Bliss with Biss and a full-day excursion on a mountain – Doug Bauman

I'm really enjoying the concerts at Heinz Hall this season. I've been to all but one so far. Mozart's 22nd piano concerto played by Jonathan Biss was a beautiful pleasing experience, particularly the middle movement. It started out solemn, with the piano pushing that theme. Drama was heightened frequently with the orchestra alternately trying to lift the spirits, until the piano again returned to a dolefulness that eventually prevailed, as the orchestra eventually followed suit. While listening, I enjoyed watching with my binoculars the exquisite playing by Biss. His hands flowed effortlessly over the keyboard. I was watching 4 hands play at once, his and the reflection in the wood.

What journey takes 1 day, 4 years and 1 hour to complete? That would be the Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss which followed after the intermission. It was a story, a tale, told in huge fashion, with the largest complement of musicians I've ever seen assembled in one place; and they were all packed onto the stage of Heinz Hall this very night, to perform this grand tone poem, taking almost an hour to execute. I've read that this tone poem by Richard Strauss depicts a full-day excursion on a mountain in the Bavarian Alps. It took Strauss 4 years to complete this sweeping masterpiece. Some of the early sections which represent sunrise, the ascent, entry into the forest and wandering by the brook were very pleasing to me — a joyous flowing music which I wouldn't mind hearing over and over again. In fact, I will, someday, because this concert was recorded and will be released on CD, and I will most certainly buy one myself — conducted by Marek Janowski and played well by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, I will enjoy it again and again.

Near the end we hear an ominous timpani roll and a clarinet melody, describing the calm before the storm, then trombone chords with descending strings bring home the thunder and tempest. I noticed a lengthy section of what appeared to be rolled steel — it was thunderously rolled producing spacious sound effects. Now that's what I call a one time only instrument. (see photo).

One of my favorite parts of the entire tone poem came at the very end: night. Perhaps those marvelously soft descending melodies stuck in my mind because that was the last thing I heard, but I think it is because those melodies are so catchy, I whistled a bit of them all the way back to my car.

One more "food for thought" (from my friend who also attended this concert) — "do you think Strauss really intended to describe a day in the mountains, or is the 'day' really a metaphor for a whole life time? it occurred to me during the finale — the whole thing 'died down' and quiet ('death') took over…"

1 thought on “Bliss with Biss and a full-day excursion on a mountain – Doug Bauman”

  • I hadn’t thought of the metaphor of Strauss’s symphonic day being like life, but now that you’ve highlighted it I feel it applies.
    There definitely was a strong sense of cyclicality to Strauss’s symphony — when we returned to the night theme I could almost imagine the whole thing starting over. (Aside from the exertion of the performers and conductor, of course.)

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