About this Recording
8.223138 - EINEM: Violin Concerto, Op. 33

Gottfried von Einem (1918–1996)
Concerto for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 33 • A Night on the Bare Mountain (arr. G. Einem) • Kupelwieser Waltzes (trans. G. von Einem)


Gottfried von Einem, one of the most distinguished contemporary Austrian composers, was born in Berne on 24 January 1918, the son of the Austrian military attaché, descended from a family with a long military tradition. His father retired in 1918 and acquired a property at Malente-Gremsmuhlen, not far from Hamburg, and it was here that his early musical ambitions became evident, encouraged by piano lessons and the playing of duets with his younger brother, who was to be killed in the war, and by the present of a score of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a stimulus to the attempted composition of a symphony. Schooling at Pion Gymnasium brought the then unappreciated chance of performance in Hindemith’s Planer Musiktag, but, as von Einem was later to remark, his loyalty to Bach blinded him to the importance of the occasion—“lch war ein Sextaner und dumm”. His later education was at Ratzeburg, where he took his Abitur, and briefly, for language, in England.

Von Einem’s musical career began when he was employed in 1938 as a coach at the Berlin Staatsoper and the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. As a composer he owed much to Boris Blacher, with whom he studied from 1941 to 1943. Blacher was to provide libretti for a number of von Einem’s operas, Dantons Tod, adapted from Büchner and first performed at Salzburg in 1947, Der Prozess, derived from Kafka and completed in 1953, Der Zerrissene, staged in Hamburg in 1964, and Kabale und Liebe in 1975. The association with Blacher may have contributed to von Einem’s arrest by the Gestapo and the accusation of Kulturbolschewismus that followed the performance of his Concerto, written for von Karajan in 1944, a work that included jazz variations that seemed offensive to the regime. To this may be added the suspicions entertained by the authorities of one who was, by birth and marriage, closely connected with aristocratic conspirators against Hitler. His interrogation and detention was brief, although it may have suggested elements in the later opera Der Prozess, and a friendly doctor was able to prevent his despatch to the front.

1944 brought von Einem praise for his ballet Prinzessin Turandot and appointment as musical adviser and resident composer to the Dresden Staatsoper. Success at Salzburg after the war, with the opera Dantons Tod, brought a closer association with the Festival, as a member of the Board in 1948 and later as chairman of the Festival Kunstrat. He was subsequently to play a leading part in the Vienna Festival and from 1965 to occupy the position of Professor of Composition at the Vienna Musikhochschule.

Gottfried von Einem’s Violin Concerto was written over a period of some six years and completed in 1967. The work was originally requested by Nathan Milstein, on the recommendation of the Italian-American conductor Massimo Freccia. Milstein demanded a concerto of similar length to the Brahms Violin Concerto and of such technical difficulty that no one else could play it. The composer worked closely with the soloist, who added his own bravura elements to the violin part, and a première was planned under the direction of Eugene Ormandy. In the event Milstein felt unable to give the first performance, which took place in Vienna three years later, with Ruggiero Ricci as the soloist; and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa. The concerto is dedicated to Gertrud von Bismarck and was commissioned by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde for the centenary of the Theophil Ritter von Hausen Konzertgebaude am Karlsplatz. In four movements that turn inside out the usual form, with outer slower movements framing more rapid second and third movements, the concerto is scored for a large orchestra, with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets and two trombones, timpani, strings and two bongos. With a performance time of nearly forty minutes it was, at the time of its composition, von Einem’s longest instrumental work, and demonstrates a remarkable command of form in its essential structural unity, embracing an equally remarkable eclectic diversity. The first movement opens with a forty-bar cadenza, leading to a sustained top A as the orchestra enters with an oboe and bassoon melody answered by the soloist. The quicker second section, over a repeated bass note that returns finally to the original tonality of a pedal D, over which the movement closes with a familiar derivative drawn from the material of the opening cadenza, again demonstrates the essential motivic unity of the work.
The second movement is built over an ascending scale, to which the soloist adds a contrasting rhythm and contour, a fortissimo chord interrupting to introduce a development of these ideas. A section marked sostenuto again awakens memories of another age, leading to further interrupting chords and the return of the original tempo and an orchestral passage of strong unisons that prefigure the rhythm of the third movement. The Sostenuto returns, with the solo part now starting two octaves higher, leading to a bravura conclusion.

The third movement is framed by outer sections for solo violin and bongos, the latter providing an energetic rhythm of 3 + 4 / 4 + 3, leading to a central Andante, in which the soloist is accompanied by saltando strings, playing divisi, the melodic material again derived from the opening cadenza. This is followed by a final Adagio in which a solid Bach-like theme, opening in E minor, is varied with contrapuntal and harmonic ingenuity that had already proved a marked feature, as, for example, in the final section of the third movement, a retrograde inversion of the first section. The concerto ends with a final brief affirmation of D major, developed from melodic material that had been largely derived from forms of the D minor scale.

Mussorgsky’s A Night on the Bare Mountain has long been familiar to audiences in the version completed by Rimsky-Korsakov, who took upon himself the task of editing and finishing much of the music of his fellow-nationalist composers, Mussorgsky and Borodin. Mussorgsky first talked of an orchestral depiction of a Witches’ Sabbath in connection with a play by Mengden. This was in 1860. Seven years later, in a burst of enthusiasm, he wrote the piece, in full score, only to be enfuriated by the criticism of his mentor Balakirev, and the echoing disapproval of Rimsky-Korsakov. By 1872 he had made some revisions for the inclusion of the music in the abortive Mlada, a composite production that was never staged. By 1880 there were attempts to include the material in the opera Sorochinsky Fair, with a version for piano duet, soloist and chorus, the basis of Rimsky-Korsakov’s later arrangement. Gottfried von Einem’s version offers an alternative working of material that had undergone a number of changes at the hands of its original composer, and had, therefore, been left in some final disorder.

The Kupelwieser Waltzes of Schubert have a curious history. Played by the composer for the wedding of his friend the artist Leopold Kupelwieser and Johanna Lutz in 1826, the waltzes were preserved in the Kupelwieser family, the repertoire of successive generations of amateur Kupelwieser pianists, and were played, in 1943, to Richard Strauss by Maria Mautner-Markhof, née Kupelwieser, to be transcribed by him in the key of G flat major. Gottfried von Einem’s C Major orchestration of the waltzes was made in 1960 for the Vienna Philharmonic Ball.

Keith Anderson

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