Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra – Opening concert of Musikfest Berlin 2013

The opening concert of the Musikfest Berlin 2013: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra plays Janaček, Lutosławski and Strauss. Conductor: Manfred Honeck, soloist: Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin).

Programme

  1. Leoš Janáček: Suite for String Orchestra (1)
  2. Witold Lutosławski: Chain 2, Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra (2)
  3. Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben, Opus 40 (3)

The streaming is produced by the Digital Concert Hall. The Digital Concert Hall is the virtual concert venue of the Berliner Philharmoniker on the Internet.

Anne-Sophie Mutter (born 29 June 1963) is a German violinist. Supported early in her career by Herbert von Karajan, she has built a strong reputation for championing contemporary music with several works being composed specially for her including by Sebastian Currier, Henri Dutilleux, Sofia Gubaidulina, Witold Lutosławski, Norbert Moret, Krzysztof Penderecki, André Previn, and Wolfgang Rihm.

Notes

  1. There are 6 movements:
    1. Moderato (G minor)
    2. Adagio
    3. Andante con moto
    4. Presto
    5. Adagio
    6. Andante (B minor)
  2. Throughout his career, Lutosławski wrote strikingly well for the violin, whether in chamber music, orchestrally, or in a solo role. He had studied the instrument from the ages of 13 to 19, progressing as far as the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, the Mozart concertos and the Franck sonata; among his earliest compositions were two sonatas for violin and piano (1927), now lost, which he recalled as ‘terribly naïve’ pieces bearing the imprint of Grieg and early Debussy. Yet in his mature years the solo violin (like chamber music in general) is strikingly rare in his output: the sole example is Recitativo e arioso, a three-minute occasional piece for violin and piano written as a birthday gift to the director of the Polish Music Publishers (PWM) in 1951. That changed in the last decade and a half of his life, when (enabled partly by his nimbler, more transparent ‘late’ technique) Lutosławski produced three significant violin works, including the Partita for violin and piano (1984), written for Pinchas Zukerman; Chain 2: Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra (1984-85), commissioned by Paul Sacher for Anne-Sophie Mutter; and Subito for violin and piano (1992), commissioned as a test piece for the Indianapolis Violin Competition, his last completed work save the very brief Fanfare for the Los Angeles Philharmonic later that same year. But Lutosławski’s late involvement with the violin went further. Anne-Sophie Mutter badly wanted a violin concerto from him, so to satisfy her at least temporarily he orchestrated the Partita in 1988 and composed a linking orchestral Interlude in 1989; by performing the sequence Partita – Interlude – Chain 2, a larger concertante work of about 38 minutes became available. But the real Lutosławski Violin Concerto was never completed: those were the sketches on his desk at his death in February 1994. They are detailed enough to permit a guess that the final design might have been in three movements, a Presto, a slow movement and a finale perhaps entitled Danza. The sketches are developed enough, too, to suggest that styles of violin writing familiar from the Partita, Chain 2 and Subito would have been prominent here too. (Two excerpts of the sketches are published in Charles Bodman Rae’s excellent The Music of Lutosławski, 3rd ed.)Why Chain (in Polish, Łańcuch)? The term is Lutosławski’s own, designating a way of braiding two strands of music together like a rope, or like links in a chain. The strands are independent, both melodically and harmonically, and their phrases begin and end in different places, overlapping: the trick is in combining them into a coherent whole. It is an old idea with him: the Passacaglia of the Concerto for Orchestra (1950-54) is designed this way, as is the Metamorphoses section of Musique funèbre (1954-58), and the wild ‘polyphony of textures’ that comprises the finale of Jeux vénitiens (1960-61). Lutosławski returned to this technique often in the last years of his life: Grave (1981), Symphony No. 3 (1972-83), the Piano Concerto (1987-88) and of course the eponymous Chains 1 (1983), 2 (1984-85) and 3 (1986). As one might expect, in Chain 2 the two strands are often defined as solo violin on the one hand and orchestra on the other: the ‘dialogue’ of the subtitle.Even if Chain 2 is not quite a full-fledged violin concerto at 18 minutes, this score offers such a wealth of substantive material that it still feels like a ‘big’ piece. Rather like the earlier Partita (with which it has much in common), the work alternates movements marked Ad libitum – characterised by freer rhythms and less rigorous interactions between soloist and orchestra – with movements notated in the conventional, metered way (A battuta). In the Ad libitum first movement, the violin plays continuously, inhabiting a wide range of characters, shifting mercurially from one to the next like an actor pacing about the stage, trying one voice after another. The orchestra offers comments and underpinning but never comes into its own, remaining subordinate to the soloist. The second movement (A battuta) is suddenly very different: a sort of scherzo in which the violinist alternates between demonic fiddling and sweet singing (marked in Italian rude, ‘angry’, and soave, ‘sweet’ – the same opposition Lutosławski invoked to describe church bells in the last of the Five Iłłakowicz Songs in 1957). But this is a scherzo that loses its way: each section is in a slower tempo, until the final iteration, launched by the timpani, is low comedy, complete with uncouth noises from the string section (a technique called ‘overbowing’ or ‘scratch tone’). The unravelling of this scherzo is modelled closely on the finale of the Double Concerto (1979-80), which uses precisely the same joke. The emotional centre of Chain 2 is the Ad libitum third movement, a violin cantilena marked molto cantabile whose melody is in a style familar from many earlier Lutosławski slow movements, from the Cello Concerto (1968-70) to the oboe Epitaphium (1979), to the Double Concerto, Third Symphony, Chain 1 and Partita. In many of these scores it is marked dolente, ‘sorrowful’, and here too the effect is of grieving: conjunct melody interrupted by grace-note ‘sobs’ like the Baroque pianto motif. Eventually all the violins join in unison with the soloist, wailing this melody higher and higher until abruptly, ruthlessly, it is cut off to leave the soloist a few last, inconclusive whimpers.

