Péter Eötvös, Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, Göteborgs Symfoniker Eötvös conducts Stravinsky: Mavra, Sacre du printemps
Le sacre du printemps is the most original and most influential composition of the music of the time, inspiring dumbfounded enthusiasm in colleagues like Debussy and Bartók, and both of them (although the former was shocked by the music’s unbridled savagery, and the latter commented on the work’s fragmentary nature) sensed its importance for music history.[...]
He parades the distinctive traits of nineteenth-century Russian opera (Glinka and Tchaikovsky) and Italian opera buffa (Rossini and Donizetti), seasoned with gypsy music and ragtime. This musical language is a cavalcade of irreconcilably heterogeneous elements, and cannot for one moment be taken seriously. Mavra is a parody, not a resurrection, of the genre of comic opera. How can an already humorous genre be parodied? Stravinsky’s humour is purely musical in origin, and derives from the constant clash of non-matching elements.
Maria Fontosh - soprano (Parasha)
Ludmila Schemtschuk - mezzo-soprano (Mother)
Lilli Paasikivi - mezzo-soprano (The Neighbour)
Valerij Serkin - tenor (Hussaren)
About the album
Tracks 1-14 recorded by Tom-Tom Studio at Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, Germany on 11-12.09.2004 / Production coordinator: Thomas Wandt
Sound engineer: Péter Dorozsmai; Recording assistants: Tamás Kurina, Károly Paczári, Thomas Händel
Track 15 recorded by The Swedish Broadcasting Corporation at Göteborgs Konserthus (Gothenburg Symphony Hall), Göteborg, Sweden on 15-17.10.2003
Production coordinator: Martin Hansson
Balance engineer: Michael Bergek
Producer: Urban Hagglund
Tracks 1-15 edited and mixed by Péter Eötvös & Péter Dorozsmai at Tom-Tom Studio, Budapest
Music publisher: Boosey & Hawkes
Portrait photo: István Huszti
Cover art / Art-Smart by GABMER
Produced by László Gőz
Executive producers: György Wallner, Tamás Bognár
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Igor Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) – Part One: The Adoration of the Earth
Igor Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) – Part Two: The Sacrifice
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Folklorist and citizen of the world
Stravinsky’s path from Le sacre du printemps to Mavra
If, over the course of his long life, a composer changed his style as drastically as Stravinsky, it comes as no surprise that he continually had to reassess his relationship to his own works. The great Russian master is, without doubt, one of those composers (of whom in the 20th century there were many) who tried to re-write their own past to bring their earlier compositions into line with their changed aesthetic views and maxims. This “fickle” behaviour, however, reduces neither the value of the masterpieces, nor the artistic greatness of their creator. A comparison of Le sacre du printemps (known in English as The rite of spring, but rendered more faithfully as The consecration of spring) and Mavra affords an excellent opportunity to understand the radical turn that occurred between Stravinsky’s “Russian” and “Neoclassical” periods.
In speaking of the Sacre, the composer was guilty of “fabricating history”: in later statements he tried to play down the extent to which he was inspired by folk music, and the actual presence of folk music material. Even as to how the idea for the work came about, he emphasised the instinctive, saying that he “dreamt” the basic idea for the ballet. This vision came in spring 1910, while he was still finishing off the orchestral score of The Firebird. “I saw in imagination a solemn pagan rite: sage elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring.”
The older Stravinsky confidently declared to his assistant Robert Craft, that “the opening bassoon melody … is the only folk melody in that work. […] If any of these pieces sounds like aboriginal folk music, it may be because my powers of fabrication were able to tap some unconscious ‘folk’ memory.”
However, a photograph from 1910 is a telling refutation of this declaration. The picture was taken on the veranda of the family’s house in Ustilug: on the steps sits a blind muzh'ik, a kind of singing beggar, who sang, accompanying himself on the hurdy-gurdy, and behind him can be seen Stravinsky, frenetically trying to note down the melody. This snap, which could have been a moment in the life of Bartók or Kodály, shows the Russian composer’s passionate interest in original folk music, just as does the correspondence with his mother, whom he asked to post collections containing songs of the Caucasian peoples made on the basis of phonograph recordings, and moreover, “as fast as possible”.
The whole truth only came to light when the sketchbook for Le Sacre was published in a facsimile edition. Stravinsky’s working method is wonderfully economic: he uses only one or two pages to develop the thematic material for each dance, and this sketch is followed by a continuity draft for the movement, which hardly differs at all from the final form of the work. However, the sketchbook does not reflect what kind of transformations were made to each musical idea from its first appearance to its full crystallisation, because Stravinsky carried out this work improvising on the piano. The noting down of the first inspiration, though, betrays what kind of musical idea sparked the composer’s imagination. And among these first inspirations can be found plenty of original folk songs. Some of them are from the same Lithuanian collection of folk songs, published in Krakow, from which the opening bassoon melody originates, whereas others are from a publication of Stravinsky’s former teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, (One hundred Russian folk songs, 1877).
