Friday, 7 February 2014

8 & 9 February 2014


A repeat of the programme from 2011, given over to Andres Gaos-Berea’s First Symphony.  You can find a fuller description of this music in a blog on Spanish music written by Mike Burrows and entitled “Spanish Guitar And A Spanish Violinist”.     

 

Classical Break:  Gaos ll

          

 

This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham.  Today’s script was researched and written by Mike Burrows. 

 

Not long ago, we broadcast a programme devoted to the music of the Galician violinist composer Andrés Gaos--Berea, who was born in A Coruna (or La Coruna) in 1874 and died in Mar del Plata in Argentina in 1959.

 

Since that broadcast, we have obtained a double CD of The Complete Symphonic Works of Andrés Gaos.  Today’s programme is given over to the three-movement First Symphony, written in 1899, when Gaos was 25 and recovered from a nervous breakdown severe enough to have necessitated a long break in the Argentinian countryside and to have prevented him from performing or composing for some time.   

   

Let’s hear the First Movement:  one could analyse the irregular sonata-form, the melodic and harmonic material the wonderful, bold or subtle scoring, the masterliness of constant development, the sense of musical logic and appealing emotional quality in every note, but it ought to be unexpected the first time you listen, to burst into wherever you are in life.

 

The tempo-marking is Allegro moderato e con ritmico:  moderately lively and rhythmically.

 

Track One, Symphony Number One, Allegro moderato e con ritmico, Gaos.

 

This is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham.  Today, the topic is the First Symphony of Andrés Gaos, a little-known Galician violinist-composer who emigrated to Argentina.

           

It is a brave young composer who in his First Symphony writes a first movement longer than a quarter of an hour, and is able to take what he thinks due liberties in form with such effective results.  This first movement was shaped by an internal logic, dictated by its material, not by the text-book; what matters is that nothing seems mechanical or ineptly incongruous in placement; one finds a beginning, middle and end.

 

In Gaos’ day, as now, a First Symphony was an undertaking to hesitate over.  So much weight of perceived meaning, musical and philosophical, had turned the form into a source of endless argument and generational conflict among creative, performing and pedagogical musicians, an argument ably exploited by newspapers and periodicals.

 

By the age of twenty-five, he had become a known solo-violinist, a professor of the violin at the Buenos Aires conservatory, and a published composer.

 

Lately married after a scandal - he had married his now-Wife, the violinist, America Montenegro only after she had fallen pregnant -  he had endured nervous breakdown, and now he set himself the task many composers would dread:  moreover any symphony would have to be written at white-heat; he had a family to provide for!  As the laid-off composer says in Singin’ in the Rain, “At last, I can start suffering and write that symphony!” and, when offered work at a higher salary a few moments later, “At last, I can stop suffering and write that symphony!”

 

There was no certainty of a premiere or even run-through, unless played by students, no certainty that the right people would hear it, therefore no hope of publication, he would have to copy out full-score and parts himself, perhaps with the help of his wife and colleagues, or pay a professional copyist to do it;  he and his family would go without, his return to employment would be delayed, but, like the single-minded artist he was, he forged ahead.

 

His ambitious and able First Symphony was very likely pieced together from Galician and South American folk-music, student attempts at the form, harmony, fugue, orchestration; from violin-studies - the vaulting, wayward first subject may come from such a source.  He called on a lifetime of reading scores and performing.

 

He had begun as something of a local wunderkind.  Even so, his family on both sides had been musicians for generations; like Elgar’s, his love of music had been fostered by a father who ran a music-shop.  His mother was a woman of sensibility whose family owned that music-shop, organised concerts, composed and were as famous in their district as - say - the Bach family in theirs.  By the time the Symphony was begun, Gaos had studied at Madrid, Paris and Brussels, great centres of musical science and aesthetics.  Although restless, it is evident that he had always excelled in learning; intensely shy, aloof and no liker of competitiveness, he had a mind to show the world what he was capable of.  Working day and night, he probably improvised at the piano - a real talent of his, sadly never recorded - was the leader of his imaginary orchestra; wrote a piano-score at speed, considered scoring after re-considering the elements of the piano-score.  The basis was within his previous responses to music and life.

