complete list of surviving compositions
Die ersten Menschen (music drama, 2, O. Borngräber), 1909–14, Frankfurt, 1 July 1920
4 Lieder (L. Greiner, M. Greif, von Stern, A. Lindner), 1904–6:
Mitternacht, Weihnachtsgefühl, Waldnachmittag, Auf den Tod einer jungen Frau;
Waldstille (M.R. von Stern), 1v, pf, 1905, unpubd;
Ich will dir singen ein Hohelied (G. von Robertus), 1v, pf, 1913–14:
Kythere, Pantherlied, Abendfrieden, In Nachbars Garten, Glück zu Zweien, Das Hohelied der Nacht;
7 Lieder (O.J. Bierbaum, J. Schanderl, H. Hinrichs, K. von Berlepsch, B. Goetz, G. Falke, R. Dehmel), 1v, pf, 1913–14:
Sonntag, Pappel im Strahl, Dir, Ein Neues, Im Einschlafen, Abendlied, Heimat;
Liebeszauber, Bar, orch, 1914;
Up de eensmae Hallig (D. von Liliencron), 1v, pf, 1914
Für Hmn, 1907, unpubd;
Musik, orch, 1910;
Groteske, vn, pf, 1911;
Musik, str qt, db, pf, hp, 1911;
Musik, orch, 1912;
Musik, vn, orch, 1913
What is perhaps most astonishing about the trajectory of Stephan's reception is that his music continued to have contemporary relevance after his death. Before the outbreak of World War I some thought that Stephan might be the new voice of German music. By the time the war was over the concerns of German musical life, indeed the definition of new music, had changed radically. Yet during the postwar era, Stephan’s music was seen to have anticipated the aesthetic of Neue Sachlichkeit. His name, nonetheless, may have been forgotten had it not been for his friend Karl Holl, Paul Bekker’s successor as critic of the Frankfurt Zeitung. Holl published a perceptive monograph on Stephan in 1920 and helped bring about a number of performances, the première of Die ersten Menschen (1920, Frankfurt; the first of a number of productions during the Weimar era) and Schott’s publication of the remaining principal works and 16 of the late songs. Most of the papers and autographs that document Stephan’s life and work were destroyed as a result of a 1945 bombing raid on Worms, and with the end of World War II performances became sporadic. Yet in the broad reassessment of early Modernism that began in the 1970s and 80s the distinctive formal and tonal language of his music and its unmistakable individuality led to a renewed appreciation of his achievement.
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Rudi Stephan was a promising German composer whose life, like that of George Butterworth, was snuffed out in the heat of battle during "The War to End All Wars." Behind him, Stephan left a tiny output of 33 works, and of these, Music for Orchestra 1912 has proven by far the best known, receiving a decent amount of exposure in the concert halls of German-speaking lands since its 1912 premiere. None of Stephan's music has been recorded with any great frequency, and Chandos' deluxe Super Audio CD Rudi Stephen: Orchestral Works enters the field practically on its own. Conductor Oleg Caetani leads the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the only three orchestral works Stephan has, and one of them, Music for Orchestra 1910, appears on disc for the first time here. In the concerted Music for Violin and Orchestra, Caetani is joined by violin soloist Sergei Stadler, and all of the foregoing performers acquit themselves with distinction in this little-known music. Nevertheless, it is the music, and not the performances per se, that grabs one's attention. Stephan's music is firmly post-Romantic in idiom, reminiscent to some extent of late Mahler or early to middle Richard Strauss, but only superficially. Stephan favors a painstaking approach toward thematic development, similar to that of Bruckner, but generally at much slower tempi. Stephan's orchestra is large, but his textures are often thinly scored, and while his music is neither harsh nor modernistic, it is not harmonically conventional, either.
The only reservation that one may have about Rudi Stephen: Orchestral Works is, oddly enough, the sound, which as a Super Audio CD should be state of the art. In this instance though, there are many very quiet passages in this music that fall below the threshold of comfortable listening; crank it up to hear better, and you risk blowing the roof off your home with the arrival of the loud passages on the SACD. Jockeying the volume control is an absolute necessity when listening to this disc. Nonetheless, for those who enjoy great, late-Romantic music like Mahler, and prefer to sit still and listen when music is playing, Rudi Stephen: Orchestral Works will be both a revelation and a reward, as it is endlessly fresh and thought-provoking music, not to mention fun to spring on one's friends in a game of "name this composer." They won't be able to do it! Unless of course, your friends already have Rudi Stephen: Orchestral Works.
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CHANDOS: STEPHAN, R. - Orchestral Works