Hyperion Records

Symphony No 10 in E flat major, WoO8
completed in April 1857 but suppressed; first performed in Carnegie Hall on 22 March 1998 by the Bergen Youth Orchestra of New Jersey under Eugene Minor; published in 2006

'Spohr: Symphonies Nos 8 & 10' (CDA67802)
Spohr: Symphonies Nos 8 & 10
Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Larghetto
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegretto – Trio
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro

Symphony No 10 in E flat major, WoO8
Spohr completed his final symphony, No 10 in E flat major, WoO8, in April 1857, and the story behind it has an intriguing parallel with Sibelius’s last symphony, his eighth, with the important difference that Spohr’s work survived whereas the Finnish master is believed to have destroyed his. It would appear that both composers were worried about how their final symphonic testament would stand up to public scrutiny in comparison to their earlier ones which had won such acclaim. Spohr put this feeling into words when he wrote to his friend, the Frankfurt banker and Lieder composer Wilhelm Speyer, on 27 November 1857: ‘I recently received a request from the Philharmonic Society in London to write a symphony or other large-scale orchestral work for next season. I turned down the request because, though I have recently written some quartets worthy of my earlier ones, I do not feel myself able to write a symphony capable of being placed alongside my previous ones from my second symphony onwards. I must also take care not to sink in the estimation of the English in particular.’

It seems from this letter that Spohr’s commission from the Philharmonic Society arrived after he had shelved the tenth and he did not mention the work to Speyer. Soon after the symphony’s completion Spohr rehearsed it with his Kassel orchestra and, according to the section added to his memoirs by his second wife, Marianne Pfeiffer: ‘Despite the many beauties and new ideas it contained, it did not seem to him worthy of bringing to an end the impressive sequence of symphonies he had composed in earlier years; thus it came about that this tenth symphony was condemned by Spohr himself to eternal oblivion, if not to destruction.’ Such was Marianne’s devotion to Spohr’s memory that after his death she did not destroy the symphony but kept it unperformed and unpublished until it eventually found its way into the former Prussian State Library in Berlin, where it still remains. It was not until American conductor Eugene Minor examined the symphony and prepared a performing version that it received its premiere—at New York’s Carnegie Hall on 22 March 1998, when Mr Minor conducted his Bergen Youth Orchestra of New Jersey. It was eventually published in 2006.

The ethical question arises of whether or not to disregard the composer’s wishes, but now the symphony is in the public domain listeners can make up their own minds as to whether Spohr was right in suppressing it. Usually it is the youthful work of composers that is disinterred against their known wishes, as happened some thirty years ago with the early C minor symphony of Grieg. In Spohr’s case the problem is compounded by the composer’s attempt to overhaul his musical style radically and follow a new path. In the words of the German musicologist Hans Glenewinkel when studying the two string quartets Spohr wrote around this period, the composer made ‘his guiding principle the return to the classical ideals of his youth’.

The tenth is the most concise of all Spohr’s symphonies, with no episodic matter and only a minimum of bridge passages. It also mixes the old and the new, for along with the neoclassical formal structure Spohr’s chromatic harmonic language is completely up to date, and for the first time his orchestra includes valve horns and trumpets as well as a tuba. The first movement does away with the usual slow introduction and launches immediately, forte, into the Allegro. This first thematic group is punctuated by lighter passages focusing on the woodwind supported by pizzicato strings before the brief lyrical second subject appears. All of these elements are covered during the development section and after a straightforward reprise the music reaches a powerful conclusion.

The seamless Larghetto is dominated by the opening theme with its slight tinge of melancholy, and the main contrast arrives with the classically orientated closing motif. With the Allegretto Scherzo we hear the influence of Haydn, with unexpected pauses and dynamic contrasts reminding us of the original meaning of ‘scherzo’ as a joke. Lyricism takes over in the Trio where the woodwind sing a broad melody accompanied by running quavers from the first violins, while later on horns and trumpets add a gentle fanfare.

Haydn again comes to mind at the start of the Allegro finale where the main theme comprises three-bar units instead of the expected regular four-bar ones—just the sort of thing the old Esterházy genius delighted in doing. With his second subject Spohr brings his symphonic output full circle as this triplet-based motif matches the one at the identical point in the finale of his very first symphony, written forty-six years earlier, which also used triplets and was in the same key of E flat major. Finally, a rumbustious few bars close Spohr’s last symphonic outing.

from notes by Keith Warsop © 2011
Chairman, Spohr Society of Great Britain

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