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Hermann BISCHOFF (1868-1936)
Symphony No. 1 (1906) [62:23]
Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Werner Andreas Albert
rec. Ludwigshafen, Philharmonie, 11-15 June 2004
CPO 777 111-2 [62:23]

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Hermann Bischoff was the son of a successful steel manufacturer in Leipzig, Germany, at a time when German music reigned supreme throughout Europe. The ghosts of Beethoven and Schumann were still haunting the landscape.† Wagner was topping the opera charts.† Even Mahler was just starting to climb out of the shadows cast by Brahms and Bruch, and the French, particularly Saint-SaŽns, Chausson, Debussy and Chabrier, were just figuring out how to add more colors to the romantic palette of European music.† The composer, however, who benefited the most from this heady mix was the young Richard Strauss. 

What has Richard Strauss to do with Hermann Bischoff, you ask? Well, it turns out that when the young Bischoff Ė only four years Straussís junior Ė left Leipzig to continue his studies in music, he traveled to Munich in the 1880s and fell under the influence of Richard Strauss. He was drawn to the crowd who were consciously steering away from Wagner and the grand operatic gesture, with its noisy sturm und drang.† It was a group of young composers who were leaning more toward the expanded lyric and the extended melodic line . . . which is pretty much what we have in Bischoffís First Symphony. 

Conductor Werner Andreas Albert and the Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz inject considerable enthusiasm into this music, but when all is said and done, itíll still remind you of Strauss.† Youíll hear a tad of Till Eulenspiegel, a trace of Don Juan and perhaps flourish or two that could have come right out of Don Quixote.† This isnít to say that the music is derivative.† Bischoff learned quite a lot from Strauss, but itís clear from this work that the symphony format is unwieldy for him.† Strauss succeeds in his tone poems because of the narrow thematic focus the form demands.† This would be similar to the ode in poetry.† Odes are meditations on a single subject with no formal structure or limits in length.† They merely have to stick to a single theme.† Straussís legacy lies in his mastery of this form, just as John Keatsí legacy resides in his odes.† Bischoff clearly can create charming melodies and he did learn something from Strauss about counterpoint, but the symphony format seems an awkward fit.† 

This doesnít mean, however, that itís not fun to listen to.† It is that.† But in the end, this workís chief appeal is going to be for those listeners who are following the evolution of 19th century German music.† Bischoff is still worth a listen.

Paul Cook



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