One of the most interesting entries is a folk custom melody, associated with some important days of the calendar, and ceremonies in which the pagan origin can be discerned behind the Christian gloss. Rimsky-Korsakov himself was well aware of the ancient nature of the sun-worshipping rite, and that is one of the reasons he used the same melody in his opera May night, based on a story by Gogol.
So Stravinsky drew on ethnologically authentic melodies, which, in addition, spoke of the same spring fertility rite as his own vision of the great pagan consecration of spring. But the astonishing freedom with which he handles this raw folk material far surpassed the folk song arrangements made by Rimsky-Korsakov or other composers of “The Five”. In many cases the folk origin of the details of the score can only be identified with the help of the sketchbook. Stravinsky analyses his raw material, reducing it to abstract elements, and then reassembles it. He alters one or two notes or intervals in the original melodies, elsewhere he combines two different folksongs (as for example in the “incantation” melody of the Spring Round Dances), or he excises from the melody a motive that genuinely “breaks free” and has a life of its own. And sometimes he chops the folk melody into bars, and then reassembles them in a different order, as if he were mixing up the squares of a mosaic. Very often he interferes with the rhythm of the original folk songs and sets them in an unpredictably asymmetric metre. The high degree of abstraction and re-creation through which raw folk music material is transmuted in Stravinsky’s laboratory reminds one most of Bartók’s compositional method, by which the folk song is truly absorbed into the composer’s individual style.
The rhythmic and metrical artifice of the music of Le sacre, the gripping ostinatos, perhaps also draw on the composer’s childhood experiences. When he was asked what he liked best about his former homeland, he replied: “The violent Russian spring that seemed to begin in an hour and was like the whole earth cracking. That was the most wonderful event of every year of my childhood.”
Not only was the rhythm of the work revolutionary – so was its harmonic world. The analyses of Messiaen and Boulez point to this newness, but they do not uncover how even this feature was influenced by the folk raw material: the interval structure of several folk songs is incorporated into the vertical structure of the work.
And finally, the orchestration of the score cannot go without mention. Even in The Firebird Rimsky-Korsakov’s most brilliant student had already caught up with his master; but in Le sacre he coated his most individual musical thoughts in orchestral garb until then unheard of.
Le sacre du printemps is the most original and most influential composition of the music of the time, inspiring dumbfounded enthusiasm in colleagues like Debussy and Bartók, and both of them (although the former was shocked by the music’s unbridled savagery, and the latter commented on the work’s fragmentary nature) sensed its importance for music history. It is well known that the world première of Le sacre in 1913 became perhaps the most famous scandal of twentieth-century music history, but the outrage was directed not primarily at the music, but much rather at Nijinsky’s choreography. This is proven by the fact that the concert version (shortly after the huge debacle) was wildly successful in Paris, London, and elsewhere.
Naturally, Stravinsky never rejected his most influential masterpiece, but he strived to clear himself of the suspicion of folklorism. For after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, folkishness was unavoidably linked to the political and intellectual trends that were sweeping his beloved Russia towards catastrophe. Sharply critical, he differentiated between the ideological folkishness of “The Five” and the Russian nature of the art of Glinka, Pushkin or Tchaikovsky. He charged Rimsky-Korsakov and his circle with having nationalist feelings, and said it was a dangerous tendency that their compositions gave only a pale imitation of an art once created instinctively by the people. Of his new model, however, he wrote: “Tchaikovsky’s music, which does not appear specifically Russian to everybody, is more often profoundly Russian than music which has long since been awarded the facile label of Muscovite picturesqueness. This music is quite as Russian as Pushkin’s verse or Glinka’s song... Although the nurturing soil of Tchaikovsky’s music is not the ‘Russian peasant spirit’ Tchaikovsky drew unconsciously from the true, popular sources of our race.” In the three artists mentioned he recognised the cosmopolitan, who “unite[d] the most characteristically Russian elements with the spiritual riches of the West”.
