Herbert Blomstedt (photo: M. Lengemann)

Herbert Blomstedt and Leif Ove Andsnes

A medieval city, a knight on horseback, and the sound of the forest were atmospheric inner images that inspired Anton Bruckner to create his mysteriously luminous Fourth Symphony. The conductor of this performance is Herbert Blomstedt, one of the foremost interpreters of Bruckner. In Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 – which audibly picks up on the soundscape of the opera Le nozze di Figaro which he wrote at the same time – we also hear Leif Ove Andsnes, the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Pianist in Residence for 2010/2011.

Berliner Philharmoniker

Herbert Blomstedt conductor

Leif Ove Andsnes piano

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 22 in E flat major, K. 482

Leif Ove Andsnes piano

Anton Bruckner

Symphony No. 4 in E flat major “Romantic” (2nd version from 1878/1880)

Dates and Tickets

Thu, 16 Jan 2020, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:15

Serie A

Fri, 17 Jan 2020, 20:00

Philharmonie | Introduction: 19:15

Serie E

Programme

Anton Bruckner repeatedly called his Fourth Symphony, which he composed in 1874 and subjected to radical revisions through 1880, “romantic”. The composer elucidated what he meant by that ten years after giving the work the form that is now considered final: “In the romantic 4th symphony, in the 1st movement the intention is to depict the horn that proclaims the day from the town hall. Then the town comes to life; in the Gesangsperiode, the theme is the song of the bird, the great tit Zizipe. [...]. 2nd movement: song, prayer, serenade. 3rd hunt and in the Trio how a barrel-organ plays during the midday meal in the forest.” According to other sources, Bruckner was imagining a “medieval city” at “dawn” and “forest murmurs” during the composition of the first movement, and while working on the second movement, in contrast, a “boy in love” and his unsuccessful attempt to “climb through his sweetheart’s window”, and a folk festival in the Finale. Numerous other examples of Bruckner’s attempts at pictorial descriptions of his music can easily be found. But it is remarkable that he failed to come up with a definitive “programme” for the Fourth Symphony. And the composition’s standardised, four-movement sequence makes it quite clear that Bruckner was orienting himself more towards classical models than towards works of so-called “programme music”.

With Herbert Blomstedt, not only is one of the Berlin Philharmonic’s long-standing artistic partners taking on Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, but also a conductor who has already repeatedly demonstrated his profound understanding for the music of this composer by conducting memorable concerts, especially in Berlin.

On the first half of the concert, the orchestra will once again encounter the Pianist in Residence from the 2010/11 season: Leif Ove Andsnes. The Norwegian pianist, to whose interpretations the New York Times once attested “magisterial elegance, power and insight”, will put his view of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E flat major, K. 482, composed in Vienna in 1785, up for discussion. The work is considered one of Mozart’s so-called “symphonic” piano concertos, in which at the peak of his Viennese heyday the composer struck out on new forward-looking paths of orchestral handling. That Mozart composed the E flat major concerto in close proximity to his work on the opera Le nozze di Figaro can be detected quite clearly in the prevailing cheery mood, giving way to a gentle melancholy only in the variations of the slow middle movement.

About the music

Conceived in Terms of the Sound

E flat major works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Bruckner

Composed “in haste” – Mozart’s Piano Concerto in E flat major, K. 482

In early June of 1781 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart assured his concerned father from Vienna that “my special line is too popular here not to enable me to support myself. Vienna is certainly the land of the Clavier!” A few days later the 25-year-old turned his back on his native Salzburg for good and began to build a life for himself in the imperial capital as a freelance musician. It is not surprising that Mozart chose to win favour with the public in particular with new piano concertos during his first years in Vienna. The genre provided him with an ideal platform to show off his compositional, pianistic and improvisational skills to equal effect. Fifteen of Mozart’s 27 piano concertos were composed during the relatively short period from autumn of 1782 to December of 1786. Most of them were performed for the first time at public “academies” or subscription concerts which Mozart organized himself, and they contributed substantially to both Mozart’s reputation and his livelihood. The Piano Concerto in E flat major, K. 482, belongs to the last group of this impressive series. Composed in late 1785 for several hastily scheduled subscription academies, it was written in a short time and presented to the Viennese public by Mozart before Christmas.

