HAYDN : Symphony No. 49 in F minor, La passione, Hob. I:49
John ADAMS: The Wound-Dresser
SCHUBERT: Symphony in B minor, Unfinished
BERG: Three Orchestral Pieces
Passion & Pain: Adams, Haydn & Schubert is one of four individual performances produced and distributed by the New York Philharmonic and personally selected by Alan Gilbert for commercial release during his inaugural season with the Philharmonic.
Alan Gilbert on This Program: Although we didn’t give this program a title, I hope that listeners find that it tells a story. We have the two symphonies, by Haydn and Schubert. The Schubert is unfinished, and we complete it, as it were, with the Berg. And there is John Adams’s amazing contemporary setting of a great 19th-century American text, sung by our Artist-in-Residence, the great baritone Thomas Hampson. You often find Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, one of the most important works written in the 20th century, at the beginning of a program. It can be seen as an extension of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6; in fact, there is an incredible instrument — an enormous wooden box with a huge sledgehammer — used in both the Mahler Sixth and the Berg Three Orchestral Pieces. Both Mahler and Berg were trying to express a kind of desperation in their music, a struggle at a point in history when these pieces were written, a fin-de-siècle moment where prejudices and presuppositions were being questioned. I’ve decided to close the program with the Berg because when you get to this cataclysmic end — after this amazing and compelling and terrifying march that is the third piece — there’s really nothing else to say. But where did Berg come from? Yes, Mahler, but even before that, Schubert. Schubert was one of history’s greatest songwriters, and I think Berg was one of the great melodists. I hope that listeners hear elements in the Berg that are extremely expressive and extremely beautiful — there’s a reason that this is called expressionist music. I believe that if Schubert had continued to compose for the next 100 years, he would have ended up where Berg was. So I think to “complete” Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony with Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces at the end of the program makes a lot of sense. The Schubert and the Berg are serious works, and they follow a fairly serious first half. Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, La passione, deals with The Passion; John Adams’s The Wound-Dresser is a setting of Walt Whitman texts that are based on his experience of those wounded in the Civil War. They are thematically related. Just as this whole, serious program tells a story that might not be so easy to put into words. Notes on the Program By James M. Keller, Program Annotator Symphony No. 49 in F minor, La passione, Hob. I:49 Joseph Haydn Joseph Haydn’s appointment as Vice-Kapellmeister of the immensely wealthy Esterházy Court, in the spring of 1761, marked the watershed moment of his career. He had been born into relatively humble circumstances: his father was a wheelwright who doubled as village sexton, and his mother was a cook for the local count until she started giving birth to her 12 children, of which Joseph was the second. As a child he gained a prestigious spot as a boy soprano at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. When his voice changed (and his usefulness in the choir ran out), he got by as best as an essentially unemployed musician could in a city that hardly lacked for musicians, eking out a livelihood as an accompanist, music teacher, and street musician. In 1759 Haydn secured his first official post, as Kapellmeister (music director) for Count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin in Bohemia. The job didn’t last long, due to belt tightening at the court, but it did serve as a stepping-stone to the position that would shape Haydn’s entire career. He began acting as a musical consultant to Prince Paul Anton Esterházy shortly before he received his official contract on May 1, 1761. In the early years the music staff traveled with Prince Paul Anton and Prince Nikolaus (who came to power upon Paul Anton’s death, in 1762) to spend time at the court’s palace in Vienna and its residences in Eisenstadt (some 30 miles to the southeast) and at the castle of Kitsee (overlooking the Danube River). By the late 1760s the court began spending more time at the castle the Prince had rebuilt at Esterháza, dubbed the Hungarian Versailles. It is for this musical world that Haydn composed his early and middle-period symphonic works, beginning with his Symphonies Nos. 6–8 (the famous triptych subtitled Morning, Noon, and Evening). Because the aged kapellmeister, Gregor Joseph Werner, remained in charge of vocal music at the court, Haydn focused entirely on symphonic and chamber pieces for the first few years; when Werner died, in 1766, Haydn assumed his position, which he would hold until 1790. Haydn was perpetually occupied composing new works for his musicians’ use and his prince’s delectation, upholding an astonishingly high standard of composition even in the midst of such productivity. In an interview with his biographer, Georg August Griesinger, he recalled of these years: My sovereign was satisfied with all my endeavors. I was assured of applause and, as head of an orchestra, was