Concert celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

09 Nov 2014
25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Berliner Philharmoniker
Sir Simon Rattle

Sally Matthews, Bernarda Fink, Hanno Müller-Brachmann, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Christian Elsner

  • Karol Szymanowski
    Stabat mater for soloists, choir and orchestra, op. 53 (30 min.)

    Sally Matthews Sopran, Bernarda Fink Contralto, Hanno Müller-Brachmann Baritone, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Simon Halsey Chorus Master

  • Ludwig van Beethoven
    Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125 “Choral” (75 min.)

    Sally Matthews Soprano, Bernarda Fink Contralto, Christian Elsner Tenor, Hanno Müller-Brachmann Baritone, Rundfunkchor Berlin, Simon Halsey Chorus Master

  • free

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall – Memories of Musicians of the Berliner Philharmoniker (20 min.)

  • free

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall – Memories of Sir Simon Rattle (1 min.)

When composing his Stabat Mater, Karol Szymanowski relied on the “comprehensibility of the text”, which is why he made use of a version of the Latin verses translated into Polish. What mattered to him was “to give modern, self-contained forms to what in the mysterious life of the soul is at the same time most real and most intangible”. He definitely succeeded with the work premiered on 11 January 1929, which ends with a moving and ethereal soprano solo. In the process the music, which loses none of its emotional force for listeners who are not familiar with Polish, is of a fascinating simplicity, as the melodic lines continue in seconds and thirds; only the second movement seems from time to time to anticipate Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.

Sir Simon Rattle, who already recorded Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater on CD in the early 1990s with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, presents the work here together with the Berliner Philharmoniker and British soprano Sally Matthews, who was awarded the renowned Kathleen Ferrier Award during her studies. After this “religious music” (Szymanowski), the orchestra plays Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which with its utopian content of unity, joy and fraternity optimally corresponded to subsequent generations’ artistic religious ideas. In addition to Sally Matthews, the singers include Bernarda Fink, Hanno Müller-Brachmann, and Christian Elsner, who was acclaimed by audience and press alike for the concert performances of Richard Wagner’s Walküre conducted by Sir Simon Rattle in the Philharmonie in May 2012.

At the Other End of the Beethoven Universe

Karol Szymanowski distanced himself from the Ninth – but his Polish compatriots ensured its relevance

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, op. 125

Everything has been said about Beethoven’s Ninth. But have we heard everything, remembered everything? Fortunately not. The work is as complex as its reception history. Not even Goethe’s Faust has inspired so many and such contradictory interpretations, although Faust has 12,000 lines of text and the Ninth only 49 – but it also has 2,203 weighty bars of music. And music of this scale has the drawback that not only experts – musicians and musicologists – but writers, journalists, politicians and ideologues also appropriate it in order to explain to the world what to make of this exceptional work, what Beethoven intended, what it means for us today, tomorrow and in the future.

Germans and Austrians have had a great many ideas about Beethoven’s Ninth during the past 190 years; it became an affair of state for the Hohenzollerns (who unintentionally supplied its dedicatee, Friedrich Wilhelm III) and Habsburgs (who did not even subscribe to the printing), progressive Wagnerians and conservative Brahmsians saw Beethoven as their god. Other nations went to war for it, however. French cosmopolitans fought against German nationalists in its name in 1914, Catholics and Communists invoked its ideas, the Ninth was heard on Hitler’s birthday and in the concentration camps, the European Union made the melody of the choral finale its anthem, as did the racist regime in Rhodesia. The unsettling thing about it is that nearly all of them acted in good faith, out of sheer enthusiasm for this incomparable work, whose mysteries no one has managed to unravel yet. It appears to withstand every ideological and commercial exploitation and even idiotic performances unscathed. As soon as the faint open fifths are heard, with the demonically falling motif of the strings above them, every ideological skirmish loses its relevance; the most astute and most foolish things that have ever been said about the Ninth are always negated by the Ninth itself, made to look ridiculous. It tolerates neither metaphysics nor banality. Ironically, the most thoroughly abused work of art of modern times shows us the autonomy of art. The Ninth is the Ninth – and all the rest is literature ...

If Beethoven had not been able to squeeze his message – whatever it may be – into such a compelling form, there would not be much more to say about the “Ode to Joy”. Basically, Schiller’s text has only endured because of the music. As is the case with the Third and the Fifth, Beethoven also succeeds in forming an enormous symphonic arc in his last symphony, which was premiered in 1824. The large-scale form enables the listener to experience the work as a rationally structured whole, whether the relationships of the individual motifs and connections between the four movements are recognized or not. Perhaps it is even better not to recognize them and, rather than analyzing an elaborate construct, to spontaneously abandon oneself to the unfolding of a universe suddenly emerging out of nothing. History has shown that familiarity with the music and the text is not necessarily conducive to understanding the work – when Beethoven’s Choral Symphony became the subject of an especially absurd interpretation, it generally happened in Germany. In other countries, where no or little German is understood, people did not concoct such a jumble of metaphysical will and political theology. Nevertheless, the Ninth Symphony is also loved there – and no less than in Germany and Austria.

