Recorded October 2002 at Liederhalle Stuttgart
If one considers that this 2005 CD presents music written in the early to middle twentieth century, and the latest of these is a "recomposition" of three Renaissance madrigals, then it seems a most peculiar offering in ECM's New Series line - certainly important for anyone interested in modern music but decidedly not the cutting-edge fare this label usually delivers. Igor Stravinsky's jaunty Danses Concertantes (1942), the dryly humorous Concerto in D (1946), and the stately Apollon Musagete (1927) are all neo-Classical in style and parodistic in attitude; Monumentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa (1960) is as much Stravinsky's in its quirky orchestration as it is Gesualdo's in its eccentric counterpoint and harmony. Since these works are quite familiar with audiences, and have long been established as classics, there is nothing especially new here, except for the extraordinarily lively performances by Dennis Russell Davies and the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, who make this music feel newly minted - at least in the sense that vivid playing and buoyant energy make any music fresh and vital. Add to this wonderful reproduction, particularly the warm and resonant sound in Apollon Musagete, and it seems that quibbling over what qualifies as "new" is, in the end, just a hobgoblin of small-minded criticism. If this superb CD attracts more listeners - and it should - then ECM made the right call.
All Music Guide
This disc ushers in the 60th anniversary of the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, whose long and distinguished history includes a 16 year association (so far) with Dennis Russell Davies. The productive collaboration between the resourceful American conductor and Germany's oldest chamber orchestra led to Davies' appointment as Chief Conductor in 1995. Dennis Russell Davies has directed the orchestra in a number of important recordings including ECM albums with music of Kancheli, Shostakovich, Vasks, Schnittke, Hindemith, Britten, Pendericki, and Mozart. The list is an index of the orchestra's flexibility, in evidence again on their account of Stravinsky's "Orchestral Works". Davies, at home in all musical periods, is an apt Stravinsky interpreter. As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote last year, "There can hardly be a more multi-faceted conductor at the beginning of the 21st century… Inquisitive, hard-working…. His conducting style is animated by an ideal chamber-music transparency and a fine sense of tone colour."
In the recently published "Penguin Companion to Classical Music", Paul Griffiths refers to Igor Stravinsky as "the least known of the great composers". A master composer, many of whose works are self-contained worlds, and whose inspiration and ingenuity continually led to new ideas and to new ways of viewing music's past as well as its present, Stravinsky resists glib summary. Considerations of the composer as the detached ironist or the neo-classicist - or the firebrand of the Firebird years - tell such a small part of the story. The output is vast, and it is inflected in so many different ways.
But there is a changing awareness of the composer's central importance in the contemporary musical landscape. Stravinsky's "borrowings" from other styles, his "hybrid" impulse, once presented a problem for adherents of the Schoenberg school. As Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich writes, "Stravinsky's apparent indifference to musical material remained a thorn in the side of determined modernists - his predilection for using and exploiting old models and thus to put it superficially, for remoulding or retreading rather than inventing." But in modulating from one "historical colouring" into another, Stravinsky is now seen to be ahead of his time, laying the groundwork for post-modern music and a "polystylism" reflected in the music of composers as different as Schnittke, Zimmermann and Silvestrov.
Nonetheless, few other composers have been able to make use of both the old and the new so persuasively, and references in the pieces selected here - written between 1927 and 1960 - range from Bach and the madrigals of Gesualdo to Webern. Stravinsky laughingly described his borrowings, subtle and overt, as "a rare form of kleptomania", but the sources are always transformed. Featured compositions, presented in approximate reverse chronology, are the "Momentum pro Gesualdo di Venosa ad CD annum" (1960), the "Danses Concertantes" for chamber orchestra (1942), the Concerto in D for string orchestra (1946), and the ballet music "Apollon Musagete" (1927), created for his collaboration with choreographer Georges Ballanchine.
Other aspects of Stravinsky's music are addressed in ECM's Spring 2005 schedule. This album of orchestral music by one of the iconic figures of 20th century composition is released simultaneously with Leonidas Kavakos and Peter Nagy's duo recital juxtaposing Stravinsky and Johann Sebastian Bach. Later in the season, ECM will release a piano recital record by Alexei Lubimov, including Stravinsky's "Serenade".
