Berio Folk Songs Texts
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Royal Concertgebouw OrchestraMariss Jansons conductorElina Garanca mezzo-soprano*
Saturday 10 February 2007, 7.30pm page 3
Schubert Symphony No. 3 in D major 26
Bruckner Symphony No. 3 in D minor 65
Sunday 11 February 2007, 3.00pm page 6
Berlioz Overture: Le carnaval romain 8
Debussy La mer 23
Berio Folk Songs* 23
Ravel La valse 12
These concerts are being recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
The Barbican Centre is provided by the City of London Corporation as part of itscontribution to the cultural life of Londonand the nation.
The Great Performers 2007-2008 season is now on sale. For full details visit www.barbican.org.uk/greatperformers0708where you can listen to soundclips and watch the Barbicans Head of Music Robert van Leer introduce the new season.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)Symphony No. 3 in D majorAdagio maestoso Allegro con brioAllegrettoMenuetto: VivacePresto vivace
Saturday 10 February Notes
If Schuberts heavenly lengths, a description coined byRobert Schumann, represent the mature side of his genius,what are we to say about that brilliant teenage feat ofcompression, the Third Symphony? Clearly it is not amasterpiece in the same sense as the Great C majorSymphony, but it is driven by the same sort of irresistibleenergy as would propel the later symphony to its close.
Yet Symphony No. 3 is brilliant in its own right. Its verydirectness, from the ominously hammered-out sonoritiesof the slow introduction to the swerving tarantella-likefinale, guarantees its success. In a live performance, thethrust of its first movement and finale can be like agalvanic force, unimpeded by the sweetness of the slowmovement or by the bouncingly jovial minuet.
The work could be described as a domestic symphony,though not in the same sense as Richard StrausssSinfonia domestica. It is not about the home life of theSchuberts, though in one way it comes close to that bybeing written for a Viennese neighbourhood orchestra,which had steadily grown from a family string quartet with young Schubert himself as viola player intosomething considerably larger, comprising about 20strings, plus woodwind, brass and drums.
By the time he was 18, Schubert was already a prolificcomposer. Of the 1,000 or so pieces he had produced bythe end of his short life, more than half were writtenbefore he was 21. But though his first symphonies werebased on Viennese tradition as he knew it with Haydn,Mozart and Beethoven among his models their flavourwas already recognisably Schubertian, so much so thatthe main theme of the first movement of the Third
Symphony is almost identical to that of the first movementof the Great C major.
Yet, supreme melodist though he was, Schubert knew thatsymphonic themes did not have to be melodic this one,in the first movement, is confined to rhythm and harmony,and is in no way obviously tuneful. But the slowmovement, with its gently ambling opening theme onstrings and woodwind and its even more engagingsuccessor on clarinet, is all melody. The minuet, fastenough to be a Beethoven scherzo, is characterised by its leaping offbeat accents and its songlike central triosection, with prominent woodwind. The racy finale, likethe first movement, sticks almost entirely to a singleextended melody an obsessively hurtling dance of asort Schubert would employ later in the finale of hisDeath and the Maiden Quartet and also that of his G major Quartet, D887.
Shortly before his early death, Schubert decided that heneeded a lesson in counterpoint from Simon Sechter, theViennese pedagogue who reputedly composed a fuguea day and later became Bruckners teacher. The lesson,for all its suggestion of Viennese continuity, hardlyseemed necessary. Schubert was by then in full commandof his genius. His grasp of symphonic structure, asdemonstrated by his last completed symphony, his laststring quartet, his last piano sonata and his great C majorstring quintet, was already, at a time when Bruckner wasstill a three-year-old child, on what we now recognise tohave been a Brucknerian scale.
Conrad Wilson 2007Interval
Anton Bruckner (1824-96)Symphony No. 3 in D minor, Wagner (1889 version)1. Mehr langsam, Misterioso [Rather slow, Mysterious]2. Adagio: Bewegt [with movement], quasi Andante3. Scherzo: Ziemlich schnell [Quite fast] Trio Scherzo 4. Finale: Allegro
Notes Saturday 10 February
Few composers have been as bizarrely obsessive asAnton Bruckner. There are stories of him compulsivelycounting all kinds of unlikely objects: chimney-pots, hisdaily prayers, the sequins on his sisters dress. It wouldincrease at times of crisis: during his terrible nervousbreakdown of 1866-7 Bruckner was found in a fielddesperately trying to count the leaves on a tree. Everybar in his manuscripts is numbered. Brucknersextraordinary preoccupation with musical architecture(his symphonies have been described as cathedrals insound) may partly stem from this very obsessiveness. Butit has also been held responsible for what is oftendescribed as his revision mania his tendency to reviseand revise works again and again. None of Brucknersnine numbered symphonies was subjected to more re-workings than the Third. From the surviving material itwould be possible to reconstruct as many as ninedifferent versions of the score a nightmare for scholars,conductors and listeners alike.
