Approaching a Big Score (Oskar Fried Again)

Last time I introduced you to our crowd engraving project “Das trunkne Lied.” In this we will prepare performance material for Oskar Fried’s large cantata after a text from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Also sprach Zarathustra”. Today I will give you some more background on the project from the musical and historical perspective.

Who Is Oskar Fried?

Oskar Fried started into his musical life on a less-than-optimal track, receiving his first education in a third-class “music school”. After being a horn player in an orchestra in Frankfurt and doing some composition studies with Engelbert Humperdinck he lived the life of a bohemien who was considered by his friends as very talented but presumably too unorganized to be successful. Nobody would have expected him to become a central figure in Berlin’s musical life and one of the most influential conductors of the 20th century. Fried’s breakthrough came as a complete surprise: Still living in Potsdam as a dog-breeder he got the opportunity of his cantata “Das trunkne Lied” being premiered by Karl Muck and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1904. This instantly made him one of the hottest composers around and consequently gave him opportunities to work as a conductor. While Fried gave up on composing some ten years later he launched a world-wide career as a conductor and was a fervent ambassador of the contemporary music of the day, premiering numerous works. For example he conducted the first notable performance of a Schoenberg work out of Vienna (Pelléas und Mélisande op. 5 in Berlin), did the German premieres of a number of Mahler symphonies as well as the first complete recording of a Mahler symphony, and numerous other works by Bartók, Busoni, Scrjabine and others.

In 1934 he emigrated first to the Georgian republic and later to Moscow where he was the conductor of the national radio orchestra for several years – until in 1941 he vanished in circumstances that remain mysterious until today. It’s easy to think of a relation to Germany’s invasion of Russia which took place only two weeks before …

Reviving the Composer Oskar Fried

While Oskar Fried is still actively remembered as one of the leading conductors of the first half of the 20th century his work as a composer has been more or less forgotten over the decades. But in his days he was regarded as one of the most promising talents and can in this respect be compared to Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Rudi Stephan. People were particularly impressed by his spectacular writing for orchestra, which you can experience with the music example I happily present you today.

Oskar Fried: “Verklärte Nacht” (excerpt)
Katharina Kammerloher, Mezzo soprano, Stephan Rügamer, tenor, Matthias Foremny, conductor, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Released by Capriccio

I was generously allowed to use that excerpt for this post, and I wholeheartedly recommend buying the full recording. This will not only support the company (which is far from being a “greedy big player”) but will make it more likely that future Fried editions will see the light of day.

Only recently there have been some projects trying to pull Fried scores out of the libraries and make them available again, initiated by the longstanding collaboration between Capriccio and Deutschlandradio Kultur. The first result was the mentioned disc with a number of orchestral works. The intention was to produce a recording of “Das trunkne Lied” as a follow-up project but it wasn’t possible to realize it for several reasons – but mainly because of the complexity and size of the task. For me this had a positive side-effect, though: instead of only recording a number of songs to complete this CD I could produce a whole CD with all songs of Oskar Fried (together with the singers you can listen to in “Verklärte Nacht”) which is expected to be released in 2015. And without this recording project we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to create our award-winning LilyPond edition of the songs!

All these projects involve Alexander Gurdon, a musicologist who has just finished his PhD thesis, a monograph on Oskar Fried. It was he who could convince an orchestra to revive “Das trunkne Lied” in 2015. Das junge orchester nrw will play it in three concerts, one of which will be broadcast by Deutschlandradio Kultur (of course we will announce these events in due time). As there are only a (quite flawed) conductor’s score and a piano reduction available but no instrumental parts we are happy to be commissioned with preparing the necessary performance material together with a reviewed score.

We take this as an opportunity to take the collaborative workflows developed during the songs edition to the next level and realize this as a proof-of-concept project for “Crowd engraving”. Given that – as we have written so enthusiastically – LilyPond’s plain text approach and version control make it possible to adapt workflows from software development, offering so much efficiency, reliability and maintainability to musical work, then it should have huge potential to apply them to collaborative work in larger teams. The foremost question in this context was: How can we set up such a big score in order to benefit most from the collaborative approach, how can we make work scale efficiently with an increasing number of contributors?

So far the results are very promising, and in the next post I will tell you more about how we ripped the score to pieces only to assemble them again as a large mosaic.

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  1. Pingback: The “Segment Grid” Approach | Scores of Beauty

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