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7 Oct '20

Concert
7 Oct '20

Bavarian State Orchestra

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Anton Webern went down in music history as a master of the small form who composed only a handful of orchestral works. In 1908, after completing his composition studies with Arnold Schönberg, he made his Passacaglia op. 1 publicly known. It is a threshold work in the best sense of the word, both retrospective and prospective. If this op. 1 had purely been a "graduation project", one might have expected it to be related to the sound universe of late Romanticism. Instead, Webern chose the strict form of the baroque Passacaglia: variations on a short theme, mostly in the bass line. Its historical models include composers such as Frescobaldi, Purcell and Bach, as well as Brahms (Finale of the 4th Symphony). Besides, Webern had been engaged in an intensive study of the music of Heinrich Isaac in previous years. The theme of his Passacaglia is first introduced by the strings. It consists of eight notes that can be assigned to the key of D minor. The task of the following 23 variations is to enhance the emotional content of this raw material. The theme itself retreats behind a network of ornamentation and counterpoint. The emotional density of the last variations and the fading conclusion suggest, however, that this music is not only a proof of craftsmanship. This Passacaglia instead allowed Webern to deal with a personal twist of fate, the death of his mother in 1906.
Manon Gropius was Alma Mahler's daughter from her marriage to the architect Walter Gropius. Many intellectuals were enraptured by the young woman's charisma; she is like "an angelic gazelle from heaven" said the writer Elias Canetti. When Manon died of polio at the age of 18, Vienna was shocked. Her stepfather Franz Werfel remembered her in two stories, while Alban Berg dedicated his violin concerto to her. This work was initially commissioned by Louis Krasner. When Berg was approached by the American violinist in February 1935, he was still working on his opera "Lulu", but felt financially strained by the National Socialists' seizure of power. Berg therefore immediately tackled this "drudgery". As soon as Manon's death was announced in April, the concert took shape as music of memory, an instrumental requiem.
The two parts of the work correspond to the girl's life and the afterlife: the first part attempts to capture the characteristics of the deceased, while the second is devoted to her legacy. The concerto is based on a twelve-tone series that not only contains major and minor triads, but also the beginnings of a Carinthian folk song and a Bach chorale. Berg thus combined the avant-garde compositional style learned from his teacher Schönberg with traditional elements. The Violin Concerto tragically became Berg's own Requiem: in the course of his work, the composer was infected by a mosquito bite and died of septicaemia at the end of 1935.
With his Third Symphony, Ludwig van Beethoven broke new compositional ground. Not only is the piece considerably longer than the longest symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, but its inner conflicts are also far more profound than anything that has gone before - more precisely: beyond the boundaries of the movements. The massive orchestral outbursts that conclude the dramatic first movement are more a breath of fresh air than an ending. The underlying conflicts remain unresolved, the development continues with the funeral march (second movement), the momentum of the Scherzo upswing to the dancing intoxication of the Finale. Only then has the goal been reached. The Symphony in E-flat major is thus more than just a sequence of four different movements. It is based on a superordinate idea, a programme, which is yet another Beethovenian innovation. Circumstances of the time and hope for a better future – in the air since the French Revolution – are what drive this programme. The "Eroica" translates this hope into music. Beethoven thought he had found in Napoleon Bonaparte a suitable bearer of hope. It turned out, however, that the latter was as corruptible as others, which is why the composer withdrew the dedication he had planned. May such a masterpiece be modified? Gustav Mahler did, taking into account the significant progress in playing technique and instrument making that had been made in the meantime. His interventions in the musical text were primarily limited to instrumentation. Mahler's intention was, therefore, not to improve Beethoven, but to help him meet his intentions.

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Good to know

Munich counts no less than three orchestras of international standing, but only the Bavarian State Orchestra is active in both concert and opera. As the house orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera, its roots lay back in the 16th century. Musical personalities such as Orlando di Lasso, Agostino Steffani or Georg Joseph Vogler have conducted this orchestra in the past. In the 20th century, the most celebrated opera conductors headed the ensemble. Richard Strauss was a regular guest, as were Bruno Walter and Clemens Krauss. Conductors such as Wolfgang Sawallisch, Carlos Kleiber, Zubin Mehta and Kent Nagano later left their mark. Under Kirill Petrenko, the Bavarian State Orchestra has won without interruption since 2013 the annual title "Orchestra of the Year" awarded by the magazine "Opernwelt". In 2021 Vladimir Jurowski will succeed Petrenko as General Music Director.

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