Thursday 30 April
John Adams & Berlioz
One good dream and one bad, tonight’s programme explores works inspired by the strange hallucinations of night time.
1 First Movement
2 The Anfortas Wound
3 Meister Eckhardt and Quackie
Note by John Adams
Harmonielehre is roughly translated as ‘the book of harmony’ or ‘treatise on harmony.’ It is the title of a huge study of tonal harmony, part textbook, part philosophical rumination, that Arnold Schoenberg published in 1911 just as he was embarking on a voyage into unknown waters, one in which he would more or less permanently renounce the laws of tonality. My own relationship to Schoenberg needs some explanation. Leon Kirchner, with whom I studied at Harvard, had himself been a student of Schoenberg in Los Angeles during the 1940s. Kirchner had no interest in the serial system that Schoenberg had invented, but he shared a sense of high seriousness and an intensely critical view of the legacy of the past.
Through Kirchner I became highly sensitised to what Schoenberg and his art represented. He was a ‘master’ in the same sense that Bach, Beethoven and Brahms were masters. That notion in itself appealed to me then and continues to do so. But Schoenberg also represented to me something twisted and contorted. He was the first composer to assume the role of high-priest, a creative mind whose entire life ran unfailingly against the grain of society, almost as if he had chosen the role of irritant.
Despite my respect for and even intimidation by the persona of Schoenberg, I felt it only honest to acknowledge that I profoundly disliked the sound of twelve-tone music. His aesthetic was to me an over-ripening of 19th-century individualism, one in which the composer was a god of sorts, to which the listener would come as if to a sacramental altar. It was with Schoenberg that the ‘agony of modern music’ had been born, and it was no secret that the audience for classical music during the 20th century was rapidly shrinking, in no small part because of the aural ugliness of so much new work being written.
It is difficult to understand why the Schoenbergian model became so profoundly influential for classical composers. Composers like Pierre Boulez and György Ligeti have borne both the ethic and the aesthetic into our own time, and its immanence in present day university life and European musical festivals is still potent. Rejecting Schoenberg was like siding with the Philistines, and freeing myself from the model he represented was an act of enormous willpower.
Not surprisingly, my rejection took the form of parody … not a single parody, but several extremely different ones. In my Chamber Symphony, the busy, hyperactive style of Schoenberg’s own early work is placed in a salad spinner with Hollywood cartoon music. In The Death of Klinghoffer, the priggish, disdainful Austrian Woman describes how she spent the entire hijacking hiding under her bed by singing in a Sprechstimme to the accompaniment of a Pierrot-like ensemble in the pit.
My own Harmonielehre is parody of a different sort, in that it bears a ‘subsidiary relation’ to a model (in this case a number of signal works from the turn of the century like Gurrelieder and Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony), but it does so without the intent to ridicule.
It is a large, three-movement work for orchestra that marries the developmental techniques of minimalism with the harmonic and expressive world of fin-de-siècle late Romanticism. It was a conceit that could only be attempted once. The shades of Mahler, Sibelius, Debussy and the young Schoenberg are everywhere in this strange piece. This is a work that looks at the past in what I suspect is ‘postmodernist’ spirit, but, unlike Grand Pianola Music or Nixon in China, it does so entirely without irony.
Sir Simon Rattle on Harmonielehre
The first part is a 17-minute inverted arch form: high energy at the beginning and end, with a long, roaming Sehnsucht section in between. The pounding E minor chords at the beginning and end of the movement are the musical counterparts of a dream image I had shortly before starting the piece. In the dream I’d watched a gigantic supertanker take off from the surface of San Francisco Bay and thrust itself into the sky like a Saturn rocket.
THE ANFORTAS WOUND
At the time (1984–85) I was still deeply involved in the study of CG Jung’s writings, particularly his examination of Medieval mythology. I was deeply affected by Jung’s discussion of the character of Anfortas, the king whose wounds could never be healed. As a critical archetype, Anfortas symbolised a condition of sickness of the soul that curses it with a feeling of impotence and depression. In this slow, moody movement entitled ‘The Anfortas Wound’, a long, elegiac trumpet solo floats over a delicately shifting screen of minor triads that pass like spectral shapes from one family of instruments to the other. Two enormous climaxes rise up out of the otherwise melancholy landscape, the second one being an obvious homage to Mahler’s last, unfinished symphony.
MEISTER ECKHARDT AND QUACKIE
The final part, ‘Meister Eckhardt and Quackie’, begins with a simple berceuse (cradlesong) that is as airy, serene and blissful as ‘The Anfortas Wound’ is earthbound, shadowy and bleak. The Zappa-esque title refers to a dream I’d had shortly after the birth of our daughter, Emily, who was briefly dubbed ‘Quackie’ during her infancy. In the dream, she rides perched on the shoulder of the Medieval mystic Meister Eckhardt, as they hover among the heavenly bodies like figures painted on the high ceilings of old cathedrals. The tender berceuse gradually picks up speed and mass and culminates in a tidal wave of brass and percussion over a pedal point on E-flat major.
