Jennifer Koh, Nicholas McGegan and Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Sun, July 19, 2015, 4:30pm
Hailed as “one of the finest … conductors of his generation” (London Independent), Nicholas McGegan leads the Orchestra of St. Luke’s for a performance of three unforgettable masterpieces, joined by high-octane violinist Jennifer Koh.
Mozart No. 25 in G minor, K. 183 Schubert Symphony No. 8 in B minor “Unfinished Symphony” Intermission Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61
Jennifer Koh, violin
Nicholas McGegan, conductor
Orchestra of St. Luke’s
“[Koh is] one of our most thoughtful and intense musicians.” – The New York Times
This concert was broadcasted live and archived by:
Violinist Jennifer Koh is recognized for her intense, commanding performances, delivered with dazzling virtuosity and technical assurance. With an impassioned musical curiosity, she is forging an artistic path of her own devising, choosing works that both inspire and challenge. She is dedicated to performing the violin repertoire of all eras from traditional to contemporary, believing that the past and present form a continuum. She is also committed to exploring connections in the works she performs, searching for similarities of voice among diverse composers and associations within the works of a single composer.
The exploration of Bach’s music and its influence in today’s musical landscape has played an important role in Ms. Koh’s artistic journey. In 2009, she introduced Bach and Beyond, a series of three recitals that explore the history of the solo violin repertoire from Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas to modern day composers including newly commissioned works. This season she introduces the final recital in the series, Bach and Beyond Part 3, which explores the idea of development. The program comprises Bach’s Sonata Nos. 2 and 3, Berio’s Sequenza VIII, and John Zorn’s Passagen (later to include a new work by John Harbison). The second recital program performed during the 2011-13 seasons, concentrated on “firsts and beginnings” and included Bach’s Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1, Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin and a newly commissioned partita by Phil Kline titled Dead Reckoning. The first recital in the series, performed from 2009-11, featured Bach’s Partitas Nos. 2 and 3 and works by Ysaÿe, Saariaho, Carter, and Salonen with a video commission by Tal Rosner. Mr. Rosner’s short film, a dynamic interpretation of Salonen’s work, Lachen Verlernt, was presented at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and is included as a visual component on her recording Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin, released on the Cedille label in 2009.
Ms. Koh has performed Bach and Beyond recitals worldwide, and during the 2013-14 season she performs Part 1 in Dusseldorf, Germany, Part 2 at the Napa Valley Opera House, and Part 3 in Aspen, CO and Santa Barbara, CA among other cities. Since the launch of the series, she has performed Bach and Beyond at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Amherst College, for Berkeley’s Cal Performances, at Oberlin College, in Portland (ME), San Francisco, Santa Barbara, at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda, Town Hall in Seattle, UNC Chapel Hill, University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, and at the Lammermuir Festival in Scotland. Ms. Koh’s Bach and Beyond series is also being released on three CDs by the Cedille label. The first recording in the series, released in October 2012, includes Bach’s second and third Partitas, Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2, Saariaho’s Nocturne for Violin and Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve O My Heart.
In October 2011, Ms. Koh performed, for the first time, Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin in a single concert – a feat long considered the ultimate test of a violinist’s command of her instrument – presented by Columbia University’s Miller Theatre at the Academy of Arts and Letters. She has since played the complete works at the Castleton Festival in Virginia, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts and for Da Camera in Houston. Her interpretations of Bach’s solo works, both in marathon recitals and paired with contemporary pieces, have been praised as thoughtful, intense, energetic and beautifully phrased. In 2009, to commemorate the 325th anniversary of Bach’s birth, Ms. Koh performed a series of lunchtime concerts devoted to the Sonatas and Partitas, also presented by Miller Theatre.
