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Violin Legends: Christian Tetzlaff


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Program Notes

12/19/2016


FRI JAN 27, 8 pm

SAT JAN 28, 8 pm

JOHN STORGÅRDS conductor | CHRISTIAN TETZLAFF violinist

SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Overture to Manfred, Op. 115

BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra, BB 117

• Allegro non troppo

• Theme and Variations: Andante tranquillo

• Rondo: Allegro molt

INTERMISSION

NIELSEN (b. 1865-1931)

Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, The Inextinguishable

• Allegro—

• Poco allegretto—

• Poco adagio quasi andante—

• Allegro

 


Overture to Manfred, Op. 115

Born: June 8, 1810, Zwickau in Saxony | Died: July 29, 1856 near Bonn, Germany

Work composed: 1848–49

Premiere: (Overture) March 14, 1852, Leipzig, Germany—Schumann conducting

Instrumentation2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

CSO subscription performances: 10 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: March 1916, Ernst Kunwald conducting | Most recent: January 2012, Pablo Heras-Casado conducting

Durationapprox. 12 mins.

Schumann suffered periods of severe mental imbalance. He was sometimes driven by inner urges that did not let him rest until he finished a composition. Manfred, for example, was composed at the constant urgings of inner voices. It was a particularly appropriate project for Schumann. He had just completed the opera Genoveva, which concerns a tragic woman. Now he felt the need to reconcile one of his major personality conflicts by putting his efforts into a dramatic composition about a male hero. Just as he was alternately dependent on others and independent of them, just as his behavior vacillated between isolation and intimacy, just as he invented two imaginary alter egos to represent opposing forces in his personality, just as he struggled with classicism vs. romanticism in his compositions, so Schumann suffered from a conflict of sexual identity. As a young man he had been intimate with both men and women, and now he sought to reconcile his ambiguity on an artistic level: an opera about a woman followed immediately (he actually began Manfred less than a day after completing Genoveva) by a dramatic work about a man.

Schumann identified with Lord Byron’s Manfred, a melancholy hero full of inner turmoil. Byron’s poem finds Manfred atop a cliff in the Alps. He feels intense guilt for having destroyed a woman whose faults were really his own. He is distracted by “a lovely sound, a living voice, a breathing harmony.” Manfred contemplates escape through suicide. He realizes that, should he decide against jumping, he may be forced into madness. But he avoids both forms of self-destruction. The parallels between Byron’s hero and Schumann are extraordinary, and it is no surprise that the composer was drawn to Manfred. As musicologist Frank Cooper explains:

[Schumann] knew all too well Manfred’s dilemmas. He did not seek the madness Manfred sought—it sought, found and possessed Schumann. His tragedy was to go mad while desperately trying to cling to sanity and to the art which sanity alone can produce. Perhaps that is why Manfred is so curious a creation.

KEYNOTE. Although Schumann composed 15 scenes, the music to Manfred is today known primarily through the overture. The hero’s dilemma is symbolized by the very strange opening: three evenly spaced chords that appear in the score as syncopations but are hard to hear in that manner, since no one in the orchestra actually plays on the beat. The musician’s dilemma is how to make these chords sound off the beat when the beat itself is inaudible. The three chords remain isolated from the ensuing elaborate slow introduction. Nor do they return in any overt way during the entire yearning, unsettled, romantic overture. Thus the music offers no solution, just as Byron’s Manfred does not resolve his problems.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra

• Born: March 25, 1881, Nagy-szentmiklós, Hungary | Died:September 26, 1945, New York

• Work composed: August 1937–December 31, 1938 in Budapest

• Premiere: April 23, 1939, Amsterdam—Willem Mengelberg conducting; Zoltán Székely, violinist

• Instrumentationsolo violin, 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes (incl. English horn), 2 clarinets (incl. bass clarinet), 2 bassoons (incl. contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 timpani, bass drum, cymbals a2, 3 snare drums, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, triangle, harp, celeste, strings

• CSO subscription performances: Ten previous subscription weekends | Premiere: November 1949, Thor Johnson conducting; Tossy Spivakovsky, violinist | Most recent: November 2002, Paavo Järvi conducting; Leila Josefowicz, violinist

• Durationapprox. 36 min.

Although an active concert pianist, Bartók wrote much music for violin. Part of the reason for his interest in the violin was its important place in Hungarian folk music. He was deeply interested in his native music. He was among the first of many musical scholars to take folk music seriously as a genuine expression of national character. Bartók spent much of his life collecting, categorizing and studying authentic folk tunes. As a composer he strove quite deliberately for a style that was an amalgamation of Hungarian folk idioms and contemporary European art music. His music is therefore unlike that of any of his contemporaries (although it has been imitated endlessly by subsequent generations—it seems as if every would-be composer must pass through a Bartók phase). Bartók’s style is infused with Hungarian rhythms and scales. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the violin should play a large part in his output. It is tempting to hear behind the fiery dance-like virtuosity of the Second Concerto a gypsy violinist playing his people’s traditional music.

