Karl Weigl: Phantastisches Intermezzo compared with Frühlingsfeier | Afdrukken |
donderdag, 07 mei 2015 20:34

By Marien Abspoel 1

In 1921 Karl Weigl, then 40 years old, composed his Second Symphony with the subtitle ‘Pro Defunctis’ and dedicated to the victims of the First Worldwar. The Fantastic Intermezzo / Phantastisches Intermezzo op.18 was planned originally as the fourth part of this Second Symphony. Weigl was not satisfied with the five-movement structure and decided to separate the Phantastisches Intermezzo and rework it as a self-containing composition.

The score and orchestral material was originally published by Schott’s Söhne, Mainz in 1924, but this material is lost, probably in the Second Worldwar. Apparently only a manuscript and a copyist score survived in the Fleisher Collection in Philadelphia. The notes in the catalogue of works by Weigl stated that the Phantastisches Intermezzo is inspired by the poem Frühlingsfeier by Heinrich Heine 2.
Two years before3 in February 1919 Weigl finished a short work for women voices and orchestra, titled ‘Frühlingsfeier’ (Spring Festival) based on the same poem. Remarkably the romantic Heine was, just as Weigl of Jewish descent. He worked with Karl Marx, and (contrary to the latter) had a rather pessimistic view on life. In fact the poem Frühlingsfeier is about the Sacrifice for Spring, appropriate in these days celebrating the centennial of Le Sacre du Printemps. The short poem is shown in annex 1.
The manuscript of Weigls Frühlingsfeier from the New York Public Library shows surprising relationship between both works. Although a recording has been made of the Fantastic Intermezzo bij the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra with Thomas Sanderling, in the notes no reference is made to the Frühlingsfeier. A comparison of the two works might shed light on the Phantastisches Intermezzo, not the least because the Frühlingsfeier offers us text, that fit in to themes in the orchestral piece. Because the recording is available it is possible also without a score to compare the notes and themes.4,5

The fast tuplet figure (first in the woodwinds see figure 1) as well as the rhythmic jumping figure (starting in the first violins see figure 2)  express as it were the passionate dance and desire of the young girls on their chase for Adonis. In the Phantastisches Intermezzo this passage returns five times as a kind of rondo. With vigorous movement notes and motifs tumble over each other, as if Weigl make pure energy flow.


In the Frühlingsfeier Weigl uses this motoric movement as a (short) introduction and accompaniment of the motif that the women choir sings. The opening phrase could be seen as the motto or ‘Lust’-motif of the piece (See Annex I for translation of the poem):

Das ist des Frühlings traurige Lust! / Die blühenden Mädchen, die wilde Schar, / Sie stürmen dahin mit flatterndem Haar / Und Jammergeheul und entblösster Brust: / “Adonis! Adonis!”

This same ‘Lust’-motif of the womens choir can be heard in the Phantastisches Intermezzo somewhat hidden as a second voice in the bassoons and oboes (figure 1, bar5) and clarinets and French horns (figure 1,bar9). The harmony of the motiv is somewhat changed compared to the choir voices and shortened to a four-bar motif. Weigl reuses this theme frequently in low registers of the orchestra, which is similar to the opening of the choir parts. This supports the thought that the opening section of the Intermezzo does not use a theme at all (as is stated in the notes of the recording). Instead the energy of the fast tuplets and rhythmic patters is predominant. Continuously chromatic phrases and rhythmic pulses can be heard. Weigl also makes use of polyrhythmic patterns, e.g. 3 against 4, and strings playing 3/4-bar motifs in a 2/4 context. (i.e. figure 6). Harmonically the use of augmented triads is notable, where a relationship can be found in the Sorcerers’ Apprentice by Dukas and many works by Scriabin 6. Also widened tonality can be heard which is not far removed from atonality that Schoenberg developed in the same period.
De call for ‘Adonis!’ as it is sung loudly by the chorus shows up in the Intermezzo in the woodwinds 8 bars before figure 2. It resembles a symphonic motif, but it fits in perfectly in the choir singing, and can’t be missed in the orchestral sound as the call for Adonis.

