Cello Concerto in B minor
Daniel Müller-Schott Cello
Kraft for clarinet, percussion, piano, cello and orchestra
Bruno Delepelaire Cello, Andreas Ottensamer Clarinet, Magnus Lindberg Piano, Simon Rössler Percussion, Wieland Welzel Percussion, Juhani Liimatainen Live Electronics
In his second concert with the Berliner Philharmoniker this season the American conductor Alan Gilbert will encounter the German cellist Daniel Müller-Schott. The centre of the encounter of the two musicians is formed by three performances of Antonín Dvořák’s cello concerto. Because of its symphonic structures and enormous technical demands, the work constitutes not only a milestone in the solo literature for cello but also a touchstone for any virtuoso on the instrument.
The orchestral composition Kraft by Magnus Lindberg, composed in Berlin in the mid-1980’s, is spectacular in an entirely different way. The piece was inspired by the Berlin punk scene, which Lindberg followed with great interest and whose colossal energy and unusual sound experiments fascinated him. “I was shocked by this music, but also a bit jealous of its force, and I asked myself whether one couldn’t achieve something similar with the resources of a classical orchestra,” Lindberg admitted.
What resulted is an exceptional work which, according to Alan Gilbert, one of the most adept conductors of Kraft, has true event character – not least because as desired by the composer (who will be playing the piano part himself at the concerts) the large orchestra making use of unusual sound sources performs distributed throughout the hall. And given its unique architecture the Berlin Philharmonie is predestined for such concepts ...
Hardly any other work by Antonín Dvořák is surrounded by as many legends as his opus 104. It was the last work the composer wrote in the US during his three-year stay in America from 1892 to 1895 as artistic director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, and, according to Otakar Šourek, Dvořák’s early biographer, it supposedly gave musical expression to Dvořák’s “nostalgia for his homeland”. In addition, Šourek interpreted the composition as a musical requiem for Dvořák’s sister-in-law and first love, Josefina. Deeply saddened by the news of her severe illness, in late 1894 the composer inserted the melody of her favourite song Lasst mich allein [Leave Me Alone], Dvořák’s op. 82 no. 1, in the middle section of the movement, and after Josefina’s death on 27 May 1895 he revised the Finale of the concerto, incorporating the quotation from the song to honour her memory. Furthermore, parallels in orchestration and rhythm between the opening bars of the concerto and the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony as well as the choice of the same key as Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” Symphony (B minor) led to the assumption that opus 104 was a “veiled musical obituary” for Dvořák’s composer colleague, who had died the previous year (Hartmut Schick). Dvořák’s plan to compose an opera based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha was also linked to the Cello Concerto; the failure of this project had allegedly prompted him to write an “operatic concerto” (Jan Smaczny), in which characteristic compositional techniques for the stage genre were applied to the concerto form.
As appealing as these attempts at interpretation may be, no documentation exists that could confirm them. There are no comments by Dvořák associating the work with homesickness. In addition, the principal theme of the first movement has obvious parallels to that of the finale of the Ninth Symphony “From the New World”, which was referred to as “American” by his contemporaries. Nor does his correspondence corroborate the speculation that the concerto was a musical tombeau in memory of Josefina Kounicová or Peter Tchaikovsky. Moreover, from a purely musical perspective, the song quotation grows organically out of the melodic character of the second movement and with its melancholy tone is ideally suited to introduce the change in mood between the pastoral A section and the contrasting B section, even without a programmatic connection. Its return in the coda of the Finale along with the main themes of the first and last movements is explained simply on the basis of the cyclical function of this passage. The echoes of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, on the other hand, are far too limited to view the entire work as a memorial concerto, not to mention the fact that Dvořák initially wanted to compose it not in the “Pathétique” key of B minor, but in D minor. The interpretation of the work as an “operatic concerto” is also less than convincing since, unlike other 19th-century concertos, such as Louis Spohr’s Violin Concerto “in modo di scena cantante” op. 47 from 1816, Dvořák’s work follows the traditional three-movement structure. The successful premiere of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto – whose heartfelt first movement and Adagio number among the most beautiful examples of an inspired lyrical style and are followed by a Finale ending in warm pastel colours – took place at Queen’s Hall in London on 19 March 1896; the English cellist Leo Stern played the solo part.
Magnus Lindberg is one of the best-known and most successful Finnish composers worldwide. His works, which are characterized by fascinating sound density, exuberant vitality and extremely virtuosic instrumentation, have earned acclaim not only from contemporary music specialists but a wider concert audience as well. This may be due in part to the fact that he consistently makes use of compositional techniques which are firmly entrenched in the tradition of classical modernism – not without good reason does the Finnish composer always mention Igor Stravinsky when asked about stylistic reference points: “I am ... an avant-gardist, but that does not mean you have to fell trees in the middle of the piece.”
Lindberg attracted international attention in 1985 with Kraft [Power], a large-scale orchestral work with rather unusual percussion instruments like rocks, metal spirals, chains, wine glasses and clay pots, whose complex sound masses are organized by means of computer programs written by the composer himself. The music, which at times takes on an almost three-dimensional character, has a disarming directness that we otherwise associate with the rock and punk scene – Lindberg himself rightly referred to an “alliance of the primitive and the hypercomplex”. The reasons for this connection are directly related to the circumstances under which Kraft was composed: “I was in Berlin during the winter of 1984/85 and was staying in Nina Hagen’s flat on Kurfürstendamm. Nina was not there herself, but perhaps I absorbed a bit of the place internally. I often worked at night and went to punk bars and nightclubs in the neighbourhood after midnight to relax. I was confronted with a turbulent backdrop of sound there that was somewhat brutal but also powerful and fascinating. The EinstürzendeNeubauten [Collapsing New Buildings], whose name gives you a good idea of how the group played, often appeared in the clubs. The metallic noise that forms a substantial part of the sound arsenal in my orchestral work Kraft plays a role similar to that of the junkyard remnants of industrial society in the music of the German punk band. Of course, I have to add right away that otherwise Kraft has nothing to do with rock music.”
In the 82-centimetre-tall score of Kraft, Lindberg calls for a large orchestra and various solo instrumentalists (clarinet, percussion, piano, cello). There are also a whistle and the booming of electronically amplified percussion, whose aggressive sound is at times reminiscent of the punk aesthetic mentioned by Lindberg. Various articulations of the human voice are performed by the conductor and a soloist (the composer) onstage; during the performance the latter alternates between different instruments. The music continually creates a contrasting sequence of expanding sound movements in which passages that are almost completely silent are juxtaposed with eruptive outbursts – the massive chord pillars in Kraftare composed of no less than 72 notes. The individual sections of the work, which Alan Gilbert rightly referred to as an “event” and an “experience”, are played without a break. The apparent chaos during the opening phase gradually flows into a sound relief based on a recurring percussive rhythm consisting of twelve beats. After an ecstatic passage rising from the lower register of the double basses to the highest notes, descending arabesques in the piccolos lead into the second movement, which weaves a dialogue between the ensemble of soloists and the orchestra. A “cadenza” by the solo cello accompanied by various sounds forms an ethereal transition to the last section of the work, a slowly intensifying, powerful sound field whose energetic build-ups are finally resolved by the amplified percussion.