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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Finish Lines

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Bill Carragan made his name as a Bruckner scholar – he completed that composer’s unfinished ninth symphony, as well as producing performing editions of others of those symphonies – while working as a physics professor. And he has turned his formidable powers to other musical challenges as well. I noted in this article his work arranging Sousa for strings, but he also took on the Big One: the Unfinished Symphony by Schubert, for a concert that took place in 1988. It’s since been recorded by the Philharmonie Festiva, and you easily can find excerpts from it on YouTube.


NEVER MIND THE MYTHS about that most famous of uncompleted works, the Symphony No. 8 by Schubert. As far as composer/professor William Carragan is concerned, it's an unfinished work and thus unsatisfying. And, after a lot of sleuthing and imaginative work, Carragan has finished the “Unfinished.”

William Carragan
“Imagine if Beethoven had written only the first half of his fifth symphony,” he says.  “You’d have a performable work with two movements that are symphonically related to one another, but it wouldn’t be at all as fulfilling as the work we know.”

Carragan’s completion of the Schubert will have its premiere at concerts at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 30 at the Troy Music Hall and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 1 at the Albany State University Performing Arts Center when the Amadeus Chamber Orchestra presents a program of musical “firsts.”

“Now, Schubert left many, many torsos of other works,” Carragan explains. “It was an annoying but common habit of his. And I think the reason he didn’t complete this symphony was because he needed to generate the incidental music to ‘Rosamunde’ in three weeks. He’d already written an almost-complete sketch of the symphony’s third movement, and, as my theory goes, he had ideas for the finale that weren’t put down on paper. So he cannibalized that finale for the Rosamunde music, working it into two of the four movements in that piece.

“By doing that, he ruined the idea he had for finishing the symphony and instead went on to other works. When he went back to the symphonic form three years later, he wrote an entirely different piece in the Symphony No. 9.”

To finish the third movement, Carragan provided a Schubertian orchestration for the existing sections and wrote a second element for the trio. “I’ve speculated that Schubert would have brought in an entirely new sound at this moment. Up until now it’s a pretty monothematic scherzo, echoing the introduction of the first movement of the symphony. So I orchestrated it in a colorful, dramatic, violent style to bring out the robust qualities. I tried to capture the feel of a Musette, a popular dance. And the trio is a Laendler.”

The finale is based on the two entr’acte movements from the “Rosamunde” music, and Carragan discovered a number of technical intricacies that reinforce his cannibalization theory. Unusual key relationships suggest that Schubert was thinking symphonic finale rather than theatrical bridge, “and it’s spooky how well it all works when it’s put back together the way I think it ought to be.”

Carragan won international attention for his completion of Anton Bruckner’s final symphony; he also has worked on some unfinished piano sonatas by Schubert.

“There are all sorts of romantic reasons to explain why Schubert never finished the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, but I think it was just this nasty habit he had of putting things aside.” And what of those purists who would just as soon not know the finish of the piece? “I suppose they can walk out before the end.”          

Carragan has provided a more whimsical arrangement for another work on the program: Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which the composer arranged for piano orchestra and which will be played by Findlay Cockrell using, for the first time, a cadenza also originally written for violin.

“Beethoven wrote a first-movement cadenza for the piano version,” says Carragan, “but it sounds kind of cheap. A little too much improvising. And it really weakens the piece as a whole. So I thought it would be interesting to try something different and I arranged two cadenzas by Fritz Kreisler, those for the first and third movements. The other two cadenzas, for the second movement and a bridge between the second and third, are by Findlay.

“Kreisler’s work is unlike many other cadenzas in that he wrote it as an integral part of the piece, as it might have been done in Beethoven’s time. Kreisler was himself an accomplished pastichist and knew how to make his become an organic part of the whole.”

Cockrell opens the program with a Rondo in A Major by Mozart, the first American performance to use a recently-discovered authentic conclusion. Keith Clark, music director of the Pacific Symphony at the Orange County, California, Performing Arts Center, will conduct the orchestra; he led the West Coast premiere of the Carragan completion of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.

Tickets are $10 ($5 for students and seniors) and are available at the Troy Music Hall, the SUNY at Albany Performing Arts Center and Community Box Offices.

– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 20 April 1988

1 comment:

William Carragan said...

This was a great occasion. What's really amazing is that the motto rhythm of Beethoven's Fifth occurs in all four movements. I didn't do that. Nearly all of the music is by Schubert anyway. This is all discussed and demonstrated on my website,