About this Recording
8.570401 - BERG / HINDEMITH / HARTMANN: Piano Sonatas / SCHOENBERG: 3 Piano Pieces
English 

Alban Berg (1885–1935) • Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)
Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) • Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905–1963)
Piano Works

 

ALBAN BERG: Piano Sonata, Op. 1 (in one movement) (1908)

Alban Berg was the pupil and friend of Arnold Schoenberg. Schoenberg wrote in the late 1930s, after Berg's death: "Music was to him a language… he really expressed himself in that language; his music overflowed with a warmth of feeling… Unshakable conscientiousness and reliability were very characteristic for Berg. Whatever he undertook he executed with painful exactitude – thought it through from the ground up and then corrected and proof-read it carefully… And then he was the truest and most affectionate of friends. His power of invention was inexhaustible when it was a matter of preparing a pleasant surprise for someone; it was on the same plane as the intensity of his composing."

Alban Berg was born on 9 February 1885 in Vienna, the son of an aristocratic merchant. When his father died, he worked as a minor civil servant before an inheritance enabled him to devote his energies to music studies. In 1904 he met Arnold Schoenberg. Before that, Berg had no formal musical training, although he began composing when he was fifteen years old. It was Schoenberg who converted Berg's musical interests from an avocation to a life's mission. Inspired by his teacher, Berg gave up his government post and began an intensive period of study, first in Vienna, and later when Schoenberg moved to Berlin, Berg followed him there, remaining his pupil until 1910. Although Berg has been described as the romanticist of the twelve-tone technique, he assimilated Schoenberg's atonal style of composition and made it his own. The early works showed influences of nineteenth-century romanticism and French impressionism. A fastidious craftsman, Berg did not produce many works, but those that he wrote became recognised world-wide as masterpieces – the operas Wozzeck (1921) and Lulu (1931) (left incomplete at the time of his death). The Lyric Suite for string quartet (1926) was particularly impressive for the expressive and melodic way the twelve-tone system was used. His last masterpiece was the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1935), one of his most deeply moving works, written as an elegy to a young girl, a friend of the composer. Berg died in Vienna on 24 December 1935 as a result of blood poisoning developed from an abscess on his back.

Berg's Piano Sonata, Op. 1, was completed in 1908 and is cast in one continuous movement. Although some musicologists have heard influences of Wagner, Mahler and Scriabin in this work, the constant chromaticism and restless lyrical expression of the piano writing make this work an unforgettable musical experience.

PAUL HINDEMITH: Piano Sonata No. 2 (1936)

In 1922, when he was 27 years old, Paul Hindemith wrote the following autobiography:

"I was born in Hanau in 1895. Music study from age of twelve. As violinist, violist, pianist, or percussionist I have made a thorough survey of the following musical territories: chamber music of all kinds, cinema, café, dance music, operetta, jazz band, military music. I have been leader of the Frankfurt Orchestra since 1916. As composer, I have chiefly written pieces I don't like anymore: chamber music for the most diverse ensembles, songs and piano. Also three one-act operas, which will probably remain the only ones since as a result of rising prices on the manuscript market only small scores can now be written."

This passage speaks much of his personality: unpretentious, straightforward, down-to-earth, ironic and, as the reference to inflation indicates, 'politically' aware.

"The horizon of a creative musician cannot be stretched far enough. His desire to acquire knowledge and understanding has to permeate every phrase of his creativity", Hindemith wrote in A Composer's World (1952). In his search for knowledge, he acquired a remarkable degree of craftsmanship in composition. His orchestral experiences enabled him to gain a phenomenal knowledge of the sonorities and capabilities of all instruments. Though many of his early works were regarded as revolutionary, he differed in one important aspect from the avant-garde composers of the period: while the Viennese School, represented by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern, emphasized the equality of all twelve notes in a scale, Hindemith stressed their relative values and referred them to a free but well-defined, easily recognizable tonality.

Hindemith began his musical career as a performer, maturing quickly. He played the Beethoven Violin Concerto in concert at the age of eighteen and was appointed concertmaster of the Frankfurt State Opera orchestra at the age of nineteen (in 1915). By that time he had also been composing actively for two or three years, with several opus numbers to his credit. In later years he thought of everything he wrote before 1918 as juvenilia. After his military service, during which he continued to compose while playing the piano for officers' clubs and the violin in his music-loving colonel's quartet, he turned abruptly and permanently from the violin to the viola. He played the viola in the Rebner Quartet (the first violinist was his teacher Adolf Rebner) until 1921 when the Amar Quartet was formed to give the première of his String Quartet, Op. 16. In the next year this new group began touring and was among the most active and successful proponents of contemporary chamber music in Europe. In 1939 Hindemith moved to the United States and became a professor of composition and theory at Yale University, taking American citizenship in 1946. In 1953 he settled in Zurich, and in 1954 he won the Sibelius Prize. He toured as a conductor, appearing in the United States in 1959-61 and in 1963. He died in Frankfurt on 28 December 1963.

