"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

August 31, 2013

Unique Symphonies from the 19th Century (Music review)

When one listens often to classical music, there soon comes a time that one wants to look beyond the fixed programming of the few hundred core works that are played ad nauseam at concerts around the world. (Some people think that is all there is and are surprised when told that in reality we have hundreds of thousands of classical works). On top of that, if you possess the quality of curiosity, you will want to know more about those unknown composers whose names so tantalizingly pop up now and then. In other words, you become anxious to hear music by unknown composers... Happily, the CD (although now on its way out - I am not sure we will get anything better back in the sense of introducing little or never played works) has done a great job in reviving unknown composers - mainly thanks to the many small labels that have made fascinating voyages of discovery and exhumed unjustly forgotten music from an too early grave in dusty libraries.

Below follows a selection of some fascinating 19th century symphonies by so-called "unknown" composers - all works that deserve to be better known!

[Ries, a bit like Beethoven...
- image Wikipedia]

1. Ferdinand Ries, Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 112 [1813]
Ries was Beethoven's favorite disciple. Good disciples start (but don't end) by copying the Master, and that is what Ries has done here in his 5th symphony. Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838) was born in a musical family in Bonn, the same city where his teacher hailed from. He was a pianist and composer who left eight symphonies, a violin concerto, eight piano concertos and numerous chamber works, including 26 string quartets. His style is that of the early Beethoven, hovering between the Classical and Romantic eras. Ries made his pianistic debut in 1804 with the 3rd Beethoven concerto. He also worked as secretary and copyist for Beethoven. In 1813 he moved to England, where he would remain for eleven years. Later Ries settled in Frankfurt am Main as composer and conductor. The 5th symphony was written in London in 1813. Although his symphony is in D Minor rather than C minor, in the first movement Ries uses the rhythm of Beethoven's famous "Fate" motif with different pitches - when this symphony starts you almost sit up and think "What? Another Beethoven Fifth?" But this is neither an act of "copying" nor a "parody," but rather a conscious homage to the Master. The hammering Fate motif dominates the entire first movement, although it is rather less ominous than in Beethoven's Fifth. Ries also uses some typical Beethovenesque harmonies. The second movement is a subtle Larghetto, with a plaintive melody echoing through the orchestra. In the third movement we find a forceful Scherzo with a dance-like trio and the stormy finale, playing with the typical rhythm of the Fate motif, leads to a triumphant conclusion. Ries has written an excellent symphony that certainly deserves to be performed more often. This is the "normal level" of art music in the 19th century - listening to this music we realise all the more how exceptional a genius like Beethoven was. P.S. Ries also wrote interesting piano concertos and chamber music - the concertos have been recorded by Naxos.
Recording listened to: Zürcher Kammerorchester directed by Howard Griffiths on CPO (with 3rd Symphony)

2. Johann Wilhelm Wilms, Symphony No. 6 in D minor, Op. 58 [1820]
Dutch classical music is so little known (even less than that of other small countries, like Denmark), that some people even may wonder whether it at all exists. This situation has been caused by the fact that Dutch orchestras almost never perform their own country's music - which is a shame (happily, the CD below is an exception). Here is an early 19th c. Dutch symphony, although written by a composer born in neighboring Germany. Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847) was a contemporary of Beethoven and although he was born in Germany, he spent all his creative life in Holland, working in Amsterdam where he moved in 1791. Wilms was mostly active as a composer between 1810 and 1820. In 1815 he won the contest to write the national anthem for the new Kingdom of the Netherlands ("Wien Neerlandsch Bloed," discarded in 1932 for the present "Wilhelmus"). His last position was that of organist at the United Baptist Church in Amsterdam. The symphony in D Op 58 was written in 1819 and is decidedly early Romantic. You will be surprised at the ebullience and drive of the music. Wilms' music is skilfully written, with an abundance of attractive and distinctive melodies. The symphony was published in 1823 by Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig - it was the crown on Wilms' work as a symphonist. This well-crafted symphony again poses the question (which is not really a question): shouldn't orchestras be looking for more good pieces to play - like this symphony - instead of continuing to sleepwalk through only a few famous ones?
Recording listened to: Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra, directed by Anthony Halstead on Brilliant Classics (with symphonies Opp. 23, 14 and 52; symphonies 6 and 7 have also been recorded by Concerto Köln on Deutsche Grammophon)

3. Georges Onslow, Symphony No. 2 in D minor, Op. 42 [1832]
Despite the English name, Georges Onslow (1784-1853) was a French composer, a contemporary of Ries and Spohr. His father was an English nobleman who had been kicked out of Parliament because of a gay affair, fled to France, where he settled down and married a rich heiress. Their first son, Georges, came of age in the shadow of Beethoven. He studied with Dussek, Cramer and Reicha and lived in the Auvergne (on his family estate) and Paris. Onslow composed in the first place a prodigious amount of chamber music, among which 36 string quartets and 34 string quintets. He also wrote four symphonies. Onslow never was a popular composer, living as he did in opera-crazy France, where orchestral and instrumental composers were automatically considered as of second rank (unless one was a showman like Berlioz). In the last decades, his chamber music and symphonies have been revived on CD. He is an important figure of the early Romantic period, classical in form but romantic in feeling. His works are full of spirit and expression and deserve to be heard more often. The second symphony was dedicated to the London Philharmonic Society. It is a finely crafted piece of music that adopts the German romantic style. 
Recording listened to: Radio-Philharmonie Hannover des NDR, directed by Johannes Goritzki on CPO (with Onslow's fourth symphony; the other two symphonies have also been recorded on CPO) 


[Spohr, self-portrait - Image Wikipedia]

4. Louis Spohr, Symphony No. 4 in F major Op. 86 "Die Weihe der Töne" [1842]
One does not often speak about a "Biedermeier-period" when talking about musical history, but that is because most people only look at the great composers like Schubert or Schumann, who indeed don't fit that label. The Biedermeier-period was a conservative era between the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and the popular revolutions that woke up Europe in 1948. The period was autocratic, politics was a forbidden topic, so art concentrated itself on the domestic life of the new middle class - lots of "home music" was produced. But more than that, there is a clear Biedermeier period-style also in music: the keyword is Gemütlichkeit, which means a cheerful mood, peace of mind, with the connotation of belonging and social acceptance, coziness and being unhurried. "Happiness within restrictions," one could also call it. There are several true Biedermeier composers, but the most characteristic one is in my view Louis Spohr (1784-1859), a composer who in his own time was regarded as one of the most significant personalities in German music, equally outstanding as a composer, violinist and conductor. Spohr wrote voluminously in all genres. But a few decades after his death, he was completely forgotten, until a small renaissance set in since the 1980s. Among Spohr's works that have gained new esteem are his four clarinet concertos; one or two of his eighteen violin concertos; and especially his chamber music: the octet and the nonet, the music for harp and the four double quartets for two string quartets, to name a few. Spohr also composed nine published symphonies between 1811 and 1850, which were in his own time ranked with the great compositions of Mozart and Beethoven and which remained popular with concertgoers until the late 19th c. - after which they were completely forgotten. The symphonies have been recorded on Marco Polo, Orfeo, CPO and - a complete series - on Hyperion. They are the summum of the Biedermeier style, pleasant and melodious, but always remaining within bounds, in contrast to for example Berwald's "Sinfonie Singulière" (see below). A good example is the fourth symphony, the most epic of Spohr's ten symphonies. The literary source for this work was a volume of poems by Carl Pfeiffer, Die Weihe der Töne (The Consecration of Sound). The first movement opens with a slow introduction, illustrating the silence before the creation of sound. In the sonata-form Allegro that follows, sound is born in the gentle sighing of the wind and the calls of birds. The main theme of the Allegro shows the activity of life itself. The development section brings a storm on stage, after which nature and life return to their normal pace. The slow second movement illustrates the functions of music, as lullaby, dance, and lover's serenade. In the coda all three are expertly combined. The third movement shows us another role of music: as inspiration to courage in a military march; the trio section depicts the anxiety of family and friends back home when the boys are fighting. The movement ends with a song of thanksgiving, called "Ambrosian Ode." The final movement, a Larghetto-Allegretto, is funeral music: the dead (not only those of the war from the previous movement, but more in general) are buried under the sound of a gravely beautiful chorale, and the symphony ends with a gentle consolation. The symphony was enormously successful, not only in Germany but also in England, where Spohr went to conduct it.
Recording listened to: Budapest Symphony Orchestra directed by Alfred Walter on Marco Polo (with overtures to Faust and Jessonda)

5. Niels Gade, Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 5 [1841-42]
Niels Gade (1817-1890) is the first Danish symphonic composer of any real significance. He was born as the son of an instrument maker and studied in Leipzig on a scholarship from the Danish government. Later he taught at the Conservatory in Leipzig and worked as assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra. He also became friends with Mendelssohn, who had a profound influence on his music. In 1848 he returned to Copenhagen where he became director of the Copenhagen Musical Society, a post he retained until his death. He was the teacher of Grieg and Nielsen. Gade composed eight symphonies throughout his career. His First Symphony was the most popular, probably thanks to its youthful vigour and exuberance - it was written when Gade was only 25. Gade submitted the work to the Copenhagen Musical Society for performance but the work was turned down, which was in fact a stroke of good luck, for Gade now approached Felix Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Mendelssohn received the work positively and conducted it in Leipzig in March 1843, to great acclaim. The main theme of the first movement is based on an earlier song by Gade, "Paa Sjølunds fagre Sletter" ("On the beautiful plains of Sjölund"). This simple, almost folk-like opening phrase forms the basis of many other themes and motifs in the symphony. The theme returns in the finale, where in true romantic manner it is led to victory in the coda in a blazing C major. There is not a dull moment in this masterful symphony.
Recording listened to: The Stockholm Sinfonietta directed by Neeme Järvi on BIS (a full cycle of all eight symphonies. Another excellent complete cycle is the one by Hogwood on Chandos)

