Alexander Zemlinsky published his Ländliche Tänze (country dances), Op. 1 for solo piano in 1892, when he was twenty-one. The piano music of Johannes Brahms clearly had a strong influence on the young composer, as well as the beginnings of the art nouveau movement, which had no musical proponent before Zemlinsky. The Op. 1 consists of twelve short dances that are not harmonically complex and free of modulation. What is striking about this work is the depiction of the dances. The variety of approaches available to the young composer is impressive, but it is the way in which these rustic dances are transformed into art without exploding them into new levels of formal complexity that is especially successful. The Op. 1 is still primarily a late Romantic work, containing whispers of what would come later from the composer.
The ornamentation of each dance is thoughtful and distinct. Though sometimes lapsing into flowery, idiomatic runs common to Romantic piano music, the Op. 1 also seems at least partially built out from the premise of simple dances, which is developed outwards in the form of details. The individual dances aren't long enough to allow for ornamentation that transforms the subject, as seen in a painting by Gustav Klimt. It is in the more meditative dances where the feel is something akin to Klimt's approach. The fourth dance is a good example. The dance is within a Romantic chamber music setting, but it is not super-charged by means of exploding the harmonic abilities of a trained composer or the flights of melodic contour offered by the piano. It is not a celebration of nature or the parlor or the concert stage. It illustrates the motions of the steps with as little fuss as possible, but through the lenses of an artist. This does not to suggest that the dance is not in couched in Romantic conventions. It is. But there are several moments where the illustration of the dance is not caught up in tides of Romantic grandness or intensity. It is sometimes almost journalistic, reporting of a custom that is exotic in its prevailing interest to a country class that was foreign to the composer.
The tendency evinced in the Op. 1 would develop into something that would bloom into style distinct from the prevailing Romantic sound. It is not Expressionistic, but something extra-Germanic in approach. Zemlinsky had some Balkan/Muslim heritage. This would provide him with some insight at what art nouveau artists were getting at, who looked east to Turkey, the Middle East, and further into the Orient for inspiration. Vienna, Zemlinsky's city of birth, had withstood invasions from Turkey in the past, and was not removed from the Ottoman influence. What the young composer was heading towards was not a rejection of Germanic music, as the French were, but an inclusion of all the factors of their environment. Anyone who walks the streets of Vienna can see this distinction clearly. While much of the architecture is Germanic, many buildings reflect Persian and Turkish stylizations. The curvatures of these exotic buildings are not European but ideas by architects whom looking for something new. This movement was still in its infancy when the Op. 1 was written, as was the composer's musical career. The architecture naturally worked hand in hand with a comparable trend in design. Artists such as Zemlinsky and Klimt would eventually assist in letting this exotic cultural flavor permeate the city in a subtle but lasting way.
- Mit Wärme
- Sehr schnell und leicht
- Sehr zart
- Heiter (Walzer-Tempo)
- Gut betont
- Sehr sanft