‘CSI’ traces Dvorak, Beethoven, Mahler
Just how crazy do you have to be to write classical music, or maybe any kind of music?
The Spokane Symphony continues its Casual Classics chamber orchestra program, this season themed to the “CSI” television series, on Friday with a program investigating some composers who might be considered neurotic.
The program includes Beethoven’s “Fidelio” Overture No. 1, Henri Duparc’s “Aux étoiles,” Dvorák’s “Romance” for Violin and Orchestra and Erwin Stein’s chamber orchestra arrangement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.
Mateusz Wolski, the orchestra’s concertmaster, will be the soloist for Dvorák’s “Romance” and wife Dawn Wolski will perform the soprano solo in the final movement of Mahler’s symphony.
Music Director Eckart Preu will conduct.
“The idea for this program started when I was working with the American Symphony Orchestra in New York,” Preu recalls. “A group of psychiatrists wanted to hire us to play a program of music by composers who might have used their help.
“We never did that, but the idea has been with me ever since.”
Since the 1980s, the terms “neurosis” and “neurotic” have been dropped from the official medical and psychiatric vocabulary. But they are still widely used informally to refer to patients who exhibit unusual anxiety, depression or mental confusion as well as unusual levels of anger or irritability or obsessive, impulsive or compulsive behavior.
Of the four composers whose works will be played Friday, Gustav Mahler was the only one to have consulted a psychiatrist. Late in life, faced with serious health problems along with personal and professional anxieties, Mahler had a four-hour consultation with Sigmund Freud.
He may have been the first musician to see a psychiatrist, but certainly not the last.
Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 was written long before his visit with Freud and is the lightest and least anxious-sounding of all his symphonies. Preu will end Friday’s program with an unusual version of the symphony arranged for chamber orchestra by Erwin Stein.
This chamber version was written for a performance at the Society for Private Performances in Vienna established by Arnold Schönberg, and Stein was one of Schönberg’s favorite pupils.
“Stein’s arrangement is very skillful, it works very well and it is sometimes even very funny,” Preu says.
“A performance of the full orchestra version of the symphony requires something like 75 or 80 players. But here, Stein’s arrangement uses only 15.
“It is so transparent you are able to hear things that get submerged in Mahler’s counterpoint and orchestration. Again and again you think, ‘Wow! I’ve never heard that line before.’ ”
Beethoven lived before psychiatry was a profession. But his tantrums, his harrowing anxieties about his deafness and his family and his obsessive perfectionism are well-known.
He was certainly obsessive when it came to his only opera, “Fidelio” (first called “Leonore”). Beethoven revised the opera several times and wrote no fewer than four different overtures to it.
“I wanted to do ‘Leonore’ Overture No. 1 because it is the most different from the other three,” Preu says. We played ‘Leonore’ No. 3 last season, and it’s the best known; No. 1 is the least known.”
Duparc is the least-known composer on Friday’s program.
“Duparc is a composer very few people even think about unless you’re French,” Preu says. “He lived a very long time and died in his 80s, but he stopped writing music when he was 36 and started destroying his works.
“By the time he was through only a handful of songs, a couple of piano pieces and just two orchestral works, were left.”
Duparc wrote three short orchestral pieces he grouped under the title “Poème nocturne” but destroyed all but the first “Aux étoiles” (“Toward the Stars”), which will be performed Friday.
“Dvorák, of all the composers on this program, looks the most ‘normal,’ and he seemed very agreeable guy, but in some respects he was a little nutty,’ ” Preu says.
“He had an obsession with pigeon-raising and train-spotting. He would go every day to the train station a writing down the number of each locomotive that came in. And if he couldn’t go himself, he would send a student to do it.
“But can you hear these obsessions in his ‘Romance’? No. Even if you want to hear how strange personal things in composers’ personal lives turn up in their music, you just can’t do it.
“Great artists somehow succeed in separating their personal lives from their art, so no matter how much we might want to pry in there to find weirdness, we can’t.”
Preu will provide spoken program notes for the works being performed on Friday’s program, illustrated with music examples played by orchestra members.