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In Chapter 9 of E. M. Forster’s novel Howards End, there is a reference to a symphonic poem based on the river Oder in Germany.

The course of the Oder is to be like music. It’s obliged to remind her of a symphonic poem. The part by the landing-stage is in B minor … but lower down things get extremely mixed. There is a slodgy theme in several keys at once, meaning mud-banks, and another for the navigable canal, and the exit into the Baltic is in C sharp major, pianissimo.

Does anyone know of such a work, a symphonic poem ending pp in C-sharp major? Or is this entirely fictional, made up by the author?

  • It's possible that there may be such a work, but it may also be a joking reference to Smetana's "Vltava" - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A1_vlast#Vltava – Angst May 12 '16 at 21:15
  • @Angst Thanks! Yes, I rather think it's a joke on Vltava as it's quite an accurate description of Smetana’s symphonic poem – though Smetana’s symphonic poem ends in E major, fortissimo. ;-) – George Law May 12 '16 at 21:41
  • "Vltava" is a fine piece of music, but often when it's performed, you get a rather earnest introduction, which outlines how the music imitates the course of the river, so probably that is what is being mocked here – Angst May 12 '16 at 21:58
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The text is probably mocking Smetana's own description of his tone poem about the River Vltava (DE: River Moldau), part of a suite of six pieces with a Czech nationalistic theme.

Here are the words, taken from the Wikipedia article about the piece:

"The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer's wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night's moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John's Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe (or Elbe, in German)."

These words or a version of them are often used in program notes or as a verbal introduction to the piece. The text may also be mocking other program notes which try to make (too) specific associations between the music and some external object,place or person.

On a more practical basis, a tone poem usually takes some theme outside of music - a fictional character, a place etc. The River Vltava is a major river, seen as the national river of Czechoslovakia, so fits with a nationalistic theme. The River Oder is much longer and runs through Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Germany. It may have associations suitable for a tone poem, but less likely.

  • Thanks. I’m familiar with the Vltava having heard it many times before. – George Law May 13 '16 at 18:42

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