Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043 Johann Sebastian

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02-23 Gilbert Bday.qxp_Layout 1 2/16/17 12:18 PM Page 31
The origins of Johann Sebastian Bach’s
Concerto in D minor for Two Violins are
shrouded in mystery. One of today’s leading
Bach scholars, Christoph Wolff, believes that
this work dates from Bach’s years in Leipzig,
where he lived from 1723 until the end of his
life. His is a minority opinion, however, and
most musicologists support the idea that it is a
product of Bach’s time in Cöthen, where he
was employed immediately prior to his move
to Leipzig. He was there from December 1717
through May 1723 as Kapellmeister (music director) at the court of the music-loving Prince
Leopold of Anhalt. Because Prince Leopold adhered to the Reformed faith, his church services didn’t require elaborate music; that freed
up his music director to spend most of his time
writing secular instrumental pieces such as
sonatas, concertos, and orchestral suites.
The D-minor Concerto for Two Violins
comes down to us not in full score, but rather
in a set of manuscript parts that were written
out jointly by Bach, his son Carl Philipp
Emanuel, his son-in-law Johann Christoph
Altnikol, and his student Johann Ludwig
Krebs. Bach later arranged the piece in a version for two harpsichords and strings (BWV
1062), just as he did with many of his Cöthen
concertos, to breathe new life into them for
performances in Leipzig.
Two violinists are equal soloists in this
work, often sharing their musical material in
close alternation. The opening movement
(Vivace) begins with a fugal exposition in the
orchestra, to which the solo violins respond
(as a team) with a passage in which fluid
melodic runs are given a memorable contour
by sudden leaps of a tenth. The concerto’s
Largo ma non tanto provides a particularly
fine example of Bach’s ability to make time
seem to stop while the players weave a magical tapestry from threads of poignancy, resignation, and tenderness. Anything would
seem an intrusion after such a slow movement, but Bach offers an unusually blustery,
even angry, Allegro finale.
Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043
Johann Sebastian Bach
Born: March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany
Died: July 28, 1750, in Leipzig
Work composed and premiered: composed ca. 1720, in Cöthen, an independent principality
of Anhalt-Cöthen (Germany); premiere unknown
New York Philharmonic premiere and
most recent performance: premiered,
December 10, 1881, Theodore Thomas,
conductor, Hermann Brandt, Robert
Arnold, soloists; most
recently played, October 7, 2011, Alan
Gilbert, conductor and soloist, Frank
Peter Zimmermann, soloist
Estimated duration: ca. 17 minutes
Two violinists as equal soloists — Frank Peter
Zimmermann and Alan Gilbert performing
Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins with the
Philharmonic in 2011
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Johannes Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1,
completed in 1858, is a stormy work of tumultuous Romanticism, closely related in its expression to the ideals of the composer’s mentor,
Robert Schumann. Brahms’s Piano Concerto
No. 2 would be a different kettle of fish altogether when it came into being two decades
later. Where the First was hyper-charged in its
drama, the Second is Apollonian; it suggests a
more serene, warm-hearted landscape, drawing heavily on the dulcet tones of the most richtoned instruments of the orchestra —
including, in the slow movement, a solo cello.
Where the earlier work had stressed the forcefulness of human passions and the “tragic sentiment of life” that the Romantics found
irresistible, the Second Piano Concerto regards
the breadth of human emotions from a more
knowing remove. It sounds like a work of ripe
maturity in a way the earlier piece does not.
One might go so far as to view Brahms’s Piano
Concerto No. 2 as a sort of symphony for piano
and orchestra — a conflation of two of the principal genres that the composer felt still held
plenty of creative opportunities for an up-todate Romantic of the late 19tth century.