Ms. Koh recently launched another project called Two x Four, celebrating the relationship between teacher and student through music. Named for two violinists and four works, Ms. Koh and Jaime Laredo, her mentor and former teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music, perform works for two violins and orchestra including Bach’s Double Concerti for Two Violins, Philip Glass’s Echorus for two violins and string orchestra, Anna Clyne’s Prince of Clouds (premiered in November 2012 with the IRIS Orchestra in Memphis) and David Ludwig’s Seasons Lost (premiered in May 2012 with the Delaware Symphony). In the spring of 2014, Ms. Koh and Mr. Laredo will perform works from Two x Four with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Alabama Symphony Orchestra. They have previously performed works from Two x Four with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and all four concertos with the Curtis Chamber Orchestra in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. A recording of Two x Four with the Curtis Chamber Orchestra is scheduled for release by Cedille in the spring of 2014.
Ms. Koh reprises the solo violin role of Einstein in Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach this season with performances in Los Angeles and Berlin. Never before seen in North America outside of New York City until the current tour, Ms. Koh has previously performed Einstein in Ann Arbor with the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, at Toronto’s Luminato Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. First presented in 2012 in celebration of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday, the new production is a historic restaging based on the original 1976 version and the first revival with the original creators since 1992.
In the 2013-14 season, Ms. Koh plays a broad range of concertos that reflect the breadth of her musical interests. She performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto for her debut with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel, as well as with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Portland Symphony Orchestra (ME), and Reno Philharmonic. She also plays Barber’s Violin Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra and Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Berg’s Violin Concerto with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Britten’s Violin Concerto with the Orchestra National de Lorraine, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl, and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with the Shreveport Symphony.
Ms. Koh is passionate in her efforts to expand the violin repertoire and has established relationships with many of today’s composers, regularly commissioning and premiering new works. This season she returns to Miller Theatre to perform the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Frises for violin and electronics and Bach’s Partita No. 2. Ms. Saariaho’s Frises is directly inspired by Bach’s D minor partita, drawing on Baroque forms while incorporating live electronics to stretch the sounds of the solo violin. In April 2014 at Carnegie Hall, Ms. Koh will perform the New York premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms, a concerto for violin with chorus with the New York Choral Society–a work she premiered in 2007 with the commissioning orchestras, the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Christoph Eschenbach, the Minnesota Orchestra led by Osmo Vänskä and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by Robert Spano,
the latter of which was recorded and released by Telarc in September 2010. In addition to premiering works by Anna Clyne, Phil Kline, and David Ludwig in recent seasons, Ms. Koh became the only violinist other than Lorin Maazel to perform his violin concerto, conducted by Mr. Maazel at the Castleton Festival and gave the U.S. premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s Third Violin Concerto “Juggler in Paradise” with the National Symphony led by Christophe Eschenbach, a work she performed in her 2008 PROMS debut with the BBC Symphony conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. She premiered Mark Grey’s Mugunghwa with the LA Masterworks Chorale; and Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve, O My Heart, commissioned for her by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a concert that also featured Ms. Koh with composer/guitarist Steve Mackey in his own piece, Four Iconoclast Interludes with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by John Adams.
Since the 1994-95 season when she won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the Concert Artists Guild Competition, and the Avery Fisher Career Grant, Ms. Koh has been heard with leading orchestras and conductors around the world, including the Atlanta Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, New World Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony and Seattle Symphony. Abroad, she has appeared with the BBC London Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony, the Brandenburg Ensemble, Czech Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony, Lahti Symphony, London Philharmonia, Moscow Radio Symphony, Singapore Symphony and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra where she performed the Russian premiere of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto conducted by Valerie Gergiev. A prolific recitalist, Ms. Koh appears frequently at major music centers and festivals including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Aspen, Castleton, Grant Park, Marlboro, Spoleto, Wolf Trap and The Festival International de Lanaudiere in Canada.
