Program Notes: Stéphane, Beethoven, and Brahms (January 7-8, 2022)

Program


Stéphane Denève, conductor

Shai Wosner, piano


Detlev Glanert

Brahms-Fantasie (Heliogravure for Orchestra) (2011–2012)


Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, op. 15 (1795)

Allegro con brio

Largo

Rondo: Allegro scherzando

Shai Wosner, piano


Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68 (1885)

Un poco sostenuto; Allegro

Andante sostenuto

Un poco allegretto e grazioso

Adagio; Più andante; Allegro non troppo, ma con brio

 

Program Notes

By Tim Munro and Paul Schiavo


Detlev Glanert

Brahms-Fantasie

Detlev Glanert

Born September 6, 1960, Hamburg, Germany


Music Director Stéphane Dèneve has no doubts. For him, Detlev Glanert is “Germany’s best living composer.” Glanert’s works are known in Europe, but his music is rarely performed in the United States.


Glanert is a true creature of the theater. His ten operas paint a humanity often threatened by evil. “Our dark side,” Glanert has said, “is more interesting than the good. In secret we want to explore that hidden side. Adam and Eve want to keep away, but the temptation is too great.”


Glanert and Johannes Brahms share the same hometown: Hamburg. Glanert feels that he and Brahms share “a specific North German tradition.” It has something to do, he has said, “with a melancholy in [Brahms’] pieces, with a certain severity.”


Glanert loves to live in Brahms’ musical shadow. In Four Serious Songs, Glanert’s music is in direct conversation with Brahms’ songs. In Distant Country, notes from Brahms’ Fourth Symphony are transformed beyond recognition.


For Brahms-Fantasie, the older German recedes further into the distance. Glanert’s work carries only a vague memory of Brahms, an evocation of the emotions and styles and personality of his music. There is outrage and trepidation, there are languid waltzes and wild romps.


Glanert says that music “must tell you something about your life and what you are. If it does not, it will die.” Music must deal with the conflicts that makes us human. “Love, hate, death: my work deals with all these things and how they interact.”

First performance: March 22, 2012, by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, in Glasgow, Scotland, Donald Runnicles conducting

First SLSO performance: These concerts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 12 minutes

 
Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Concerto No. 1


Ludwig van Beethoven

Born December 16, 1770, Bonn, Germany

Died March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria

Ludwig van Beethoven had a sense of musical humor, as we shall hear in the concluding movement of his Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major. Beethoven also was a superb keyboard virtuoso, by all accounts one of the greatest of his day. Carl Czerny, the composer’s student and himself a fine pianist, declared: “Nobody equaled him in the rapidity of his scales, double trills, skips, etc.” Moreover, Czerny asserted, “Beethoven’s performance of slow and sustained passages produced a magical effect on every listener.”


Beethoven composed two works for piano and orchestra during his early years in Vienna, where he settled in 1792. The Piano Concerto in C, completed in 1795 or 1796 and now known as No. 1, op. 15, actually was the second he produced; but since the composer preferred this work to its predecessor, the Piano Concerto in B-flat major, op. 19, it was published earlier and consequently given a more forward position in the catalog of his works. Beethoven may have played the concerto in Vienna as part of a charity concert given in the Austrian capital in December 1795. He probably also presented the work during a trip to Berlin the following year, and he definitely performed it in Prague in 1798, at which time Jan (Johann) Tomašek, another accomplished pianist, heard him and reported on “Beethoven’s magnificent playing . . . ; indeed, I found myself so profoundly bowed down that I did not touch my pianoforte for several days.”


The brilliancy of Beethoven’s piano playing is very much on display in the C-major Concerto. The work begins in the tradition of the “military concerto” openings often used by Mozart. (The martial character of the initial theme is established by its conspicuous fanfare motif, the use of trumpets, and its proud demeanor.) The Largo second movement is elegant and dream‑like. Beethoven, in his own performance, certainly must have “produced a magical effect,” as Carl Czerny described. The finale, by contrast, brings the type of musical humor often found in the works of Beethoven’s occasional teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn, including an energetic episode in “Turkish” style. During the closing bars Beethoven slows the tempo to a decorous Adagio only to pull the rug from under us with a sudden rush to the final measure.

First performance: Unknown, but before 1798; in all probability Beethoven played the solo part and conducted from the keyboard

First SLSO performance: February 2, 1923, Rudolf Ganz as conductor and soloist

Most recent SLSO performance: March 11, 2017, Stéphane Denève conducting with Steven Osborne as soloist.

Instrumentation: solo piano, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 36 minutes

 
Johannes Brahms

Symphony No. 1

Johannes Brahms

Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg, Germany

Died April 3, 1897, Vienna, Austria


From his teen years, Johannes Brahms was in training. He was always working on a large-scale work: a piano sonata, a sextet, a piano concerto, an orchestral serenade. Honing his skills, keeping his eyes on the ultimate goal: to write a symphony.


As a genre, the symphony was in crisis. Ludwig van Beethoven’s five-decade-old symphonies dominated concert programs. New works were ignored, and composers moved to newer, trendier genres. But for Brahms, a symphony remained the ultimate musical achievement.


As an unknown twenty-something, Johannes Brahms began work on the First Symphony. One summer, he sent a draft of the first movement to a confidante, then set it aside. It would be fourteen years until he completed the work.


Friends nudged him, critics needled him. As a thirty-something, rising in renown, Brahms jotted the finale’s heroic horn melody. As a forty-something, he was finally able to “look this symphony straight in the face,” completing it during an idyllic summer retreat.


The First Symphony is ambitious in scope. Its first movement is carved from granite, stern, unyielding. The middle movements capture the subtle light of a winter’s afternoon, clear, dappled. The finale begins with nervous energy, but ends in a blaze of unambiguous light.


Brahms’ music can baffle with its fussy detail, its closely worked intelligence. This complexity is partly political. Brahms believed that slipping standards were destroying Vienna’s proud musical world. He fought back with his only weapon: his music’s finely worked craftsmanship.


By the time the symphony was premiered, Brahms was a professional success. His journey from obscurity to fame had been long, and the First Symphony had been his private companion. Now it would belong the world.


First performance: November 4, 1876, in Karlsruhe, Germany, Felix Otto Dessoff conducting

First SLSO performance: February 18, 1910, Max Zach conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: November 22, 2015, David Robertson conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 45 minutes

 

Tim Munro is the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Creative Partner. A writer, broadcaster, and Grammy-winning flutist, he lives in Chicago with his wife, son, and badly behaved orange cat.


Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.