So let’s try something new! I already have Symphony Saturday, but symphonies are far from the only worthy form used by classical composers. There is plenty of music that is symphonic without being an actual symphony, so in this series we’ll explore that wonderful world. One major difference is that while I’ve arranged the Symphony Saturday posts roughly in the chronological order of the works’ composition, I’m not going to do that here. We’re just going to jump through time a lot, and hopefully hear some wonderful things along the way.
So, what is a “tone poem” anyway? Glad you asked! Tone Poem is a term that is often used interchangeably with symphonic poem or any number of other similar terms, denoting a single-movement work, usually intended to be illustrative or at least suggestive of some extra-musical work, be it a particular story or poem or legend or something else. Tone poems tend to be free in their form, usually eschewing the more strict notions of form that most symphonies (particularly sonata-allegro form). As such, tone poems really found their chief flowering from roughly 1830 to 1920, during the Romantic period and the post-Romantic period that followed.
We’ll start off with a work I’d never heard before the other day when I wrote this, by a composer I’d never heard of until I tracked down this list of tone poems. Mieczyslaw Karlowicz was a Polish composer who lived from 1876 to 1909, when he was killed in an avalanche while skiing. The tone poem here, Stanislaw and Anna of Oswiecim, is dense music clearly in the tradition of Wagner and Strauss, but with its own thrilling lyricism. The work is based on a local legend involving the illicit love affair between a brother and sister (more here). It’s amazing how often the great works of art draw inspiration from tragic stories of doomed and forbidden love.
Next week? Gosh, I don’t know. I’m just getting started!