CARNEGIE HALL CELEBRATES BERLIN
Premiered on January 7, 2008 on PBS (check local listings)
The evening's program was recorded live at New York's Carnegie Hall in November 2007.
"Symphony No. 9"
Music by Gustav Mahler
Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle
1. Andante comodo
2. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers
3. Rondo -- Burleske: Allegro assai
In the first movement, Mahler quotes a descending theme from the Beethoven piano sonata known as "The Farewell." The music develops into what composer Alban Berg described as "the expression of an exceptional fondness for this earth, the longing to live in peace on it, to enjoy nature to its depths -- before death comes." Mahler champion Leonard Bernstein likened the tentative rhythm in this opening movement to Mahler's own irregular heartbeat.
The second movement derives its character from dance rhythms, especially the Austrian Ländler, but, as Bruno Walter wrote, the ultimate message here is that "the dance is over." An aggressive, unsettled third movement has a taunting edge, a reminder, perhaps, of the crueler lessons of life. The concluding adagio opens with a piercing cry from the strings, but moves toward a calm resignation; the last measures are reduced to melodic fragments and sighs. As Michael Steinberg writes in his incisive book THE SYMPHONY, "The gestures of dissolution and parting with which [Mahler's "Ninth"] ends are of annihilating poignancy."
"Concerto for Orchestra" (excerpt)
Music by Bela Bartók
The Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel
4. Intermezzo interrotto: Allegretto
5. Finale: Presto
There is a bittersweet background to Bela Bartók's "Concerto for Orchestra," one of the most popular works of 20th-century music. As fascism extended its deadly reach across Europe, the Hungarian composer emigrated in 1940 to New York, where few people knew or appreciated him. By 1943, his income was paltry, his health poor. Down to only 87 pounds, he was in the hospital (eventually diagnosed with polycythemia) when eminent conductor Serge Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony, paid a visit. Almost instantly, Bartók's health and wealth brightened.
Koussevitzky brought with him a $1,000 commission for an orchestral piece and gave Bartók half of the money right there. Soon after, the composer left the hospital and started work on what would become the "Concerto for Orchestra." It premiered in Boston on December 1, 1944, generating a sensational response.
Top banner photo: Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic
photo: Violinists of the Berlin Philharmonic