BaslerZeitung Agenda:

Kit Powell Meets Schubert Dienstag, 17.04.2018 - 19:30 Uhr Konzert

Zürcher Konzertchor, Zürcher Kammerorchester, Leitung: André Fischer, Eva Oltiványi (S), Brigitte Schweizer-Lang (Mezzo-S), Tino Brütsch (T), Tamás Bertalan Henter (T), Ruben Drole (B)

Die beiden Musiker und Komponisten verschmelzen die Moderne und die Klassik zu einem faszinierenden Hörerlebnis! Uraufführung der Sinfonie “Schubert 1828” für Orchester und Elektronik, die Kit Powell speziell aus Anlass dieses Konzertes komponiert hat. Das neue Werk thematisiert Schuberts letztes Lebensjahr und insbesondere seine letzte Messe (Nr. 6 in Es-Dur), die der Zürcher Konzertchor ZKC mit dem Zürcher Kammerorchester ZKO unter der Leitung von André Fischer im Anschluss an die Uraufführung interpretieren wird.

Location: Tonhalle Maag

Datum: 17.04.2018

Zeit: 19:30 Uhr

Ort: Tonhalle Maag, Zahnradstrasse 22, 8005 Zürich

Schubert 1828 is a symphony using material from compositions in Schubert’s last year of life, in particular from his Mass in E major whose orchestra (with historical instruments) it also uses:

2 Oboes, 2 Clarinets in B, 2 Bassoons 2 Horns (E and C), 2 Trumpets (B and A), 3 Trombones (2 tenor and 1 bass), 2 Timpani, Strings

NB: Although the work was planned with the above instrumentation, we changed to contemporary instruments for practical reasons (see also the paragraph “Schubert’s orchestra differed … ” below).

The work is a realisation of an idea of André Fischer’s, who wished for a piece which could be performed together with the Schubert Mass in E flat major using the same orchestral instruments and in addition electroacoustic sounds which are typical of our contemporary music. The combination of computer music with an early nineteenth century orchestra would accentuate the feeling of a meeting between two musical cultures — or suggest a conversation between Schubert and myself. I decided to use a “tape” in the 1st, 3rd and 4th movements with fragments of Schubert’s works from his last year of life and others from my own electroacoustic works.

Schubert 1828 has a similar form to Schubert’s Mass in E flat but is roughly half as long. Each of the five movements makes reference to the corresponding movement in the mass (Schubert’s Sanctus and Benedictus were regarded as one movement). Also woven into the symphony are motives or melodies from the Swan Song cycle (whose song-texts also supplied the movement-titles) as well as themes from works of Schubert’s last year.

The listener familiar with these Schubert works will notice two types of “quotations”. In general the references to the Mass are exact, albeit often combined with other material so that they are not always immediately recognisable. Themes from the songs of the Swan Song cycle are however treated in a more abstract way. Often a motive from the piano accompaniment is developed to form a new orchestral texture. These and other Schubert melodies are frequently transformed with chance procedures and are often recognisable only through their rhythms or contours. At André Fischer’s suggestion the texts from these abstracted song fragments are also shown in the score as an additional expressive help for the performers.

The last movement is an elegy. It is built on material from Der Doppelgänger (song 13 of the Swan Song cycle — almost the complete harmonic accompaniment of this dark song is present) combined with contrapuntal themes from the Agnus Dei and bemoans Schubert’s early death at the age of only 31.

Schubert’s orchestra differed from our modern orchestra especially in the brass section. Horns and trumpets had no valves and were therefore restricted to the notes of the harmonic series (although horn players could “fake” many notes in the gaps of that series by inserting their right hands more or less far into the bell of the instrument). These “valveless” instruments could play in various keys but the players had to be given time to change crooks ¬(tubes of different lengths which would produce different harmonic series). In the case of Schubert 1828 I decide to use modern horns and trumpets but to write for them as if they were without valves: as if each instrument had only one crook, but each with one of a different key.

More interesting are the trombones. Thanks to their slides these instruments had a complete set of chromatic notes over more than two octaves. Curiously, however, they were seldom used in the baroque and classical periods except for doubling the singers in choral works. This changed with Beethoven’s fifth symphony, when a group of three trombones appeared—but only in the last movement! Schubert seems to have shared Beethoven’s interest in the trombone and indeed extended its use. Apart from the choral doubling in the Eb Mass the three trombones are also often given independent functions and in most movements of his two last symphonies (the “Unfinished” and the “Great”) they are used frequently and to great effect. Since the latter symphony belongs to the works of his last year I have quoted the wonderful trombone passage (with its extraordinary Schubertian modulation) from the development section of the first movement in my first movement.

A word from the composer: Schubert was criticised by the church for making important omissions to the text in his settings of the mass – notably the words: et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam are missing from the Credo. Schubert 1828 is in no way a religious work even if it does draw strongly on the Schubert Mass in Eb. However, inspired by Schubert’s courage in imposing his own beliefs on the liturgical text, I allowed myself to include sounds from my own non-religious Credo in unam Naturam with its chorus of New Zealand birds and whale song in the third movement.

