Mission: to seek and share inspiration

vienna-brahms-2550x482 -opt.jpg

VIENNA - FROM STRAUSS TO BRAHMS


Mar 11 - 13

anchor

LOUIS LANGRÉE, conductor
AUGUSTIN HADELICH, violin

  
  

J. STRAUSS, JR
(1825-1899)

   
 

On the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz

   
   
  
  

BERG
(1885-1935)

   
 

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, "To the Memory of an Angel"
      Allegro. Allegretto
      Allegro. Adagio

   
   

INTERMISSION

  

BRAHMS
(1833-1897)

   

Symphony No. 2 in D Major
      Allegro non troppo
      Adagio non troppo
      Allegretto grazioso (Quasi andantino)
      Allegro con spirito

   
   

JOHANN STRAUSS, JR.

On the Beautiful Blue Danube Waltz

Timing: approx. 9 min.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, snare drum, cymbals a2, triangle, bass drum, harp, strings

CSO SUBSCRIPTION PERFORMANCES

The CSO has performed this work only twice before on subscription weekends, including the premiere in November 1955 under Ivan Boutnikoff (guests that weekend included members of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo) and the most recent in December of 1960 under Max Rudolf. It has appeared many times over the years on Pops, Youth, Parks, Special, and Domestic and Local Tour programs, and on one May Festival concert in the Festival’s first season (1873) when The Theodore Thomas Orchestra performed the work.

Johann Strauss, Jr. was born in Vienna on October 25, 1825 and died there on June 3, 1899. He composed his Blue Danube Waltz in 1867; the first performance was led by Johann Herbeck on February 13 of that year..

Thanks to Johann Strauss, the whole world knows the Danube. The longest river in today’s European Union, it used to be the longest river in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which was also known as the “Danube Monarchy.” During the heyday of the monarchy, its capital Vienna boasted such great composers as Johannes Brahms (originally from Hamburg) and Anton Bruckner (originally from a small village outside Linz), yet its musical essence was most fully embodied by the native-born dynasty of the Strausses, and Johann Jr. in particular.

Johann Strauss Jr., also known as the Waltz King, wrote well over 400 compositions, but none of them is more famous than On the Beautiful Blue Danube. Here Strauss’s boundless invention and unerring feel for the spirit of the dance is apparent in every measure. One glorious melodic strain follows another in a sequence that becomes giddier and giddier to the end.

It is rarely remembered that the Blue Danube waltz was originally written for men’s chorus and orchestra, and had words (extremely bad ones) written, after the music had been composed, by a certain Josef Weyl. The work was commissioned by Johann Herbeck (1831–77), a conductor who was one of the few people to be on friendly terms with both Brahms and Bruckner. In addition, he conducted the premiere of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, 37 years after the composer’s death. As the director of the Viennese Men’s Choral Association, Herbeck needed a new piece for the carnival season. The vocal parts were quickly forgotten, but as an orchestral waltz, the Blue Danube conquered the entire world within a few short years.

—Peter Laki


ALBAN BERG

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, “To the Memory of an Angel”

Timing: approx. 22 min.
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes (incl. 2 piccolos), 2 oboes (incl. English horn), 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, snare drum, cymbals a2, triangle, bass drum, suspended cymbals, bass drum with attached cymbal, gong, tam-tam, harp, strings

CSO SUBSCRIPTION PERFORMANCES

The CSO has performed this work on six previous subscription weekends, including the premiere in October of 1959, Max Rudolf conducting and Isaac Stern, violinist, and the most recent in January of 2007, Paavo Järvi conducting and Isabelle van Keulen, violinist. Other renowned violinists have performed this work with the CSO, including Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin, who also joined the CSO at Carnegie Hall in 1984 to perform the Concerto.

Berg was born in Vienna on February 9, 1885; he died there on December 24, 1935. The Violin Concerto was begun in April 1935 and completed on August 11, 1935. Louis Krasner was soloist at the first performance, which was conducted by Hermann Scherchen at the International Society for Contemporary Music Festival in Barcelona on March 19, 1936.

