May 4th & 5th

Ramblings: an FTD “Frontotemporal Degeneration” Journey for Orchestra in 4 movements

In memory of Karen Zander, RN,BSN,MSN,PHD,CMAC,FAAN

Dedicated to Katie Brandt, & Brad Dickerson who continue to help those who suffer and also to search for a cure and to all those who have made and those who continue to make “the journey.” Also dedicated to Jonathan Bass who recorded the original piano version and whose support gave me the inspiration to continue to compose and to my theory teacher David Stevens whose original guidance led me to write the piano piece and also helped me with the final score production. Others who helped make production of the score and parts: Cynthia Clark, Russel Allyn, Scott Woolweaver, Kiya Klopfenstein.

I – Discovery – Andante (kind of)

II – Descent into Loss and Uncertainty – con fuoco – mostly just confusion

III – Ogni vita ha bisgono di un piccolo scherzo (every life needs a little joke) – Scherzo

IV  – Disappearance into Death – Andante, Grave, Con fuoco – just plain bad stuff

This piece in four movements attempts to show the emotions associated with the FTD journey. For most of us it starts out with a vague awareness that something is just not right. It may be as innocuous as repeatedly listening to the same song, or as in my wife’s case playing up to 50 Words with Friends games. The search may start to discover what is wrong. On average this can take 2-3 years as FTD is frequently misdiagnosed as mental health issues. Many medical professionals have little awareness of this disease and may be confused by the fact that dementia in a 30 year old is not a normal consideration. This first movement portrays this part of the journey, ending in the diagnosis, which is a death sentence. Karen’s theme is first introduced in the opening bars of the piece. The 2nd theme, Augmented 6 chords, introduced by the violas, represents the disease.

The second movement portrays the middle part of the journey as the FTD sufferer continues to decline. This period can be particularly difficult for the partner/caregiver as their loved one engages in strange or illogical behaviors. Things can go from crazy to normal. 

I put the third, scherzo, movement in as an afterthought. This journey would be impossible without some humor… so here it is. However, even here, the unresolved German Aug 6 chord and Karen’s theme show up. In the midst of joy, there is still sadness.

The final, somewhat calmer movement speaks to the final stages of the disease. The patient becomes non-verbal, may lose the ability to walk or eat without help. Finally, at the end, as the brain continues to disintegrate, it loses its ability to run the body and death takes over. I have added the theme which represents the patient, after the death knell, to signify that love conquers all and that in the end, it is the spirit of the person that remains and the memory of the disease fades.

You will experience many long silences which may make you uncomfortable or anxious. That was done on purpose. Words that describe this piece:   Anger, Confusion, Frustration, and Sadness

Help fight this disease by contributing to research for a cure at: or

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Cello Concerto in B minor, Opus 104 (First movement)

Dvořák came to America in September 1892, after prolonged urging from Mrs. Jeannette Thurber, who finally persuaded him to serve as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. It was Mrs. Thurber’s dream that Dvořák could help to found an American school of composition (she was evidently unaware that a genuine school of composers was already quite well established in Boston, where they had begun to turn out a stream of symphonies and other works premiered by the Boston Symphony). In any case, Dvořák composed some of his most popular works while he was in this country, including the New World Symphony, the string quartet in F, Opus 96, and the string quintet in E‑flat, Opus 97 (both dubbed “The American”), and, as his last composition written in this country, the Cello Concerto.

Dvořák received the impetus to compose the concerto—the most popular work of its type in the repertory—largely because of the influence of one of his colleagues at the National Conservatory, the chairman of his cello faculty, Victor Herbert. Herbert, a German-trained Irishman who was the principal cellist of the Metropolitan Opera and would soon become America’s most popular and versatile composer for the Broadway stage (his works include Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta), but in the early 1890s his attention was almost totally directed to the creation of concert music. Herbert had already composed a Suite for Cello and Orchestra (Opus 3) and a Cello Concerto (Opus 8), but it was the first performance of his best‑known serious composition, the Second Cello Concerto, with the New York Philharmonic under Anton Seidl on March 9, 1894, that proved epoch-making for Dvořák. Naturally Dvořák attended the premiere of this major work by a man who was not only the head of one of his departments, but a close friend as well. After the performance, Dvořák ran up to the composer‑soloist in the green room and shouted enthusiastically, “Terrific, absolutely terrific!”

