Riccardo Muti Conductor
Symphony No. 4 in C minor D 417
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Symphonie Nr. 4 in F minor op. 36
Wed, 24 May 2017 8 p.m.
Philharmonie | Introduction: 7:00 pm
Thu, 25 May 2017 8 p.m.
Philharmonie | Introduction: 7:00 pm
Fri, 26 May 2017 8 p.m.
Philharmonie | Introduction: 7:00 pm
“I have many colleagues who say how happy they are simply standing on the podium. But I am happy when the musicians and I succeed in serving the composer and conveying something to the listeners. It’s a question of honesty. Arturo Toscanini for example, whom I admire greatly, analysed after every concert what had gone well and less well.” Riccardo Muti is considered an uncompromising perfectionist who focuses with passion and commitment on the essentials: rendering the music appropriately with fidelity to the original. He began to play violin at the age of eight. (“A violin given to me when I was eight changed my life.”) At 13 he switched to piano; two years later, the sound of the orchestra began to fascinate him. Muti studied piano, composition and conducting in his hometown of Naples and in Milan, with, among others, the composer Bruno Bettinelli and the Toscanini students Antonio Votto and Guido Cantelli. Here he learned the compellingly perfect art of conducting in the Toscanini tradition; in the process, the precision which continues to characterise his artistic activity today was imparted to him: “I always use the authentic version of a score.”
Muti’s international career began when he won the renowned Guido Cantelli Competition in 1967 and was appointed the artistic director of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino one year later. One thing followed another in rapid succession: in 1971 he was invited to the Salzburg Festival by Herbert von Karajan; in 1972 the maestro debuted with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and then he took over the Philharmonia Orchestra in London as successor to Otto Klemperer. In addition, he conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time, with whom by now he has been associated in a close artistic partnership for many decades: “I took away many things from my first encounters with the Berlin Philharmonic, things that contributed to my musical education even after my studies and that now are an integral component of my artistic identity. When I now come back here more than 40 years later, I’m giving some of that back in changed, mature form.” We can thus very much look forward to the guest appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic of the music director of the Teatro alla Scala for many years and current chief conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He conducts the Forth Symphonies by Franz Schubert and Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
About the music
Tragedy and Fate
Observations on the Fourth Symphonies of Franz Schubert and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Anything But “Eccentric”: Schubert’s Fourth Symphony
The 19-year-old Franz Schubert kept a diary for a short time in early summer of 1816. In the entry from 16 June he wrote how “beautiful and refreshing” it is to hear music “free from all the eccentricity that is common among most composers nowadays, and is due almost wholly to one of our greatest German artists; that eccentricity which joins and confuses the tragic with the comic, the agreeable with the repulsive, heroism with howlings and the holiest with harlequinades, without distinction, so as to goad people to madness instead of dissolving them in love, to incite them to laughter instead of lifting them up to God.” Schubert had completed his Fourth Symphony a few weeks earlier, on 27 April 1816. Both the diary entry and the symphony unquestionably referred to Ludwig van Beethoven.
The scores of Schubert’s sonata, quartet and symphony fragments, which often break off at precisely those places that may have seemed too “eccentric” to him, illustrate how desperately he struggled with Beethoven’s example. The Fourth Symphony – composed for an amateur orchestra in which Schubert played viola – was probably an attempt to “take the bull by the horns” and challenge Beethoven with his own weapon, so to speak. The selection of the key of C minor alone was significant, and the attribute “tragic”, which Schubert himself appended to the symphony, even more so.
After the first public performance, which took place in Leipzig on 19 November 1849 – the 21st anniversary of Schubert’s death – the critic from the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik concluded: “Particularly the last movement, with its blazing passionateness, seems to be the most outstanding, where the composer becomes more emancipated from the influence of Haydn and Mozart” – that is to say, where he comes closest to Beethoven’s model. The first movement, on the other hand, was “not very independent or brilliant in its inventiveness,” Eduard Hanslick complained in 1860. In 1967 the musicologist Thrasybulos Georgiades wrote that the early symphonies and especially the Fourth assumed “only the outward appearance of Beethovenian character”. And in 1986 Wulf Konold opined: “With refreshing naiveté at times, [in the Fourth] he uses models of early and middle Beethoven, in particular, without being able to fill them with strength and life, however.”
“No, Beethoven is not here!” Schubert supposedly exclaimed on his deathbed. Nor is or was he in the Fourth. Whether Schubert was – wittingly or unwittingly – actually measuring himself against Beethoven in the work is not important. It is a composition by Schubert and, as such, in harmony with itself. Tragedy, emotion, passion and drama were by no means new to him. One need only think of the Erlkönig [Erl-King], written a half-year earlier, or the setting of Schiller’s Des Mädchens Klage [The Maiden’s Lament], also in C minor, which he composed a month before the symphony. And one thing it certainly is not is “eccentric”.
“To my best friend”: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony
“Until recently it was normal for us to call Tchaikovsky a sentimental intellectual whose music had no relevance for our generation.” That was written by Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first “People’s Commissar of Enlightenment” of the young Soviet Republic, in 1925. “His ‘hysterical pessimism’ and ‘petit bourgeois melancholy’ were condemned as completely incompatible with the aims of the Revolution,” according to the musicologist Alexander Poznansky. Nevertheless, at that time these reservations only applied to Tchaikovsky the musician, not the man; in September 2013 Spiegel Online reported that the Russian film fund would only give its support to a film biography of Tchaikovsky “in the amount of 30 million roubles (approximately 670,000 euros) ... if details about the artist’s private life were omitted”, meaning the composer’s homosexuality.