Louis Krasner, an American violinist who performed some of the most advanced contemporary compositions, became interested in twelve-tone music in the 1930s. He began to think about a concerto written especially for him by one of the three great twelve-tone composers—Arnold Schoenberg or one of his two disciples, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. Krasner knew Berg’s music and felt that, of the three, Berg was the best choice because his lyrical style was well suited for the violin. (Krasner later approached Webern for a solo piece, but it was never written.)

After making discreet inquiries about the violinist, Berg agreed to meet him. The composer was not particularly interested in the project, because he was deeply involved in the composition of the opera Lulu and because he doubted his ability to compose a virtuoso concerto. Krasner convinced him that he was not interested in an empty showpiece but rather in a substantial work in the tradition of the concertos by Brahms and Beethoven. Krasner argued that a lyrical solo work would help the public understand that twelve-tone music is not cerebral, abstruse, or mathematical. In addition, the commission was lucrative and Berg was having financial difficulties. With some trepidation he accepted the commission; this was only the second time he had written for a fee.

Soon after Berg agreed to write the concerto, something occurred that was to have a profound impact on it. He was friendly with Alma Mahler Gropius and her family. Alma, the widow of composer Gustav Mahler, was then married to architect Walter Gropius (she later married novelist Franz Werfel). She had two daughters, Anna Mahler and Manon Gropius. Berg was particularly close to Manon. Mutzi, as Berg called her, was 18 years old when she was struck with polio. As her mother subsequently explained:

Alban Berg loved my daughter as if she were his own child from the beginning of her life. My daughter became more and more beautiful as she grew into young girlhood. When Max Reinhardt saw her, he asked if I would allow her to play the part of the first angel in the Grosses Welttheater in Salzburg. But before everything could be arranged, she was stricken with infantile paralysis. So she lay for one year and died on Easter Day, 1935. She did not play the angel, but in reality she became one. After her passing Berg could not finish his own opera, Lulu. He composed the Violin Concerto and dedicated it to the memory of Manon.

Berg wanted the concerto to portray first Manon’s personality and then her suffering, death, and transfiguration. It is probably not coincidental that his idea is similar to that behind Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, since that was the only work of Strauss Berg respected.

While working on the concerto, Berg wrote to Willi Reich asking for some Bach chorales. Berg wanted to include a chorale because of Manon. Reich sent the music, and Berg found that one of the chorales began with the final four notes of the tone-row with which he was working. He was thus able to integrate the chorale into the concerto in a logical manner, without the sudden appearance of tonality in a twelve-tone work seeming arbitrary. The chorale he chose is Es ist genug! (“It is enough!”). The text reads: “It is enough! Lord, if it is thy pleasure, relieve me of my yoke! My Jesus cometh: now good night, O world! I am going up into the house of heaven, surely I am going there in peace; my great distress remains below. It is enough, it is enough!”

KEYNOTE. Berg’s work begins in an elemental fashion: the soloist plays on the four open strings of the violin. It is as if the concerto grows from this most basic of violin sounds. The second part of the first movement portrays Manon’s happiness and vivacity. There are sections marked scherzando, wienerisch (in a Viennese manner), and rustico; there are waltz rhythms and yodeling figures; and there is an actual Carinthian folksong.
The first part of the second movement is purposefully harsh and dissonant, in order to depict Manon’s illness. Later the Bach chorale is intoned as a memorial for the dead girl. After two variations on the chorale, the Carinthian folksong is recalled with great pathos, and the work ends tenderly as the solo violin rises into its highest register, symbolizing Manon’s ascent into heaven.

