Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy – Jörg Widmann:
180 beats per minute
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11
About the event
Like many other composers in the 19th century, Mendelssohn was also a performer and conductor. Though there are few such musical polymaths today, Jörg Widmann is certainly one. This time he appears in a triple role as conductor of his own composition, as well as a soloist at the beginning of the concert. Two pieces by Mendelssohn, who was only 15 at the time, but had already developed his signature style, provide the framework for this concert, interspersed with shorter works by Widmann. The world-class clarinetist often draws inspiration from the music of the past, but with a natural ease and originality that render the outcome both familiar and at the same time surprisingly novel.
Woodwinds did not really appeal to Mendelssohn and he composed few pieces for them. His sonata for clarinet and piano written in 1824 remained unpublished up until 1987. The slow movement resembling the composer’s Songs without Words opens with a beautiful melody, accompanied by gentle thrumming in Widmann’s version reworked for clarinet, strings, harp and celesta.
The Widmann block opens with the 10-movement Free Pieces. Each movement focuses on a different acoustic phenomenon such as the ambiguity of tone, floating or monophony. The final note of a movement becomes the opening note of the next movement in each case, merging the ten completely contrasting miniatures into one fluid, organic continuum.
Con brio composed in 2008 is an homage to Beethoven. Though the orchestral overture contains no specific Beethovenian motifs, its instrumentation, the structure of the accompanying parts, its ornamentations and humor are clear reflections of Symphonies No. 7 and 8 by the Viennese composer. The Beethovenian chords are interspersed with the most extreme Widmannian sound schemes with a special focus on the timpani throughout.
Commenting on his 180 beats per minute, Widmann wrote: “The work makes no claims to be more than the sum of its parts — the sheer enjoyment of rhythm”. The freshly graduated Widmann composed the piece in 1993, inspired by fast “techno beats.” Except for the six-voice canon at the end, the piece is harmonically and structurally simple, though intriguing due to its unyielding beat.
The symphony concluding the concert was written for the 19th birthday of the composer’s sister Fanny. The tone is cheerful despite the key (C minor) and, in addition to Mozartian influences, the work showcases Mendelssohn’s fluent and compelling harmonic writing. The snappy and complex finale also testifies for his maturity as a composer.
Did you know? Widmann’s reworking of Mendelssohn’s piece premiered in Limerick on March 15, 2016 (conducted by the composer), his Free Pieces, Con Brio and 180 beats per minute debuted in Cologne on March 8, 2002 (conductor: Dominique My), in Munich on September 25, 2008 (conductor: Mariss Jansons) and also in Munich on January 1, 1993 (conducted by the composer), respectively, and Mendelssohn’s symphony was first performed in Leipzig on February 1, 1827 (conductor: Johann Philipp Christian Schulz); the Festival Orchestra last played the Free Pieces in Budapest on January 24, 2016 (conducted by the composer) and Mendelssohn’s symphony also in Budapest on February 19, 2012 (conductor: Iván Fischer).
Contemporary events in 2016, 51.9 per cent of British voters voted for the United Kingdom to leave Europe / in 2016, the Guggenheim Museum in New York opened an exhibition of the works of Hungarian-American artist László Moholy-Nagy / the premiere of Three Tales, a video opera by the American composer Steve Reich was at the Vienna Festival on May 12, 2002 / the Large Hadron Collider started operating on 10 September 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland / in September 1993, the newly independent Baltic republics were visited by Pope John Paul II / American composer John Adams wrote his Violin Concerto in 1993, which premiered in the following year in Minnesota / The Prairie, a novel by American writer James Fenimore Cooper, first appeared in 1827 / the first volume of German poet Heinrich Heine entitled The Book of Songs was published in 1827