Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor
Manfred Symphony in B minor
Lord Byron’s Manfred is a key work of literary romanticism.With stylistic features from Elizabethan drama and the English Gothic novel of the 18th century as well as elements of the ancient Orpheus myth, this poem, published in 1817, tells the tale of a brooding loner whose deperate world weariness and insatiable thirst for knowledge lead to his ultimately demise. Not for nothing did Byron want his Manfred to be seen as a response to Goethe’s Faust! And Byron’s “dramatic poem” with its grandiose descriptions of nature, eerie apparitions and dramatic events, simply cries out for music. After Hector Berlioz expressed an interested in the material, Robert Schumann wrote – like his long misunderstood Scenes from Goethe’s Faust – incidental music to Manfred in 1848. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky tackled the subject in the form of a large-scale orchestral work in 1885. Taking on all fronts like its literary source, this work shifts between symphonic poem in four movements and four-movement programmatic symphony in a composition by Tchaikovsky which is still rarely performed. Unjustly so, in the opinion of the conductor Tugan Sokhiev, born in 1977. In these three concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker, he presents Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony for discussion. First of all, however, Hilary Hahn will enchant the audience with the music of Henri Vieuxtemps, which focuses wholly on instrumental virtuosity. For her performances with the Philharmoniker, the American violinist has chosen the composer’s equally rarely heard Fourth Violin Concerto in D minor op. 31.
On 11 May 1855 there appeared in the Viennese cultural journal Blätter für Musik, Theater und Kunst an article by the Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein entitled Russian Composers. Rubinstein referred to the “lively interest” in Russian music he had observed in western Europe and promised to give an account of the “worthy representatives” of Russian music – although, as Rubinstein qualified at the outset, “the training of the other arts in Russia is on a much higher level than that of music”. Rubinstein’s words carried weight. He was a well-connected, recognized German-trained musician. Criticism coming from one so prominent and cosmopolitan provoked strong reactions and indeed elicited a vehement rebuttal by one of the country’s most powerful composers: Mikhail Glinka took pride in the Russian system, which regarded academic musical training as a constraint on inspiration. Glinka had behind him an ambitious spokesman in the person of Mily Balakirev and an impressive number of nationalist-minded composers. The engineer César Cui, the chemist Alexander Borodin and the officer Modest Mussorgsky would carry on the tradition of the composing dilettante.
Although assessments of the Russian musical situation clearly differed, the facts themselves were unambiguous. In Moscow and St. Petersburg composers and performers in the first half of the 19th century had not attained the level of professionalism that prevailed in western Europe. Whereas in Germany and France, musicians had long been reaping fame and fortune on the free market, in Russia they still belonged to the lowest social stratum. They could not even claim, as could, for example, sculptors and actors, the status of “free artist” with its guarantee of tax advantages. A musician’s only hope was to be engaged at court or in a state orchestra.
The markedly higher standards in western Europe were also in evidence on Russian stages and concert platforms. In opera houses the works of Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti dominated the season schedules, while the symphonic repertoire featured concertos by Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn presented by artists from the West. Berlioz conducted, and pianists like Franz Liszt, Alexander Dreyschock and Clara Schumann thrilled audiences with their virtuosity.
As one of the leading violinists of his day, Henri Vieuxtemps was promptly invited to St. Petersburg. The Belgian musician had moved to Brussels when he was eight to study with Charles de Bériot. Soon he was touring Europe, Asia and America. He first set foot on Russian soil in 1837, aged 17, and was hailed as an outstanding virtuoso – a success he would repeat several times in the following years. In additional to his activities as a performer, Vieuxtemps studied composition in Vienna and Paris. In March 1846 a letter from the Russian tsar Nicholas I reached him in Berlin: the monarch offered him a position as court solo violinist and member of the tsar’s musical establishment, as well as a professorship at the St. Petersburg drama school, which also offered musical training.
It was in Russia in 1849–50 that Vieuxtemps composed his Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, op. 31. Possibly the work reflects the domination of opera in St. Petersburg’s musical life at the time, because its first two movements exhibit a formal model rather atypical of concertos: a sombre orchestral introduction is followed by the soloist’s recitative-like entry; the Adagio religioso provides songful sentiment for the solo violin, eventually joined by the harp. Introduction, recitative, aria, duet – a familiar pattern from the world of opera. Only the brilliant and technically taxing cadenza at the end of the first movement explicitly pays tribute to the genre of the virtuoso concerto.
Although the whirring Mendelssohnian scherzo and the dazzling finale are more conventional, this concerto – today regarded as Vieuxtemps’ most important – is genuinely original in form. The mixture of operatic, symphonic and concertante structure have earned the work its reputation as “a magnificent symphony with solo violin” (Berlioz).
In 1855, the same year that Rubinstein published his provocative article in a Viennese journal, Tsar Nicholas I of Russia died. He left behind an antiquated police state that exhausted itself in a war with half of Europe over Crimea. Nicholas’s successor, his brother Alexander II, signed the Treaty of Paris in 1856 and immediately began instituting reforms. In 1858, Rubinstein returned to the newly invigorated motherland from a long sojourn on the Côte d’Azur, and the following year he founded the Russian Musical Society to encourage talented nationals and improve music education. In 1862, having accrued the necessary funding, Rubinstein was able to open the doors to the first Russian institution for the professional training of musicians: the St. Petersburg Conservatory.