    “Inconclusive” is the key. For this four-movement structure also reflects, if distantly, the bipartite, end-accented plans of works like the String Quartet (1964), Second Symphony (1965-67), and even Fourth Symphony (1988-92). This is one of Lutosławski’s most distinctive contributions: the realisation that for the psychology of the listener there should be only one main movement in a larger work (rather than, for example, two main movements – first and last – as in a Brahms symphony.) The Chain 2 finale is a brilliant perpetual motion, in which for the first time the orchestra engages as fellow virtuosos, leading to a massive group climax. The way out of the climax is characteristic, too: passionate cantilena playing on the violin over a radiant bed of string harmonies, calming little by little until almost extinguished. But no, we must have a strong, affirmative ending to tie up the loose ends: for this composer, no lingering in sentimentality. A whirlwind coda, Presto, brings the work to an emphatic close in a gesture that has much in common with the endings of the Double Concerto, the Third Symphony, the Piano Concerto and the Fourth Symphony: works that seem to trail off into some dreamy, personal realm, only to draw shut the curtain with a flourish at the last moment.

  3. Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), Op. 40 is a tone poem by Richard Strauss. The work was completed in 1898. It was his sixth work in the genre, and exceeded any of its predecessors in its orchestral demands. Generally agreed to be autobiographical in tone, despite contradictory statements on the matter by the composer, the work contains more than thirty quotations from Strauss’s earlier works.
    The work performed without breaks, except for a dramatic grand pause at the end of the first movement. The movements are titled as follows (later editions of the score may not show these titles, owing to the composer’s request that they be removed):

    1. “Der Held” (The Hero)
    2. “Des Helden Widersacher” (The Hero’s Adversaries)
    3. “Des Helden Gefährtin” (The Hero’s Companion)
    4. “Des Helden Walstatt” (The Hero at Battle)
    5. “Des Helden Friedenswerke” (The Hero’s Works of Peace)
    6. “Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung” (The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation)

    Ein Heldenleben employs the technique of leitmotifs that Richard Wagner used, but almost always as elements of its enlarged sonata-rondo symphonic structure.

