Authorities, Predictions, Transcriptions
Compositions by Detlev Glanert, Max Bruch and Antonín Dvořák
When works by Detlev Glanert, Max Bruch and Antonín Dvořák are performed at these concerts, the name and music of another composer can be heard indirectly but clearly: Johannes Brahms. While working on his Seventh Symphony, Dvořák recalled the advice his mentor Brahms reportedly gave him; 22 years later, Bruch predicted that posterity would remember him less than his older colleague; and Glanert clearly grappled with the first movement of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony in his orchestral work Weites Land, which he composed in 2013.
Detlev Glanert: Weites Land
When Detlev Glanert was asked by the Oldenburg State Orchestra in 2013 to compose a work with a direct connection to the music of Johannes Brahms, the composer – who was born in 1960 and, like Brahms, came from Hamburg – was “extraordinarily excited and pleased”. In Brahms’s music, Glanert continues, there is “something that the people of Hamburg understand well, which is also alluded to in the title of my work Weites Land [Open Land]: there are these incredibly vast expanses, these lowlands where one has to develop a kind of intrinsic severity in order to survive.”
The first four bars of Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E minor, op. 98, which was premiered in 1885, serve as the starting point for Glanert’s compositional confrontation with Brahms. “At the beginning, the notes [B-G-E-C-A-F sharp-D sharp-B] are treated almost like a cantus firmus, around which harmonies derived from these eight notes are then heard,” Glanert explains. He was also inspired by Brahms when it came to the instrumentation, which explains why he did not call for a full percussion section. Because of its independent and original tonal language, Glanert’s treatment of the strict contrapuntal thinking, complex rhythmic structures and lyrical but powerful expressive qualities of Brahmsʼs Fourth is anything but the product of some “neoism” or other, however. On the contrary, from the mysterious opening to its continuation, with pronounced accents and broadly soaring melodic lines, to the iridescently beautiful closing section, Weites Land – which the composer himself subtitled “Music with Brahms” – seems like a transcription that enhances the Brahmsian musical idiom with new layers, heard with 21st-century ears.
Max Bruch: Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra
Max Bruch composed his Concerto for two pianos and orchestra, op. 88a, in 1915, after hearing a performance by Rose and Ottilie Sutro of his Fantasia in D minor, op. 11, for two pianos, which he had written a half-century earlier. The interpretation of the two sisters from Baltimore made such an impression on the composer that he spontaneously decided to dedicate a work to them. For this composition, Bruch drew on material that he had written for a suite for organ and orchestra, which he had planned since 1904.
The first movement opens with a dramatic, rhythmically accentuated fanfare gesture, which, after a brief transition beginning in bar 17, is followed by an expansive fugal dirge in the style of Bach. Its theme is based on a melody that Bruch had heard during a Good Friday procession on the island of Capri in 1904. The fugal theme and the fanfare which opened the movement are later transformed succinctly and skilfully while retaining the different expressive characters. After a notated breathing pause, the harmonically well-balanced second movement follows, introduced by an eloquent melody. The tempo changes, and a section in sonata form soon begins, with two clearly differentiated themes in which the pianos are elegantly interwoven with various instruments of the orchestra. In the lovely third movement, a lyrical, melodic opening theme leads to increasingly passionate build-ups, without striking contrasting effects. A freely structured, virtuosic finale in A flat major elicits new facets from the melodic material of the first movement, thus concluding the work in the sense of a cyclical musical dramaturgy.
Antonín Dvořák: Seventh Symphony
Antonín Dvořák was astonished when he received a letter from the London Philharmonic Society in 1883 informing him that on the authority of the directors “Mr Anton Dvořák is invited to give an orchestral performance (suite or overture) during the 82nd season of the Society (1884)”. A few weeks later an enquiry from the London music publisher Novello arrived, asking whether he would be willing to compose an oratorical work for a choral festival in Birmingham. The prospect of a guest appearance was extremely tempting: in no time at all, Dvořák learned a few words of English, crossed the English Channel in March of 1884 and conducted works including the Slavonic Rhapsody No. 2, the Stabat mater and his Sixth Symphony in London. In June of 1884 Dvořák was made an honorary member of the London Philharmonic Society and was invited to return to London the following year with a symphony composed specifically for the English capital.
After his first London concert season, Dvořák wrote the cantata commissioned by Novello before beginning work on a symphony in December of 1884, which – as the composer wrote in a letter to his friend Antonín Rus – must “move the world”. According to Dvořák, his desire to break new ground with this work was prompted by Johannes Brahms, who, referring to the Sixth Symphony, had commented: “I imagine your symphony will be quite unlike this one.” Dvořák’s guiding principle during the work on his Seventh was that these words “shall not be proved wrong”.
What distinguishes this work from its predecessors is, first of all, its melodic image. Although Dvořák – who until then owed much of his fame to compositions such as the Slavonic Dances and Slavonic Rhapsodies – had still patterned the Scherzo of his Sixth Symphony after a stylized Bohemian folk dance, in the Seventh he dispensed entirely with folklore elements. It would also have been difficult to integrate them into a style of writing that does not feature a prominent melodic line over long stretches, has motifs migrate through different instrumental sections and contrapuntally superimposes several melodies. The beginning of the first movement already makes use of contrasting melodic fragments and changing timbres, which take the place of a theme with clear melodic contours. Of course, there is also wonderful lyricism in the Seventh, such as the second theme of the first movement, which is initially introduced by the flute in a strikingly low register, but passages such as these seem more like moments of relaxation within a nervously jagged setting. The lovely Adagio opens with a chorale-like wind theme and later presents Tristan-like harmony and powerful build-ups, which at times suddenly subside to a piano. The outer sections of the Scherzo, seemingly tossed off casually with ease, are characterized by the contrapuntal superimposition of several melodies. The Finale takes up the mood of the first movement at the beginning, but the symphony finally ends with an apotheotic coda in radiant D major.