Musica Viva 03
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SYMPHONY NO. 3 - JESUS MESSIAH, SAVE US!
Half a century separates the time when Ustvolskaya composed her 3rd Symphony, and that of Shostakovich's 4th Symphony - not any fifty years, but fifty years of the 20th century. A time during which the world experienced tremendous upheavals. One of the most important occurred in the intellectual field. What appeared in the Thirties for many [not only in the former Soviet Union] to be a flowing futures had become in the Eighties an infamous and shameful past - and indeed so infamous that one can only timidly hope that the retribution for the delusion and the sins of the 20th century will not turn out to be so grotesque, and that one must pray to God for salvation. This is exactly what Galina Ustvolskaya does in her 3rd Symphony. As the title of the work is Jesus Messias, erretteuns, it not only concerns her own salvation, but Ustvolskaya prays for us all.
The recited text of the Symphony [translated from Latin] originates from a remarkable personality, the German monk from Reichenau, Hermann der Lahme [Hermannus Contractus] who lived from 1013 to 1054. The monk who was almost completely handicapped and unable to speak, did not live long. But, in this brief time, he managed to write excellent tracts about subjects on mathematics, astronomy and music, as well as prayers and hymns to the Virgin Mary. The fact that Galina Ustvolskaya sets the texts of this author to music in three of her five symphonies [Nos. 2,3 and 4], and that these works originated in a city that until recently bore the name of Lenin, speaks for itself. The symphony consists of one movement, and is in its substance clearly a prayer for salvation. The prayer demands concentration and intellectual effort - the greater the effort, so the prayer is more profoundly effective. Ustvolskaya achieves these qualities because she is first and foremost a musician, using purely musical means.
Concentration: In contrast to a symphony which is written like an adventure story, colour and diversity are inappropriate in a symphony of prayer. Concentration is achieved by an unbelievably frugal use of compositional methods and by dispensing with anything that is superfluous. So there are only four motives which are important to the theme of the 3rd Symphony. They not only have melodic, but also rhythmic individuality and can be easily recognised again even if they are only played on the percussion.
Form and rhythm: The symphony's formal construction is very clear and logical [specific sonata form with development and even a "verbal" repeat]. However, the development is not defined by tone, but by rhythm, the entirety of its sound, and by articulation. With regard to the tone pitch, the work is static and the motives remain confined for a long time to some few tones [any change in the pitch of the notes is perceived in such a context as an important event]. But the rhythmical character of this music is unique: the "spatial" inflexibility is compensated here by an additional dimension which is extremely rhythmical and polyphonal. The motives important to the theme are of various durations, constantly vary their position with another and change their "colour" and meaning in that they move from one instrumental group to another. [The most important motive is heard, moreover, at the beginning of the work on the trombone and is a leitmotif in ostinato through the entire symphony.] From a melodic point of view they have a "common denominators a diatonic which recalls from a distance associations with Gregorian, but this remains in the background because the "main motor" of the work is the rhythm. In this respect, the development "of the symphony is very impressive with its rhythmical polyphony in percussion, the large piano solo and with the powerful intensification in which the last tones of the main motive D flat and E flat are repeated, so enveloping all the orchestral groups. It leaves an impression of a gigantic collective effort, even a mass incantation.
For such an unusual musical task Ustvolskaya requires an appropriate "instrument". The orchestra in the 3rd Symphony [5 oboes, 5 trumpets, 1 trombone, 3 tubas, 2 bass drum, tenor drum, piano and 5 double-basses] is fundamentally different from what one normally understands from the term orchestra. Ustvolskaya's polyphonal instrumentation is ideally suited to give the work not only rhythmical, but also tonal variation. In her composition Ustvolskaya is very far removed from abstract theory and from the development of systems". However, it is apparent that her musical fabric forms an amazing unity. Only one example may be mentioned as evidence of this. Already the symphony's first "chord" [in the oboes] contains all the tones of the main motive [countless other such examples could be named]. Through her music, Ustvolskaya wants us to understand that a prayer in the 20th century demands far more will-power and energy from a person than in the "good old days", when it was sufficient to devote oneself to God in the customary liturgical form. The Jews have the following allegory. A Jew asks a rabbi: "Earlier, Rabbi, God appeared to us in the desert, spoke to us and guided our people. Why does He not do that any longer ? "The rabbi replies, "Because there are no longer any people who can bow deeply enough before Him!"
[Victor Suslin; Translation: Michael Cresswell]
MUSIK FUR KLARINETTE UND ORCHESTER [UBER DIE LINIE II]
If we apply the term line entirely to the meaning of music, then it would almost be the synonym for melody. The entirety is due to the spun out line, the echoed horizon, the continually played limit of breathing. "Uber die Linie" attempts to find out anything at all about lines. But thinking strategically, line becomes a frontier. I must find this again in the music. It is the limit [extremity] that would be experienced by transcending the material factors [instrumental possibilities, physis] as well as the aesthetic conditions [too much, too little, too ... ]. Uber die Linie I is a work for solo cello. Most masterly escalation. Uber die Linie II withdraws the virtuosity to the so-called unplayable. So that it can hardly be noticed how it moves under a surface of beauty and its masks, up to the limits - of the performer, of the form, and above all of the breathing. Thin ice also forms a line between elements. This is how we can comprehend music: a solid state between crystal and solution. Opposing developments brought into form. This Musik fur Klarinette und Orchester is even an attempt to draw the entire sequence of a musical form to its limits again and again with the breath that is made audible. Without having to make use of the customary forms of assistance for "delimiting". That was most difficult. It really was a most difficult task. In several of my concert works I take this path of virtuosity following a whole [electrical] charge of a line [Bratschenkonzert, Gesungene Zeit for Violin and Orchestra]. Here as well. Nothing glitters. Everything glows, however. So, naturally, I wish and hope that will be. Nothing can be forced. Nevertheless, to conceal this transcendence in such a way, to "be secretive", also conceals compulsion in itself. If it is achieved to solve this compulsion in the performance, to let it develop in song and colour - horizon - perspective - light -. I believe that Jorg Widmann is capable of everything.