able to experiment, to find out what enhances and detracts from effect, in other words, to improve, add, delete, and try out. As I was shut off from the world, no one in my surroundings would vex and confuse me, and so I was destined for originality. In the late 1760s and early ’70s Haydn became captivated with the hyper-emotive style known in posterity as Sturm und Drang. During this time he produced numerous works, including six minor-key symphonies, marked by dramatically delineated phrases and abrupt changes of character. By the mid-1770s his fascination with the language and mannerisms of Sturm und Drang had run its course (although he internalized some of its features to become part of his ongoing style), and he returned to a less confrontational language in his later symphonies. The characteristics of Sturm und Drang are much on display in the Symphony No. 49, a work consumed by melancholy and even tragedy, consistent in key and somberness in each of its four movements. They are found in the serpentine brooding of the long opening Adagio, in the wide leaps of the violins that launch the agitated Allegro di molto, in the potentially angry-sounding Menuet (with even the Trio section, in F major, providing a moment of emotional contrast), and in the bristling, brusque finale. The nickname La passione, though not bestowed by Haydn, appears on a manuscript of this piece copied in about 1780. It is unclear whether it was meant to convey something about the work’s “passionate” quality or, as in Music Director Alan Gilbert’s view, if it was to suggest that the piece was somehow connected to, or appropriate for, a performance during Passiontide. The Wound-Dresser, for Baritone Voice and Orchestra John Adams John Adams started out as a minimalist, but it has been a long time since he graduated from that description to become one of America’s most widely performed composers of concert music, a distinction he achieved thanks to a style in which musical richness and stylistic variety are deeply connected to the mainstream impetuses of classical music. He grew up studying clarinet and became so accomplished that he performed occasionally with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At Harvard University he studied composition with a starry list of teachers that included Leon Kirchner, Earl Kim, Roger Sessions, Harold Shapero, and David Del Tredici. Then, armed with a copy of John Cage’s book Silence (a graduation gift from his parents), he left the “eastern establishment” for the relative aesthetic liberation of the West Coast. Adams arrived in California in 1971 and has been based in the Bay Area ever since. During his first decade there he explored an evolving fascination with the repetitive momentum of minimalism, but by 1981 he was describing himself as “a minimalist who is bored with minimalism.” Among Adams’s most internationally acclaimed works are his operas, which characteristically address the personal stories behind momentous political or historical events: Nixon in China (1987, which considers Richard Nixon’s historic 1972 meeting with Mao Zedong), The Death of Klinghoffer (1990, inspired by the hijacking, five years earlier, of the cruise ship the Achille Lauro), I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky (1995, a “song play” set in the aftermath of the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake), and Doctor Atomic (premiered in 2005, about the testing of the first atomic bomb). His most recent opera, A Flowering Tree (2006), returns to more classic operatic territory, setting a South Indian folktale that involves personal transformations and moral choices. In some of these scores, as in many of his instrumental compositions, one finds the confluence of popular and classical styles, the mixing of high and low aesthetics, that reflects the breadth of Adams’s catholic inspiration and comprehensive language. From 2003 to 2007 Adams was Composer-in-Residence at Carnegie Hall (succeeding Pierre Boulez), and in 2009 he began his position as creative chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Adams has grown increasingly involved in conducting, and he has led many of the world’s most distinguished artists in programs that mix his own works with compositions by figures as diverse as Debussy, Stravinsky, Ravel, Zappa, Ives, Reich, Glass, and Ellington. In 1997 the New York Philharmonic spotlighted him in a Composer’s Week, which was dedicated to his music. For many listeners, however, Adams’s most memorable connection with the Orchestra was the unveiling of his On the Transmigration of Souls — a meditation on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a work that the Orchestra co-commissioned and premiered at the outset of the 2002 season and released on the Nonesuch label. This recording was honored with Grammy Awards for Best Classical Recording, Best Orchestral Performance, and Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and the work garnered a Pulitzer Prize for its composer. In 2008 Adams published Hallelujah Junction, a compelling book of memoirs and commentary on American musical life. There he states that The Wound-Dresser “began as a plan to set prose cameos from Walt Whitman’s account of his Civil War days in [his prose collection] Specimen Days.” The texts, which involved Whitman’s service in military hospitals, “made me think of the