At the head of the score Brahms inscribed
a dedication “to his dear friend and teacher
Eduard Marxsen.” Both Brahms and his
brother had taken piano lessons from Marxsen
during their childhood in Hamburg and, recognizing the family’s straitened circumstances, Marxsen never charged them for his
services. He broadened his pupil’s perspective
on all sorts of things and, after Brahms moved
away, continued to keep an eye on the family’s
needs. Brahms remained devoted until his
teacher died, in late 1887. Earlier that year, he
Andante, from Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major for Piano and
Orchestra, Op. 83
Johannes Brahms
Born: May 7, 1833, in the Free City of Hamburg, which would later become part of the unified
Germany
Died: April 3, 1897, in Vienna, Austria
Work composed and premiered: sketched in late spring 1878, completed July 7, 1881, at
Pressbaum, near Vienna; premiered November 9, 1881, in the Redoutensaal in Budapest, by the
orchestra of the National Theatre, Alexander Erkel, conductor, with the composer as soloist
New York Philharmonic premiere
and most recent performance: premiered, December 9, 1882, Theodore
Thomas, conductor, Rafael Joseffy,
soloist; most recently played,
October 2, 2015, at the Tilles Center
for the Performing Arts, Greenvale,
New York, Alan Gilbert, conductor,
Emanuel Ax, soloist
Estimated duration: ca. 12 minutes
Alan Gilbert and Emanuel Ax following
their 2015 performance of Brahms’s
Piano Concerto No. 2
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02-23 Gilbert Bday.qxp_Layout 1 2/16/17 12:18 PM Page 33
instructed his publisher: “When the new
things appear, you will take care, won’t you?,
that Frau Schumann and Ed. Marxsen receive
a copy right away!” Few dedications can have
given Brahms more pleasure than the one he
attached to his Second Piano Concerto.
A music lover listening to Ludwig van
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in
C minor may entertain more than fleeting
thoughts about an earlier C-minor Piano Concerto — the brooding, even despairing one that
Mozart had composed in 1786. During Mozart’s
lifetime, however, it could be played only from
manuscript parts. It was not published until
1800, the same year Beethoven brought the
first movement of his own C-minor Piano Concerto into reasonably finished form. Beethoven
went on record as a great aficionado of the
Mozart work. Walking in the company of the
pianist-and-composer Johann Baptist Cramer,
he came within earshot of an outdoor performance (or perhaps a rehearsal) of Mozart’s
C-minor Concerto. He is reputed to have
stopped in his tracks, called attention to a particularly beautiful motif, and exclaimed, with
a mixture of admiration and despondency,
“Cramer, Cramer! We shall never be able to do
anything like that!” According to the account
relayed by Cramer’s widow,
As the theme was repeated and wrought up
to the climax Beethoven, swaying his body
to and fro, marked the time and in every
possible manner manifested a delight rising to enthusiasm.
On April 2, 1800, at Vienna’s Burgtheater,
Allegro con brio, from Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
Ludwig van Beethoven
Born: probably on December 16, 1770 (he was baptized on the 17th), in Bonn, then an independent electorate of Germany
Died: March 26, 1827, in Vienna, Austria
Work composed and premiered: composed 1796 to 1803; dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand
of Prussia; premiered April 5, 1803, at
Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, with the
composer as soloist
New York Philharmonic premiere and
most recent performance: premiered
February 1, 1852, Carl Bergmann, conductor, Ernst Hartmann, soloist; most
recently played, December 10, 2016, Jiří
Bělohlávek, conductor, Kun Woo Paik,
soloist
Estimated duration: ca. 17 minutes
Cadenza: by Beethoven, written out
in 1809
Yefim Bronfman performed the complete cycle
of Beethoven piano concertos, conducted by
Alan Gilbert, in June 2014.
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Beethoven had undertaken his first benefit
concert (in those days, a benefit concert
being understood to mean “for the benefit of
the composer”). He had planned to unveil his
C-minor Piano Concerto on that high-profile
occasion but managed to complete only the
first movement and a detailed sketch of the
second. In the end, the composition of this
concerto ended up stretching over a good
three and a half years, not counting preliminary sketches, which reached back to 1796 —
plus a further year if you count the time it
took him to actually write out the piano part,
and yet another five beyond that till he wrote
down the first-movement cadenza. Neither
of these last two was necessary as long as
Beethoven was the soloist; he knew how the
piece should go, after all.
