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Tonight's programme

Wednesday 15 January

Berg Seven Early Songs
Beethoven Symphony No 7
Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Dorothea Röschmann soprano
London Symphony Orchestra

Part of Beethoven 250 at the Barbican

‘Music is at once the product of feeling and knowledge.’

Alban Berg

Alban Berg, Seven Early Songs (1905–8, orch. 1928)

1. Nacht (Night)
2. Schilflied (Song of the Reeds)
3. Die Nachtigall (The Nightingale)
4. Traumgekrönt (Crowned by Dreams)
5. Im Zimmer (In the Room)
6. Liebesode (Ode to Love)
7. Sommertage (Summer Days)

Berg composed around 100 songs for voice and piano in the first years of the 20th century. In 1928 he selected and orchestrated seven of them.

The songs you will hear tonight combine Berg's style - prompted by the modernist experiments of his teacher Arnold Schoenberg - and post-Romantic lushness.

Painting by Arnold Schoenberg. Alban Berg, 1910, Oil on canvas, 175,5 x 85 cm, Museen der Stadt Wien, Vienna

Listening guide:

The poem set in Night expresses wonder at a misty valley scene transformed by moonlight. Berg balances the eerie with the enchanted, creating colouristic effects with the harp, muted trumpet and (at the end) a magical gentle gong.

1 Nacht (Night)

Dämmern Wolken über Nacht und Thal,
Nebel schweben. Wasser rauschen sacht.
Nun entschleiert sich’s mit einem Mal:
O gieb acht! gieb acht!

Twilight floats above the valley’s night,
Mists are hanging, there’s a whisp’ring brook.
Now the cov’ring veil is lifted quite:
Come and look! O look!

Weites Wunderland ist aufgethan,
Silbern ragen Berge traumhaft gross,
Stille Pfade silberlicht thalan
Aus verborg’nem Schoss.

See the magic land before our gaze:
Tall as dreams the silver mountains stand,
Crossed by silent silver paths
Shining from a secret land.

Und die hehre Welt so traumhaft rein.
Stummer Buchenbaum am Wege steht
Schattenschwarz – ein Hauch vom fernen Hain
Einsam leise weht.

Noble, pure, the dreaming country sleeps.
By the path the shadow black and high of a beech;
A wisp of white smoke creeps to the dark’ning sky
Where the valley is the darkest hued.

Und aus tiefen Grundes Düsterheit
Blinken Lichter auf in stummer Nacht.
Trinke Seele! trinke Einsamkeit!
O gieb acht! gieb acht!

By the path the shadow black and high of a beech;
Countless little lights shine silently.
O my soul! Drink of solitude!
Come and see! O see!

Text: Carl Hauptmann

We stay with the evening light for the intimately scored Song of the Reeds – using just 15 instruments. Here, the poet, among rustling reed beds, contemplates his lover. Shimmering strings and woody tones (plucked basses and cellos, bassoon) add to the soundscape.

2 Schilflied (Song of the Reeds)

Auf geheimem Waldespfade
Schleich ich gern im Abendschein
An das öde Schilfgestade,
Mädchen, und gedenke dein!

Through green secret paths I wander
To the reedy pool’s quiet brink,
In the evening there to ponder,
Sweet girl, there of thee to think.

Wenn sich dann der Busch verdüstert,
Rauscht das Rohr geheimnisvoll,
Und es klaget, und es flüstert,
Daß ich weinen, weinen soll.

Soon the sun’s rays will be dying,
Rustling reeds speak secretly,
Ever moaning, ever sighing,
Telling me to weep for thee.

Und ich mein, ich höre wehen
Leise deiner Stimme Klang
Und im Weiher untergehen
Deinen lieblichen Gesang.

And it seems the breezes blowing
In the air your voice retain,
And the water, scarcely flowing,
Brings your song to me again.

Text: Nikolaus Lenau

The most gushingly Romantic of the set tells how the song of The Nightingale has inspired roses to bloom. The scoring is for strings alone and the passionate leaping lines permeate both voice and orchestra.

3 Die Nachtigall (The Nightingale)

Das macht, es hat die Nachtigall
Die ganze Nacht gesungen;
Da sind von ihrem süßen Schall,
Da sind in Hall und Widerhall
Die Rosen aufgesprungen.
Sie war doch sonst ein wildes Blut;
Nun geht sie tief in Sinnen,
Trägt in der Hand den Sommerhut
Und duldet still der Sonne Glut
Und weiß nicht, was beginnen.

