Bernard Haitink conducts Mozart and Bruckner

11 May 2019

Berliner Philharmoniker
Bernard Haitink

Paul Lewis

  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 27 in B flat major, K. 595 (35 min.)

    Paul Lewis piano

  • Franz Schubert
    Allegretto in C minor, D 915 (5 min.)

    Paul Lewis piano

  • Anton Bruckner
    Symphony No. 7 in E major (80 min.)

  • free

    Interview
    Paul Lewis in conversation with Philipp Bohnen (15 min.)

As a pianist, Paul Lewis was a late starter. He first played the cello before he started taking piano lessons regularly at the age of 12. Then, however, things moved rapidly: at the age of 15, he studied at Chetham’s School of Music, a school for talented young musicians in Manchester. He later went on to the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. While there, the musician, who was born in Liverpool in 1972, presented himself as part of a masterclass of Alfred Brendel who became his teacher from 1993 for the next seven years. In 2002, after success in several competitions, Paul Lewis made his debut at the Wigmore Hall in London, which nominated him for the Rising Stars series of leading European concert halls. Today, the British pianist, who along with Till Fellner and Kit Armstrong is among the most well-known students of Brendel and regularly performs at leading concert halls and at all major festivals, has long since stepped out of the shadow of his teacher. He has in any case never seen himself as a kind of Brendel “legacy”: “As a person, I am different. I am also different as a musician.” And more: “There is nothing to compare. My sound is different from his and also the way the message of the music comes across. Even if there are two or three similarities, I don’t shun the comparison.”

For his debut as a soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Paul Lewis will play the rather introverted and melancholy B flat major Concerto K. 595, the last piano concerto Mozart wrote. After the interval, the conductor of the evening, Bernard Haitink, has programmed Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. It finally gave the composer the resounding success that he had longed for throughout his life: at the premiere at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, conducted by Arthur Nikisch on 30 December 1884, support was still restrained, but at the second performance in Munich on 10 March 1885 under Hermann Levi, the listeners were as enthusiastic as most of the critics. However, the performance of Bruckner’s Seventh was acclaimed not only in Munich, but also in Vienna: “After the first movement, 5 – 6 wild bravos and so it continued, after the finale, endless, wild enthusiasm and bravos, laurel wreath from the Wagner society and banquet table” (Bruckner). Within three years, the symphony was on programmes in Chicago, New York, London, Amsterdam and Berlin. This is probably why the composer was spared the usual “suggestions for improvement”: the work, which is still the most performed of Brucknerʼs to this day, exists in only one version.

Struggling to Find Favour with the Public

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Bruckner

The soloist as strategist and partner – Mozart’s Piano Concerto K. 595

“It is perfectly true that the Viennese are apt to change their affections, but only in the theatre,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote to his father on 2 June 1781, “and my special line is too popular not to enable me to support myself. Vienna is certainly the land of the Clavier!” A few days later the 25-year-old already escaped from the clutches of his native Salzburg for good, was released from the service of the hated archbishop and began to build a life for himself in the imperial capital as a freelance musician. And, in fact, Vienna seemed to mean well by the young musician to begin with. Within a short time, Mozart had established himself as an acclaimed piano virtuoso, respected composer and popular piano teacher.

Mozart made his last documented public appearance as a soloist on 4 March 1791. He played the Piano Concerto in B flat major, K. 595, which he had completed at the beginning of the year, before an audience that was probably not very large. With its original formal structure, brilliant treatment of the various orchestral sections and instrumentalists as well as its wealth of ideas and emotions, the work is on a par with the great concertos of the mid-1780s. At the same time, however, Mozart’s last contribution to the genre of the piano concerto seems to be less concerned with external dramatic effect, but is more like chamber music in texture and more personal and lyrical in tone.

The songlike qualities of the concerto and its inherent theatricality are apparent from the start. The first violins present the cantabile main theme of the first movement above a gently animated accompaniment. The three phrases of the expansive melody are punctuated by two fanfare-like, descending triadic motifs in the winds. With this juxtaposition of different melodic and tonal characters, Mozart lays the foundation for the subsequent development of the Allegro. At the same time, in the initial bars he already calls attention to the interaction and opposition between the various instrumental sections (here strings versus winds) typical of the concerto. What Mozart is able to achieve with this seemingly simple opening becomes apparent in the middle section of the movement – the development. In contrasting interplay and direct dialogue, the soloist and the orchestra – in constantly changing combinations – lead elements of the lyrical main theme and the descending triadic motif through various tonal and expressive regions. The bold harmonic development of this section alone is breathtaking. For example, the piano begins the development section in B minor, the key most remote from the home key of B flat major.

A particularly appealing aspect of Mozart’s late piano concertos is the fact that the soloist acts as the first among equals: he is both strategist and partner. Although the thematic material of the first movement is first presented by the orchestra, the pianist takes on this task himself as the work continues. Both the slow middle movement and the rondo finale – whose main theme Mozart also used in the song “Komm, lieber Mai” Come, dear May, which was composed at the same time – begin with the solo piano. Moreover, the role of strategist repeatedly requires the pianist to go beyond the notated score. “One look at the solo parts of Mozart’s piano concertos should be enough to show the Mozart player that his warrant leaves that of a museum curator far behind,” comments the great Mozart interpreter Alfred Brendel. “Mozart’s notation is not complete. Not only do the solo parts lack dynamic marking almost entirely, the very notes to be played – at any rate in the later works that were not made ready for the engraver – require piecing out at times.” In the case of the late B flat major Concerto, that applies particularly to the middle movement, “when relatively simple themes return several times without Mozart varying them himself”.