A committed educator, Ms. Koh has won high praise for her performances in classrooms around the country under her innovative “Music Messenger” outreach program. Now in its 10th year, the program continues to form an important part of her musical activities. “The majority of children in this country have not been given an opportunity to learn music as a form of self expression,” Ms. Koh asserts, “and I want to share the experience of creating and listening to music with them.” Her outreach efforts have taken her to classrooms all over the country to perform for thousands of students who have little opportunity to hear classical music in their daily lives. “Music is a visceral experience which can create a positive outlet for emotions and a place for inner expression that is more compelling than time spent in front of the television or at a mall,” she adds. Ms. Koh is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Foundation for the Advancement for the Arts, a scholarship program for high school students in the arts.
Ms. Koh brings the same sense of adventure and brilliant musicianship to her recordings as she does to her live performances. Her most recent album, “Signs, Games & Messages” titled after Kurtág’s work, will be her eighth for the Chicago-based Cedille label. The recording, released in October 2013, includes Janácek’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, Bartók’s First Sonata, Kurtág’s Tre Pezzi: Three Pieces for Violin and Piano, and a selection of solo piano and solo violin pieces by Kurtág (two of which involve voicing by Ms. Koh) performed with pianist Shai Wosner. Her other albums on Cedille include Bach and
Beyond Part I, named one of the best recordings of 2012 by the New York Times; Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin; a Grammy-nominated recording String Poetic which features the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s work for which the album is named, as well as works by John Adams, Lou Harrison and Carl Ruggles, performed with pianist Reiko Uchida; an acclaimed CD devoted to the complete Schumann violin sonatas; Portraits, a disc featuring the Szymanowski and Martinu violin concertos recorded with the Grant Park Orchestra under conductor Carlos Kalmar; a concept album titled Violin Fantasies comprising fantasies for violin and piano by Schumann, Schoenberg and jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman; and a program centered on Bach’s Chaconne that includes solo chaconnes by turn of the century contemporaries Richard Barth and Max Reger.
Born in Chicago of Korean parents, Ms. Koh began playing the violin by chance, choosing the instrument in a Suzuki-method program only because spaces for cello and piano had been filled. She made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11. In a shift of disciplines, Ms. Koh earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from Oberlin College before studying at the Curtis Institute, where she worked extensively with Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir. Ms. Koh is on the string faculty of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
As he embarks on his fourth decade on the podium, Nicholas McGegan — long hailed as “one of the finest baroque conductors of his generation” (London Independent) and “an expert in 18th-century style” (The New Yorker) — is increasingly recognized for his probing and revelatory explorations of music of all periods. He is Music Director of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Pasadena Symphony, and Artist in Association with Australia’s Adelaide Symphony.
Now in his 29th year as its music director, McGegan has established the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Philharmonia Chorale as one of the world’s leading period-performance ensembles, with notable appearances at Carnegie Hall, the London Proms, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and the International Handel Festival, Göttingen. In 2014 McGegan and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra will perform twice at Lincoln Center. Throughout his career, McGegan has defined an approach to period style that sets the current standard: serious and intelligent, but never dogmatic. More recently, Philharmonia Baroque is branching out under his leadership. Calling the group’s recent recording of the Brahms Serenades “a truly treasurable disc,” James R. Oestreich in The New York Times made special note of the performance’s “energy and spirit.” The recording, said Voix des Arts, offers “evidence that ‘period’ instruments are in no way inhibited in terms of tonal amplitude and beauty. These are … exceptionally beautifully played performances.”
McGegan’s ability to engage players and audiences alike has made him a pioneer in broadening the reach of historically informed practice beyond the world of period ensembles to conventional symphonic forces. His guest-conducting appearances with major orchestras — including the New York, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong Philharmonics; the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Toronto and Sydney Symphonies; the Cleveland and the Philadelphia Orchestras; and the Northern Sinfonia and Scottish Chamber Orchestra — often feature Baroque repertoire alongside Classical, Romantic, 20th-century and even brand-new works: Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Britten, Bach and Handel with the Utah Symphony; Poulenc and Mozart with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Mahler and Mozart with the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra; and the premiere of Stephen Hough’s Missa Mirabilis with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, paired with Haydn, Brahms and Mendelssohn. His position in Pasadena, provides the opportunity to conduct a wider range of his favorite repertoire, including Dvořák, Britten, Elgar, Mahler, Brahms and Wagner. In Adelaide he will lead composer-driven Festivals, beginning with two weeks devoted to Beethoven in 2014.