Max Bruch’s G-minor Violin Concerto, to
which he owes most of his currency in modern concert life, was a relatively early work,
begun tentatively in 1857 but mostly composed between 1864 and 1866, while he was
serving as music director at the court in
Coblenz. It was premiered in April 1866, with
Otto von Königslow as soloist, but Bruch immediately decided to rework it. He accordingly sent his score to the more eminent
violinist Joseph Joachim, who responded that
he found the piece “very violinistic,” but that
didn’t keep him from offering a good deal of
specific advice pertaining to both the solo and
the orchestral parts. Further emendation ensued, and finally the concerto was unveiled in
its definitive form in Bremen in January 1868.
Some years later Bruch wrote to his publisher:
Allegro energico, from Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26
Max Bruch
Born: January 6, 1838, in Cologne, Germany
Died: October 2, 1920, in Friedenau, outside Berlin
Work composed and premiered: 1864–66, drawing on material produced as early as 1857; revised in 1867; premiered April 24, 1866, in Coblenz, with the composer conducting and Otto von
Königslow as soloist; in its revised version on January 5, 1868, in Bremen, with Joseph Joachim
as soloist and Karl Martin Rheinthaler conducting
New York Philharmonic
premiere and most recent
performance: premiered February 3, 1872, Carl Bergmann, conductor, Pablo de Sarasate,
soloist; the performance marked
the U.S. Premiere; most recently
played November 1, 2016, Pablo
Heras-Casado, conductor, Frank
Huang, soloist
Estimated duration: ca. 7
minutes
Alan Gilbert conducts
one of Joshua Bell’s numerous
Philharmonic appearances.
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Between 1864 and 1868 I rewrote my concerto at least a half dozen times, and
conferred with x violinists before it took
the final form in which it is universally famous and played everywhere.
The concerto soon it made its way into the
repertoires of other leading violinists of the
day, including Ferdinand David (who had
premiered Mendelssohn’s E-minor Violin
Concerto), Henri Vieuxtemps, and Leopold
Auer, who not only performed the work himself but also championed it among such of
his students as Mischa Elman, Efrem Zimbalist, and Jascha Heifetz.
Bruch was inherently conservative, and it
was accordingly his fate to remain in the
shadow of Brahms, who was five years his
elder. It is hard to mistake the similarity between the openings of the third movements of
Bruch’s G-minor and Brahms’s D-major Violin Concertos, and it is only fair to point out
“Morgen!” (“Tomorrow”) Op. 27, No. 4
Richard Strauss
Born: June 11, 1864, in Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Died: September 8, 1949, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
“Marietta’s Lied,” from Die Tote Stadt, Op. 12
Erich Korngold
Born: May 29, 1897, in Brno, Moravia (then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire)
Died: November 29, 1957, in Hollywood, California
Works composed and premiered: “Morgen!” composed May 21, 1894; orchestration by the
composer completed September 20, 1897; orchestral version premiered on November 21, 1897, in
Brussels, Belgium, by the orchestra of the Concerts Populaires, with the composer conducting,
Pauline de Ahna, soprano. “Marietta’s Lied,” composed 1916–20; premiered December 4, 1920, at
the Hamburg Stadttheater, Egon Pollak conductor, with Annie Münchow as Marietta, and at the
Theater in der Glockengasse in Cologne, Otto Klemperer, conductor, with soprano Johanna
Geisler as Marietta
New York Philharmonic premieres and most recent performances: “Morgen!”premiered
November 19, 1912, Josef Stransky, conductor, Frances Aida, soprano; most recently performed,
April 21, 2015, in Paris, Alan Gilbert, conductor, Joyce DiDonato, mezzo-soprano. “Marietta’s
Lied” premiered January 1,
1963, Andre Kostelanetz, conductor, Beverly Sills, soprano;
most recently performed,
December 31, 1976, Andre
Kostelanetz, conductor, Carol
Neblett, soprano
Estimated durations: “Morgen!” ca. 4 minutes; “Marietta’s Lied,” ca. 5 minutes
Renée Fleming and Alan Gilbert on
September 16, 2009, his inaugural
performance as Music Director
36 | NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC
02-23 Gilbert Bday.qxp_Layout 1 2/16/17 12:19 PM Page 37
that Bruch’s preceded Brahms’s by a full
decade. Joachim would premiere that work,
too, but when he was asked to characterize the
four most famous German concertos in his
repertoire — by Beethoven, Mendelssohn,
Bruch, and Brahms — he insisted that Bruch’s
was “the richest and the most seductive.”
