Friday, March 22, 2013

A Musical Mountain (part five)

This is the fifth of a six part series on Cesar Frank's Choral no. 3 in A Minor for organ. The first four parts can be accessed here: one  two  three  four

After introducing the various ideas present in the piece in the first three parts, part four began an account of what happens as the piece unfolds. We are currently right in the middle of it!

And now the thrilling denoument....

after building to an awesome climax at the end of the "slow movement" Franck immediately lets the music die away on a single low E so that it can build again. When he starts the gradual ascent, it is to a transformed version of that restless figure from the very opening of the piece to which he turns:


As in so much Romantic period music, this piece progresses in waves. Large ones, like the five minute section through which we've just passed, and now a series of small ones, getting progressively louder:


And as that wave builds, Franck calls on something else. A first time listener might not notice this when it went by so I'm going to underline it. Do you remember that "sacrificial suffering" theme from way back at the beginning of this series? Now hints of it begin to become enmeshed in the musical fabric.


Often, when two such themes, the restless, dramatic one, and the tragic, lyric one, are opposed to one another, twin sides of the same piece of music but with vastly different profiles, it is a question of the dramatic machinery as to which one will win. Which theme will be left standing at the end, triumphant over the other one. Who gets the last word? And yet here a curious, sensational thing happens:


both! together! And from a purely musical (architectural) perspective,  why not? One, a slowly moving melody, the other really no melody at all, rather an accompaniment figure. One with very little motion, the other all motion. One taking nearly a minute to unfold, the other a protean cell that goes by in a second and can be transformed into any harmonic guise with ease. Why not? And just like that, the dramatic worldly theme and the 'love of God' theme collide head on, and yet neither is obliterated. If anything the dramatic theme is made to fit the progression of the other so that the Lordly tune can sing out above all else.

And then the wrenching conclusion. Because this is not a triumph--at least, not yet. The "suffering" theme still suffers, even though it is now grand and majestic. As the last lights go out in our sanctuary, the music this year will be loud, and awful. And right at the end, as the struggle reaches it apotheosis  right on the last chord--it is finished--, we will be engulfed in darkness.

But it will be a major chord.

on Monday, I'll post a recording of the entire work. See you then!

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