Iván Fischer and Christiane Karg
28 Oct 2016
Christiane Karg, Felix Dervaux
Suite for orchestra No. 1 in C major, op. 9: No. 1 Prélude à l’unisson (8 min.)
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz. 106 (35 min.)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Mitridate, re di Ponto, K. 87: “Lungi da te, mio” (10 min.)
Christiane Karg Soprano, Felix Dervaux Horn
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
“Misera, dove son!” – “Ah! non son’io che parlo”, K. 369 (9 min.)
Christiane Karg Soprano
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504 “Prague” (29 min.)
Iván Fischer in conversation with Stephan Koncz (18 min.)
It was Stanley Kubrick who helped Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta to widespread popularity: in 1980, the legendary American filmmaker set several scenes of his horror film The Shining, based on Steven King’s novel of the same name, to the beginning of the second movement of the composition Bartók had composed 44 years earlier – an idiosyncratic interpretation of this music, that, like the work’s other movements, bears witness to Bartók’s musical language, by the same token suggestive and compositionally precisely developed. Eight years before composing Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Bartók admitted: “In my more recent works I use more counterpoint than I used to. In that way I avoid the formulas of the 19th century that were predominantly homophonic in nature. I study Mozart. Didn’t he combine contrapuntal and homophonic ideas in some of his slow movements in a wonderful way?”
It’s thus no wonder that Bartók’s compatriot Iván Fischer has also placed one of the most popular symphonies penned by Mozart on the programme. In Mozart’s 38th contribution to the genre according to the established reckoning, the so-called Prague Symphony, echoes of its composer’s operas can hardly be overheard. And thus it is only logical that vocal music can also be heard in this programme. Christiane Karg, whose technically flawlessly soprano voice is virtually predestined to bring Mozart’s music to life, can be experienced as the interpreter of several arias that Mozart composed for prima donnas who were celebrated in his day, or with which he helped other composers’ stage works to achieve success.
The programme kicks off with Prélude à l’unisson, the first movement of the Orchestral Suite No. 1 by George Enescu, the Rumanian composer who died in Paris in 1955. This rarely heard piece also fits in the overall picture: That’s because since Fischer took up his position as chief conductor of the Konzerthausorchester in August 2012, he has enriched Berlin’s musical life with countless exciting facets. His bridge building between Mozart and Bartók, between concertante and vocal music, between the familiar and new discoveries promises to be a similarly interesting evening.
Musical Renaissance Men
The Golden Mean and Symmetries in Works by Enescu, Bartók and Mozart
Proportions modelled on nature: George Enescu’s Prélude à lʼunisson
“In the depth and range of his gifts,” declared Pablo Casals, “Enescu is the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart.” Casals’s emphasis hereon George Enescu’s all-round talent was echoed in statements by Zoltán Kodály and Yehudi Menuhin, who refer to Enescu’s personal union of exceptional violinist and violin teacher, pianist, conductor and musicologist. His pupil Menuhin regarded Enescu’s music-making as speech-like, as if the violin were a human voice so that he could attribute a precise verbal significance to each tone. His teacher advised Menuhin to play Mozart so as to make him understandable, so that every note he composed has an exact meaning, like a syllable or a gesture.
Along with Mozart’s concertos, early in his career Enescu also began playing the Third Concerto of Camille Saint-Saëns, to whom he later dedicated his Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, op. 9, composed in 1903. Its unusual, forceful opening movement, Prélude à l’unisson, is scored for unison strings (without double basses but with a single kettledrum). As pointed out by the Romanian composer and Enesco scholar Pascal Bentoiu, its naturally derived proportions are in almost exact accord with the Fibonacci series, in which the sum of any two consecutive numbers equals the next (1+1+2+3+5+8+13 etc.), their ratio corresponding to the “golden section”.
A high point of classical modernism: Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Enescu’s early Prélude and Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta are linked by the application in both works of the Fibonacci series. In the first movement of the latter, a cautiously probing fugal theme (first five, then eight notes, with the entry of a new voice at bars 5, 8 and 13) is slowly spun out and built up to a unison climax. Bartók wrote the work for Paul Sacher and his Basle Chamber Orchestra. Like the Enescu, it is scored for string orchestra and percussion, but with the addition of a celesta and calling for considerably larger forces. Bartók includes the harp and the piano as stringed instruments. In the three following movements, the strings are divided into a double orchestra, whose groups in the second movement seem to be competing antiphonally on a folklike dance theme. The symmetrically constructed slow movement that follows is laid out in Bartók’s typical “bridge” form (ABCBA), with quotes from the strings’ fugal theme embedded in the novel instrumental effects and iridescent timbral combinations. The rondo finale on a possibly original Bulgarian main theme makes for a rousing concertante conclusion in which the two orchestral groups are whirled like a spinning top, interrupted only by another appearance of the fugal theme, now in majestic parallel 6ths.
Mozart’s music between opera house and concert hall: dramas with and without the stage
1. Milan, 1770-71
Barely two weeks before the premiere of Mozart’s Mitridate, re di Ponto (king of Pontus) K. 87 on 26 December 1770, the Milan opera public must still have believed that “it was impossible for such a young boy, and, what is more, a German, to write an Italian opera” – as his father Leopold Mozart wrote to his wife. Wolfgang had received Vittorio Amedeo Cigna-Santi’s libretto for Mitridate, based on Racine’s tragedy of the same name, at the end of July 1770, but had still composed only the recitatives and a single aria for the soprano castrato Pietro Benedetti, known as Sartorini. According to Leopold, he “prefers to wait for his arrival so as to fit the costume to his figure”. And indeed, it did not fit straight away. Sartorini asked for the aria “Lungi da te, mio bene” (“Far from you, my love”) to be expanded. During the orchestral rehearsals, it had to be revised yet again, with Mozart adding a solo horn to the scoring of strings and paired oboes and horns for this aria in which the king’s loyal son Sifare, in love with his father’s betrothed, bids farewell to Pontus in order not to stand in Mitridate’s way.
