MUSIC: Mahler: Song of Lament, San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas [RCA Victor 09026-68599-2, track 3 ending]
Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. The music in the background is the beginning of the end of Gustav Mahler’s Song of Lament. It
will serve as the theme song for this hour, which I’m going to devote
to interesting and unusual musical endings. I call this program, quite
simply, “The End.”
The idea for this program came from the very last note of this piece.
The music just before this note, as you can hear, is very soft,
meditative, almost hypnotizing. I was starting to really relax after
the tenseness, turbulence and raw power of much of the rest of the
composition. And then, all of a sudden, it came -- a final, very loud,
short, brassy, jolting bang of a chord. It's enough to let Mahler know
every time his piece is played. Doesn't matter that he died in 1911.
MUSIC: [we hear the very last note]
The recording I was listening to is the one you were just hearing with
the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, and the
San Francisco Symphony Chorus, directed by Vance George on RCA Victor.
It is an extraordinarily highly-spirited, superb performance of a most
unusual work -- a true “compact discovery.”
Mind you, I'm not for a moment claiming that this is one of Mahler’s
best pieces. I’m not saying it’s a must for every collection. I find it
too repetitious and disconnected — particularly the 30-minute-long
first movement. But it does have all the great characteristics of
Mahler: the opulent orchestration, the soaring lyricism, the tortured
seriousness — all the signs that say this piece couldn’t be by anyone
else. And yet it was begun when Mahler was only 17.
So what? So this. Did Beethoven sound like Beethoven when he was 17?
Not on your life. He sounded like Haydn. Did Schubert’s chamber music
sound like Schubert when he was 17? No way! He sounded like, well,
Haydn. Did Mendelssohn sound like Mendelssohn when he was a teenager?
What do you think? I think he sounded like... you know who.
Even the greatest composers didn’t discover their trademark styles
until they were more mature than 17! This realization gives me, at
least, new appreciation for the greatness of Mahler. But it doesn’t
explain how this work inspired a program called "The End."
Here’s how. The ending of The Song of Lament is so
unexpected, and yet, so right, it made me start thinking about how
classical music pieces, and movements from pieces, conclude. When you
think about it, most of them are so unoriginal! They all end in some
slight variation of…
MUSIC: [typical last chords of a classical piece]
The British composer, Malcolm Arnold, made fun of these typical endings in his hilarious musical spoof called The Grand, Grand Overture.
It concludes with a ridiculously prolonged coda, taking the usual
classical ending and going on and on with it for what seems like a good
part of the seven-minute piece.
This work, written originally for the first of the annual humor-filled
Hoffnung Festivals of London’s South Bank, is scored for full symphony
orchestra and organ plus three vacuum cleaners, a floor-polisher and
four rifles, which, “at the climax of the piece viciously silence their
heavy-breathing rivals.” This, according to the program notes by Piers
Burton-Page which accompany the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s
recording on Conifer Classics, conducted by Vernon Handley. These
notes, however, fail to let us know who plays first vacuum, first
rifle, or solo floor-polisher, for that matter. They do mention,
though, that “the main theme of the Overture is itself gloriously memorable, one of Arnold’s most inspired tunes ever.” I second that.
MUSIC: Malcolm Arnold: A Grand, Grand Overture, Op. 57, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley [Conifer Classics 75605 51263 2, track 1] [7:16]
Malcolm Arnold’s A Grand, Grand Overture, performed by the Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley. Arnold had a good
time making fun of traditional classical music endings as well as
Surely there are some original endings to classical music compositions,
I thought, but it was hard for me to think of any. So I consulted my
international panel of experts, otherwise known as the Moderated
Classical Music List on the Internet.
Andrey Boreyko from Poland suggested a piece by Alfred Schnittke called Moz-Art à la Haydn (Game with Music for Two Violins, Two Small String Orchestras, Double Bass and Conductor).
He wrote that it is a “kind of instrumental theatre, because musicians
are playing and changing their positions” as they play. “Quite
difficult to describe,” Andrey admitted. “Better to watch.” (In
addition to the music and the action, there are lighting effects as
At the end of the piece all the musicians leave the stage, playing at
the same time, and the conductor continues to conduct until the last
sound disappears, and then, he still continues to conduct for about
15-20 seconds of full silence. Andrey says the effect is most unusual
and makes a big impression: “We are left with a feeling that the music
is still there, with us, but already in a different dimension,
Simon Corley from France, with typical Cartesian logic, pointed out
that there are really two types of endings. “You've got what I’d call
“real ends,” he wrote, “those which correspond to a full stop, a
period, in punctuation. This type of ending is often associated with a
dramatic event or even death, as in Mahler’s 6th Symphony, with the terrible guillotine heavily underlined by an implacable rhythm and a vanishing diminuendo.”
MUSIC: Mahler: end of his Sixth Symphony, Philharmonia Orchestra, Benjamin Zander [Telarc, 3CD-80586, disc 2, track 2]
The ending of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony as performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Zander.