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Igor Stravinsky and the Parodist Personality
In the 20th century, a time of sweeping commercialization and intensifying market competition, the differences of temperament and aesthetic programme between composers became antitheses, turning competitors into opponents. The brand name's seductive power sucks its nourishment from individuality. Even more keenly than the composers themselves, their followers and the public seized upon this polarization. And it was the (compo-sitionally highly trained) philosopher Theodor W. Adorno who, at mid-century in his influential book Philosophie der Neuen Musik, instigated a confrontation between the two most important representatives of modern composition, Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg - setting them against one another as the embodiments of irreconcilable, hostile principles. This was no partisan effort to win market share, but an endeavour that came armed with an artistically and morally enhanced power to make theoretical distinctions, one whose aim was that of separating sense from nonsense. In this view Stravinsky represented the outstanding exponent of a historical decline, while Schoenberg was seen as the heir and fulfilment of a process of developing musical material that went back to Beethoven and German idealism. In his physiognomical investigations, Adorno shrewdly and maliciously dissected out the putative conjuror, indeed the diabolical, in Stravinsky's personality and work, and he concluded by identifying this as the symptom of a flagrant deficiency: as the sound of unsound non-authenticity.
Another effect of this construct of Adorno's, but one far removed from definitively writing off Stravinsky and his historical consequences, was that of raising the level of consciousness for the composer's appealing, intriguing aspects and for his role in musical evolution. The diametric opposition between the elemental and the artificial manifested itself completely differently in Stravinsky than in the Schoenberg school (with whom Adorno sympathized). What seemed elementary in the context of modernity was seeking the new and pristine, the urge to put the past behind one. "Artificial" from this perspective was the ironic or nostalgic approach to traditional materials, preserving yet varying them through transformation or re-definition. On the other hand, there is undoubtedly also an element of artificiality in the twelve-tone method's radically experimental appeal, while nothing else in music seems as fundamental as its connections with movement and dance - and Stravinsky's music in all its aspects feeds on this potential energy. Schoenberg's Central European idiom, even in its most excessive manifestations (for example, the "Dance Round the Golden Calf" from Moses und Aron), never ventures further than a modified version of the idealized Viennese waltz. Stravinsky's rhythms, on the other hand, from the earthy Sacre du printemps to the clarified characters of neo-classicism, generate a pandemonium of dancing. Perhaps "apotheosis of the dance" (a label that has stuck to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony) would also be the pithiest overall characterization of Stravinskian music. Many younger composers were inspired by his impetus, such as Hans Werner Henze just after the last world war, who began his career directly under Stravinsky's spell. With this orientation Henze soon became an opponent of his composing contemporaries, who were fixated on Schoenberg and Webern. It took a long time before Stravinsky's influence could once again become generally fruitful. For example, Peter Ruzicka, a generation younger and a contemporary of post-modernism, finally overcame the dogmas of incompatibility in the "enemy" trends. Even in the canon of a strict serialist like Pierre Boulez, Stravinsky has had his place.
Stravinsky's apparent indifference to musical material remained a thorn in the side of determined modernists - his predilection for using and exploiting old models, and thus, to put it superficially, for remoulding or retreading rather than inventing. One could refer to this as a "hybrid" impulse. In another sense of the word "hybrid" Stravinsky also toyed with the evaluation of his own music: as a largely emotion-free creation, devoid of extra-musical references, which was therefore also inaccessible to any interpretation or commentary that tried to go beyond compositional technique. It may be true that in such thoughts nothing else is being articulated than the usual ideology of anti-Romanticism or Neue Sachlichkeit ("New Realism") found in early 20th-century artistic circles. Stravinsky's Sachlichkeit leaves untouched the fact of his protean adaptability, which seems capable of running the compositional course in a surprising zig-zag. The confusion is cleared up if one recognizes that Stravinsky's hybrid modus operandi was his fundamental creative principle. The French writer Michel Butor (in his essay "Music, the realistic art") makes the observation that Stravinsky modulates "from one exotic hue into another, from one historical colouring into another... just as one can proceed from one tonality to another in classical sonata form". A far-reaching insight: it lays the groundwork for determining a "polystylism" in Stravinsky's approach to composing, one that much later would serve as a decisive influence on such figures as Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Alfred Schnittke. The word "parody" was tossed into the debate by the musicologist Leo Schrade, who was referring to something broader than Stravinsky's face-pulling treatment of the models he happened upon, something that went beyond the Baroque meaning of the word: parody here meant new creation based on the laborious re-working of musical material with diverse origins. Schrade, too, pointed out that Stravinsky had no more inhibitions about dealing with the trivial, even vulgar, than he did the historically remote. The elaboration of his own musical language (Stravinsky tended to deny the similarities to language in his music) was always a response to something pre-existing. In that respect he remained true to himself in all his periods - from his early adaptation and hybridization of "Russian" inflections, by way of the (trend-following, trend-setting) neo-classicism of his middle years, to his late approach to dodecaphony and serialism. The latter was no humdrum veer towards the Schoenberg line, but a gesture of aristocratic superiority which he made with an awareness of the relativity of all material progress. At the same time Stravinsky carried out a sort of productive historicization of Schoenberg's discoveries: they became for him a neutral material, as manageable as any other (something that Adorno in his "Philosophy" had not reckoned with).