Although Hindemith was an accomplished string player, as a composer he devoted equal attention to the piano. While still a student at the conservatory he wrote piano pieces and the piano was always indispensable to him as an accompanying instrument for the voice and in sonatas with other instruments. He discovered new tone colours for the instrument, especially in the extreme treble range, and developed his own pianistic style far removed from the virtuoso tradition of Liszt. Between 1935 and 1943 Hindemith wrote a series of sonatas, one or more for almost every instrument. The Violin Sonata in E was the beginning, followed immediately in 1936 by the three Piano Sonatas. Of the three, Piano Sonata No. 2 is almost "classical" in its apparent simplicity and traditional formal structure. The artful and detailed workmanship reveals moments of metric complexity, rhythmic echoes of Schumann's Piano Concerto in the Scherzo, and with the slow movement and the Finale forming one unit, we hear the serious and melancholic beginning transform itself into a lively Rondo, which eventually ends the sonata in a somewhat pensive and reflective mood.

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG: Drei Klavierstücke (Three Piano Pieces) (1894)

Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna on 13 September 1874. Although he began to compose and study the violin at the age of eight, he had to abandon his formal music studies when his father died. He left school to earn a living, becoming a bank clerk. Schoenberg continued a regime of self-study, teaching himself the cello and music theory, and composing and playing chamber music with his friends. When he was 21 he showed some of his compositions to Alexander von Zemlinsky, who in turn, gave him a short course in counterpoint. Apart from that Schoenberg was self-taught. By 1900 it was clear that music was to be Schoenberg's career. A year later he went to Berlin, where he conducted at a music hall and operettas at the Buntes Theater. He began teaching in 1902 and in 1903 returned to Vienna, where he spent most of the next 23 years composing and teaching. From 1926 to 1933 he taught at the Prussian Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin, from which post he was dismissed by the National Socialist Minister of Education. Later that year he left for the United States, where he spent the rest of his life, mostly in Los Angeles, and continued to produce important works until his death on 13 July 1951.

Although Schoenberg abandoned tonality in his first published Piano Pieces, Op. 11, in 1908, his new musical language was only emerging. According to Glenn Gould: " Opus 11 was the first major test of the possibilities of survival in a musical universe no longer dominated by a traditionally centred harmonic orbit." It took Schoenberg another fifteen years to adopt his system of composition with rows consisting of twelve tones, which surfaced in his next set of piano pieces, Opus 23. As a result, the piano music of Arnold Schoenberg holds an especially significant place in his musical output. This recording does not include any of Schoenberg's well-known piano works, but instead looks back to an early set he wrote when he was twenty. The three pieces from 1894 were published as part of the first complete critical edition of his works in 1966, edited by Eduard Steuermann and Reinhold Brinkmann. The musical atmosphere that pervades these pieces is decidedly Wagnerian, with liberal doses of Brahms and Dvorák – predominant influences at the end of the nineteenth century. Despite these lingering musical phantasms, Schoenberg creates his own complex vision of tonal chromaticism and employs interesting polyphony and quasi-symphonic textures. The piano writing is decidedly awkward and at times difficult. Glenn Gould was quite correct when he wrote: "Schoenberg does not write against the piano, but neither can he be accused of writing for it!"

KARL AMADEUS HARTMANN: Sonata '27 April 1945'

Karl Amadeus Hartmann was born in Munich on 2 August 1905. He studied at the Academy of Music in Munich with Josef Haas, then became a student of Hermann Scherchen, and later of Anton Webern in Vienna. His first international success dates from 1935, when his symphony " Miserae " received its première at the Prague International Music Festival. A year later his first string quartet won first prize in the Carillon-Genf competition, and in 1939 audiences heard his Symphony "L'Oeuvre". During the years of World War II, little was heard of Hartmann outside Germany, but he continued to compose extensively. He was one of the first German artists to profess his pacifist creed and with a small group of his friends engaged in an underground resistance against the oppressive Nazi regime. His First Symphony (revised twice after the war) uses poems by the American, Walt Whitman. After the war, he co-founded a series of contemporary music concerts under the name of ' Musica Viva ', in order to promote the music of composers who had suffered censorship during the Hitler regime. In 1952 he was elected a member of the German Academy of Fine Arts and soon after became president of the German section of the International Society for Contemporary Music. Hartmann died in Munich on 5 December 1963. He left eight symphonies and other works for orchestra, two string quartets, vocal and chamber works. Musicologist Alfred Leonard summarized Hartmann's music as follows: "It leaves an impression of deep seriousness, of contemplation rather than action, of wide-range ideas, of never-flagging intensity, of a passion that carries the listener from climax to climax. This music knows hardly any relaxation, and its predominantly small tone steps lend it extraordinary tension."