List of Quotations in Schubert 1828:

  1. Ade – Farewell (Andante con moto – Allegro assai) with tape
    Mass in Eb, DV 950: Kyrie; Schwanengesang, DV 957: Nr. 7, Abschied;
    Symphony in C, DV 944; Fantasie in f minor (piano duet), DV 940

  2. Stolzes Herz – Proud Heart (Andante – Più mosso – Meno mosso)
    Schwanengesang, DV 957: Nr. 8, Der Atlas; Mass in Eb, DV 950: Gloria;
    String Quintet in C, DV 956

  3. Wehmutstränen – Tears of Longing (Adagio – Allegro assai – Tempo primo – Allegro) with tape
    Symphony in C, DV 944; Schwanengesang, DV 957: Nr. 9, Ihr Bild; Mass in Eb, DV 950: Credo; Klaviersonate in c, DV 958

  4. Abenddämmerung – Dusk (Adagio – Vivace – Adagio) with tape
    Schwanengesang, DV 957: Nr. 11, Die Stadt; String Quintet in C, DV 956;
    Mass in Eb, DV 950: Sanctus

  5. Nacht – Night (Una Elegia, Mesto)
    Fantasie in f minor (piano duet), DV 940; Schwanengesang, DV 957:
    Nr. 13, Der Doppelgänger; Mass in Eb, DV 950: Agnus Dei

Schubert 1828, full score

Thoughts on Kit Powell’s “Schubert 1828”
by André Fischer — trans. KP

Kit Powell’s symphonic homage “Schubert 1828” leads us not only through Schubert’s Mass in E flat, but kaleidoscopically through a group of other pieces also created in Schubert’s last year of life. Powell traces connections among these late works and creates others himself with a subtle composition technique related to the principle of collage.

Powell uses a ‘tape’ or rather a sound engineer in the movements I, III & IV who, as an additional ‘instrumentalist’ plays electronic sounds from a computer at precise moments. In the first movement these are fragments from his work Whale for trombone and tape and other computer music works. In the third movement Powell integrates sounds from his Credo in unam Naturam: New Zealand bird and whale song, which are filtered and laid over each other to form a new texture. Finally in the fourth movement we hear sounds from Powell’s Flötenspieler und Fledermäuse which he produced many years ago in Paris in the studio of Iannis Xenakis whose UPIC machine he was allowed to use. Schubert 1828 appears to have animated the composer to make a retrospective of his own electro-acoustic compositions.

Movement I (AdeFarewell) Immediately after the unmistakeable opening of the KYRIE we hear a disruptive trill motive from the higher strings and high whistle sounds (synthetic whale song) which distract us from the solemn E flat major music and make room for the accompanying figure of the song Abschied (Farewell, no. 7 of the Swansong Cycle, text by Ludwig Rellstab, and also in E flat major): Schon scharret mein Rösslein mit lustigem Fuss – Jetzt nimm noch den letzten, den scheidenden Gruss (My horse is so restless and scrabbling to go – Take then the last and the final farewell). Thereby the heart breaking gulf is set between inside and outside, between painful parting feelings and trotting-out-bravely-into-the-world with the words: Vorüber, ach, ritt ich so manches Mal – und wär’ es denn heute zum letzten Mal? (Past here, alas, I rode so many times — Perhaps today for the very last time?)

The three trombones ‘call’ — each separately — Ade!, while the strings ‘trot on’ and single woodwinds are challenged to a bustling solo. Compared to the Schubert song however the horse falls out of step and out of key, while strands of solemn wind sounds from the mass remain hanging in the background. Then the timpani quotes the main motive from the first movement of the Great C Major Symphony which leads on to a development of further material from this movement.

Like a ritornello the trotting returns, this time together with tremolo tape sounds which remind one of the clattering of a roulette wheel or a gambling machine. Quotes from the f minor Fantasie for piano duet and the calling motive from the second movement of the String Quintet interrupt the trotting and form a second episode before the horse sets off for the third time and, amid the farewell calls from the trombones, finally stops exhausted.

Movement II (Du stolzes HerzYou Proud Heart) quotes at the beginning the first verse of the song Der Atlas (no. 8 of the Swansong cycle, g minor, text by Heinrich Heine) and confronts this with the fanfare like soaring triplet figure from the GLORIA (bar 5), which becomes a decisive element of the first section. As we can expect from the title of this movement, we hear a majestic proud music dominated by a basic dotted rhythm.

Soon we notice a very slow version of the opening sounds of the Gloria in excelsis Deo, intoned by clarinets and bassoons over an agitated string tremolo. A little later the trombones quote the pithy crucifixion music from the Domine Deus (like the Atlas song also in G minor), which leads on to a faster section. This uses a motive and its function from the Domine Deus (4 staccatissimo quavers from the strings, from bar 169 on), which Schubert uses to turn the music of each verse in a new direction, i.e. to a new key (Schubert’s key scheme in the Domine Deus: g minor, c minor, d minor, g minor).

