Joseph Joachim – Scene of Marfa for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra Op. 14
(b. Kittsee, 28 June 1831 — d. Berlin, 15 August 1907)
(1876, published 1878)
The Scene of Marfa for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra Op. 14 (1876) stands out as the only published vocal-instrumental work among Joseph Joachim’s compositions. Like the Kaiser Wilhelm Overture (1896) and the Variations for Violin with Orchestral Accompaniment (1878-79), the Scene of Marfa was an occasional work composed more than a decade after 1864, the year that marked the completion of Joachim’s Violin Concerto in G Major WoO and the beginning of a life in which his violin career left hardly any room for composing. Today the Scene of Marfa is almost extinct from the musical consciousness of mainstream classical audiences. But unlike the other mentioned compositions, the Scene of Marfa has two unique features that distinguish it. First, the work has an intriguing connection to Joachim’s past, and second, the genesis and reception history of the composition are intimately tied to the musician who elicited its creation: Amalie Joachim, née Schneeweiss (1839-1899), a highly acclaimed mezzo-soprano, Joachim’s wife, and mother of their six children. The reprint of this unknown work by Music MPH offers a highly valuable contribution to 19th-century repertoires.
In presenting the background and context of the Scene of Marfa, we are thrown back in time to 1853 and 1854, when two important overtures were composed: Joachim’s Overture to Shakespeare’s Henry IV Op. 7 and his Overture to Herman Grimm’s Demetrius Op. 6. Indeed, the Scene of Marfa, based on Schiller’s unfinished last work, shares the same general plot as the Overture to Herman Grimm’s Demetrius. When Joachim first confronted the Demetrius plot in 1853 he had just moved from Weimar to Hannover and was passionately working on large-scale orchestral works, thereby indicating a markedly different musical direction. Unlike his previous violin-centered activities,1 his new compositional path evidently focused on programmatic orchestral poems about heroic figures whose lives fascinated Joachim, and whose turmoil and transformative potential he could identify with. By following into the footsteps of Mendelssohn and Schumann, whose overtures he admired, and by even incorporating some lessons from Liszt and Wagner –including formal and motivic approaches and a focus on psychologically compelling characters – Joachim composed altogether five serious orchestral overtures during the 1850s, which, although largely forgotten today, were admired by Joachim’s circle for the next several decades. …
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