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 Music and Memory:

How Music Evokes the Past


For its 2002-2001 concert season, the American Symphony Orchestra (Leon Botstein, Music Director) presented "Music & Memory: A Season-Long Exploration of How Music Evokes the Past.  Individual concerts were organized on various themes.  

Link to the ASO's program notes for the concerts.  See also links below to essays on the individual programs and works. 

"Remembrance of Things Past: Music As Reminiscence"

Mahler, Symphony #7 (1908)

"Mahler's monumental symphony directly raises the issue of how music expresses recollection, and whether music is a function of memory, or memory a function of music.  This work invokes tragic memories but is not program music.  It is deeply personal but eludes simple biographical interpretation" (from the ASO website).


"The Anxiety of Influence: Music as Historical Legacy"

Farberman, Cello Concerto (2000)

Glass, Timpani Concerto (2000)

Krenek, Symphony #2, Op. 12 (1922)

"Bach haunts the music of Philip Glass.  The spirit of Mahler visited Ernst Krenek, and Charles Ives can be heard in the music of Harold Farberman.  Memory and experience are shaped by figures whose towering legacies can both inspire and imprison.  How do composers come to terms with their perceptions of the musical past, to create a new legacy?" (from the ASO website).


"Forgotten Patriotisms: Music as Political History"

Prokofiev, Zdravitsa (Hail to Stalin) (1939)

Shostakovich, Symphony #2 (1927)

Miaskovsky, Symphony #6, Op. 23 (1923)

"Can music define collective memory?  The Soviet Union employed its greatest artists to write works that embodied a specific vision of history, often in direct conflict with the facts.  These three massive works, by composers who stood in various relations to the regime, struggle with the consequences of the Soviet mission, the evidence of memory, and artistic integrity" (from the ASO website).


"Nostalgia: The Past Idealized Through Music"

"Debussy, Wagner, and Le Roi Arthus"

Chausson, Le Roi Arthur (King Arthur) (1895)

"A rare concert performance of a great opera.  Nostalgia for the past reflects an image of our own desire -- all that we wish we had in the presnet age.  Since the fifteenth century, perhaps no secular figure has been more idealized than King Arthur, and never more so than at the end of the nineteenth century, when the industrialized world seemed a far cry from Camelot's shimmering castles, green meadows, and chivalric code of honor.  Chausson's music creates a past which never existed, and allows the "once and future king" to instruct us in the modern age" (from the ASO website).


"The Uses of History: Reincarnations of Beethoven"

Schmidt, Concertante Variations of a Theme by Beethoven (1923)

Reger, Beethoven Variations, Op. 86 (1915)

Beethoven/Strauss, Ruins of Athens (1924)

"Three early twentieth-century composers encounter a master -- Beethoven -- and transform his work into something entirely their own.  In fusions of past and present, memory and innovation, they show how artistic accomplishments transcend their historical moment, and return again and again as sources of inspiration for succeeding generations" (from the ASO website).


"After Carmina Burana: A Historical Perspective"

Orff, Catuli Carmina (1943)

Orff, Trionfo de Afrodite (1953)

From the ASO website: "Orff, composer and educator, wrote both of these works during and shortly after the Third Reich.  They followed the success of Carmina Burana after its rpemiere in 1937.  How can these works be understood in the context of the politics of the era?  


This page last updated 04/08/10 02:58:48 PM.