Claudio Abbado conducts music inspired by the Prometheus myth

24 May 1992
Prometheus: A film by Christopher Swann

Berliner Philharmoniker
Claudio Abbado

Martha Argerich

  • Ludwig van Beethoven
    The Creatures of Prometheus, ballet music, op. 43: excerpts (11 min.)

  • Franz Liszt
    Prometheus, Symphonic Poem No. 5 (13 min.)

  • Alexander Scriabin
    Prométhée – Le Poème du feu, op. 60 (19 min.)

    Martha Argerich piano, Berliner Singakademie, Achim Zimmermann chorus master

  • Luigi Nono
    Prometeo: Seconda Isola (11 min.)

    Solistenchor Freiburg, André Richard chorus master, Monika Bair-Ivenz soprano, Ingrid Ade-Jesemann soprano, Ulrike Krumbiegel speaker, Matthias Schadock speaker, Peter Hall tenor, Susanne Otto contralto

One of the hallmarks of Claudio Abbado’s years with the Berliner Philharmoniker was the cycles of concerts that concentrated on a particular theme. Among the themes that were featured in this way were Faust and Shakespeare. During the 1991/92 season it was the turn of the Titan Prometheus. According to Greek legend, Prometheus created men from clay and gave them fire after Zeus, the supreme god, had deprived them of it. In order to punish him, Zeus chained him to a rock in the Caucasus, where an eagle fed each day on his liver, which grew again each succeeding night.

This mythical figure has long inspired visual artists as well as poets and musicians, and in May 1992 Claudio Abbado presented four very different works on the subject in the Berlin Philharmonie. The concert began with excerpts from Beethoven’s ballet music to The Creatures of Prometheus, following by Liszt’s symphonic poem Prometheus, itself a response to Johann Gottfried Herder’s dramatic poem Prometheus Unbound. After the interval came excerpts from Luigi Nono’s Prometeo, the world premiere of which had been conducted by Abbado in Venice eight years earlier. Finally Martha Argerich unleashed a veritable firestorm with Scriabin’s Prométhée – Le Poème du feu, prompting the critic of Gramophone to describe her as “crazed high priestess, her delirious, delicate and unpredictable solo weaving through the orchestra like a bubbling stream of consciousness”.

The director Christopher Swann compiled the present film on the basis of the above material, calling it Musical Variations on a Myth. In the course of the film he depicted Prometheus as “creator of man” (Beethoven), “bound and liberated” (Liszt), “bringer of light” (Scriabin) and “the eternal wanderer” (Nono). Swann’s aim was to do far more than merely provide a faithful account of the actual concert. Instead he sought to identify new aspects in the music by means of his imaginative visualization of the material. The magazine Fanfare described the result as “well worth watching”.


© 1992 EuroArts Music International

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