Pepping's name is more
usually associated with sacred and organ
music but in fact he set great store
by his concert works.
He was born in Duisburg
in Germany and studied under a pupil
of Schrecker, Walther Gmeindl, at the
Berlin Academy (1922-28). During this
period he wrote in an avant-garde style;
a regular darling of the Donaueschingen
Festival. 1929 saw him shift to choral
writing and to a tradition that links
with the Renaissance masters he admired
so much. This became his centre of gravity
during the 1930s. He returned to instrumental
music in the late 1930s. As he did so
he caught the ennui that surrounded
the musical experimentation of the 1920s.
All four works here return to traditional
models; the concerto less so.
The First Symphony
is a cheery piece in a tradition
reaching back to Goldmark's Rustic
Wedding and in Pepping’s own times
recalls the Huber symphonies (recorded
on Sterling). Further back in time we
might link the mood to Beethoven's Pastoral
and Raff's late-period titled symphonies.
Only in the Molto adagio do we
hear intimations of a clouded sky. Here
a trumpet solo reflects the gloomy coin
represented by the anchoring sour elegy-solo
in Franz Schmidt's contemporary Fourth
Symphony. We may also hear a clod-hopping
Mahlerian skirl in a third movement
that skitters along in a Germanic echo
of Moeran's Sinfonietta. The
second movement material includes elements
of hymnal writing that had me thinking
of Nielsen's Sinfonia Espansiva.
The Second Symphony
was written during the dark days
of 1942 and was premiered in Essen on
7 February 1943. Its long Molto sostenuto
first movement is at first tragic
and ominous with sombre fanfare-elegy-cortege
material from the brass. Its progress
is lumbering and sometimes ungainly
but the binding elegiac theme transcends
the gangly stride. It is heard discreetly
at 5:58. Serenity in the violins returns
for the Tranquillo which at times
again glimpses the pages of Nielsen's
Espansiva. The allegro spirituoso
recalls the heartiness of Schmidt’s
Hussarenlied Variations. The
finale is gloomily and fugally serious
with many an echo of Bach along the
way. Fascinating that the trumpet solo
plays such a part in these symphonies.
Not only in the finale of No. 2 but
also earlier on it is given eminence
with some of the gestures refractively
echoing the detonating fanfares of Mahler
Of these two symphonies
the first is the more completely resolved.
The second encompasses many moods. From
the start one expects the eternal verities,
tragedy and life and death. In fact
the symphony lacks a coherence of mood
while having plenty of impressive incidental
moments especially in that glorious
second movement. The First Symphony
sets out to illustrate and entertain
and does these things tolerably well;
certainly enough to warrant revival.
Onwards to the shorter
The Third Symphony
Die Tageszeiten dates from
the penultimate year of the Third Reich.
It is of about the same length as its
predecessor. The standard four movements
are entitled: Der Morgen; Der
Tag; Der Abend; Die Nacht.
It carries little of the charnel miasma
of the time. If anything it represents
a retreat from such matters. It is a
symphonic companion to Pepping’s choral
cycle Das Jahr (1940). In uncharitable
hands there might be accusations of
Pepping kow-towing to the Aryan ideals
of manhood in the country's fields;
the stability of wife and children,
of sowing and harvest. Only in the finale
Die Nacht is there an ominous
edge although this dissipates in the
face of Pepping's trademark happy disposition
moderated again by the fugal character
and treatment of the ideas.
The Third Symphony
was premiered in 1948 by Berlin Radio
with Robert Heger conducting. Pepping
suffered some neglect as a composer
who had stayed on inside Hitler's Germany
but there was little lasting stigma.
The notes say little or nothing about
Pepping's relationship with the Nazi
government. It would be interesting
to know although it is irrelevant to
appraisal of the music.
The 1950 Piano Concerto
is short and completely successful
in its balance of ideas, treatment and
duration. Unlike the three symphonies
it is in only three movements. The premiere
was by the pianist who made a name for
himself by performing Furtwängler's
Symphonic-Concerto, Eric Then-Bergh.
The Berlin Phil were conducted by Joseph
Keilberth on 16 September 1951. It does
not ape the big symphonic concertos.
It is all so much more concise, rapid-fire
and even jazzy. After an exciting first
movement there is a deeply poignant
langsam with solo trumpet sounding
across glistening serene writing for
the strings. Pepping perhaps needed
the tension of soloist against orchestra
to strike alchemy. Certainly the results
are adroit here. The finale Maestoso
strikes the right note even if,
with the benefit of hindsight, the brass
fanfaring echoes the Quidditch music
in the Harry Potter films. Volker Banfield
gives this fine neglected concerto a
good run for its money. Well worth hearing.
The annotation is full
and capable though it leaves historical
questions unanswered. The performances
seem completely engaged and well prepared.
The sound is splendid at every turn.
If you have a taste
for German symphonies of the 1940s then
do give this set a hearing. The symphonies
have a tendency towards the discursive
but this is not untoward if you prefer
the illustrative and poetic to the grand
and tragic. I found the First Symphony
growing on me more with every hearing.
However each of the three has treasurable
moments. The Piano Concerto is an outright
success and deserves to be heard much