This portrayal of Manon is what might be called the concerto’s public program. There is considerable evidence that Berg also intended an additional, private meaning. In the Violin Concerto, as in most of his other mature works, he indulged in mystical numerology. Tempo markings and lengths of phrases and sections are often determined by three “magic” numbers—23 (which was Berg’s own fateful number), ten (which he used in several works to symbolize Hannah Fuchs-Robettin, the woman with whom he carried on a secret affair for the last ten years of his life), and the as yet unexplained number 28. Calculations in the margins of Berg’s manuscript confirm his preoccupation with these three numbers. In particular, the variations on the Bach chorale are structured according to lengths of ten, 23 and 28 beats. Why should Berg use symbols of his love for Fuchs-Robettin in a concerto conceived as a memorial to Manon Gropius?

Another puzzle, according to Berg scholar Douglas Jarman, concerns the (unheard) text of the Carinthian folksong Berg quotes. Since the words of the Bach chorale are appropriate to the concerto, and since in other Berg works the original texts of quotations always refer to the meaning of the music, is it not reasonable to assume that the folksong text is relevant? Yet the words of this innocent tune have nothing to do with either Hannah Fuchs-Robettin or Manon Gropius. They speak of a girl named Mizzi. As it happens, there was a Mizzi in Berg’s life. When he was seventeen the composer had an affair with Marie Scheuchl, whose nickname was probably Mizzi. Berg and Mizzi had a daughter, born in 1902.

Perhaps the folksong refers not only to Manon’s innocence but also, more secretly and more specifically, to Berg’s first love. Perhaps the secret number 28 refers to Mizzi Scheuchl or to their illegitimate daughter. Perhaps Berg identified his only child, to whom he could never be a true father, with Manon Gropius, whom he loved “as if she were his own child.” Since the composer may have sensed that the concerto was to be his final work, it is at least likely that he included in it hidden references to his real daughter and to his surrogate daughter, as well as to his first and last loves—the one remembered (in a folksong heard “as if from afar”) as an involvement of youthful innocence and the other (as symbolized in the phrase lengths of the chorale variations on “It is Enough”) tinged with the pathos of impending death.

Fearing the worst, Berg worked rapidly. He nonetheless conferred frequently with Krasner. Rather than have Krasner play over passages on which he was working, Berg asked him to improvise for hours. Berg would seem not to be listening, but whenever the violinist would stop the composer came into the room and urged him to continue. In this manner Berg learned what kind of technical devices came most easily to Krasner. Nonetheless, when the concerto was finished, the soloist thought several parts too difficult. Berg was about to revise, when Krasner asked for time to work out these challenging passages. The violinist found he could master them, and nothing was changed.

Berg’s health was not good. According to his wife, “Alban, ill in bed and tortured with pain, worked frantically and without interruption to conclude the composition of his Violin Concerto. Refusing to stop for food or sleep, he drove his hand relentlessly and in fever. ‘I must continue,’ Berg responded to [my] pleadings, ‘I cannot stop—I do not have time.’”

The concerto was finished in August. Berg was 50 years old. By December he was hospitalized, apparently the victim of blood poisoning from abscesses. Despite two operations and blood transfusions, he did not improve. He tried to maintain his good humor, for the sake of his wife. He asked, for example, to meet the young man who had donated blood, who turned out to be an ordinary, unconcerned Viennese. Berg remarked, “If only I don’t now turn into a composer of operettas!” On December 23 he announced, “Today will be a decisive day.” He died shortly after midnight on the 24th. His death mask was taken by Anna Mahler. The Violin Concerto became his own requiem.

Berg never heard the concerto, which Krasner first played the following March in Barcelona. The composer’s close friend, Anton Webern, was to have been the conductor, but he was too upset by Berg’s death to rehearse effectively. He spent the first two of three scheduled rehearsals on the opening of the concerto, taking time to explain in detail (and in hesitant Spanish) Berg’s compositional intentions.

Finally Webern withdrew, leaving Hermann Scherchen one rehearsal to prepare the parts of the concerto that the musicians had still not even sightread. Two years later Webern wrote to Scherchen, “To think that absolutely no one understood me! No one understood how I felt so soon after Berg’s death, and that I was simply not up to the task of conducting the first performance of his last work.”