The nightingale,
Which sings to thee throughout the night,
Discloses in gardens its sweet melody,
Heard echoing from tree to tree,
That bears a thousand roses.
She used to be a wild young maid,
Now she in meditation
Walks in the sun and scorns the shade,
Nor of the wind and rain afraid:
Is it pain or exaltation?

Das macht, es hat die Nachtigall
Die ganze Nacht gesungen;
Da sind von ihrem süßen Schall,
Da sind in Hall und Widerhall
Die Rosen aufgesprungen.

The nightingale,
Which sings to thee throughout the night,
Discloses in gardens its sweet melody,
Heard echoing from tree to tree,
That bears a thousand roses.

Text: Theodor Storm

Darkly enigmatic, Crowned by Dreams uses closely packed motifs to almost claustrophobic effect. The poem describes how the poet’s love comes to him in a dream and steals his soul.

4 Traumgekrönt (Crowned by Dreams)

Das war der Tag der weißen Chrysanthemem,
Mir bangte fast vor seiner Pracht ...
Und dann, dann kamst du mir die Seele
nehmen Tief in der Nacht.
Mir war so bang, und du kamst lieb und leise,
Ich hatte grad im Traum an dich gedacht.
Du kamst, und leis’ wie eine Märchenweise
Erklang die Nacht.

The white chrysanthemums did bloom as never:
I almost feared their brilliant light.
And then, and then you came my soul to gather
deep in the night.
I was afraid, and you came softly to me,
As I’d just hoped in dreaming that you might.
You came, and softly like an old, old story
We heard the night.

Text: Rainer Maria Rilke

There’s a cosy – even naïve – mood to In the Room. Scored without strings, which tells of a woman’s simple pleasure in resting by the fire with her loved one.

5 Im Zimmer (In the Room)

Der liebe Abend lacht so still herein,
Ein Feuerlein rot
Knistert im Ofenloch und loht.
So! Meinen Kopf auf deinen Knien,
So ist mir gut;
Wenn mein Auge so in deinem ruht.
Wie leise die Minuten ziehn.

An autumn night.
The evening looks in with its dying light.
A fire gaily burns,
Crackles and brightly glows by turns.
So! My head upon your knee:
That’s happiness!
When my eyes your lovely face caress,
How silently the minutes flee.

Text: Johannes Schlaf

Ode to Love is the most richly sumptuous, enigmatic and luminously scored song of the set.

6 Liebesode (Ode to Love)

Im Arm der Liebe schliefen wir selig ein.
Am offnen Fenster lauschte der Sommerwind,
und unsrer Atemzüge Frieden
trug er hinaus in die helle Mondnacht.

Embraced by love we blissfully fell asleep.
A breeze of summer stood by the garden door,
Waiting to bear our peaceful breathing
Out to the night that was bathed in moonlight.

Und aus dem Garten tastete zagend sich
ein Rosenduft an unserer Liebe Bett
und gab uns wundervolle Träume,
Träume des Rausches – so reich an

And from the garden came to us timidly
The roses’ fragrance blessing our bed of love
And bringing wonderful sweet dreaming,
Dreaming in rapture, and filled with longing.

Text: Otto Erich Hartleben

By contrast, Summer Days concludes the sequence with a song that radiates passion and dramatic sweep.

7 Sommertage (Summer Days)

Nun ziehen Tage über die Welt,
gesandt aus blauer Ewigkeit,
im Sommerwind verweht die Zeit.
Nun windet nächtens der Herr
Sternenkränze mit seliger Hand
über Wander – unt Wunderland.

Now days of summer ride through the world,
Heralds of blue eternity;
On gentler winds the hours flee.
By night the Lord gently weaves
Starry posies with his blessed hand,
Hangs them over his magic land.

O Herz, was kann in diesen Tagen
dein hellstes Wanderlied denn sagen
von deiner tiefen, tiefen Lust;
Im Wiesensang verstummt die Brust,
nun schweigt das Wort, wo Bild um Bild
zu dir zieht und dich ganz erfült.

My heart, in these days summer’s bringing
What can you say with all your singing
Of what you deeply, deeply feel?
For beauty all your words doth steal,
And comes in silence with the view
Of eventide, and filleth you.

Text: Paul Hohenberg

Texts/translations reprinted with permission of Universal Edition (London) Ltd

Alban Berg (1885–1935)

Alban Berg was born in Vienna in 1885, and began composing at the age of 15. He had already written many songs when he came to the attention of the composer Arnold Schoenberg, who became his teacher in 1904. Schoenberg was a pioneer of serialism, a technique whereby the 12 notes of the Western chromatic scale follow in a fixed succession – obliterating conventional melody and harmony.

