Program 48
"The End"

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 orchestration.

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 well.)

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, unhearable.”

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 well.”

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 Orchestra.

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 is

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

Program Ends at 58:00


  2009 Compact Discoveries