Symphony for double orchestra in E flat major op. 18 No. 1
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major
Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor (orch. Schoenberg)
Radu Lupu enjoys cult status among pianists although (or perhaps because) he has largely withdrawn from public concerts for the last 20 or so years. Mitsuko Uchida called him the most remarkable musician she had ever encountered; Daniel Barenboim is fascinated by Lupu’s exceptional auditory imagination and his ability to create orchestral colours; and Sir Colin Davis describes the Romanian pianist as “a performer whose pianissimos, rhythmic intelligence and, yes, scales are incredible, but whose strong musical personality is expressed, like Orpheus’, by understatement and almost stoical reflectiveness”. Partnered by Iván Fischer conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker, Radu Lupu devotes himself to Beethoven’s lyrical Fourth Piano Concerto, whose introductory solo is one of the most beautiful and original moments in the entire piano concerto literature. Framing that work on this evening are Johann Christian Bach’s Sinfonia for double orchestra in E flat major, op. 18 No. 1, and Johannes Brahms’s dark-hued First Piano Quartet, op. 25, in the orchestral arrangement by Arnold Schoenberg, the world premiere of which was given on 7 May 1938 in Los Angeles under the direction of Otto Klemperer. In a letter dated 18 March 1939 Schoenberg wrote to Alfred Frankenstein, critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, explaining why he had arranged Brahms’s quartet: “My reasons: 1. I like the piece. 2. It is seldom played. 3. It is always very badly played, because, the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted once to hear everything, and this I achieved.”
Johann Christian followed a different path than his siblings. The youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach travelled to Italy, the “promised land” of music, composed operas, converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1757 and spent the last 20 years of his life in London as the “English Bach”. His crowning achievements in the symphonic genre are the Symphonies op. 18, published in London in 1781. They were composed around 1775; he presented a number of works for double orchestra at that time. Of the six symphonies comprising op. 18, only No. 1 in E flat major and No. 5 in E major were new compositions; in all the others he adapted overtures and ballet music from his operas. The opening Allegro of the E flat major Symphony begins in unison, spiritoso[spirited], with heavy chords and dotted rhythms. A lively dialogue then begins between the two orchestras. Sometimes they harmoniously agree, then they vehemently defend opposing positions, alternately take charge or change roles, until the music dies away in a subdued pianissimoat the close. A charming B flat major Andante follows, in which the strings attempt to hold their own against the main melody with semiquaver triplets. The finale is delightful, a high-spirited jig. The brisk Irish-Scottish dance was extremely popular at that time.
The piano was the perfect instrument for Ludwig van Beethoven. “Without the piano,” Adolf Bernhard Marx wrote in his extensive Beethoven biography of 1859, “he could never have made his career”. Piano works span Beethoven’s entire life, the most important of which are the 32 piano sonatas and five piano concertos, composed during the first third of his creative period. The first version of the B flat major Piano Concerto, op. 19, which was revised several times, was composed in the late 1780s. Although it was Beethoven’s first work in this genre, today we know it as the second. The initial sketches for his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, op. 58, were made in 1803 and 1804; it was developed further and completed at the end of 1806. Beethoven finished work on his last Piano Concerto, No. 5 in E flat major, op. 73, in February 1810. Like its predecessor, it was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria, who since 1803 had been Beethoven’s piano and composition pupil, close friend and his most influential patron as well. Together with the Princes Lobkowitz and Kinsky, he provided Beethoven with an annuity in 1809, so that he “will not be embarrassed by the necessities of life and that his powerful genius will have no other distractions”.
The piano begins the main theme completely alone, like a spontaneous improvisation, delicate – Beethoven calls for piano dolce [softly, sweetly] – and pensive. Its insistent chords, in even quavers, indicate the basic rhythm for the entire Allegro moderato, while the lyrical, poetic phrase acts as a “motto”. Only now does the orchestra enter, taking up the theme and developing it further, until the second theme joins in with its ascending and descending triads. During this opening, one cannot help thinking of the “surprises” in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s piano concertos or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Jenamy” Concerto K. 271. This atmosphere of fantasy, of improvisation pervades the entire movement. Beethoven also breaks new ground in the slow Andante con moto in E minor, accompanied only by the strings. The elegy of the solo instrument is confronted with the ominous marching of the string unison; the elegy is intensified further during the extremely brief pianissimo recitative by the piano at the end of the movement. The finale follows – also pianissimo – attacca, without a pause. Beethoven brilliantly develops the rousing rondo theme, observing all the rules of sonata form – there is even a canon between the left hand of the pianist and the clarinets and bassoons. In this concerto, the composer finally goes his own way, far removed from convention. He introduced his Fourth Piano Concerto himself during a subscription concert at the palace of Prince Lobkowitz in March 1807.
