Murray Perahia with works by Mozart and Schubert

18 Jan 2013

Berliner Philharmoniker
Murray Perahia

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595 (34 min.)

    Murray Perahia Piano

  • Franz Schubert
    Sonata for piano four hands in C major, D 812 “Grand Duo” (orchestrated by Joseph Joachim) (43 min.)

  • free

    Murray Perahia in conversation with Sarah Willis (9 min.)

In the 2013/2014 season, Murray Perahia was the Berliner Philharmoniker’s Pianist in Residence, the high-point of a 35-year collaboration between the American pianist and the orchestra dating back to 1977, when they performed Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto under the baton of Riccardo Muti. This 2013 season brought a further highlight: for the first time, Perahia appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker not “only” as a soloist but also as the conductor.

For this occasion the musician again chose a work by Mozart, his last piano concerto, K 595 in B flat, a work that demonstrates the composer’s unsurpassed mastery of the genre. Eschewing all external effects, the work strikes a tone of simplicity and optimism as well as intimacy. The songlike theme of the rondo became famous when Mozart used it as the melody of his lied Komm, lieber Mai not long thereafter.

Also sure to be of special interest is the programme’s conclusion: the Grand Duo composed by Schubert as a sonata for piano fourhands, performed in an orchestrated version by the great violinist, composer and friend of Brahms, Joseph Joachim, who detected in Schubert’s original a “veiled symphony”. At this concert the Berliner Philharmoniker and Murray Perahia offer a rare opportunity to hear this beautiful work.


An Authentic Concerto and a Spurious Symphony

Observations on Mozart and Schubert/Joachim

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595

The Café Frauenhuber at Himmelpfortgasse 6-8 in the first district claims to be “Vienna’s oldest coffeehouse”. In fact, at the end of the 18th century a certain Ignaz Jahn – formerly the personal cook and “court caterer” of Empress Maria Theresa – ran a famous restaurant in this building (number 965 under the old numbering system), in which dances and concerts were also held occasionally. For example, a handbill from the clarinettist Joseph Beer, “chamber musician in actual service of His Imperial Russian Majesty”, invited the Viennese public to “a grand musical academy” on Friday, 4 March 1791, “in Mr. Jahn’s hall, in which Madame Lange will sing and Herr Kapellmeister Mozart will play a concerto on the fortepiano”. A week later, on 12 March, the Wiener Zeitung reported in its news supplement that “Herr Kapellmeister Mozart played a concerto on the fortepiano, and everyone marvelled at his skill in composition as well as performance.”

A polite platitude, probably nothing more. The B flat major Concerto, K. 595, is both a mystery and a marvel, however – dizzying depths are hidden under “a somewhat perplexing normalcy in form and structure” (Peter Gülke) and the “artificial naivety of the first movement” (Marion Brück). For instance, the development section of the opening Allegro, which begins in F major, then passes through B minor, C major, C minor, E flat major, E flat minor, C flat major, A flat major, F minor and G minor, and continues to sequence, shift and modulate so crazily that orchestra and piano literally form polytonal layers bar by bar – all of that during increasing condensation and abbreviation of six-bar, then four- and finally two- and one-bar phrases which are imitatively intertwined with each other! “Everyone marvelled at his skill”? The question is whether the audience was even aware of this incredible boldness, or whether its awe was not instead inspired by the apparent “normalcy” and “naivety” of the work.

The simplicity of the E flat major Larghetto also proves to be deceptive; time and again, harmonic modulations and metric syncopations disrupt the impression of smoothly flowing movement. It would be inappropriate to interpret the closing Allegro rondo based on the fact that it quotes the song Sehnsucht nach dem Frühlinge Longing for Spring, K. 596 (“Komm, lieber Mai, und mache / die Bäume wieder grün”) Come, lovely May, and make / the trees green again, which Mozart entered in the catalogue of his works nine days after the concerto as the first of “3 German Songs”, since the similarities with Dorabella’s aria “È Amore un ladroncello” Love is a little thief from the second act of the opera Così fan tutte, K. 588, are also obvious and refute every explanation that sees the work “at the door of eternity” (Alfred Einstein). Even though Mozart only had eleven months to live when he composed this concerto, he was probably not thinking about his death.