 

His second movement, after a strongly energetic first, is like a through-composed song; there are at least three verses, the material continuing to develop ideas first stated in the improvisatory opening of the Symphony.  The time seems twilight becoming deepest night, the place a room and oneself alone with the darker elements of the first movement.  There is only one insuperable obstacle to one’s happiness, it seems to say, but that’s life, we have to live well and to die well; accept our fate and win some kind of moral victory of which it may well be, no-one will ever know: a victory over self in which we attain what we wanted.  In answer, the obstacle - undoubtedly fear - rises for a third time and meets...silence, a pause; the music sinks to its overtired close; this is as much of a happy ending as Gaos permits us.

 

There is magnificent use of violins and violas and of the strings as a section.  The woodwind, too, have fine moments, particularly the plaintive oboe and sinisterly underlining bassoon.  The brass at climaxes are - as always in Gaos - extremely strong and effective without overstatement.  He understood how to sustain not only his musical thinking but also how to combine timbres of instruments or highlight a solo detail without inconsistency in overall sonority or an ungrateful exposure of any instrument’s weakness.  This was a practical, highly professional musician.

 

Here is the second movement:  Andante - At Walking-pace.

 

Track Two:  Symphony No 1, Andante, Gaos

 

The heart of this Symphony has been sombre indeed, dark but neither dull nor morbid.  Perhaps the anxiety-sufferer may hear something of his own struggles in it, but what is notable about this movement ‘at walking-pace’ is that it is not merely good ‘psychology’ but also good, in fact fine, music.  Gaos’ childhood and adulthood so far had been a time of severely focused hard work as a developing executant and composer, and travel in Europe and South America that in itself must have left even a city-boy desperate for repose, some sense of home, outright success or easy living. The mysterious, halting turns of this piece find resolution in unadorned resignation to fate that is brave in understatement and dignified without seeming weak or evasive. 

 

Besides being the most consuming, the Andante is the least forward-looking movement of this symphony; when it was composed, such a song of earnest sentiment and sensibility must have seemed a feature of the genre.

 

Commonly, a swift, effective Scherzo and trio - a dance or march with contrasting lyrical material - in lighter, often national style commonly followed.

 

However, as was fashionable in the last third of the Nineteenth Century and in France in particular - as a student, Gaos attended the Paris Conservatoire before moving onto Brussels to study with the great violinist, Ysaye - this is a three-movement symphony; there is no scherzo.  The piece is cyclical in construction:  themes proposed at the outset recur in other guises in the following movements - in theory it permits a closer and more thorough musical argument and presents an essential profile, with no scherzo/intermezzo to distract.  Frequently, and following Franck’s example, composers would sandwich quicker scherzando-music within the slow movement to ensure contrast within a structure itself roughly in proportions of thirds. 

 

The outer movements of symphonies were of great significance; the finale came to pack in so much significance, such culminatory expressiveness that it fell apart in a pointless dissension between quickness, dynamism and grandeur, between an attempt to sum up and a determination to bring down the house at the end. 

 

Here, we return to the tempo-marking of the first movement:  Allegro Moderato, moderately fast.  Such are Gaos’ material, his formal control and the movement’s length - about two minutes shorter than the first and one-and-a-half longer than the second - that moderately doesn’t become dully or unnecessarily.  This is a French rondo of the kind familiar from Franck’s followers; subtle development makes it seem less bald than a straightforward ternary structure.

 

The material is frequently delightful, thoughtful, vigorous and there is a fine melody that at last reaches its full length - and some considerable glory - the apotheosis of every lyrical impulse in the Symphony as a whole.  Each time the tune occurs, the first violins have made a keener, lovelier sound in unison.  Even now, the tune is shorter than expected.  At last, the music is worked up patiently through combining of fugitive recollections.  When, heavy brass chant uncertainty and protest - the strings reply without difficulty with an optimistic first movement motif; then, back comes the beginning of the Symphony’s commanding First subject. 