The section reaches a climax in a quotation from Cum Sancto Spiritu by the brass before the beginning texture in a much faster tempo returns and makes way for a second working of the Atlas song.

The fourth and last section brings us the quintessence of the second movement in a calmer tempo: Die ganze Welt der Schmerzen musst Du tragen! (You must carry the pains of the whole world!)

Movement III (WehmutstränenTears of Longing) is formally simple and analogous to its pendant, Schubert’s CREDO: A – B – A’ – C. Soft timpani rolls mark the joins in the form, exactly as with Schubert.

After introductory music from the tape, which seems to change gradually to a dripping sound, we hear Powell’s Credo in unam naturam over a network of wind instrumental solos. Both A sections develop the song Ihr Bild (Her Picture, no. 9 from the Swansong, B flat minor, text by Heinrich Heine), the first time to the already mentioned choir of New Zealand bird song and in the recapitulation to whale calls (this time real, i.e. recorded in the wild).

The contrasting B section is without tape and contains an abundance of borrowings from Schubert’s first and third CREDO sections (Et resurrexit). Very impressive is, how the celebratory music corresponds with the key points of the Swansong: Und ach, ich kann es nicht glauben — Dass ich dich verloren hab! (And oh, I cannot believe — That I have lost you). The close relationship of these two pieces becomes apparent thanks to Powell’s juxtaposition of them.

The following C section is a sort of “ghost fugue”: new tape sounds (among them a quote from the c minor piano sonata) are confronted with fleeting string runs (also from that sonata) which, over a pizzicato bass, disappear in the highest of high registers: an adumbration of the final end in the fifth movement.

Movement IV (AbenddämmerungDusk) begins with the introductory music to the song Die Stadt (The City, no. 11 of the Swansong, c minor, text Heinrich Heine). Striking is the falling octave motive in a diminished triad which builds the counterpart to the theme in the Osanna fugue, which will be quoted in a high violin register at the end of this movement in a much too slow tempo when clarinets, bassoons and horns play the song melody in crepuscular alienation mit traurigem Takte (with sorrowful beat).

The introduction ends, not as we expect, in the first verse of the song, but in the familiar calling motive from the second movement of the String Quintet (played here on the oboe), supported by apparently damp tape sounds: Ein feuchter Windzug kräuselt — Die graue Wasserbahn (A damp wind ripples —The grey waterway). The slow rising development leads to a wild, strongly syncopated vivace main section in f minor. It is the clearly recognisable famous contrast section from the second movement of the String Quintet.

This main section leads immediately to a threefold tutti cadence, the climax of the whole movement which is a harmonic and gestural sequence taken from the SANCTUS: E flat major, B major (instead of b minor, which is saved for the last movement) and g minor are placed abruptly alongside one another separated only by a rough tape flimmering. Afterwards we hear a varied repetition of the introductory music, which ends in the long expected Swansong verse combined with an Osanna quotation. The fourth movement is striking for its economical use of material and its compactness of expression.

Movement V (NachtNight) finally quotes the crucifix theme from the AGNUS DEI, but in the key of the Der Doppelgänger (b minor, penultimate song — no. 13! of the Swansong, text Heinrich Heine) in which Schubert himself already based the key and chord pattern of the final movement of his Mass.

In this movement the timpanist plays a central rôle since the pulsating rhythm over many bars determines the dramatic quality of the music. In a second section the timpani stop and we hear trombones, bassoons and clarinets play the countersubject of the crucifix theme which, at an especially sensitive point, is excruciatingly alienated by a “wrong” note (a major instead of a minor third).

Horns and oboes add the melody of the Doppelgänger song which, however, is only recognisable at the line: Der Mond zeigt mir meine eigene Gestalt (The moon shows me my own figure) but then all the more strongly: the struggle of the protagonist with himself and his terrible realisation becomes musically so insistent, as to be scarcely bearable.

The third section is again dominated by the pulsating rhythm of the timpani. The crucifix theme rises chromatically until the tonic E flat (with major and minor third) is reached. From the timpani rhythm a trill motive is developed which starts in the low register of the bassoons and in a new start reproduces itself in the cellos, violas right up to the high registers of the violins. Only now is it clear that this trill motive (from the Fantasie in f minor for piano duet) is in fact identical with the very first disruptive motive at the beginning of the KYRIE.

The trumpets take over the timpani motive with a minor second in a high register, before a restored version of the crucifix theme (in b minor) starts for the third and last time in the contrabasses, while the solo violin makes its way higher and higher with an expressive melody in g minor through the sounds of the winds and strings, until it is accompanied only by the other violins, and together they reach the transfigured last chord (G major enriched by two bright foreign colours), which dissolves finally into silence.

Schubert 1828 ends, so to speak, in heaven, without our being able to rejoice.