Moved by movements?
Replying to an earlier blog post, our friend "Anonumass" put his finger on a thorny issue (ouch!) of classical programming:
band don't go on stage and play three complete albums and nothing else.
orchestras get on stage and often play the equivalent: three longish works, symphony or concerto etc.
eg the whole Bruckner 8th? more effective might be just the powerful 4th movement. a concert of 8 or 10 of those might be more appealing to modern audiences.
you could even play just that 4th movement of his 8th on air.
could your last year be a year of living dangerously?
In other words, why don't we play just individual movements of classical works more often? Good question, Anon. Let's see whether I can come up with a good answer.
First of all, by "movements," we mean the separate pieces that add up to a whole symphony, concerto, sonata, or other multi-movement work. They roughly analogize to chapters in a book or tracks on an album, though they typically have more individual autonomy than the former and less than the latter. While they may share mood, key, instrumentation and other important features, the movements of a work, if heard separately, can't usually be heard as possessing an obvious kinship.
But sometimes, there are thematic connections between and among the movements of a multi-movement work. Think, for instance, of the fourth movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, into which Beethoven inserts a reference to the third movement. He also has the third movement flow without pause into the fourth, to emphasize the narrative thread and inexorable tread of this innovative masterwork. By the middle of the 19th century, this method of using the same musical themes in each movement got a name: "cyclic form." Favored by such French composers as Hector Berlioz (e.g., the Symphonie fantastique) and César Franck (e.g., the Symphony in D minor), it can also be heard to obvious effect in Antonín Dvořák's "New World" Symphony, right down to its final passage.
So back to the question: Why don't we play separate movements more often on WFCR? Mostly, it's because of custom and tradition. We honor the composers, we feel, by playing their works complete, as they intended. That's the way it's been done for as long as any of us have known, so that's the way it should be done. But you know, the more I examine that answer, the less it holds up. For much of musical history, movements of even some of the most famous works — Haydn's last symphonies, for instance — were treated as much as individual entities as part of a whole. They weren't even usually played contiguously at concerts, instead having other musical numbers stuck in-between. Were there self-appointed "music police" on hand to blow the whistle, as their descendants have on the rare occasions that we've transgressed in our radio programming? Of course not. It was the norm at the time.
But it isn't the norm now, and hasn't been for over a hundred years. Maybe I'm being an old fuddy-duddy here, but there's something down-market about broadcasting just a movement from, say, a Bruckner or Mahler symphony. Yes, certain movements of larger pieces have a separate life as encores or even featured selections. But not most. Let the "light classical" stations process the music into a kind of aural Velveeta. Our listeners expect and deserve more integrity than that.
That does't mean, though, that it's always going to be that way. Indeed, I've sensed that things are loosening up again, in concert and on the radio, when it comes to movements. Quartets like the Chiara and the Miró, while not abandoning the regular concert format, also perform programs made up of shorter selections from a wider variety of works, rather like the way radio programmers build sets out of single selections from several albums. Pianists like Lara Downes and Jenny Lin are as likely to put together concert programs and albums that mix and match diverse but related selections as they are to concentrate on a small number of integral works. Can the two programming methods co-exist? Of course.
And here at WFCR, I've been going the "little of this, little of that" route more often of late, especially with contemporary works that exhibit a pop sensibility to start with. Frankly, there are some new classical works that we're never going to play complete, because of their length and variability of quality. But they may contain one or two movements that compel listening and stand up beautifully on their own. Without apology, that's all we're going to play from them. Better that than nothing, don't you think?
So, Anon, I may not live as dangerously as you'd like. But this old dog has learned a few new programming tricks along the way. And should I, at the end of my career, run afoul of the movement police, I'll go out shouting, "Come and get me, coppers!"