“You have no idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching along behind you!” Johannes Brahms reportedly said to conductor Hermann Levi in the early 1870s. The giant he was referring to was Beethoven. In fact, Brahms’s contemporaries constantly compared him with Beethoven. He was a “second Beethoven” or, as the violinist and conductor Joseph Hellmesberger said, “Beethoven’s heir”. Brahms had, of course, thoroughly analyzed Beethoven’s oeuvre. As a pianist he performed the piano sonatas, as a conductor he interpreted the symphonies, and as a composer he devoted himself intensively to the creative principles of his great predecessor, for example, sonata form, which was such a central element of Beethoven’s structural thinking. The Piano Quartet in G minor, op. 25, is at the beginning of this artistic path. The initial sketches date back to 1855; the work was finally completed in 1861. The first performance was given in Hamburg on 16 November of the same year, with Clara Schumann as the pianist.
At the beginning of his famous essay “Brahms, the Progressive”, Arnold Schoenberg also establishes a connection – although rather humorous – between Brahms and Beethoven. Someone told Brahms “he had observed that Brahms’s First Piano Sonata was very similar to Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. No wonder that Brahms, in his straightforward manner, spoke out: ‘Every jackass notices that!’” What interested Schoenberg about Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G minor was not the “whence” but only the “whither”. When asked by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1939 why he had undertaken the job of orchestrating it two years earlier, he wrote: “1. I like the piece. 2. It is seldom played. 3. It is always very badly played, because, the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted for once to hear everything, and this I achieved. My intentions: 1. To remain strictly in the style of Brahms and not to go farther than he himself would have gone if he had lived today. 2. To watch carefully all the laws which Brahms obeyed [...]”.
Naturally, Schoenberg explains his reasoning here with a twinkle in his eye. His “I wanted for once to hear everything” prompts the question of how he wanted to hear “everything”. His orchestration provides the answer: he deliberately crosses the dividing line between chamber music and orchestral music. Concealed lines are brightly illuminated, figurations doubled, foreground and background redefined. Thus, everything becomes more colourful, fuller, more intense, in short, extremely concrete. Schoenberg, writes the musicologist and conductor Peter Gülke, “forces us to take a new, more difficult path to Brahms, and he shows us that the terrain is not as familiar as we previously thought”.
Iván Fischer has been Music Director of the Konzerthaus Berlin and principal conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin since the start of the 2012-2013 season. Born in Hungary, Fischer studied piano, violin, cello and composition in Budapest, continuing his education in Vienna where he was in Hans Swarowsky’s conducting class. For two years he was Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s assistant. His international career took off in 1976, when he won the Rupert Foundation conducting competition in London. He is founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Fischer has been a regular guest in major opera houses of the world (e.g. London, Zurich, Paris and Brussels). As a guest conductor he works with the finest symphony orchestras of the world, like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Munich and Israel Philharmonic. In 1989 he gave his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker and has returned several times since; his last performance with the orchestra was in November 2012 when he conducted works by Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Dvořák. Fischer has also been active as a composer; he is a founder of the Hungarian Mahler Society and patron of the British Kodály Academy. Iván Fischer received the Golden Medal Award from the President of the Republic of Hungary, and the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum for his services to help international cultural relations. The French Government named him Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2006 he was honoured with the Kossuth Prize, Hungary’s most prestigious arts award.
Radu Lupu, born in Romania in 1945, gave his first concert at the age of 12 years with a complete programme of his own music. After studying in his home country, a scholarship he received in 1961 enabled him to continue his training at the Moscow Conservatory with Galina Eghyazarova, Heinrich Neuhaus and later with his son, Stanislav Neuhaus. Radu Lupu won first prize at three major competitions: Van Cliburn in 1966, Enescu International in 1967, and Leeds in 1969. The pianist makes guest appearances at leading music centres all over the world and at renowned festivals, and regularly works with many international orchestras and leading conductors. Since his first concerts in 1972, he has also been very active as a soloist in the USA. In 1989 and 2006, he was awarded the “Premio Franco Abbiati” by the prestigious Italian Critics’ Association; In 2006, he also received the “Premio Internazionale Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli” for his artistic work worldwide. Radu Lupu has made regular guest appearances with the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1972, most recently with Johannes Brahms’s First Piano Concerto in D minor under the direction of Bernard Haitink in January 2010.