One of the characteristic features of the E flat major Concerto is the prominent role of the (wood)winds, which are already put to effective use in the first movement. The opening bars are dominated by the interplay and counterplay of different sections of the orchestra typical of the concerto. The fanfare-like opening theme, which is based on the notes of the E flat major triad, is presented forte by the entire orchestra in unison. The contrasting melodic idea that answers it is played in piano by a “chamber ensemble”. The first time the two horns play accompanied by the bassoons; in the restatement the two clarinets are joined by the violins. Immediately afterwards Mozart focuses on the expressive range and soloistic qualities of the winds. The flute, clarinets, bassoons and horns are heard in quick succession, each with a two-bar melodic figure.

The close connections between Mozart’s concertos and his operas become clear in the second movement. Listeners of Mozart’s day were apparently so moved by the profound Andante in C minor that it had to be repeated during the concert. Conceived as a dramatic scene in variation form, various tonal and expressive characters alternate and enter into a dialogue.

A particularly appealing aspect of Mozart’s mature piano concertos is the fact that the soloist acts as the first among equals: he is both “principal” and “partner”. Whereas the thematic material of the first two movements is initially presented by the orchestra, the pianist takes on this task himself in the last movement. The rondo theme of the finale, whose typical horn melody refers to the genre of hunting music, is first heard in the piano. In addition, the role of “strategist” frequently requires the soloist to go beyond what is set down in the notes: after a long fermata and a momentary pause, instead of the anticipated dynamic development passage an unexpectedly interpolated Andantino cantabile abruptly begins. Although Mozart notated the orchestra parts of this slow minuet completely, he only made a rough outline of the solo part. In this key passage of the finale the pianist is thus confronted with the challenging task of going beyond what is written in the score and working out a convincing solution of his own.

“Sounds from other worlds” – Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony

During the second half of 1868 the Linz cathedral organist Anton Bruckner left his home in Upper Austria to assume a professorship in harmony, counterpoint and organ teaching in Vienna at the Conservatory of the Society of Friends of Music. Like Mozart 90 years earlier, the 44-year-old stepped into new territory with this move. The son of a village schoolmaster had already made a name for himself beyond the boundaries of his homeland as an organist and brilliant improviser. As a composer, however, he was still a largely unknown quantity at that time. By moving to Vienna Bruckner intended to fundamentally change this situation. Instead of organ playing, teaching would be the main source of his livelihood from then on. In the inspiring environment of the European musical capital he hoped to find enough time for the work that he wanted to focus his creativity on in the future: the composition of large-scale symphonies.

Despite his various teaching duties, Bruckner wrote the original version of the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major between January and November of 1874. It is not surprising that this work soon became his most popular composition. The Fourth Symphony combines important characteristics of Bruckner’s symphonic music in an almost prototypical form and is at the same time “more accessible” than many of his other works. The famous opening already impressively demonstrates typical features of Bruckner’s compositions. An E flat major triad in the tremolo strings appears almost imperceptibly out of silence – a form of opening that would henceforth become a trademark of the composer. Embedded in the soft chord thus produced the principal horn plays the basic musical idea of the work: a calling figure presenting the key interval of the fifth. But with the entrance of the second call there is already a moment of increased tension. Instead of the fifth note of B flat, the horn begins a semitone higher, on C flat. This seemingly insignificant step allows a harmonic sphere to emerge for an instant which contrasts with the home key of E flat major and will be of central importance to the development of the symphony.

The composer and musicologist Dieter Schnebel, who died in Berlin last year, impressively described the fascinating power that emanates from Bruckner’s characteristic treatment of the orchestra: “The special quality of Bruckner’s music is due ... to the characteristic presence of the sound, whether its luminescence or its dimmed darkness, its raw power or the mellifluous mellowness. ... The musical development is also derived more from the sound than, say, the thematic work.”