Karol Szymanowski

Beethoven’s reception history in Poland is one of the neglected fields of research. Still a larger-than-life figure for the young Chopin, he lost ground for several decades and was only rediscovered by Karol Szymanowski’s generation. Together with a few companions, Szymanowski established the Publishing Society of Young Polish Composers in Berlin in 1905 and organized concerts in the Philharmonie. In 1907 he moved to Vienna, where he entered into a relationship with the publisher Universal Edition that lasted 25 years. He had shaken off the Polish provinces but not the influence of German composers. He grew up with Beethoven’s music; later, Wagner, Strauss and Reger became the focus of his interest. Szymanowski’s works were composed in clearly demarcated stages. The Strauss phase was followed by an impressionist, eastern phase with works full of exoticism and eroticism during the years of the First World War, when Szymanowski lived in seclusion on the family estate in the Ukraine. The Third Symphony, “The Song of the Night” (1914), is the first Polish symphony with a soloist and chorus. His break with the German school also meant breaking away from the symphony and Beethoven. After the war, Szymanowski moved towards a magically scintillating, subtle, mystical musical style. He followed this aesthetic course well into the 1920s.

Stabat mater op. 53

The Stabat mater, completed in 1926, was composed on commission. It was actually supposed to be a requiem, a “peasant requiem”, in fact, but the 44-year-old composer, who was suffering from tuberculosis, feared the Mozart effect – that he would write the requiem for his own funeral, as it were – and chose another genre. Religious motives played no role; Szymanowski was an atheist. He would have preferred to avoid any reference to the liturgical tradition, but that was not possible; Szymanowski had to find a compromise for his Stabat mater. He chose a Latin text from the 13th century but set it in a Polish translation. After exhaustive research, he took the liberty of borrowing certain devices from Palestrina, combining his polyphony with melodic and rhythmic elements of early Western Slavic music. He also incorporated two Polish church hymns. The meditative character of the composition is due to the generally slow tempos and limited range of the melodic line, which uses almost exclusively seconds and thirds. Compared to the Third Symphony, the orchestra is small; the overall texture of the work displays striking clarity and simplicity. Neither the Stabat mater nor the Third Symphony can be construed as an answer to Beethoven’s Ninth, but by dispensing with confessional drama the two works indicate how far Szymanowski had distanced himself from his former idol Beethoven.

The ties between Poland and Beethoven’s Ninth may not have been particularly productive – on the political front they were historically unique. The Prussian State Library evacuated the autograph manuscripts of the Ninth to three different locations in 1941 (Fürstenstein Castle / Silesia, Altmarrin / Pomerania, Beuron Archabbey / Baden-Württemberg). The bound score formerly in the possession of Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s secretary, went to Silesia, and was thus in Poland after the war. In 1977 the Polish government turned this treasure over to the GDR. The original autograph of the Ninth was now housed partly in East Berlin and partly in the western part of the city. The Wall ran through the middle of the work – to be precise, through the gigantic double fugue in the finale. Not until the German reunification were all the parts of the symphony brought together again under the aegis of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. Our neighbours on the other side of the Oder River played an important role in this development, for without the Poles’ desire for freedom and without Solidarność the Wall would not have fallen in 1989.

Volker Tarnow

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Sally Matthews was the winner of the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Award in 1999. She studied singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and from 2001 to 2003, she was a member of the Vilar Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House, during which time she made her debut in the house as Nanetta in Verdi’s Falstaff (conductor: Bernard Haitink) in 2001. On this stage, as well as in the leading opera houses and concert halls in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Sydney, etc. she has since appeared with a broad repertoire that ranges from early music to works by Haydn, Mozart, Schumann, Dvořák, Mahler, Stravinsky and Messiaen, to works by contemporary composers. For example, Sally Matthews premiered Two Baudelaire Songs, written for her by the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, together with the Nash Ensemble at the Wigmore Hall in October 2004, and sang the title role in the world premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Alice in Wonderland at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in June 2007. After her debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle in Orff’s Carmina Burana at the end of 2004, Sally Matthews was then also involved in the open air-performance of the same work on the Kulturforum Berlin in mid-June 2014.