2. Munich, 1780-81
Ten years later, at the beginning of November 1780, Mozart travelled to Munich to complete and supervise the premiere of his opera Idomeneo, which he hoped might lead to a position at the Bavarian court. Already during the first orchestral rehearsal, as Mozart reported in a letter to his father in Salzburg, the prince-elector Karl Theodor was effusive in his praise, declaring: “Who would believe that such great things could be hidden in so small a head?” One of the last pieces Mozart composed while in Munich was the concert scena “Misera, dove son!” – “Ah! Non son’ io che parlo” K. 369, for the countess Maria Josepha Paumgarten. The text is taken from Pietro Metastasio’s opera libretto Ezio, which had been set by over 40 composers. The protagonist Fulvia’s suffering, caused by a criminal father and the unjust accusations against her beloved Ezio, is represented by insistently repeated violin figures until the character’s distraught state finally breaks out in dramatic coloratura writing.
3. Prague, 1786-87
The symphony Mozart completed in Vienna on 6 December 1786, No. 38 in D major, K. 504, was nicknamed after the city where it was first performed. Following the wildly acclaimed Prague premiere of Le nozze di Figaro, he went to the city on the Moldau in December to conduct one of the opera’s subsequent performances himself and to present himself in concert as a pianist. The “Prague” is the only one of Mozart’s last four symphonies for which we know the exact date as well as the place of its premiere. A few days after the performance of Figaro at the Nostitz National Theatre (later known as the Estates and now the Tyl Theatre), the symphony was heard at that venue as well on 19 January 1787, in one of Mozart’s “academies”. On 29 October of that year, also at the National Theatre, his new opera Don Giovanni had its premiere.
There are conspicuous allusions in the symphony, some quite detailed, to the sound worlds of both operas. The lofty solemn introduction to the first movement offers surprising changes of mood that look forward to the overture and the Commendatore scene from the second act of Don Giovanni with the protagonist at first arrogant, then thunderstruck. To the listener who knows the opera, composed shortly after the symphony, it will already seem like encountering the seducer, hand in hand with Zerlina on the way to his palace, in the Andante second movement – as though Mozart, with a pp bar and a brief pause, were drawing our attention to this intimate duet from the first act. Over a pedal point on horns and basses, the violins intone a melody resembling “Andiam, andiam, mio bene” (Come, come, my darling).
The main theme of the turbulent presto finale is unmistakably derived from the Figaro duet of Susanna and Cherubino, “Aprite, presto aprite” (Open up quickly). The wealth of invention with which Mozart in the first two movements of the symphony has already opened door after door, disclosing the wondrous creations of his genius, is unleashed even more in the rondo-like conclusion, generating a complex ensemble of musical figures unfolding simultaneously through the orchestra.
Iván Fischer has been Music Director of the Konzerthaus Berlin and principal conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin since the start of the 2012-2013 season. Born in Hungary, Fischer studied piano, violin and cello in Budapest, continuing his education in Vienna where he was in Hans Swarowsky’s conducting class. For two years he was Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s assistant. His international career took off in 1976, when he won the Rupert Foundation conducting competition in London. In 1983, together with Zoltán Kocsis, Iván Fischer founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra, an ensemble for which he still serves as musical director. An intense artistic partnership also links him closely with the Vienna State Opera. Fischer has been a regular guest in major opera houses of the world (e.g. London, Zurich, Paris and Brussels). As a guest conductor he works with the finest symphony orchestras of the world, like the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris, the Munich and Israel Philharmonic. In 1989 he gave his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker and has returned several times since; his last performance with the orchestra was in January 2016 when he conducted Mahler’s Third Symphony. Fischer is also successful as composer; he is a founder of the Hungarian Mahler Society and patron of the British Kodály Academy. Iván Fischer received the Golden Medal Award from the President of the Republic of Hungary, and the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum for his services to help international cultural relations. The French Government named him Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2006 he was honoured with the Kossuth Prize, Hungary’s most prestigious arts award. In addition, he is an honorary citizen of Budapest.
Christiane Karg, born in Feuchtwangen (Bavaria), received her vocal training at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg. In the summer of 2006, she made her debut at the Salzburg Festival, and since the autumn of 2008, she has been a member of Oper Frankfurt where her roles have included Susanna, Pamina, Musetta and Zdenka. She is also a regular guest artist at the Bavarian state opera, the Komische Oper Berlin, the Theater an der Wien, Semperoper Dresden, Opéra de Lille and the Glyndebourne Festival. In the 2015/16 season she made her successful debuts at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in the role of Pamina, and at the Lyric Opera Chicago. As a concert singer, the soprano has performed with orchestras such as the Concentus Musicus Wien, the NDR Sinfonieorchester, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Daniel Harding, Christoph Eschenbach, Riccardo Muti and Mariss Jansons are among the conductors she has worked with. One of Christiane Karg’s particular passions is lieder singing. Recitals have taken her to the Musikverein in Vienna and the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Philharmonie Essen, London’s Wigmore Hall and the Rheingau Music Festival, among others. Christiane Karg made her debut in Berliner Philharmoniker concerts in March 2014 as soloist in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin); her last appearance was in January 2016 in Fauré’s Requiem, conducted by Christian Thielemann.