 

The close of the rondo is broad and confident - and now comes the pay-off of the whole piece, it seems to me:  within the flourish, a sawing up-down exercise on massed violins.  It incorporates widening rising intervals and, clinching the first subject’s nature:  you may think it resembled a wayward study- or caprice for violin, gives the last word to the victorious spirit of a fiddler!      

 

Track Three:  Symphony No 1:  lll Allegro Moderato

 

As a violinist himself, Gaos’s most ambitious work might have been expected to have more than it did of Bruch or Saint-Saens in it - or of Sarasate or Ysaye, two of his violinist-composer-mentors - but they were all arch-conservatives in style, creators of sterotypical form for its own sake.  This work is on the Franckist-Brahmsian-Borodinian axis, less woolly than Chausson, in matter more distinguished than D’Indy or Dukas.  It has no real kinship with the work of minor symphonic composers.  It is not too skilful or eloquent, but too creatively original, too much the genuine article.  True musical and psychological problems are set and the solutions are convincing.  It can’t be Debussy, Sibelius, Nielsen, Elgar or Mahler, and has none of the exquisite delights and esoteric nightmares of modernists like Scriabin or Schoenberg.  It is unvisionary, courting no-one unless with an unself-indulgent, objective classicism vigorous and suffused with poignant lyricism, its musical procedures romantically expressive of one man’s inner life and experiences.

 

Again, Spanish folk and Art-music, Grieg, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Franck, D’Indy and possibly early Delius are brought together not merely as influences, but in real integration?  Gaos’ models were first-rate artists; he had the sense to know by whom to be influenced, having a hard-headed estimate of his own nature and abilities; he did not underestimate himself, and even at the age of 25, did his influences proud.   

 

Yet the Symphony No 1 was never played in his lifetime, never published.  It was put on one side to all intents and purposes forever.

 

His son, another Andrés, found the full score by chance.  It appears that the Symphony had unhappy associations for its composer.

 

In his old age, Gaos had been displeased when his son had uncovered the score of the Violin Fantasy and showed him it.  After his divorce in 1917, any work associated with America Montenegro, his violinist first wife of twenty years, unsettled him; in the case of the Violin Fantasy, she had performed the solo for the premiere.  His second marriage was happy and lasted for four decades; the First Symphony may simply have been inspired by the wrong woman.  Inspired, it most certainly was. 

 

It must also have been an uncomfortable reminder of the upswing from anxiety disorder into the old hopes of fame and success to repay him for his early struggles and labours and the agonies of a painful illness.  A 25 year-old thinks most things may still be possible.  How much more hopeful than the next will a 2-5 year-old feel when he has recovered from a severe bout of nerve-exhaustion?  We close the programme with the first and last movement of Suite A La Antigua, Suite From Olden Days, another work from Gaos’ youth, an orchestration of miniatures for piano:  Canon and Fantasia.  Here is the Canon.

 

Track Four:  Suite a la Antigua, Movt l

 

This is Classical Break, on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Mike Burrows. We hope that you have enjoyed what may be the first broadcast on English radio of Andrés Gaos’ First Symphony, and that you will join us for our next journey into the world of classical music, where great works are in such full supply that life is ever-enriched by new treasures!  We leave you with the Fantasiafrom Suite a la Antigua.

 

Track Five:  Suite A La Antigua, Movt lV,  Fantasia 

 

 

 

 

A Description of Andrés Gaos’ First Symphony, Based On The Original Script Written for Classical Break.

 

The three-movement First Symphony was written in 1899, when Gaos was 25 and recovered from a nervous breakdown that had been severe enough to have necessitated a long break in the Argentinian countryside and to have prevented him from performing or composing for some time.  Unusually for the time, it is not described as being in a given key, and flirts with chromaticism and diatonic and modal harmony as contrasts while giving one an impression of stable overall tonality.  The freshness of the idiom is at least partly due to an imaginative and fluid use of harmony and key, neither too chromatic on the one side nor too conventionally diatonic on the other; the system is neither complex for the sake of complexity, nor obvious.     

