1.-4. Hartmann : Violinkonzert "Concerto funèbre"
5.-7. Weinberg : Concertino op. 42 für Violine & Streicher
8. Weinberg : Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes op. 47 Nr. 3 (für Violine & Streicher arr. Ewelina Nowicka) 10:44
9. Schostakowitsch : Unfinished Sonata for Violin and Piano Moderato con moto (1945) 5:25
Karl Amadeus Hartmann: The Art of Mourning
“On every portrait of Karl Amadeus Hartmann—whether painted by his brother Adolf or on one of the numerous photographs—you notice the striking, radiant eyes of the composer” writes Klaus Kalchschmid about the composer. “They reflect the vast curiosity that shaped Hartmann throughout his life, but also his vulnerability. It also indicates an openness with which Hartmann challenged his friends and colleagues around him.”
This vulnerability and openness shows in his music, which seems to confess, to mourn, and to plea in timeless, consonant ways. The communicative aspect was important to Hartmann, who was not interested in academic exercises. (And in fact he was asked, by an exacerbated professor, to suspend composition classes in favor of the trombone at the conservatory.) “While I work, I am also preoccupied with the effect of a work as a whole: The whole ought to represent a piece of absolute life—truth that spreads joy and is connected to grief… I don’t want disimpassioned intellectualisms but a work of art with a statement.”
Hartmann was the student of Anton Webern, an admirer of Arnold Schoenberg, and a liberal quoter from Alban Berg, but he was anything but a mindless disciple of the 12-tone cult: “Those who compose slavishly in acquiescent dependency on tone rows can certainly crank their bits out at a nice clip. But… you cannot just skirt the burden of tradition by replacing old forms with new ones. We have to accept that our path has become more difficult than that of our great idols before us.” Hartmann consequently developed a musical voice that makes him one of great if lamentably unsung composers of the 20th century.
Of the composers who were among the many secondary victims of the Third Reich—shunted, not gassed—and the subsequent shift in musical ideology (also including Walter Braunfels, Wolfgang Fortner, Boris Blacher, Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling et al.), Hartmann was probably the most successful after the war, for the short 18 years he lived after 1945. His music evokes a dazzling, heterogeneous array of other composers—one of the surest signs of the total originality that marks Hartmann. From Karol Szymanowski or Alban Berg’s violin concertos, Ravel’s La valse or Sibelius’ Andante Festivo, to the darker, edgier tones of Eduard Tubin, Allan Pettersson, or Bernd Alois Zimmermann, there’s little that could not be said to remind of Hartmann here and there.
Hartmann thoroughly abandoned and occasionally destroyed or extensively reworked his early compositions which he found too dated or tailored too closely to trends of the time. Only his two string quartets, containing kernels of later echt-Hartmann, are exempt from such harsh judgment. His first success, premiered by his mentor and friend Hermann Scherchen, was Miserae, his first symphonic work (and indeed for some time called Symphony No.1), which he would eventually incorporate into his Sixth Symphony. The next great work, a pivot of his composing career, was the Violin Concerto.
The began life in a particularly dark period of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s. Freedom, indeed humanity, seemed under siege in the late summer of 1939. The Nazis had Germany in their grip for six years. Books had been burned, pogroms incited, Jews expelled or incarcerated, intellectuals cowed; art that didn’t suit the rulers was declared degenerate and of unGerman spirit. The demilitarized Rhineland had been occupied and the Wehrmacht invaded Poland on September 1st. A little over a month later Poland capitulated. If humanity was not yet quite at the brink of defeat—annihilation even—it would be, just a few years later, and the writing was on the wall for those who wanted to see it.
For less sensitive people, doubts were drowned out by the propaganda clanking and clinking that accompanied the country’s initial military successes. This was the added perniciousness for those who opposed the regime and everything that went with it. Hartmann’s creative will was undermined by doubts amid an aggressive burgeoning and embrace of mediocrity all around him. But withdrawn into inner immigration, and refusing to have his works performed in Germany, Hartmann was fuelled by the determination that “freedom [would] prevail, even if we ourselves were destroyed.” In this climate, still two years before he attained a glimmer of happiness amid the darkness— the time he spent with Anton Webern between 1941 and 1942 and their ensuing friendship—Hartmann set out to write a funereal piece for string orchestra in one movement. Just a few months later it had morphed into the four-movement Violin Concerto—the Concerto funebre.
The “Violin-Concertino”—as the German composer and music theorist Winfried Zillig refers to it—is such a profound and deeply personal musical statement that it communicates this with moving immediacy to the listener even today… inconceivably far removed though we are from the events and the circumstances of Hartmann’s war-time Germany. It was “a counterpoint of profound mourning to the hysterical jubilations during the Polish campaign” (Zillig). The work received its premiere on leap day, 1940, by the St. Gallen Chamber Orchestra in the presence of the composer and his three brothers, who all made the trip to reasonably neutral Switzerland. Except for a long-lost bit of incidental music (presumably composed to retain a claim to royalties from abroad), it would be his last composition for the duration of the war.
