Saturday 17 July 2021
"There is something suspicious about music, gentlemen. I insist that she is, by her nature equivocal, I shall not be going too far in saying at once that she is politically suspect...."
- Thomas Mann
Here is a genius, Thomas Mann, playing devil's advocate with an exquisite sense of humour. And here are the answers to his provocation.
The relation between music and the natural world is the building stone and the essential emotional link for human evolution. Be it Beethoven's storm (or three) in the morning concert, be it the afternoon concert sounds and stories about hunting by the tunes of Schubert Beethoven and Onslow. Be it the evening concert, sounds of the silence by Dvořák, sounds of the rain in Brahms violin sonata or even Debussy boycotting a walk in the forest due to miserable meteorological conditions.
As of the last concert of the day the ideas are so clear that they need no words, as Beethoven's states when asked to present his immortal Pastoral symphony. We respect his wishes and will not "explain" his musical landscapes of "Awakening of the countryside" or "Scene by the brook" or "Merry gathering of the country folk" or the "Storm" (the fourth of the day) or the final shepherd's song...
From Sapho's songs (600 to 500 BCE) via Bach – Mozart – Beethoven – Debussy to Indie rockers with their "Cities Under Water" the messages is that we musicians can metamorphose nature into magic. Even try to save it in our way...
Eventually Thomas Mann wrote his little phrase as a successful vaccine against pessimism and meant it as a challenge. Challenge accepted.
Day 6 - Friday 16 July 2021
is a complement to day 5 -The Memory Lane. Day 5 focused on the continuity of the Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven-Schubert-Brahms lineage. It stayed bravely inside the Viennese golden time of the Classic and Post-Classic music. Fast Forward keeps the promise and flies from 1750 to 1944 in a bit more than 4 hours.
The time span of the morning and afternoon concerts goes from young Beethoven till 1826 to Shakespeare and Mendelssohn-Bartholdi's delightful Summer night dream. It can be considered as a "star year" in the history of music.
The Unfinished journey program features the very last piece composed in a moment of divine grace by Bach. During the composing of his last fugue from the 'Art of the fugue'' the (then) blind composer woke up and was able to see again and write his name B A C H in sounds in the last unfinished score of his life!
And Mahler's remarkable autobiography written on a paper tear, his unfinished 10th symphony concludes this program. It also generates the transition to the last concert.
Angel of Apocalypse
Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time needs no presentation due to its supreme status in the 20th century's art, but my heart and mind stay with the profoundly beautiful, moving Notturno by Ullmann.
Both composers (Messiaen and Ullmann) were confronted with the worst abomination in the history of humanity – The concentration camp. Messiaen survived. When I asked Messiaen: "Maestro, what do you remember from the camp where you composed your Quatuor pour la fin du temps?" Messiaen avoided the answer with extreme decency: "I remember it was very cold..." he said and starred at me telling with his eyes: "I do not want to look there. Ever..."
Ullmann did not survive his ordeal. In 1939 his music was forbidden by the Reichsprotektorat for Bohemia and Moravia. He was deported in 1942 to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where he enraged his SS captors with the content of his opera 'The Emperor of Atlantis". It was planned to be performed in the camp. A bit later in 1944 they roughed him into the train transport to the Auschwitz extermination camp and was gassed after 2 days.
Only, his music has survived. It seems to confirm what Charles Bukowski wrote - immortality can be achieved only after death.
Thursday 15 July 2021
Or The Magic Tree. It's not the greenish perfumed gizmo which hangs on the rearview mirror inside your car milady! The Magic Tree of music in our case is the continuous metamorphose and improvement of the heritage from our illustrious composing predecessors by their successors.
Mozart grew from the knowledge of his mentors like Haydn and Johann Christian Bach. Beethoven enhanced his creative energy thinking at the beneficial aura of Bach, Handel, Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart. Rudolf – archbishop of Austria- composed in the style of his master (Beethoven). Brahms had his first symphony labelled as Beethoven's tenth. And Schubert managed his sensational (symphonic) octet by adding a second violin to Beethoven's septet's instrumentation, just to steer away from Beethoven's shadow.