In the case of the Third Symphony, there may have beenadded reasons why Bruckner was unable to leave thescore alone. The symphonys first performance, inDecember 1877, was a traumatic experience for thisnervous, under-confident man. It was only with difficultythat Bruckners champion, the conductor JohannHerbeck, had managed to persuade the ViennaPhilharmonic to play the work at all. But then, in October1877, Herbeck died suddenly he was only 46 andBruckner had to step into the breach. The orchestra wasuncooperative, and the symphonys effusive dedicationto Bruckners idol Wagner raised the hackles of theconservative Viennese press before most of them had
heard a note of the work. During the performance, thehall gradually emptied until, at the end, only a handful ofsupporters were left (one of them was the 17-year-oldGustav Mahler). As these friends tried to comfort him,Bruckner is said to have shouted, Oh, leave me alone,they dont want anything of mine.
Almost certainly the experience dented Brucknersconfidence still further; and yet he never fully lost faith inhis vocation. A devout Catholic, Bruckner believed histalent was God-given, and that it was his duty to use it and to use it in a very particular way. As he once told afriend: People say I should compose differently. I could,but I mustnt. In fact, the architectural plan he laid out inthe Third Symphony is basically the same as that ofalmost all his later symphonies. This has been heldagainst Bruckner hence the old wisecrack, Brucknerwrote the same symphony nine times. But perhaps thatimage of cathedrals in sound may be helpful here. Allmedieval cathedrals are based on the same ground-plan, with the same kinds of features turning up in moreor less the same places. But no one in their right mindwould dismiss Durham, York Minster and Chartres as thesame building erected in three different locations. Muchthe same could be said about Bruckners symphonies.
Like most of his other symphonies, No. 3 begins withwhat one writer has called a nebula: in this case acluster of misty string figurations, through which the maintheme emerges on a solo trumpet a theme which madea powerful impression on Wagner when Bruckner tookhim the first version of the score in 1873. A longcrescendo builds from this, culminating in a massive
Saturday 10 February Notes
unison theme for full orchestra. Bruckner is clearlythinking of the beginning of Beethovens NinthSymphony; but the effect is very different. In theBeethoven there is a growing sense of headlong, tragicmomentum. With Bruckner, however, no matter howagitated the music may seem, the underlying pace isusually slow. As the composer Robert Simpson put it,Bruckners music doesnt simply require patience, itactually expresses it. Once this is grasped, the stop-startnature of the argument (especially in the first and lastmovements) becomes easier to understand and enjoy.
The first movement like the finale has three mainthemes: the trumpet motif; a warmly-harmonised tune forstrings in Bruckners favourite ONE-two-three ONE-tworhythm; and a massive unison figure for full orchestrawith the three-plus-two rhythm reversed. The so-calleddevelopment examines these themes at length. Then allof them return in full, before the ominous crescendo(return of the misty opening figures over a repeatedfalling bass figure) of the coda an even more strikingecho of Beethovens Ninth.
Three themes dominate the Adagio too: a hushed, nobletune for strings; a long song-theme introduced by violas;and a slower, quietly dignified, sarabande-like figure(strings again). Bruckner told a friend that this third themewas composed in memory of his mother a strong-minded, very musical woman, prone (like her son) toattacks of depression.
The Scherzo is the only movement in the symphony inwhich the pace really does seem fast. It is pervaded bythe characteristic rhythms and melodic shapes (especially
in the central Trio section) of the country dance music ofBruckners native Upper Austria as a young man hehad often filled out his meagre teachers salary byplaying in village bands.