The first movement of the Concerto is essentially a long solo part, accentuated by the orchestra. Hope enters into it in its form of determination. It has a stubborn air, force calm, with willful slow, regular breathing. The second movement, by turn, shows nervous anguish and dejection, anger and futility side by side. A glimmer of Wagner may shine through, and there is a serene, coolly searing sadness. The third movement strikes as ghoulish at first hearing, more than hopeful, with parallels to Shostakovich, except with Hartmann’s skill for a natural slow movement’s flow (Hartmann will sneak a slow movement even within a movement titled Allegro di molto) that is more akin to Haydn. The link to Shostakovich comes back in the short final movement, Chorale, which is based on a funeral march for the victims of the Russian Revolution that Hermann Scherchen set to German: The opening melody of “Unsterbliche Opfer” (“Immortal Victims”) also pops up in Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony.
And then the final chord comes in, as unsettling and cruel as anything in classical music, prohibiting any sort of resolution, comfort, or closure: an open, darkly perturbing end, despite all the hope therein. Christoph Schlüren pithily got to its core, describing its idiom—the whole work’s, but it’s particularly befitting the fourth movement—as that of “a soul famished for a beauty vanished; wrapped in mourning’s garb.”
The Concerto would also become one of the first public performances of Hartmann’s after the war, when it was presented in October of 1945 at a matinee of the Munich State Theater. He went on to revise the Concerto in 1959 (which is when it got the name under which it’s now known), but unlike the story of so many of his works, which is one of seemingly continuous morphing and re-creation, the has a straightforward and linear editorial life from perception to revision.
Hans Werner Henze, a young friend of Hartmann’s, wrote about the joy and surprise of meeting Hartmann after war—unknown to him because of Hartmann’s tenacious silence during that time; of finding “someone who could compose so marvelously—and so completely different than anyone else in the entire country.” It remains such a joy, still, when the ears happen upon a composer who can compose so marvelously—and so completely different than anyone else! Karl Amadeus Hartmann succumbed to cancer on December 5th, 1963, on the day exactly 172 years after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died.
The Bright Side of Weinberg
Mieczysław Weinberg was born in Warsaw in 1919, son to Shmil Weinberg, a composer and conductor at the Yiddish theater in Kishinev. Shmil moved to Warsaw before the 1917 October Revolution broke out. There he sought refuge from the increasingly hostile climate for Jews in Kishinev that included deadly pogroms in 1903 and 1905, which had counted members of the Weinberg family among its victims. This is the prelude to prosecution that would be the reoccurring theme in Mieczysław’s life.
The young man soon showed musical talent and at twelve entered the Warsaw Conservatory which was then headed by Karol Szymanowski. He had just completed his piano studies in 1939, when German troops attacked Poland: Weinberg, accompanied by his sister, fled eastward. Facing the hardships of the flight on foot, his sister made the ultimately fatal decision of turning back to Warsaw where she, along with the rest of Weinberg’s family, would be murdered by the Nazis.
Weinberg trekked on, reached the Soviet Union, and settled in the erstwhile safety of Minsk. But the German war machine was soon on the move again— and Weinberg, suffering from tuberculosis, was now relocated deep into central Asia, to Tashkent in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. There he found work at the opera house, met his wife Natalia Vovsi-Mikhoels, and got in touch with Dmitri Shostakovich whom he sent a copy of his First Symphony. Shostakovich, much impressed, immediately arranged for Weinberg to receive an official invitation to travel to Moscow. It was the beginning of a musical friendship and the last time Weinberg had to move—although he was hardly safe from prosecution yet, as he would soon find out.
He got a first taste of it when on January 12, 1948 Weinberg’s father in law, the celebrated Yiddish actor Solomon Mikhoels, was murdered on Stalin’s order and his body then run over by a truck to feign a traffic accident. Weinberg heard about it while he had to listen to attacks on “cosmopolitanism” at the First Soviet Composers’ Union Congress in 1948. “Cosmopolitanism” of course being ominous Soviet-speak for “too Jewish”. That was the year when Weinberg first took to the concerto form, writing his Concertino for Violin and Strings while on summer holidays. It isn’t clear whether Weinberg thought of it as a practice piece or was distracted by the more substantial Cello Concerto in similar lyrical vain that followed right after, but there is no record of the work being performed in his lifetime. Indeed, the Concertino wasn’t published until a decade after Weinberg’s death and only received its premiere outside Russia in 2009.
Its lyrical sweep (subtly guarded by a wistful air against any joyous excess) and its tender gracefulness are magnificent. Just as Weinberg’s music can contain, all the dark tones notwithstanding, true humor (take his Children’s Notebooks for piano, for example)—which is something that distinguishes it from the biting irony that Shostakovich musters in his attempts at the comic—its beauty can be equally untroubled. In view of such a dose of late romanticism from Weinberg, one almost wonders if he mightn’t have gone too far in trying not to offend the authorities or if that might have been the reason for the gorgeous work not seeing the light of day.