Active in opera as well as the concert hall, McGegan was principal conductor of Sweden’s perfectly preserved 18th-century Drottingholm Theater from 1993 to 1996. He has also been a frequent guest conductor with opera companies including Covent Garden, San Francisco, Santa Fe and Washington.
Mr. McGegan has enjoyed a long collaboration with groundbreaking choreographer Mark Morris, notably the premiere performances of Morris’s production of Rameau’s Platée at the Edinburgh Festival and L’Allegro at Ravinia and the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York. In 2014 Mr. McGegan rejoined the Mark Morris Dance Group, along with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale and renowned soloists for the premiere and touring performances of Mr. Morris’s new production of Handel’s Acis and Galatea in an arrangement by Mozart.
His discography of more than 100 releases includes the world premiere recording of Handel’s Susanna, which garnered both a Gramophone Award and a GRAMMY® nomination, and recent issues of that composer’s Solomon, Samson and Acis and Galatea (the little-known version adapted by Felix Mendelssohn). Under its own label, Philharmonia Baroque Productions (PBP), Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has recently released six acclaimed archival recordings in addition to the Brahms: Beethoven’s Symphonies 4 and 7, Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été and selected Handel arias with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; Haydn Symphonies No. 88, 101 and 104, nominated for a GRAMMY® Award; Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and other concerti with Elizabeth Blumenstock as violin soloist; Handel’s Atalanta with soprano Dominique Labelle in the title role and Teseo with Labelle singing the role of Medea.
Mr. McGegan is committed to the next generation of musicians, frequently conducting and coaching students in residencies and engagements at Yale University, the Juilliard School, Harvard University, the Colburn School, Aspen Music Festival and School, and the Music Academy of the West. In 2013 he delivered the commencement address and was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Music by the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Born in England, Nicholas McGegan was educated at Cambridge and Oxford and taught at the Royal College of Music, London. He was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for 2010 “for services to music overseas.” His awards also include the Halle Handel Prize; an honorary professorship at Georg-August University, Göttingen; the Order of Merit of the State of Lower Saxony (Germany); the Medal of Honour of the City of Göttingen, an honorary doctorate from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and an official Nicholas McGegan Day, declared by the Mayor of San Francisco in recognition of his distinguished work with Philharmonia Baroque.
Orchestra of St. Luke’s
Orchestra of St. Luke’s (OSL) is one of America’s most versatile and distinguished orchestras, collaborating with the world’s greatest artists and performing approximately 70 concerts each year—including its Carnegie Hall Orchestra Series, Chamber Music Series at The Morgan Library & Museum and Brooklyn Museum, and summer residency at Caramoor Music Festival. OSL has commissioned more than 50 new works, including four this season; has given more than 170 world, U.S., and New York City premieres; and appears on more than 100 recordings, including four Grammy Award winners and seven releases on its own label, St. Luke’s Collection. Pablo Heras-Casado, named 2014 Conductor of the Year by Musical America, is OSL’s principal conductor.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this season, OSL began as a chamber ensemble based at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village. Today, St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble consists of 21 virtuoso artists who perform a diverse repertoire and make up OSL’s artistic core.
OSL owns and operates The DiMenna Center for Classical Music in Midtown Manhattan, where it shares a building with the Baryshnikov Arts Center. The DiMenna Center is New York City’s premier venue for rehearsal, recording, and learning, having quickly gained a reputation for its superb acoustics, state-of-the-art facilities, and affordability. Since opening in 2011, The DiMenna Center has welcomed more than 50,000 visitors, including more than 300 ensembles and artists such as Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, Emanuel Ax, Joshua Bell, Valery Gergiev, James Levine, James Taylor, and Sting.OSL hosts hundreds of neighbors, families, and school children at its home each year for free community events.