“A Symphony Arranged for the Piano”? – Schubert’s “Grand Duo” in C major D. 812

Number 849 in Otto Erich Deutsch’s catalogue of the works of Franz Schubert is a symphony which the 28-year-old composer supposedly wrote between June and September of 1825 during a summer holiday in Gmunden and Bad Gastein; this is substantiated by several letters and accounts of the “Schubertians”. On 31 March 1824 Schubert had already written to Leopold Kupelwieser that he intended “in several instrumental works ... to pave my way towards a grand symphony”. Two months later Kupelwieser received a letter from Moritz von Schwind: “Schubert has left for Hungary. He has ... resolved to write a symphony.” Nothing came of the plan, however. The next reference to a symphony is found in a letter from Anton Ottenwalt on 19 July 1825. Schubert and the singer Johann Michael Vogl were on a summer holiday to Steyr, Linz, Kremsmünster, Gmunden, Salzburg and Gastein, and “by the way, he Schubert worked on a symphony at Gmunden, which is to be performed in Vienna this winter.” Although this did not happen, Josef von Spaun and Eduard von Bauernfeld both wrote in their reminiscences that Schubert had “composed his greatest and most beautiful symphony ... in Gastein, for which its author had a special liking.”

The existence of this work, known as the “Gmunden-Gastein symphony”, thus seems to be established – but where is it? In the Deutsch catalogue it is listed as “lost”. Not until the 1970s and early 1980s did detailed studies of the manuscript of the “Great” C major Symphony, D. 944, provide the solution to the mystery. The garbled date on the upper right-hand side of the first page of the manuscript, which had previously been interpreted as “1828”, was actually “1825” – the “Great” C major and “Gmunden-Gastein” symphonies were identical!

During the 19th and early 20th centuries musicologists did not know that the two works were one and the same symphony, however, and the “lost” work haunted musical history like a phantom. An article written by Robert Schumann in 1838 about the Sonata for Pianoforte for 4 Hands in C major, D. 812, which Anton Diabelli had published the previous year as “Grand Duo” under the posthumous opus number 140, was decisive. Schumann regarded this work “as a symphony arranged for the piano, until the original manuscript, which by his own hand is entitled ‘Sonata for Four Hands’, tried to convince me otherwise. I say ‘tried’ because I still hold to my own opinion respecting the duo. One who wrote as much as Schubert does not trouble too much about titles, and thus he probably hastily entitled his work ‘sonata’, while ‘symphony’ was what he had in mind. ... Familiar as I am with his style and his manner of treating the piano, ... I can only consider it an orchestral work.” Schumann’s article provided the impetus for an arrangement for orchestra by the violinist and composer Joseph Joachim in 1855, which had its premiere in Hanover on 9 February 1856. It was later followed by the orchestrations of Felix Weingartner (ca. 1934), Marius Flothuis (1940/1942), Fritz Oeser (1948) and René Leibowitz (ca. 1965), and as recently as 1991 the English conductor Raymond Leppard released a recording of his own version of the Sonata for Four Hands.

Schubert composed the work for the Countesses Karoline and Marie Esterházy von Galántha during the summer of 1824, which he spent as their piano teacher on the estate of Count Johann Esterházy in Zseliz, Hungary now Slovakia. Despite its four-movement structure and monumental proportions, it is unquestionably an original piano work for four hands. Schubert’s compositions were certainly never explicitly “pianistic”; both the frequent repetitions of notes and chords and “the numerous sustained notes, held for several bars and thus quite unpianistic” (Andreas Krause) are also found in many of his other piano works. If we reject the notion that the score could unconsciously have been intended for orchestra, however, the idea of a “lost symphony” (René Leibowitz) is quite appealing, since it supports the claim of an autonomous work. Joachim did not even attempt to imitate a Schubertian tone. For example, his orchestration not only includes four horns but also calls for a solo violin in the Trio of the Scherzo and a piccolo in the Finale, which would be as uncharacteristic of Schubert as dispensing with trumpets, trombones and timpani in the slow movement. It is precisely this originality that gives his arrangement its distinctive quality, which is also reflected in the fact that so many great conductors – from Johannes Brahms to Arturo Toscanini to Claudio Abbado and Murray Perahia – have championed it.

Michael Stegemann

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Murray Perahia was born in New York in 1947 and started playing piano at the age of four. He studied conducting and composition at the Mannes College of Music in New York and worked with musicians such as Rudolf Serkin and Pablo Casals. Pianistic inspiration came from study with Mieczysław Horszowski and his friendship with Vladimir Horowitz. In 1972 he won the Leeds International Piano Competition. That launched an international career in which the artist has triumphed not only as a pianist but also as a conductor and festival director. He is principal guest conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Of the numerous recordings he has made over the years, one might mention the complete Chopin Etudes for which he won the 2003 Grammy Award. Henle Urtext Edition has entrusted him with the new critical edition of the complete Beethoven sonatas. Among his distinctions are the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Instrumentalist Award (1997) and honorary membership in the Royal Academy of Music in London; he holds honorary doctorates from Leeds University and Duke University. In 2004 he was made Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II., in recognition of his outstanding service to music. Murray Perahia made his debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1977 and has returned many times since. In the 2011/12 season he was the orchestra’s pianist in residence. This is his conducting debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

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