Do you know Capitaine Fracasse? Imagine France in the 17th century under the reign of Louis XIII. A wet and windy night in the Gascogne, a derelict mansion, cut off from the rest of world. In the kitchen, the only heated room, the fire is dying down. The Baron de Sigognac, a solitary and impoverished young nobleman, muses about his sad fate, when a bunch of comedians knocks at his door and seeks shelter. During the night, he feels he has to make a decision. He can continue to mourn the past glory of his family, stay in the old mansion with his faithful servant Pierre and die from poverty. Or he can give his life a meaning he never anticipated and join the comedians assuming a new name: Capitaine Fracasse.
A refugee trek advances through the countryside. Hermann, a young wealthy man, falls in love with Dorothea, a woman among the refugees who pass his home town. An impossible love? Having vetted the girl with the help of the town’s priest and pharmacist, Hermann’s family agrees to a marriage. The young man himself however is afraid of being rejected by Dorothea. He employs her as a maid until, finally, the mutual love is being revealed and all ends well.
Is this fin de siècle already? Or is it just the last wave of Romantic music rolling over the Austrian-Hungarian Empire before World War I would bring the European order down? Hard to say. This symphony remains a mystery to me, full of hidden meanings. I know they are there, but I can’t really grasp them. Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A major (WAB 106) occupies a special place among the composer’s nine symphonic works. It is very different from those Bruckner wrote before and after. Bruckner composed it in a very short time – between September 24, 1879 and September 3, 1881, and the time gap between his fifth and sixth symphony is huge, compared to those that separate his other symphonies, the musicologist Peter Gülke writes.
“It is as if we took a yellowish sheet out of an old, lost book, a sheet that reminds us of a time long ago and lets this time shine brightly, so that we forget the present. In a similar way, the fantasies of the master may have illuminated his beloved memories when he found these old melodies, sung in lovely Italy, and wrote this delicate painting of sounds.” Robert Schumann was enthusiastic when he commented in 1843 on Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony in A major, Op. 90. I can understand him. Schumann’s String Quartet No. 2 in F major (Op. 41/2) made me feel something akin to his experience. I return to the time when I read the novels Schumann loved so dearly, the time I first explored in-depth Schumann’s music. I should listen more often to Schumann. There can be no doubt.