I have introduced the composer Joseph Guy Ropartz already to you, so we can go straight to the matter. One of the reasons I like Ropartz is the fact that we are both infatuated with la Bretagne, Brittany. Ah, la Bretagne… a very special place. The wind, the dramatic coastline, the emerald colour of the sea, the crèpes – so many things to love about Brittany. And then there is the music, the Celtic heritage and Ropartz’ composition deeply imbued by this tradition.
The first bars of this symphony may betray already the setting of its creation and the mood of the composer: When Johannes Brahms mulled the first ideas of his Symphony No. 2 in D Major (op. 73) in June 1877, he had just started a summer vacation on the Wörthersee, a lovely region of Austria, close to the Slovenian border. The introduction led by the winds, followed by the strings evokes trees basking in the wind – something I would associate with Brahm’s need for serenity and peace.
Imagine a late summer afternoon in the hills of Nussdorf, in the vineyard north-west of Vienna at the turn of the 19th century. The countryside is peaceful, it is warm, the birds are silent, few people are to be seen, and all you can hear is the light breeze ruffling the leaves of the vines. In a few days, the winegrowers and their workers will start the harvest. A silent tension lies in the air, at the same time the green rolling hills exude comfort. Can you picture that? Good.
Barbaric words not worth to be set to music – such was the judgment of Antonio Salieri about the German language in general and German poems more specifically. He tried very hard to dissuade his pupil Franz Schubert from composing songs and did all he could to encourage Schubert to study the old Italian masters of the opera. In vain. While Salieri had recognized Schubert talent, he saw the composing of songs as a waste of precisely this talent. But Schubert persisted and he became the German Liederfürst (Prince of Songs). Among the many poems he set to music are eleven poems from Friedrich Schlegel’s work “Abendröte” (Evening Afterglow).