Berg experimented with new techniques, including serialism, and developed his own musical voice in his String Quartet of 1910, moving to larger forces in the Altenberg Lieder (1912), a set of songs for voice and orchestra, which caused a riot at its premiere.

Following World War I Berg won an international reputation with his first opera, Wozzeck, while his Chamber Symphony, written for Schoenberg’s 50th birthday, incorporated serial techniques and hidden ciphers linked to Schoenberg, Berg and Anton Webern (the third member of this influential trio of composers, known as the Second Viennese School).

Berg would continue his use of serialism in the Lyric Suite (1925-6) for string quartet, the opera Lulu (completed after his death and first performed in its entirety only in 1979), and in the Violin Concerto – but often not as rigorously as Schoenberg and Webern.

He died from sepsis on Christmas Eve 1935 after an insect sting on his back became infected.

Berg and the Altenberg Lieder riot

Though Berg’s songs may not seem very controversial to you tonight, some of his work provoked outrage and even violence in his lifetime.

In Vienna, on 31 March 1913, a riot took place at a concert conducted by Schoenberg that saw the premiere of two songs from Berg’s Five Orchestral Songs after Picture-Postcard Texts by Peter Altenberg. Fighting broke out, the police were called, and a blow exchanged by the concert organiser became subject of a law suit. Sources report composer Oscar Straus, 'testified that it had been the most harmonious sound of the evening'.

The audience called for both composer and poet to be sent to the asylum (despite it being public knowledge that Altenberg was already committed to an asylum at the time). The songs were not performed complete until 1952, almost 40 years later.

Watschenkonzert ('Slap in the face' concert), caricature in Die Zeit from April 6, 1913

Watschenkonzert ('Slap in the face' concert), caricature in Die Zeit from April 6, 1913

Berg – what’s his number?

Berg employed palindromes (sequences of notes reading the same back-to-front) and cryptograms (using the letters of note-names to spell out words or initials) in his works. He was also fixated with the number 23, which he used to structure several of his works. (His first asthma attack fell on 23 July.) He once noted that a telegram sent to him by Schoenberg was timed at 11.50 – i.e. 50 x 23.

Beethoven, Symphony No 7 in A major, Op. 92 (1811–12)

1. Poco sostenuto – Vivace
2. Allegretto
3. Presto – Assai meno presto
4. Allegro con brio

'BEETHON', created by Prof. Klaus Kammerichs, Bonn, 1986.

'BEETHON', created by Prof. Klaus Kammerichs, Bonn, 1986.

Often a piece of music will surprise us in reflecting a mood that runs completely at odds with the composer’s circumstances at the time it was written: Vaughan Williams’s serene Fifth Symphony, for example, appeared at the height of World War II in 1943. By contrast, Beethoven’s exuberant Seventh Symphony seems to entirely reflect the rejuvenation he felt during a period of recuperation in the Bohemian spa town of Teplitz in 1811, at the time he began writing the symphony.

Rhythmic drive was not new for Beethoven – you only need to think of the famous four-note opening of the Fifth Symphony – but in the Seventh he took rhythm’s propulsive force to a new level. Each of the four movements, even the slower second movement, is possessed by emphatic repetition of tight rhythmic motifs.

The composer Weber, after hearing the Seventh, is said to have declared Beethoven ‘ripe for the madhouse’, and Wagner – who famously described the work as ‘the apotheosis of dance’ – noted how ‘melody and harmony unite around the sturdy bones of rhythm’.

Rattle on Beethoven

Tonight’s conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, has said: ‘It is as extreme a piece – in terms of rhythm and emotion and (almost) hysteria – as was ever written. It almost demands that you throw yourself off the mountain top while you’re playing it.’

‘Beethoven’s symphonies together are a kind of Everest for all of us to climb. And they also keep us all honest, because they were inventing a new type of music, a type of honesty and directness, that had never been created before. And so, for us it’s always a matter of always coming back and trying to do justice to these astonishing pieces. As Samuel Beckett said, ‘Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

In his early twenties Beethoven left his native Bonn for Vienna, where he became established as a composer, piano virtuoso and improviser of great ability. Largely following the Classical models of Haydn and Mozart in his ‘early’ period, he recognised signs of his impending deafness as early as 1796.

In 1802, he revealed his suffering and alienation, his thoughts of suicide and his creative resolve in his Heiligenstadt Testament. His ‘middle’ period was characterised by a broadening of form and an extension of harmony to suit his proto-Romantic expression, spawning the Symphonies Nos 2 to 8, notable piano sonatas, several string quartets and his only opera, Fidelio.