Through its Community & Education programs, OSL has introduced audiences across New York City to live classical music. OSL brings free chamber concerts to the five boroughs; offers free interactive music programs at The DiMenna Center; provides chamber music coaching for adult amateurs; and engages 10,000 public school students each year through its Free School Concerts. In 2013, OSL launched Youth Orchestra of St. Luke’s (YOSL), an intensive in- and after-school instrumental coaching program emphasizing musical excellence and social development, in partnership with Police Athletic League (PAL) and public schools in the Clinton / Hudson Yards neighborhood.
About the Music
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart/ 1756-1791 / Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, who began calling himself Wolfgang Amadeo about 1770 and Wolfgang Amadè in 1777 (but never Wolfgang Amadeus), was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna on December 5, 1791. He composed the “little” G minor symphony in Salzburg in 1773; it was almost certainly performed in Salzburg at that time, though no date of performance is known. It was also probably performed in Vienna about ten years later. The score calls for two oboes, two bassoons, four horns, and strings.
Much ink has been spilled over the fact that this wonderful symphony, often called the “little G minor” to distinguish it from the later K.550 (admittedly one of the glories of music), was Mozart’s first symphony in a minor key. It came at a time when many Austrian composers, Haydn among them, as well as such lesser lights as d’Ordoñez and Vanhal, were all trying their wings with symphonies set in minor keys. It is rather hard for us—standing as we do on the far side of the romantic gulf—to imagine a musical culture in which just about everything was cheerful, chipper, and decoratively in the major. Weltschmerz was simply not a subject for music, at least not during a particular rather restricted period of time that we most often refer to as “rococo” (following our customary musical practice of stealing terminology from the art historians).
There had been highly complicated and expressive music exploiting minor keys during the Baroque era, but the swing of taste in the mid‑18th century had driven out anything that might be too serious. A frivolous backlash ensued. Eventually it palled, and the important composers experimented, at least briefly, with minor keys once again. This time has been labeled the Sturmund Drang, or “storm and stress” period (the name comes from a contemporary German play of that title). It has sometimes been referred to as the “romantic crisis,” but no emotional crisis has ever been resolved with less strain—and without even the need to consult a psychiatrist! The composers involved each wrote a handful of symphonies in minor keys and declared themselves cured.
Yet in the process they made some expressive discoveries. This confluence of cheery rococo decorations with the stormy effusions of the “romantic crisis” helped bring about the creation of the mature classical style, in which composers could move freely and expressively between extremes of mood, in a way that would have been impossible a generation earlier. The new style was fully exploited by Mozart and Haydn in the works that we treasure the most from the whole period, those compositions that still form the core repertory of our musical lives.
As for the oft‑made assertion that the “little G minor” was Mozart’s introduction to this expressive world in the realm of the symphony, writers have overlooked the earlier Sinfonia in D minor (K.118 [K.74c]) composed three years before. Indeed, even as a child of seven Mozart had shown his awareness of these realms: when visiting England, he wrote a keyboard piece in G minor (K.15p) in which the keyboard was treated in quite a symphonic manner with all of the gestures that became stereotyped in—and were claimed as the invention of—the later period.
We don’t know why Mozart composed this particular work, but it was certainly done with an impending performance in view, since as a practical musician he never wrote music purely for its own sake as a theoretical exercise. The first performance, then, certainly took place in Salzburg soon after the work’s completion. That Mozart thought highly of it is clear from a letter that he wrote from Vienna a decade later, on January 4, 1783, urgently asking his father to send some of the scores he had left in Salzburg; this G minor symphony was among them. Since he thanked his father for a package that arrived on February 15, we can assume that the scores came then and were used for a performance sometime that spring. By that time he had completed the Haffner Symphony, one of the earliest of his symphonies to have remained almost continuously in the repertory, so that if he expressed himself willing to introduce the earlier G minor symphony to Vienna, he must have done so out of a justifiable pride in his ten-year-old score.