—Jonathan D. Kramer


JOHANNES BRAHMS

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73

Timing: approx. 43 min.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings

CSO SUBSCRIPTION PERFORMANCES

The CSO has performed this work on 41 previous subscription weekends, including the premiere in March of 1896, Frank Van der Stucken conducting (at the Pike Opera House), and the most recent in January of 2013, Paavo Järvi conducting. With these performances, each of the CSO’s 13 Music Directors will have led the CSO in Brahms’ Symphony No. 2.

Brahms was born on May 7, 1833 in Hamburg; he died on April 3, 1897 in Vienna. He began the Second Symphony in June 1877 in the small Austrian town of Pörtschach. He completed it the following fall. Hans Richter conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the first performance on December 30, 1877.

Brahms had a special relationship with Clara Schumann, wife of composer-pianist Robert Schumann and herself an accomplished pianist and composer. The friendship began when Brahms helped the Schumann family during the older composer’s hospitalization and after his death. Brahms often sought Clara’s advice on the music he was composing or her opinion of pieces he had just finished. The Second Symphony was no exception.

It is difficult to understand completely the nature of Brahms’ feelings for Clara. When he was in his early 20s and still a protégé of Schumann, he loved Clara at a respectable distance. While Schumann was confined in an asylum during his last years, Brahms expressed his affection more openly, but he restrained himself from acting on it. He wrote:

My dearest Clara, I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and do as many good and loving things for you as I would like. You are so infinitely dear to me that I cannot express it in words. I should like to call you darling and lots of other names, without ever getting enough of adoring you.

Once Schumann had died, Brahms could think realistically about a union with Clara. But it did not feel right. She was his friend and he loved her, but she was also the widow of Schumann. Furthermore, Brahms knew that a domestic life would interfere with his creative work. He wrote to his friend Joachim:

I believe that I do not respect and admire her so much as I love her and am under her spell. Often I must forcibly restrain myself from just quietly putting my arms around her and even—I don’t know, it seems to me so natural that she would take it ill. I think I can no longer love a young girl. At least I have quite forgotten about them. They but promise heaven while Clara reveals it to us.

Clara and Brahms had been in daily contact, but then she moved to Berlin and he returned to Hamburg. They kept up a steady correspondence, and Brahms sent her every one of his compositions for criticism. But love was not openly discussed. Brahms never cared deeply for another woman, but he was unable to bring himself to make a decisive commitment to Clara. Many years later he insisted they return each other’s letters and destroy them. Clara complied reluctantly, managing to save a few of her favorites. Because most of the correspondence was burned, we will probably never have sufficient information to understand fully the odd relationship between these two artists.

After years of struggle composing the First Symphony, with many preliminary versions sent to Clara for suggestions, Brahms found it far easier to compose his Second. He did his best work away from the city in the summer, and so he wrote the Second Symphony in a few months at a small town on Wörther Lake. When it was done, he sent Clara the first movement, which she praised. She predicted that it would have more immediate success with the public than the First, and she was right. The third movement was so popular at the premiere that it had to be repeated.

The Second Symphony offers an interesting parallel to Beethoven, whose music was a model and an inspiration to Johannes Brahms. Beethoven had written his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies closely together, as did Brahms with his First and Second. The Fifth is brooding yet passionate, emotional yet triumphant and it is in the appropriate key of C minor. Brahms’ First shares key and mood with Beethoven’s Fifth. Brahms’ next symphony shares mood (but not key) with Beethoven’s subsequent Pastoral. Both are idyllic, untroubled and peaceful, although there is plenty of inner drama in both works.

Brahms, who did not believe in program music, would never have called a symphony Pastoral and he would no doubt be annoyed with commentators who find in the D Major Symphony reflections of the peaceful countryside in which it was conceived. But there is no denying that, if any of Brahms’ symphonies deserve to be thought of as pastoral, this is the one.