All those mythical creators went ahead on the Memory lane in the quest of reaching the horizon... or at least enriching our community of dreams.
GATES OF ANOTHER WORLD
Wednesday 14 July 2021
Or a wandering between beauty, time travel, prophetic visions and light houses.
The first concert starts with Bach, who gave a second life to Marcello's Adagio under his own name. Then the concert continues with Mozart's homage to his recently deceased mother, which was written in Paris between tears and hope. And then going to Beethoven, who wrote about his quartet op. 95 that "It is written for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public..." We beg to differ.
Second concert "131" is about Beethoven's flash back in time to Bach's fugue in C# minor and the string trio op. 9 in C minor which he will quote in the finale of his monumental quartet in C# minor together with his Missa Solemnis.
Berlioz reaction to the quartet was striking. "Nobody in the audience, including me, understood anything about what was being played... It took me some time to understand but when I finally understood my hair stood up!!!" (It is the sign that a lightning strike may be imminent, the experts say.)
The story of the day goes on with Schubert's prophecy "After this (Op. 131) what is there left to us to write?" The concert AFTER OP 131 proves him, fortunately, wrong... A small masterpiece, Beethoven's WoO62 Andante in C and the mother of all masterpieces, the figurehead of chamber music history – Schubert's quintett with 2 celli in C with it's heavenly beauty.
The last concert proves the there is even an AFTER AFTER (Op. 131). Three iconic postromantic pieces of music by Wagner, Berg and Schoenberg, which open the music history towards the future, like three light houses conveying the message: There will be an after after after after after after...
After this festival...
Tuesday 13 July 2021
Tuned words are there to test our vision about artistic creation. Words are strong and direct. Sounds become smiles, tears, emotions, feelings of far, close, nostalgic, or fun using the complex language of music. Their magic is stronger than the power of words and goes directly to the mind and the heart of the people.
Schubert can, by the power of sounds, transform a harp into a Zauberharfe. As well as Beethoven is able to transform the sound of a string quartet into a 16 stringed harp. It could as well be an Irish harp as we try to imply in the concert program.
Chevalier de St Georges reveals his double skill. An elegant fencer and a talented composer in his charming and elegant-as-well classical quartet.
Charles Valentin Alkan (Beethoven's contemporary) at the other extreme of the composing style is a furious avant-gardist. His breathtaking, raging Allegro barbaro is a premonition of Bartók 's Allegro barbaro. Maybe Bartók knew of it. Eventually he got inspired by it. Supposedly....
The story of the Kreutzer sonata starts with the powerful sounds of Beethoven's sonata which fascinated Tolstoy when he wrote his own masterpiece -The Kreutzer sonata. It was greeted with the standard nastiness by the New York Herald: the novel was a "nightmare, born out of a diseased imagination." It signaled the birth of a masterpiece in other words... Tolstoy's words will be metamorphosed back into sounds by Janáček in his passionate string quartet – "Kreutzer sonata''. In this case music opens and then closes the circle of tuned words and emotions.
The last concert needs no presentation. Schubert has the first and last word in the sound flow of the day. He dreamt to be as skilled as Beethoven and took counterpoint lessons with Simon Sechter in his last weeks of life. It seemed mission impossible to the Viennese musical elite and even to himself.
He managed only to be a genius...
Monday 12 July 2021
Free translation: Hit music pieces
In the recent history Gassenhauer were music from the time of the coachmen humming Haydn tunes on the Viennese Gassen (streets), to the Venetian gondoliere singing "O sole mio" forward to Madonna's "Vogue" and on...
Now it is time to bring them back inside the classical timeline till the middle of the nineteenth century; Music for everybody, made by normal geniuses dreaming to be accessible, enjoyed by normal people. Them being even a bit jealous of the success of the others, which in other words is being human...