Bartók wrote this concerto during a period of political turmoil throughout Europe. The German Reich Music Chamber decided that it needed proof that any composer whose music was to be played in Germany be of Aryan descent. Bartók, who had wanted to remain uninvolved in politics, could not bring himself to participate in such an invasion of artistic freedom. He refused to fill out the required questionnaire. He later demanded that his music not be broadcast where it could be heard in Hitler’s Germany or Mussolini’s Italy. This courageous public stance cost him much-needed royalty money, yet he felt that it was impossible for a responsible artist to remain aloof from politics in pre-war Europe.

While Bartók was debating whether or not to remain in Axis-dominated Europe, he received a commission for a concerto from Hungarian violinist Zoltán Székely. Bartók preferred to compose a set of variations for violin and orchestra, but the virtuoso wanted a full-fledged concerto. Actually, the finished work does use variation techniques. The middle movement is cast as a theme and variations, and the materials of the first movement return in varied form in the finale.

When the composer sent the finished score to Székely, the virtuoso was dissatisfied: the ending did not display the solo instrument sufficiently. Bartók complied with the violinist’s wishes and wrote a new ending, but he allowed himself the satisfaction of publishing the work with both endings. The original version is rarely used, however.

The composer did not attend the premiere by Székely in Amsterdam. Bartók had already gone to America to see whether or not he could live here. He had to wait until 1944, a year before his death, after he had permanently emigrated to the United States, before hearing a performance of the work. The composer was pleased to hear soloist Tossy Spivakovsky perform the concerto in New York. “What delighted me most was the fact that I found nothing amiss with the instrumentation. I did not have to change a thing. Whereas, we all know, orchestral ‘accompaniment’ of the violin is a very ticklish matter.”

KEYNOTE. Székely received for his commissioning fee a concerto of major proportions, which treats the violin with great bravura. The violin part explores many special string techniques—tremolo, quarter tones, glissando—but there is not much of the pizzicato that is a hallmark of Bartók’s string quartets. This plucked sound is instead given to the harp, which has unusual prominence. It opens the concerto and is never long absent, particularly in the first two movements.

The second theme in the first movement is somewhat notorious, because it uses all twelve tones of the chromatic scale, stated in order without duplication. Thus this theme is like a 12-tone row, although it is used more like a melody than like a Schoenbergian row. The interesting question is, why did Bartók insert this isolated row into a non-12-tone piece? Halsey Stevens, in his comprehensive study of the composer’s life and works, offers a plausible explanation: parody. Bartók is referring to an idiom with which he felt less than total sympathy, much as he did with the inane A major tune in the finale of the Fifth Quartet or the Shostakovich quotation in the Concerto for Orchestra. The same reasoning may explain the quarter tones (intervals smaller than a half step) in the solo part before the end of the first movement. As quarter tones do not appear elsewhere in the concerto, perhaps they occur in this one place as a parody of the avant garde.

The second movement is a beautifully scored set of variations. Bartók uses the orchestra mostly as a delicate chamber ensemble. He comes up with some exquisite timbres, such as the timpani and string bass punctuations of the solo line in the first variation, or the later use of harmonics.

The finale must be heard with the memory of the first movement still fresh. Only then can the transformations of melodic materials of the first movement into the finale be readily followed. The finale is a marvelous recomposition of the first movement. We hear two different movements based on the same materials.

Both Bartók and his music were no strangers to Cincinnati audiences during his lifetime. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Fritz Reiner, gave the American premiere of his First Suite and the world premiere of two parts of The Miraculous Mandarin. As piano soloist, Bartók joined the CSO under Reiner to give the American premiere of the First Piano Concerto in New York in February of 1928. The performance was repeated a few weeks later in Cincinnati.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Concerto No. 2 for Violin and Orchestra

• Born:June 9, 1865 on the island of Fyn near Odense |  Died:October 3, 1931, Copenhagen

• Work composed: 1914–1916

• Premiere: February 1, 1916, Copenhagen—Carl Nielsen conducting

• Instrumentation3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (incl. contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, strings

• CSO subscription performances: Seven previous subscription weekends | Premiere: October 1965, Max Rudolf conducting | Most recent: April 2013, Carlos Kalmar conducting

• Durationapprox. 36 min.

The Fourth Symphony marked a turning point for Nielsen. He left behind the idyllic style best exemplified by the Third Symphony. He now embraced a more pungent, more dramatic idiom characterized by conflict. When the symphony was premiered in 1916, it had an immediate impact. The composer’s biggest success, it solidified his reputation as Denmark’s greatest composer.