stories I had heard from San Francisco friends, many of them gay, who had lost partners and loved ones to the plague of AIDS that, in 1989, was still devastating the country.” They also related to “the memory of a more personal story, that of the long, slow decline of my father from Alzheimer’s disease” and “my mother’s struggle and the devotion with which she nursed him.” He went on to say: “Instead of setting Specimen Days, I chose ‘The Wound-Dresser,’ a poem that is both graphic and tender ...” From “The Wound-Dresser,” by Walt Whitman (1819–1892) Bearing the bandages, water, and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go, Where they lie on the ground after the battle brought in, Where their priceless blood reddens the grass the ground, Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roof’d hospital, To the long rows of cots up and down each side I return, To each and all one after another I draw near, not one do I miss, An attendant follows holding a tray, he carries a refuse pail, Soon to be fill’d with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and fill’d again. I onward go, I stop, With hinged knees and steady hand to dress wounds, I am firm with each, the pangs are sharp yet unavoidable, One turns to me his appealing eyes — poor boy! I never knew you, Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you. On, on I go (open doors of time! open hospital doors!), The crush’d head I dress (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away), The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine, Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard. (Come sweet death! be persuaded O beautiful death! In mercy come quickly.) From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood, Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and side falling head, His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump, And has not yet look’d on it. I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep, But a day or two more, for see the frame all wasted and sinking, And the yellow-blue countenance see. I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound, Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so sickening, so offensive, While the attendant stands behind aside me holding the tray and pail. I am faithful, I do not give out, The fractur’d thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen, These and more I dress with impassive hand (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame). Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals, The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young, Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad. (Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested, Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.) In the Composer’s Words Walt Whitman spent the better part of the Civil War years in Washington, D.C., living in a series of small, unfurnished rooms, all the time supported by the meager salary of a federal clerkship. His sole, consuming passion was his self-appointed task of ministering to the tens of thousands of sick and maimed soldiers who crowded the hospitals in the surrounding area, many of them little more than unheated and unventilated canvas tents hurriedly constructed by the unprepared Army of the Potomac. Virtually every day, barring his own illness or ever-increasing exhaustion, Whitman rose early and went to the hospitals, going from ward to ward to visit with the sick and wounded young men. For those who were unable to do so, he wrote letters home. For others he provided small gifts of fruit, candy, or tobacco. He dressed the wounds of the maimed and the amputees and often sat up throughout the night with the most agonizing cases, almost all of whom he knew on a first-name basis. It was surely no poetic exaggeration when he later said that during these years many a young soldier had died in his, Walt Whitman’s, arms. ... The Wound-Dresser is a setting for baritone voice and orchestra of a fragment from the poem of the same name. As always with Whitman, it is in the first person, and it is the most intimate, most graphic, and most profoundly affecting evocation of the act of nursing the sick and the dying that I know of. It is also astonishingly free of any kind of hyperbole or amplified emotion, yet the detail of the imagery is of a precision that could only be attained by one who had been there. “The Wound-Dresser” [the poem] is not just about the Civil War; nor is it just about young men dying (although it is locally about both). It strikes me as a statement about human compassion of the kind that is acted out on a daily basis, quietly and unobtrusively and unselfishly and unfailingly. Another poem in the same volume states its theme in other words: “Those who love each other shall become invincible ...” © John Adams Symphony in B minor, D.759, Unfinished Franz Schubert Incomplete works are perhaps an inevitable feature of most composers’ catalogues. After all, they are no more likely than anyone else to receive advance notice of when they will die, and often the final chords of their lives arrive before they have drawn double bars at the ends of their works-in-progress. In the case of some long-lived composers the events seem to have coincided: Haydn, Rossini, Verdi, Richard Strauss, and Vaughan Williams, for example, had already shepherded their