Hartmann composed his Sonata "27 April 1945" shortly after his self-imposed silence of the war years. The title refers to the tragic quotation on the first page of the score: "On 27 and 28 April 1945 trudged an endless stream of Dachau 'prisoners of war' past us … unending was the stream … unending was the misery … unending was the sorrow …" It is a powerful, intense, angst-filled work. Hartmann wrote two versions of the finale – the first includes a section recalling the opening pages of the Sonata, and the second version replaces this sostenuto section with a forceful prestissimo toccata passage. Both versions of the finale are presented on this recording. One of the themes used by Hartmann in the first version of the fourth movement is reminiscent of both the American song ' Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean ', which dates from 1843, and reflects upon the armed forces occupying the western part of Germany; and the Soviet Civil War song, ' Over Hills and Dales ', which dates from 1917 and reflects Hartmann's political leanings towards Socialism/Communism.

Marina A. Ledin and Victor Ledin

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Notes from the Pianist

I was originally inspired to record this project after learning and performing Paul Hindemith's Trauermusik, for viola and piano. I was so struck by the beauty of this particular piece that I started thinking about the lack of championship for so much of Hindemith's repertoire. My husband, Carlos, gave me a copy of Hindemith's Sonata No. 2 for solo piano and suggested that I learn it. As I did so, I fell in love with both its adherence to sonata-form in the tradition of the great German and Austrian composers, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, and its divergence from that structure. I found myself interested in pursuing other works that would represent this dichotomy. The Alban Berg Sonata, Op. 1, was certainly an apt selection in its single movement that broke the boundaries of traditional tonality and harmony. Berg himself had decided that one movement was musically sufficient and his teacher, Arnold Schoenberg, agreed. But what else should be included? Karl Amadeus Hartmann, whose symphonies have been well documented on recordings, came to mind. I was not all that familiar, however, with his solo piano literature. I located the score to his epic Sonata "27 April 1945", composed as he watched 20,000 prisoners from Dachau being marched to their deaths within days of Nazi Germany's demise, and I knew immediately that this was the last piece I was seeking - or so I thought. Victor and Marina Ledin told me about the Drei Klavierstücke by Schoenberg, works composed in 1894 but unpublished during his lifetime. After spending an afternoon at Lincoln Center Library to find them, I discovered that they were published posthumously by Belmont Music Publishers. I then thought about other ways these composers were linked - German and Austrian musicians, led by Schoenberg, were at the forefront of new music during the years of the Weimar Republic, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. It was a time during which experimentation and expressionism in the arts reigned supreme, brought to a dramatic and all-too-often tragic end by the Nazis. Schoenberg, born a Jew who converted to Protestantism and eventually back to Judaism, was dismissed from his post in 1933 with the passage of the racial laws which prohibited him from working. He left Germany literally in order to survive and moved to the United States, where he died in 1951. Berg's music was banned, but he did not live long enough to see the worst of the Nazis' travesties, as he died in 1935. Hindemith's music also received censure, and as he saw the writing on the wall he, too, left Germany and later settled in the United States, where he became a prominent composer, author and professor at Yale University. Hartmann, also out of favour with the Nazis, placed his music in a drawer and refused to let it be performed. He, like Hindemith, died in 1963.

These four landmark composers represent different aspects of both the historical continuity and disparity in the developments of German and Austrian piano music. All of them had the deepest respect for traditional musical form and structure even as they experimented with new musical language and found their own unique voice in utilising that language. At the time he was composing the Drei Klavierstücke, suggesting a late Brahmsian musical homage, Schoenberg was more than twenty years distant from pioneering the twelve-tone system; nonetheless, he was already exploring newer musical language in other compositions written at the same time. His student and musical disciple, Alban Berg, was broaching on atonality, quartal and augmented harmonies in Sonata, Op. 1. Paul Hindemith remained essentially tonal in his Sonata No. 2, yet he also explored elements of atonality and quartal harmony. Hartmann's musical language is a study in torment and frustration with the cruelties raged upon humanity.

Allison Brewster Franzetti

 


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