Bernarda Fink, was born to a Slovenian family in Buenos Aires, where she received her musical education at the Instituto Superior de Arte, which is part of the renowned Teatro Colón. In 1985 she moved to Europe. With a repertory that extends from early Baroque to the 20th century she performs regularly in opera, concert and recital at the major opera and concert venues as well as prominent festivals in Europe, Japan, Australia and the USA. Leading symphony orchestras and many early-music ensembles have invited her to participate in their concerts. In concert she performs with leading conductors including Daniel Baremboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Riccardo Muti, Sir Simon Rattle and Franz Welser-Möst. She first appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in January 1995 under the direction of René Jacobs with a concertante performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo in the philharmonic chamber music hall. Since then Bernarda Fink has been making regular guest appearances in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker, e.g. in February 2009 under Sir Simon Rattle’s baton in Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri. Most recently she gave a lieder recital with works by Dvořák, Mahler and Schumann in October 2012 accompanied by Anthony Spiri. In February 2006 the Austrian Chancellor honoured her with the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art; in 2013 she received the prize of the Prešeren Foundation, the highest Slovenian cultural distinction.

Christian Elsner received his initial vocal training in the Freiburger Domchor. Afterwards, he studied with Martin Gründler in Frankfurt. Further studies took him to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Neil Semer. A winner of many international competitions, Christian Elsner appears in concert, recital and opera in the world's major venues in Berlin, Vienna, Paris, London and New York as well as at renowned festivals such as Salzburg. As a soloist with many leading orchestras all over the world, he has worked with conductors like Herbert Blomstedt, Manfred Honeck, Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel, Kent Nagano, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and Sir Simon Rattle. His debut as Siegmund in Wagner’s Walküre at the Semperoper in Dresden in 2010 has now established him as a Wagnerian tenor. Christian Elsner is also highly regarded as an interpeter of lieder and has given lieder recitals with his regular accompanist Burkhard Kehring in many European cities. Christian Elsner sang with the Berliner Philharmoniker for the first time in April 2004 in Schubert's Mass in E flat major, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. He last appeared with the orchestra as Siegmund in the concert performance of Wagner's Walküre in May 2012, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Christian Elsner has also written several children’s books and teaches at the University of Music in Würzburg.

Hanno Müller-Brachmann studied in Freiburg and Mannheim. He also attended Dietrich Fischer-Dieskauʼs lieder class in Berlin. After successes in international competitions – including prizes at the Bundeswettbewerb Gesang (1992 and 1994) and at the ARD International Music Competition in Munich (1996) – the bass-baritone now appears on opera and concert stages in Europe, Israel, Japan and the USA and at renowned festivals. From 1998 to 2011, Hanno Müller-Brachmann was a member of the ensemble at the Staatsoper unter den Linden in Berlin where, in addition to the great bass-baritone Mozart roles, he also sang Orest (Elektra), Amfortas (Parsifal) and Wotan (Das Rheingold). Furthermore, he appeared, for example, in the premiere of Elliott Carterʼs What Next? (1999) and Pascal Dusapinʼs Faustus – The Last Night (2006). Hanno Müller-Brachmann has worked together with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Chailly, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, Zubin Mehta, Andris Nelsons and Sir Simon Rattle. Another focus of his artistic activity is lieder, which he performs together with pianists such as Graham Johnson, Malcolm Martineau and Eric Schneider. Hanno Müller-Brachmann made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in Mozartʼs Mass in C major, K. 317 under the direction of Daniel Barenboim in May 1999. His most recent guest appearance in Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts was in early January 2013: Accompanied by András Schiff he sang, among other things, Robert Schumannʼs song cycle Dichterliebe. Following periods teaching at two Berlin universities, Hanno Müller-Brachmann took up the position of Professor of Voice at the University of Music in Karlsruhe in autumn 2011.

The Rundfunkchor Berlin is a sought-after partner of leading orchestras and conductors all over the world, including long-standing partnerships with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester and the Berliner Philharmoniker. In around 50 concerts per year the chorus displays an exceptional breadth of repertoire and stylistic versatility. With it’s experimental series, “Broadening the Scope of Choral Music”, in collaboration with artists from diverse disciplines, the Rundfunkchor Berlin is breaking down the classical concert format and adopting new modes of choral music for a new audience: In 2012 an interactive scenic version of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem staged by Jochen Sandig / Sasha Waltz & Guests attracted great attention. Founded in 1925 and shaped by conductors including Helmut Koch, Dietrich Knothe and Robin Gritton, the Rundfunkchor Berlin has been directed since 2001 by Simon Halsey. Their work together is documented by many recordings and awards, including three Grammy Awards. Simon Halsey, who was awarded the “Bundesverdienstkreuz” (Cross of the Order of Merit) in January 2011, has also initiated many of the choir’s education and outreach projects, such as the annual Sing-along Concert and the “Liederbörse” (Song Exchange) for children and young people. The Rundfunkchor last appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker in June this year in the open air performance of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

Watch now

Try out the Digital Concert Hall!

Try out the Digital Concert Hall!

In our free playlist, Kirill Petrenko conducts works including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. The best seat in the house is reserved just for you!

View our free playlist