Mariss Jansons and Daniil Trifonov with Schumann’s Piano Concerto
27 Jan 2018
Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minor, op. 54 (34 min.)
Daniil Trifonov piano
Sonata for Cello and Piano: Largo (arr. by Alfred Cortot) (6 min.)
Daniil Trifonov piano
Symphony No. 6 in A major (64 min.)
Mariss Jansons in conversation with Raphael Haeger (18 min.)
Mariss Jansons named honorary member of the Berliner Philharmoniker (12 min.)
“It’s astonishing to see what a wide range of emotions and ideas there are in of Schumann’s musical language,” says Daniil Trifonov. The Russian pianist, who made his dazzling orchestral debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker playing Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto at the 2016 New Year's Eve Concert, is now the soloist in Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. With this work, the composer wanted to create a counter-proposal to the virtuoso concertos of his time which depended solely on technical brilliance. He envisioned a “cross between a symphony, concerto and grand sonata”.
What is special and new about this piece is how Schumann derives all themes and motifs from the main idea of the first movement. The composer had originally conceived this movement as a fantasy for piano and orchestra, and – because no publisher was interested in this form – later expanded it to a three-movement concerto. The close relationship between soloist and orchestra was also unusual for the time. “The piano is interwoven with the orchestra in the most delicate way – one can’t imagine the one without the other,” said Schumann’s wife Clara, who was the soloist not only for the world premiere in Dresden in 1845, but also for her first appearance with the Berliner Philharmoniker in February 1883.
At almost the same time, the two middle movements, the Adagio and Scherzo, of Anton Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony also received their first public performance at the Vienna Musikvereinssaal, conducted by Wilhelm Jahn – with considerable success. A performance of the complete symphony, described by the composer himself as his “boldest”, did not take place until three years after the composer’s death with Gustav Mahler as the conductor. Unlike in the previous Fifth, which culminates in a large-scale, contrapuntal finale, Bruckner here moved the focus to the first movement, which first establishes an almost Morse code-like rhythm above which the three themes of the movement emerge. From the outset, Bruckner makes it clear where the tension in this symphony originates: in the conflict between duple and triple meter. This conflict runs through the solemn, sublime Adagio and the eerie Scherzo to the finale, which thematically reflects back on the opening movement. The work is conducted by Mariss Jansons, someone who has been associated artistically with the Berliner Philharmoniker for many years. However, this will be the first occasion he and the orchestra perform a work by Bruckner together.
Connections and Transformations in Works of Schumann and Bruckner
A shy kiss in 1835 sealed a union that is one of the most famous in musical history. “We are meant for each other: I have known that for a long time,” the 25-year-old Robert Schumann confessed to his chosen bride Clara, nine years younger and the daughter of the piano teacher Friedrich Wieck, who had groomed the highly gifted girl as an acclaimed child prodigy. Schumann’s courtship, which from then on was conducted in passionate letters, was anathema to Wieck; his daughter deserved better than a poor musician. He sent her to Dresden to put an end to the love affair, but the young composer secretly followed her. Friedrich Wieck strictly forbade Clara from having any further contact with Schumann and forced her to return all his letters. Robert and Clara became secretly engaged in 1837 and continued their written correspondence using codes and symbols.
Dream of Marriage
Anton Bruckner was full of anticipation as he set off on a journey of several weeks in the Alps on 13 August 1880. The enthusiastic hiker wanted to enjoy the mountains, their peaks and precipices, experience the feeling of grandeur in the midst of magnificent nature and finally marvel at the summit of the glacier on Mont Blanc. In addition, he could look back on an extremely satisfactory summer since, after a longer phase of revising earlier works, which was so typical of him, he had written a string quintet and the first movement of his Sixth Symphony. But Bruckner’s travels also took him to a place that was very special to him, as a Catholic who had grown up in a religious environment: the Passion play at Oberammergau. Suddenly he was distracted, however – a different passion was aroused in the 56-year-old bachelor. Bruckner had noticed a young girl among the performers whose charming manner immediately captivated him. It was clear to him: she would become his bride. He managed to accompany the 17-year-old Marie to her home, where she lived with her mother. With his characteristic combination of provincial awkwardness and self-confident pride Bruckner told her that he, the “emperor’s organist”, would like to marry Marie. The mother hesitated but seemed to consider the offer. Bruckner left Oberammergau full of hope.
Clara reminded her secret fiancé several times of her wish that he compose a piano concerto for her. Robert began a draft in D minor but realized: “I see that I cannot write a concerto for virtuosos; I have to think of something else.” He had in mind a work that “lies somewhere between a symphony, concerto and a large sonata”. He had long been preoccupied with the idea of combining generic forms and in that way exploring the orchestral possibilities of the piano, which was continually undergoing further technical development. In 1836 he composed a three-movement sonata entitled Concert sans orchestre, and a year later he published the Etudes symphoniques for piano. After their marriage in September 1840, which finally took place after a long legal battle, Schumann first devoted himself to a year of almost frenzied song composition, then concentrated on the piano again in 1841, after a long break: “Began a Phantasie (with orchestra),” he noted in his household book on 4 May. As the title reveals, the one-movement work, which is divided into the three tempo sections corresponding to the traditional concerto form (fast-slow-fast), fulfils the idea of a piano concerto in a new form in which, as Clara aptly observed after an initial run-through, “the piano is skilfully interwoven with the orchestra”.
