Johann Nepomuk David Symphonies; a Confluence of Influences

Johann Nepomuk David’s (1895-1977) was an Austrian composer, teacher, and conductor who managed to go his own way. As a young man he was fascinated by Bruckner and Mahler. He later became a devotee of Brahms, and in the 1930’s studied with Arnold Schoenberg. But it was the music of Bach that remained his life-long obsession and inspiration.

All of those influences come together in David’s music. The result isn’t a mishmash of styles, but a unique sound that happily acknowledges its roots.

The Symphony No. 1 (1936) starts with a bold, simple theme. That theme grows and expands, as Schoenberg might develop a 12-tone motif. In this case, though, the development remains firmly grounded in tonality (albeit the expanded tonality of Mahler). Structurally, the work moves from event to event like Bruckner. But it’s the rigorous counterpoint that provides development and overarching organization for the work.

Written in 1954, David’s Sixth Symphony shows how far the composer progressed. The orchestration is more adventuresome, the harmonies more ambitious, and even the counterpoint sounds more relaxed and intuitively written. David never totally abandoned tonality, although this work has a more modal sound than the major/minor melodies of the first symphony.

Johannes Wildner and the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna perform these works with clarity and precision, making the counterpoint easy to follow. The ensemble has a warm, smooth sound that seem to give David’s harmonies an added richness.

I found these symphonies quite appealing, and I think listeners who enjoy Zemlinksy, Reger, or Martinu might find them so as well.

Johann Nepomuk David: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6
ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien; Johannes Wildner, conductor

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