The Soft Close

This post I originally posted on my other blog in 2016.

When going to the Houston Symphony concert at Jones Hall with my fetching wife, Sheralyn, we never miss this pre-concert program called “prelude.”  It is a lecture [and sometimes audio] about the program and composers of that night’s concert. It is given by either a local music professor, the associate symphony conductor, one of the symphonies many gifted performers, one of the soloists on the night’s program [if there is a concerto], or sometimes the Houston Symphony conductor himself, Hans Graff. 

Former Conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, Maestro Hans Graff:

Update – Feb. 2017:  For the last couple of years we patrons of the Houston Symphony Orchestra have been blessed to have our musical ambassador for the HSO, Carlos Andres Botero, do the prelude lectures. He is fantastic!

I remember this one “prelude” with Hans Graf where he talked about the program of the night.  I remember him talking about this one piece on the program that he said, “we rarely perform”.  I forget now which piece it was, but I remember him saying it is rarely performed, not because it isn’t great music, but because he said of the slow, soft climactic end.  The maestro said, ‘us conductors are human too, and we love those pieces with the loud, energetic endings that bring the patrons to their feet with a loud ovation.”

While most pieces have those exciting climaxes [as the composers also want that loud approval of their music with a big ovation] there are some great, beautiful pieces that close softly, almost inconsequentially. They still will get ovations, but maybe just not those immediate boisterous standing ovations that the piece with the exciting loud closings get.

There are many examples of great pieces with climaxes that have a softer close. While maybe these pieces don’t end loud and energetic, that will bring the concert patrons to their feet immediately, they still have a certain, clear and impactful ending. 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in many [if not most] of his pieces ended them softly. But while you may say the ending wasn’t exciting, they ended precisely and perfectly. I have one example here, the final movement of Mozart’s Violin concerto #5, known as his ‘Turkish’ concerto for the rondo movement’s “alla Turca” theme.

The great master, Ludwig Van Beethoven, had some of the most stirring, exciting, and loud climaxes in his orchestral pieces, but listen how quiet, but perfect, his Pastoral Symphony #6 ends. 

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony #45, “The Farewell”, has a soft ending in the finale adagio movement like none other.  Here in Wikipedia explains it and this also explains why the symphony has been nicknamed “the Farewell.”: 

The tale of how the symphony was composed was told by Haydn in old age to his biographers Albert Christoph Dies and Georg August Griesinger. At that time, Haydn’s patron Nikolaus L. Prince Esterhazy was resident, together with all his musicians and retinue, at his favourite [sic] summer palace at Esterhaza in rural Hungary. The stay there had been longer than expected, and most of the musicians had been forced to leave their wives back at home in Eisenstadt, about a day’s journey away. Longing to return, the musicians appealed to their Kapellmeister for help. The diplomatic Haydn, instead of making a direct appeal, put his request into the music of the symphony: during the final adagio each musician stops playing, snuffs out the candle on his music stand, and leaves in turn, so that at the end, there are just two muted violins left (played by Haydn himself and his concertmaster, Luigi Tomasini). Esterházy seems to have understood the message: the court returned to Eisenstadt the day following the performance.”

From the great Austrian [Late] Romantic composer, Gustav Mahler, who composed some epic symphonic masterpieces, his Symphony #4 in G Major ends in a beautiful peaceful moment.  

In a final example, [and I know I’m cheating in this example], Franz Schubert’s Symphony #8 ends so peaceful and quiet.  Of course, this is Schubert’s famous “Unfinished” symphony as Schubert never finished the third or fourth movements where the last movement, usually allegro would have had the “fireworks” ending.  But I love this beautiful piece so much I want to share it, even though the ending of this piece is from it’s Andante con moto, 2nd movement. 

Please turn up the volume, put in full screen, and enjoy these great masterpieces with a soft close from the great masters, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, and Mahler.

W.A. Mozart: Violin Concerto #5 in A Major, Movement 3, ‘Alla Turca’:

L.V. Beethoven: Symphony #6 in F Major, ‘Pastoral’, Movement 5, “Shepherd’s Song”:

F. J. Haydn: Symphony #45 in F# minor, ‘Farewell’, Movement 4, Presto – Adagio:

Gustav Mahler: Symphony #4 in G Major, Movement 6, ‘The Heavenly Life’:

Franz Schubert: Symphony #8 in B minor, “Unfinished”, Movement 2, Andante con Moto:

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