Simon Rattle conducts Haydn, Schubert and Hosokawa

12 Feb 2011

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

Stefan Dohr

  • Joseph Haydn
    Symphony No. 99 in E flat major (27 min.)

  • Toshio Hosokawa
    Concerto for Horn and Orchestra “Moment of Blossoming” (20 min.)

    Stefan Dohr Horn

  • Franz Schubert
    Symphony No. 8 in C major, D 944 “The Great” (58 min.)

  • free

    Toshio Hosokawa on his career and the images in his music (10 min.)

  • free

    Stefan Dohr on Toshio Hosokawa and his Horn Concerto (11 min.)

Symphonies and concertos are among genres which follow apparently unalterable models, where themes and keys form a musical architecture based on strict rules. That this does not have to be the case is shown in this concert with Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle. The programme includes works which in a partly playful and partly innovative manner, push the limits of the traditional forms: Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 99, the Great C major Symphony by Franz Schubert and – in a premiere – a horn concerto by Toshio Hosokawa.

Simon Rattle once described Haydn’s treatment of the symphonic form as, “a wonderful mixture of the joy of playing and of surprise. As a conductor, you try to take charge of it, but then suddenly you find it has taken you unawares yet again. For audiences too, it is both a witty and uncommonly intelligent experience to enter this maze.” Schubert’s final symphony is also rich in unexpected surprises, but here, the effect is less humorously intended. When a theme or the musical structure disintegrates, when idyllic scenes descend crashing into catastrophe, Schubert mercilessly reflects the fragility of human life.

Hiroshima-born Toshio Hosokawa also finds a way to bring a new perspective to a handed-down compositional form. Moment of Blossoming is the subtitle of his new horn concerto – a reference to the mythically revered lotus flower of Hosokawa’s homeland, with a musical depiction of the flower blossoming in a lake. The soloist and dedicatee of this work is Stefan Dohr, solo horn player with the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1993.

Towards the Light

Compositions by Haydn, Hosokawa and Schubert

When, in January 1791, the 59-year-old Joseph Haydn arrived in London to take part in subscription concerts organized by the German violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, he was confronted with an unprecedented challenge: to compose six new symphonies in one fell swoop for a broad middle-class audience. Haydn was, to be sure, on the most intimate terms with the symphonic genre, for whose development in the preceding decades he himself was largely responsible. But his previous symphonies, some 90 in number, were all created for aristocratic patrons. Now he was facing London and a musical life driven by the principles of the market and thus always seeking the public’s favour. In spite of that, Haydn could declare with satisfaction in April 1792: “In spite of the great opposition of my musical enemies, who are so bitter against me... I may say (thank God!) that I have kept the upper hand.”

Another invitation to London promptly followed, and Haydn gladly accepted it. On 5 February 1794 he arrived from Vienna for the second time, and only five days later his Symphony No. 99 in E flat major, announced as a “New Grand Overture”, had its premiere in the Hanover Square Rooms. This work clearly demonstrates Haydn’s knack for responding to the tastes of his cosmopolitan audience, and how cleverly he could place his effects and play with virtuosity and musical humour. It was intended for an orchestra of roughly 40 musicians, a relatively large ensemble for the time, and was the first in which Haydn enriched the tonal palette with clarinets. Especially in the broadly laid-out Adagio, he gives special prominence to refined woodwind writing, with rapt, serene melodies of Schubertian character that seem to open a window into the 19th century.

In other respects, too, Haydn “seasons” the work with ingredients uncommon at the time. Take the slow introduction to the opening movement, for instance, which contains a striking chromatic passage and no less remarkable free modulations. He also delights in confounding the listener’s expectations, for example, in the first movement, by presenting the subsidiary theme at the very end of the exposition, when no one is still expecting it, or with a minuet whose thematic invention and large scale go far beyond the folk and dance origins of this movement type. The brilliant rondo finale offers an astonishing concentration of high-speed events in the shortest possible space, another display of Haydn’s inexhaustible musical wit and invention.

