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Rustic Wedding Symphony, Op. 26 (Ländliche Hochzeit) is a symphony in E flat major by Karl Goldmark, written in 1875, a year before his renowned Violin Concerto No. 1. The symphony was premiered in Vienna on 5 March 1876, conducted by Hans Richter. Johannes Brahms, who was a frequent walking companion of Goldmark’s, and whose own Symphony No. 1 was not premiered until November 1876, told him “That is the best thing you have done; clear-cut and faultless, it sprang into being a finished thing, like Minerva from the head of Jupiter”. Its first American performance was at a New York Philharmonic Society concert, conducted by Theodore Thomas on 13 January 1877.
The work does not conform to the standard structure of a symphony, and it could just be named a Suite. It is in five movements rather than the usual four, which is same as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony. It is full of Central European charm, joviality and good humour. While Goldmark did not provide any specific program for the work, he did give each of the movements titles suggestive of aspects of a wedding in the countryside.
The first movement is a Wedding March (Hochzeitsmarsch) followed by a set of 13 variations. While variations are commonly found in symphonies, it is most unusual for them to appear in the first movement. The variations offer constant changes of tempo, meter, rhythm, mood and harmony, and display his fine craftsmanship.
The theme of the March is reminiscent of Adeste Fideles, and is stated by cellos and basses in octaves.
Variation 1 is played in horns, clarinets and flutes
Variation 2, Poco animato, introduces the violins
Variation 3, full orchestra
Variation 4, Andante con moto, B flat minor, the theme played by the violins
Variation 5, Allegretto, basses, bassoons and horns
Variation 6, Allegro vivace, horns, bassoons, flutes and violins
Variation 7 involves part writing, again in a minor key
Variation 8, Allegro scherzando, strings, flutes, oboes and clarinets
Variation 9, minor key, basses, violins and flutes
Variation 10, Molto vivace, violins with other strings pizzicato
Variation 11, Andante con moto, violins, oboe and clarinet
Variation 12, Moderato, a new melody based on the original theme, oboe, bassoon, viola and two violins
Variation 13, after a brief fanfare, the original theme is played in the original tempo, but with the full orchestra, and then ends quietly.
The second movement is a Bridal Song (Brautlied). The third movement, Serenade, opens with a theme played by two oboes, later developed by the strings. It includes an imitation of bagpipes, played on oboe, clarinet, bassoon and cellos.
The fourth movement, In the Garden (Im Garten), is slow and lyrical, its middle section moving to E-flat minor. The finale, Dance, is the only movement of the work written in sonata form. It opens with a fugue. The Garden theme briefly reappears, before the Dance returns to end the movement rousingly.
The Rustic Wedding Symphony was a favourite of conductors such as Thomas Beecham and Leonard Bernstein. It has been recorded a number of times, by conductors such as Beecham, Bernstein, André Previn, Maurice Abravanel, Jesús López-Cobos, Yondani Butt and Stephen Gunzenhauser.