Live Vienna Konzerthaus, Music Of The 20th Century
Recorded 'live' at the Mozart-Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna 11.XII.1990
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Rihm: String Quartet No.4
Born in Karlsruhe in 1952, Wolfgang Rihm is today the most successful and prolific German composer of the younger generation. At present he has some 100 works to his credit, including such successes as the two chamber operas Faust und Yorrick and Jakob Lenz (the latter also performed in Vienna's Konzerthaus), the full-length ballet Tutuguri (first performed in Berlin, 1982), Die Hamletmaschine (music theatre after Heiner Muller, 1983/86), Oedipus (music theatre after Holderlin, Nietzsche and Heiner Muller, 1986/87), three symphonies, concertos and chamber music for various combinations, choral settings and Lieder. He is currently working on another piece of music theatre, Die Eroberung von Mexico.
Rihm belongs to the generation of composers who in the 1970s broke away from the dictate of the serially-orientated Darmstadt school. Together with composers like Detlev Muller-Siemens and Hans-Jurgen von Bose, Rihm set out to restore to music a comprehensible language. But he quickly distanced himself from the battle cry of 'simplicity', and today it seems certain that his musical language, unlike that of most of his generation, will withstand objective scrutiny in the future, away from fashionable current disputes.
In an essay on the subject of "Being a Young Composer" Rihm wrote, amongst other things, that "My musical language was formed like a dialect, with concrete objects which had to be addressed and for which, in conversation, I simply had to find a name. The encounter with the unnamed, and a full understanding of what this means, are prerequisites if you are to learn as an artist. Each year my vocabulary grew richer, but the unnamed, unknown objects I encountered also grew in number. The ability to react seismographically, as it were, has a temporary disadvantage: many things are only registered, not named. But one thing is absolutely essential for me: direct speech. As an artist I must be able to speak in the indicative".
This explains not only the intense spontaneity of Rihm's music and its independence from prefabricated models, but also its deeply expressive character, with every note betraying the composer's desire to speak directly to the listener. His Fourth String Quartet, too, is extremely emotional, full of abrupt contrasts and passionate outbursts, its succession of events unruly and fragmentary, making it difficult to classify it formally. The structure is unusual, two fast movements being followed by a slow epilogue whereby the violent unisons of the opening of the work correspond structurally to the resigned, ebbing close.
The first section, dominated by its ascending motif, culminates in an alla marcia, allegro ma non troppo, which briefly introduces more uniform rhythmic patterns. The second movement is also laid out in two main sections, with a predominantly chordal introduction and an "aria", heralded by a sudden andante, which brings a short-lived lyricism. After a long pause the final movement begins, moving quickly from the ethereal opening through brief protest to the dying close.
-Gerhard Kramer (translation: Richard Wigmore)
Schnlttke: String Quartet No.4
Alfred Schnittke belongs to the present generation of Russian composers, whose significance during the '50s and '60s consisted essentially in their ability to integrate hitherto neglected European styles into the musical life of the Soviet Union, thus involving a wider public. He was born in 1934 in Engels, a city on the Volga in the district of Saratov, and when he was 12 years old his family moved to Vienna for two years, where he started to learn the piano. At that time also he made his first attempts at composing. There were no language barriers to be overcome, since German was his mother tongue. This was due to his background, which sounds complicated but can be quite easily understood: his father was a German Jew of Russian parentage, whose family decided in the '20s to move to the Soviet Union, where he married a Russian of German descent -hence the German-sounding name. The Schnittke family having returned to the Soviet Union from Vienna, Alfred graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire in 1960.
Schnittke did not develop his own musical language without some difficulty. He had first to digest a number of different stylistic trends. The young avant-garde, who had been totally cut off during the Stalin era - in the field of music as in everything else - was mainly concerned with the continuous process of development which was taking place in the rest of Europe. They attempted to find a link from Stravinsky (who was by then living in the USA), Prokofiev and Shostakovich, via the Second Viennese School, to contemporaries such as Boulez, Nono and Stockhausen (who were pioneers at the time), in order to forge their own new styles. After this intensive phase in his work Schnittke moved in the direction of serial writing, repeatedly marked by a delight in baroque forms and sound. In 1989, following an extended period of working with traditional forms and harmonic and melodic textures, he attempted once again to tread the path of the Second Viennese School with his Fourth String Quartet.
The first movement appears more like an introduction than an independent section, not just on account of its brevity (85 bars), but also because of its expectant, hushed mood; its seemingly improvisatory character is in contrast with the second movement, a large-scale Allegro. Here, too, the pungency of the tone-painting is strikingly consistent, in spite of frequent thirds and sixths, albeit in adaptation.
The essence of the third movement (Lento), which again follows on without a break, rises up in the first violin part - played solo in long note values that become increasingly shorter.
The closeness of the intervals produces a melancholy interplay of the instrumental parts, This mood is interrupted, rather as though for self-protection, by the heightened dynamics of the fourth movement (Vivace). The note groups which, in the previous movement, were mainly moving in a downward direction, are now inspired by hopeful animation.
The fifth movement, another Lento, again joined on without a break, is structurally more lively than the preceding one. Here Schnittke links solo passages derived from the third movement with new ideas, almost as though in a rondo. In the process everything subsides into pianissimo until the music finally dies away.
-Maria Publig (translation courtesy of The South Bank Centre. London)