KEYNOTE. Brahms’ Second is a masterpiece of tight construction and rhythmic inventiveness, qualities not necessarily associated with peaceful music. Consider the technique of motivic derivation, for example, which Brahms borrowed and expanded from Beethoven (notably in the Fifth Symphony). The first movement is pervaded by two extremely simple figures, heard at the very beginning: the three-note turn in the cellos and string basses (heard upside-down a moment later in the third measure of the horn melody) and the rising two-note figure that begins that horn tune. One would be hard put to think up any simpler material. Yet the manner in which almost everything in this complex movement comes from these two basic figures is amazing. But derivation of the movement from its opening is only part of Brahms’ sophisticated technique.

The three-note figure is also the source of wonderful rhythmic developments. In its original form it fits nicely the 3/4 measures as 1+/2+/3+ (“+” indicates implied offbeats, not actually heard until later in the movement). In other words, the quarter note is the basic beat. But the motive can be (and eventually is) played slower: 1+2+/3+1+/2+3+, with the half note (two beats long) now serving as the basic pulse. Thus a conflict is set up between the two-beat pulse and the three-beat measure. Further complications arise when the figure is speeded up so that the eighth note becomes the basic unit—it is too fast to be heard as the beat, so the entire three-note motive (now 1½ beats long) provides the pulse unit: 1+2/+3+. What all this means is that there are three different rates of motion in the movement, represented by three different pulse units, respectively 1, 1½ and 2 beats long. This conflict is intensified when Brahms plays these different speeds in alternation or even, in the development section, simultaneously. This rhythmic subtlety gives rise to further complexities, and the result is a movement that is endlessly intriguing beneath its placid surface.

The second movement also is full of unusual rhythms which are derived from its beginning, although here they are based not on different speeds but on different placements of the opening melody within the 4/4 measures. Listen carefully to that first tune: it sounds as if it fits the measure exactly: 1 2 3 4. The next four beats seem to confirm this interpretation, but then there is somehow an extra beat before the third measure. It somehow sounds like: 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 4 / 4 1 2 3 4. In actuality, the music begins on the fourth beat: 4 1 2 3 /4 1 2 3 /4 1 2 3 4. From this initial displacement come the movement’s frequent emphasis on fourth beats and its tendency to start melodies anywhere in the measure. The opening tune, for example, later starts on a third beat. It is not placed “properly” within the measure until the very end, and there Brahms achieves regularity by an ingenious means: listen to it!

The deceptively innocent opening of the third movement actually contains the greatest rhythmic sophistication thus far. The suggestions of 2/4 and 4/4 within this 3/4 section are too complex to trace here. As a total contrast, the ensuing presto in 2/4 time is devoid of complication: its straightforward simplicity is welcome. After a return of the opening allegretto, a second presto, in 3/8 time, is less innocent.

Although much of the finale is rhythmically regular, there are several stunningly imaginative passages—syncopations at different rates, 1½- and 2½-beat patterns within a 2-beat framework, and mixtures of speeds as in the opening movement. The result is a movement full of life and vitality, a fitting conclusion to this happiest of Brahms symphonies.

Brahms was a strange combination of humility and self-assuredness, of secretiveness and candor. He was unable to speak directly about himself or his work, but he was willing enough to communicate in riddles, ambiguities or false modesties. Thus he could call the Second Symphony a collection of waltzes. His underlying self-confidence sometimes came through his put-on modesty: he told his friend Schubring that the symphony was “a quite innocent, gay little one.” Brahms went on to compare it favorably, in his typical understated manner, to other composers’ music: “Expect nothing, and for a month before drum nothing but Berlioz, Liszt and Wagner; then its tender amiability will do a lot of good.” After the successful premiere of the Second, the composer said, with his usual pseudo-self-effacement: “Whether or not I have a pretty symphony I do not know; I will have to ask some wiser people.” Of course there were no wiser people, as Brahms well knew. He also knew that the symphony is indeed “pretty,” as do all of us less wise music lovers.

—Peter Laki