Adagio for Strings
Piano Concerto No. 2
Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
He could set even a glass of beer to music such that his listeners could tell whether it was export or pilsner, Richard Strauss is supposed to have quipped once. The tremendous suggestive power of his virtuosic command of the orchestra is apparent in particular in the two Strauss compositions that will be played on the second part of this concert programme: the symphonic poem Don Juan, in which Strauss commemorated the Spanish swashbuckler and Lothario, who is fabulous in both senses of the word, and Till Eugenspiegel’s Merry Pranks “after the old rogue’s tale”, dealing with a myth of modern times of a completely different nature.
In the first part of this programme so rich in contrast, you can hear Samuel Barber’s Adagio for String Orchestra, composed in 1936-38, which enjoys a well-nigh ritual veneration among many music lovers, and Béla Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto, composed three years earlier and feared by pianists because of the solo part’s exorbitant requirements.
With this programme, the Berliner Philharmoniker are celebrating a reunion with two of the most charismatic musical “whiz kids” of the past decade: the Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Chinese pianist Lang Lang.
Please note: Unfortunately, due to contractual reasons, Béla Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto with Lang Lang as the soloist cannot be broadcast. However, in order to still allow access to Gustavo Dudamel's guest performance, we will show his interpretation of Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra in a recording from April 2012 in its stead. The other works of the concert will be broadcast live from the Philharmonie.
A child prodigy? In the final analysis, it is a matter of opinion whether this exalted term applies in the case of Samuel Barber. The fact is, however, that this composer, who has been badly neglected on the European continent until now, began to compose in earnest at the age of seven and at only fourteen was accepted as a student at the renowned Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In addition to piano, Barber also studied voice there – a fact that would prove to be significant for his career as a composer. His penchant for a dominant melodic line and, related to it, his tremendous sense of phrase linearity are unmistakable. This conscious inclination is also obvious in the Adagio for Strings.
Hardly any other 20th-century work has exerted a comparably suggestive, even ingratiating effect on audiences. There are actually three reasons for this. The first lies in the instrumentation and the resulting coherent tonal image. The second is the restrained, extremely expressive theme, its continuously flowing, expansive melody, its timeless beauty. The third and perhaps most important reason is dramaturgical in nature. With every second this theme intensifies, ascends dynamic terraces as it were, while continuing to soar rhapsodically, circling around the listener as though on an ellipse. At the climax of the broad arch, shortly after the cellos have “taken the lead”, there is a brief culminating moment of ecstasy, a passionate outburst followed by paralysis. The music gradually overcomes this state – as might be expected, by taking up the elegiac theme again, continuing to develop it and finally allowing it to gently fade away after barely eight minutes.
Béla Bartók was a fantastic pianist – and therefore an authoritative interpreter of many of his own works. For example, he introduced audiences to his Piano Concertos No. 1 and 2 with himself as soloist. As chance would have it, both concerts took place in Frankfurt am Main; Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted the first in 1927, and Hans Rosbaud was on the podium for the premiere of the second on 23 January 1933. Bartók himself regarded the two concertos as a dialectical pair. Whereas the First Piano Concerto is virtually bristling with difficulties, the Second, which is certainly not “easy”, displays genuinely lyrical energy, at least in some passages. On the whole, its themes are a touch more appealing, more traditional and thus more accessible.
Formally, the Second Piano Concerto is a triptych. The fast, structurally and semantically connected outer movements, Allegro and Allegro molto, are obviously inspired by Stravinsky in their strongly percussive rhythm as well as thematically; they symmetrically frame the middle movement, which also has a three-part formal structure. The night music of the Adagio, in which a chorale striding solemnly through the pale tonal regions of the strings holds a mysterious dialogue with the piano, is followed by a nearly insane Presto scherzo, which with its frenzied, rough but extremely agile character almost seems like a (musical) bull in a china shop. After a while it is dispelled by the return of the night music, whose peaceful atmosphere concludes this Adagio, suspended in mid-air.
Who has not painted a literary portrait of Don Juan! Calderòn, Molière and Goldoni did; E. T. A. Hoffmann, Lord Byron and Prosper Mérimée; Alexander Pushkin, Nikolaus Lenau and Charles Baudelaire; and later, George Bernard Shaw, Guillaume Apollinaire and Henry de Montherlant. It is only natural that these portraits proved to be quite different. Despite their differences, however, one thing unites them all – the fascination exerted by the subject of their works, his demonic aura.