Another example of this “real,” definitive ending mentioned by Simon Corley concerns Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring -- “the vanishing flute trill followed by the whole orchestra shrieking in a very brief chord.”
MUSIC: ending of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Minnesota Orchestra, Eiji Oue [Reference Recordings RR-70CD, track 4]
The ending of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as performed by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Eiji Oue.
Simon Corley continues: “But there’s a second sort of ending, which is
perhaps even more interesting: it would correspond to the ellipsis
(...) in punctuation. I think this might not be called a ‘real’ end,
because it opens rather than closes something.” One of several examples
Simon gives is the ending of Dvorak’s 9th Symphony
(“From the New World”): “The last chord is beautifully scored, only the
woodwinds and brass remaining with a diminuendo after the whole
orchestra played the chord.”
MUSIC: ending of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, James Levine. [RCA Red Seal RCD14552, track 4]
The ending of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 as performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Levine.
You are listening to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide,
Fred Flaxman, and this hour is devoted to interesting or particularly
exciting classical musical endings. I call the program “The End.”
It’s time for one of my very favorite endings, that of the final movement of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto.
Here’s how that sounds as performed by Cecile Licad [suh-SEEL lee-KAHD]
with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado.
MUSIC: Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2, Op. 18, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cecile Licad, Claudio Abbado [CBS Masterworks MK 38672, track 3]
The final movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The soloist was Cecile Licad. Claudio Abbado conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Another Rachmaninov piece has been nominated for this program devoted
to interesting and unexpected endings to classical music pieces. Ruben
Stam from the Netherlands thought that the Variations on a Theme by Paganini would
be a good choice because “you expect a grand orchestral free-for-all as
in the second and third concertos, but Sergei impishly concludes with a
subdued re-statement of the last bar of the original theme,” and the
piece is over before you realize it.
MUSIC: Rachmaninov: ending of Variations on a Theme by
Paganini, Op. 43 Philadelphia Orchestra, Sergey Rachmaninov, Leopold
Stokowski [Naxos Historical 8.110602, track 31] [1:14]
The surprisingly quiet end to Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Sergey Rachmaninov himself was the soloist. The Philadelphia Orchestra was conducted by Leopold Stokowski.
We’re exploring unusual classical music endings on this hour of Compact Discoveries. Charles Dalmas nominated the ending of Charles Ives’ Second Symphony. At the end of the last movement the trombones stand and play Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,
and then the piece ends on a giant tone cluster. Dalmas says
“That’s got to be up there with the great endings.”
We’re going to listen to the entire last movement as performed by the
Nashville Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Schermerhorn on a
Naxos American Classics compact disc.
MUSIC: Ives: Symphony No. 2, Fifth Movement, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, Kenneth Schermerhorn [Naxos 8.559076, track 6] [10:20]
The final movement of the Second Symphony by Charles Ives. Kenneth Schermerhorn conducted the Nashville Symphony Orchestra on a Naxos recording.
Perhaps one of the most original and dramatic endings of any classical opera is the final scene of Poulenc’s Dialogue des Carmélites (Dialog of the Carmelites),
which takes place during the French Revolution. Scott Morrison
suggested this piece. He wrote: “There is a guillotine in the final
scene which takes off the head of the heroine after all her Carmelite
sisters have preceded her, the choral voices decreasing one by one. And
then all is silence on stage, and usually in the audience as well,
although sometimes one can hear a gasp or two, and a sniffle or two as
MUSIC: final scene from Poulenc’s Dialogue des Carmélites performed
by the Choirs and Orchestra of the Théâtre National de
l’Opéra de Paris conducted by Pierre Dervaux
The final scene from Poulenc’s Dialog of the Carmelites.
You heard the Choirs and Orchestra of the Théâtre National
de l’Opéra de Paris conducted by Pierre Dervaux.
When asked for interesting endings to classical music pieces, Denis
Fodor suggested Schubert"s “Unfinished” Symphony. The reason? Despite
the nickname, it does end.
And now, as far as Compact Discoveries is concerned, this
is “The End”... for this hour, that is. And what better way to end than
with the “Unfinished” Symphony, since we don’t have time to finish it
in any case. Carlo Maria Giulini conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony
MUSIC: Schubert: Symphony No. 7 (8) in B Minor, D759 (“Unfinished”), Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Carlo Maria Giulini [Sony SK 66833, track 2] under:
You have been listening to Compact Discoveries. In this hour
we have explored “The End” — interesting and original classical music
endings by Mahler, Arnold, Stravinsky, Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Ives and
Poulenc. I hope you have enjoyed this program. My name is Fred Flaxman,
and you can reach me in care of this station or by e-mail. My address
Thank you for listening and for supporting your local public radio station.
MUSIC: ends at 57:45
ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): This program was made possible in
part by the National Endowment for the Arts - a great nation deserves
great art; and by the Public Radio Exchange Reversioning Project. The
Public Radio Exchange is at prx.org.
Program Ends at 58:00