June 30, 2021 update on live performances and events at the NAC.
Christian Tetzlaff ©Giorgia Bertazzi
NACO Home Delivery

Bach, Berg and Schubert

This Home Delivery concert features two different archives that feature brilliant conductors. First, a concert from October 2018 with our Principal Guest Conductor, John Storgårds, and violinist Christian Tetzlaff, in works by Bach and Berg; and then esteemed American conductor, Leonard Slatkin, conducts an exciting Schubert symphony, from April 2010.

Leopold Stokowski, one of the most influential conductors of his generation, and best remembered as the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912-1941, arranged nearly 40 works by Bach for the modern symphony orchestra. Included among them is J.S. Bach’s Preludio, the opening movement from Bach’s Third Partita for Violin. Hear our violin section shine in Stokowski’s virtuoso showpiece.

Berg’s Violin Concerto is a beautiful, haunting work dedicated to “the memory of an angel” – Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler Werfel (Mahler’s widow) and architect Walter Gropius, who died from polio in 1935, at age 18. Berg’s only solo concerto, he set it in two movements, subdivided into two sections, played without pause. Hear German violinist, Christian Tetzlaff, deftly interpret and express all of Berg’s heartfelt emotions for this young girl whom he adored as his own.

While Schubert’s life was the shortest of all the great composers, with his death at the tender age of 31, he managed to write his crowning achievement in his final years. His Symphony No. 9 in C major (nicknamed “The Great” to distinguish it from his Sixth Symphony, also in C major, now called “The Little”) was so impressive that Robert Schumann shared it with Mendelssohn who immediately conducted it three times. Hear the horns’ theme in the opening measures (that then recurs throughout), the beautiful oboe solo in the second movement, the trombones featured in all 4 movements (for the first time!) and in the final movement, one of most rhythmically relentless in the orchestral repertoire, the symphony comes to an end in a blaze of glory.

Alexander’s Listening Guide: SCHUBERT Symphony No. 9 in C major, “The Great”

The epitaph on Franz Peter Schubert’s tomb sums it up well:

"Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes.”

Cut short at the tender age of 31 this musical giant, or ‘little mushroom’ as he was known to his friends due his diminutive stature, left behind one of the greatest and most prolific outputs of any composer. His genius and premature passing left the musical world, as with Mozart before him, with an enduring question: what would he have achieved next?

But in life he achieved enough: symphonies, operas, chamber music, sacred music, incidental music and of course songs - many, many exquisite songs - flowed from his soul in a seemingly unbroken stream of creativity. His over 600 vocal works include the beloved cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, whose intimacy and beauty to this day take the breath away.

Although very much an Austrian composer, who advocated for a unique Austrian voice emancipated from German influence, such was his reverence of Beethoven that Schubert requested to be - and was - buried next him. He was the first to pick up the symphonic gauntlet thrown down by that great master, crafting a cycle that was at once truly his own voice and yet fused an Austrian-Mozartian melodic creativity with a Germanic-Beethovenian harmonic and rhythmic drive.

This Ninth Symphony ‘the Great C Major’ contains all of the above and more. The well-deserved nickname is in fact the result of a linguistic quirk: Gross, which means both “great” as well as “big” in German, was used not to describe the work’s grandeur, but to distinguish this symphony from its little sister, the ‘small’ C major Symphony No. 6. Not published during his lifetime, the Ninth was rediscovered in 1838, a decade after Schubert’s death, by Robert Schumann as he travelled through Vienna. He took a copy of the manuscript back to Leipzig and organised a performance by the Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Felix Mendelssohn. Since then it has been a major and beloved staple of the orchestral canon. 

At the time of its composition it was considered an enormous, even unplayable work. An hour in length when all the repeats are respected, it is a symphony that requires extreme technical proficiency and stamina from the orchestra. As much as any symphony by Beethoven, it is a work in which you can hear the inspiration for Brahms, Schumann, Bruckner, and indeed, Mahler.

Beginning with a simple unaccompanied horn melody, the symphonic introduction builds through unmistakably Schubertian harmonisations and transformations. I challenge those of you that have any doubt as to the direct influence that Schubert had on subsequent greats to listen to the first statement of the majestic theme in the Finale of Brahms’s First Symphony and compare it to what you hear at the opening of this symphony. Same key, same melodic counterpoint, same pizzicato string accompaniment, same noble temperament.

In the aforementioned spirit of fusion, the subsequent Allegro - the main body of the first movement - is based on a figure that is both Beethovenian in its rhythmic incision yet retains the quintessential lightness and elegance that is at the heart of both Schubert and Mozart. Developed in a manner that Schumann would later mimic in his own symphonies, the movement builds to a triumphant reintroduction of the initial horn melody, a good 650 bars after its first statement, luminously rich in its sonority.

The subsequent Andante, in turn coquettish, tender and tragic, offers a teasing vision of the path that Mahler would later follow, and presages in its tragedy the works that would yet flow from Schubert in his final years, his Winterreise not least among them.

Schubert continues the traditional symphonic structure, following his Andante with a Scherzo movement but on a grand scale. The music is indubitably in the mould of Beethoven’s later symphonic gestures. But note the subtle difference in tone: Schubert keeps the long arching structural lines, but not for the protracted periods of rhythmic insistence that would become Beethoven’s hallmark. No sooner he begins such a sequence, he moves back toward more melodic, less abrasive territory. He continues to sing.

The fourth and final movement of the symphony brims with pure ebullience, wit and technical brilliance. At well over a thousand breathless bars long, it offers little respite for any of the musicians, particularly the poor string players: while touring Europe with the piece, composer and conductor Felix Mendelssohn would frequently come across orchestras that refused to play it, so harsh are its demands. Yet it provides the audience with edge of seat enjoyment, energy, beauty and fun. It is the brightest of finales to a symphony which is both great in its own right and has profoundly influenced the evolution of music.

I hope you enjoy every minute!

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