Carl GOLDMARK (1830-1915)
Symphony No. 1 The Rustic Wedding (1876) [43:10]
Merlin - opera prelude (1886) [10:43]
Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller
rec. live, Max Littman Saal, Regentenbau Bad Kissingen, 8 June 2008 (Symphony); 19 April 2009 (Merlin)

Károly Goldmark fought on the losing (left-wing) side in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. He then began what was to be a long and successful career in music. In his mid-teens, he changed his first name to Carl. His early years were not auspicious; he was one of twenty children of a notary and cantor in the Hungarian village of Keszethy, and money was scarce. Nevertheless his father scraped together enough for violin lessons in Sopron and Vienna. After the Revolution, he returned to Vienna and played violin in theatre orchestras. He learned composing and orchestration by osmosis, declaring himself “completely self-taught” in those fields.

Besides a bit of teaching and choral conducting, he secured a job as a music critic. He distinguished himself by championing both Wagner and Brahms when almost everyone else came down strongly on one side or the other. He composed continuously through his twenties so that he was able to put on a concert of his works in 1858, to mixed critical response. His String Quartet (op. 8) of 1860 was well received.

He befriended Brahms and was made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in 1866. He was among the group that founded the Akademischer Wagnerverein in Vienna in 1872. The very successful opera, Die Königin von Saba (The Queen of Sheba) was premiered in Vienna in 1875. It then opened in New York (1885), Buenos Aires (1901) and was performed continuously in Budapest until the 1930s. Goldmark lived a long and respected life, capped off with an honorary degree from Budapest University, and honorary membership in the Accademia di Santa Cicilia in Rome, the latter shared with Richard Strauss in the year before Goldmark died.

The feature piece on this recording, The Rustic Wedding Symphony (Ländliche Hochzeit), was completed in 1876 and is a charming piece of program music. It has memorable tunes in all five movements. The first is a Wedding March theme followed by a dozen well crafted, Brahms-like variations. A beautiful Bridal Song follows, then a scherzo-like Serenade. The fourth movement, “In the Garden”, further shows off Goldmark’s melodic and orchestration gifts. The final “Dance” movement evokes the wedding guests frolicking, occasionally pausing to enjoy the garden. The celebration and the symphony conclude in hurly-burly fashion.

Goldmark’s second of six published operas, Merlin (1886) was composed to a libretto by Mahler’s mentor, Siegfried Lipiner, and was a great success. Premiered in Vienna, it is, like Wagner’s operas, “through-composed”, that is there are no spoken dialogues. The Prelude on this recording introduces the musical themes, and is most enjoyable on its own.

Philharmonie Festiva is an assembly of some of the best musicians in the Munich area, and is built around a core from the Munich Bach Soloists. The conductor, Gerd Schaller, is well known in and beyond Germany. He brings out the rustic quality of this music beautifully. The performance and recording are excellent. This is a composer and symphony too long neglected. Buy this recording for a pleasant experience.

Paul Kennedy

A composer and symphony too long neglected. Buy this recording for a pleasant experience.