A Note can be made on the tempo. Although in both the Frühlingsfeier and the Phantastisches Intermezzo the tempo is marked ‘Sehr Lebhaft’ (very lively) the score bears
the metronome mark h = 92, which is very fast. In fact the opening tempo of the recording by Sanderling can be estimated  at about h = 84 7.  If we take the pronunciation of the rather difficult text seriously, it is hardly possible to take a faster tempo than q = 132. At figure 13 in
the Intermezzo this ‘Lust’-motive reappears, now in 4/4 bar and slower, accompanied by strings beating with the wood of the bow on the strings ‘con legno’. This Mahlerian sounding fragment certainly expresses the adjective ‘mournful’ in the text, which turns the poem into a rejecting commentary, whereas the very fast beginning marked ‘Sehr Lebhaft’ does express the vigour and Lust itself. This ambiguity is certainly present in the poem by Heine. In the Phantastisches Intermezzo Weigl succeeds in presenting both feelings and expressions in the two tempi. In the Frühlingsfeier the women voices stay in between concerning the tempo, and do perhaps miss the vigour of the fast and not the mournful expression of the slow tempo. Therefore we could concern the double tempo in the Intermezzo a better solution for this poem.

Starting from figure 3 an ostinato motif appears that cannot be related to Frühlingsfeier. We could call this section poetically ‘from the dark to the light’, because it starts aggressively with dark, earthy chords, and then at figure 4 it turns into a fairy-tale atmosphere. This might be the dream world of Adonis (of beauty and love). Then with little fantasy in the chords of the strings (figure 4 bar 9) with whirling woodwinds (followed by the inversed instrumentation) the alluring call of Adonis could be identified. Compared to the Dionysian Rondo this section does remind more the Apollinic Stravinsky (the atmosphere of the Firebird is not far away).
This ostinato motif (that resembles Janaceks’ music) develops into a climax. A ritenuto leads to a signal blown by the French Horns, that heralds the arrival of Adonis (rehearsal figure 11).
In the poem by Heine (as well as in the Frühlingsfeier) Adonis appears only in the third verse. In the Phantastisches Intermezzo this section including the Horn Signal is presented thrice.  The first time this slow theme sounds in B major, and we could call this the Love theme. Or at least the longing for love (would Adonis still live?). Two times this theme is played by the string orchestra in a pathetical but restrained polyphony that strongly reminds Bruckner. The woodwinds answer with lamenting calls.
Psychologically is seems curious that after this Love-theme the Clarinet reasserts the Lust theme that we know of the choir version (figure 13). As we told before the accompaniment by col legno playing strings create a Mahlerian, macabre funeral march atmosphere.
At rehearsal figure 14 the Rondo starts again vividly. This reminds that we did arrive at the second verse in the Frühlingsfeier. There the dancing tuplets in the winds are similar, but the choir sings slower notes. These notes do not reappear in the Phantastisches Intermezzo, but are related to the Love-theme. The character of the text is relevant: the young girls become disoriented in the night and the call for Adonis sounds frightened.

Es sinkt die Nacht bei Fackelschein / Sie suchen hin und her im Wald, /
Der angstverwirret widerhallt / Vom Weinen und Lachen und Schluchzen und Schreien: / "Adonis! Adonis!"

Then the Horn Signal is heard again and the Love-theme is repeated, transposed to F-sharp, still in major but especially softer in ppp, as an echo (not clearly perceivable in the recording). Then in the same sequence as before the Lust-theme follows (rehearsal figure 18) with the funeral march accompaniment.
Again the rondo starts off (figure 19). This time the music becomes grotesque and violent. (“vorwärts steigernd!”/ “Wild”). The French Horns cry for Adonis (figure 29 bar 5) as do the woodwinds answered by the trumpets (figure 31). This triggers a general euphoria.
Then the ostinato motif (that we know from figure 3) reappears (rehearsal figure 36) clearly recognizable as a recapitulation, but the harmony changed, interchanging the earthy diminished seventh chord for an heroic B-flat major and F major. Also the fairy-tale atmosphere complete with the alluring call of Adonis is presented again.
When the rondo sets off again and grows tumultuous, the French Horns start their heralding Signal just simultaneous with the fast dance rhythm. One could assume that the youngsters feel the heat and cannot calm down. That leads (figure 52) the music into the third time that the Love-theme sounds. This time the notes are exactly similar to the choir phrase where Adonis appears in the third verse. There he lies beautiful but wounded and dead on the ground:

Das wunderschöne Jünglingsbild, / Es liegt am Boden blaß und tot, /
Das Blut färbt alle Blumen rot, / Und Klagelaut die Luft erfüllt, / "Adonis! Adonis!"

