The name of Franz Liszt is closely linked to the so-called “New German School”, a group which in the second half of the 19th century made it its mission to create closer integration of music and the other arts. In his time, Liszt (as father-figure) and Wagner were regarded as their role models, in contrast to the traditionalists, who had chosen Johannes Brahms as their spokesperson.
In this concert, the position of the "New German School" is represented by three symphonic poems composed by Franz Liszt: Les Préludes, based on a work by the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine, Mazeppa from a poetic idea of Victor Hugo, and Von der Wiege bis zum Grabe which was inspired by a sketch of the painter Michael Zichy. The concert overtures of Mendelssohn, poetically described by his contemporaries as “tone paintings”, were the precursors to these forms of programme music. Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage) is based on two poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. For Mendelssohn, the attraction lay in writing a musical representation of the complete stillness and the gradual picking up of the wind that brings the ship safely into port.
The Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K 467 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart serves as the musical counterpoint to these. Mozart composed this work under tremendous pressure for a performance at the Vienna Court Theatre in March 1785. Nevertheless, this cheerful and festive work is distinguished by both its masterly formal structure and melodic and harmonic ingenuity. The soloist is Maurizio Pollini, a long-time associate of the orchestra. It was, however, the first time the Italian pianist performed together with Christian Thielemann at the Philharmonie.