SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded June 2005
Symphony No. 6
for orchestra (1994/95)
Dedicated to Virko Baley
This imposing work contains some of the most powerful, even tortured music Silvestrov has ever written - Gramophone, July 2003
The world premier recording of one of Valentin Silvestrov's major symphonic achievements marks an important addition to the Ukrainian composer's rapidly growing discography on ECM. Since 2001 the label has addressed his creative output in a number of releases that encompass a variety of genres. These include chamber works ("leggiero, pesante", ECM 1776), choral music ("Requiem for Larissa", ECM 1778), works for piano and orchestra ("Metamusik / Postludium", ECM 1790) and the extraordinary song cycle ("Silent Songs", ECM 1898/99). Now comes the almost hour-long Symphony No 6. Composed in 1994/95 and revised in 2000 it concludes the sequence of great orchestral works that Silvestrov wrote in the 1980s and 1990s.
It was in "Stille Lieder", dating from the mid-70s, that the composer first employed his so-called "metaphorical style" in which echoes of long-lost sounds and poetic allusions are integrated with a highly developed sense of form. Symphony No. 6 is cast in five interrelated movements that all circle around the creation, transformation and final fragmentation of a melody. Silvestrov: "I try to compose by ear, to create the entire form as melody. The melodies should be viewed as something more than symbols or themes; they are more akin to a process than a result." Tatjana Frumkis notes in the CD booklet that "throughout Silvestrov's symphony every line of the 'subject' can be retraced in all its ceaseless metamorphoses (...) The 'labyrinth' becomes more and more convoluted and tumultuous. Question and response, inhalation and exhalation: the living tissue of sounds, charged with deep dynamic force, sparkles and breathes as if bathed in sunlight or caressed by gusts of wind."
In an interview with UK magazine Gramophone (July 2003) Silvestrov spoke of the work's "atmosphere of imminent disaster".. Although there is no explicit autobiographical element to the work the composer included a tribute to his wife Larissa in the concluding bars (in Russian solfeggio the notes A-D-C read "La-ri-ca") which he was later to interpret as prescient. She was to die suddenly and unexpectedly, shortly after the completion of the first draft of the symphony, in August 1996 . In the following year Silvestrov poured his grief into the "Requiem for Larissa" convinced it would be his last composition. (It was not until 2003 that he was able to begin work on his seventh symphony.)
The SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart was founded 1946, and its great conductors have included Carl Schuricht, Sergiu Celibidache, Georges Pretre, and, from 1998, Sir Roger Norrington. The orchestra was previously heard on ECM in performances of two other major works, Heinz Holliger's Violin Concerto and Helmut Lachenmann's "Das Madchen mit den Schwefelholzern".
========= from the cover ==========
Time Lost, Time Recaptured
Et tout d'un coup le souvenir m'est apparu.
Marcel Proust, A la recherche du temps perdu, I/1
"And all at once the memory returned." Young Marcel's sudden and unexpected defining experience - evoked by the taste of a petite madeleine dipped in a cup of tea - has gone down in literary history. A similar experience can arise when listening to Valentin Silvestrov's Sixth Symphony. The first two movements, flowing along in broad undulations, are followed attacca by the third movement, beginning with gentle string sonorities and an almost pure A-flat major. Gustav Mahler springs immediately to mind, the Adagietto of his Fifth Symphony. Time lost, vanished worlds.
Part of this feeling of closeness is caused by the harp, with its omnipresent arpeggios (the very word for ascending and descending broken chords comes from the Italian name for this instrument, arpa). The arpeggios lend the Adagietto its distinctive tinge, at least up to the middle section, and they also permeate large passages of Silvestrov's Sixth twice over. But equally important are thematic reminiscences, never literal quotations, that strike the emotions, reverberate, and fade away into nothingness. Here are just two of many examples by way of illustration. The first theme of the Adagietto recurs at the opening of Silvestrov's third movement, but only seemingly, for it goes off on a different tangent, remaining discernible but not identical. A few bars later Mahler's four - step continuation of the theme is transposed literally, but not slavishly copied, by having its third and fourth notes blend into a dyad, thereby assuming a different color.
The sudden recall of an aural memory of something that existed, but not longer is or can be as it once was, occurs only when it is embedded in the composer's own present - day idiom. Valentin Silvestrov was born in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, in 1937. As a member of the socalled "Kiev avant-garde" he absorbed and elaborated the serial, aleatoric, and instrumental techniques of the West. In the 1970s he discovered new structures and modes of expression, but without abandoning the ones he used before. As can be seen from the titles of several of his works since the 1980s, he views his music as a "postlude"to the existing musical tradition, as "metamusic" (to quote the multivalent title of a work from 1992), as a "metaphorical style," a music comprised of verbal and pictorial imagery. The past seems so tightly enveloped in his music that he might be called an "avant-garde romantic". Among other things, we even hear Mozart figures emerging from the polymorphous nexus of his scores, as in Requiem for Larissa (1997/9).