Composer, conductor, and creative thinker – John Adams occupies a unique position in the world of American music. His works stand out among contemporary classical compositions for their depth of expression, brilliance of sound, and the profoundly humanist nature of their themes.
Among Adams’s works are several of the most performed contemporary classical pieces today: Harmonielehre, Shaker Loops, Chamber Symphony, Doctor Atomic Symphony, Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and his Violin Concerto. His stage works, in collaboration with director Peter Sellars, include Nixon in China, The Death of Klinghoffer, El Niño, Doctor Atomic, A Flowering Tree, and the Passion oratorio The Gospel According to the Other Mary. Adams’ most recent opera, Girls of the Golden West, set during the 1850s California Gold Rush, was premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 2017.
Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes?, written for piano soloist Yuja Wang, the LA Phil, and Gustavo Dudamel, premiered in 2019. This season also saw the world premiere of Adams’ new orchestral work I Still Dance, written for Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony.
In 2019 Adams received Holland's prestigious Erasmus Prize, 'for contributions to European culture,' the only American composer ever chosen for this award. Adams has additionally received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Northwestern University, Cambridge University, and the Juilliard School. Since 2009 he has held the position of Creative Chair with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A provocative writer, he is author of the highly acclaimed autobiography Hallelujah Junction and is a contributor to the New York Times Book Review.
As a conductor of his own works and wide variety of repertoire, Adams has appeared with the Berlin Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the orchestras of Seattle, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Toronto.
Biography by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes
1 Daydreams – Passions: Largo – Allegro agitato e appassionato assai
2 A Ball: Waltz – Allegro non troppo
3 Scene in the Country: Adagio
4 March to the Scaffold: Allegretto non troppo
5 Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath: Larghetto – Allegro – Dies Irae – Ronde du sabbat
With all its innovations – including the introduction of instruments, textures, rhythms and gestures new to symphonic music – the Symphonie fantastique has its roots in other music, past and present. It was influenced by the music of Gluck and Spontini, which was for several years Berlioz’s main diet and whose melodic style he absorbed into his innermost being when he first came to Paris in 1821, a boy of 17 who had never heard an orchestra. A few years later, the discovery of Weber, and, still more, of Beethoven at the Conservatoire concerts in 1828 (paralleling the impact of Goethe and Shakespeare) had an even more profound effect upon the young musician, who had, until then, been reared on French Classical opera. The Symphonie fantastique is unthinkable without Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ and Fifth, and without Weber’s Der Freischütz. Above all, the revelation of the symphony as a dramatic form par excellence, and of the orchestra as an expressive instrument of undreamed of richness and flexibility, opened before Berlioz a new world, which he must at all costs enter and inhabit.
It became the springboard for a leap into unknown territory. The influence of Beethoven could only be general, not specific; it was a matter of inspiration, not imitation. So, though Berlioz is deeply concerned with issues of musical architecture, he works out his own salvation. Though he will learn from Beethoven’s technique of thematic transformation, he will not use it as a model. He composes in melodic spans rather than in motifs. The work’s recurring melody, the idée fixe, is 40 bars long and its repetition two-thirds of the way through the first movement represents not a sonata reprise but a stage in the theme’s evolution from monody (a solo line) to full orchestral statement.
No one had composed symphonic music or used the orchestra like this before. As music critic Michael Steinberg wrote:
‘No disrespect to Mahler or Shostakovich, but this is the most remarkable First Symphony ever written.’
It was typical of Berlioz’s boldness and freedom of spirit that his first major orchestral work should comprise a mixture of genres analogous to what the Romantic dramatists were attempting after the example of Shakespeare, and that in doing so he should override the normal categories of symphonic discourse and, in response to the demands of the musical drama, create his own idiosyncratic version of Classical form and bring the theatre into the concert hall.
‘Beethoven opened before me a new world of music, as Shakespeare had revealed a new universe of poetry.’
Yet the score given at the Conservatoire Hall in December 1830 was, to him, a logical consequence of the Beethovenian epiphany that he had experienced two years earlier in the same hall. It was addressed to the same eager young public and performed by many of the same players, under the same conductor, François-Antoine Habeneck. It might embody autobiographical elements: not just his much-publicised unrequited passion for the Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, but his whole emotional and spiritual existence up until then. As he wrote at the front of the manuscript, quoting a poem by Victor Hugo:
‘All I have suffered, all I have attempted … The loves, the labours, the bereavements of my youth … my heart’s book inscribed on every page.’
But, for him, all this was not essentially different from what Beethoven had done in his Fifth and Sixth symphonies. Carrying on from Beethoven, he could use intense personal experience, and movement titles, to bring music’s inherent expressivity still further into the open and at the same time extend its frame of reference and blur still more the distinction between so-called ‘pure music’ and music associated with an identifiable human situation. All sorts of extra-musical ideas could go into the composition, yet music remained sovereign. It could describe the course of one man’s hopeless passion for a distant beloved and still be, as Beethoven said of the ‘Pastoral’, ‘expression of feeling rather than painting’. The literary programme offered to the Conservatoire audience gave the context of the work; it introduced the ‘instrumental drama’ (to quote Berlioz’s prefatory note) whose ‘outline, lacking the assistance of speech, needs to be explained in advance’. But it is not this that holds the symphony together and makes it a timeless record of the ardours and torments of the young imagination: the music does that.