The symphony opens with the dramatic gestures characteristic of this “romantic crisis:” stormy syncopations, dramatic tremolos, daring (for the time) chromaticism, passionately leaping thematic ideas. And yet already Mozart is the master of the means of expression that in the hands of a lesser composer might have been repeated in stereotyped fashion; the opening theme, played with the strings vigorously syncopated, soon returns in the plangent solo oboe over the lightest of unsyncopated string accompaniments, thus turning fierceness to lament. Slashing rhythmic figures passed between the violins and cellos mark a return to fierceness soon after.
Mozart demonstrates similar control of his expressive moods in the slow movement, a miniature sonata form, in which the color darkens magically during an unexpected harmonic extension in the recapitulation.
After the vigorous G minor of the Menuetto, the open‑air rusticity of the Trio, which is played entirely by wind instruments and in the major mode, is a welcome bright relief.
The finale returns to the fierceness of the opening movement, eschewing a shift to G major for a lighter, “sociable” ending and continuing the string syncopations of the beginning. And yet here too Mozart shifts moods with the utmost naturalness between one phrase and the next, with a lighter lyric idea filled with those pensively rising Mozartean chromaticisms. Nonetheless most of the movement remains a field of combat for intense contrapuntal treatment of the principal ideas, revealing a Mozart who can express himself with great power when he chooses.
Franz Schubert/ 1797-1828 / Symphony No. 8 in B minor, “Unfinished”
Franz Peter Schubert was born in Liechtental, a suburb of Vienna, on January 31, 1797, and died in Vienna on November 19, 1828. The score of the two movements of his unfinished B minor symphony is dated October 30, 1822. A scherzo exists in fairly complete piano sketch, and the first nine measures of the scherzo, fully scored, are on the reverse of the last page of the second movement. An additional page of score, containing eleven measures, recently turned up in Vienna. The first performance of the Unfinished was given under the direction of Johann von Herbeck in Vienna on December 17, 1865, with the last movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D, D.200, appended as an incongruous finale. The two completed movements call for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets in pairs, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
Schubert’s most popular symphony is also the most mysterious—and it was the very last of his eight symphonies to reach performance. The fact of its incompleteness, combined with the expressiveness of the two movements that were finished, gave rise to endless speculation: Why would a composer abandon a work after so splendid a beginning? Schubert finished the two complete movements in 1822 and sketched a third, even to the point of orchestrating the first twenty bars. But then he gave it up. And by the time he died in 1828 the manuscript was no longer in his possession; it remained concealed for more than thirty‑five years. The rediscovery and first performance of the Unfinished in 1865 was a revelation to all present—and it has never lacked for performances since that day.
The riddle of the Unfinished Symphony may be less mysterious when we learn that, following the completion of his Symphony No. 6 in C major, D.589, in February 1818, Schubert left a number of works incomplete, among them two attempts at symphonies that never grew larger than sketches or fragments. (One of these, a symphony in E minor/major, has been completed by several different people, including Felix Weingartner and, most recently, Brian Newbould; both realizations have been published and performed.)
At some point after composing six symphonies (which, delightful as they are, reflect a different musical mentality), Schubert completely changed his view of the expressive and technical requirements of a symphony. Surely encounters with Beethoven’s music left him dissatisfied with the kind of work he had written earlier. His magnificent fluency and improvisatory skill no longer sufficed. The whole function and point of the symphony as a musical form needed rethinking. The fact that a majority of the uncompleted works are in minor keys suggests, too, that Schubert had difficulty finding a suitable ending to such works—especially after the example of such symphonies as Beethoven’s Fifth, which seemed to struggle from C minor to its triumphant conclusion in C major. How many such solutions could there be? In this light, Schubert’s failure to finish even the scherzo may have been a kind of despair: unable to conceive an appropriate finale for the symphonic structure he had started, he simply dropped the work totally when he realized that its completion was beyond him.