Dvořák had already drafted one cello concerto, but he had left it unfinished—with the orchestral part in piano score—out of fear that the cello was too delicate and too low in pitch to compete successfully with an orchestra. Herbert’s concerto persuaded him otherwise. The following year Dvořák began his own Cello Concerto, the final large composition of his American years.

The concerto has always been popular for its warm melodies, the brilliance of Dvořák’s treatment of the solo instrument, and the skillful way in which he manages to employ his substantial orchestra without overpowering the soloist. The themes all have their own character, yet sound well whether played by the orchestra or the soloist. Moreover, since the development is almost entirely taken up by a magical treatment of the first theme in a distant key, Dvořák begins his recapitulation with the second theme, allowing the final return of the first theme to lead directly to the brilliant fanfares that close the movement.


Symphony No. 3 in F, Opus 90

By the time Brahms wrote his Third Symphony, he had come to be regarded with great respect by many of the critics and the public, particularly those who saw in him a bulwark of instrumental abstract music against Wagner’s Music of the Future. That is not to say that new works were received with universal acclaim. For one thing, Wagner’s partisans were always as vicious in their denunciations of Brahms as the Brahmsians were in their attacks on the Wagnerian faction. And many well-intentioned music-lovers simply found Brahms’s elusive, complex music unclear, demanding, highly intellectual rather than emotional. When the Third Symphony was first performed in Boston in the fall of 1884, the response was all-too typical: “Like the great mass of the composer’s music, it is painfully dry, deliberate and ungenial; and like that, too, it is free from all effect of seeming spontaneity.”

For the average listener it took decades and many rehearings to find the extraordinary lyricism, the rapturous interplay of lines and rhythms which create a complexity that does indeed benefit from the sorting-out acquired by many hearings. A hundred years ago it was  commonplace to say that Wagner was the avatar of musical modernism and Brahms of a musical conservatism. And yet the situation was never so cut-and-dried, or the music of Brahms would have been much easier to grasp. No less a musical mind than that of Arnold Schoenberg, whose Transfigured Night may be the apotheosis of Wagner’s Tristan, also wrote a profound essay entitled “Brahms the Progressive.” in which he drew attention to Brahms=s unsurpassed genius at melodic variation and the complex richness of his rhythms, to which no other composer of his time came close.

It is well known that Brahms waited until he was well into his forties in 1876 before daring to bring forth his first symphony (though he claimed to have written and destroyed several before that). But once having broken ground for a symphonic edifice, he quickly created the Second the following year. Then he concentrated for a time on concertos (the one for violin and his second for the piano), chamber music (a violin sonata, a piano trio, and a string quintet), and choral works (including the exquisite Nänie, with its classicizing text by Schiller lamenting that Even Beauty must die).

Finally, in the summer of 1882 he began his Third Symphony, completing it the next summer. Indeed, so ready was he to give birth to the work that he interrupted a journey on the Rhine and rented lodgings in Wiesbaden so that he could write out the score, which he apparently did without pause. The first performance took place that December in Vienna, where it was well received except for the noisy opposition of a few members of the Wagner-Bruckner camp. In those days, of course, there were neither recordings nor radio broadcasts to carry the sound of a new work beyond the audience that first heard it in the concert hall. Brahms’s friends in other cities particularly his oldest and dearest friend and confidante, Clara Schumann, were eager to hear the piece. They did not have to wait long; orchestras all over Europe and even the distant United States undertook to perform it in 1884: before the end of the year performances had taken place in Cambridge (England), Berlin, Leipzig, Cologne, Meiningen, as well as both New York and Boston.

Brahms had prepared an arrangement for two pianos (in those pre-recording days, most music-lovers studied new compositions at home, playing them on the piano, before going to hear them in concert) and twice allowed the powerful Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick to hear the score in a two-piano reading before the official premiere. After the performance, Hanslick hailed the new work as “a feast for the music lover and musician.. artistically the most perfect of the composer’s works to that time.

