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Joseph Marx: Detailed information on the "Idylle", written in 1925
The Idylle--Concertino on the Pastoral Fourth was composed in 1925, during a period of the composer's life lasting well over a decade, in which he wrote impressionistic orchestral music. It forms the middle part of the Nature Trilogy that began with the Symphonic Night Music of 1922 and concluded jubilantly with Spring Music, composed the same year as the Idylle. The Nature Trilogy is a colorful opus full of romantic-lyrical passion; at the same time it is a deep affirmation of Impressionism. The thematic construction of the trilogy is testimony to the composer's spiritual bond to nature. In it he was able to transform masterfully the powerful moods deep in the heart of the untouched landscapes of his homeland. The three parts of the Nature Trilogy are creations of a genuine magician of sound whose modern and supple counterpoint is surpassed only by his breathtakingly polyphonic treatment of material and an often overwhelming harmonic boldness.
Marx wrote his Nature Trilogy immediately following his monumental, mammoth Herbstsymphonie (Autumn Symphony, 1921) for large symphony orchestra, and thus it was only natural that in terms of richness and opulence the Nature Trilogy demonstrates a notable degree of restraint when compared to the earlier symphony, which was well-nigh unsurpassable in those terms. This is especially the case with regard to the Idylle, which, in contrast to the other two parts of the trilogy, is written for an orchestra of traditional dimensions.
The sensitive, economical instrumentation of the Idylle makes it a quarter-hour tone poem of the finest quality. It is in F major and can be regarded as a "big sister" to the composer's Pastorale for cello and piano from the year 1913. The subtitle of the work--Concertino on the Pastoral Fourth--is the composer's own, and could hardly be more suitable: With a degree of restraint unusual in his work and with impressionistic moods of great tenderness, Marx creates through the prominent use of the fourth a pastoral fantasy that may rightly be considered the Austrian counterpart to Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun. The listener is carried off into landscapes in which the mysterious charm of the South is brought to life by means of dreamily atmospheric images and hazy distances. The Idylle is framed by a solo clarinet, which introduces and sets the character of the work by means of an adaptation of the famous flute theme from the Afternoon of a Faun. Archaic-sounding fourths conjure up a pastorale of medieval flavour. Instrumentation in the French manner and an ingeniously floating, artistically restrained mood here depict late-summer vineyards in which windmills turn mournfully. Marx's Idylle is without doubt a sympathetic homage to Debussy's Afternoon that does not suffer by comparison to it.
The first performance of the Idylle took place on 4 March 1926 in Vienna; Clemens Krauss conducted the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Numerous further performances followed, primarily in Austria and especially in Graz and Vienna by such renowned conductors as Karl Böhm and Hans Swarowsky. There were also performances in Germany conducted by Clemens Krauss, in Frankfurt am Main and in Darmstadt, to name just two locales. The Idylle was still occasionally performed as late as the 1960s in Graz, at which time it unfortunately disappeared entirely from Austrian concert programs, perhaps due to the composer's death in 1964. Steven Sloane's performance of the work with the Bochum Symphony Orchestra on 6 June 2002, undertaken in preparation for the recording of the entire Nature Trilogy for release on CD, heralded to a certain degree a revival of Marx's uncommonly charming orchestral works.
In the extravagant euphony and refined harmonies of Marx's scores one also finds a reflection of the composer's multifaceted and scintillating nature. He was a lyricist of great depth and a nostalgic optimist who sought to share his unconquerable joie de vivre with others. Thus Marx takes a quite special place in music history as a "mystic of happiness" and as such deserves a correspondingly more highly valued place in concert programs.
© Berkant Haydin, 2005 (Translated from the German by Stephen Luttmann)
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