 

1 Allegro moderato e con ritmico.

 

The Symphony holds one’s attention from the outset.  The first movement, Allegro Moderato e ritmico, opens in a muted pulsing, theme - Fate, perhaps?  It meets with an as unyieldingly downcast reply.  This, too, is like Grieg at his most austere, confined to the alto and bass, the trombones grim in purpose.  Then comes a more outward subject or group of motifs, latterly flirting with sharpening or flattening of intervals.  This leaps out at one though unlike any other first subject that I have heard, sombre, crabbed  but not cramped, swerving, athletic; its wayward shape resembles that of a bold solo violin--study or caprice, where most of the harmonic interest is of necessity in the top line, other notes got by double-, triple- or quadruple-stopping.  Its veering would certainly promote memory, concentration and skill in its player.  This theme may therefore have an autobiographical significance.  Also, it contains the significant intervals and harmonic patterns of much of the Symphony.  Its emotions begin in pride; become less simple but gain in intriguingness.  A short chant bridge-passage leads to the contrasting second suject or group of motifs; these tend to an increasingly long-suffering, flatward if touching tone, feminine, prettily though soberly scored.  These fragments are as ‘national’ as the first group and seem not far from Delius’ ardent, yet somnolently tropical Florida.  The music grows as if improvized, not scrappy although sectional, the groups of motifs chosen for their contrasting implications and susceptibility to combination.  The scoring is varied, careful and beautiful, as unobvious as the motifs it colours; the woodwind and strings have a particular charm.  Everything follows as a consequence.  Variation is at work from the word go, though instinct tells one that  the development-proper seems to begin seven or eight minutes into the piece, as chromatic brass and strings burst out with Fate in shock uncertainty, wrangling, the woodwind drawn in; this rouses the aspiring and lyrical, blooming but not humourless side of the man’s thinking, in a broadening of the second-subject material, then in first subject chirpiness, string pizzicati and flute-flecking - to which viola, cello and horn lend some substance.  So the music is briefly skittish, and the lyrical elements again show their long-suffering, but unhurrying, charm, the chirping combined for a while: a Borodin twilight!  The uncertainty returns twice in among further, gathering developments of the chirping and other elements.  This may be the beginning of the recapitulation: the most important motif from the first subject returns august, earnest and with pride - like the ‘uncertainty’, perversely shaped between major and minor - and leads to a more positive, exultantly resolving form of the former uncertainty, softened to strings by all else.  The strings again bring calm, chirpiness.  A quietening, a lull afforded by exchanges between strings and woodwind, and then comes the firm final cadence, stark in brass and strings, curiously like a violinist’s flourish!  The most long-breathed element of the second group was last heard of at the Borodin twilight, but its absence since is not felt. 

 

11         Andante 

 

It is a brave young composer who in his First Symphony writes a first movement longer than a quarter of an hour, and is able to take what he thinks due liberties in form with such effective results.  This first movement was shaped internal logic, dictated by its material, not by the text-book; what matters is that nothing seems mechanical or ineptly incongruous in placement; one finds a beginning, middle and end.  Gaos has proved that  his essentially introspective nature is also dynamic, developing and pacing his work with true zest, his music peculiarly rich and alive, the many telling details and  unexpected juxtaposition of ideas astonishingly doughty and strong as well as warmly tender and humane.  

 

