I was fortunate enough to attend the US premiere of Joseph Marx’s Eine Herbstsymphonie (“Autumn Symphony”) in New York City on December 7, 2008, performed by the American Symphony Orchestra. The work is regarded as Marx’s masterpiece, but aside from a performance in Austria a couple of years ago, had languished forgotten since its last performance in 1927. Published in 1921, it is a vast, sprawling work of neo-Romanticism — influenced by Wagner, Debussy, Scriabin, but firmly in the unique sound-world of Marx. Unfortunately there is little of this formerly admired composer available to hear — I base my impressions on the CDs I have of the piano concertos and various clips and samples available on the Internet.
The symphony is divided into 4 movements; the first 2 are continuous. The first movement sets out some major themes, with mostly very dense polyphonic writing with the strings to the fore against ever shifting harmonies. This leads to the 2nd, waltz-like movement, which has elements of a Viennese waltz, with some contrasting material mixed in. The 3rd movement again features the strings, often very much divided into rich harmonies, and rising to several climaxes. This seems like the emotional center of the symphony. The last movement starts out riotously, with lots of percussion, but returns finally to the themes of the first movement, this time presented more simply and peacefully.The very loud and tumultuous symphony ends on a quiet note.
It seems to be more a tone poem than a symphony, though it appears that a small number of themes are manipulated in multiple ways most cleverly throughout the work. Awash in so much luxurious sound, it is difficult to ascertain the structure underlying the symphony. Â Unfortunately with just a single hearing it is not easy to fathom all the depths of this creation. Hopefully a recording will be made someday. Until then, I count myself lucky to be one of perhaps only a few hundred people nowadays who have ever heard this forgotten masterpiece.