ON LSO LIVE
Daydreams – Passions
Slow introduction; sadness and imagined happiness, creating an image of the ideal woman, represented (Allegro) by the idée fixe: a long, asymmetrically phrased melodic span, first heard virtually unaccompanied, then gradually integrated into the full orchestra. The melody, in its alternate exaltation and dejection, forms the main argument. At the end, like a storm that has blown itself out, it comes to rest on a series of solemn chords.
The beloved is present. Waltz, at first dream-like, then glittering, finally garish. Middle section with the idée fixe assimilated to the rhythm of the dance.
Scene in the Country
A shepherd pipes a melancholy song, answered from afar by another. Pastoral scene: a long, serene melody, with similarities of outline to the idée fixe and, like it, presented as a simple melody by flute and first violins, then in progressively fuller textures. Agitated climax, precipitated by the idée fixe, which later takes on a more tranquil air (without its characteristic sighing fourth). Dusk, distant thunder. The first shepherd now pipes alone. Drums and solo horn prepare for:
March to the Scaffold
The artist imagines he has killed the beloved and is being marched through the streets to his execution. The dreams of the first three movements are now intensified into nightmare and the full orchestral forces deployed: massive brass and percussion, prominent and grotesque bassoons. The idée fixe reappears forlornly on solo clarinet, but is cut off by the guillotine stroke of the whole orchestra.
Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath
Strange mewings, muffled explosions, distant cries. The executed lover witnesses his own funeral. The beloved melody, now a lewd distortion of itself, joins the revels. Dies irae, parody of the church’s ritual of the dead. Witches’ Round Dance. The climax, after a long crescendo, combines round dance and Dies irae in a tour de force of rhythmic and orchestral virtuosity.
Note by David Cairns
David Cairns won the biography category of the Whitbread Prize and the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for his second volume biography on Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness. Working alongside Sir Colin Davis since the 1950s, their Berlioz reputation goes before them: ‘Cairns and Davis made Berlioz not just acceptable, but almost normal, a patient, rational craftsman, a great composer like any other’ (Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times).
Hector Berlioz was born in south-east France in 1803, the son of a doctor. At the age of 17 he was sent to Paris to study medicine, but had already conceived the ambition to be a musician and soon became a pupil of the composer Jean-François Le Sueur. Within two years he had composed the Messe solennelle, successfully performed in 1825. In 1826 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, winning the Prix de Rome four years later. Gluck and Spontini were important influences on the formation of his musical style, but it was his discovery of Beethoven at the Conservatoire concerts, inaugurated in 1828, that was the decisive event in his apprenticeship, turning his art in a new direction: the dramatic concert work, incarnating a ‘poetic idea’ that is ‘everywhere present’, but subservient to musical logic.
His first large-scale orchestral work, the autobiographical Symphonie fantastique, followed in 1830. After a year in Italy he returned to Paris and began what he later called his ‘Thirty Years War against the routineers, the professors and the deaf’. The 1830s and early 1840s saw a series of major works, including Harold in Italy (1834), Benvenuto Cellini (1836), the Grande Messe des Morts (1837), the Shakespearean dramatic symphony Romeo and Juliet (1839), the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (1840) and Les nuits d’été (c 1841). Some were well-received; but he soon discovered that he could not rely on his music to earn him a living. He became a prolific and influential critic – a heavy burden for a composer but one that he could not throw off.
In the 1840s he took his music abroad and established a reputation as one of the leading composers and conductors of the day. He was celebrated in Germany (where Liszt championed him), in Russia (where receipts from his concerts paid off the debt from the Parisian failure of The Damnation of Faust), in Vienna, Prague, Budapest and London. These years of travel produced less music. In 1849 he composed the Te Deum, which had to wait six years to be performed. But the unexpected success of L’enfance du Christ in Paris in 1854 encouraged him to embark on a project long resisted: the composition of an epic opera on The Aeneid which would assuage a lifelong passion and pay homage to two great idols, Virgil and Shakespeare. Although Béatrice et Bénédict (1860–62) came later, the opera The Trojans (1856–58) was the culmination of his career. It was also the cause of his final disillusionment and the reason, together with the onset of ill-health, why he wrote nothing of consequence in the remaining six years of his life. The work was cut in two, and only part performed in 1863, in a theatre too small and poorly equipped. Berlioz died in 1869.
Composer profile by David Cairns
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.
Image: Ranald Mackechnie
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.
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Image: Ranald Mackechnie
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Join us for our next full-length concert
Sunday 3 May 7pm BST
Horn Concerto No 2 in E-flat major
Clarinet Concerto in A major
Oboe Concerto in C major
Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major *
Jaime Martín conductor
Olivier Stankiewicz oboe
Juliana Koch oboe *
Andrew Marriner clarinet
Chris Richards clarinet *
Rachel Gough bassoon *
Timothy Jones horn