The “characteristic presence of the sound” is manifested in various ways during the symphony: in the wave-like build-ups of intensity typical of Bruckner, in the solemn brass chorales often found in the middle or at the end of a movement and even in the timbral structure and variation of the themes. The fact that the sound can thus become the vehicle of poetic meaning is obvious from the composer’s own characterization of the work as “romantic”. This dimension can be heard most clearly in the third movement. Bruckner completely refashioned it when he revised the symphony in late 1878. At the beginning of the Scherzo we think we hear the calls of hunting horns at daybreak which first answer each other from afar, then come closer and closer in an impressive crescendo. The trio, on the other hand, has the character of a stylized Ländler, reminiscent of a street organ tune with a circling melody over a repeated bass note.

The Finale is in a sense the goal of the entire symphonic structure. Here the conflict already presented at the beginning of the work between two different sound spheres – the principal key of E flat major and a tonal area around the central note of C flat – is taken up, intensified and overcome in a breathtaking coda.

Tobias Bleek

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Biography

In the more than sixty years of his career, Herbert Blomstedt has acquired the unrestricted respect of the musical world. Born in the United States to Swedish parents, his musical education began at the Stockholm Conservatory and the University of Uppsala. He later studied conducting in New York, contemporary music at Darmstadt and Renaissance and Baroque music in Basel. After working as an assistant to Igor Markevitch and Leonard Bernstein, he made his professional debut as a conductor with the Stockholm Philharmonic in February 1954 and soon went on to become principal conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic, the Danish and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestras and the Dresden Staatskapelle, where he remained from 1975 to 1985. He spent the next decade as music director of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, returning to Europe in 1996 as principal conductor as of the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg, a post he held until 1998. From 1998 to the end of the 2004/2005 season he was music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Herbert Blomstedt is now conductor laureate of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Danish and Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestras and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, which he has conducted on a regular basis since 1982. In 2007 the Dresden Staatskapelle awarded him its Goldene Ehrennadel. Among the orchestras with whom he has appeared as a guest conductor are the Munich Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, all the leading American orchestras, the Israel Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. Herbert Blomstedt made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1976 and has returned on frequent occasions since then, most recently in May 2019, when he conducted three concerts with works by Beethoven and Stenhammar. He is a fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and holds several honorary doctorates. Blomstedt was awarded the “Großes Verdienstkreuz” (Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit) of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2003; in 2016 he received the prestigious Danish Léonie Sonning Music Prize for his lifetime achievement.

Leif Ove Andsnes was born on the Norwegian island of Karmøy in 1970 and studied at the Bergen Conservatory under Jiří Hlinka and in Belgium with Jacques de Tiège. At the age of 19, he made his debut in New York and Washington, as well as afterwards at the Edinburgh Festival with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under Mariss Jansons. The foundations of a successful career were laid, and as early as 1992, Leif Ove Andsnes performed in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts for the first time. Further debuts followed in Japan (1993), Paris (1996), London (1997) and Zurich (1998); since then, he has given regular piano recitals in many famous concert halls, and has performed with leading orchestras and conductors all over the world. Moreover, Leif Ove Andsnes is an enthusiastic chamber musician and the founding director of the Rosendal Chamber Music Festival. Following the success of their “Beethoven Journey” collaboration, Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra have joined forces again for “Mozart Momentum 1785/86”, another multi-season project. Among Andsnes’ prizes and awards are the Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, the Peer Gynt Prize by the Norwegian government, the London Royal Philharmonic Society Award and the Gilmore Artist Award (USA). His recordings received six Gramophone Awards and several German Record Critics’ Awards. Leif Ove Andsnes holds honorary doctorates from New York’s Juilliard School and Norway’s University of Bergen, and is artistic adviser for the Piano Academy in Bergen where he gives an annual masterclass. He last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in June 2017 performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 4 (conductor: Andrés Orozco-Estrada); his piano recital in the Chamber Music Hall in December 2017 included works by Sibelius, Widmann, Schubert, Beethoven and Chopin.

Herbert Blomstedt (photo: M. Lengemann)

Leif Ove Andsnes (photo: Gregor Hohenberg)