Tune in at 1:00pm all this week as we celebrate May 18th being the 194th birthday of the composer, violinist and music critic Karl Goldmark.

Karl Goldmark was considered to be a key figure in the musical life of Vienna, in the mid to late 19th century. He was born in Keszthely, Hungary but moved to Vienna in his teens to study briefly with the violinist, composer and teacher Leopold Jansa. He had hoped to study at the Vienna Conservatory, but the 1848 Revolutions that were happening in the Austrian Empire, caused the Conservatory to close, so Goldmark ended up teaching himself to compose, while playing in regional orchestras.

He made his living doing a number of menial jobs, performing and writing journal articles for various publications. He was particularly even handed when it came to his writings on the music of Wagner and Brahms; each composer having their own staunch group of supporters.

As a composer, his first major success was his 1875 opera The Queen of Sheba. It remained in the repertoire of the Vienna State Opera for decades after its premiere. Other successes soon followed. His Rustic Wedding Symphony of 1876, and his violin concerto of 1877, both immediate triumphs would secure Goldmark a prestigious position in Viennese musical life for the rest of his life.

Goldmark’s chamber music is very finely crafted. The music of Mendelssohn and Schumann are paramount, when it comes to stylistic features. It was with these smaller scale works that Goldmark would gain a foothold in the compositional landscape of Austria.

Monday, May 13th: Suite for Violin and Piano in D major, Op. 11 (1869)

Goldmark wrote surprisingly little for his instrument the violin. When it came to chamber music he wrote two suites for violin (No. 1 published in 1869, and No. 2 published in 1893) and a violin sonata. (Published in 1874.)

The four movement First Suite in D Major shows the influence of the baroque period. The first movement is clearly a representation of a baroque dance suite Overture. The second movement andante shows the influence of Bach. With the third movement, Goldmark writes a very elegant waltz, and the final movement is an ebullient finale full of tunes listeners will remember for a long time after hearing the suite.

Tuesday, May 14: String Quintet in A minor, Op. 9 (1862, pub. 1870)

Having the same instrumentation as Schubert’s String Quintet, which was premiered in Vienna in 1850, Goldmark’s 1862 Quintet was written for the Hellmesberger Quartet.

Joseph Hellmesberger was the Director of the Vienna Conservatory, and Goldmark and he were lifelong friends.

When the Quartet premiered the work in 1862, audience reaction was approving, but critics were less appreciative, claiming that Goldmark was trying too hard to be “clever” in his compositional devices. They took issue with the fugue that happens in the final movement, because according to them it interrupted melodic flow. One of the other devices they did not like was the scordatura tuning that Goldmark asks the second cellist to do in the second movement, in order to achieve some unusual double stop possibilities.

With hindsight being what it is, these criticisms seem miniscule. The quintet is a glimmering example of the string quintet form. Goldmark relishes in the lush, rich texture that the extra cello provides.  The quintet also demonstrates Goldmark’s intimate understanding of the string writing of his predecessors, notably Beethoven and Mendelssohn.


Wednesday, May 15: Piano Quintet no. 2 in C-sharp minor, Op. 54 (1914, pub 1916)

Goldmark wrote two Piano Quintets, this second one came from right near the end of his life.

While at the time, the music of Debussy, Richard Strauss, Mahler, and Stravinsky was being hailed as innovative and progressive, Goldmark chose to stay relatively conservative in his compositional style.

You could easily confuse the second piano quintet with the chamber music of Brahms, someone who Goldmark became friendly with. There are elements of Mendelsohn as well, in particularly in the third movement scherzo.

From a key area standpoint the music does have some broad-minded qualities. In the first movement there is this conflict between the keys of C major and C sharp minor. Goldmark throughout the quintet explores remote key areas, such as B minor and E flat major, but is always careful to bring back previously heard material to book end the harmonic exploration in a way that is pleasing to the listener.

Thursday, May 16: Piano Quintet in B-flat major, Op. 30 (1879)

This first Piano Quintet of Goldmark overall has a sunny disposition to it. Not surprising, considering that Goldmark was finally achieving some real professional success in Vienna, with his larger compositions, such as the Rustic Wedding Symphony and the Violin Concerto.

Right from the outset of the quintet Goldmark presents a theme that has a very genial quality to it, and this sets the tone and character for the remainder of the work.

One of the highlights of the quintet is the sublime second movement that starts out with an exquisite cello solo. Essentially what Goldmark has composed in this second movement is a luscious song without words for piano quintet.

What follows is a very contrasting scherzo third movement. Driving dotted rhythms in the piano, accompany lyrical melodies and chords in the strings, giving the music a feeling of uneasiness throughout. Goldmark, does give the listener some respite in the lighter trio section, before returning to passion of the A section.

The finale, Allegro Vivace returns to the same jovial good-humored spirits of the opening movement. This gives the listener a sense that he has returned to a welcoming home after wandering down some interesting musical byways.


Friday, May 17th: Piano Trio, Op. 33, No.2 (1879)

Written in the same year as his first piano quintet, this trio was considered to be amongst the front rank of contemporary piano trios of the era. It was performed often in Goldmark’s lifetime. As the respected music critic Rudolf Felber said of the work:

“It is a fully mature work and shows Goldmark at the height of his artistic and technical mastery. The first movement, Allegro con moto, begins in a simple but very noble manner. The second theme is delicate in feeling and imaginative in development. A lively somewhat Mendelssohnian Scherzo comes next. It is impish, goblin music, while the trio section, Andante grazioso, which is pleasingly naive in character, offers an effective contrast. The slow movement comes third. It is a short Andante sostenuto is full of grace and elegance and after the mad whirlwind of the Scherzo produces a doubly pleasing effect by its unpretentiousness. The buoyant finale, Allegro, is full of life and energy although it closes in a meditative and dreamy fashion.”

Tune in at 1:00pm all this week to hear this incredible chamber music of Karl Goldmark!

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