Richard Strauss’s more than 200 Lieder
weave a nearly continuous strand through his
life, interrupted by a single 12-year hiatus between 1906 and 1918. His first composition, as
a child of six, was a Christmas carol; he died at
the age of 85, leaving his supernal Four Last
Songs as a valedictory statement and one final
song — “Malven” — to be rediscovered and
performed as recently as 1984, 36 years after
his death.
Nearly all of them were conceived as classic
Lieder — that is, for solo singer with piano accompaniment. But Strauss lived in an age
when the “orchestral Lied” was emerging as a
viable genre, nowhere more vividly than in the
works of Gustav Mahler. It seemed natural for
a composer with so rich a palette as Strauss to
expand his piano parts into orchestral scores,
especially since he was more accomplished as
a conductor than as a pianist. In some cases
Strauss orchestrated his songs immediately
upon completing their piano versions or even
composed both versions simultaneously. In
other cases he returned to orchestrate a song
years after it had been composed.
“Morgen!” sets a rapturous love poem by
John Henry Mackay, who was born in Scotland
but raised in Germany. In Strauss’s poignant
setting, the singer remains mute until well into
the piece, as if lost in reverie. She joins in midthought: “And tomorrow the sun will shine
again.” The true melody of this song is never
presented in its entirety by the singer. In turning it into an orchestral song, Strauss emphasized its nostalgic atmosphere by drawing on
the sweet tones of a solo violin to enunciate the
theme — an irresistible choice, if perhaps an
obvious one. Strauss published “Morgen!”
along with three further songs, and he presented the set of four to his bride, the soprano
Pauline de Ahna, as a wedding present — a
practical one, since as husband and wife they
would perform them often in recital.
Erich Korngold was one of history’s most extraordinary child prodigies. He was born into a
musical family: his father, Julius Korngold,
was a music critic who succeeded the esteemed Eduard Hanslick (Brahms’s friend) on
the staff of Vienna’s Neue Freie Presse. Music
came naturally to him. His mother, asked
when her son began playing the piano, replied,
“Erich always played the piano.” He never pursued a performing career, but people who
heard him play remarked on how he seemed
almost organically connected to the keyboard.
In 1906 Gustav Mahler declared the nineyear-old boy a genius and recommended that
he be put under the care of Alexander von
Zemlinsky. Korngold’s music soon had composers all over Europe gaping in awe. In 1934
the theatrical director Max Reinhardt invited
him to Hollywood to compose the sound track
for his film adaptation of A Midsummer
Night’s Dream. It was a fateful and fortunate
invitation. During this later phase of his career
Korngold would create masterful symphonic
scores for 22 motion pictures, earning Academy Awards for Anthony Adverse and The Adventures of Robin Hood. He completed his final
original film scene, for Deception, in 1947, at
the age of 50, saying that the year was a turning
point “if I don’t want to be a Hollywood composer the rest of my life.”
His opera Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City)
harks back to his earlier days. It received simultaneous premieres in two cities — Hamburg and
Cologne — on the same day, December 4, 1920.
Based on the Symbolist dream-novel Bruges la
morte by Georges Rodenbach, rendered into a
libretto by the composer and his father, it involves a widower who falls in love with the
FEBRUARY 2017 | 37
02-23 Gilbert Bday.qxp_Layout 1 2/16/17 12:19 PM Page 38
dancer Marietta, the double of his late wife,
Marie; the two women become rivals, at least
in his mind. In Act I, he requests that Marietta
sing him a song, and she responds with “Glück,
das mir verblieb,” which develops into a duet.
Often arranged as a solo for soprano, “Marietta’s Lied” is an ode to the joy of love and the
transitory reality of life.
Antonín Dvořák was on the brink of a major
change in his life when he turned 50, on September 8, 1891. The day before his birthday,
Jeannette Thurber, who had recruited him to
be the director of the National Conservatory of
Music in New York City, had cabled her
colleagues in America to let them know he was
inclined to accept. He served as the conservatory’s director from 1892 through 1895, building
its curriculum and faculty, appearing as a guest
conductor, and composing such masterworks
as his String Quartet in F major (Op. 96, the
American), String Quintet in E-flat major (Op.
