Franz SchubertSymphony no. 8 in B minor »Unfinished« Alban BergDer Wein Gustav Mahler Symphony no. 4 Conductor Fabio Luisi/ Soprano Marlis Petersen
In the fall of 2010, the MCO returns to its Italian residence, Ferrara—as it does, every year—to open the upcoming concert season. For the first time, the MCO will collaborate with Italian conductor Fabio Luisi and soprano Marlis Petersen.
On the programme is Franz Schubert’s Seventh Symphony, Alban Berg’s concert aria, Der Wein, and Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. The programme will be repeated on November 2nd in Madrid, where the MCO has been invited to perform for the third time in 2010, and again on November 3rd in Murcia, where the orchestra will make its first appearance.
The concert begins with Schubert’s unfinished Seventh Symphony, written in 1822, which consists of only two movements instead of the usual four. Not once, however, does one have the impression that the they are incomplete fragments: both movements are rich in musical character, and the piece appears as such a self-contained entity that it is often assumed that Schubert had deliberately left the work unfinished. The significance of Schubert’s B minor symphony in the history of music lies, above all, in its tone: this work introduces a new, poetic, and romantic sound into the symphonic repertoire, which can already be heard in the melancholic and wistful main theme of its opening measures.
Alban Berg’s 1929 concert aria, Der Wein, follows Schubert’s B minor symphony and is based on the Stefan George translation of Charles Baudelaire’s poem. Alban Berg set the poem in a musically revolutionary manner: this piece unites twelve-tone music and music of the late Romantic period. This work can also be interpreted on a semantic level: as with Berg’s famous Lyrische Suite, the aria contain many hidden codes and concealed references to the composer’s affair with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin.
The programme ends with Gustav Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, which differs, in some respects, from the composer’s other symphonies.
For one, it utilizes a reduced orchestra: there are no trombones, the horn and trumpet sections are smaller, and the timpani are used sparingly. Thus, the sound is less monumental; in comparison to the other symphonies, it is lighter, more transparent, and more resembles chamber music.
The beginning of the piece is also unusual. Jester’s bells introduce a theme which invokes the atmosphere of a Viennese coffee house, as well as the music of Mozart and Haydn. Here, Mahler alludes to Viennese classicism, even if – due to the instrumentation – this allusion is an alienating parody. This unique beginning sets the mood for the composition as a whole – the ambivalence and irony return throughout.
Overall, Mahler’s 4th Symphony is a work full of enigmas. This is especially true of the second movement, a bizarre, haunting, unsettling danse macabre, with collage-like contrasting sections of seemingly innocent, cheery waltzes and pastoral melodies. And the third movement has its surprises as well: the peaceful, soft Adagio collapses without warning, exposing a completely different musical world. Mahler himself wrote in the score that “the heavens open” at this moment. A vision of heavenly paradise appears, leading directly to the fourth movement, a setting of the poem “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life) from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn”. But the heavenly life portrayed in this movement is peculiar and unsettling – the description sounds much more fitting for a “useful southern German vegetable garden, full of effort and work” (Adorno) than for the Garden of Eden. The poem reaches its climax in an absurd parody of Christianity, when John the Baptist is depicted as “letting the lamb go” (to the butcher) – he is, in effect, slaughtering the Agnus Dei. Here, the jester’s bells from the first movement return, signalling that this idyllic vision is not to be trusted, that appearances can be deceiving.
It is only at the very end of the movement, when the beauty of music in Paradise is praised (“There is no music on earth which can be compared to ours”), that all traces of irony and ambivalence disappear. Perhaps the ending could be interpreted thus: Paradise cannot be imagined or described, but music can convey an impression of its wonders.
02 NOV / TUE 19:30 / MADRID >>MORE 03 NOV / WED 19:30 / MURCIA >>MORE