Two visions of death that could not be more different. The old Richard Strauss looks toward his death confidently and calmly with his “Vier letzten Lieder” – soloist: Camilla Nylund. In his Fourth Symphony, Peter Tchaikovsky reflects uneasily with high emotional pressure an existential crisis that drove him to attempt suicide. With this programme, conductor Gianandrea Noseda will debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
With these concerts the Berliner Philharmoniker recall the first concert of the Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester after the end of the war in May 1945.
Partita for orchestra
Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs)
Camilla Nylund (replacing Angela Denoke) Soprano
Symphony No. 4 in F minor
A recording of the concert is available online at our Digital Concert Hall.
Piotr Tchaikovsky wrote his Fourth Symphony in 1877 under the impression of both varied and drastic personal experiences: at the beginning of the year, he began corresponding with the well-off widow of a railway magnate named Nadeschda von Meck, who in the following years would support his artistic creativity with generous financial support; shortly thereafter, the homosexual composer married an admirer whom he hardly knew. The marriage failed after only a few weeks, leading to a deep depression for the sensitive Tchaikovsky. That he called the menacing fanfare in the introduction to the first movement of the Fourth the “fate” theme has led to the work being interpreted as a “fate symphony”. This multi-layered composition ends the concert programme with which Gianandrea Noseda, born in Milan in 1964, gives his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Gianandrea Noseda, principal guest conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre for many years and acting music director of the Teatro Regio in Turin, is conductor laureate of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and chief guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Guest appearances in significant musical centres confirm his reputation as an opera and concert conductor in demand internationally. Tchaikovsky’s Fourth will be performed beside Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder and music by his compatriot Goffredo Petrassi, who died in 2003. And the expectations are high! After all, Noseda’s recording of Petrassi’s choral works was nominated in January 2014 for the BBC Music Magazine Awards.
Mozart, the forefather of all musical classicists, knew exactly where the boundaries of art were drawn for him. Like no other, he fulfilled his own requirement that “music, even in the most terrible situations, must never offend the ear, but must please the hearer, or in other words must never cease to be music” – even in more austere works like the G minor String Quintet, which was one of Richard Strauss’s favourite pieces in his later years. Mozart’s guiding principle is not only an admonishment to respect the ideals of harmony and communicative understanding but can also be seen as a guide to subtle pretence: the more obliging the tone, the greater the chance that the message, even if it is unsettling, will actually reach the addressee. The composers on today’s programme could have supported Mozart’s statement without hesitation. Each of the three works conveys emotional intensity with clear contours and strong colours. In all three, the psychically charged character seems to be allayed by compact forms and moderate proportions. Peter Tchaikovsky, Goffredo Petrassi and Richard Strauss remind us, each in his own way, that the return to historical aesthetic models has a great deal to do with self-discipline, with transcending purely subjective elements and a strict limitation of resources.
In his brilliant Partita, composed in 1932, the 28-year-old Petrassi immediately captured the prevailing zeitgeist. His mentor Alfredo Casella, 20 years his senior, regarded the return to a “form of classicism” at that time not only as the regaining of a transparency and vividness typical of the music of his country. Casella also drew explicit parallels to the political situation in Italian Fascism. “It would be tempting ... to compare this rebirth of earlier musical formal principles to the modern political development, which also restricts many individual freedoms that the past century of mankind seemed to have guaranteed forever in the interests of the abstract authority of the state.”
Petrassi chose three archaic movement types, which he covered with a decidedly modern, optimistic garb. Clear diatonic lines encounter chord formations in expanded tonality; open fifths and dense parallel chords dominate the timbre. Hindemith’s influence is unmistakable, but the young composer already had an intuitive understanding of rich orchestration, as indicated by the three trumpet parts. The work opens with a Gagliarda, a Renaissance leaping dance in lively three-four metre. Its contrasting themes and clear reprise follow the principles of sonata form. The contrast between Renaissance fanfares played antiphonally by the brass and strings, on the one hand, and the jazzy cantilenas of the two saxophones, on the other, immediately sends the listener on an amusing journey through time and space. The central movement is a thoughtful Ciaccona, a set of variations whose bass theme is freely developed in the middle section. This movement also features a strikingly orchestrated reprise. The Giga in twelve/eight metre, according to the score to be played “cheerfully and lightly”, is patterned after the typical final movement of the Baroque suite. Petrassi captured the exuberant kinetic energy in the pointillist brushwork of a Ravel, thus combining it with the virtuosic possibilities of the modern orchestra.
Strauss composed more than 200 songs during the course of his life, most of them for his wife, the soprano Pauline de Ahna. The Vier letzten Lieder (Four Last Songs) are latecomers, a final homage to Pauline. In 1946 Strauss had read the poem Im Abendrot (At Sunset) by Joseph von Eichendorff, which describes an old couple who, after long wanderings together, feel close to death in the stillness of twilight. Strauss must have directly associated the two larks soaring upwards “dreamily into the night air” from Eichendorff’s poem, which he rendered so ingeniously in music, with himself and his wife.
When the music at the end of Im Abendrot descends from E flat minor to D major to C flat major in a series of breathtaking shifts at the words “Ist dies etwa der Tod?” (Is this perhaps death?) and when the transfiguration theme from the tone poem Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration), composed nearly 60 years earlier, ascends in the horn until E flat major is reached again in the final bars – an E flat major which has exchanged its character as a heroic key for that of a key from the hereafter, however – it is a peaceful, belated triumph of the tonality. Unquestionably a deeply moving moment, and yet one in which all the historical, ideological and aesthetic questions of the 20th century strangely seem to be intertwined.
