About this Recording
8.555884 - LIEBERMANN: Concerto for Jazz Band / Furioso / Medea-Monolog
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Rolf Liebermann (1910-1999)

Rolf Liebermann (1910-1999)

Orchestral and Vocal Works

‘Call me simply a musician’, said Rolf Liebermann, but in fact during his life he worked in many fields of music. Born in Zurich on 14th September 1910, he studied law in his native city and had musical training at the Conservatory. In the early 1930s he made a living as a composer of chansons, but devoted himself to serious music, when he met Hermann Scherchen. In the 1940s he took composition lessons with Vladimir Vogel.

From 1945 to 1957 Liebermann worked at Swiss Radio, after which he moved to Hamburg, where he served as head of the Music Section of North German Radio. From 1959 to 1973 he was Intendant at the Hamburg Staatsoper and subsequently at the Opéra in Paris. From 1985 to 1988 he held again the position of Intendant in Hamburg. That he also still collaborated in the cultural programmes of various broadcasting stations and undertook a busy series of activities in Salzburg as guest professor could explain why he was silent as a composer from the beginning of the 1960s and first became active again in this field in the 1980s. His musical language remained surprisingly constant, formed from a fusion of different styles and techniques: baroque, classical, twelve-tone and light music.

The orchestral work Furioso was first performed on 27th July 1947 at Darmstadt, conducted by Hermann Scherchen, Liebermann’s friend and patron, and still remains among the best known of Liebermann’s compositions. The work, which brings together twelve-tone technique with a refined musical feeling, is in the three-part form of an Italian overture. The first part has an uninterrupted four-note ostinato figure, passages of furious rapidity and harsh syncopated chords. The slow middle section brings a singing theme for flute and cor anglais. In the recapitulation, the music of the first section returns, combined with the theme of the central section.

In the middle ages in Basel, music for drum and pipe was heard on various festive occasions, among them the famous Fasnacht. This starts at four o’clock in the morning after the first Sunday in Lent: to the sound of drums and pipes, different groups go through the streets of the city with lanterns. The particular method of performance of the Basel drummer inspired many composers, among others Frank Martin and Arthur Honegger; yet it was Rolf Liebermann who first gave the instrument a solo part in a symphonic work, the Geigy Festival Concerto. The occasion was a commission from the Basel chemical firm J. R. Geigy AG to celebrate the bicentenary of their establishment; the first performance took place on 6th June 1958 in Basel. In the four movements of the work the Fasnacht events are depicted; Liebermann uses for the purpose different Basel melodies. At the beginning the song ‘z’Basel an mym Rhy’ is heard as a depiction of the still sleeping city. The call of the piper of the watch and of the watch, the first entry of the solo drum, provides a quick awakening … After the fourth stroke of the church clock the drummer plays his morning signal and develops this into a virtuoso cadenza. In the third movement, a scherzo, Liebermann quotes the so-called Arabi-March, that was arranged in 1833 for Fasnacht. The retreat sounded by the soloist leads into the finale, in which Liebermann uses further traditional melodies, for example from the Old Swiss Marches or the

Dr Eisenbart Melody.

Medea, the daughter of the King of Colchis, fell in love with the Argonaut Jason and helped him steal the golden fleece. She followed him to Corinth, but there, when Jason wanted to take another woman to be his wife, Medea killed the children she had born to Jason. The fate of this tragic woman has inspired many literary and musical works. In 1984 Ursula Haas published her novel Freispruch für Medea (Acquittal for Medea), which served as the model for Rolf Liebermann’s 1995 opera of the same name. This was preceded by the 1989 cantata Medea-Monolog, first performed on 26th August 1990 in Hamburg, with a text by Ursula Haas. A part of the cantata was used in Medea’s solo scene in the second act of the opera. Earlier versions of the Medea story always ended with the moral decline of the heroine, who offended against the rules of a ‘civilised’ society. Why then an ‘acquittal’ for Medea by Haas and Liebermann? In the persons of Medea and of Jason they saw the conflict between matriarchal and patriarchal society: in the ‘mother cult’ represented by Medea mankind and earth meet in an eternal cycle, but this feminine strength must be weakened by the new, aggressive world of masculine power. It is not Medea, the ‘witch’, the ‘negress’, who destroys the ‘healthy’ world of the Greeks; she is herself a victim and now is taken away from her own environment. As a final consequence there remains for her only inner and outer destruction.

Medea’s solo scene is a gripping dramatic monologue, to which the chorus of women of Corinth provide a background. In her song is depicted distance from, but also sympathy with the ‘foreigner’, while Medea expresses her feelings of love, longing, disappointment and hatred with the emotional variety of a great heroine of romantic opera.

The commission for the Symphonie ‘Les Echanges’ came in 1962, when Liebermann was asked for a piece for the Banks, Insurance and Commercial pavilion at the Swiss National Exhibition in Lausanne in 1964. Liebermann had never thought that his observation ‘so, if they will have music at any price, let the machines on show play’ would be taken seriously … He had the noise of the machines on display in the pavilion played by the Swiss Tonjägerverband, and from this noise, he then sketched out a kind of percussion score from the sound effects. The rhythm and tone colours were then translated by a sound engineer and stored on tape. This apparent joke of scarcely four minutes in length had required seven months of work, as Liebermann wanted to write a ‘genuine’ piece of music, bringing together the particular rhythms of the machines in a conscious complex rhythmic texture. The version for seven percussion instruments was arranged in 1971 by Siegfried Fink, director of the Würzburg Percussion Ensemble.

‘Why should it not be permissible to arrange, in the form of the Italian concerto grosso, in which a group of soloists is set against a full orchestra, a work that contrasts and combines jazz soloists and a symphony orchestra?’ Rolf Liebermann asked himself, when, in a commission for South West Radio Baden-Baden, he wrote his work for the radio symphony orchestra and Kurt Edelhagen’s jazz ensemble, first performed on 17th October 1954 at Donaueschingen. ‘My concerto must be an attempt to include an element of actual contemporary dance in art music’ - the problem of how to be able to combine the two musical groups was amusingly solved by Liebermann: ‘The jazz orchestra will be used as the equivalent of the preclassical concertino, while the symphony orchestra takes on the function of accompanying and providing intervening episodes’. The concerto is in eight movements, played in alternation by the orchestra and the jazz band, brought together by the use of a twelve-note row.

The string tremolo and short brass motifs in the Introduction provide an almost impressionistic atmosphere — this is the domain of a symphony orchestra, and the other ‘symphonic’ parts, Scherzo I, Scherzo II and Interludium, offer characteristic classical and romantic movements. In the jazz movements there are three dances. Jump is in swing rhythm; the sensuous mood of a Blues appears, framed by the two Scherzos, as the slow movement of the concerto. Boogie-Woogie is a homage to a style that was introduced in the first decades of the twentieth century from the coloured musicians of Chicago. In the Mambo finally both worlds come together in an exciting conclusion.

Éva Pintér

English version by Keith Anderson

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