Little is known that Daniel Steibelt, the composer needing some recognition, had provoked Beethoven to a musical duel: "Let's see who is the better improviser between Beethoven and me" he told to his Viennese friends. He happens to have lost the duel but won our hearts with his talent and the adorable music of the Bacchanales featured in the morning concert.
Boccherini – constantly pressured to produce flattering elegant music, for his amateur cellist King. His 'La musica notturna di Madrid'' became a glorification of the King who was supposed to play the 1st cello part in the 2 celli quintet. It was depicting the march of the royal guard appearing and then disappearing after having controlled that nobody remained on the streets of Madrid after sunset. By the order of the King as well.
When the Enescu Quartet performed in the Royal palace in Madrid on the Stradivari instruments owned by the Spanish King, it was offered for us to make a choice between the celli made for the King or the cello for Boccherini. The King's cello was BIG and sounded strong and dominant*. Boccherini's cello smaller but of infinite beauty and sound of sweetness... So even Stradivari had to bend graciously in a reverence to the King in his way – being a double genius.
The Boleros and Russian songs of Beethoven spread through the day add color and spirit to the concerts, and in the last concert – Schubert, Weber and Brahms, all of them fascinated by the proud temperament or by the sweet tenderness of the Hungarian folk music, finish the day on an upbeat feeling.
To our luck.
*Rostropovich tried the King Cello before and said: Almost as good as my own cello to the King which smiled but his eyes did not smile... It went without saying that the Enescu Quartet chose the Boccherini cello.
BEETHOVEN BECOMES 'BEETHOVEN'
The first day of the Kuhmo festival – 11 July 2021
When the July festival program was ready, the festival needed a solemn opening. Most composers wrote their overtures like a flashback looking at their finished opera. Some composers – like Mozart – composed directly to the parts. Some like Rossini – were in house arrest. When writing his overture to La gazza ladra, Rossini was forced to throw the overture page by page into the courtyard to four stagehands. The stagehands were ordered to throw Rossini himself out the window instead, if he did not deliver it on time...
The idea of BEETHOVEN BECOMES "BEETHOVEN" arrived as a flashback (like an overture) for the festival. The day is a walk through his youth and him relating (or not) to his teachers.
Neefe, his first teacher in Bonn, had the brilliant idea to place Bach's Das Wohltemperiertes Klavier score on Beethoven's desk without too many graceful words. "Lerne davon!" (Learn from it!) he is reported to have said... Beethoven did better than expected. So much better, that his Prelude in F Minor, WoO 55 sounded as if Bach had written it.
Haydn insisted that his student needs to write on the title page of his scores:
Ludwig van Beethoven
Schüler von Joseph Haydn (student of Joseph Haydn)
Instead, Beethoven said 'I learned NOTHING from Haydn'' and refused to accept Haydn's request.
Haydn's Il Maestro e lo scolare (Master and his student) became (for me) a fair response to Beethoven's fiery outburst. Haydn did upset him with some advice about the finale for the C Minor Trio Op. 1. And his impulsive reaction was seen by Haydn as "Der Kaffeeklatsch" (coffee gossip). For us it became a Kuhmo festival premiere after only 249 years.
Salieri has taught Beethoven as well. You would expect some dismissive words from Beethoven... But by no means were they uttered. The 'Salieri image" was impeccable in the eyes and mind of Beethoven. Salieri's overture to his opera Prima la musica e poi le parole found its place of honor in the first concert of the festival and at the end of the concert, of course... The music is like the best champagne there is; quick, funny, frizzante, virtuoso and 200% lovable. And brought 50 forints to the composer plus some sour comments from Mozart, who complained to his father that Salieri and his "Italian cabal" were favored versus his own opera productions.
Welcome to majestic and tolerant Vienna, the capital of the music world. And welcome to Kuhmo, the world's capital of chamber music!