George Templeton Strong was an American Romantic who lived in Switzerland.
He was a colleague and friend of MacDowell. Strong lived to 92 and composed
grandiose musical works and painted evocative watercolours. His music was
once championed by Ansermet, Szigeti, Iturbi and Toscanini.
Strong's Symphony No.2 "Sintram" is subtitled - "The Struggle of
Mankind Against the Powers of Evil". Lasting practically an hour, it
is modelled on de la Motte Fouqué's romance with additional inspiration
from Albrecht Dürer's famous Ritter, Tod und Teufel (The Knight, Death
and the Devil). Briefly Fouqué's Sintram tells of Björn a cruel,
despotic Nordic knight and his son Sintram whose life is blighted by a curse
resulting from his father's misdeeds. The story culminates in the comforting
power of Christianity in which they finally find peace as opposed to the
indulgence of wild passions nurtured by barbarous feudal customs. These opposing
elements are juxtapositioned in the music, of the first two movements, which
is clearly influenced by Wagner. The third movement is reminiscent of Berlioz.
It is entitled The Three Terrible Companions: Death, the Devil and Insanity
and is a vivid evocation of the Dürer woodcut (see CD booklet cover
illustration) with is picture of poisonous plants, hideous creatures and
death riding beside the knight who rides on unconcerned and determined to
reach his goal - the castle in the background. It also alludes to Fouqué's
romance. It is clear from the oriental/belly dance-type figures that Strong
considers the sins of the flesh to be very much the work of the devil. The
final movement, The Victorious Struggle is an expression of hope for the
future in the struggle against evil. The music is suitably heroic and mystical.
Without being very originl this work has atmosphere and thrills enough with
the third movement containing the most arresting music.
Adriano delivers a thrilling and evocative reading.
The much shorter Chorale (seven minutes) was orchestrated in 1929. Hassler's
Chorale, Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden (When the Last Hour Comes) was originally
published in 1601. It sounds like a funeral procession and indeed one writer
pointed out the irony that Strong wrote the work around the time of the
stock-market crash and the start of the Great Depression!
It is moving enough.