Ten Joyful Symphonic Firsts
Jay B Gaskill
There is a special vital and endearing quality about any musical composition that a significant composer chooses as his or her first work in a major compositional category. Typically a composer’s “first” follows a number of compositional efforts, best forgotten - the training wheels of genius-in-the-making. This was particularly true of young Mendelssohn and Bizet, but their teenage comings out resulted in enduring and exiting works of music. As I selected two works for the French horn, I noted that Mozart’s first horn concerto was written in the highly productive last year of his life, while Richard Strauss’s first horn concerto was written when he was 19. Yet both capture the exuberance of youth.
For Dave Brubeck, his first excursion into orchestral writing took place at the age of 42, a feat that was to be followed by similar works in his later years, many of which have been performed but not commercially recorded. I’ve heard one of these as yet not released works and we can only hope that the entire Brubeck classical canon will be performed and recorded. In the meantime, I recommend a 2 disk set, “Classical Brubeck”, recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra and released by Telarc. (http://www.amazon.com/Classical-Brubeck-Alan-Opie/dp/B0000AN4IA)
The joy in all these works was self-evident, and I hope my enthusiasm proves contagious.
JS Bach, Brandenburg Concerto #1, composed 1721 as part of 6 concerti dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg, during one of the happiest periods in the master composer’s long life.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1750) Piccolo Concerto in C major RV443, the composer’s first of three works for this little for the instrument, and therefore his first piccolo concerto.[i]
Wolfgang A Mozart (1756-1791), Horn concerto #1, composed in the last months of young Mozart’s life for his good friend, French horn player, Joseph Leutgeb.
Felix Mendelsohn (1809-1847), Symphony #1, composed 1824, when Felix was 15.
Georges Bizet (1838-1875) Symphony in C Bizet’s first and only symphony was composed in 1855 at age 17.
Camille Saint-Saëns (1935-1921), Piano Concerto #1, completed in 1858 when he was 23.
Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Piano Concerto #1, his only piano concerto, completed in 1874.
Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Horn Concerto #1, composed 1882-83. Strauss's father, Franz, was the principal French-horn player of the Munich Court Orchestra.
Serge Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Piano Concerto #1, composed 1891 at the age of 17, with revisions in 1917 and 1919. [ii]
George Gershwin (1898-1937), Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, 1925, Gershwin’s first and only piano concerto.
David Brubeck (1920- ), Elementals for Jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra.[iii]
[i] The date of composition can only be estimated. Vivaldi, the “red haired priest”, was a prolific composer of concertos. This was written for the flautino, the upper-range recorder that was the precursor of the modern piccolo. The famous largo of this short, three-movement piece is beautifully lyrical, and has been transcribed for several other instruments. Possibly the best recoding of the largo was done by Pierre Rampal, now out of circulation (unless you want to spend $100). But a 1997 release by Naxos, Famous flute Concerti, includes 443; and Divox also sells the piece as part of the album, Vivaldi: Giorno e Notte (Day and Night). The best buy is the MP3 download from Amazon of all Vivaldi’s recorder concerti. [http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Recorder-Concertos-Vivaldi/dp/B00006B1KE/ref=pd_sim_sbs_m_3 ] An engaging performance of the Largo by Zachariah Galati is on YouTube with the Baltimore Concerto Orchestra at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Ysa8v54ao .
[ii] As the older Rachmaninoff wrote, “I have rewritten my First Concerto. It is really good now. All the youthful freshness is there, and yet it plays itself so much more easily.”
[iii] “Elementals”, Dave Brubeck’s first orchestral work, was premiered and recorded in 1962. Brubeck studied composition under the French Composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) when he taught at Mills College in Oakland, California.
Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, attorney at law
Forwards and links are welcome and encouraged.
See also the author’s Guide to Epic Orchestral Music http://www.jaygaskill.com/epicmusic.htm
and The Moderns Find Tonality http://www.jaygaskill.com/MusicII.htm