This time in the Phantastisches Intermezzo the Love-theme sounds in the same E minor key as the choir version. The orchestration is inversed: the woodwinds play the theme and the strings answer. (Also an error in the score can be detected. The third bar in figure 52 should be natural A instead of A-sharp if we follow the choir setting). By the way Weigl does not follow the original vocal lines. The second half of the phrase (bar 5-8) is transposed and the harmony is changed.
As if nothing did happen the reprise starts again (figure 53) with a recapitulation of the Rondo. The call for ‘Adonis!’ is lamenting (figure 55) but the calling dies away. As does the dance. The Intermezzo ends with a pizzicato, as if a soap bubble bursts.

Biography and cultural history

Weigl is born in 1881 (being the same age as Bartók) and lived in a cultured, bourgeois, assimilated Jewish family in Vienna. Due to his youthful talent he received private lessons from Zemlinsky, a friend of the family when he was 15 years old. From 1904 Weigl worked two years under Mahler, en he considered these years to be the most instructive period in his life.
Weigl was an excellent teacher and he teached counterpoint and composition lessons in Vienna. Renowned conductors like Szell, Schreker and Furtwängler performed his works.
We should not forget that this music (Frühlingsfeier, Second Symphony, Phantastisches Intermezzo) is composed shortly after the end of the First World war. With the knowledge that Weigl conceived this Intermezzo as the fourth part of the Second Symphony in memory of the victims of the war, the intentions of Weigl may become obvious and clear. Certainly this offers an intriguing interpretation of the poem by Heine. If the ‘traurige Lust’ (somewhat doubtfully translated as ‘mournful feast’) coincides with military force, then love certainly will faint and die. Where the women’s voices in Frühlingsfeier sound an optimistic tone (socialist songs seem to be not far away), that optimism passed away in the macabre funeral march.
In this perspective it might wonder  that after the death of Adonis there is no place for a lament or consolation. It appears as if the procession just passes by. In search for a new Adonis? You might think they have to wait for another spring.
Apart from the association with the war it is possible to interpret the text by Heine in a Freudian manner. Heine lived before Freud, but fitted in the same cultural climate where Freud could form his ideas. In the era of Weigl Freud was certainly en vogue.
The young girls are looking for beauty and love but they search with desire and lust, urge, drive. In the night (2nd verse) they become frightened. They cannot find beauty but their search continues. When finally they find their idol this one is wounded (by the desire, fight?) and dies in all his beauty. The blood colours all the flowers. Maybe it will remain beautiful flowers, but they bear the sign of the sacrifice that is made. A Sacre du Printemps avant la lettre!
When the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938 Karl Weigl envisioned that for him as a Jew and socialist there was no future in Austria. He emigrated with his family to the United States, with help of American friends in Austria. In America he had no easy life as an unknown musician in an immigrant culture in wartime. He died in 1949.

Structure of the Phantastisches Intermezzo

An analysis of the sections in the Phantastisches Intermezzi is pointed out in the table Annex II. In the last column the timing of the recording by Thomas Sanderling is shown.
Regarding the form, two visions could apply. Firstly the Fantastic Intermezzo could follow the storyline and the three verse structure of the poem Frühlingsfeier. This story is somewhat freely laid out above. Secondly it is possible to envision the Fantastic Intermezzo as a Free Sonata Rondo Form.
We can distinguish two theme groups A and B in fast tempo and a third theme being the love theme E in slow tempo.  In between the Horn signal C and transformation of the Lust theme E function as bridge phrases.
After the first sequence ABCDE that can be seen as an Exposition, this Exposition is repeated in shortened form.
In a Development section the theme groups A and B are developed separately and subsequently together. Not only the themes are developed, but also the tempo is varied as well.
When the Love theme reappears for the third time, this theme is transposed in E. Thus this could be called the start of the recapitulation. (the key signature is in E, the same as the key of the rondo in the exposition; note that the love theme itself is played in e minor see also figure 5).
When the rondo is played for the last time this could be called the Coda.