The history of the manuscript is tied up with Schubert’s friends Anselm and Josef Hüttenbrenner of Graz. Anselm had been a fellow‑student of Schubert’s in the composition classes of Antonio Salieri in 1815. They remained warm friends, even after Anselm returned to Graz in 1821, while Josef, whose view of Schubert verged on idolatry, remained in Vienna. In April 1823 the Styrian Musical Society in Graz awarded Schubert a Diploma of Honor. When the diploma was actually delivered to Schubert in September, he responded with a letter of thanks and the promise to send “one of my symphonies in full score.” In the end, it was the two completed movements of the B-minor symphony that he gave to Josef for transmission to Anselm. He had already finished the two existing movements on October 30, 1822; by the following autumn he was ready to admit that the symphony was never going to be finished. At the same time he evidently wanted to fulfill his promise promptly, so he sent the incomplete piece to Graz.
After Schubert died, in 1828, his fame gradually grew as more and more of his music reached performance. By 1865 the existence of the unfinished symphony was an open secret. All of Schubert’s other symphonies (including the long‑overlooked C major work appropriately known as the Great) had been performed, and admirers of his music scoured Vienna, looking for lost pieces and finding many. Eventually Anselm Hüttenbrenner was persuaded to part with the 40-year-old manuscript. At the premiere, the originality of the score, never heard except in its composer’s imagination, captured all hearers.
The two movements that Schubert left are rich in his characteristic melodic expressiveness, bold in harmonic adventure, warm in orchestral color. The first movement contained an idea of such pungency that no less a musician than Johannes Brahms, who edited Schubert’s symphonies for the Breitkopf edition of his complete works at the end of the nineteenth century, couldn’t believe that Schubert intended it; he edited it out of existence!
The movement opens with a mysterious whisper in the low strings, made still darker by the soft tremolo of the violins’ melody over the plucked ostinato in the basses. Soon oboe and clarinet sing a keening, lonely melody. At first the listener might take this for a slow, minor‑key introduction to a symphony, but eventually it becomes apparent that this is the very body of the work—an entirely new kind of symphonic mood. The opening ideas build to an emphatic climax and drop out, leaving bassoons and horns holding a single note, which suddenly melts into a chord that brings a second theme of ineffable yearning. There follow a series of dramatic outbursts and a dying away in the new key when suddenly oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns sing out a sustained unison B (over a plucked descending line in the strings) designed to lead back to the repeat of the exposition (the first time) or on to the development (the second time). It is here that Schubert startled Brahms. Just before the phrase resolves, Schubert wrote an F‑sharp chord, the dominant in B minor, an utterly conventional harmony which required the second bassoon and the first horn to change their pitch to the new chord. But then Schubert decided to intensify the harmony by sustaining the long‑held B through the dominant chord (making a dissonance against it), and he rewrote the second bassoon and first horn parts. Brahms didn’t believe him; he “corrected” the parts for his edition, and it has been copied in almost every edition (and performance) since then. The present performance goes back to Schubert’s final intention and the pungent dissonance just before the resolution (the same thing happens again, at the similar spot that introduces the coda, near the end of the movement).
The development is based largely on the dark opening theme, converted to a sighing lament and later to a powerful dramatic outburst. After so much attention in the development, Schubert dispenses with it at the beginning of the recapitulation, starting instead with the violins’ tremolo and the plucked bass notes.
The second movement brings in a bright E major, a key that is particularly striking after the darkness of B minor. Here, especially, the wonderful flexibility of Schubert’s harmony leads us on a poignant musical journey that ends in mystery, with a sudden final skewing to a distant harmonic horizon left unexplained (though if Schubert had found a way to complete the score, the harmonic adventure would certainly have been clarified before the end).
When Schubert died so prematurely, the poet Grillparzer noted, “Music has here entombed a rich treasure, but still fairer hopes.” Schubert never achieved his fairer hopes with the B minor symphony, but scarcely a richer treasure can be found anywhere.