The slow second movement, an Andante, opens elegiacally on heavy-pedalled, imitatively havering strings, the oboe adding contrast to their drawn-out - and drawn-up - solemnity.  The arioso-style thematic material seems to have grown naturally out of the pulsing opening phrases of the first movement - and a sense of foreboding takes over as the pulsing turns to menace.  The tone is now almost Debussyan, its murky, terraced scoring impressionistic, Nuages-like, but anticipating this work by some years!  Woodwind and brass enter, Fate or protest in grief or doubt briefly expresses itself in brassy, thickly scored accompaniment to a unison in first violins.  This is soothed imperfectly.  Then, in irresolute development of protest, the flute and oboe and horn are contrasted with more dusky violas and cellos, as in the first movement, such a sound is not unlike Delius or possibly Dukas whose Symphony in C antedated this work by a few years.  The conrasts to be created by sustained string tone and rocking woodwind notes, or bold misalliances of woodwind soloists and lower strings had become mannerisms in the works of nationalist composers of the second half of the nineteenth Century.  Out of viola-coloured unease, the opening theme bursts out in its protest less loudly and less sustainedly than before, yet again loses itself in dusk before relapsing to be lulled by a motif straight from the first movement second subject!  This is a subtle, unstudied touch from an inexperienced symphonist, but Gaos seems to have believed that true art conceals itself in art! The violins have it, though lower instruments - basses, cellos, bassoon, and higher woodwind - how Gaos loved the flute and oboe - and middle to lower strings exchange dolefulnesses.  The arioso returns, but again, the protest motif builds - there is a pause; we hold our breath, but this time, no attack.  The music falls to string chords in conclusion that seems straight out of the mezzo-forte close of Sibelius’ Fourth in scoring and stoical finality of tone - composed some twelve years before Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony would be heard...  The heart of this Symphony is sombre indeed, dark but neither dull nor morbid.  Anxiety-sufferers may hear something of their own struggles in it, but what is notable about this movement ‘at walking-pace’ is that it is not merely good ‘psychology’ but also good, in fact fine, music.  Gaos’ childhood and adulthood so far had been a time of severely focused hard work as a developing executant and composer, and travel in Europe and South America that in itself must have left even a city-boy desperate for repose, some sense of home, outright success or easy living. The mysterious, halting turns of this piece find resolution in unadorned resignation to fate that is brave in understatement and dignified without seeming weak or evasive. 

 

111 Allegro Moderato

           

The second movement has been a beautiful interplay of consoling lyricism and troubledness:  the models were perhaps French or Scandinavian - Svendsen comes particularly to mind, though Svendsen is more forthright and not as complex.  The composer could not forget his troubles, but was controlled in alternation of these two moods; the troubledness left one in no doubt as to its sincerity, the close as bare once again as Sibelius at his most uncompromising.  The twilit lengths permitted bright moments now and again, the use of cellos and violas dusky, the violins keener and more passionate, the basses and brass growling, the woodwind, particularly the oboe and clarinet, providing essential contrasts of their own.  The climaxes were deliberate; the last built up to meet nothingness; with relief, one collapsed into that Sibelian coda.

 

Besides being the most consuming, the Andante is the least forward-looking movement of this symphony; when it was composed, such a song of earnest sentiment and sensibility must have seemed a feature of the genre.  Commonly, a swift, effective Scherzo and trio - a dance or march with contrasting lyrical material - in lighter, often national style commonly followed.

 

However, as was fashionable in the last third of the Nineteenth Century and in France in particular - as a student, Gaos attended the Paris Conservatoire before moving onto Brussels to study with the great violinist, Ysaye - this is a three-movement symphony; there is no scherzo.  The piece is cyclical in construction:  themes proposed at the outset recur in other guises in the following movements - there’s always the danger that repeated motifs become reiteration made the more didactically tedious by the complexity of their surroundings, but, in theory, cyclical construction permits a closer and more thorough musical argument and may present a more essential profile, if there’s no scherzo/intermezzo to distract.  Frequently, and following Franck’s example, composers would sandwich quicker scherzando-music within the slow movement to ensure contrast within a structure itself roughly in proportions of thirds. 

 

The outer movements of symphonies were of great significance; the finale came to pack in so much significance, such culminatory expressiveness that it fell apart in a pointless dissension between quickness, dynamism and grandeur, between an attempt to sum up and bring down the house at the end.

 

Gaos has no scherzo or scherzando in his symphony, the slow movement has been deep and brooding.  His reflective personality tends to contained bursts of energy between cogent reveries; it is a very effective method, honest and avoiding a forcing of his disposition.  So far from being the weakest, his finale is possibly the strongest movement of the three.

