat major, Op. 36 (1885-6). Markus Becker pno, Berlin Radio Orchestra, Michael Sanderling. Hyperion 67636. Tr 7-9. 30:28
On this Discoveries we take snapshots of journeys by two composers who are separated by a hundred years. Albert Hurwit travels a path from Prague to Russia to America, following the persecution and survival of his family in a symphony he calls “Remembrance.” And while that history was unfolding, Felix Draeseke was on his own journey from progressive to traditionalist, nicely encapsulated in his E-flat Piano Concerto.
Connecticut-born Albert Hurwit came to composition fairly late in life, after a career in radiology. For a long time he had wanted to immerse himself in the creation of music, and after taking retirement he was able to devote all his energies to it. Successes with smaller works led to this symphony, which recounts the discrimination against the Jewish people in Europe throughout the 19th century. In particular, his family went from Prague to Russia, and suffered through the pogroms there. The third movement, also titled “Remembrance,” hearkens to their sadness after being dispersed. They survive tragedies to come to the United States, but the memories of separation, as well as the strength of love, live on. Hurwit’s music is cinematic, charming, and suffused with sweeping melody. This third movement may be performed by itself and has been used as the setting for a ballet.
Felix Draeseke’s biggest journey was philosophical. He began in the avant-garde of German culture with Liszt and Wagner but came to disown that world, preferring conservation to provocation. His liberal bona ﬁdes came from a hearing of Wagner’s Lohengrin that changed his life. As if that weren’t enough, Liszt himself stood at the barricades and defended Draeseke’s modernist (for 1861) Germania-Marsch to an angry audience (which Wagner witnessed). Here was a rabble-rouser in the making.
But a move to Switzerland didn’t prolong the festivities. He had to earn his keep as a piano teacher, he started to lose his hearing, and an engagement to a French-speaking young lady was revoked by her parents when they discovered that her intended was a German (a little thing called the Franco-Prussian War had just broken out). He moved to Dresden, became an established professor, married, continued to compose, and wrote articles condemning the younger generation of composers and their harmonic experiments. This concerto comes from just after his move back to Germany, and is a tantalizing mix of both sides of Draeseke. Its harmonic palette is basic, but there are just enough Lisztian flourishes to show us a portrait of this 50-year-old artist as a young man.