Early symptoms of depressive tendencies, which were to become progressively worse throughout his life, were already apparent in 1868, during his work on the First Symphony. But Tchaikovsky’s homosexuality, which he had to conceal due to social conventions, was largely responsible for these “mental tempests and nervous disorders”, as his biographer Herbert Weinstock noted in 1943. No less significant, however, was the constant self-doubt against which Tchaikovsky had to struggle with every new work. Hypochondria and misanthropy balanced each other out; Tchaikovsky’s biography and the origins of his works read like the parallel psychological profile of a constant fluctuation between the creative urge and the despondency of someone who is up one minute and down the next.
The Fourth Symphony, in particular, illustrates how inextricably linked Tchaikovsky’s life and work were. In July 1877 the composer had attempted to escape from his homosexuality into a “respectable”, in other words, heterosexual relationship, but his utterly rash and hasty marriage to a student proved to be a disaster. Tchaikovsky separated from his wife after only a few weeks and entered a phase of deep depression. A short time later he began work on the F minor Symphony, “in which my memories of the passionateness and misery of my feelings and experiences found their echo”. The “content” of the work is explained even more clearly in a letter from the composer to his friend and patroness Nadezhda von Meck, to whom he had dedicated the symphony, coded for outsiders: àmon meilleur ami (“to my best friend”). Between “the fateful force that prevents our striving for happiness from succeeding” – the fanfare theme in the Andante sostenuto introduction of the first movement, which is heard again in the Finale as a cyclical formal element – and the recognition that one must “get out among the people; if you cannot find reasons for happiness in yourself, look at others,” Tchaikovsky develops a detailed psychological profile in almost bar-by-bar analogy with the music.
The Fourth reflects another dilemma Tchaikovsky found himself in, beyond psychology: his role in Russian music between Westernization and national autonomy. The mere fact of his closeness to the Moscow circle of the brothers Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein caused the St Petersburg colleagues of “The Five”, known in Russia as “The Mighty Handful”, who represented the nationalist school of Russian music, to regard Tchaikovsky as Sápadnik, as a “Westerner”, who continued the great tradition of the role models Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in the core genres of instrumental music, while paying tribute to Wagnerism in his operas. But how is this consistent with the fact that the string pizzicatos in the third movement of the Fourth Symphony unmistakably imitate the sound of a balalaika and the main theme of the Finale quotes the ancient folk song “Vo pole berëza stojala” (In the field a little birch tree stood)? “To the people!” the composer wrote in his programme. “See what a good time they have, surrendering themselves completely to joyous feelings.” The bourgeois artist who goes “to the people” is embarrassingly reminiscent of Faust’s Easter walk: “Hark! Sounds of village joy arise; / Here is the people’s paradise, / Contented, great and small shout joyfully: / Here I am Man, here dare it to be!” It is no wonder that the early Soviet reception regarded Tchaikovsky as a “class element completely alien to the proletarian consciousness” (Alexander Poznansky).
Riccardo Muti initially studied piano in his home town of Naples, then composition and conducting at the Conservatory “Giuseppe Verdi” Milan with Bruno Bettinelli and Antonio Votto. In 1967 he won the “Guido Cantelli” international conducting competition. The following year he was appointed principal conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino where he remained until 1980. Other positions took him to London as chief conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, and to the USA as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra (1980 – 1992). From 1986, Riccardo Muti was music director of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan for nearly two decades and since the autumn of 2010, he has been music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At la Scala, Muti conducted a wide repertoire from Gluck to Mozartʼs Da Ponte operas to Wagnerʼs Ring; nevertheless, he is considered a particular specialist in the operas of Verdi. The maestro conducts both opera productions at renowned opera houses and the top orchestras in the world; in particular, he has been closely associated with the Vienna Philharmonic for the past 47 years. After being invited by Herbert von Karajan for the first time in 1971, Riccardo Muti has also been a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival for over 40 years. Since 1972, he has returned on a regular basis to the Berliner Philharmoniker. In 2004, he founded the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra whose music director he is still today. Since 2015, he devotes even more to the training of young musicians with the Riccardo Muti Italian Opera Academy in Ravenna. In addition, the artist is involved in the project Le vie dellʼAmicizia (The Paths of Friendship), initiated by the Ravenna Festival, conducting peace concerts including those in Sarajevo, Beirut, Damascus and most recently in Redipuglia.
To name but a few of the many awards bestowed on the conductor, he has been named Cavaliere di Gran Croce della Republica Italiana, he is a recipient of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, a member of the Légion dʼHonneur of the French Republic, an honorary member of the Wiener Hofmusikkapelle, the Johann-Strauß-Gesellschaft and the Vienna Philharmonic. The Salzburg Mozarteum awarded Riccardo Muti their silver medal for his contribution to Mozartʼs works. In 2012, he was named Knight of the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of St Gregory the Great by Pope Benedict XVI.