The Sixth Symphony (1994/5) is a self - contained articulated whole in which Silvestrov's compositional devices and stylistic elements are gathered together paradigmatically, as if in a parabolic reflector. As already mentioned, late - romantic reminiscences can be found in the roughly twenty - five minutes of its third and longest movement. But even the twin pairs of outside movements, with each pair lasting a quarter of an hour, contain "harmonic"turns of phrase and perceptibly outline a major tonality. The fact that he chooses to employ conventional tempo marks throughout the work, sometimes changing them from one bar to the next, may relate to his personal backward glances at music history. The orchestration, now translucent, now densely compressed, betrays consummate mastery. As befits the two harps, we often hear arpeggios spread over the entire orchestra, striving upward from the depths with piano, celesta, and vibraphone via strings, brass, and woodwinds all the way to the piccolo. Fragments of whole - tone or octatonic scales jostle the memory. Especially important is the dark, dynamic, and almost continuous bass foundation pervading the entire work. Sustained but rhythmically sharpedged pitches are held for measures on end by the eight double basses, ten cellos, deep brass, two bassoons, and often the twelve violas, forming the bedrock of this highly sophisticated score and its wealth of percussion sounds. In the third movement, such bass notes add a dissonant ppp tinge to the A-flat sonority above contra D. Bass notes powerfully underscore the beginning of the symphony, likewise on D, followed step by step by further accents, ushering the listener into a musical mystery tour that holds the ear in thrall.
I - Metaworlds
The opening bars of the first movement, marked Andantino, erect a signpost, take a stand, utter a profession of faith. Proceeding from immeasurable depths, they emerge into the daylight with a bold leap in the violins. This initiates a flowing motion with a tentative flux akin to motionlessness. There is no development in the classical sense. Transfixed in the here and now, time is manifest in sound. Arpeggiated chords and motifs in the flutes and violins add height to the persistent basses. Now and then the piano makes a solo appearance. We hear strings of fourths, a triplet motif in the clarinets. Frequent changes of meter and tempo, meticulous ritardandos leading to fresh starts, crescendos and decrescendos, precisely defined dynamic gradations from ppp to fff'm close succession: features of this sort, ingeniously balanced, conjure up entire metaworlds, metaphysical spaces. A ghostly, dissonant dyad in the tuba and trombones (a minor 9th) prepares the advent of the Vivace, powerfully stated and restated in different registers against a backdrop of arpeggios or static chords from the other instruments. The dyad continues to reverberate even after the floating transition to the gently shimmering Allegretto.
II - Contrasts
The concluding ppp chord in the lower voices sustains the attacca transition to the second movement, marked Allegro moderato, agitato. This movement exudes excitement with its bright melodic notes in constant motion contrasting with massive fanfares from the brass. The familiar elements are reshuffled. Once again, descending fourths are characteristic; and once again a Commodo section of only thirty-four bars makes an appearance with muted flickerings, lontano ("far away"), consigning the brass to silence. The violins now take the lead. Their generally ascending phrases and wide downward leaps against intensified harp arpeggios lead the way - evocatively, as if from afar - to the moment of surprise when, as described above, the third movement begins. Clandestine allusions to things yet to come, but without betraying the surprise. An almost inaudible roll on the timpani heightens the tension.
III - Confrontations
The spacious euphony pauses for sixty bars of Andantino con moto, hardly more than four-and-a-half minutes of Mahlerian expressivity, fractured by the experiences of the twentieth century. Then a pellucid fluttering begins, Animato. The brass add disconcerting interpolations with a recurrent ascending whole step. A dissonant sustained chord in the low strings, marked ppp, points to the Adagio, where merry clarinet motifs exude a pastoral flair. A harp adds an echo, and the entire orchestra turns into a clangorous harp looking for points of repose. Several times an Andantino is inserted into the Adagio, recalling the veiled romanticism of this movement's opening section and weaving it into the idyllic strains. A placid chord, ppp, portends a change. Without a new tempo mark, the string instruments once again unleash their agitated arpeggios, joined by the woodwinds. A different mood is struck by yet another Andantino in which horns, trombones, and tuba emit violent and increasingly threatening fanfares, briefly illuminated by trumpets. They burst into the Moderato section, marked con moto, agitato, accompanied by swelling and receding rolls on the timpani. The tension rises only to ebb into the final largescale Andante. It leads downwards from the first violins in an arc of 7ths, an interval recalling the mood of the opening with its octaves, 9ths or 6ths, and intervening octatonic scales. In a sort of epilogue, the pastoral scene is reinvoked by a string elegy that fades into a Largo with a melancholy gaze, as if peering through discolored windowpanes. The low strings and tam-tam gently bring the movement to a close.