6. Franz Berwald, Symphony No. 3 in C major "Sinfonie Singulière" [1845]
The Swedish composer Franz Berwald (1796-1868) came from a musical family and from a young age appeared as a violinist in concerts. In 1829 the Swedish King gave him a scholarship to study in Berlin. In 1841 he moved to Vienna where he composed his four symphonies. Berwald's music was not appreciated in Sweden during his lifetime, and only fared a little better in Germany and Austria. In 1835, in Berlin, he had started an orthopedic and physiotherapy clinic to make both ends meet and on his return to Sweden in 1849, he had to work as the manager of a glass works. Berwald now focused his attention on producing chamber music. In 1867, Berwald finally became professor of musical composition at the Stockholm Conservatory, but he died the following year. The Sinfonie singulière is often regarded as Berwalds best symphony, but the composer never heard it - it was not premiered until 37 years after the death of the composer, in 1905. The work has an energy and imagination that surpass most music of its time. The opening movement is indeed "singular" and unusual, sometimes touching on the bizarre, but with a fresh sensibility. The scoring has been called "luminous," like the quality of the light found in northern Europe. An interesting structural characteristic is that the slow movement encloses the scherzo within it. The finale has tremendous fire and a spirited main theme.
Recording listened to: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra directed by Neeme Järvi on Deutsche Grammophon (all four symphonies by Berwald)

[Rubinstein by Ilya Repin - image Wikipedia]

7. Anton Rubinstein, Symphony No. 2 in C major, Op. 42 "Ocean" (1851, revised 1863, 1880)
Rubinstein (1829-1894) was in first place famous as one of the foremost 19th century keyboard virtuosos (no, he was no family of the 20th c. Polish-American pianist Arthur Rubinstein) - he was known for his gigantic recitals which he gave throughout Europe and also in the United States. But Rubinstein was also a conductor and teacher, the founder of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory and the composition teacher of Tchaikovsky. And on top of that, Rubinstein was a prolific composer, who wrote 20 operas, five piano concertos, six symphonies and a large number of solo piano works, songs and works for chamber ensemble. Because of his international style, he was satirically called not a "Russian composer," but a "Russian who composes." Rubinstein studied in Germany and was strongly influenced by Mendelssohn, something which nationalistic Russians couldn't stomach - his position was comparable to that of Turgenev in literature. Another reason for the general prejudice against his music was anti-Semitism. In fact, Rubinstein was a very able composer of much that is still good - the only thing you have to do, before starting to listen, is remove the idea that you are going to hear something Russian. The style is that of - for example - Spohr and Gade, in the first place inspired by Mendelssohn. The Ocean Symphony is unusual in that it contains seven movements, the result of various revisions over a period of almost 30 years. Rubinstein paints a vivid musical scene of the sea, full of mood and atmosphere. The light and atmospheric first movement (moderato assai) has been beautifully crafted, with a clarity of form and texture that Mendelssohn indeed would have appreciated. The second movement (lento assai) is more contemplative, filled with an almost sinister foreboding. The next andante conjures up a pastoral seascape, with the celli depicting a soft current. A scherzo-like allegro follows, and then a moving andante with a romantic theme. Next we again have a scherzo, perhaps for the inevitable sailor's dance, and the symphony closes with an andante, a long movement that after many meanderings reaches a safe haven.
Recording listened to: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Bratislava, directed by Stephen Gunzenhauser on Marco Polo

8. Charles-François Gounod, Symphony No. 1 in D major [1855]
Gounod (1818-1893) was of course the French opera composer par excellence, famous for his Faust and twelve other operas, as well as an avalanche of religious music - everybody knows his Ave Maria. Gounod would not fit on my list, if he had not also written three symphonies, which are singularly unknown. The first one is the freshest (although the third one, for wind orchestra, is also very interesting). It was only rediscovered in the 1950s. What also became clear then was that Bizet had modeled his (today more famous) symphony closely on his teacher Gounod's Symphony No. 1- there are many rhythmic and melodic similarities. Another case of the disciple imitating his master! Gounod's First is a bright and witty symphony, that stands aside from its period - there is nothing romantic about it, it is rather a neo-classical symphony avant-la-date. But that doesn't change the fact that it is also hugely enjoyable.
Recording listened to: Orchestre de Capitole de Toulouse directed by Michel Plasson on EMI Classic (with 2nd symphony)

9. Johan Severin Svendsen, Symphony No. 1 in D major, op. 4 [1866]
The Norwegian composer, conductor and violinist Svendsen (1840-1911) was born in Christiania (now Oslo) but spent most of his life in Copenhagen, Denmark. He studied in Leipzig with Carl Reinecke. His most famous work during his lifetime was his Romance for Violin and Orchestra. He was very popular in Denmark and Norway, but never entered the international repertory. Besides excellent chamber music, Svendsen wrote two symphonies (a third one was according to an anecdote that may not be wholly reliable, thrown into the fire by Svendsen's wife during a conjugal quarrel). The first one was completed while Svendsen was still studying in Leipzig. Again a famous anecdote has come down to us: Svendsen had been very successful with his Octet for Strings, which made Reinecke obviously somewhat jealous, so he remarked cynically: "I guess the next thing will be a symphony!" A week later, Svendsen dropped the present work on his astonished teacher's desk (no, he had not written it is just one week, we know that he had been busy on it from the previous year). The First Symphony is a work of great assurance and freshness, in the traditional four movements. The opening movement with its rather pithy themes is a textbook sonata-allegro, working towards a neat climax. The andante is the longest movement, but thanks to its strongly felt melody, returning in various guises, it effortlessly sustains its length. The scherzo sounds like a Norwegian peasant dance and the finale blasts the symphony towards a triumphant ending. A most charming and youthful work.
Recording listened to: Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons on EMI (with Svendsen's 2nd symphony)


[Raff - image Wikipedia]

10. Joachim Raff, Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 153 "Im Walde" [1869]
How radically reputations can change is vividly illustrated by the case of Raff (1822-1882). Regarded in his lifetime by colleagues, critics and audiences alike as one of the foremost composers of the romantic era, a musician of world renown, after his death Raff was almost immediately forgotten. He was among the most performed of living composers, not only in concert halls but also in homes, but after 1882 only his trifling Cavatina remained popular... This is now slowly changing again, as many of his works have been recorded on CD. Although in some instances technical virtuosity takes the place of inspiration, generally speaking Raff deserves to be reinstated to the place he occupied in his own time. Raff was born in Switzerland and was largely self-taught in music. In 1844 his piano compositions were recommended by Mendelssohn to Breitkopf & Härtel, and this publication was next favorably reviewed by Schumann. From 1850 to 1853 Raff worked as amanuensis of Liszt, assisting in the orchestration of several of Liszt's works. In 1856 Raff moved to Wiesbaden and started to devote himself mainly to composition. In 1878 he became the first Director of the prestigious Conservatory in Frankfurt. By his teaching and his innovations Raff influenced composers as diverse as Mahler, Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky. Raff wrote eleven numbered symphonies, in which he often combined the classical symphonic form with the Romantic penchant for program music on the one hand, and contrapuntal writing harking back to the Baroque, on the other. Many of his symphonies carry descriptive titles, often connected with nature or the seasons. The third symphony of 1869 consolidated Raff's fame - in Raff's time it was hailed as a masterpiece, and indeed it boasts inventive orchestration and abundance of melody. Each of the four movements has a descriptive subtitle. The joyful opening allegro is called "Daytime. Impressions and feelings," and depicts the feeling of liberation during a walk in the forest. Bird song fragments are interspersed with horn calls. After a powerful development, the movement ends on a tranquil note. The second and third movements have been linked together. The serene Brahmsian largo is called "At twilight - Dreaming," and is notable for its clarinet obbligato and expansive string melody. The mercurial scherzo is called "Dance of the Nyads" and has a close affinity to the Mendelssohn of the Midsummer Night's Dream. The finale is called "Night....still murmurings.....the wild hunt of Hulda & Wotan......sunrise." After first depicting the sleeping forest with a canonic figure in the lower strings, the frenzied sounds of a wild hunt take over. But after the vehemence dies down, the first light of dawn penetrates the forest, and the opening figure is transformed into a hymn of thanksgiving for the passing of the night.
There is an excellent website dedicated to the music of Raff.
Recording listened to:  The Philharmonia conducted by Francesco D'Avalon on ASV

11. Richard Hol, Symphony No. 3 in B flat major op. 101 [1884]
To restore the balance somewhat (Dutch classical music is one big black hole, thanks to the disinterest of the Dutch in their own musical culture) here is another Dutch symphony, by a composer who is even less known than than the previously discussed Wilms. Richard Hol (1825 – 1904) was a Dutch composer and conductor, born and educated in Amsterdam, but mainly active in the central Dutch city of Utrecht, where from 1875 he served as director of the Stedelijke Muziekschool. His most prominent pupil was Johan Wagenaar. The third symphony by Hol was dedicated to Anton Rubinstein - in 1867 Hol had conducted Rubinstein's Ocean Symphony (see above) and he may also have met the composer during the latter's Dutch tour a year later. Although basically a conservative composer in the German tradition, Hol's instrumentation and harmony here are relatively daring. The Mendelssohnian scherzo is enchanting and fairylike. Even more accomplished is the intimate Night Music of the slow movement. The suitably exuberant finale quotes material from the opening allegro, to make the circle round. This certainly is an interesting symphony that deserves to be heard.
Recording listened to:  Residentie Orchestra The Hague conducted by Matthias Bamert on Chandos (with Hol's 1st Symphony - both premiere recordings; Chandos has recorded all four symphonies by Hol)

[Stanford - image Wikipedia]

12. Charles Villiers Stanford, Symphony No. 3 in F minor, Op. 28 "Irish" [1887]
The English have done much more for their musical heritage than the previously mentioned Dutch, and although British 19th century music (everything before Elgar) was also forgotten in the 20th c., the situation now has completely changed. All relevant composers have been recorded, often several times. One of these is the Irish composer, music teacher, and conductor Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852 – 1924). Stanford came from a well-to-do and musical family in Dublin and was educated at Cambridge, and later also in Leipzig and Berlin. He was organist of Trinity College, Cambridge, and became one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music, where he taught for the rest of his life. Among his pupils were Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Stanford had a great success with his music in the last two decades of the 19th c., before being eclipsed by Elgar and modernism. He was in the first place famous for his choral music, but he also composed seven symphonies, solo concertos, and chamber music. His most popular symphony was the third, nicknamed "the Irish," which enjoyed immediate and widespread success, and continued to be played at concerts well into the 20th c. Although the work stands squarely within the Austro-German symphonic tradition, the "Irish" subtitle indicates its frequent use of genuine folk-tunes. The first movement opens with appealing material. The work's Irish character comes to the fore in the scherzo, with its hopping rhythms. In its own time much of the fame of this symphony rested on the slow movement, one of the most moving pieces Stanford ever composed. The traditional Irish tune used here is "The Lament of the Sons of Usnach" (also used by Bax in the final movement of his oboe quintet, and having an eerie resemblance to the third movement of Brahms Fourth Symphony). In the vivacious finale, two Irish tunes are quoted: "Molly McAlpin" and "Let Erin remember the days of old" - the latter one, announced on four horns, concludes the symphony on a triumphant note.
Recording listened to:  Ulster Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley on Chandos (with Irish Rhapsody No. 5)