 

We return to the tempo-marking of the first movement:  Allegro Moderato, moderately fast.  Such are Gaos’ material, his formal control and the movement’s length - about two minutes shorter than the first and one-and-a-half longer than the second - that moderately doesn’t become dully or unnecessarily.  This is a French rondo of the kind familiar from Franck’s followers; subtle development makes it seem less bald than a straightforward ternary structure. It begins in bustle, strings, woodwind and punctuating percussion about which measures dance.  Music is regaining its confidence in life, perhaps; there are sly references to the first subject’s hesitations.  A slower, lyrical strings-moment, like a chorale, grows out of the pulse of the protest-theme which threatens another attack, yet ‘sets’ beautifully in the major and returns to the dance, which is bassoon-led at first.  Held notes pass one onto woodwind commentary on the slower moment, weary arabesques and chant on oboe, clarinet, bassoon and flute also making themselves prominent, in Sibelian or Russian folk-style, this, like the chorale has been generated from a fragment in the first movement; the dance measures, interrupted by those punctuating chords - this time with brass and as if presaging protest - suddenly give way instead to a new, wonderful tune with Tchaikovskian chromatic falling and rising figures, related to the lyrical and uncertain contrasting motifs in the first movement, in which violins and the whole orchestra play a telling part in melody, harmony and decoration, the brass providing a swell pedal in the middle-harmony - this is interrupted brusquely but returns still more earnestly.  There is an upward sweep echo in the accompaniment at one point that is a Gaos fingerprint.    The manner in which this significant tune is interrupted and builds again into a still more flowing, beautiful sound - is another finger--print of Gaos: statement, qualification or distraction and fuller restatement.  The trombones sound repeated notes - a deep, warning tucket of a kind familiar from Russian music.  The second theme is reprised.  A reminder of the first subject of the entire symphony chirps, a dying fall returns to the chant (a reminder of the second movement. Its pendant phrases seem possibly Moorish.  Dance returns briefly...  Cadential string chords alternate with brass notes involving trombones, trumpets, horns in permutation; the brass inhibit forward movement, but dance and the protest and uncertain motif have a moment before back comes the big tune, more smoothly, horn protest and uncertainty in falling string scales interrupting as before - then in full glory, reaching its full length, decorated, rising with woodwind flourishes, the apotheosis of every lyrical impulse in the work.  Not the least of its qualities is its sensitive, sincere-seeming fervour.  The first violins have made a keener, lovelier sound in unison each time.  Even now, the tune is shorter than expected, but that is a third Gaos fingerprint - leave people wanting more! 

           

This isn’t the conclusion.  It is time for memories of slow-movement heard from under dance-matter; there has to be an end to this, and hints of the first movement lead to the music’s being worked up patiently through fugitive recollections with the assistance of the dance.  Suddenly, heavy brass chant uncertainty and protest - the strings reply without difficulty with an optimistic first movement motif; then, back comes the beginning of the commanding First subject.  In retrospect, like the short pulsing Fate-theme - protest - of the very outset it appears to have been behind everything that has occurred through three movements.  Here, it is shorn of former exhaustiveness.  The close of the rondo is broad and confident - within the flourish, a sawing up-down exercise on massed violins incorporating widening rising intervals and, clinching the first subject’s study- or caprice-nature perhaps gives the last word to the victorious spirit of a fiddler!      

 

It should be remembered that Gaos was working on the Symphony at about the time that he was writing and collating his own One Hundred Progressive Technical Exercises For The Violin.

 

This Symphony is of its time, yet vitally different:  whatever feelings were at the core of Gaos’ soul expressed themselves with something other than proficiency in his music, no dreadful abstraction and impersonal-seeming drudgery, staid rushes of theatrical blood to the head signified by staged diminished, sevenths, profound artistic inspiration sign-posted by careful fuguing, or languishment in the tedium of pious parlour-tunes standing for second-subjects - no slow-movement expatiation that afflicts minor symphonists of the period.  This is to say that it somehow transcends the competent models.  Gaos’ natural fastidiousness can be said to have been down to fine sensibility and high intelligence as well to his being conversant with the symphonic techniques of his day.  The young man stood on the threshold of the New Age and looked forward - like his near-contemporary, Rachmaninoff.