The young Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was in the conservatory’s first class, and after graduating with honours he was engaged to teach theory at the newly founded Moscow Conservatory. Here he found himself caught in the crossfire between the academically oriented followers of Anton Rubinstein’s brother Nikolai and the nationalists headed by Balakirev. But he succeeded in establishing fruitful contacts with both camps by composing in all the contentious genres. In Moscow he cultivated the symphonic poem endorsed by Balakirev as well as the formally more rigorous symphony. And as shown by his Manfred Symphony, after Byron’s dramatic poem, he was also capable of combining the two genres.
Manfred is a typical Byronic hero, a dark, driven figure, tortured by guilt for his grievous defiance of conventional morality. The hero became embroiled in an amorous relationship with his sister Astarte, and believes it was his love that “destroyed” her. Consumed by guilt, he seeks oblivion while wandering through the Alps. But neither supernatural spirits, nature in the form of a beautiful alpine witch nor a simple hunter, who restrains him from committing suicide, can assuage the torment of Manfred’s memories. A Faustian pact allows him to see and speak to the dead Astarte, but she rejects his plea for forgiveness, instead predicting that he will be released from his memories the following day – through death. All his plans having come to nought, Manfred is overcome by an unaccustomed feeling of peace. Suddenly other memories rise to the surface and liberate him from the burden of his past. The hero finds new strength within himself. On his deathbed, a spirit from the dark Arimanes’ kingdom and an abbot fight over his soul, but Manfred refuses to submit to either. He meets his end with complete confidence of having accepted responsibility for his own deeds – even if this has brought on his death.
This text must to have appealed to Tchaikovsky on many levels. He was plagued by a lifelong fear of death – now thanks to Byron he encountered the peaceful end of an individual reconciled to the world. The distress caused by a forbidden sexual inclination in conflict with an uncomprehending society was something else the composer shared with Byron’s character. And, not least, he must have been moved at how the English poet dreamt of a pure love. Tchaikovsky longed for a fulfilment that seemed impossible to him, and a part of his music was repeatedly coloured by this longing: “If one asked whether I have felt the happiness of fulfilled love, my answer would be no, no, no! Ask whether I understand the power, the immense strength of that feeling and I can answer, yes, yes, yes; reiterating that I have tried my best more than once to express in music the torment and the delight of love.”
PH 84 2014-05-29 Biografien EN
Tugan Sokhiev hails from Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, and studied with Ilya Musin at the St Petersburg Conservatory, while also attending the conducting classes of Yuri Temirkanov. In 2000 he won the main prize in the Third International Prokofiev Competition, an award that led to his appointment as principal conductor of the Russian State Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the North Ossetia State Philharmonic. Among the international opera companies with whom he has appeared since 2002 are the Welsh National Opera, the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, the Metropolitan Opera, New York, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris and the Teatro Real in Madrid. He made his debut at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence in 2004 with Prokofiev’s The Love of Three Oranges. Sokhiev has been music director of the Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse since the autumn of 2008, having been the orchestra’s principal guest conductor and artistic adviser since 2005. He took on the position of Music Director of Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin with the start of the 2012/13 season. Furthermore, he was appointed Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre and Orchestra in January 2014. In addition to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra where Tugan Sokhiev has close artistic connections, he is also a much sought-after guest conductor all over the world. His debuts conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2009 and at the beginning of 2010 respectively, were immediately followed by invitations to return, and in 2013, he made highly successful debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Tugan Sokhiev last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in January 2012 conducting works by Albert Roussel, Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninov and Luciano Berio.
Hilary Hahn began violin lessons shortly before her fourth birthday, and at the age of five, she became a student of Klara Berkovich, before continuing her studies with Jascha Brodsky at the Curtis Institute of Music. After solo debuts with the leading orchestras in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cleveland, and with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the musician began her formal violin training at the Curtis Institute of Music at the age of 16. However, she delayed her graduation to additionally study languages, literature and creative writing. When she completed her bachelor degree at the age of 19, she was already an internationally successful violinist with a number of award-winning recordings under her belt. In 2010, Hilary Hahn recorded Jennifer Higdon’s Violin Concerto which was composed for her and which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. The instrumentalist initiated a project over several years in which she commissioned 26 composers from around the world to compose short encore pieces for her. For the 27th encore, she organised a competition which attracted over 400 submissions. In the current season, Hilary Hahn will appear in almost 50 cities across North America, Europe and Asia. She will also tour with Camerata Salzburg, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The artist will once again perform works by Mozart, Vaughan Williams, Sibelius, Brahms, Barrett, Abril and Vieuxtemps, and will also extend her repertoire to include works by Bruch, Schoenberg, Nielsen, Schubert, Telemann and Rautavaara. Hilary Hahn made her first guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker in December 1999, and in November 2000, she accompanied the orchestra on a tour of Japan as the soloist in Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto and the Beethoven violin concerto, conducted by Mariss Jansons and Claudio Abbado respectively.