Naturally Brahms sent a copy of the two-piano score to Clara Schumann, who wrote to him on February 11 offering her friend an enthusiastic response:

I don’t know where this letter will find you, but I can’t refrain from writing it because my heart is so full. I have spent such happy hours with your wonderful creation…that I should like at least to tell you so. What a work! What a [musical] poem! What a harmonious mood pervades the whole! All the movements seem to be of one piece, one beat of the heart, each one a jewel! From start to finish one is wrapped about with the mysterious charm of the woods and forests. I could not tell you which movement I loved most. In the first I was charmed straight away by the gleams of dawning day, as if the rays of the sun were shining through the trees. Everything springs to life, everything breathes good cheer, it is really exquisite! The second is a pure idyll; I can see the worshipers kneeling about the little forest shrine, I hear the babbling brook and the buzz of the insects. There is such a fluttering and a humming all around that one feels oneself snatched up into the joyous web of Nature. The third movement is a pearl, but it is a grey one dipped in a tear of woe, and at the end the modulation is quite wonderful. How gloriously the last movement follows with its passionate upward surge! But one’s beating heart is soon calmed down again for the final transfiguration which begins with such beauty in the development motif that words fail me! How sorry I am that I cannot hear the symphony now that I know it so well and could enjoy it so much better. This is a real sorrow for me…

For all the immediate fame and success that the symphony achieved (and for all its influence on Brahms’s contemporaries, including Dvořák and the American George W. Chadwick, whose own Third Symphony is in some ways an homage to this piece), the Brahms Third is the least-often programmed of the four symphonies. And this in spite of the fact that Brahms’s great devotee Hans Richter referred to the piece as Brahms’s Eroica. Actually the epithet could be, in part, the cause of the symphony’s relative infrequency in performance, because the two works have almost nothing in common except the fact that they are both third symphonies and bear the tempo marking Allegro con Brio for their first movements. The Beethoven work shatters the past with a two-fisted aggressive outburst of dynamism; the Brahms is altogether quieter, more internalized, more evocative. Every movement ends quietly, including the finale, and this may be another reason why it is heard rarely, since audiences are psychologically more attuned to applaud a loud, brilliant finish rather than a quiet close.

The first, second, and fourth movements of the symphony are linked by the presence of a motive that appears in the opening measures: three chords underlie a three-note melody that consists of F rising to A-flat, the soaring upward to the F in the higher octave. Now in this context, A-flat would suggest that the symphony is to be in F minor, but the chords underlying the first and third pitches have instead an A natural, which suggests (as indeed the score officially decrees) that the symphony is in F major. From the first three measures, then, the symphony unfolds an expressive scheme that is constantly playing with the opposition between major and minor, sometimes forcefully, but most often in delicate ways.

Nearly thirty years earlier Brahms had composed a violin sonata movement based on the musical emblem F-A-F, which (according to the composer’s biographer Kalbeck) stood for the phrase frei aber froh (free but happy). Here the same phrase recurs except its middle member is now A-flat, bringing in a totally different mood. A and A-flat contend dramatically throughout the movement, a harmonic competition that helps to generate the great forward thrust that continues even past the more delicate and ravishing secondary theme, first heard in the clarinet.

The two middle movements are both more delicate, lighter, of the type that Brahms often (though not here) chose to call an intermezzo. The second movement features a melody that seems almost as simple as a folk song, developed with rich changes in the orchestration. The lyric flow is twice interrupted by a succession of chords that sound vaguely ominous.

The cellos sing a gorgeously poignant melody at the opening of the third movement, and the first violins soon take it up. Though this movement lacks specific references to the continuing struggle between A and A-flat, its mood of overall melancholy fits right in with the nature of that harmonic combat.

The finale opens in F minor–giving the impression that the A-flat will ultimately triumph. A chorale-like passage and a succession of motives build a powerful symphonic struggle. But rather than carrying this through to anything like a heroic conclusion, Brahms draws all of the thematic materials of this movement together in a calm apotheosis that finally settles the original question–minor or major?–in favor of the latter, with shimmering strings and a hushed close.

(C) Copyright Steven Ledbetter