musical careers to fulfilling finishes; they give the impression of having left this world after saying what they had to say. Others have been cut off in mid-sentence, sometimes at the height of their powers, while engaged in the production of masterpieces: think of Mozart’s Requiem or Puccini’s Turandot. Because Franz Schubert died very young, at the age of 31, popular consensus has sometimes fixed on the idea that his Unfinished Symphony was a casualty of this sort. Of course, it is possible that if Schubert had lived longer he might have gotten around to filling out his piece to the standard four movements that made up the typical symphony of his era, but the fact is that he had already put this score aside long before his death. In the last decade of his life Schubert accumulated a sizable stack of incomplete large-scale works, including several premieresymphonic “torsos” and aborted sonatas; the Unfinished Symphony, which he wrote in 1822 (more than six years before his death), is surely the most superb of them all. In October of that year he sketched out three movements of the piece in piano score, and the following month completed the orchestration of the first two movements plus a fragment of the ensuing scherzo. There it ended. Many theories have been proposed to explain why Schubert left this work in mid-stream. Some believe (very hypothetically) that he did finish it, but that sections have been lost. Some suspect that the B-minor entr’acte from Rosamunde was intended to be the symphony’s finale; after all, it mirrors the symphony’s key and orchestration exactly (including the employment of a third trombone, which was somewhat unusual in the orchestral lineup at that time), and it appeared shortly after Schubert is known to have been working on this piece. Many think that he abandoned the symphony because he felt that he could not provide two final movements on the same high plane as the opening two. (This is doubtful. Just look at the stream of profound, large-scale masterpieces — including the Great C-major Symphony, the final three piano sonatas, and the two piano trios — that would still issue from his pen.) The most plausible explanation is that in late 1822, precisely when he would have moved on to the remaining movements of the work, Schubert was diagnosed with syphilis. The disease was incurable at the time, and the attendant treatments were as dreadful as they were ineffective. It seems possible (and understandable) that the news might have thrown the composer completely out of kilter, disrupting his creative concentration. The following year Schubert sent the manuscript to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who put it in a desk drawer; there it languished for 40 years. Four decades later Hüttenbrenner liberated the manuscript from its dark, silent recess, and presented it to the conductor and choral composer Johann von Herbeck, who oversaw its first performance, in Vienna in 1865, 43 years after it was written. The influential Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick, writing about the work’s premiere, said, With a few horn figurations and here and there a clarinet or oboe solo, Schubert achieves, with the most simple, basic orchestra, tonal effects which no refinement of Wagnerian instrumentation can capture. By the Numbers The numbering of Schubert’s symphonies is a matter of immense confusion. His first six pose no problem. Passing over some very fragmentary sketches, the next “completed” symphony is the one known as the Unfinished, and, after that, the one generally referred to as the Great C-major Symphony. The Great C-major was long accepted to be Schubert’s seventh since it grew famous before the Unfinished was extricated from Hüttenbrenner’s desk drawer (see sidebar, opposite page). Even after the earlier work came to light, the editors of the complete edition of Schubert’s works were disinclined to reassign numbers, especially when so famous a piece as the Great C-major was involved. That work kept the designation of No. 7, and they identified the Unfinished as No. 8. A bit later, chronologically inclined musicologists seized on the idea of calling the Great Schubert’s Ninth as a way to convey that it had been written after the Unfinished. They were also hoping to unearth a so-called Gastein Symphony — named after a town in Austria where documentary evidence suggested that Schubert had composed a symphony — which would then be assigned the newly available “No. 7” once it was rediscovered. However, it turned out that the piece in question was actually the Great C-major. That is why today one continues to find the Unfinished Symphony sometimes identified as the composer’s Symphony No. 7, sometimes as his No. 8. We prefer to avoid the issue and simply refer to this work as the Unfinished. Hanslick carried out his role as an anti-Wagnerian with missionary zeal, and his swipe at the later master does tend to demean his point just a bit. Nonetheless, he was correct about the sonic beauty of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. It would be difficult to think of an earlier symphony, including any among those of Beethoven, in which the use of symphonic sounds is so consistently evocative. A Posthumous Premiere By the time Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony was premiered, in 1865, it was known in theory though not in