Ludwig van Beethoven/ 1770-1827 / Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61
Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and died in Vienna on March 26, 1827. He completed the Violin Concerto in 1806, shortly before its first performance by Franz Clement at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on December 23 that year. In addition to the solo violin, the score calls for flute, two each of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
The popular image of Beethoven, derived from what has been called his “middle period,” is of a composer who writes dramatic, tempestuous music, challenging—in its energy and aggressive power— the cozy assumptions of older music. This is not a false image, of course, yet it is a thoroughly one‑dimensional view of the composer, utterly failing to notice the rather prominent appearance of works projecting a wondrous sense of lyricism. In the last half of 1806, to take a single instance, Beethoven finished in rapid succession the Violin Concerto, the Fourth Symphony, and the Fourth Piano Concerto, all of which feature a markedly lyric style for works of a kind that elsewhere are “heroic” or “dramatic.” Yet even this generalization is too easy: the “lyric” Violin Concerto (Opus 61) was followed almost immediately by the very dramatic Coriolan Overture (Opus 62).
Beethoven wrote the concerto for a remarkable musician named Franz Clement, who had been known as a child prodigy in the 1790s, when his father had taken him on concert tours. In 1794 Beethoven heard the fifteen-year old boy play in Vienna, and signed his autograph book as a memento of the occasion. Clement became the music director of the Theater an der Wien from 1802 to 1811. His musical memory was prodigious. When meeting with Beethoven to discuss possible cuts in the original version of his Fidelio, he played through the entire score at the piano without music. In April 1805 he was the concertmaster for the first public performance of the Eroica Symphony. It was for this remarkable colleague that Beethoven wrote his violin concerto. The story goes that he barely finished the work in time for the concert, and Clement is supposed to have played his part at sight, which must be, at the very least, a slight exaggeration.
Clement’s playing was renowned for grace, delicacy, and purity of intonation, and these are precisely the qualities called for in the soloist’s first entrance. In any case, it marks the concerto with a special benison, for Beethoven is far more concerned with the range and depth of his musical architecture and expression than he is with mere opportunities for the soloist to show off (the besetting sin of so many concertos designed primarily for virtuosos). Clement’s executive talents did not, however, prevent him from indulging in a little “showmanship” at the premiere, where he interpolated into the middle of Beethoven’s concerto—between the first and second movements—a stunt piece of his own, played with his instrument held upside down!
Beethoven was primarily a pianist, but he had also played the viola, and he surely understood the fact that the essence of the stringed instruments is a singing legato tone. To that end he created a concerto that begins with the ne plus ultra of violinistic themes, a tranquil, floating melody that hovers over the ensemble. Yet what we first hear as a melody in the strings is not quite the beginning: the very first thing we hear, most remarkably, is a solo measure for the timpani, playing four soft quarter‑note beats (and a fifth stroke at the downbeat when the rest of the orchestra enters). It is so quiet that it is easy to overlook; and few people in Beethoven’s day thought of the timpani as a “thematic” instrument. Yet those five beats on a single pitch form the true beginning of the theme, a fact that becomes clearer throughout the exposition of the material. And we are inescapably reminded of this at the recapitulation when the whole orchestra pounds it out.
Beethoven’s slow movement is a set of variations on a rapt theme, contemplative and almost motionless at first. The soloist’s commentary on this is exceptionally tender. Little by little the winds join in and punctuate. Eventually, though, the strings reject the idea of a new beginning mooted by the horns, and the soloist leads—with a trill—into the rollicking final rondo, a lively, even earthy, contrast to the ethereal mood of the slow movement. The rustic character is emphasized by fanfares connecting the main themes and by the humor of the soloist’s two pizzicato notes near the end—the only time the soloist is required to pluck, rather than bow, the strings in the entire concerto. That witty touch encourages all the participants to open up for a boisterous conclusion.