Right around the same time, and equally of (partially) upbeat and romantic disposition is the Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes op.47. On the surface of it, the Rhapsody seems an attempt at balancing his musical energy with the expectations and dictations of Soviet officialdom. Perhaps it was, and he thought strictly of his mother’s homeland when working on this rousing miscellany of tunes and themes that doesn’t sound so differently from what the Georgian Aram Khachaturian composed at the time. And Khachaturian was, although also briefly denounced at the same congress, a respected and sanctioned composer after all. In any case, the purely orchestral version of the Rhapsody was performed a year later and enjoyed great success, so great that Weinberg also set it for violin and orchestra (as performed on this disc, in Ewelina Nowicka’s re-arrangement) and violin and piano, which David Oistrakh premiered in February of 1953 and included among his encores. “The Rhapsody’s bittersweet touches never dominate and while some of the seamlessly joined episodes hint at melancholy, there’s always an impending energy and a raw, uplifting—if not outright joyous—force that sweeps the listener on. Although the Rhapsody is a rare rousing, lighter work of Weinberg’s, guile and disguise seem to be at work here, too. Those “Moldavian” themes are, after all, decidedly Jewish themes from Moldavia… something Weinberg knew better than to advertise openly, after the still recent attacks on his “cosmopolitanism”.
In the continuing story of Weinberg’s life-imitation of Candide (minus the optimism), he was arrested the night after that chamber versions’ premiere and thrown into the infamous Lubyanka prison beneath the KGB headquarters where he awaited deportation (or worse). Shostakovich, at incalculable risk to himself, tried to intervene on Weinberg’s behalf. In the end it was more likely Stalin’s death than Shostakovich’s naïve heroics, that resulted in Weinberg being released in April. Weinberg went on to live almost another half century and composed works that, had they been more widely published and performed in his lifetime, would have made him one of the great voices of the second half of the 20th century. But his work would go on to be widely ignored, if not downright suppressed. When Weinberg died, he was virtually unknown, and understandably bitter. His fame will have to come (and it is coming) posthumously.
Because of his close connection with Shostakovich, Weinberg had and maybe still has to overcome suspicions of being simply a lesser Shostakovich, a darker, grim copy of the famous original. Weinberg contributed to the easy (mis-) perception of a slanted student-teacher relationship when he humbly suggested that he actually was a pupil of Shostakovich: “Although I have never had lessons from him, I count myself as his pupil, as his flesh and blood”. But Weinberg is neither lesser nor did he, though younger, copy Shostakovich any more than Shostakovich allowed himself to be influenced by Weinberg. In works like his mid-80s opera The Idiot—a work that surpasses even the high standard set by The Passenger—Weinberg eloquently, effortlessly fuses the musical language common to Shostakovich and Weinberg with that of the whole 20th century, from Gustav Mahler to Bernd Alois Zimmermann. At his most buoyant he sounds truly at ease, and there is no knout driving on the elation and vigor of the music. (This can be readily appreciated in his Violin Concerto op. 67, which Linus Roth recorded on Challenge CC 72627, a Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice.)
When Weinberg was completely unknown to most music lovers, I liked to introduce him thus: “Like Shostakovich, but without the smile.” There’s truth to every joke and simplification, but the works on this disc will make Weinbergsimplification more difficult and Weinberg-enjoyment still easier!
What a delight, surprise, and opportunity it must be, for a musician to find an unperformed, unrecorded, entirely or relatively unknown piece of music by a major composer, indeed by one of the Greats—Shostakovich in this case. And not just some piece of musical minutiae: an 8-bar, twelve stanza ode to the family dog by the nine-year old composer, or the adaptation for piano duo and accordion of something well grazed-over. No, what we have here is nothing less than Dmitri Shostakovich’s Unfinished Sonata for Violin and Piano—the complete and massive double exposition of the first movement of what would have been a grand-scale work along strict classical lines. Shostakovich wrote it in June of 1945, just before he wrote his defiantly anti-heroic Ninth Symphony. Manashir Iakubov writes in the introduction of the score, published by the Dmitri Shostakovich Archive in 2012, that the sonata-movement contains the kernels of much of what Shostakovich would go on to write. It contains a particularly b link to the Tenth Symphony, in which Shostakovich would go on to recycle both themes of the exposition.
The ork—at least the extant five, six minutes of it—eschews any sort of bravado and virtuosity. Rather, it harkens back to somber Beethoven if not further (this might be a stretch), to Bach. Then again maybe it isn’t such a stretch, because the Preludes and Fugues op. 87 come to mind several times and Iakubov sees fit to mention the influence of this ‘Violin Sonata No. 0’ on it as well. It was also Iakubov who showed the 250 bars of music (plus about two dozen of the beginning of the development section in the rough author’s manuscript) to Alfred Schnittke, in the hope that he would finish it. Schnittke commented on its symphonic proportions and how ‘such an extensive exposition with the contrast of remote keys (G minor and E major) would require an enormous development, the scope of which does not correspond to the chamber genre…’ If this is the reason why Shostakovich abandoned the work after making a neat fair manuscript of what he had written so far (replete with rehearsal numbers), we don’t know. But while we wait to find out, we can now listen to its satisfying calm glow thanks to this first ever recording of it.
Jens F. Laurson