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Symphony in D minor
1892/3; first performed on 10 February 1893 conducted by Johann Nepomuk Fuchs; sometimes referred to as Symphony No 1

'Zemlinsky: Symphonies' (CDA67985)
Zemlinsky: Symphonies
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Movement 1: Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Allegro scherzando
Movement 3: Sehr innig und breit
Movement 4: Moderato

Symphony in D minor
Zemlinsky had begun work on a Symphony in E minor in 1891. Like many Viennese composers before and after him, writing a new symphony proved a daunting task and he soon abandoned the plans. Yet he returned to the breach in 1892 with a Symphony in D minor, working throughout the first half of the year. Zemlinsky conducted the first movement at an end-of-term concert in the Musikverein. Brahms, the sovereign guard of the Viennese symphonic tradition, was in the audience (as he often was at Conservatory events). It was an auspicious occasion and marked the peak of Zemlinsky’s obsession with the great master; he later commented, in 1922: ‘My works fell even more than before under the influence of Brahms. I remember how even among my colleagues it was considered particularly praiseworthy to compose in as “Brahmsian” a manner as possible. We were soon notorious in Vienna as the dangerous “Brahmins”.’ Zemlinsky continued work on his Symphony later that year and it was premiered in its entirety on 10 February 1893, conducted by his encouraging teacher Johann Nepomuk Fuchs (Robert Fuchs’s brother). George Enescu was among the violinists in the orchestra.

The opening movement is a bold sonata form construction, shunning any claims of academicism with its gripping dramatic intent. The noble first subject is followed by a flowing second subject, both packed with developmental potential. Keen to show his investigative credentials, though, Zemlinsky immediately starts examining constituent motifs, a process which potentially robs the development proper of its purpose. This was partly reflective of Robert Fuchs’s idea of motivic economy, which Zemlinsky explores in a particularly expressive manner, looking forward to Schoenberg’s idea of ‘developing variation’. Yet the middle section of the movement is no wallflower, featuring violent shifts between major and minor, eventually heralding the thunderous recapitulation and a long exhausted coda.

The ensuing scherzo in F major, starting with the rising fourth that began the entire Symphony, flaunts syncopation in a manner not dissimilar to Brahms’s Bohemian friend Dvorák, while the trio, in D flat major, is the work of a thoroughbred ‘Brahmin’. The slow movement tries to preserve the unruffled air of a Bruckner Adagio, though it is haunted by the impulsive mood of the first movement. Something of that disquiet remains in the initial stretches of the finale, but rather than resolving the tensions, Zemlinsky shrugs them off, ending with a bold if not entirely fully earned coda.

from notes by Gavin Plumley © 2014

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA67985 track 2
Allegro scherzando
Recording date
12 February 2013
Recording venue
BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon & Dave Rowell
Hyperion usage
  1. Zemlinsky: Symphonies (CDA67985)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: February 2014
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