The Finale begins with a surging Allegro; but after twobig crescendo waves the tempo drops and the secondtheme combines a polka-like tune (strings) with a solemnwind chorale. Bruckners biographer August Gllerichremembered how the composer explained this strangemixture of styles to him as they walked through Vienna.Dance music was coming from a house opposite thebuilding in which the body of a famous architect waslying in state. Thats life, said Bruckner. Thats what Iwanted to show in my Third Symphony. The polkarepresents the fun and joy in the world, the chorale itssadness and pain. At the end it is joy which triumphs: ablazing brass fanfare, then the trumpet theme from theopening of the first movement returns in a radiant Dmajor. Bruckners cathedral is finally flooded in daylight.
Stephen Johnson 2007
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Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)Overture: Le carnaval romain
Notes Sunday 11 February
Berlioz despised Italy, deeming its composers (Bellini)mediocre, its choristers (those of St. Peters) dismal, and itsmusicality almost non-existent. Winning the Prix de Rome with a year at the citys elegant Villa Medici as hisreward seemed to him no actual reason to go there. Yethis music tells a different story. Though he wrote little ofconsequence during his stay in the Eternal City, Italy filledhis thoughts for the rest of his life.
Harold in Italy, inspired by his solitary wanderings in theAbruzzi, preoccupied him for two years after his return toFrance in 1832. His opera Benvenuto Cellini, whichfollowed in 1836, obsessed him, even though its librettohad been refused by the Paris Opra-Comique. In 1839came the dramatic symphony, Romeo and Juliet, and in1844 the Corsaire Overture, harking back to his perilouscrossing from Marseilles to Leghorn (Livorno) on his wayto Rome. In 1858 he completed The Trojans, the biggestof all his works, ending with the dying Dido envisagingthe rise of the Roman Empire.
Such a chain of masterpieces did not occur by chance.Italy mattered to Berlioz, however much he claimed tohate it. And his feelings for Rome and for the16th-century Italian sculptor, goldsmith and autobiographerwho was his lifelong hero flood unstoppably throughBenvenuto Cellini, emerging at white heat in the concertoverture Roman Carnival which he adapted from thelarger work. Though much of the music was originally forsoloists and chorus, the mercurial brilliance of theorchestral writing, the fluttering interplay of woodwindand strings, make this hard to believe. How could anychorus sing the high-speed quavers of the main allegro
section? Yet to hear the opera itself a masterpiece stillshamefully neglected is to realise the lan Berliozbrought to his score, and above all in the RomanCarnival Scene about which Franz Liszt exclaimed, Forthe first time in opera the crowd speaks with its greatroaring voice.
Berlioz himself knew the scale of his achievement, sayingthat this music possessed a variety of ideas, a vitality, zestand brilliance of musical colour such as I shall perhapsnever find again. Today, this swerving, impulsive musichas lost none of its magnetism, but the composersdelicacy of touch, which was quite as important as hisgusto, remains equally miraculous.
The music follows Berliozs established overture format. A short, fleet introduction comes to rest in a slow romanticinterlude where an eloquent cor anglais intones a lovetheme from the opera. The main carnival music thenfollows, employing an audacious range of rhythmic,syncopated and fugal devices, with a ferocious switchfrom 6/8 to 2/4 time shortly before the music lunges intoits braying coda. The astounding final chords are whollyoriginal but the entire work shows that the author of thepioneering and just-completed Treatise on Orchestrationpractised to perfection what he preached.
Conrad Wilson 2007
Sunday 11 February Notes
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)La mer trois esquisses symphoniquesDe laube midi sur la merJeux de vaguesDialogue du vent et de la mer
Debussy completed the orchestration of La mer atEastbourne in 1905. He had started the work two yearsearlier while on holiday at Bichain in Burgundy, which isabout as far from the sea as one can get in France. But, asthe composer explained, he had an endless store ofmemories of the sea and, to my mind, they are worth morethan the reality, whose beauty weighs down thought tooheavily. Besides, La mer is not just an exercise inobservation. Declared enemy of the symphony though thecomposer was, Debussys three symphonic sketches areat least as symphonic as picturesque. At the same time,while the imagery is clearly inspired by the movement ofthe sea and the changing light, it is more often a case ofgeneralised atmosphere than specific detail.
Certainly, no one listening to the first movement, FromDawn to Midday on the Sea, could seriously claim, asErik Satie so wittily did, to have a particular liking for thelittle bit at a quarter to eleven. It is safe to assume onlythat the movement opens in darkness and ends under thebright sun of midday and that those two eventscorrespond to the slow introduction, where several of themain thematic features begin to take sh...