13. Zdenek Fibich, Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 38 [1893]
After the Biedermeier-period had ended around the middle of the century, high Romanticism followed, which also saw the birth of nationalistic movements in the various parts of the Habsburg Empire, and in other European countries. In Bohemia (the later Czech republic) this nationalism was embodied in the music of Smetana and Dvorak. Their younger contemporary Zdenek Fibich (1850 - 1900), however, was not overtly nationalistic, although he used Czech color and energy - Fibich rather embraced the German-Austrian tradition. Fibich was trained in Vienna, Paris, Leipzig and Mannheim and was the best educated among his Czech contemporaries. He worked first as a conductor, but after 1881 would apply himself wholly to composing. He wrote in all genres - his piano pieces collected under the title Moods, Impressions and Souvenirs are his most famous work. He wrote three symphonies. The second symphony incorporates melodies from the above mentioned piano work, which was a sort of musical diary of his love affair with Aneika Schulzová, a pupil for whom he left his second wife. This is in the adagio, which follows the passionate first movement. A yearning melody is heard with appealing mid-lower string writing, recalling the start of the composer's love affair with Schulzová. After the more lighthearted scherzo we have a vigorous finale which dances along, now and then interrupted by more graceful, romantic themes. Fibich's music is always highly melodic and attractive.
Recording listened to: Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi on Chandos (with Fibich's 3rd symphony)

14. George Whitefield Chadwick, Symphony No. 3 in F major [1894]
The Boston-based composer Chadwick (1854-1931) was a representative of the New England School of American composers of the late 19th century - together with Horatio Parker, Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, and Edward MacDowell. Chadwick created a voluminous oeuvre in every medium - his works include operas, three symphonies, five very fine string quartets, tone poems, incidental music, songs and anthems. Chadwick studied for two years in Leipzig with Carl Reinecke, and after that with Rheinberger in Munich. Back in Boston, he served as director of the New England Conservatory. He also was active as a conductor and organist. Any American (or for that matter, "just any") composer wanting to write a symphony in the last decades of the 19th c. had to confront the fact that the symphonic tradition was German-Austrian, in its models, its musical materials, its architecture and the nature of the musical discourse. In other words, it is not surprising that Chadwick's third symphony has a Brahmsian quality. The first movement is a well-designed sonata-allegro with lovely melodic passages and strong development. The Andante is rather dramatic, with a grand climax, while the Vivace is a delicate movement with a saltarello opening. The work is concluded by a robust finale, featuring memorable melodies.
Recording listened to: Detroit Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi on Chandos (with Chadwick's 2nd symphony)

15. Albéric Magnard, Symphony No. 3 in B flat minor, Op. 11 [1896]
The French composer Albéric Magnard (1865-1914) has already been introduced in my post on The Best Cello Sonatas. He was a man with a small but very fine output, influenced by Franck, but also with a style which is all his own. Magnard wrote four symphonies. His Third Symphony was composed in 1896, the same year as Bruckners No. 9 and Mahler's No. 3. For Magnard, it was the year of his marriage and his obtaining a position as counterpoint tutor at the recently founded Schola Cantorum. Despite that, his symphony is in B flat minor, a surly and discontented key. Not surprisingly therefore that the Introduction to the symphony is dressed in the garment of night, with only here and there a twinkling light. The second movement, Danses, is an explosif presto, Magnard's lightest and truest scherzo. The third movement is a Pastorale, a string dominated intense outpouring, that meanders along while its idyll is constantly undermined by turbulence. After that, the finale comes as a grand, life-enhancing experience. There are many magic moments in this music. Magnard wrote large symphonies rare for French music, and was therefore sometimes called "the French Bruckner," although he has a bit more of Mahler in my view. We end with the question I posed at the beginning: shouldn't orchestras be looking for more good pieces to play - like this symphony and the fourteen others introduced here - instead of continuing to sleepwalk through only a few famous ones?
Recording listened to:  Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse conducted by Michel Plasson on EMI (with Magnard's first symphony)

Written with information from the CD booklets, Wikipedia, etc. Some of the recommended CDs may not be available anymore (or the names of the labels may have changed)
Posts about classical music include:

August 26, 2013

The Best Cello Sonatas (Classical music review)

When Vivaldi was born in 1678 in Venice, the word violoncello had just entered the vocabulary. But the instrument itself was already a hundred years old: the earliest examples of the cello date from the workshops of Amati in the mid-sixteenth century - although at that time the instrument was called "basso viola da braccio." It was not until the second half of the seventeenth century that the cello assumed an identity of its own and was promoted from its position as an accompanying instrument. It was also at that time, in the 1680s, that compositions for solo cello started to appear. In Italy, the birthplace of the cello, the composition for solo music soon flourished... and the rest is history.

The history of the cello sonata resembles that of the cello concerto, with relatively few sonatas in the first half of the 19th c., but a great flowering in the later 19th and 20th c. - see my post about the best cello concertos.

In my list of favorite cello works I have included not only sonatas for cello and piano (or basso continuo in the 18th c.), but also sonatas and suites for cello solo.


Here is my list of favorite cello sonatas:

1. Johann Sebastian Bach, Suite No. 5 for Unaccompanied Cello [1717-23]
The Six suites for unaccompanied cello by Bach display an amazing wealth of color, character, and technical and compositional brilliance. Not surprisingly, they are the most frequently performed solo compositions for the violoncello. They were most likely composed during the period 1717–1723, when Bach served as a Kapellmeister in Köthen. In all suites an opening prelude is followed by the four standard suite movements, allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Bach in addition inserts a pair of fashionable dances before the final gigue: a pair of gavottes, minuets or a bourree. In the 5th suite (like the 6th) Bach is trying to extend the possibilities of the cello. He entitled it "Suite discordable," and instructed that the A string be tuned down to G. The prelude in the 5th suite is a French overture with a grand imposing introduction exploring the deep range of the cello and quasi fugal middle section. This suite is above all famous for its intimate Sarabande, which is rare in that doesn't contain any chords. It is like an intimate prayer and has been called "the essence of Bach's genius," or "an extension of silence." The Courante and Gigue of this suite are in the French style, rather than the Italian form as in the other five suites. Before the Gigue, we have a pair of Gavottes. There is beautiful video of this suite called "Struggle for Hope" (on Sony) where Yo-yo Ma sits playing, while the Japanese onnagata Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo dances around him in elaborate drag costume on a candle-lit stage.
Recording listened to: Bach, 6 Suites a Violoncello solo senza Basso, with Anner Bylsma, Baroque cello, on SEON (RCA). Authentic instrument and playing style.

2. Antonio Vivaldi, Sonata for Violoncello and Basso continuo in E minor, RV 40 [1720s-30s, pub. 1740]
Vivaldi wrote at least nine cello sonatas. Six of these were published as a set in 1740. From a structural point of view Vivaldi's cello sonatas are conventional, adopting the form of the Sonata da chiesa (four movements in slow/fast/slow/fast configuration). The sonatas do, however, bear the stamp of Vivaldi's genius, in the spontaneity of the inspiration, and in the exceptionally light texture. They of course also carry Vivaldi's hallmark, the obsessive repetition of simple rhythmic and melodic cells. That Vivaldi fully appreciated the lyrical quality of the cello is especially clear from the 5th sonata of the set, which I have singled out here. As Christophe Coin, the cellist, says in the CD booklet: "In the second largo of the E minor sonata, the hypnotic rhythm of the bass propels the piece along like the oar of a gondola whilst above it unfolds a moving serenade." The second movement of this sonata provides interesting contrasts between solo and tutti, as in Vivaldi's concertos.
Recording listened to: Vivaldi, 6 Cello Sonatas, with Christophe Coin, cello and Christopher Hogwood, harpsichord, on L'Oiseau Lyre. Authentic instruments and playing style.


[Boccherini - Image Wikipedia]

3. Luigi Boccherini, Sonata for Violoncello and Basso continuo in E-flat major, G. 10. [pub. 1771]
Boccherini was a prolific composer for the cello, his own instrument - he composed over 30 sonatas for cello and basso continuo. They require a high degree of technical skill and may have been written for his own use during his Italian concert tours. In Boccherini's works (also the concertos, quintets etc.) the cello possesses an almost magical tone. The versatile instrument assumes the role of alto and sometimes even soprano, but can also be melancholy, or witty, or extremely virtuoso. The cello sonatas are in three movements: fast, slow and one in a moderate tempo. The sonata in E-flat major starts off with a fast movement characterized by strongly accented rhythms. After a tender adagio, a gentle menuetto provides closure. This sonata was part of a set of six published in London in 1771; in the late 19th c. it was edited by the cellist Piatti, who changed the order of the movements (putting the adagio first) and added a keyboard accompaniment. Skip this bowdlerized version and try to listen to the authentic work!
Recording listened to: Boccherini, Cello Sonatas - Fugues for 2 Cellos, with Anner Bylsma, cello, on Vivarte (Sony). Authentic instruments and playing style.

4. Beethoven, Sonata for Cello and Piano in A major, Op. 69 [1808]
Among the five cello sonatas that Beethoven wrote, this is the most expressive piece, in the typical self-confident style of the composer of the first decade of the 1800s. It was written in 1808 and dedicated to Beethoven's friend and amateur cellist Baron Ignaz von Gleichenstein. The A major key creates a beautiful lyrical world. The first movement opens almost stealthily, like the Fourth Piano Concerto - the cello entering softly and unaccompanied. The second movement is a typical Beethoven scherzo, with a waltz-like trio. A brief Adagio leads soon into the sunny Allegro Vivace dominated by the first subject announced by the cello.
Recording listened to: Beethoven, Cello Sonatas opp. 69, 102; Variations on Mozart's "Bei Mannern," with Anthony Pleeth, cello and Melvyn Tan, fortepiano, on Hyperion. Authentic instruments and playing style.

