Auditorium Rainier III

Durée approximative 1h20

Anton Webern
Im Sommerwind, idylle pour grand orchestre

Béla Bartók
Concerto pour piano et orchestre no 3, Sz. 119

Anton Webern
Passacaglia pour orchestre, op. 1

Henri Dutilleux
Symphonie no 1

Dezsö Ranki, piano
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo
Kazuki Yamada, direction

Silence and Survival

If there is one thing that musicians don’t want to be buried alongside them, it is their music – the immortal voice that survives them, to enrich the future. Our program offers not so much resurrections as reincarnations, since, without directly quoting works of the past, Béla Bartók, Anton Webern, and Henri Dutilleux each made use of a style, a structure or an orchestral color from an earlier time. With this ancient manure, they germinated the seeds of an art entirely of their time. Behind this evening’s threesome, we can perceive subtle shades of the Baroque polyphonists, of Bach, of Mozart and Beethoven and of Strauss and Mahler.

When the symphony of nature rustles and quivers

Silence rises up from the origins, before evaporating in death. Here, it may be silence of nature at rest or that of a musician in search of himself. Anton Webern was still a music student when he wrote Im Sommerwind, one of his earliest pieces, in the summer of 1904. This symphonic poem in no way foreshadowed the austere, condensed language characteristic of his mature years. On the contrary, the young artist adopted a post-romantic aesthetic, in which the revered figure of Richard Strauss seems omnipresent. From the outset, the thematic material positions the work as a continuation of Romanticism. Webern takes verses by the German poet Bruno Wille – on a summer evening, an idyllic landscape is shaken by a violent storm, the song of the lark eventually heralds a return to tranquility and nature falls silent at the onset of dusk. The score follows the script unrestrainedly. Nature awakens with a gentle rustling, out of which woodland chirruping emerges, before a wind springs up. These naturalistic portrayals are accompanied by mood shifts ranging from meditative contemplation to ecstatic effusion.

Béla Bartók’s Piano Concerto no. 3 also celebrates nature. However, rather than heralding a creative burgeoning, as with Webern, this homage to the elements came at the very end of Bartók’s composing life. Diagnosed with leukemia, Bartók knew that his end was near and at his death, in 1945, seventeen bars remained un-orchestrated. In spite of these gloomy circumstances, the work is one of great vitality, displaying verve and freshness throughout its three movements. Classical in construction, it contains allusions to Bach and Beethoven (Adagio religioso) and somewhat more diffuse references to the style of Mozart (Allegretto) or to Baroque dances (Allegro vivace). Above all, in the central part of the second movement, Bartók reconnects with pure nature. This section, scattered with birdsong and forest murmurs, contrasts, by its strangeness, with the classicism surrounding it. Perhaps Bartók was trying to ward off imminent death with this cathartic and wonderfully luminous piece of writing. With these evocations of the past and of nature, he enters the sphere of the immortals and finds rest therein – but not silence.

When ghosts of the past dance the passacaglia

The passacaglias by Webern and Dutilleux also revel in silence. Born of almost nothing, they swell gloomily, before returning to the nothingness from which they sprang. Whereas Bartók in old age proved chatty, the young Webern and Dutilleux tended to the taciturn. Just four years separate Webern’s Passacaglia from his symphonic poem Im Sommerwind – four years in which he studied with Schoenberg and refined his compositional technique. The composer’s retrospectively labeled “op. 1” is cast in the ancient musical form of a passacaglia, with an obsessive bass-line of eight bars, serving as the basis for 23 variations. Within this limited framework, Webern constructs a gigantic arch – woven with melodic recurrences and evolving from desolation to lyricism – in which hints of Mahler can be detected.

Traversing the generations, Webern’s op. 1 haunts the Passacaglia of the Symphony no. 1 (1951) by Henri Dutilleux, rather as Mahler haunted Webern. Webern’s misty shadow reveals itself in every one of its parameters: the Passacaglia’s structural rigor, the arched shape, the proliferation of motifs, the gloomy atmosphere and the draw towards silence. The continuation of the symphony – which follows the classical four-movement model – extends this aura of mystery and obsession. The Scherzo is a frenetic perpetuum mobile, while, note by note, the mists of the Intermezzo shape a floating cantilena, which serves as the theme for the massive variations of the Finale. The Symphony no. 1 is the first purely orchestral composition by Dutilleux and one of his first major works. It delighted a vast public and ensured the composer’s international success. In it, we can already discern the discretion and the dreamlike quality so dear to Dutilleux – musical qualities that so often emerge from and ultimately dissolve into silence.

Louise Boisselier

Photo ©JC Vinaj – OPMC

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