IV - A Vision
The Intermezzo is the only movement to bear a title other than a tempo mark, in this case Larghetto. A translucent chord in the piano emerges from the muted violins and follows the footsteps of the elegy. Enshrouded and borne aloft by delicate veils of sound, extremely soft and slow chains of whole - and half-steps rise from the piano - hesitantly, as if each note were to be played quasi ritardando - and are taken up by the celesta like a vanishing echo. A vision, unreal, introverted, yet fitfully seeking a destination. More than an intermezzo in the customary sense, the movement is a dream - like bridge to the final movement of the symphony.
V - Coda
Out of the vanishing ending of the Larghetto comes the Vivace, to which the composer had added con moto ("impetuous"). It is a single eruption from the full orchestra, arpeggiando and crescendo, preceded by a precise pitch from the tuba. Broken chords surge upward and downward above the ponderous foundation of the bass, savoring every timbre. Spacious intervals and stepwise motion, conspicuous strings of 4ths, sustained string clusters from which isolated instruments peer forth: all the elements of the symphony are joined together into a deeply felt Coda. In the opening bars of the Larghetto we even sense a foreboding, nothing more than that, of the moment of recollection in the third movement, as it flows toward its appointed end - merely a few scraps of melody, a second of harmony, a fugitive souvenir. Finally, in the nethermost depths, the double basses, cellos, piano, and harp cower in their bottom registers, ppp, diminuendo. The piano and the large tam-tam reverberate to the point of inaudibility.
Marcel Proust, in Remembrance of Things Past, has the lightning instant of recollection at the opening followed in the final volume, The Past Recaptured, by the first - person narrator resolving to create a mighty novel, convinced "that the work of art is the only means of recapturing things past". Valentin Silvestrov's art allows us to recapture the lost music of the past, enveloped in the music of the present. It is no longer the same.
- Herbert Glossner (translation: J. Bradford Robinson)
Born of Song
Valentin Silvestrov's Sixth Symphony (1994/95, final version 2000) concludes the series of great orchestral works that he wrote in the 1980s and 1990s. All of them fall under the general heading of "postlude", a term referring to a particular mental approach that dates back to a watershed work in his oeuvre, the song cycle Stille Lieder (Silent songs, 1974-77). Here, for the first time, Silvestrov employed certain compositional devices that define his so-called metaphorical style: floating motifs enveloped by the pedal (he calls this effect "acoustic harmony"), vibrating triplet figures in the accompaniment, or textures perforated by rests and interpolated echoes. The metaphorical style also involves subtle shades of tempo, dynamics and rubato as well as those endless final cadences from which the postlude later emerged as a species in its own right.
These devices, discovered as if at random, are capable of transforming any text, even those of the simplest variety that Silvestrov calls "weak texts". Soon they were being transferred to his instrumental works, which might be called, in a general sense,"songs without words"that give rise to their own laws of construction. The first work of this kind was his Serenade for string orchestra (1978). Here the title speaks for itself, the serenade originally being a vocal genre. In retrospect, Silvestrov views the piece as a "little symphony whose climaxes and intrinsic energy open a door to my Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Postludium for piano and orchestra, Exegi monumentum, Widmung and Metamusik".
Instead of a programme, Serenade has what the composer calls a "structural subject". It deals with a transition from atonality to tonality, or, to quote Silvestrov's own colourful imagery, "a passage from one shore to another, from one sonic space to another", in which a "song" - a melody - forms an imaginary rowboat. There is no overlooking the piece's several neo - romantic allusions, but more important still is the species of form it unveils and elaborates. In schematic terms, this form is laid out in three stages: 1. the athematic introductory movement, or, again to quote the composer,"a melodic labyrinth"; 2. the melody itself, which, as Silvestrov expressively puts is, represents "an escape from the labyrinth, which however contains this escape as a hidden possibility"; and 3. a coda in which the melody is again blurred and veiled.
Basically, this form constantly places the main emphasis on melody. Melody represents the mainspring of the piece, driving it through various phases of evolution. "Despite the lack of temporal and spatial boundaries in contemporary music", Silvestrov confides,"I try to compose by ear, to create the entire form as melody. The melodies should be viewed as something more than symbols or themes; they are more akin to a process than a result. ... Actually the entire fabric is melodic. This primal melodiousness reflects the music of the spheres. Melody appears as a sentient being, but functions like matter."
