Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Mahler's Eleventh?

By a series of happy accidents I recently found myself listening to the Third Symphony by the Austrian-born Marcel Tyberg (1893-1944). It was a delightful revelation. 

The work opens with music that will come as a pleasant surprise to anyone who knows and loves Mahler's Seventh Symphony; indeed, it sounds like a wholesale re-imagining of the opening of that great work. The lyrical second subject of the first movement then carries us firmly into the world of Bruckner's symphonies. Mahler and Bruckner are unquestionably the guiding spirits of Tyberg's Third Symphony and you will probably find yourself hearing clear echoes of specific passages in symphonies by those composers, particularly Mahler's - always echoes, never quotations. Does that make it derivative? Yes. Does that make it a worthless listen? Certainly not. 

Tyberg's heroic first movement doesn't have the symphonic energy of Mahler nor has it got the visionary architecture of Bruckner, being more relaxed, lightweight and loose-limbed than either, but it should prove a treat for any of you who are lovers of late-Romanticism. Its ideas are immediately attractive and treated engagingly. Even more delightful is the scherzo, a Mahler scherzo minus Mahlerian angst. I rewound it and re-listened to it three times on first hearing, I enjoyed it so much. The slow movement adagio, the heart of the symphony, is warm, lush and glowing. The string and wind writing here is especially lovely and I've also re-listened to this movement many times over. The finale shares the cheerful spirit of the final movement of Mahler's Seventh, yet doesn't mark a falling-off in quality and fits in without incongruity with the rest of the symphony.

If this symphony, completed during the Second World War, inhabits a soundworld wholly belonging to the closing decades of the 19th Century, then the highly lyrical Piano Trio in F Major from 1935-36 is even more of a 'throw-back' - this time harking back a hundred years to Mendelssohn and Schumann. The best point of comparison here is the Piano Trio in F Major by Schumann. Does it matter that a work written in the mid 1930s sounds as if it could have been written in the 1840s? Looking back from 2012, surely not. If the music is well-written and enjoyable to hear, as this Piano Trio most assuredly is, then who cares? It's no skin off our noses if Tyberg was a composer out of his time. 

Tragically, Marcel Tyberg wasn't a human being out of his time. I wanted you to listen to and enjoy his music before telling you of the horrors that befell the composer. Due to his great-great-grandfather being Jewish, he was seized by the occupying Nazis in 1944 and murdered in the extermination camp at Auschwitz later that year. When you listen to his beautiful Piano Trio and the noble Symphony, both full of warmth and a love of music, the unbelievable cruelty and madness of such a fate hits you forcibly yet again.

Hopefully, more works of Tyberg will be recorded and audiences will come to know and love his delectable Third Symphony. We only have a few symphonies by Mahler and Bruckner, so why not have another one, courtesy of Marcel Tyberg?

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