      1. “The Hero”: The first theme represents the hero. In unison, horns and celli play E-flat major triads ascending through an almost four-octave span. A contrasting lyrical theme first appears in high strings and winds in B major. A second motive appears, outlining a stepwise descending fourth. Trumpets sound a dominant seventh chord followed by a grand pause, the only prolonged silence throughout the entire piece.
      2. “The Hero’s Adversaries”: The movement opens with chromatic woodwinds and low brass: multiple motives in contrasting registers are heard. The adversaries represented by the woodwinds are Strauss’s critics, such as the 19th-century Viennese music critic Doktor Dehring, who is memorably written into the score with an ominous four note leitmotif played by the two tubas in parallel fifths. As the critic Michael Kennedy puts it, the Hero’s theme goes dolefully into the minor and the critics renew their attacks until a fanfare from the brass diminishes them”.
      3. “The Hero’s Companion”: Strauss was evasive about whether he was or was not the hero depicted in the piece, but he explicitly confirmed that the hero’s companion was a portrait of his wife, Pauline de Ahna. He wrote to Rolland, “She is very complex, a trifle perverse, a trifle coquettish, never the same, changing from minute to minute.”[4] The section features a tender melody played by a solo violin. In an extended accompanied cadenza filled with extremely detailed performance instructions by Strauss, after the fashion of an operatic recitative, the violin presents new motivic material, alternating with brief interjections in low strings, winds, and brass. During this section, the violin briefly foreshadows a theme that will appear fully later. The cadenza concludes and the new thematic material is combined in a cantabile episode commencing in G-flat. Fragments of the motives from the previous movement briefly appear. A fanfare motive in offstage trumpets, repeated onstage, is then heard. The section ends with “a voluptuously scored love-scene.”
        The academic and critic James Hepokoski observes that the whole work is in a massive version of sonata form. The three initial sections comprise an elaborate exposition, with elements of a multiple-movement symphony evident in their contrasting character and tempo. The remainder of the work comprises development, recapitulation, and coda, with occasional new thematic material.
      4. “The Hero’s Battlefield”: In this first extended development section of the work, percussion and a solo trumpet are heard in the first appearance of 3/4 time: a variation of a previous motive. A sequence of clamorous trumpet fanfares occurs as the music approaches a harmonic climax in G flat, and the related E flat minor. Percussion is pervasive throughout the movement. 4/4 time returns in a modified recapitulation of the first theme as it appeared at the beginning of the piece, this time with a repeated quaver accompaniment. A new cantabile theme makes its appearance in the trumpet, and an extended elaboration of this serves to preface the next section.
      5. “The Hero’s Works of Peace”: The autobiographical aspect of the work is indicated most clearly in this section, in which Strauss extensively quotes his previous works. He quotes his early opera Guntram (eight times), his symphonic poems Don Quixote (five times), Don Juan (four), Death and Transfiguration (four), Macbeth (three), Also sprach Zarathustra (three) and Till Eulenspiegel (once). The lieder “Traum durch die Dämmerung”, Op 29/1 and “Befreit”, Op 39/1, are quoted once each. The melodies lead into the final section
      6. “The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Consummation”: Yet another new motive appears, commencing in a rapid descending E-flat triad, which introduces a new development of the original theme: an elegy featuring harp, bassoon, English horn, and strings. The reappearance of the previous “Hanslick” motive brings in an agitato episode. This is followed by a pastoral interlude with what Kennedy calls “a bucolic cor anglais theme”. The descending triad now appears slowly, cantabile, as the head of a new, peaceful theme in E flat: this is the theme foreshadowed during the violin cadenza. In a final variation of the initial motive, the brass intones the last fanfare, and a serene E flat major conclusion is reached.

Sources

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.