All the aforementioned orchestral works project the paradigm that Silvestrov discovered in Serenade onto various formal patterns - a piano concerto in the case of Postludium and Metamusik, sonata -allegro form in the Fifth Symphony, a cantata in Exegi monumentum. As a result, the overall dramatic structure differs in each work. Even in its externals the Sixth Symphony, with its five movements and roughly fifty minutes' duration, differs from his mainly single - movement earlier works. The fairly traditional subdivisions of the cycle were visibly patterned on a late - romantic symphony.
Yet the course of the musical events is anything but traditional. Silvestrov's "structural subject" inscribes a unique, circular dramatic shape. The first "circle" (Introduction) opens with a powerful gesture characteristic of his symphonies as a whole, a gesture that invokes an atmosphere of primordial chaos. Only gradually, and then "very intensively and urgently" (to quote the score), does an unbounded sonic space unfold before our ears - from Shakespearean "winds of the earth" (the rumbling pedal points and hymnic exclamations of the low brass) to kaleidoscopic flashes of celestial lightning, where almost every instrument makes a solo appearance. These are not melodies but merely precursors of melody, and their role is to depict chaos, as in the stuttering phrases of the piano or the plunging motifs of the clarinet and first violin. Hardly have they appeared in the coda than they fall silent, not to be heard again until they resurface in the broadest and longest "circle" connecting the next two movements.
The ensuing sonata - allegro movement initially remains incomplete, presenting only the exposition with two themes: a fugue - like main theme and a barcarole - like secondary theme (Commodo). The latter gives rise to the first fully - fledged melody. The contour of this melody is much more distinct, but even it seems uncertain what to do next. Its final bars are full of expectations that only find fulfilment in the third movement, the symphony's lyric climax. Very softly, as if from afar (dolce, lontano), the first violins ease into a sort of serenade (Andantino con moto) linked with the pastoral tune that follows (Adagio). The idyll seems cloudless, but the second stanza of the "song" is rudely interrupted by the further progress of the sonata movement. Once again chaos reigns supreme, and it is not until the piece reaches its Golden Section that the chaos again gives way to two melodies. But instead of the "serenade" we now hear the "barcarole" of the second movement, which gradually dissolves into pastoral snippets fading into the distance.
The fourth movement, Intermezzo, is likewise far removed from standard patterns. Instead of a scherzo we are given a melancholy bagatelle. Its mood is dominated by a chamber - like scoring - a translucent duo of piano and celesta accompanied by a harp, the strings and barely audible echoes from the percussion and winds. The final "circle" that unfolds in the fifth movement is therefore all the more surprising. It is not a proper finale in the classical sense, but tends, with its completely open - ended structure, to link up with the Introduction. Once again it is not the themes (melodies) that are recognisable as a whole, but sonorities, contours, isolated gestures, receding into a reverberant silence from which all things are capable of being reborn...
Throughout Silvestrov's symphony every line of the "subject" can be retraced in all its ceaseless metamorphoses. Despite the seemingly static quality of the music there is not a single literal reprise. The "labyrinth" becomes more and more convoluted and tumultuous. The interrelated melodic shapes branch apart and increasingly intermingle until one theme is supplanted by another. Even the seemingly similar concluding passages invariably differ: the "colons" between the movements (attacca) dilate into the endless "ellipses" of the finale. Question and response, inhalation and exhalation: the living tissue of sounds, charged with deep dynamic force, sparkles and breathes as if bathed in sunlight or caressed by gusts of wind.
The resultant composition is one of a kind. It is not by chance that the composer defines his orchestral works as "symphonic poetry"or symbolic "metasymphonies". As Silvestrov himself puts it, "Here the thematic development is not terse and concise, as in Beethoven, but surreptitious. In metamusic, time flows in a wholly different way. Information does not arrive in a constant flow; sometimes it is deliberately slowed down or accelerated. This effects the entire form, causing 'normal' proportions to be modified."
All of this recalls the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. The Russian musicologist and Mahler expert Inna Barsova has written about him using almost exactly the same words: "Mahler stands up for his idea... Intent on giving it shape, he accords secondary status to the usual logic of form and proportions, yet without fear of longueurs." Here, for all their external dissimilarities, we descry an inner empathy between Silvestrov and his great predecessor.
Six and Nine are magical numbers for all symphonic composers. They can be used to designate a musical "farewell", as witness Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, Mahler and Bruckner. (Indeed, to Silvestrov, who views all his largescale orchestral works as symphonies, his Sixth is also his Ninth.) In this"final"(post - symphonic) symphony Silvestrov appears as the "bard" of a period of transition, the turn of the century or millennium. His metamusic, and especially his Sixth Symphony, invite us to ponder the future of music in an existential sense (as opposed to socalled sound art). Is his species of symphony a vision of Utopia? Perhaps. Time and time again, Silvestrov tries to fulfil what Alexander Blok called the eternal role of "the poet - the son of harmony".
Tatjana Frumkis (translation: J. Bradford Robinson)