[Wolfgang Rihm; Translation: Michael Cresswell]
BERND ALOIS ZIMMERMANN
PHOTOPTOSIS - PRELUDE FUR GROSSES ORCHESTER
When Bernd Alois Zimmermann composed the orchestral work Photoptosis in 1968 he was in the middle of working on Requiemfur einenjungen Dichter - that large dimensioned, deeply moving main work, that was to become his own requiem. Photoptosis proceeded comparatively quickly and fluently, and limited itself to a few weeks. However, and despite the indication of modesty that can be read in the subtitle Prelude - this piece is decidedly more than a hurriedly dashed-off casualwork. What links Photoptosis with the Requiem and all the composer's other works for large orchestra is the vigour of the intonation, the use of weighty clusters of tone as well as threatening, sombre colours. But exactly this proves to be something special: the association of colours - and not altogether exclusively dark ones - is the actual "subject" in this work, more explicitly than is usual for Zimmermann. Photoptosis keeps its distance by far from the basic principle of European music, that the composition is bound to an inten-tioned sequence. The piece is concerned with the development of a state of existence which has to be imagined as a surface. It consists to a great extent of iridescent areas with blurred contours. These areas are to a certain extent partly monochrome, but show in themselves various shades. More than in his other compositions Zimmermann makes use of micro-tonal proliferations.
To talk about "monochrome" appears to be legitimate for many works from the sixties, which work with tonal areas and therefore put new temporal arrangements to the test. In the case of Photoptosis there is naturally quite a definite point of reference: the monochrome [mostly blue] works of the French sculpturer and painter, Yves Klein. Zimmermann was himself inspired in his choice of reference point by the fact that the "Musik-theater im Revier", in Gelsenkirchen, where Photoptosis was to be world-premiered, houses a large work by Yves Klein. He also knew that, for his part, Klein had been intensively occupied with music - and the large differences between both artists would start here, at the latest, with a more detailed comparison. Meanwhile, it is more important that Zimmermann's reference is more than a marginal incident. It indicates that he is very interested in fine art and literature as well, from which he has frequently taken inspiration. He had even occasionally speculated that the impulses from both these neighbouring artistic fields could be more important for him than the influence coming from other composers. The title of the work emphasizes the aspect of this observation. The word "Photoptosis" comes from the Greek which Zimmermann himself translates as "incidence of light". He described the inner sequence of the work as the representation of the most delicate nuances of tone, beginning as it were with a minimal incidence of light up to a maximum towards the end of the work". The progression that is referred to in Zimmermann's statement is in a way rather incompatible with the idea just mentioned of composing without direction. This idea which is so very essential for this work appears to Zimmermann almost to avoid a conflict situation.
Dividing the work into three parts is entirely traditional. Between the increasingly intensifying sound areas of the opening part, building up as it were with drama, and a mainly vigorous conclusion, there is a striking change of perspective which poses questions: Photoptosis opens itself to the history of music. The work develops from quoting sections, as examples, into a fantasy of "Festival Music". The most well-known, and at the same time the easiest for the listener to recognise, is the quotation from the Scherzo of Beethoven's 9th Symphony which opens this phase like a signal. This is followed, partly polyphonically interlocked with each other, by the Whitsun hymn Vent creator spiritus [on the organ] as well as phrases from Wagner's Parsifal, Scriabin's Poeme de I'extase, Bach's 1st Brandenburg Concerto, and Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite. Zimmermann, himself, remarked that this part of the collage does not bear too much influence, but has rather a fleeting, incidental character. On the other hand the aura of a profound emphasis is testified for moments here. This is primarily of a musical nature, but the outline of an ideological-religious basis can be recognised - the direction for the orchestra here is "religioso".
Precisely this phase of quotations is a good example of how Zimmermann always emphasises contradictions when he produces musical collages or installations. This adjuration of sublime musical history results in the awareness that it only concerns a short-term intermezzo, so to say a mere rekindling of reminiscences, a form of dance of blissful [musical] spirits. Just as this dance begins unannounced, so it fades away again. Perhaps he is indicating - certainly in vain - an attempt to give the piece another, real direction. To explain this orchestral piece and its characteristic middle part in this way imposes itself, because Bernd Alois Zimmermann's music provides clues for such interpretations. The profound inclination to deal with conflicts within itself is typical. Despite everything, a mistake cannot really be made if one appreciates Photoptosis primarily as music of tone colours. A work like this denies itself clear explanations. Bernd Alois Zimmermann is of the opinion that too much - and too unequivocal - incidence of light" could deprive a work of art of a part of its mysteriousness and its substance.
[Jorn Peter Hiekel; Translation: Michael Cresswell]