97), and Symphony No. 9, From the New
World, which occupied him during the winter
and spring of 1893. Its premiere that December,
with Anton Seidl conducting the New York Philharmonic, inspired the critic for the New York
Evening Post to proclaim it “the greatest symphonic work ever composed in this country.”
The symphony bids us to recall how interested
Dvořák was in African American and Native
American music. Musicologists have found in
its melodies echoes of such American tunes as
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Massa Dear.”
The principal theme of the Largo movement combines tenderness, nostalgia, and a
sense of resolute hopefulness. It sounds like
a folk song, but it is Dvořák’s original
creation. In 1922 William Arms Fisher, who
had been a pupil of Dvořák’s at the National
“Goin’ Home,” from the Largo from Symphony No. 9 in E-minor,
From the New World, Op. 95
Antonín Dvořák
arr. F. Kreisler (adapted T. Batiashvili)
Born: September 8, 1841, in Nelahozeves, near Kralupy, Bohemia (now Czech Republic)
Died: May 1, 1904, in Prague, Bohemia
Work composed and premiered: composed, December 1892–spring 1893; premiered, December 15, 1893, with Anton Seidl conducting the New York Philharmonic in a “public rehearsal”; the
official premiere took place the
following evening at Carnegie Hall
(then called simply the
Music Hall).
Most recent New York Philharmonic performance: Largo, most
recently performed January 21,
2017, Joshua Gersen, conductor
Estimated duration: ca. 5 minutes
Lisa Batiashvili and Alan Gilbert
backstage at David Geffen Hall in
September 2016
38 | NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC
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Conservatory, crafted “dialect words” to fit
the tune: “Goin’ home, goin’ home / I’m
a’goin’ home / Quiet-like, some still day / I’m
a’goin’ home.” An enthusiast for Dvořák’s
ideas about melding authentic American
songs with the techniques of classical composition, Fisher made numerous concert settings of African American pieces, which he
published in 1926 as Seventy Negro Spirituals.
This helped confuse the issue, but the fact is
that “Goin’ Home,” which had already been
published four years earlier as a stand-alone
song, is strictly a “pseudo-spiritual.” The legendary violinist Fritz Kreisler arranged the
piece as a solo for his instrument, by 1924 at
the latest (since he first recorded it that
March); he presented it under the title
“Negro Spiritual Melody.” That version is
heard in this performance, as adapted by
Tamas Batiashvili, the father of our soloist.
In the spring of 1928 George Gershwin took
his fifth trip to Europe — along with his sister,
Frances; his brother, Ira; and Ira’s wife,
Leonore — and it was there that he worked on
his tone poem An American in Paris. Gershwin therefore was an actual American in Paris
for part of the time that he labored over the
score, and Ira reported that the entire “blues”
section was composed in the Hotel Majestic in
that city. Other parts, however, were written in
New York City (where he had sketched a good
deal of the piece before he set sail), in Vienna,
and (after his return from abroad) at a farm in
Connecticut; and all of the orchestration was
carried out in the United States.
By that time, Gershwin was driven by a desire to be more than “just” a composer of musical comedies. He asked Maurice Ravel if he
might study with him, but the French composer politely declined, insisting that Gershwin’s talent was already perfectly formed and
that he would have nothing to contribute. A
similar response came from Nadia Boulanger.
Gershwin was left to his own devices, forced
to clear his own path toward a distinctive fusion of popular and classical styles on the
concert stage.
The Brooklyn Eagle reported of the premiere of An American in Paris that the listeners responded “with a demonstration of
enthusiasm impressively genuine in contrast
to the conventional applause which new
music, good and bad, ordinarily arouses.”
An American in Paris
George Gershwin
Born: September 26, 1898, in Brooklyn, New York
Died: July 11, 1937, in Hollywood, California
Work composed: 1928
World premiere: December 13, 1928, by the New York
Philharmonic, Walter Damrosch, conductor
Most recent New York Philharmonic performance:
April 22, 2014, Alan Gilbert, conductor
Estimated duration: ca. 19 minutes
Another American in Paris — Alan Gilbert studies
a score during the Orchestra’s stop in that cityt on his first
European Tour with the Philharmonic in 2010.
FEBRUARY 2017 | 39
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