Bruckner finished his Sixth Symphony on 3 September 1881. The opening of the first movement, labelled “Maestoso”, a fluttering dotted triplet string figure on C sharp, immediately creates tension. With the entrance of the main theme in the cellos and basses the tonal range expands so much that the melodic structure – consisting of an upbeat descending fifth from E and a stepwise circling motion concluding with a leap back to the E – sounds archaically modal, since the third of the A major triad, the fluttering C sharp, seems too remote. A new dotted motif appears in the oboes and flutes; Bruckner has great plans for it. The listener does not anticipate that yet at this point, because as the movement becomes increasingly intense one is in a fever of excitement until the first great climax, in which the theme presented in the orchestral tutti displays its full force. But this small motivic kernel will mature almost unnoticed into a protagonist from which numerous other melodic figures economically develop – from the solemn, contrapuntally sophisticated Adagio to the light, bouncy, almost Mendelssohnian Scherzo to the Finale, in which Bruckner took particular pains to provide a clear formal structure and contrasting character. Transformations, metamorphoses are the driving forms of development. Not until the very end, as the last theme in the exposition of the Finale, does the small motif achieve the stature of a full-fledged theme, thus revealing in retrospect its structural significance.
In 1845 Schumann took the piano fantasy, which no publisher had been interested in, out of the drawer and decided to turn it into a three-movement concerto. The fantasy, with its middle section, an Andante espressivo, was to become the first movement. Since Schumann had already conceived the work as a self-contained entity, he first composed a conclusion interspersed with several brilliantly virtuosic passages which drew on the motifs of the fantasy. So as not to compete with the centrepiece of the work, he did not add another slow section but an intermezzo, followed attacca by the finale after an exciting transition. Clara Schumann played the work more than 100 times between 1845 and 1887; to this day it is regarded as the perfect example of the Romantic piano concerto and is still one of the most popular works of the genre.
Consequences and Successes
Perhaps they were not meant for each other after all? Bruckner could not understand why Marie, who had written to him regularly for weeks, did not answer his last letter. He waited, prayed, tried to be patient. What he did not know was that Marie was experiencing the same doubts, since her increasingly sceptical mother had intercepted Bruckner’s letter. Marie later married a sculptor. She kept the photo and prayer book of her former admirer till the day she died. Bruckner had to endure the loss of the bride he had dreamed of – he would never experience marital bliss.
Initially, the A major Symphony had to occupy the role of a half-forgotten stepsister between its great neighbours – the heroic Fifth and the Seventh Symphony, which Bruckner composed immediately after the Sixth, bringing him the long hoped-for breakthrough as a symphonic composer in 1884. Only gradually has there been a growing body of research with more frequent performances of this work, which is unique in Bruckner’s oeuvre because of its compositional intensity. One can only hope that it will become a full-fledged sister of Bruckner’s other great symphonies.
Mariss Jansonshas been chief conductor of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks since 2003. From 2004 until March 2015, he held the same role with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, where he remains conductor laureate. Born in Riga in 1943, he initially studied violin, piano and conducting at the Leningrad Conservatory, then in Vienna with Hans Swarowsky, and in Salzburg with Herbert von Karajan. In 1971, he won the Herbert von Karajan International Conducting Competition in Berlin. In the same year, Yevgeny Mravinsky took him as his assistant to the Leningrad Philharmonic where he maintained ties, working there as principal guest conductor until 1999. From 1979 to 2000, he was chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra which he transformed into a top international orchestra. After a period as principal guest conductor with the London Philharmonic Orchestra between 1992 and 1997, he then took over the direction of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (until 2004). In addition, Mariss Jansons has worked with all major orchestras worldwide and has regularly conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker since 1976; he last appeared with the orchestra in April 2017 directing works by Sibelius, Weber and Bartók. On 1 May he conducted the same programme in Paphos, Cyprus, at the annual Concert for Europe. For nearly 30 years, from 1971 until 2000, Jansons was also professor of conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The artist’s numerous awards include the Hans von Bülow Medal of the Berliner Philharmoniker (2003) and “Conductor of the Year” (Royal Philharmonic Society London, 2004), as well as honorary memberships of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna and of the Royal Academy of Music. In 2006, Mariss Jansons was awarded the Order of the Three Stars, Latvia’s highest state honour, and in 2010 the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art. In 2013, he received the prestigious Ernst von Siemens Music Prize as well as Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First Class. For his life achievement Mariss Jansons was honoured in March 2015 with the Latvian Great Music Award which is the country’s most important artistic recognition. In November 2017 he received the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal.
Daniil Trifonov was born in Nizhny Novgorod in 1991. His parents were both professional musicians. At the age of five, he received his first piano lessons, and he made his first appearance with an orchestra when he was only eight. Later, he studied at the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow under Tatiana Zelikman. In 2009, Trifonov continued his studies under Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music where he also attended composition classes. Since winning the Rubinstein Competition in Tel Aviv and the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 2011 when he was only 20 years of age, Trifonov has been in demand as a concert soloist and for solo recitals throughout the world. His performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 3 with the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev was one of the highlights of the BBC Proms in 2015. In the 2015/16 season, followed his first recital at Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles, a four-concert residency at Wigmore Hall and his subscription concert debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He gave concerts in Shanghai with the New York Philharmonic, to whose board of directors he was elected in November 2015. More recent highlights have included a chamber music evening with Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival, concerto dates with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra and appearances with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the Tanglewood Festival. Trifonov first appeared as a guest artist in the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation’s piano series in early October 2016, performing works by Schumann, Shostakovich and Stravinsky; his debut with the orchestra followed in the New Year’s Eve concerts 2016/2017 as soloist in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto directed by Sir Simon Rattle.