 

“The sinister uncertainty of the Age is portrayed without theatricality and Gaos meets it and wins  through without stuffiness or bombast.  He doesn’t retreat into Wagnerist holiness, wear what may pass for a heart on his sleeve or give himself a toffee-apple for knocking the pipe out of an Aunt Sally’s mouth.

 

His First Symphony is not  self-consciously heroic symphony-as-drama; it lacks obvious display though not large lines. It eschews the self-indulgent or irrational; it is intended to be abstract, to manipulate attractive musical material whose shapes generate an engrossing argument as it invoked emotions on the human scale.

 

It isn’t forthright and latterday Beethovenian; it has none of the Superman mysticism and vast dimensions of many of music’s philosophers of the time, either.  As a violinist himself, Gaos’s most ambitious work might have been expected to have more than it did of Bruch or Saint-Saens in it - or of Sarasate or Ysaye, two of his violinist-composer-mentors.  But they were not; by 1899, they were all arch-conservatives in style, creators of sterotypical form for its own sake (beautifully but inimitably).

 

It is on the Franckist-Brahmsian-Borodinian axis, less woolly than Chausson, in matter more distinguished than D’Indy or Dukas.  It had no real kinship with the work of minor but more prolific symphonic composers like Stanford, Martucci, Glazunov or Sinding.  It is too skilful or eloquent, far too original.  There is nothing of the factitiously strenuous or pallidly lyrical about it, nothing of storm and stress turned dutiful, a pale thin hand wafting away a whirlwind.  On the other hand, it may make you think more of Kalinnikov, Stenhammar or Rachmaninoff than of Debussy, Sibelius, Nielsen, Elgar or Mahler.  It is quite consciously unvisionary, courting no-one unless with an unself-indulgent, objective classicism with all the appeal of lyrical romanticism and disciplined conflict generated by purely musical procedures.  It can’t be acused of easiness, bourgeois complacency or pedantry, either, though it has nothing to do with the exquisite delights and esoteric nightmares of Scriabin or Schoenberg - it is conspicuously unfebrile for much of its length.

 

Compared with Chapi, Isasi, Turina and other Spanish symphonists of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, Gaos remains articulate, eloquent, distinct:  less mannered, less of a kind.  There is a uniqueness in his work - a uniqueness aimed for, that has nothing of the academy or circus about it.  Within its individuality, however, it has a line and keeps to it from first note to last, pursuing an argument that develops almost for its entire length and that is singlemindedly resolved.  It begins peremptorily and ends self-reliantly, and in between, it seeks to explain itself - as it was felt that a Symphony ought to do.  Many, many other symphonies follow a line from first note to last; many are competent in doing this, but nothing more.  Many are full of a National Manner or attempts at triumphal display of a self-defining ego.  Some aim at ‘cosmopolitan’ Mendelssohnian or Brahmsian taste and clarity of argument, and may succeed in some sense.  Die-hards and moderns alike can date dreadfully, either because too personal or too lacking in personality.  A single miscalculation in matter or style can, with hindsight, be the damning of an entire piece, and usually is.     

 

On the other hand, the highly-worked First Symphony of Gaos has a distinctive flavour of its own from beginning to end.  It seems fresh, spontaneous and deeply poignant.  Who else could have brought together Spanish folk and Art-music, Grieg, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Franck and D’Indy and early Delius as influences, not only together but in highly artistic synthesis?  The contrasts are there, fresh as paint, the music sounding anything but samey or laborious, constantly developing, and the maturity of the form is there, too, to prove the contrasts ingredients of an integrated style.  The older Gaos matured - the Second Symphony is even richer in beauty, more sustained, fluent and incisive, but all in all, the First Symphony is to be seen as a better work than those of many experienced composers of double his age.  All that is minor about Gaos is the size of his output, roughly comparable to that of Paul Dukas, another highly-self-critical composer whose actual creative genius transcended such considerations much the same but who, once more like Gaos, was sadly valued most as a teacher.