5. Mendelssohn, Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in D major, Op. 58 [1843]
A passionate, even exultant work written in 1843. The sonata is in four movements. The torrents of arpeggios in the piano in the first Allegro assai vivace sometimes almost overwhelm the singing lines of the cello. After a lighthearted Allegretto scherzando with the cello playing plucked notes follows the heart of the sonata, an Adagio that mirrors Mendelssohn's fascination with the music of Bach - it consists of a chorale played by the piano in rich arpeggios, and alternated with passionate recitative-like passages in the cello. The final brilliant Molto allegro e vivace mirrors the splendidly cheerful mood of the beginning of the sonata. It has something of the incidental music for the "Midsummer Night's Dream," which Mendelssohn wrote in the same year.
Recording listened to: Mendelssohn, Complete music for cello and piano, with Richard Lester, cello, and Susan Tomes, piano, on LDR

6. Carl Reinecke, Sonata No.1 in a minor for Cello and Piano, Op.42 [1847-48, pub. 1855]
Carl  Reinecke (1824-1910) was a German composer, conductor and pianist, who was also very important as an educator. Among his many students were Grieg, Bruch, Janacek, Albeniz, Sinding, Svendsen, Reznicek, Delius, Arthur Sullivan and George Chadwick, to name a few. He eventually rose to the position of Director of the Leipzig Conservatory and also served as the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He composed in virtually every genre, from opera to orchestral and chamber music. His flute sonata Undine is perhaps his most famous work. Reinecke wrote three cello sonatas. The first one was composed in 1848 and published in 1855; it was dedicated to a cellist from the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Andreas Grabau. The sonata became very popular and at the request of his publisher Reinecke also made a version for violin. It starts with a passionate Allegro moderato, that is enhanced by contrasts and interesting modulations. This is followed by a simple melodious slow movement with much beauty in the treatment of harmony. After the charming and rhythmically appealing Intermezzo, the work concludes with a vigorous and noble finale, full of swing and life.
Recording listened to: Claudius Herrmann, cello, and Saiko Sasaki, on CPO (containing all three cello sonatas by Reinecke).


[Alkan - Photo Wikipedia]

7. Charles-Valentin Alkan, Sonata de concert for Cello and Piano in E major, Op. 47 [1856]
Charles-Valentin Alkan (1813 – 1888) was an eccentric French composer and pianist. At the height of his fame in the 1830s and 1840s he was together with Chopin and Liszt one of the leading virtuoso pianists in Paris. But from 1848 he began to adopt a reclusive lifestyle, concentrating on his compositions. Alkan's music, that was almost exclusively for the piano, possesses complex musical textures and is notoriously difficult to play. That is also true for the ambitious Sonate de concert for cello and piano, which, in its juxtaposition of the sublime and the trivial is said to anticipate Mahler. The four movements feature progressive tonality, each ascending by a major third. The opening movement has great symphonic weight, the delicious Allegrettino has a sort of wayward charm (thanks to its surprising turns of harmony), the austere Adagio seems to be inspired by Jewish sacred music, and the virtuoso "alla saltarella" finale ends the work on a note of insanity.
Recording listened to: Bernhard Schwartz, cello, and Rainer Klaus, piano (from the Trio Alkan), on Naxos 

8. Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger, Cello Sonata in C Major, Op.92 [1875]
Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901) was born in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. He studied at the Royal Conservatory in Munich where his teacher was Franz Lachner. Rheinberger himself would eventually hold the position of Professor of Composition in the same conservatory for nearly 40 years. Although now strangely only known for his organ compositions, he wrote in all genres and was especially strong in chamber music. He wrote one cello sonata, which was dedicated to the great cellist (and cello composer) David Popper. The symphonic opening movement begins with a broad singing theme in the cello that immediately catches the attention of the listener. In the lyrical Andantino, the middle movement, a gorgeous duet between cello and piano ensues. The bouncy finale is lighthearted in nature, but "Professor of Composition Rheinberger" also manages to weave short fugues between the virtuoso episodes. 
Recording listened to: Orchester-Akademie des Berliner Philharmonischen Orchesters, on Thorofon (with Piano Quartet and Horn Sonata)

9. Giuseppe Martucci, Sonata for Cello and Piano in F sharp minor, Op. 52 [1880]
Giuseppe Martucci (1856 – 1909) was an Italian composer, conductor, pianist and teacher, who worked hard at the difficult task of interesting the Italians in other music than those eternal operas - he composed two symphonies and two piano concertos as well as a large body of chamber and piano music. His cello sonata is the only one of any importance written in Italy during the 19th c. - quite a change from the 18th c. that had been so rich in cello music! Although written when he was only 24 years of age, it is a creatively rich work, laid out in four movements. While the first theme of the opening movement is marked by a nervous rhythmic cell, the long second theme is of great breadth and fully exploits the cello's possibilities. The second movement gives us an inventive and joyful scherzo. The intermezzo is a simple andante with a languid tone. The finale constitutes a brilliant rondo, full of virtuoso playing on both instruments.
Recording listened to: Andrea Nannoni, cello, and Giovanna Prestia, piano, on Fonè.

10. Robert Fuchs, Cello Sonata No. 1 in D minor, Op. 29 [1881]
The Austrian Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) studied at the University of Vienna Conservatory, where he later became Professor of Composition - he was the teacher of Gustav Mahler, Hugo Wolf, Franz Schmidt, Alexander Zemlinsky and Franz Schreker. He lived a quiet life and did little to promote his own compositions. Fuchs wrote two cello sonatas. The first one was published in 1881 and dedicated to David Popper. Brahms recommended the sonata as follows: "Fuchs is probably the most beguiling talent here... I believe the Cello Sonata to be his best and most accomplished work." The work opens with a big Allegro Moderato that should be played very calmly as Fuchs indicated. It opens with a quiet, sustained, but modulated melody for the cello. The thematic material is of a melancholy nature and the movement is not without pathos. The second movement is a Scherzo. The rests incorporated in the first theme give it a peculiar hesitating character. The third and last movement begins with a slow richly-scored introduction, after which the final Allegro non troppo ma giocoso blasts away the clouds. It has a sprightly, dance-like first theme, which leads to a triumphant conclusion.
Recording listened to: Nancy Green, cello, and Caroline Palmer, piano, on Biddulph

11. Johannes Brahms, Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Op. 99 [1886]
Brahms wrote two cello sonatas, twenty years apart from each other. But while the first sonata was based on the elusive style Beethoven used in his last two cello sonatas, this later work, a product of Brahms' middle years, is the one that exudes a strong youthful boldness (it is contemporaneous with the Fourth Symphony). The sonata has four movements and is in a symphonic mood with a heroic cast and a sonorous richness. Although it features a turbulent rhetoric, it never sacrifices a generous, easy lyricism. The problem of the instrumental balance is deftly handled. The first movement has an ardent second subject and a relatively dark development section, but youthful assurance returns in the recapitulation. The Adagio affetuoso has a noble first theme, with the cello providing a pizzicato accompaniment. The Scherzo has a stormy character. The final Rondo is light and songlike, and overall sunny.
Recording listened to: Raphael Wallfisch, cello, and Peter Wallfisch, piano, on Chandos (with Brahms' first cello sonata).

12. Sergey Rachmaninov, Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op. 19 [1901]
Rachmaninov's late-Romantic outpourings are very well suited to the cello, although the piano has to do the hardest work in this sonata. The composer's only cello sonata dates from the same period as his famous Piano Concerto No. 2. The score is dedicated to cellist Anatoly Brandukov. The opening Lento - Allegro moderato is windswept music, with a conflict between semitones and whole tones, bouncing up and down between anxiety and delight. The Scherzo makes one feel like a dark night full of unease, although there is relief in a contrasting central section with a cantilena for the cello. The passionate Andante features a gloriously romantic melody. But it is the finale that carries the crown of the whole sonata: there is a blazing joy here in the glorious main melody, like the triumphant feelings at the Russian Easter.
Recording listened to: Yuri Turovsky, cello and Luba Edlina, piano, on Chandos (with the 2nd Myaskovsky cello sonata)

[Julius Röntgen. Photo Wikipedia]

13. Julius Engelbert RöntgenCello Sonata No.5 in b minor, Op.56 [1907]
The German-Dutch pianist and composer Julius Röntgen (1855-1932) studied with Carl Reinecke and Franz Lachner. He is above all remembered for his contributions to Dutch music life. In 1877 Röntgen moved to Amsterdam and taught piano there, helping to found the Amsterdam Conservatory and the subsequently world famous Concertgebouw Orchestra. After WWI he became a naturalized Dutch citizen. In 1924, after retiring from public life, he built the villa Gaudeamus in Bilthoven near Utrecht, with a circular music room that did not touch the ground, which became a meeting point for international composers and musicians. Julius Röntgen's 800 compositions include 25 symphonies, concertos (7 piano concertos, 3 violin concertos, 3 cello concertos, etc.), as well as numerous chamber, piano and vocal works. Though he wrote in most genres, chamber music was his most important area, among which we find fourteen (!) cello sonatas. His Fifth Cello Sonata dates from 1907. It opens with a grand Moderato, which is full of dramatic passion. The dark-toned Allegro con moto has elements of a scherzo and an intermezzo. Next comes a lovely slow movement, a tender Poco adagio. The final movement is called Molto passionato e vivace, but the sonata ends on a soft and lyrical note.
Recording listened to: Jean Decroos, cello, and Daniele Dechenne, piano, on Ars Produktion (the first CD of the collected cello sonatas)

14. Albéric Magnard, Cello Sonata in A Major, Op.20 [1910]
Albéric Magnard (1865-1914) was born in Paris and studied at the Paris Conservatoire, with Théodore Dubois, Jules Massenet and Vincent d'Indy. He was born into a wealthy family, so he didn't really have to work, which is perhaps the reason that his musical output numbers only 22 opus numbers. Besides symphonies, he wrote a piano trio, a string quartet and some instrumental sonatas. His style is typical of French composers of his generation: heavily influenced by Cesar Franck - but one can think of worse influences. Magnard died in 1914 defending his property against the invading Germans. The cello sonata is quite elaborate and in four movements. The first movement starts with a lyrical theme. The second movement is a short scherzo, dominated by strong rhythms of a Stravinskian savagery. The third movement, a nobly sad Funebre, follows without a pause, and is the expressive core of the sonata. The spirited finale is full of good humor and liveliness.
Recording listened to: Thomas Demenga, cello, and Christoph Keller, piano, on Accord (with Magnard's Promenades pour piano)


[Reger - Photo Wikipedia}

15. Max Reger, Suite for Solo Cello No 3 in a minor, Op. 131c [1914]
Reger's three suites for solo cello were his final cello works - he also wrote four sonatas for cello and piano. The solo sonatas were composed in Meiningen in the autumn of 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the Great European War, and they represent an important undertaking in the spirit of the solo suites of Bach. They contain some of Reger's most lyrical and eloquent music. The Suite No. 1 ends with a fugue and the Suite No. 2 has associations with the Bach of the cello suites in the employment of dance forms like Gavotte and Gigue. The Suite No. 3 is the longest and most elaborate of the three. It contains three movements. The Präludium begins with a solemn chordal statement that is contrasted with more melodic writing. The overall movement is very expressive. The second movement is an ebullient Scherzo. The last movement, Andante con variazioni, is a crowning sequence of variations which constitutes a high-point of all writing for the solo cello.
Recording listened to: Guido Schiefen, cello, on Arte Nova (all three solo cello sonatas by Reger).