Although Nielsen did not believe in explicit program music, in which a composition depicts a story in some detail, he did often have a philosophical idea in mind while composing. In 1914 he wrote to opera singer Emil Holm about the Fourth Symphony:

I can tell you that I am well under way with a new large-scale orchestral work, a sort of symphony in one movement, which is meant to represent all that we feel and think about life, in the most fundamental sense of the word—that is, all that has the will to live and move. Everything may be included in this concept, and music is a manifestation of life—more so than the other art forms, since it is either completely dead (when it does not sound) or completely alive—and thus it can express the concept of life right from its most elementary manifestation to the most sublime emotion.

In later correspondence, written after the completion of The Inextinguishable Symphony, Nielsen expanded on this idea:

The title The Inextinguishable is not a program but a pointer to the proper domain of music. It is meant to express the appearance of the most elementary forces among men, animals, and even plants. We can say, in case all the world was devastated through fire, deluge, volcanoes, etc., and all things were destroyed and dead, then nature would still begin to breed new life again, begin to push forward again with all the fine and strong forces inherent in matter. Soon plants would begin to multiply, the breeding and screaming of birds be seen and heard, man’s aspiration and yearning would be felt. I have tried to represent these “inextinguishable” forces.

From these ideas we can learn the source of the conflicts in the symphony. Indeed, it contains more contrasts than any other Nielsen symphony. We also learn of the deeper aspects of the composer’s love of nature. Nature for him was not simply woods, meadows, brooks and wildlife. It represented a life force, indestructible even though an individual life can perish. A world war kills men but not man. And so, the pastoral beauty of nature conflicts in the symphony with the tension of destruction, but life survives. The work is optimistic: despite deep tensions, the forces of life—represented by consonant, diatonic music—triumph in the end.

KEYNOTE. The musical conflicts are not only between different moods and different styles but also between different tonal areas. The Nielsen Fourth is not so much in a key as “into” a key—E major. Nielsen’s great originality lies in his approach to tonality. The symphony does not establish its key at the outset. Rather, E major is the goal of all the struggles. When it finally emerges toward the end of the first, third and fourth movements, it does so with triumphant affirmation. This is a markedly different approach to tonality from that used by earlier composers. Most tonal music is in a key. It gains its drama from how that key, once established, is threatened, how the music moves away from it and how it returns. The stability of the tonic is never in doubt. Rather, the interest lies in how the key is reachieved. In Nielsen’s Fourth, however, the ultimate outcome is less sure, so that there is an undercurrent of unrest in even the most lyrical passages. The emergence of E major is an affirmation, not a reaffirmation.

Nielsen’s idea of a one-movement symphony was not entirely lost when he completed the four-movement Inextinguishable. The movements follow one another without pause—a relatively common device in the 19th-century symphony. But Nielsen goes further. No movement other than the last really ends. The first disintegrates into a transition to the second. The second also falls away in preparation for the dramatic re-entrance of the high violins (which play mostly pizzicato accompaniments throughout the second movement) at the beginning of the third. The third is linked to the fourth by a virtuosic string transition.

In addition to the links between movements, Nielsen ties the symphony together by common thematic material, most notably the second theme of the first movement. This long, leisurely, lyrical melody, first heard in the clarinets, returns often throughout the remainder of the piece. Shortly after its initial development, it is relaunched in the clarinets, only to be interrupted, in a most dramatic and unexpected manner, by a consonant march-like transformation of itself. It is subsequently treated in a tense and dissonant manner in the brass. It is furthermore the last melody in the first movement. Its relationship to the folk-like tune of the scherzo, also in clarinets joined by bassoons, is thus quite evident. Even the intense opening of the adagio is related to this melody. The tune returns in its original form when the finale triumphantly achieves the goal key of E major.

The most striking feature of the finale is the duel between two sets of timpani, which Nielsen indicates should be placed far apart from each other. Twice during the last movement, the timpani erupt into a fierce dialogue. Nielsen asks the percussionists to play in a menacing manner. The intrusion of the drum battle anticipates Nielsen’s subsequent use of the snare drum as antagonist in the Clarinet Concerto and Fifth Symphony.

Nielsen provided a brief preface in the score of The Inextinguishable:

Under this title the composer has endeavored to indicate in one word what the music alone is capable of expressing to the full: the elemental Will of Life. Music is Life and, like it, inextinguishable. The title given by the composer to this musical work might therefore seem superfluous; the composer however has employed the word to underline the strictly musical character of his subject. It is not a program but only a suggestion of the right approach to the music.

Just as life persists, so the first movement’s lyrical theme remains throughout and returns at the close to its original form. Just as life grows to order from chaos, so the symphony achieves the stability of Emajor by the end. Just as life’s struggles are subsumed by Life itself, so the battling timpani in the finale are subsumed into the overall texture, as the music sweeps to its triumphant close.

—Jonathan D. Kramer