 

The manner in which he impels his music, particularly in building up to climaxes, with sonorous runs in the strings from bass to treble seems classical, Haydnesque, or even of the Baroque, Bachian or Vivaldi-like; perhaps the technique came via Schumann, one of his self-avowed heroes; it is one more fruitful facet of his learning, along with a highly enjoyable employment of syncopation and dotted notes.  There is an amplitude to his filling-in that impresses with its rhythmical sense, imparting a momentum and verve that are irresistible.  His use of the strings in general is masterly, as impressive as that of Sibelius who was another trained violinist.  In spite of his memorable scoring for woodwind and bare-bones use of brass - almost classical in its restraint - it is a matter for regret that Gaos left us no introduction and allegro, concerto grosso or sinfonietta for strings!

 

His skill in scoring for full orchestra - knowing how to highlight or blend particular instrumental voices is not only economical but also highly effective.  Again, like Sibelius, he understood the vital importance of maintaining a pedal, whether in the bass, alto or treble - a consistent level of sonority in which the sections are blended and support one another.  It is a very practical skill to know the weak registers of instruments - most instruments have them - as well as the methods by which the notes have to be found, or whether the notes can be found!  It is possible to score to create quite deliberately a sense of strain or unease - to create misalliances of timbres, but many composers create a sense of strain or unease by accident.  Gaos was a very conscientious artist, and to my ears any tortured or murky sounds that he creates must be deliberate, to judge from the absence of over- or underscoring elsewhere.  His orchestra appears to be of what was then regarded as classical size; if scored on larger lines and in a more flashy manner, the symphony would be more immediately striking at climaxes, but leave a less solid but unself-conscious impression.    

All his models were first rate artists; he had the sense to know by whom to be influenced, having a hard-headed estimate of his own nature and abilities; he did not underestimate himself and even at the age of only 25, did his influences proud. 

 

Yet the Symphony No 1 was never played in Gaos’ lifetime, never published.  It was put on one side to all intents and purposes forever.

 

His son, also Andrés, found the full score by chance amongst his father’s papers.  It appears that the Symphony had unhappy associations for its composer.  In his old age, he was displeased when his son uncovered the score of the Violin Fantasy and showed him it.  After his divorce in 1917, any work associated with America Montenegro, his violinist first wife of twenty years, unsettled him; in the case of the Violin Fantasy, she had performed the solo for the premiere.  His second marriage was happy and lasted for four decades; the First Symphony may simply have been inspired by the wrong woman.  Inspired, it most certainly was.  It must also have been an uncomfortable reminder of the upswing from anxiety disorder into the old hopes of fame and success to repay him for his early struggles and labours and the agonies of a painful illness.  A 25 year-old thinks most things may still be possible.  How much more hopeful than the next will a 25 year-old feel when he has recovered from a severe bout of nerve--exhaustion? 

 

Gaos at twenty-five was as impressive a figure as anyone.

 

A poignant touch in the Violin Fantasy sees the brusque downward string cascades that interrupt the big melody in the finale of the First Symphony recycled to provide a few moments of the solo-part...  A brief echo of 1899’s real monument to his talent, with a private, personal significance, or simply an effective phrase?  No-one will ever know.

 

 We hope that you enjoyed what may be the first broadcast on English radio of Andrés Gaos’ First Symphony, and that you will join us for our next journey into the world of classical music, where great works are in such full supply that life is  ever-enriched by new treasures!

 

In Closing:

 

Of other works by Gaos that might be recorded are his opera, Forbidden Love, a violin sonata, his solo-studies for violin, some small Galician folk song-arrangements for piano (he was by all accounts a superb improvizer at the piano), a number of songs, and popular operettas.  The prelude to Forbidden Love is very characteristic of his mature style.  The finale of his Second Symphony may have been based on storm-music written for this opera. 

 

Once again, I’d like to thank Rupert Kirkham for his help with the two programmes and Somer Valley FM for broadcasting them.  I suspect that there could be no room for them on national radio; I am not a trained musician and I am talking about an obscure figure too consistently inspired to be interesting to those in the know.  I hope that we shall be able to present more new treasures on Classical Break - a programme with local roots but without provincialism of outlook.

 
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