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Karl Goldmark and the “Rustic Wedding Symphony”

Karl (originally Károly, sometimes spelled Carl) Goldmark (May 18, 1830– January 2, 1915), famous in Vienna throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, was a Hungarian composer who came from an enormous but poor Jewish family, one of twenty children. His father, Ruben Goldmark, was a chazzan or cantor to the Jewish congregation at Keszthely, Hungary. The family moved to the outskirts of Ödenburg (now Sopron) in 1834. Karl’s early music training was at the Ödenburg musical academy of Sopron (1842–44), where he began to study the violin in a most rudimentary way as his first teacher was a singer with little instrumental experience. Two years later, the talented but untrained 14-year-old was sent by his father to Vienna for serious violin studies (1844). There he was able to study for some eighteen months with Leopold Jansa before his money ran out. Forced to abandon the lessons after a little over a year, he nevertheless determined to pursue music as a vocation, working as a theater violinist and music teacher, first in Ödenburg and later in back in Vienna, for the next several years. He prepared himself for entry first to the Vienna Technische Hochschule or Vienna technical school where he managed to gain admittance and then, in 1847 went to the Vienna Conservatory to study the violin with the respected performer Joseph Böhm and for a very brief time harmony with Gottfried Preyer.

Political troubles in Vienna resulting from the Revolution of 1848, which shut down many Viennese institutions of learning, including the Conservatory, forced Goldmark to abandon school after just a year of formal study. He supported himself in Vienna playing the violin in theatre orchestras, at the Carlstheater and the privately supported Viennese institution, the Theater in der Josefstadt, which gave him practical experience with orchestration, an art he more than mastered. He also gave lessons: Jean Sibelius studied with him briefly. Largely self-taught, Goldmark began trying to hone his skills as a composer, and in 1858 he organized a concert of his own music in Vienna. The concert met with hostility, and Goldmark, disillusioned by the reception of his music in the city and uncomfortable with his lack of thorough compositional grounding, opted to relocate to Budapest, where he immersed himself in the music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven and studied contemporary texts on musical form and language, returning to Vienna in 1860. Goldmark wrote an early symphony in C major, between roughly 1858 and 1860, but it was never given an opus number, and only the scherzo seems to have ever been published.

Upon his return to Vienna Goldmark met with considerable and immediate success with a string of successful works, beginning with the String Quartet, Op. 8 of 1860. To make ends meet, Goldmark also pursued a side career as a music journalist. Johannes Brahms and Goldmark developed a friendship as Goldmark’s prominence in Vienna grew. Goldmark, however would ultimately distance himself because of Brahms’ prickly personality. Among the musical influences Goldmark absorbed was the inescapable one, for a musical colorist, of Richard Wagner; in 1872 Goldmark took a prominent role in the formation of the Vienna Wagner Society. He was made an honorary member of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Budapest and shared with Richard Strauss an honorary membership in the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome. Goldmark’s opera Die Königin von Saba (“The Queen of Sheba”), Op. 27 was celebrated during his lifetime and for some years thereafter. First performed in Vienna on March 10, 1875, the work proved so popular that it remained in the repertory of the Vienna Staatsoper continuously until 1938 and enjoyed considerable popularity also in Italy. He wrote six other operas as well.

Goldmark’s musical influences were many and varied, beginning with his exposure to local folk dances while a child in Hungary, and later moving through Wagner towards a unique blend of German classicism and impressionism, a style he was just beginning to explore at the time of his death. The Rustic Wedding Symphony (Ländliche Hochzeit), Op. 26, premiered 1876, a work that was kept in the repertory by Sir Thomas Beecham, includes five movements. A second symphony in E-flat, Op. 35, is much less well-known. Goldmark’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 28, which had its premiere in Bremen in 1877, was once his most frequently played piece. Goldmark wrote a second violin concerto, but it was never published. Goldmark’s chamber music shows the influences of Schumann and Mendelssohn. Goldmark also composed choral music, and numerous concert overtures, such as the Sakuntala Overture Op. 13, and the Spring Overture Op. 36. Other orchestral works include the symphonic poem Zrínyi, Op. 47, and two orchestral scherzos. Goldmark died in Vienna and is buried in the Zentralfriedhof or Central Cemetery, along with many other notable composers.

My collection contains the following works by Goldmark:

In the Spring Overture, op. 36 (1888).
Rustic Wedding Symphony, op. 26 (1876).
Sakuntala Overture, op. 13 (1865).

—material taken, adapted, and edited from various sources


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