16. Zoltán Kodály, Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello in B minor, Op. 8 [1915]
The Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) wrote his sonata for solo cello in 1915. It was first performed in 1918, a delay due to the war, and published in 1921. It is filled to the brim with the Hungarian folk idiom which was the most important influence on Kodály's musical style: melodies with rhythms and pitch patterns suggestive of Hungarian children's songs and a free improvisatory melodic style.  This second feature is clear in the opening melody of the present sonata. Rubato is the key here. It is a majestic movement, full of bold gestures, but ending in a melancholic coda. The central Adagio is a dark and meandering piece, leading into a desolate folksong. The finale is wild folksong medley, with the cello now playing as a bagpipe, then as a zither. The sonata ends with an extended, climactic build-up which demands the utmost from the cellist.
Recording listened to: Janos Starker, cello, on Delos

17. Frederick Delius, Cello Sonata in D Major [1916]
Frederick Delius (1862-1934) was born in England to German Parents. He studied music at the Leipzig Conservatory with Carl Reinecke. Afterwards, he settled in France, where he remained for the rest of his life, except during the WWI. Delius wrote in a languorous, lyrical style, which is also evident in his cello sonata. It dates from 1916, while he was living in England. The rhapsodic sonata is cast in one continuous movement. The themes are both wistful and imbued with a nostalgic reverie. It is expressive and heartfelt music of haunting beauty.
Recording listened to: Moray Welsh, cello, and Israela Margalit, piano, on EMI Classics (with Delius' violin sonatas)

18. Nikolai Andreyevich Roslavets, Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 [1922]
The Russian composer Nikolay Andreyevich Roslavets (1880-1944) was a modernist who was active in the Soviet Union in the 1920s - a period of artistic experimentation that lasted only briefly until the Soviet regime repressed the avant-garde. As regards style, Roslavets was inspired by Scriabin and his synesthesia. But he soon developed his own ideas, consisting of a new system of tone organization and the principle of the "synthetic chord." "Synthetic chords" are sound complexes made up of six to ten tones, central to individual works of which they define the parameters (comparable to Schoenberg's Twelve Tone method). This system had reached maturity by the time the Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 was written in 1922. As the booklet states, "It opens with crystal-clear piano chords like frozen teardrops." This soon develops into an introspective and meditative sound world. The lyrical moods are separated by the insertions of lucid piano chords. A very interesting sonata that deserves to be pulled out of obscurity.
Recording listened to: Alexander Ivashkin, cello, and Tatyana Lazareva, piano, on Chandos (Roslavet's complete music for cello and piano)

19. Alexander Tcherepnin, Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1, Op. 29 [1924]
Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977) was born into a cultured family in St. Petersburg where "music was religion." By age 15 Tcherepnin was already a prolific composer. After the Revolution the family moved to Georgia (where Tcherepnin was inspired by folk music) and then to Paris. Tcherepnin followed an international career as composer-pianist. In the 1930s, his tours also brought him to Japan and China (his second wife was a Chinese pianist). Tcherepnin created his own harmonic language, involving the use of synthetic scales. He wrote concertos, symphonies, ballets, and three operas. In the early 1920s, Tcherepnin produced three cello sonatas as well as the original "The Well-Tempered Cello," a set of 12 preludes on his original scale. The first sonata is typical: it is concise and brilliant, characterized by manic toccatas, scintillating ostinati, and soulful Russian melodic invention. Both instruments often play at the extreme end of their register. Also here Tcherepnin uses a personal, oriental-sounding nine-note scale. The hammering rhythms call the young Prokofiev of the same period to mind. Stunning music that has been unjustly forgotten.
Recording listened to: Alexander Ivashkin, cello, and Geoffrey Tozer, piano, on Chandos (Tcherepnin's complete music for cello and piano)


20. Dmitri Shostakovich, Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40 [1934]
The Sonata for Cello and Piano was one of Shostakovich's early works, composed in 1934, a time at which he had been mainly busy with stage works. It was dedicated to the cellist Viktor Kubatsky, who also gave the first performance. The sonata is in four movements. The Moderato begins with a pensive if restless melody from the cello over a closely-related piano accompaniment. The general feeling is one of impending tragedy. At the end of the movement stands an unusual pianissimo "recapitulation" section which seems to be in slow motion. The Allegro is among the earliest of Shostakovich's sardonic scherzos, with the perpetual motion energy that we now think of as typical for this composer. The piano introduces the rhythmically forceful, folk-inflected main theme over a churning cello accompaniment. The Largo is a soulful romance that draws on a lineage going down to Tchaikovsky. The final Allegro is an ebullient rondo finale - with an inclination toward rather grotesque and cynical humor. The movement ends in decisive brilliance.
Recording listened to: Yuki Turovsky, cello, and Luba Edlina, piano, on Chandos (with Prokofiev's cello sonata).

21. Bohuslav Martinu, Sonata for Cello and Piano no. 3 [1952]
The Czech Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) was a prolific composer who felt at home in all genres. In 1923 he left his country for Paris, and in 1939 he emigrated to the Unites States. He wrote three cello sonatas, of which the third is the most immediately appealing. It was written at Vieux-Moulin near Paris in the autumn of 1952 during the interlude between the composer's two periods of residence in America. The sonata is dedicated to the memory of the Dutch-American cellist Hans Kindler. It is full of attractive Czech melodies. Like Martinu's two earlier cello sonatas, this final one is laid out in three movements. The first movement is a somewhat restrained Moderato with a formal introduction marked Poco andante. This is followed by an Andante. The concluding virtuoso Allegro ma non presto contains much humour and ends with a big bounce. A supremely crafted piece of music.
Recording listened to: Steven Isserlis, cello, and Peter Evans, piano, on Hyperion (with the other two Martinu cello sonatas)

22. Mieszyslaw (Moishei) Vainberg (Weinberg), Sonata for Solo Cello No. 3, Op. 106 [1971]
Vainberg's solo cello sonatas have been likened in importance to the suites of J.S. Bach. They were composed between 1960 and 1985, the odd-numbered ones dedicated to Rostropovich and the even-numbered ones to Berlinsky of the Borodin Quartet. No. 3, dating from 1971, was written in a small town, "Silver Forest Park," just outside Moscow. This lyrical solo sonata is a substantial tour de force. It starts with an allegro in classical sonata form. The first theme reminds one of Bach, the second one is march-like. Both are worked out in a virtuoso development section. The following Allegretto is a charming miniature scherzo. The Lento has a broad melodic arch and almost infinite lyrical declamatory power. The final Presto is rather understated and starts off with a sort of 20th c. ghost of Schumann.  This sonata makes a good claim for granting Vainberg a position in the "Soviet composer triumvirate," besides Shostakovich and Myaskovsky.
Recording listened to: Yosif Feigelson, cello, on Olympia (with solo cello sonatas 2 and 4).


[Rostropovich and Britten
- Photo Wikipedia]

23. Benjamin Britten, Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 Op. 87 [1972]
Britten's three Cello Suites were inspired by the personality and technique of Mstislav Rostropovich. While looking up at the great precedent of Bach, they at the same time distance themselves from it.  The third suite is the most passionate of the three. The nine movements are played without a break. The suite includes a sequence of Russian folk songs and variations culminating in the Russian Hymn for the Departed, the Kontakion. The sonata, however, is not comforting but rather moves into angst-ridden regions. The Lento starts off with pizzicato death knells and the Marcia has all the paranoia of the best Shostakovich. After a mournful Canto, the Barcarolle seems to hint at some happier feelings, but breaks down into the schizophrenic Dialogo. The ensuing Fugue provides some calm, but that is short lived, as the Recitativo: Fantastico brings on the nightmares again. The Moto perpetuo is permeated with horror, the final Passacaglia is also filled with of darkness and uncertainty, until concluding with the simple glory of the Kontakion.
Recording listened to: Steven Isserlis, cello, on Virgin Classics (with The Protecting Veil by Taverner)


Written with information from the CD booklets, Wikipedia, etc. Some of the recommended CDs may not be available anymore (or the names of the labels may have changed)
Posts about classical music include:

August 18, 2013

The Stories of Henry James (3): "The Middle Years," 1885-1891 (Book Review)

In 1886, James took for the first time a flat which he furnished himself, in De Vere Gardens in London. In this year he also published The Bostonians and The Princess Cassamassima, two novels concerned with political issues, a rarity in James' work. In 1997 followed a long stay in Italy - including Venice -, which led to "The Aspern Papers." In Italy James also frequently met his friend Constance Fenimore Woolson (grand-niece of Fenimore Cooper), but he remained a bachelor.

In 1888 the non-fiction book Partial Portraits, which essays on such various writers as Turgenev and De Maupassant, was written.

In 1889 James published another novel, The Tragic Muse, and from around this time dates his obsession with the theatre - although there was also a practical, financial reason: his stories and essays/articles sold well enough to various magazines, but the income from novels was very small. James hoped a successful play would improve his income. The years 1890-95 are therefore called "the dramatic years." James dramatised The American which had a short run, but four other comedies he wrote were all refused by producers.


The stories from this period date almost all from either 1888 or 1891. It is clear James had less time to write his "tales," although one of them, "The Aspern Papers," is one of the best he ever wrote - if not the best.

As regards themes, although James continues to set his stories in international environments, the theme of the "cultural clash" between Americans and Europeans has become rare (a rather virulent exception is "Two Countries"). But we do find the "fear of marriage" theme time and again, in "The Aspern Papers," and turned on its head in "The Lesson of the Master." We also find the theme of "the tormented child", which had been started in "The Author of Beltraffio," and is here continued in "The Pupil". Several other stories continue the theme of the "unexpected resolution" in masterful ways, showing how efforts to meddle in the lives of others lead to unwanted or even tragic results.