In the orchestral material we received from the Fleisher Collection Philadelphia a substantial coupure is visible (crossed) (from figure 22, bar 9 up to figure 26). Surprisingly this coupure is not skipped in the recording by the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin.
There are 6 coupures in the orchestral material (not crossed out, but simply skipped). These coupures are not obviously visible in the score. It is not clear whether these coupures are instructions by the composer (in the process of reworking the Intermezzo) or maybe some orders from a conductor, that were followed by the copyist. Below is the list of these coupures in the orchestral material :
• Figure 8 bar 1 to 8 are skipped. 
• Figure 16 bar 9 to figure 17 (16 bars in total) are skipped.
• Figure 27 bar 10 to figure 28 (6 bars) are skipped.
• After figure 28 two bars are skipped: bar 9 and bar 14.
• Figure 49 bar 10 to 15 (6 bars) skipped. In the score Vi ….. de can be red. This is a parallel coupure compared to figure 27.
• One bar before figure 51 is skipped.

Classification in the Fleisher Collection

Note: On www.karlweigl.org the Frühlingsfeier is marked as composed in September 1909. This appears to be not correct. From the autograph manuscript I read dating 27/II 1919. Perhaps the roman II is confused with a 9 as September.
Also on www.karlweigl.org the Phantastisches Intermezzo is categorized as works for solo voices with piano.
Annex I : Poem Frühlingsfeier by Heinrich Heine
Annex II: Structure of the Phantastisches Intermezzo
Annexx III: transcript of the choir part of the Frühlingsfeier score from the autograph by Karl Weigl.
Remarks are welcome
Marien Abspoel 8



1 : This essay is the result of a search for the sources of the Phantastisches Intermezzo, for the occasion of a performance by the Symphony Orchestra De Philharmonie Amsterdam, conducted by Daan Admiraal on June 15th and 16th 2013.

2: Heinrich Heine (1797-1856, Neue Gedichte, in which Romanzen, containing Frühlingsfeier as nr.2, published in 1844) See http://www.recmusic.org/lieder/show_poems_in_group.html?CID=10.

3: In the catalogue http://karlweigl.org/works.php?work=53 this Frühlingsfeier is dated 1909. According to the autograph 1919 appears to be a correct dating.

4: The recording is availbale at the BIS label and on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi8iKEGPD8k.

5: See Annex II for a form analysis of the Phantastisches Intermezzo, containing time reference tot his recording.

6: A relationship with Scriabin and later Bruckner (see the Love theme) can be found also in contemporary composers like Erwin Schulhoff in his early works.

7: See Annex II for a detailed metronome mark analysis.

8: A shorter note for the concert programme of De Philharmonie Symphony orchestra Amsterdam is provided http://www.marienabspoel.nl/marien/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=66:karl-weigl-phantastisches-intermezzo&catid=3:muziektoelichtingen&Itemid=6

Annex I

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)    Frühlingsfeier   from Neue Gedichte, in Romanzen, no. 2 Translation by Emma Lazarus

Frühlingsfeier                                                                                 Spring festival
Das ist des Frühlings traurige Lust!                                                 This is the spring-tide's mournful feast;
Die blühenden Mädchen, die wilde Schar,                                        The frantic troops of blooming girls
Sie stürmen dahin mit flatterndem Haar                                           Are rushing hither with flying curls,
Und Jammergeheul und entblößter Brust:                                        Mourning they smite their bare white breast,
"Adonis! Adonis!"                                                                           "Adonis! Adonis!"

Es sinkt die Nacht bei Fackelschein                                                  The night has come. By the torches' gleams
Sie suchen hin und her im Wald,                                                      They search the forest on every side,
Der angstverwirret widerhallt                                                          That echoes with anguish far and wide,
Vom Weinen und Lachen und Schluchzen und Schreien:                    With tears, mad laughter, and sobs and screams,
"Adonis! Adonis!"                                                                          "Adonis! Adonis!"

Das wunderschöne Jünglingsbild,                                                   The mortal youth so strangely fair,
Es liegt am Boden blaß und tot,                                                     Lies on the cold turf pale and dead;
Das Blut färbt alle Blumen rot,                                                       His heart's blood staineth the flowers red,
Und Klagelaut die Luft erfüllt,                                                        And a wild lament fulfills the air,
"Adonis! Adonis!"                                                                          "Adonis! Adonis!"

Annex II: Analysis of the Fantastic Intermezzo


Annex III : link to the transcription of the choirpart of the Frühlingsfeier

See this link