The pieces presented on the present CD are generally ascribed to Stravinsky's neo-classical phase and are predominantly inspired by the dance. Danses concertantes was composed and premiered in Los Angeles in 1942. Two miniaturized dance episodes frame a middle section, which - especially the brief, characterful variations - is easily recognizable as comprising dance solos in the spirit of the classical St. Petersburg ballet tradition. Stravinsky felt a connection with that tradition throughout his life (and he had an intimate interest in its re-imagination and modernization in Paris and New York). Dance as musical medium: for Stravinsky there was nothing "extramusical" about that viewpoint. No wonder, then, that his Concerto in D was brought to the stage (as The Cage) by Jerome Robbins and the New York City Ballet in 1951. It was written in 1946 for and premiered by the strings of the Basle Chamber Orchestra and its conductor Paul Sacher, a wealthy and famously active musical patron. With its lively and exhilarating outer movements and a gently lyrical middle movement, it resembles an Italian Baroque concerto or early Classical symphony. Its modest dimensions also correspond to the self-effacing neo-classical posture that had - at least sometimes -become second nature to Stravinsky.
There is something peculiarly Janus-faced about Apollon Musagete, Stravinsky's ballet composition of 1928: it exhibits from first note to last the self-possession of a programmatic main work. "Melody", the stepchild of new music, as (not only) the philistines would assert, here seems to be celebrating a re-awakening. Stravinsky in this work was strongly attracted to the idea of writing music in which "everything revolved about the melodic principle", and he took great delight" in the multi-sonorous euphony of strings and making it penetrate even the innermost polyphonic recesses... How could the unadorned design of the classical dance be better expressed than by the flow of melody as it expands in the sustained psalmody of strings? "But the composer's music didn't quite fulfil the programme suggested by his words. The rudimentary "action" involving Apollo, leader of the Muses, decorative appearances by Calliope, Polyhymnia and Terpsichore, and concluding with Apollo leading the three to Parnassus, seems tailored to provide every opportunity for untroubled loftiness and sublimity and a nostalgic yearning for ancient Greece. The music's measured gait also allows for a reference to the austerity of Apollo, preceptor of the arts, who eliminates all Dionysian goings-on from his nimbus. Apparently less easy attributable to the subject matter is a certain louring quality, a palpable gravity of musical gesture in spite of all the work's nimble-footedness. In the coda, the penultimate movement, however, this seems to be suspended, yielding to a high-spirited, slightly frivolous (Rossinian) last-dance mood. But then, against expectations, the following "Apotheosis" gradually freezes into gestures of uneasy, muted mourning. Beauty, in its moment of rapture simultaneously dematerialized, increasingly veiled - perhaps also untenable as musical substance in its full manifestation and therefore, of necessity, eroded and lost. One could point to a complementary work from the same year, 1928, the ballet The Fairy's Kiss, in which Stravinsky uses Tchaikovsky's music throughout to ensure still more drastically an ear-catching musical beauty.
In his chamber orchestral Monumentum pro Gesualdo Stravinsky proceeded less from dance than from song, arranging three madrigals by the Renaissance prince of Venosa. The latent vocality in Stravinsky's setting comes through most strongly in the rich and differentiated wind writing. But there is also clearly a late recourse to the Schoenberg school, in particular a kinship with Webern's arrangement of the six-part Ricercare from Bach's Musical Offering. Stravinsky similarly breaks up the harmonically bold strokes of Gesualdo's linear writing into small motifs, so that the Renaissance original almost appears as an x-ray, as a skeletal yet powerfully realized and emotionally (notwithstanding its "monument" status) charged instrumental statement. A "historical" double point of reference with Bach-Webern: nothing is done to mask the personality of Stravinsky, the universal "parodist".
- Hans-Klaus Jungheinrich (translation: Richard Evidon)