Conceived in terms of the sound – Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony

“Even Bruckner was not spared the age-old, bitter experience that the prophet counts for nothing in his own country,” the young Hugo Wolf observed in spring of 1886. “Struggling in vain for decades against the ignorance and maliciousness of the critics, rejected by concert institutions, plagued by envy and malevolence, he was an old man when fortune smiled on him and the ungrateful world placed a laurel wreath on his head.” In fact, a larger musical public did not become aware of the oeuvre of the late-blooming composer until the last decade of his life – Bruckner did not make music his full-time occupation until the age of 31 and completed his First Symphony when he was over 40. When the professor of harmony and counterpoint at the Vienna Conservatory celebrated his 60th birthday in September 1884, only one of his monumental orchestral works had been published – the Third Symphony, dedicated to Richard Wagner. And Bruckner no longer had any illusions about the receptiveness of the Viennese public or the favour of the critics by then. His first six symphonies had for the most part met with incomprehension, derision and harsh rejection, if they had been premiered in their entirety at all by then.

Despite these countless failures, it can be assumed that Bruckner looked ahead with a certain amount of optimism at the beginning of his seventh decade. A letter from the 28-year-old Arthur Nikisch had already reached him from Leipzig in spring of 1884. After the future chief conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker had played through Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E major – which was composed between September 1881 and September 1883 – with Josef Schalk at the piano, he wrote: “I am extremely delighted and thrilled ... and from now on consider it a point of honour for me to spread your works.” Bruckner travelled to Leipzig before the end of the year, full of expectation. There he attended the successful premiere of the Seventh Symphony by the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Nikisch on 30 December. In March of 1885 he spent the “happiest week” of his life in Munich, as he recounted in a letter. In the stronghold of Wagnerism, the renowned Wagner conductor and director of the Munich Court Orchestra, Hermann Levi, helped Bruckner finally achieve his breakthrough with a “superb and exemplary” performance of the work.

In an essay that is well worth reading, the composer and musicologist Dieter Schnebel, who died in Berlin last year, impressively described the fascinating appeal of Bruckner’s music: “The remarkable thing about Bruckner’s music stems ... from the characteristic presence of the sound, whether its luminescence or its dimmed darkness, its raw power or the mellifluous mellowness. And the movement of the sound – its rushing along or its gentle flowing, the insistent pounding or the swelling pulsation – also exerts a strange fascination. The themes are integrated into the sound ... The musical development is also revealed more by the sound than, say, the thematic work.”

One of the tonal peculiarities of the Seventh Symphony that already fascinated contemporary listeners is the darkened colour palette of the work. For example, Bruckner augmented the brass choir in the second and fourth movements with four Wagner tubas. Their dark, aristocratic timbre contributes substantially to the solemn character of the Adagio. Wagner’s death in February 1883 was a decisive factor in this expansion of the orchestral forces. Devastated by the demise of the “master of all masters”, Bruckner decided to incorporate the instruments used for the first time in the Ring des Nibelungen into the symphonic texture and composed the moving funeral music with which the Adagio comes to an end.

Tobias Bleek

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Bernard Haitink was born and trained in Amsterdam. He started his career with the Netherlands Radio Orchestra, first as violinist, then from 1957 as its director. He went on to become chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw for 27 years (1964 – 1988). He is now patron of the Radio Philharmonic, and honorary conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Bernard Haitink also held posts as music director of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden (1987 – 2002), the Dresden Staatskapelle (2002 – 2004) and as principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (2006 – 2010). In addition, he was principal conductor of the London Philharmonic (1967 – 1979) and music director of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera (1977 – 1988). His close artistic partnership with the Berliner Philharmoniker started in March 1964, when he made his debut with the orchestra with a Beethoven programme. He was awarded the Hans-von-Bülow-Medal by the Berliner Philharmoniker in 1994 and named their honorary member in 2004. Bernard Haitink, who celebrates his 90th birthday and a 65 year conducting career this season, has received many international awards in recognition of his services to music, including honorary doctorates from the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Music. He has been made a Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion and an honorary Companion of Honour in the UK. He is also honorary member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Vienna Philharmonic. His last concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker were in December 2017 when he conducted Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

Paul Lewis was born in Liverpool and enjoys a worldwide reputation as one of the finest pianists of his generation. After studying under Ryszard Bakst at Chetham’s School of Music and at London’s Guildhall School under Joan Havill, he became a master student of Alfred Brendel. Numerous prestigious awards have accompanied his career so far, such as the South Bank Show Classical Music Award and the “Instrumentalist of the Year” award from the Royal Philharmonic Society for his performance cycle of Schubert’s piano sonatas. A new Schubert cycle of the composer’s late piano works took him to over 40 cities worldwide from 2011 to 2013. In addition to Schubert, Beethoven’s piano works are one of the most important pillars of his repertoire: between 2005 and 2007, for example, Paul Lewis performed all 32 piano sonatas in the great music centres of Europe and the United States. The artist performs regularly with leading international orchestras and conductors and performs at the world’s major concert halls, such as the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Musikverein and Konzerthaus in Vienna, the Tonhalle in Zurich, the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Royal Festival Hall in London and New York’s Carnegie and Alice Tully Hall. In 2010, he was the first pianist in the history of the BBC Proms to play all five Beethoven concertos in a single Proms season. Together with his wife, the Norwegian cellist Bjørg Lewis, he directs the Midsummer Music Festival, an annual chamber music festival in Buckinghamshire in England. In Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation concerts, Paul Lewis made a guest appearance in December 2005 with an all-Beethoven piano recital. He now makes his debut as a soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker.

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