Beethoven pioneered the idea, but Berlioz gave it a name: choral symphony. This week, we'll hear five pieces that give the chorus an equal role to the instruments to convey the drama of the music.
Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 "Lobgesang"
A symphony with words (specifically, texts from the Bible) celebrating the printed word, written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the printing press.
Franz Liszt: Dante Symphony
Liszt set out to musically illustrate The Divine Comedy in its entirety, but Wagner convinced him that no man (including Dante and Beethoven!) could accurately portray Paradise. Instead, the symphony ends with the listener observing Heaven from Purgatory.
Howard Hanson: Symphony No. 7 "A Sea Symphony"
One of his final works, Hanson's "Sea Symphony" from 1977 uses texts by Walt Whitman to describe a voyage that can be seen as a metaphor for life and death.
ThursdayGustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"
If Beethoven invented the choral symphony and its underlying spiritual meaning, Mahler may have perfected it. Here, he uses a combination of his own words and a text by Friedrich Klopstock to portray the beauty of the afterlife.
FridayLudwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 "Choral"
Beethoven was the first to write such a large-scale piece involving a chorus, using the words of Friedrich Schiller's Ode to Joy to give his final symphony a forceful, emotional climax.