There are no stories from the years 1885 and 1886. In the years 1887 to 1891 James wrote the following stories: 

"Mrs. Temperly" [1887]
First published in Harper’s Weekly, August 1887. Original title "Cousin Maria." First book edition in A London life, etc., London / New York, Macmillan, 1889. 
Raymond, a would-be artist with no prospects wants to marry the eldest daughter, Dora, of a rich widow, Mrs Temperly. Both mother and daughter ask him to wait. Five years later he visits the family in Paris - he even poorer, Mrs Temperly even richer.  Again Dora keeps him politely at bay. A third time, at a grand musical evening, Raymond again tries his luck. Now Dora explains marriage with him would impact negatively on the prospects of her two younger sisters. They have to wait until the sisters are grown up and married. Is he willing to wait - even very long (the second sister seems to have a growth disorder, so "long" could well be "indefinite")?
GutenbergThe Ladder.

[Stresa on Lake Maggiore from "Louisa Pallant" - Photo Wikipedia]

"Louisa Pallant" [1888]
First published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for February 1888. First book edition in The Aspern Papers, etc. (1888). Also included in The New York Edition of James' work (1907-09). 
In the German spa town of Homburg, the narrator meets Louisa Pallant and her pretty young daughter Linda. Louisa was his old love, who jilted him for Mr Pallant (now deceased), and so destroyed his youth - he has remained a bachelor ever since. Now his nephew Archie falls in love with Linda and history seems about to repeat itself. But Louisa takes effective measures to separate the couple - as she tells the narrator, this is her atonement for the wrong she did him in the past. As Louisa explains, her daughter has the faults of the mother and because of her peculiar upbringing is cold as stone and only out to marry money. The narrator half thinks the ladies are aiming higher than Archie - and indeed, he later reads in the paper Linda has married a very rich Englishman. Archie remains single, like the narrator - so has history after all repeated itself? Was separating the couple an act of generosity, or was it a second jilt?
Gutenberg; The Ladder.

[Venice, the setting of "The Aspern Papers" - Photo Wikipedia]

"The Aspern Papers" [1888]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, March-May 1888. The same year reprinted by James in book form with other stories as The Aspern Papers, etc. Also included in The New York Edition of James' work (1907-09). 
James was deeply in love with Italy and in this story, the city of Venice is one of the "characters" - its past has almost become palpable. "The Aspern Papers" is an exploration of literary reputation and the relationship between authors and readers. The unnamed narrator, an American writer and biographer of the famous (fictional) poet Jeffrey Aspern hears that Aspern's former lover, the American Miss Juliana Bordereau, is living in seclusion in an old palazzo in Venice. At an extremely high age and an invalid, she presumably is in the possession of love letters from the poet. The narrator manages to rent rooms from her (she wants the money as a dowry for her niece, Tina, who is living with her, but who herself is already an "old spinster") so that he can secretly hunt for the letters. A case of ruthless literary scholarship! Much of the suspenseful action takes place in the palazzo, with the principals spying on each other and conducting occasional conversations in the halls and garden. There is also tension between the two women, as Miss Tina is a virtual prisoner in the palazzo. She begins to consider the narrator as a possible savior, but there James' "fear of marriage" theme kicks in at full force.  So we have the knotty situation that the narrator wants the papers, Juliana Bordereau tries to thwart his plans while extracting money from him, and Miss Tina sees him as a way out of her captivity in the palazzo - she will even get the letters for him, if.... A stunningly suspenseful novella, the very best of the shorter works James wrote.
Gutenberg

"The Liar" [1888]
First published in Century Magazine in May—June 1888. First book edition in A London Life (1889). Also included in The New York Edition of James' work (1907-09). 
Oliver Lyon, a portrait painter, has an unexpected reunion with a beautiful woman he loved in the past, but who jilted him. She is now married; her husband, Colonel Capadose, is an exuberant, handsome man, who likes to be the center of social attention by telling tall tales. Although these "lies" are innocent and don't hurt anyone, Lyon starts seeing the husband as a pathological liar and he wonders why Mrs Capadose preferred this man to himself. He decides to paint a portrait of Colonel Capadose to show his real character to his wife, calling it "The Liar." What he doesn't realize (as an obvious unreliable narrator) is that he himself is "the liar" (Lyon = "lying") as he lies about his intentions and tricks the Colonel into posing for the portrait. In the end, the portrait is a shocking surprise, but Mrs Capadose stand firm on the side of her husband, even if that necessitates another lie. Who is truly deceitful, in the sense of hurting others, Lyon or Colonel Capadose? Obviously, the painter is motivated by vengeful feelings as he lost the woman he loved to the Colonel.
Gutenberg; The Ladder.

"Two Countries [The Modern Warning]" [1888]
First published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, June 1888. First book edition The Aspern Papers, etc. of 1888.
The last of James intercultural stories, written at a time he seems to have been tired of them himself. An American woman is torn between her brother and her English husband over their antagonistic attitudes to each others' countries. The ending is rather melodramatic.
The Ladder.

[London, The Strand - Image Wikipedia]

"A London Life" [1888]
First published in The Century Magazine for August—September 1884. First book edition in A London Life (1889). Also included in The New York Edition of James' work (1907-09). 
A story about a divorce and its effects on a younger sister. Laura Wing, a young American woman who is orphaned and therefore staying with her sister Selina in England, is the horrified witness to the breakup of the marriage of that sister with her English husband. The main reason is the flirtatious Selina, who has affairs with other men, but also the oafish husband is a superficial figure with no real conscience. The reader can sympathize with neither of them. In the end, Laura, unable to bear the sleaziness of the London life, returns in a sort of flight to the United States. A no-nonsense approach to the realities of a marital breakup.
Gutenberg; AdelaideThe Ladder.

"The Lesson of the Master" [1888]
First published in The Universal Review, July and August 1988. First book edition The Lesson of the Master, etc., London / New York, Macmillan, 1892. Also included in The New York Edition of James' work (1907-09). 
A "fear of marriage" story, but here turned ironically on its head. The famous novelist Henry St. George, who is married, advises his admiring disciple George Overt against marrying the woman he is in love with, Marian Fancourt - arguing that a wife and children will be the death of Overt's creativity and career. Marriage and a life dedicated to art don't go together, he stresses. Overt goes on a long trip to think matters over. When he returns, to his surprise, St. George's wife has died and St. George himself has taken Marian Fancourt as his new wife! Has the older writer played a mean trick on Overt, or has he saved Overt and his career, as he insists?
Gutenberg; Adelaide.


[Transatlantic steamer, as in "The Patagonia" - Photo Wikipedia]

"The Patagonia" [1888]
First published in The English Illustrated Magazine, August and September 1888. First book edition in A London life, etc., London / New York, Macmillan, 1889. Also included in The New York Edition of James' work (1907-09). 
A flighty young man cavalierly flirts with a young woman en route to her wedding in England. As they are always together on the deck of the ocean liner bringing them to England, they become the subject of rumors among the other passengers. When the young man is strictly warned off, an unexpected disaster follows. Nobody had envisaged that the betrothed woman so much hated her destiny...
Gutenberg; Adelaide.

"The Solution" [1888]
First published in The New Review between December 1889 and February 1990. First book edition The Lesson of the Master, etc., London / New York, Macmillan, 1892.  
A story set in the diplomatic world in Rome. The unnamed narrator and others try to trick a naive and simple American secretary of the legation, Wilmerding, into marrying one of the daughters of Mrs Goldie, a rather vulgar woman, telling him he has gone too far with the daughter so that her reputation is compromised. Wilmerding dutifully offers marriage to the daughter and is accepted. The narrator feels guilty of engineering this mesalliance, and asks a woman friend, Mrs Rushmore, with whom he is in love, to help him out. She does find a solution to get Wilmerding out of the fix he is in, but the way she does this is rather shocking to the narrator...
The Ladder.

"The Pupil" [1891]
First published in Longman's Magazine for March—April 1891. First book edition in The Lesson of the Master, etc. (1892). Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09).
A seedy American family (the Moreens), traveling in Europe, engages an impoverished young man (Pemberton) as tutor for their invalid son, a precocious boy (Morgan). The deceitful family behaves cold towards the boy and therefore Morgan puts all his trust in the tutor. They become friends. But when the mendacious Moreens - who never pay the tutor - try to trick Pemberton into assuming complete responsibility for Morgan, Pemberton hesitates - a moment of hesitation that triggers the final drama, as it causes Morgan to lose confidence in humanity.
Gutenberg; Wikisource Adelaide.

"Brooksmith" [1891]
First published in Harper's Weekly and Black and White in May 1891. First book edition in The Lesson of the Master, etc. (1892). Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09).
A moving portrait of a house servant. Brooksmith has worked in a cultured, retired diplomat's salon, where he was responsible for the preservation of the atmosphere and treated as one of the family. After the death of the diplomat, Brooksmith finds no pleasure in other butler jobs, as he encounters no people of value anymore. Dispirited, he drifts into odd jobs as a waiter and finally "disappears."
Gutenberg; Adelaide. The Ladder.

"The Marriages" [1891]
First published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 1891. First book edition in The Lesson of the Master, (1892). Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09).
After the death of his wife, a father wants to remarry but his daughter remains devoted to the memory of the mother and thinks the new woman, Mrs Churchley, is rather vulgar. With a lie, she manages to prevent the marriage. But behind her back in the meantime another marriage has taken place, that of her brother, with a lower class woman, which will destroy his chances of joining the diplomatic service. It also comes out that Mrs Churchley never believed her lie, but called off the marriage because she didn't want her as a step-daughter.
Gutenberg

"The Chaperon" [1891]
First published in the Atlantic Monthly of November and December 1891. First book edition in The Real Thing and Other Tales (1893). Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09).
Normally mothers will be the chaperones who introduce their daughters into society, but in this story it is the daughter who chaperones the mother. Mrs Tramore has been ostracized from society after eloping with a lover, and also lost contact with her children. But after her father's death Rose neglects the warnings of her family and starts living with her mother with the intention to restore that mother - who is a very fashionable person - to society. She succeeds - with the help of a discarded suitor who suddenly appears in a changed light.
Gutenberg

[The seafront in Brighton, setting of "Sir Edmund Orme"]

"Sir Edmund Orme" [1891]
First published in Black and White, Christmas number, November 1891. First book edition in The Lesson of the Master, etc. (1892). Also included in The New York Edition (1907-09). 
An inventive "ghost story," not dependent on Gothic trappings, with a ghost who appears in broad daylight on the seafront in Brighton. Mrs Marden, a widow, and her daughter Charlotte live in Brighton. Mrs Marden is haunted by the ghost of her jilted lover, Sir Edmund Orme, who committed suicide because of her. She is the only one who can see the ghost, who appears to be a force for good, wanting to check that the same injustice is not repeated: the ghost wants to prevent that the daughter treads in the footsteps of the mother. So he stands next to the daughter whenever she meets other men, like a sad shade lingering in the background, as a warning not to play lightly with the heart of another. The narrator of the story is in love with the daughter and he can also see the ghost - will he be able to get rid of the apparition?