He produced less music in his ‘late’ period (from 1813) but his last years saw his mould-breaking ‘Choral’ Symphony and an exploration of increasing profundity in the more intimate mediums of the string quartet and piano sonata.

Beethoven the revolutionary

From the ‘wrong-key’ opening of his Symphony No 1 to the outrageous addition of a choir to bring home a message of peace and unity at the end of the Symphony No 9, Beethoven remains one of the most radical of all symphonists. The familiar four-note motif at the opening of his Symphony No 5 was adopted by Allied forces during the Second World War as a symbol for victory – its short–short–short–long rhythm spelling ‘v’(dot–dot–dot–dash) in Morse code.

Artwork by the Barbican for Beethoven 250.

The symphonic scoreboard

Beethoven completed nine symphonies and began a 10th before his death in 1827. Here’s how that tally compares with other composers: Haydn (104), Mozart (41), Schubert (9, plus the ‘Unfinished’), Mahler (9, plus the unfinished tenth), Tchaikovsky (6), Sibelius (7), Shostakovich (15). The Finnish composer and conductor Leif Segerstam (born 1944) has beaten them all: he has notched up more than 335 symphonies since 1977.

Tonight's Artists

Dorothea Röschmann

Born in Flensburg, Dorothea Röschmann was awarded the title of Kammersängerin at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin in 2017, where she was a member of the ensemble for many years. In 1995, she made a critically acclaimed début at the Salzburg Festival as Susanna with Harnoncourt and has returned to the Festival many times to sing with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Daniel Harding, Charles Mackerras and Christoph von Dohnányi.

A prolific recitalist, she has appeared at London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Het Concertgebouw, Wiener Konzerthaus and in Antwerp, Lisbon, Madrid, Cologne, Brussels, Oslo and at the Edinburgh, Munich, and Schwarzenberg Festivals. This season she will sing with Daniel Barenboim at the Pierre Boulez Saal, Berlin. She has also appeared with Mitsuko Uchida at the Lucerne Festival, London’s Wigmore Hall and on tour in the US, culminating in a recital at New York’s Carnegie Hall. Herlive recording from Wigmore Hall won the Best Solo Vocal Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards.

Sir Simon Rattle

Sir Simon Rattle was born in Liverpool and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. From 1980 to 1998, he was Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and was appointed Music Director in 1990. In 2002, he took up the position of Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic where he remained until the end of the 2017/18 season. He became Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra in September 2017.

Sir Simon regularly tours within Europe, North America and Asia, and has long- standing relationships with the world’s leading orchestras. Initially working closely with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Boston Symphony Orchestras, Simon has also recently worked with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. Sir Simon is also a Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Founding Patron of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Sir Simon Rattle was knighted in 1994. In the New Year’s Honours of 2014 he received the Order of Merit from Her Majesty the Queen.

The LSO was established in 1904 and has a unique ethos. As a musical collective, it is built on artistic ownership and partnership. With an inimitable signature sound, the LSO’s mission is to bring the greatest music to the greatest number of people.

The LSO has been the only Resident Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in the City of London since it opened in 1982, giving 70 symphonic concerts there every year. The Orchestra works with a family of artists that includes some of the world’s greatest conductors – Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director, Principal Guest Conductors Gianandrea Noseda and François-Xavier Roth, and Michael Tilson Thomas as Conductor Laureate.

Through LSO Discovery, it is a pioneer of music education, offering musical experiences to 60,000 people every year at its music education centre LSO St Luke’s on Old Street, across East London and further afield.

The LSO strives to embrace new digital technologies in order to broaden its reach, and with the formation of its own record label LSO Live in 1999 it pioneered a revolution in recording live orchestral music. With a discography spanning many genres and including some of the most iconic recordings ever made the LSO is now the most recorded and listened to orchestra in the world, regularly reaching over 3,500,000 people worldwide each month on Spotify and beyond. The Orchestra continues to innovate through partnerships with market-leading tech companies, as well as initiatives such as LSO Play. The LSO is a highly successful creative enterprise, with 80% of all funding self-generated.

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Programme notes by Edward Bhesania
Edward Bhesania is a writer and editor who reviews for The Strad and The Stage. He has also written for The Observer, BBC Music Magazine, International Piano, The Tablet and Country Life.

Top Image: Scott Rodgerson Artist Images: Jim Rakete; Harald Hoffmann / Sony Entertainment