Karl Goldmark: Rustic Wedding Symphony 


Composed in 1875, Karl Goldmark’s Rustic Wedding Symphony (‘Ländliche Hochzeit’) was premiered in Vienna the following year. The piece received good reviews from critics, audiences and peers alike, with Goldmark’s close friend Johannes Brahms saying “That is the best thing you have done; clear-cut and faultless.” The symphony received its USA premiere in 1877, with Theodore Thomas at the helm of the New York Philharmonic Society. 

The Music

There is much about the Rustic Wedding Symphony that is not traditional. From its five-movement structure, to the theme and variations style of the opening movement, Goldmark uses a number of different things to ensure that his symphony stands out from the rest. Although the composer did not write a programme note for this piece, each movement is titled to suggest various aspects of a wedding in the countryside. 


Movement I – Hochzeitsmarsch (‘Wedding March’)

The longest movement of the five, the opening theme and variations movement represents the wedding march. A set of 13 variations, this movement is full of tempo, meter, mood and rhythm changes to highlight the switch to a new variation. The subtle changes and the clean transitions highlights Goldmark’s fine craftsmanship in this symphony. The celli and basses, in octaves, announce the original theme at the start of the symphony, which in itself is an interesting choice. Following on there are woodwind-led variations, string-only variations and one that utilise the brass. At nearly 18 minutes in length, this opening movement is a fantastic insight into Goldmark’s style.


Movement II – Brautlied (‘Bridal Song’)

The intermezzo bridal song is opened by the clarinets who play a jovial theme. The very light style is a good palate cleanser after the long opening movement. Bold tutti sections part the lyrical waves as the violins take over the theme. Goldmark’s warm harmony and experimental use of dynamics creates a welcoming atmosphere for this traditional bridal song. 


Movement III – Serenade

The scherzo-style third movement opens with an oboe theme which sits at the core of this movement. Goldmark’s folk inspiration becomes much clearer in this movement, with his instrumentation and themes reflecting this. Goldmark uses various instruments to imitate bagpipes throughout, adding drones and texture to the music. The memorable oboe melody is passed to the violins, who develop the theme across this short movement. 


Movement IV – Im Garten (‘In The Garden’)

The token lyrical movement of the symphony, Im Garten  is opened by a rich clarinet solo accompanied by the lower strings. As the upper strings take the theme over, Goldmark focuses on his rich textures and the ebb and flow of the orchestral swells. The sweet melody is passed around the orchestra which sees the voicing subtly change throughout. A solo oboe takes over the melody at the end, which sees the movement end delicately. 


Movement V – Tanz (‘Dance’)

The energetic finale dance begins as a fugue. The many lines of voices highlights Goldmark’s intricate writing and careful consideration of the orchestra. The finale is also the only movement to be set in sonata form, so as the theme is developed, we see yet more sides to Goldmark’s style. The driving energy is stopped momentarily as the main theme from Im Garten returns. Goldmark utilises the brass and percussion in the outer two sections more than in any other movement, which adds excitement and a bombastic character to the music. The rousing dance theme returns at the end which concludes this symphony with energy and excitement. 

Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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