In the famous letter to his patron, Nadezhda von Meck, of 17 February 1878, which also contained the programme for the Fourth Symphony, Tchaikovsky described the composition of an instrumental work “without a definite subject” as a “purely lyric process”, as “the musical confession of a soul which is poured out in the form of sounds, similar to the way in which a poet expresses himself in verse. The difference is just that music has incomparably more powerful resources and a more subtle language at its disposal for expressing inner feelings.” Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony became a personal confession and autobiographical document; the composition of the work coincided directly with a dramatic, desperate phase of his life. To please his father and fulfil social expectations the homosexual composer rashly married a piano student at the conservatory in summer of 1877. The results were a nervous breakdown and a suicide attempt. Tchaikovsky came to terms with the emotional trauma creatively. He succeeded in channelling subjective experience, casting it in a codified form so that the personal element did not appear to be sheer exhibitionism but rather a plausible role model in the sense of a tragic world view.
His Fourth was “an imitation of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony”, Tchaikovsky acknowledged in a letter – although he copied “not its musical content, but the fundamental idea”. Tchaikovsky’s first movement expresses the Beethovenian struggle of the individual with his fate as the polarity between the undisguisedly aggressive fanfare presented by the four horns in unison at the opening and the melancholy, swirling string theme in nine/eight metre. Richard Taruskin has pointed out that the juxtaposition of the polonaise-like motto and the waltz main theme convey the ideas of the work so graphically because the two dance genres were clearly codified symbolically in the Russian tradition; whereas the polonaise represented the courtly, semi-official world, the waltz was associated with the sphere of private longings and inner feelings.
Although Tchaikovsky clearly referred back to the formal practices of Viennese classicism, he consistently shaped them to satisfy his own expressive requirements. If one believes the programme which the composer rather reluctantly wrote at the request of Nadezhda von Meck, the second movement depicts a nostalgic evening hour filled with melancholy memories, while the brilliant Scherzo is supposed to evoke various fantasies under the influence of alcohol. Finally, the last movement might be the attempt to forget oneself in the midst of the collective joy of a folk festival – until “fate” again intervenes. The tumultuous conclusion naturally raises doubts about the sincerity of Tchaikovsky’s gazing into his soul. Symphonic conventions still compelled the master to end the work with an ostentatiously cheerful grand finale. Not until the Finale of the “Pathétique” would he fully trust his own voice.
Gianandrea Nosedawas born in Milan in 1964, and studied piano, composition and conducting at the Milan Conservatory. The music director of the Teatro Regio Torino (since 2007) is also principal guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and artistic director of the Stresa Festival. His previous positions include principal guest conductor with the orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg (1997 – 2007) and director of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra in Manchester (2002-2011). Under Nosedaʼs artistic direction, many opera performances have been realised at the Teatro Regio in Turin, including Salome, La Traviata, Fidelio and Tosca. Since 2002, he has been a regular guest at the Metropolitan Opera where productions he has conducted include War and Peace, Prince Igor and Un ballo in maschera. In addition, the conductor appears regularly with leading international orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestre National de France, the Wiener Symphoniker and the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. He also works with youth orchestras such as the orchestra of the Royal College of Music in London and the European Union Youth Orchestra. In his homeland, he has been appointed Cavaliere Ufficiale al Merito della Repubblica Italiana. In these concerts, Gianandrea Noseda makes his first guest appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Camilla Nylund, born in Vaasa (Finland), has established herself as one of the world’s leading lyric-dramatic sopranos. She received her musical education with Eva Illes, and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. After a highly acclaimed debut at the Niedersächsische Staatsoper in Hanover she was engaged in the ensemble from 1995 – 1999. From 1999 – 2001 she was a member of the ensemble of the Dresden Semperoper. Throughout her career Camilla Nylund has performed in numerous Strauss and Wagner operas. Her international breakthrough was in the 2004/2005 season with three role debuts: as Elisabeth (Tannhäuser) at the Bayerische Staatsoper, as Salome in Cologne and as Leonore (Fidelio) at the Opera Zurich. All three have become signature roles in her repertoire. Camilla Nylund has sung leading roles in opera houses in Vienna, Paris, Tokyo, Helsinki and Paris. In Berlin she appeared both at the Deutsche Oper and the Staatsoper. With the title role in Dvořáks Rusalka the soprano made her acclaimed debut at the 2008 Salzburg Festival (with the Cleveland Orchestra and Franz Welser-Möst), in 2011 at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London and in 2012 at the Liceu Barcelona. In addition Camilla Nylund is in demand internationally as concert soloist and has worked with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Riccardo Muti, Christian Thielemann and Esa-Pekka Salonen zusammen. In 2008 Camilla Nylund was named Kammersängerin by the state of Saxony. In 2013 she was awarded the prestigious Culture Prize of Sweden and the Pro Finlandia Medal. With the Berliner Philharmoniker she sang Leonore in Beethoven’s Fidelio under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle on tour in Japan in November 2004. In Berlin she first appeared with the orchestra in December 2005 and was last heard in April 2008 with Webern’s Cantata No. 2 and as soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.