Lenau provides one of the most poetic descriptions of this aura: “Fain would I run the magic circle, immeasurably wide, / Of a beautiful woman’s manifold charms, / In full tempest of enjoyment, / To die of a kiss at the mouth of the last one. / O my friend, would that I could fly through every place / Where beauty blossoms, fall on my knees before each one, / And, were it but for a moment, conquer” [translation: Norman Del Mar]. We encounter this burning and longing again in virtually every bar of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan, which was inspired by three sections drawn from Lenau’s poem Don Juan. Strauss does not simply depict the erotic rapture of his hero scene by scene, however. Instead, carefully avoiding descriptive elements, he creates intrinsic thematic values and momentum which are so strong and so vivid that the music is prevented from becoming merely a dazzling display. That is also precluded by the structural solution; Strauss chooses sonata form, with essentially two themes. The first, a triumphal orchestral figure in E major, is introduced in grand style, then transformed and developed in several episodes, in one great surge, as it were – passionate yet controlled, sensuous but not oppressive, full of life yet always self-possessed. It is juxtaposed with the second principal theme, played in bar 40 by the bass instruments, which pushes the music forward with vehemence. A second Don Juan theme forces its way into the proceedings, belated but “very energetic” and with Beethovenian grandeur; it is played in unison by the horns, Strauss’s favorite instrument. It is no accident that the hero becomes contemplative at this point in the score. His erotic intrigues were apparently too excessive and unrestrained after all. At the close, the sensual frenzy gradually subsides in gloomy minor.
The tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche [Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks] serves as a humorous antithesis to Don Juan. This work, completed in 1895, is a brash, vivacious scherzo with striking tonal effects, “after an old picaresque tale, set in rondo form for large orchestra”. The profusion of musical ideas is astonishing – boundless exuberance, unrestrained high spirits and satire take on shapes as distinctive and buffoonish as the cries of the market women, a leisurely folk melody, a street song and – naturally – Till’s wistful longing, to be played “aflame with love” by the violins. There is no doubt that the hero is the centre of attention – although more roguish and philosophical than erotically charged – personified by two motifs which after their first appearance keep turning up again out of nowhere in various forms and picturesque arabesques. One of them – both mischievous and thoughtful in character – is introduced by the solo horn at the very beginning. Strauss gives the second and intrinsic Eulenspiegel motif, which is supposed to be “merry”, to the virtuoso D clarinet. Although this Janus-faced theme, like the entire work, stands on its own, the listener is nevertheless aware that there are programmatic overtones in the background. Thus, we can accompany the polymorphic Eulenspiegel hurrying through the world on his musical adventures, now brazen, now amorous. We can watch him playing his tricks and jokes and finally – after the trombones have pronounced his sentence – follow him to his death. With a final sighing flute trill, Till Eulenspiegel loses not only his merriness but his breath as well. The work is not over yet, however. An epilogue in F major follows, clearly expressing one thought: may the rogue’s spirit live on in this – according to Voltaire’s Candide – “best of all possible worlds”.
Gustavo Dudamelwas only twenty-three when he won the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition organized by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in 2004. Since then he has become an iconic figure in the world of classical music. He was born in Barquisimeto in Venezuela in 1981 and trained as a conductor, violinist and composer: he studied the violin with José Francisco del Castillo at the Latin American Academy for the Violin and took lessons in conducting with Rodolfo Saglimbeni and José Antonio Abreu. Since 1999 he has been music director of the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, and together they have appeared four times in the Berlin Philharmonie. During the 2007/08 season he also became principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and has taken over the same post with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the 2009/10 season. Dudamel is actively involved in the education programmes of both these orchestras. In addition, he is a regular guest conductor with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, the Israel Philharmonic, the Philharmonia of London, Milan’s La Scala and the Vienna Philharmonic. He made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker at its annual Waldbühne Concert in June 2008; he last appeared with the orchestra at the beginning of May 2012 in Paris. His distinctions include the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Music Award for Young Artists (2007) and the Würth Prize by Germany’s Jeunesses Musicales (2008). Dudamel was inducted into “l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” as a Chevalier in Paris in 2009 and into the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 2011. He has been named Musical America’s 2013 Musician of the Year.
Lang Lang was born in Shenyang (China) in 1982. At the age of three, he received his first piano lessons. At five, he won the piano competition in his home town and made his first public appearance. He began studying piano at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing when he was nine, then in 1997 he became a student of Gary Graffman at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Lang Lang first came to international attention when he stepped in at short notice for an ailing André Watts at the Ravinia Festival in 1999. Since then, he has conquered the world’s major concert halls and festivals, both with solo programmes and as the guest of major international orchestras. Lang Lang has worked with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Mariss Jansons, Seiji Ozawa and Sir Simon Rattle. After his debut recital in the Berliner Philharmoniker piano concert series at the end of May 2004, he made his first appearance as a soloist with the orchestra under the baton of Sir Simon at the Waldbühne concert shortly after. In the 2009/2010 season, he was the Philharmoniker’s pianist in residence, and his most recent appearance in a Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concert was at the end of February 2012, when he performed solo works by Bach, Schubert and Chopin.
When not on tour, the artist is actively engaged in both charity work and musical education for children. Lang Lang is an International UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and the youngest member of Carnegie Hall’s Artistic Advisory Board. He also holds a position on the advisory committee of the Weill Music Institute as part of their education programme. The World Economic Forum named the pianist one of the 250 “Young Global Leaders”, and in 2010 he received the Crystal Award in Davos. In August 2012, he was honoured with the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Lang Lang is an honorary professor of several conservatories in China and gives master classes including in Hanover, at the Juilliard School in New York and the Curtis Institute.