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Symphony No 4 in F major 'Die Weihe der Töne', Op 86
July to October 1832; based on Carl Pfeiffer's eponymous poem; first performed in Kassel on 4 November 1832 with Spohr conducting

'Spohr: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5' (CDA67622)
Spohr: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67622 
Movement 1: Largo – Allegro
Movement 2: Andantino – Allegro – Andantino
Movement 3: Tempo di Marcia – Andante maestoso
Movement 4: Larghetto – Allegretto

Symphony No 4 in F major 'Die Weihe der Töne', Op 86
The F minor Largo introduction expresses the gloom at the deep silence of nature before the creation of sound, then the first subject of the Allegro in the major reflects the activity of life itself; sounds of nature including birdsong and the murmur of a stream form the second subject; and the development features the ‘uproar of the elements’. When the storm dies down, life and nature return to normal in the recapitulation. But these contrasting events are given cohesion by a motto theme heard in the slow introduction which forms the opening of the first subject and provides hints of the approaching storm while the coda links material from exposition and development.

The second movement handles sounds associated with a domestic and social setting in three separate sections, two marked Andantino representing a lullaby and a lover’s serenade with solo cello separated by an Allegro dance. To unify the movement Spohr brings back all three sections simultaneously as a coda in which time signatures of 2/8, 3/8 and 9/16 are combined. Spohr was no doubt inspired by a similar feat in the dance scene from Act I of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, an opera he greatly admired.

Verses six and seven picture war and battle, and these provided the opportunity for a march movement, thereby being both descriptive of the poem and—following Rochlitz’s advice—an infrequently used symphonic form. (Of course, two years earlier, in 1830, Berlioz had composed a march movement in his Symphonie fantastique, but Spohr appears not to have known this work at the time he conceived his own symphony.) After the march proper there are contrasting sections covering the strife and the anxious feelings of those left at home before the march storms back to an exalted victory. The tempo broadens to Andante maestoso and Bach-like contrapuntal string figurations accompany a chorale theme which Spohr identifies as the Ambrosian Hymn of Praise or Te Deum, with the melody (1540) by Johann Kugelmann (1495–1542).

In the finale, funeral music—Larghetto in F minor—starts up with drum rolls and sighing appoggiaturas from the wind instruments. A gravely beautiful chorale, Begrabt den Leib in seiner Gruft, on cellos and clarinets with a halting pizzicato accompaniment, mourns the dead; not, presumably, just those who were slain in the third movement’s battle but also those close to Spohr who had died the previous year. The music reaches F major as the tempo notches up to Allegretto; now comes ‘Consolation through tears’, a gentle theme bringing the symphony to a final state of resigned acceptance. Spohr requested that this finale should be performed very softly and restfully, so that even the fortissimos ought not to be rough or hard.

Spohr conducted the symphony’s premiere in Kassel on 4 November 1832 and this work was very quickly acclaimed as his symphonic masterpiece, remaining in the core repertoire for many decades. If we except the last section of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony (No 45) there is no precedent among Spohr’s great predecessors for closing a symphony with a slow finale. This therefore was definitely an ‘infrequently used form’ and this finale of Spohr’s proved an important example to future composers, including Tchaikovsky (Symphony No 6) and Mahler (Symphonies Nos 3 and 9).

from notes by Keith Warsop © 2008
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67622 track 4
Tempo di Marcia – Andante maestoso
Recording date
27 April 2007
Recording venue
Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland
Recording producer
Ben Connellan
Recording engineer
Michael Rast
Hyperion usage
  1. Spohr: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5 (CDA67622)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: March 2008
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