Hans von Bülow
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PROGRAM NOTES

Fünf Gedichte von Richard Pohl, op. 15          2006
  1. Am Strande
  2. Regenbogen
  3. Wanderziel
  4. Ewige Sehnsucht
  5. Seelentrost

Hans von Bülow was one of the 19th-century’s foremost musicians. As a teenager, he became a piano pupil of Liszt, who said that Bülow was “one of the greatest musical phenomena he had encountered.” Bülow’s most lasting musical contribution, however, was as a conductor; he insisted on the highest performance standards and was the first to conduct from memory. Bülow supported the music of Liszt and Wagner, as well as that of both Brahms and Tchaikovsky. He gave the premiere of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony with his own Meiningen orchestra in 1885, and played the piano for the U.S. premiere of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto in Boston in 1875, a stormy affair marred by jeers, heckling and insults.

From 1878 to 1880 Bülow was Hofkapellmeister in Hanover, but was forced to leave after fighting with a tenor singing the “Knight of the Swan” role in Lohengrin (von Bülow had called him the “Knight of the Swine”). In 1880 he moved to Meiningen where he took the equivalent post, and where he built the orchestra into one of the finest in Germany; among his other demands, he insisted all the musicians learn to play their parts from memory. Bülow premiered many of the 19th century’s most important works, such as Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Bülow was a powerful advocate of Liszt and his music and never wavered in his devotion to him.

Richard Pohl was another of Liszt’s devotees, a tireless champion of the New German School in general and of Liszt’s music in particular. He was an unabashed apologist for Liszt and wrote prolifically for most of the 19th century’s most important musical periodicals. Pohl and Bülow were part of Liszt’s inner circle and each undoubtedly became acquainted with the other’s genius during those years.

In 1854 Pohl moved to Weimar, where he became an editor at the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. He wrote invective-laden articles under the pseudonym “Hoplit” (from the Greek term hoplite, the foot-soldier of ancient Greece) in support of Liszt and Wagner, and critical of music of the more conservative Romantic composers.¹

Although hardly remembered as a composer, Bülow wrote many demanding piano pieces. These five choral pieces are unknown, however, even though they are excellent examples of the High Romantic style. Bülow set Pohl’s poems in 1861/2 while he was living and teaching in Berlin. Initially he set only the two, as the manuscript title page indicates; the remaining three poems were set the next year; the set of five were later published by C.F. Kahnt of Leipzig in 1867.²

His harmonic language, while not approaching the extreme chromaticism of Wagner or Liszt, is nevertheless innovative. One of the most notable feature of these works, however, is Bülow’s use of mixed meters in “Der Wanderziel.”

Pohl’s texts typify the Romantic aesthetic: the Artist as outsider; a preoccupation with nature; intensely self-conscious; a tendency towards melancholy; a fascination with and a romanticized view of death—all imbued with deeply felt (occasionally maudlin) emotional expression. Attuned to Pohl’s textual accents and use of heightened language, Bülow interchanges duple and triple meters to great effect at a time when composers were conservative in their use of meter even as they were stretching tonality to its limits.
©2017 David Friddle   |   vCard