Symphony Study No. 58 | Hartmann Symphony No. 8

by Glenn on January 11, 2017

Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905–1963)

Symphony No. 8
I: Cantilène
II: Dithyrambe:

first performance: 25 January 1963
Rafael Kubelik | West German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Cologne

I listened to a performance by the Bamberger Symphoniker, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, which recorded this symphony 14–16 September 1996.

One of the things you have to do in this little study is have an open mind. There is value in trying something once. If you like it, you can have more. If you don’t like it, you are under no compulsion to try it again.

I think Hartmann’s Symphony No. 8 is a oncer, although I did listen a second time to see if an additional listening changed my mind. I don’t feel any sort of connection to this music.

I struggled as an audience member (albeit via a recording) to know what should I be listening for. With many symphonies, there is an emotional pay-off that comes from the big tune and the rousing finish. You are carried along by the music. Whether it gets into you or you get into it—the result is an affective connection.

This symphony seems more of an intellectual approach to music-making. I find myself partial to hummable tunes. Coming on the heels of my listening to Mendelssohn’s Scotch Symphony (No. 3), this symphony seems more about ideas of music than actual music. Without knowing what effect Mendelssohn might have wanted for his listeners, I found his symphony uplifting.

I’m not sure what to think about this music or what Hartmann would what me to think or feel. I’m left with a “What was that all about?” impression. At the very least, this symphony stretches the definition of what a symphony is.

The symphony follows a two-movement plan with no break between movements. Michael Steinberg describes it this way:

“The Cantilène, the first and slightly the longer of the two parts, is one great arch; in contrast, the Dithyrambe is divided into sharply profiled sections.”

Steinberg does a good job of describing what happens in terms of a timeline, noting that the second movement has a toe-tapping quality to it. It’s harder to understand his connection to this music or what he would have us make of it.

This symphony could be a concert opener. It definitely wakes up the senses.

One of the things that happens in music history over time is that composers get more and more comfortable with greater and greater dissonance. Completed in 1962, this music is clearly on the tail end of that continuum. My question is: Where does this go? Is there a point where music gets too dissonant, where people decide they don’t want to listen to certain music because it’s too harsh? Can music “evolve” too far?

Early on in the story of dissonance, there was the idea of stable and unstable chords. The tonic chord in a scale was very stable—it was a starting and ending point. The dominant chord, particularly with a 7th, was less stable. It wanted to resolve back to the tonic. Conflict-resolution. Hartmann doesn’t seem interested in resolving. It’s all about the clash and the dissonance.

Is the increasing use of dissonance a feature of symphonic music’s growth as an art form or does it suggest something else, like entropy, is at work?

Also, I need to find a book that deals with classical music as a social phenomenon. I think Beethoven’s music was popular in his time even as it has stood the test of time. We could say Beethoven’s Fifth is a popular and enduring piece of classical music, but I wonder what that means. To what extent did he/does he have mass appeal then and now, and to what extent that’s even important? What did popular in the early 1800’s mean? How significant was symphonic music to Western Culture?

In the early 1900’s Elgar wrote his Symphony No. 1. Within a year it had been performed a hundred times. Within the last few years I’ve heard a symphony orchestra perform Beethoven’s Fifth and Elgar’s First. Two hundred and one hundred years later, Beethoven and Elgar remain viable.

But what about this Symphony No. 8 by Hartmann? I’ve never heard it performed live and can’t imagine a scenario where I would seek it out. How did it make Steinberg’s list of 118  symphonies that he considered remarkable?

Hartmann’s Eighth was a puzzle.



One comment

[…] The late/post-romantic era seems to be my favorite. This was true going in and this study and this symphony in particular has confirmed it. I really enjoyed this symphony (as opposed to Hartmann’s Eighth). […]

by Symphony Study No. 59 | Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable” « on 15 January 2017 at 7:53 am. #