Recorded 1999 and 1995
"Four Transylvanian Dances" and
"Divertimento" recorded 1999
at Radio DRS, Zurich
"Transfigured Night" recorded 1995
at Salle de Musique, La Chaux-de-Fonds
Three important pieces of music, loosely linked by the programmatic theme of "exile" are addressed by Camerata Bern under the direction of Thomas Zehetmair. "Verklarte Nacht" is the second ECM New Series appearance for the distinguished ensemble, who previously recorded music of Sandor Veress for the label. Here, too, Veress's attractive "Transylvanian Dances bridge compositions by two of the great architects of modern music, Arnold Schoenberg and Bela Bartok
Three important pieces of music, loosely linked by the programmatic theme of "exile" (two are further linked by Swiss connections), are addressed by Camerata Bern under the direction of Thomas Zehetmair. The programme begins with a most sensitive exploration of Arnold Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht. In the soul-baring chapter entitled "How One Becomes Lonely" in his book Style and Idea, Schoenberg talks about the difficult birth of what is now regarded both as a summit of Late Romanticism and the dawning of musical Modernism. Riots and fist fights broke out at the first (1901) performance of the "Transfigured Night" and the critics were merciless. "It sounds as if someone had smudged the score of 'Tristan' while it was still wet" etc. A Viennese musical society refused to programme the work on account of its (limited) use of dissonance. Yet within 25 years Schoenberg would be castigated for supposedly abandoning the beguiling lyricism of "Verklarte Nacht" in favour of an "arid" dodecaphony. "I have not discontinued composing in the same style and the same way as at the very beginning, " the composer would insist again and again. "The difference is only that I do it better now than before; it is more concentrated, more mature." In his years in America, in particular, Schoenberg struggled to convince the musical public of this and while "Verklarte Nacht" has slowly eased its way into the concert repertory much of Schoenberg's "mature" music is still held to be "difficult" even 50 years after the composer's death.
"Verklarte Nacht" is a symphonic poem after a sentimental, highly atmospheric poem by Richard Dehmel. Schoenberg biographer Malcolm McDonald sketches the plot: "Two lovers wander among the trees on a cold moonlit night. She confesses she is pregnant, not by him, but by an earlier lover whom she took because she had believed that having a child would bring meaning, if not happiness, to her life. He, inspired to calm confidence by the beauty of the moonlit world, assures her that the love they have now found together will unite them and make the child their own; they embrace, and walk on 'through the high, bright night'. The layout of Dehmel's poem - in five sections, the woman's outburst and the man's reply framed by passages illustrating their walk in the moonlight - gives the basic form of Schoenberg's piece, and every phrase is most sensitively illustrated in the music, from the dragging steps at the opening to the wonderfully radiant evocation of the transfigured night at the close. Yet on another level the music makes so much sense on its own terms that one hardly feels the programme to be a vital element in its structural logic, however it may have affected the initial inspiration."
As Thomas Gerlich notes in the CD booklet there is no road - or at least no direct road - leading "from Schoenberg's productive assimilation of German Romanticism to Bartok's mature instrumental compositions" and Veress is quoted to the effect that Bartok took nothing from Schoenberg. Yet it is also a matter of historical record that the Hungarian composer was inspired by the emotional climate of Berg's Lyric Suite, a work that would not have come into being without Schoenberg's example and encouragement, so indirect affinities between the composers do exist; Adorno even claimed that Bartok strove to reconcile Schoenberg and Stravinsky. Whatever the truth of this, the signature on the "Divertimento" is unmistakable. Bartok wrote the first draft of the piece in 1939 - in a chalet in the mountains to the south of Bern - in response to a commission from Swiss patron/conductor Paul Sacher barely months before taking the long-contemplated step into exile. The irony of this situation, and its qualified "luxury", was not lost on Bartok and he wrote to his son that he felt like a court composer of olden times. Thomas Gerlich: "Whether the Divertimento prefigures his departure, whether - despite its seeming buoyancy - grief and leave-taking are composed into the work, as commentators speculate, remains open to debate." Traditional Hungarian lament is clearly embodied in the Divertimento's slow movement, yet the work as a whole radiates strength and resilience. Hungarian Bartok scholar and musicologist Bence Szabolsci has written of the Divertimento, "It was as if during those dark years he had found his faith and optimism. He never composed so melodiously as then, and never again was he able to summarise all his achievements in one tremendous synthesis as he did at that time."
Paul Sacher was also a force behind the writing of Veress's Transylvanian Dances and instrumental in the composer's decision to abandon Hungary for Switzerland. Veress had been Bartok's assistant in folk music research in Hungary as well as his piano student and was for many years one of Bartok's closest associates. His dances are "free re-creations of certain styles of dance music indigenous to Hungarian villages, particularly to the Szekler of Transsylvania."
Sandor Veress was an early supporter of the Camerata Bern, the outstanding ensemble of his adopted hometown. In 1965/66 he wrote his Musica Concertante for them. The work is featured on an earlier ECM album with Camerata Bern, recorded in 1992/3 (ECM New Series 1555).