The Ladder.


The best stories among the above are in my view:
  • The Aspern Papers
  • The Liar
  • The Lesson of the Master
  • The Pupil
  • The Chaperon

*****

If you prefer to read the stories in book form, the recommended edition is that of the Complete Stories of Henry James, in five volumes, in The Library of America. Collections of stories are also available, for example in two volumes in Everyman's Library, or in Penguin Classics.

Essential websites about Henry James are: The Ladder, a Henry James Website written and edited by Adrian Dover; and The Henry James Scholar's Guide to Websites by Richard D. Hathaway.

The definitive biography on James has been written by Leon Edel, The Life of Henry James, in five volumes (1955-1972). There is also a shortened version: Henry James, A Life (1985) - which still runs to above 700 pages.

August 10, 2013

Evelina (1778) by Frances Burney (Book review)

Evelina or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World is a novel written by English author Fanny Burney (1752-1840) and first published in 1778. The novel is a comedy of manners that provides a fascinating and also savagely funny look at both high and low society in late eighteenth-century England. It is an epistolary novel, the story is told in letters, mainly those by Evelina, the young female protagonist, to her ward, Mr Villars.

[Frances Burney - portrait from Wikipedia]

Already at a tender age, Francis Burney gave proof of possessing a sharp ear for spoken idiom and a strong talent for mimicry. In other words, she was a natural dramatist. Not only did she continue by writing a play after Evelina, in Evelina there are many scenes which seem lifted from the comedy of the day. That play, by the way, was never performed - it was not suitable for a lady to write plays - but she became well-known as a novelist and is today also famous for her minutely observed and witty journals. Burney was also a risk-taker, as can be seen from Evelina, which is daring and experimental.

Thanks to the sharply differentiated idioms and their speakers, Evelina is an exuberant novel. The protagonist is the unacknowledged but legitimate daughter of a dissipated English aristocrat (Lord Belmont, who has torched the marriage certificate), who after the death of her mother has been raised in rural seclusion by her elderly guardian Mr Villars, and who now gets the chance to make her debut in London. Despite misunderstandings and embarrassing social errors, she learns to navigate the complexities of 18th. c. manners and even earns the love of a distinguished young nobleman, Lord Orville. As a satire of contemporary fashionable society, with its lies and pretensions, its hypocrites and rakes, the novel is a fit precursor of Jane Austen, although it is also very different from the works of that author in its often broad humor.

In London, Evelina meets her stubborn and ignorant French grandmother, Madame Duval, who threatens to carry her off to Paris; she has to fend off the unwelcome attentions of Sir Clement Willoughby, who courts her with flamboyant speeches and almost becomes a stalker; she is embarrassed by the uncouth behavior of Captain Mirvan, the father of the friend with whom she is staying in London, who despises foreigners (his comments sound uncomfortably modern...) and who constantly annoys Madame Duval because she is French; during her second London visit, Evelina has to suffer the crass behavior of her lower-class cousins, the Branghtons; at the Branghtons, she meets a poor Scottish poet, M. Macartney, the butt of many contemptuous jokes, whom she saves from a desperate act - and who, in good 18th c. style, later is revealed to be her half-brother; in the same style there is finally a reconciliation with her father, Sir Belmont, so that in the finale she can marry Lord Orville on equal terms.

There are certainly many weaker elements in the novel: the humor is too gross and farcical, with weak persons or women (Madame Duval) not only as the butt of jokes, but also the victims of beatings; the plot is too contrived. But the book is a real page-turner and there are also many strong points, such as the above mentioned social satire. Above all, we see the 18th c. through the eyes of an intelligent and witty woman - and can be surprised at the dangers women had to navigate in that society, where many men seemed to think that their "natural superiority" guaranteed them the easy gratification of every desire - even by force.



August 7, 2013

The Stories of Henry James (2): "The Conquest of London," 1875-1884 (Book Review)

In 1875, Henry James spent half a year in New York, a city that did not inspire him, so around the time his second novel, Roderick Hudson, was published, he decided to settle in Paris. There, he met many of the leading artists and writers of the day: Ivan Turgenev, Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola and Alphonse Daudet, as well as the young Maupassant. James was a great admirer of Turgenev and Flaubert. Despite his social success, James felt an outsider in Paris and in 1876 he moved to London. He would make England his home for the rest of his life, although he continued to travel frequently. In London, James befriended Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson and many others and he was a frequent guest on the social scene. He also met Trollope.

Around this time James' first great novel, The American, was published, on the theme of the cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe that also haunts the stories from this period. In 1878 he reversed the situation in The Europeans. From the same year dates his masterful story "Daisy Miller" about the all-American girl snubbed by European mores.

1878 was an important year for James, in which he was not only accepted as an author but also socially absorbed into English society. He felt completely at home in England. From now on, he would publish his novels and stories on both sides of the Atlantic. He wrote with an almost Balzacian fertility and the precision of his prose belies the speed with which he sometimes had to write. He became a literary lion.

In 1880, James wrote the popular short novel Washington Square.

The next year James stayed in Venice where he wrote The Portrait of a Lady, one of his masterworks, which was serialized by Howells in the Atlantic Monthly.

In 1881 James paid an extended visit to the U.S. While he was in Washington, he had to rush to Boston as his mother had suddenly died. And when James had barely returned to London again, has father became critically ill, forcing James to travel once more to Boston. He stayed on for several months to sort out his father's inheritance. Back in London, in 1883, he learned of the death of his friend Turgenev.

Despite these personal losses, James continued to write and travel. In 1883, a multi volume set of his stories and novels was published in the U.K.


In these years when James achieved his first great success as a novelist, he also continued profusely writing stories for magazines. Themes in this period are:

- Further explorations of the international theme, in many stories, such as the famous "Daisy Miller," "An International Episode," "Four Meetings," "The Siege of London," Pandora," "Lady Barberina," etc. In James' lifetime, the distance between America and Europe was considerably shortened. After The Civil War, thanks to steam, the screw propeller and the turbine engine, the trip which in the 1840s (when the James' family first visited Europe) still took 19 days, was decreased to less than half that number. Prices were also reasonable - a self-supporting school mistress (as in "Four Meetings") could make a trip to Europe on her savings. Tourism blossomed, and was a attended by a new internationalism. But the many Americans who flooded to Europe as tourists or art students noticed that although the distance had become shorter, cultural differences loomed large - and that is James' theme.
- We also see a certain amount of experimentation: in "Benvolio," which is an atypical parable with conscious authorial intrusion; in "A Bundle of Letters" and "The Point of View," where James plays with the epistolary form. This is a period in which James' stories are adventurous in narrative technique.
- As regards method, James perfects his mastery of the "unexpected resolution" ("Impressions of a Cousin," "Longstaff's Marriage," etc.).

Note the uneven division of the stories: 1878 and 1884 were good years, but there are also years James did not write any stories. Besides working on his large novels, he was also busy writing reviews, travelogues, and essays about literature and art.

Here are the stories from 1875 to 1884:

"Benvolio" [1875]
First published in The Galaxy for August 1875. First edition in book form in The Madonna of the Future and Other Tales in 1879.
An allegory. The writer Benvolio alternates between two women: a Countess and a Professor's daughter, Scholastica. The countess loves the theatre, Scholastica loves poetry. Is this a symbolic expression of the artist's dual need for society and solitude? Or, as biographer Leon Edel says, is it James' vacillating between Europe (the Countess) and America (the scholastic environment of Boston, with his philosophical father). As a story, in James' oeuvre, this is atypical.
Text at: Internet Archive

"Crawford's Consistency" [1876]
First published in Scribner's monthly, 1876
A dramatic tale of the "dangers of marriage." The rich Crawford first courts the beautiful but cold Elizabeth, to whom he becomes engaged, but she eventually jilts him. He tries to get over his shock by suddenly marrying a rather commonplace and vulgar woman. After Crawford loses all his money due to problems at his bank, this wife turns to drink and both their lives become hell. The wife has violent tendencies and literally turns Crawford into a cripple. James could not have come out stronger on the side of remaining a bachelor.
No free text available on the internet.

"The Ghostly Rental" [1876]
First published in Scribner's monthly, September 1876
A "ghost story" with an interesting twist. A father receives rent from the ghost of his daughter. He is guilty of her death because he broke up her love relationship, and cursed her, which presumably led to her death. Her ghost remains alone in the old family house and even insists on paying rent - the father visits the house every three months to collect it. Unknown to the father, the daughter is alive and well and only pretends to be a ghost in order to scare him away and to keep him from marrying her to a man she doesn't care for. But on the last pages a "real" ghost appears in the story...
Text at: Project Gutenberg Consortia Center

[Impression of the Port of Le Havre by Monet, the setting of "Four Meetings" - Photo Wikipedia ]

"Four Meetings" [1877]
First published in Scribner's Monthly, December 1877. First book edition in Daisy Miller: a study; An international episode; Four meetings of 1879. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
The dream of visiting Europe of an American school mistress finally comes true. But as soon as she gets off the boat in Le Havre, she is relieved of all her money by an American cousin. The demoralized cousin claims that he has been tricked into a marriage with a countess. Penniless, the schoolmistress returns within a few hours to America, without seeing anything of Europe. Later, following the death of her cousin, the so-called countess, who is a vulgar fraud, comes to live with her in the States and never leaves anymore.
Text at: Project Gutenberg; State University of New York, New Paltz

"Rose-Agathe" [1878]
First published in Lippincott's Magazine, May 1878. First book edition in Stories Revived (1885). 
A light story based on a misunderstanding: the narrator thinks his friend is in love with a hairdresser's wife, while he is in reality infatuated with a wax display model in the show window.
Introduction and text at The Ladder

[The Colosseum in Rome, the setting for an important scene in "Daisy Miller" - Photo Wikipedia]

