Friday, 2 February 2024

CHF 150 | 110 | 50 | 30.-

F. Schreker
Intermezzo pour orchestre à cordes op. 8

W.A. Mozart
Concerto pour piano n° 20 en ré mineur KV 466

L. van Beethoven
Symphonie n° 7 en la majeur op. 92

Under the patronage of

Concert presentation

Schreker: Intermezzo for string orchestra op.8
Opening this concert with an Austrian theme, a vast, enigmatic piece by Franz Schreker (1878–1934), first performed when Schreker was a student at the Vienna conservatory, but already bearing the stamp of wisdom. Romanticism, seemingly spent, has given away to a nocturnal impressionism. The tale proceeds in bursts of imagery, as we get stuck in caves, and splendid white peacocks brush the clouds… As with the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, a light is still glowing on the horizon.

Mozart: Piano Concerto no.20 in D minor K466
‘Cretin, lout!’ Who can say if Archbishop Colloredo would later regret these insults directed at his employee for his ‘impertinence’. That being said, we can well imagine that he would have bit his fingernails to the quick at having let such an irreplaceable genius escape his clutches. For Mozart’s Viennese period, having left Salzburg, would be one of the most fruitful of his career, and the most successful. At the beginning of 1785, when this piece was written, Mozart had established his fame. He had just married Constanze Weber without waiting for his father’s consent, which had provoked the ire of the latter. At the age of 29, did he sense that time was already slipping by? There were a great many concerts given during the period of Lent, given that performances of opera were outlawed: such was the background to the genesis of this concerto, completed on the eve of its premiere. An unenviable job, being Mozart’s copyist! The orchestra had to sight-read the third movement, the ink barely dry, with the young master directing his musicians from the keyboard, improvising the cadenzas he had yet to write, and which Beethoven, who venerated this score, would later complete for him. Despite this haste, the concert was a triumph, reassuring Mozart’s father Leopold, in attendance that evening at the Mehlgrube in Vienna – as well as Haydn, no doubt close by, who would soon write the famous letter to Leopold stating ‘Before God and as an honest man, I tell you your son is the greatest composer I know, in person or by reputation.’ A claim that could scarcely be more self-evident on hearing this concerto, which opens in the mists of the Requiem to come, likewise in D minor, before being swept up in an all-consuming fever. Do we hear a foretaste of the fury of the Queen of the Night, or the infernal chorus of Don Giovanni? From the moment the soloist enters the fray, at bar 77 of the Allegro, an uninterrupted dialogue is established with the orchestra that will embrace, from its sublime flights of song to obsessive semiquavers, the entire spectre of human tragedy – always containing, particularly in the Romanze, this ‘nuance of fraternal affection that Mozart allows to filter through to his audience’ in the apt words of musicologist Isabelle Werck. After the last notes of the final movement have faded away, a writer can only bow before the supremacy of the musical art, which allows for everything to be said without dwelling on a single word. The 19th century would neglect Mozart’s music, but not this, his first piano concerto to be written in a minor key (there were two, out of 27). Its keenly Romantic mood would have had plenty to do with this.

Beethoven: Symphony no.7 in A major op.92
‘A writer does not read his colleagues: he watches them.’ Does this aperçu of Maurice Chapelan’s also apply to music? For, with the exception of Carl Maria von Weber’s diatribe, judging his fellow composer ‘ripe for the asylum’, the entirety of posterity has showered this monumental work with praise: from Schubert to Mahler, not forgetting Wagner (‘This symphony is the apotheosis of the dance, the most ecstatic act of bodily motion, embodied as it were in its ideal form’). But how should we listen to this work, which has permeated mainstream culture, today? Let us focus on three themes. The first being Beethoven’s taste, not to say need for grandeur: although the initial versions of the Seventh and Eighth symphonies were intended for a smaller orchestra, Beethoven was dreaming of a larger ensemble than the symphony orchestras of his day. Calling for woodwinds in pairs, he added three horns, two contrabassoons (the deepest instrument) and no fewer than 36 violins, 14 violas, 12 cellos and seven double basses. It is well known that he revelled in the sheer power he had at his disposal at the premiere, which he conducted in December 1813 in Vienna. The inspiration for this grandeur accounts for our second focus: like David Hockney, who intensified his use of colour as he went deaf, Beethoven strove with all his might for a release from the atrocious silence of his affliction. Yet the French invasions of Russia and occupation of Austria were also in the background of his work on this symphony, imbued with patriotic sentiment and premiered the same evening as Wellington’s Victory, for the benefit of soldiers wounded by Napoleon’s army. Some commentators claimed to detect military marches or Slavic melodies in the work, as a sign of the resistance of one people or another. Beethoven gave these oversimplistic readings short shrift: ‘If any explanations are necessary, they should be limited exclusively to the characteristics of the music itself.’ As for the musicologist Stéphane Friédérich, he sees in this ‘exalted eruption […] a musical language liberated from all the rules of the past’. The third aspect is the slow ripening process of this symphony, chiselled block by block over the course of six years. In contrast to Mozart, Beethoven had to ponder every individual bar of music. The iconic Allegretto was encored immediately, on the demand of the audience, but let us leave the last word to Berlioz: ‘It is not that the other three parts are less worthy of admiration; far from it. But audiences tend to judge a work by the effect it produces, and measure that effect purely by the sheer volume of applause; and so it follows that the piece that receives the most applause is invariably viewed as the finest.’

Same day