practice: Anselm Hüttenbrenner, the score’s guardian, had mentioned it in a biographical dictionary in 1836, and a Schubert biographer, Heinrich Kreissle von Hellborn, had picked up on its existence (via that source) in 1864. It was the latter who started a campaign to get Hüttenbrenner to release the work to the public — no mean achievement, since by then Hüttenbrenner had become all but a hermit, interested principally in abstract theological inquiries and in magnetism. Hellborn owed his success to a clever ploy. Claiming that he wanted to put on a concert of three great Viennese composers of a certain generation — Schubert, Franz Lachner, and Hüttenbrenner himself — he begged the last to show him some suitable works, and then wondered aloud if perhaps a previously unperformed piece by Schubert might not be found. Out of the drawer came the Unfinished Symphony. At its premiere it shared the bill with an overture by Hüttenbrenner. Three Orchestral Pieces, Op. 6 Alban Berg Alban Berg did not get off to a promising start. Like Charles Ives, he was a terrible student: he had to repeat two separate years of high school before he could finally graduate. Then, too, a fling with the family’s kitchen maid led to his becoming a father at age 17. Though passionate about music, he was clearly not cut out for academic success, and he sensibly accepted a position as an unpaid intern for a civil service position. The decisive step in his eventual career arrived in the fall of 1904, when he and Anton Webern signed up for composition lessons with Arnold Schoenberg, who had taken out a newspaper advertisement in hopes of attracting pupils. Schoenberg, a little more than ten years older than Berg and not yet famous, stopped offering formal classes after a year, frustrated that most of his pupils showed no aptitude for composition. However, the talented students, including both Webern and Berg, stuck with him. Some years later, Webern would write of Schoenberg’s tutelage: People think Schoenberg teaches his own style and forces the pupil to adopt it. That is quite untrue — Schoenberg teaches no style of any kind. ... [He] demands, above all, that what the pupil writes for his lessons ... should be something achieved as the result of his need for self-expression. Berg made immense progress during his formal studies with Schoenberg, which continued from 1904 to 1911. Writing to his publisher in 1911, Schoenberg remarked: “Alban Berg is an extraordinarily gifted composer,” but noted that when he first came to study with him he was “absolutely incapable of writing an instrumental movement or inventing an instrumental theme.” That shortcoming was rectified by the time Berg composed his Three Orchestral Pieces in 1913–15, a work that demonstrates his fluency in manipulating a huge orchestra toward an expressive end. The direct inspiration seems to have come from Berg’s witnessing the premiere of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony in June 1912. One might fairly say that Berg picked up where Mahler left off; Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces takes Mahlerian transformation and exaggeration to an extreme, all overlain upon a structure of traditional dancetypes, such as ländler, waltz, and march. Everything is meticulously organized in these complex movements, which are unified by the careful interweaving of thematic material. The first two pieces (lasting four minutes and four-and-a-half to five minutes, respectively) perfectly balance the eight-and-a-half- to nine-minute span of the third. In fact, the first two movements were premiered as a pair, with the March only joining them in performance seven years later; even the printed score allows that the first two movements may be presented without the third. Berg had hoped to present the set on Schoenberg’s 40th birthday, which fell on September 13, 1914. However, the work went slowly. “I keep asking myself, again and again,” he wrote to his mentor, “whether what I express [in this piece], often brooding My hope to write something ... I could dedicate to you without incurring your displeasure has been repeatedly disappointed for several years. ... I cannot tell today whether I have succeeded or failed. Should the latter be the case, then in your fatherly benevolence, Mr. Schoenberg, you must take the goodwill for the deed. In the Music Director’s Words Schubert’s music was written in the Classical period, but it was leading into the Romantic period. Berg, with his serial-compositional techniques and his expressionist philosophy, picked up where the Romantics left off. I disagree with those who say that Berg is not melodic. While the ideas in his music might be shorter, the more successful performances of Berg emphasize his expressive qualities. Twelve-tone music is a fascinating subject: the idea is to combine notes according to cycles of pitches. It’s a very cerebral, intellectual way of composing, and some composers I think never transcend that cerebral, intellectual level, but the great twelve-tone composers — like Berg, Webern, and Schoenberg — actually used that as a vehicle for real human expression. I absolutely think that it’s important to shape a series of notes in a very human, thoughtful, emotional way. If you succeed at that, then I believe the connections to the beautiful melodists of the 19th century become very clear. – Alan Gilbert