"Daisy Miller: A Study"  [1878]
First published in The Cornhill Magazine of June and July 1878. First book editions Daisy Miller: a study, New York, Harper, 1878 & Daisy Miller: a study; An International Episode; Four Meetings, London, Macmillan, 1879. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
One of James' most popular stories on an international theme, a small masterpiece about a naive, headstrong American girl at odds with European conventions. As other people who have never left their country do (and in particular Americans, because their country is so big!), she believes that customs and manners from upstate New York are valid all over the world. The American expatriate Daisy Miller is courted rather confusedly by the narrator, who is a more sophisticated compatriot, but at the same time her too free relation with an Italian admirer turns her into the object of gossip. Young women simply did not go out without a chaperon in 19th c. Europe;  and Mr Giovanelli, who is not a real "gentleman," is different from her boyfriends in Schenectady. Ultimately her failure to grasp the social mores of the society she so desperately wishes to enter leads to tragedy. Was Daisy Miller just honest and innocent? Or was she frivolous and irresponsible? James had discovered "the American girl" as a social phenomenon and as a type. The story has been written with great economy and is a good start for readers new to James.
Text at: Eldritch Press; State University of New York, New Paltz (New York edition); Project Gutenberg ebooks@adelaide; Wikisource

"Longstaff's Marriage" [1878]
First published in Scribner’s Monthly, August 1878. First book edition The madonna of the future and other tales, 1879.
Two American women traveling in Europe, meet the English Mr. Longstaff on the beach in Nice. He is an invalid and about to die and tries to persuade the beautiful Diana to marry him as an act of kindness. She refuses (as she fears he will live, as he indeed does), but a few years later meets him again while their roles have been reversed. Will he now marry her and will she live, too?
Text at: Internet Archive

[Large mansion in Newport Rhode Island, setting of "An International Episode" - Photo Wikipedia ]

"An International Episode"  [1878]
First published in The Cornhill Magazine of December 1878 and January 1879. First book edition Daisy Miller: a study; An International Episode; Four Meetings, London, Macmillan, 1879. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
Two English cousins, Lord Lambeth and Percy Beaumont, visit America and stay with a family in Newport, the Westgates. Also staying there is Bessie Alden of Boston, a sister of Mrs. Westgate and an American bluestocking. When Lord Lambeth shows signs of falling in love with her, Percy Beaumont betrays this news to the Lord's mother so that he is called home. The next year, both sisters visit England, and Lord Lambeth again pays daily visits to Bessie. In the end, however, she turns him down - not because of the formidable resistance of his mother, but because when she sees him in his own country he appears in a rather negative light as an idle and unserious man.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

[Geneva, view from the Rhone, setting of "The Pension Beaurepas" - Photo Wikipedia]

"The Pension Beaurepas"  [1879]
First published in The Atlantic Monthly, April 1879. First book edition in Washington Square; The Pension Beaurepas; A bundle of letters, London, Macmillan, 1881. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
An American businessman is held in Geneva by his vulgarian, extravagant wife and daughter, who shop till they drop, while his business is going to ruin in New York due to an economic crisis. We also meet an American mother and daughter who drift from cheap pension to cheap pension, although the daughter would like to return to the States.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

[Florence (Firenze), setting of "The diary of a Man of Fifty" - Photo Wikipedia]


"The Diary of a Man of Fifty" [1879]
First published in Macmillan's Magazine, July 1879, and in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1879. First book edition The madonna of the future and other tales, 1879.
A middle-aged man returns to Florence, where, 25 years ago, he has turned his back on an Italian Countess, a difficult woman whom he decided he could not trust. Now he meets a young man in love with the woman's daughter. It looks as if his old experience is being reenacted. Will history indeed repeat itself? Has he been fair to the mother in the past?
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"A Bundle of Letters" [1879]
First published in The Parisian of December 1879. First book edition in Washington Square; The Pension Beaurepas; A bundle of letters, London, Macmillan, 1881. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
A light tale of international manners, told via the letters written by people of various nationalities staying at a French pension. Of course, the lone American female traveler is also present, but this time she does not come to grief. A funny point is that these foreigners have come to stay with a French family to improve their knowledge of that language, but find themselves surrounded with other non-French speakers.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"The Point of View" [1882]
First published in The Century Magazine, December 1882. First book edition The siege of London; The Pension Beaurepas; and The point of view, Boston, Osgood, 1883. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
Again a stack of letters, this time written by repatriating Americans and European visitors, and giving various points of view on the States. James was rather critical of his own country, considering it as mediocre. More a series of "rants" than a real story.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

[Impression of Houses of Parliament in London by Monet - Photo Wikipedia]

"The Siege of London" [1883]
First published in The Cornhill Magazine of January—February 1883. First book edition The siege of London; The Pension Beaurepas; and The point of view, Boston, Osgood, 1883. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
An American widow, who is not "respectable" according to 19th c. mores, and who was ostracized by New York society, strives to work her way into English high society via a "siege of London." A Westerner several times divorced, she uses her "funny" dialect and spirited humor to win over people. She wages a big battle against the prejudices of Lady Demesne, whose son she wants to marry. A countryman, who knows everything about her past, is also on the scene. Will she prevail and find in the Baronet her last and permanent husband? Or will her countryman spoil her plans?
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"The Impressions of a Cousin"  [1883]
First published in The Century Magazine, November and December 1883. First book edition in Tales of Three Cities, published in Boston by Osgood and in London by Macmillan in 1884. 
An American woman who prefers Europe is back in America to visit her cousin
Eunice. Eunice is defrauded of her inheritance by her guardian, who is the executor of the will. The narrator helps Eunice retrieve the stolen fortune, but perversely this costs her Eunice's friendship - although it gains her a husband.
Introduction and text at The Ladder

[Historical mansion on Fifth Avenue, New York, the setting of "Lady Barberina" - Photo Wikipedia]


"Lady Barberina"  [1884]
First published in Century Magazine in May—July 1884. First book edition in Tales of Three Cities, published in Boston by Osgood and in London by Macmillan in 1884. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09), in which the name of the protagonist and title of the story was changed into "Lady Barbarina."
Lady Barberina, a peer's daughter marries an American millionaire and goes most reluctantly to live in America; her sister joins her in the States and then elopes with a showy Californian who is merely a big "moustache." Finally, Lady Barberina and her husband end up living in England, just as she wanted all the time. Deftly shows the intercultural differences between London and New York: the lady's parents want a financial settlement before the marriage of their daughter, which the American husband does not understand and stubbornly refuses; the American husband is a practising medical doctor, something the Peer does not understand - he is after all, rich enough to do nothing and need not have a "profession" (which is looked down upon by the English aristocracy); etc.
Introduction and text at The Ladder

[Washington D.C. (19th c.), one of the settings of "Pandora" - Photo Wikipedia]

"Pandora"  [1884]
First published in the New York Sun on 1 and 8 June 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
Pandora Day is a counterpart to Daisy Miller, the "self-made" American girl, but now in a more positive vein. Her tale is told with great charm through the eyes of a young German diplomat bound for America. In a neat joke, we see him reading "Daisy Miller" at the start of the story as a preparation to his new mission. Pandora even meets the President of the United States and obtains a post from him for her fiance. As a story this is, however, much slighter than "Daisy Miller."
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"The Author of 'Beltraffio'"  [1884]
First published in The English Illustrated Journal, for June—July 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. Also included in the New York Edition (1907-09).
A poisonous narrative and the first example of the theme of "the tormented child" in James. A famous author, Mark Ambient, is locked in an antagonistic marriage, daily fighting with his wife for possession - body and soul - of their delicate little boy. The cold, narrowly Calvinistic wife intensely dislikes her husband's hyper-aesthetic "pagan" writings and is afraid their son will be contaminated by the father's almost morbid love of beauty and art. Because of that fear she fails to summon medical help when the child falls ill, and lets him die. James does not make clear what is really so bad about the writings of Mark Ambient that they would lead to the destruction of a marriage and the indirect death of a child, but we could take a hint from the fact that this tale originated in the situation known to James of the English poet Symonds, who was a proponent of homosexuality, and who was constantly quarreling with his very proper wife. On a side note, Ambient has a weird sister who is a clever satire on the self-consciously "artistic" personality.
Text at: Project Gutenberg

"Georgina's Reasons" [1884]
First published in The New York Sun on 20 July, 27 July and 3 August 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. 
A rather sensational tale, written for a newspaper. An American woman, the unconventional Georgina, marries a naval officer in secret, against her parent's wishes, and hides the fact; her husband promises to never claim the relationship. She gives secretly birth to his child (as if it were illegitimate) and then disposes of it to foster-parents somewhere in Europe. Later she remarries without obtaining a divorce. Her first husband, back from a long voyage, and now in love with another woman he wants to marry, is faced with the dilemma of denouncing her, or of accepting the possibility of bigamy for himself, as Georgina refuses to allow him to break his promise and obtain a divorce.
Text at: Project Gutenberg
Introduction and text at The Ladder

[Boston Common at Twilight by Hassam, the setting of "A New England Winter" - Photo Wikipedia

"A New England Winter" [1884]
First published in The Century Magazine, August and September 1884. First book edition in Tales of Three Cities, published in Boston by Osgood and in London by Macmillan in 1884. 
A beautiful picture of winter in Boston. Mrs Daintry has a painter son who lives in Europe and only pays short visits to her in Boston. In order to make him stay longer she plots to have a young woman, a distant relative, stay with her sister-in-law for the entertainment of the young man. But nothing turns out as expected in this comedy of manners...
Introduction and text at The Ladder

"The Path of Duty" [1884]
First published in The English Illustrated Magazine, December 1884. First book editions The author of Beltraffio; Pandora; Georgina's Reasons, Boston, Osgood, 1885 & Stories Revived, London, Macmillan, 1885. 
The "path of duty" is the path followed by a man, Ambrose Tester, and woman, Lady Vandeleur, who love each other but remain apart, he having already promised (just before his true love Lady Vandeleur became a widow) to marry another. But their self-sacrifice makes the life of the bride very uncomfortable  - James shows that the "virtue of renunciation" may be as undesirable as the "vice of gratification."
Text at: Project Gutenberg
Introduction and Text at The Ladder


The best stories among the above are in my view:
  • Daisy Miller
  • The Siege of London
  • An International Episode
  • Lady Barberina
  • The Pension Beaurepas
*****

If you prefer to read the stories in book form, the recommended edition is that of the Complete Stories of Henry James, in five volumes, in The Library of America. Collections of stories are also available, for example in two volumes in Everyman's Library, or in Penguin Classics.

Essential websites about Henry James are: The Ladder, a Henry James Website written and edited by Adrian Dover; and The Henry James Scholar's Guide to Websites by Richard D. Hathaway.

The definitive biography on James has been written by Leon Edel, The Life of Henry James, in five volumes (1955-1972). There is also a shortened version: Henry James, A Life (1985) - which still runs to above 700 pages.