Artists

Orchestra

4 - 7 Jan '21

Tour III
4 - 7 Jan '21

Les Siècles

Tour

Concert dates and locations

Artists

Programme Bern, Geneva and Zurich

Setting aside the Piano Concerto in A minor, concertante works occupy a somewhat marginal position in Schumann's production. He did, however, produce two pieces for violin and orchestra. After hearing violinist Joseph Joachim perform Beethoven's Violin Concerto in Düsseldorf in 1853, Schumann was quick to compose a concerto for the young virtuoso. Joachim was first enthusiastic about the work, but later expressed reservations. A year after Schumann's death, the violinist approached the composer's widow to complain about "awful passages" in the last movement, presumably referring to technical problems. Clara Schumann, Joachim and Brahms finally agreed never to publish the work. The violinist eventually bequeathed the manuscript to his eldest son. The latter in turn sold the concerto to the Prussian State Library in Berlin, with the proviso that the work was not be performed or published in the century following Schumann's death. The concerto is believed to have been rediscovered in 1933 thanks to Jelly d'Arányi's gift of clairvoyance. The young violinist and great-niece of Joachim claimed to have received a message from Schumann concerning the location of an unpublished violin piece. The concerto was tracked down in Berlin, where it was premiered in 1937 by German violinist Georg Kulenkampff and conductor Karl Böhm. Music lovers were finally able to discover a concerto that showcases all the violin's resources. The second movement certainly stands out for the beauty of its theme, while the finale is a bouncy Polonaise. Yehudi Menuhin regarded Schumann's late work as "the missing link between Beethoven and Brahms".
Modest Mussorgsky was a self-taught genius who devoted most of his creative energy to vocal music. There is understandably no trace of the Pictures at an Exhibition in his small output of symphonic works. This suite of ten pieces inspired by watercolours, drawings and literary sketches by Viktor Hartmann was written for the piano. Mussorgsky had built a solid friendship with this Russian architect of German ancestry, who died shortly before his fortieth birthday. Devastated by the sudden loss of his friend, Mussorgsky found solace only after visiting the posthumous retrospective devoted to Hartmann at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. This exhibition presented some four hundred drawings and watercolours, mostly produced during the artist's travels in Europe. In the summer of 1874, Mussorgsky paid tribute to his friend with a piano suite which he wrote within a few days. The work is the composer's very personal visit of the exhibition, paced by his own steps (illustrated by the Promenade which punctuates the pieces). Since most of Hartmann's paintings have disappeared, it is difficult to identify them accurately through Mussorgsky's pieces. The composer, in fact, drew most of his inspiration from insignificant details or even from paintings excluded from the retrospective. Beyond the pictural anecdote, this suite is far more a psychological fresco that echoes the composer's personal fascinations, especially his obsession with death. The original piano version was published in 1886, five years after Mussorgsky's death. Ravel's orchestration (1922), by far the most famous of all the posthumous transcriptions, was commissioned by conductor Serge Koussevitzky.

Programme Lucerne

Setting aside the Piano Concerto in A minor, concertante works occupy a somewhat marginal position in Schumann's production. He did, however, produce two pieces for violin and orchestra. After hearing violinist Joseph Joachim perform Beethoven's Violin Concerto in Düsseldorf in 1853, Schumann was quick to compose a concerto for the young virtuoso. Joachim was first enthusiastic about the work, but later expressed reservations. A year after Schumann's death, the violinist approached the composer's widow to complain about "awful passages" in the last movement, presumably referring to technical problems. Clara Schumann, Joachim and Brahms finally agreed never to publish the work. The violinist eventually bequeathed the manuscript to his eldest son. The latter in turn sold the concerto to the Prussian State Library in Berlin, with the proviso that the work was not be performed or published in the century following Schumann's death. The concerto is believed to have been rediscovered in 1933 thanks to Jelly d'Arányi's gift of clairvoyance. The young violinist and great-niece of Joachim claimed to have received a message from Schumann concerning the location of an unpublished violin piece. The concerto was tracked down in Berlin, where it was premiered in 1937 by German violinist Georg Kulenkampff and conductor Karl Böhm. Music lovers were finally able to discover a concerto that showcases all the violin's resources. The second movement certainly stands out for the beauty of its theme, while the finale is a bouncy Polonaise. Yehudi Menuhin regarded Schumann's late work as "the missing link between Beethoven and Brahms".
France and the symphony - that was no easy relationship in the 19th century. Paris had a hard time with Beethoven's legacy and, following the example of Berlioz (Symphonie fantastique), tended to focus on programmatic works. One of the few composers who countered this tendency was Camille Saint-Saëns. After three youth symphonies, he wrote in 1885 the Symphony in C minor that had been commissioned by the renowned Royal Philharmonic Society in London. The work plays in a fascinating manner with both traditional and innovative elements. The usual four-movement construction is retained but reshaped with an individual touch: Saint-Saëns combined the movements two by two, Allegro/Adagio and Scherzo/Finale, into larger units. Why this measure? This is related to the main theme of the Allegro, which carries over to all the other movements. It is derived from the Gregorian Dies Irae pattern but loses its ominous character as the symphony progresses. In the first attempt, which stretches to the end of the Adagio, this intention doesn't quite succeed. Only at the second attempt, on the path leading from the Scherzo to the Finale, does the Die Irae change and becomes a festive chorale. The first-time use of an organ in a symphony orchestra supports this process tonally. There was, of course, a model for this unusual aesthetic concept in the person of Franz Liszt. The symphony is dedicated to his memory - the Hungarian composer having died shortly after the London premiere of Saint Saëns' symphony.

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Good to know

The orchestra founded in 2003 by François-Xavier Roth has a vast period-instrument collection at its disposal to perform each repertoire on appropriate historical instruments. Les Siècles gathers outstanding young players and ambitions to offer a new approach, not only to repertoire but also to the nature of the concert form. This historically informed work enhances in particular French Romantic music and the repertoire of the Ballets Russes. In 2017, the ensemble started to record Ravel's complete orchestral works, which met with great international success. Les Siècles is in residency in the Aisne department (northern France) and is associated artists at the Cité de la Musique in Soissons. Apart from performing regularly in other major venues, both in Frace and abroad, the orchestra also undertakes educational actions in schools, hospitals and prisons. The ensemble was also the creator and central feature of the television show Presto, followed by millions of French viewers.

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