“Ideal music for me is like a sound of nature,” says Toshio Hosokawa.” Water, sea and clouds – those are my sources of inspiration. Becoming at one with nature, that’s my musical subject – in part, because we’ve lost touch with this culture.” On that basis, Hosokawa proceeds along his own, highly individual path, one that deviates fundamentally from the aesthetic of most of his European colleagues. Although he too studied in Europe and learned his trade here – with Isang Yun in Berlin and Klaus Huber in Freiburg – he really found his artistic identity when he returned to his homeland and his own roots, investigating the history, repertoire and instruments of traditional Japanese music. Hosokawa learned to play the shō – the Japanese mouth organ – and studied the practice of Buddhist shōmyō chanting as well as calligraphy, Zen philosophy and the art of meditation. Since then his music has pursued different principles: for example, inhaling and exhaling, or the emerging and ebbing of sounds out of and back into silence.

Hosokawa has given the name Moment of Blossoming to his new Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, dedicated to Stefan Dohr, who is introducing it at these concerts. It is a lotus flower that blooms before our ears: “The lotus blossom is a mysterious flower of the East,” the composer explains. “Its roots draw nutrients from the muddy lake or river bottom, while its stem breaks through the water’s surface to catch the sun’s rays and then bring forth these jewels of flowers. Without the muddy chaos the blossoms could never open to the sky. The profile of the closed bud resembles the outline of praying hands. People of the East compare the blooming of the lotus to the development of the human being, thus recognizing in it a connection and unity with cosmic nature.”

The solo horn in this concerto assumes the role of the flower (and also, to stay with the metaphor, that of the human individual), while the orchestra embodies the surroundings – cosmic nature. Even the concert hall plays its part: Hosokawa conceives the space as the pool of water upon which the lotus blooms, and he positions two further horns, a trombone and a trumpet as echoing voices in four rear corners of the Philharmonie’s octagon. When the music emerges pianissimo out of nothing, it represents the water’s surface. Then a motion can be discerned arising from the depths, gathering speed and assuming a more turbulent character. It is the bud bursting forth, making its way at last to the light and opening with all its strength before the initial stillness on the water returns at the end to grace the lotus flower in all its beauty.

A horn call also opens the Symphony No. 8 D 944 by Franz Schubert, composed in 1825 and the following year (or years), and familiarly known as the “Great C major” in order to distinguish it from his smaller symphony in the same key (D 589) dating from 1817/18. Yet the adjective “great” is actually appropriate here and corresponds entirely to Schubert’s intentions. Years of crisis in symphonic composition lay behind him in the summer of 1825 when he began work on the score. His six youthful symphonies had long since ceased to satisfy his rapidly growing ambitions in this genre. He attempted four new symphonic projects but broke off work on all of them, although one of these fragments, the “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor, later became arguably the most famous and best-loved of all his compositions. But his goal was to measure up to Beethoven, the overpowering titan of symphonic music, and Schubert believed he had only accomplished that with the “Great C major”. With it, he hoped to present himself to a wide public as a “mature” composer.

The “Great”: it is not only its “heavenly length” (Robert Schumann) that accounts for this work’s exceptional status, but also the exultant, radiant character of the C major Symphony, and that in spite of motivic content that seem less heroic than artlessly lyrical. In the face of the latest achievements of Beethoven and Viennese Classicism, Schubert has dared to offer up something entirely new and entirely his own: not thematic processes and logic that involve breaking down and reassembling the material, but instead seemingly spontaneous inspiration, the naïve idea that is repeated, transformed and reconceived.

Alfred Brendel once said that Schubert composed in large forms like “a wanderer who likes to move at the edge of the precipice, and does so with the assurance of a sleepwalker... We feel not masters but victims of the situation.” This quality is something that – with all the radical differences in the sound of their music – Schubert has in common with Toshio Hosokawa, who seeks a state of “unconsciousness” in order to find “the alertness necessary for composition”. The centuries and cultures meet after all.

Susanne Stähr

Translation: Richard Evidon

Stefan Dohr began playing the horn aged eleven. After studying in Essen and Cologne he became principal horn of the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra, and engagements followed with the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester of Berlin. In 1993, he joined the Berlin Philharmonic in the same position. As a soloist and chamber musician, his interests extend to both familiar and lesser-known works from all periods. He has already been the dedicatee and given the world premieres of many horn concertos.Stefan Dohr is a member of the Ensemble Wien-Berlin as well as the Berlin Philharmonic Horns. He also teaches at Berlin’s Academy of Music “Hanns Eisler” and in the Philharmonic’s Orchestra Academy and gives master courses all over the world. Since 2009 he has served on the Berlin Philharmonic’s orchestra board and as a deputy member of its foundation board.

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