His enthusiasm for Tchaikovsky and his antipathy for the Russian nationalists was shared by Diaghilev; after 1917 the pseudo- eastern exotic tales and folklore themes suddenly disappeared from the programme of the Ballets Russes, and instead of Tcherepnin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Balakirev and Liadov, the names of Scarlatti, Rossini and Cimarosa appeared on the posters – many of course in arrangements by contemporary composers like Respighi or (in the case of Pergolesi) Stravinsky. The creation of Mavra (1921–22) was motivated by the 1921 London première of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty. We find plenty of Russian folk-like melodies in Mavra too (true, their ethnographic origin is a little more suspect than the melodies of folk traditions used in Le sacre), but the way they are used and their aim is precisely the opposite of in the ballet: there the revolutionary new style was completely suffused with folk music elements, whereas here they remain hopelessly alien in their context, and this alien nature becomes their main expressive power.
Stravinsky’s striving for ideology-free, “pure” music, and his requirement for cool detachment regarding the object, combined auspiciously with his enthusiasm for Pushkin’s mordant humour. Pushkin’s poem The little house in Kolomna was made into an opera libretto by Diaghilev’s personal secretary, Boris Kochno, only 17 years old. The plot (see details below) is thin and, frankly, quite daft, but in the opera still has a much greater role than in Pushkin, who uses it simply as an excuse for his continual digressions. But Stravinsky needed just such a lightly sketched, stereotype story to achieve his aim.
He parades the distinctive traits of nineteenth-century Russian opera (Glinka and Tchaikovsky) and Italian opera buffa (Rossini and Donizetti), seasoned with gypsy music and ragtime. This musical language is a cavalcade of irreconcilably heterogeneous elements, and cannot for one moment be taken seriously. Mavra is a parody, not a resurrection, of the genre of comic opera. How can an already humorous genre be parodied? Stravinsky’s humour is purely musical in origin, and derives from the constant clash of non-matching elements. The lyrically flowing melody is counterpointed by short dry sounds in the accompaniment (of the 34-piece orchestra, 23 are wind instruments!). In this music everything is a trick: the vocal line often moves in a different rhythm to the accompaniment, the bass line promises harmonies different to those that actually sound, and a “wrong” note often slips into the mechanical accompaniment figures.
The characteristically Russian melody of the Overture – with its brevity and narrow range – begs to be repeated, and resembles the main theme of Glinka’s Kamarinskaya or Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, but more than anything the de rigueur hit for every Russian folk group, the “Kalinka”. The rhythmic-metric uncertainty, Stravinsky’s game of trickery, utterly confounds the listener’s sense of the bar-line.
Something similar happens in Parasha’s aria too: the girl sings a lyrical folk song in a free rhythm, with a changing metre. It is as if Stravinsky’s arrangement were poking fun at earlier folk song arrangements which tried to force the free rhythm into the metrical clichés of European art music. However freely the melody soars, the accompaniment growls in a regular pulse, in apathetic disregard. Sometimes even the chords of the tonic and dominant get mixed up, and encounter the bass line in the wrong place.
The Hussar’s “Gypsy song” shows the philanderer to be a vehement, but flirtatious suitor. Modulations are replaced by semitone displacements and bumps, as if “hiccups” were interrupting the musical process. (Perhaps the hussar drained a glass before the meeting?) In a particularly fussy cadence, under a long held note the orchestra unexpectedly leaves the singer to his own devices; elsewhere he sings a carefully constructed close, the key of which is immediately corrected by the orchestra. It is as if the musical commentary were telling us to take this scoundrel’s words with a pinch of salt.
The Mother’s aria, in which she laments over the death of the cook, is turned into a parody of a funeral march by the acrid brass chords underpinning the emotional melody. The Duet of the Neighbour and Mother is no less ludicrous: the banal gossip is paired with many clichés from nineteenth-century opera, from the dashing march to virtuoso vocal coloratura. In the Quartet, which features all the characters, Stravinsky shows off his superior knowledge of counterpoint.
The Duet of Parasha and the Hussar disguised as a cook and christened Mavra is a brilliant reworking of the love duets from Italian operas. Behind the sparkling orchestral parts there is a hint of the notes of Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsody No. 6, and at the same time the emotional, romance-like mood puts the theme of Schubert’s F minor fantasia into the mouth of the hussar. The thrilling vocal runs and sensual chromaticism merge into melodic lines in parallel thirds at the end of the duet, embedded in a typical waltz accompaniment. The fly in the ointment is that against the waltz’s “oom-pa-pa” rhythm the vocal line of the lovers sometimes moves in duple time. Perhaps this love stands on unsteady ground?
Mavra’s aria is again in gypsy style, just like the introduction of the hussar. However, the passion of its spiralling melody is questioned, this time by the orchestration: the trumpet plays it first, in a low register, and Stravinsky even instructs it to be played “tranquillo” (calmly), twisting the already unnatural scene to the perverse. The “gypsy” passion is cooled by the broken accompaniment of bassoons, timpani and low strings, limited to the repetition of two forms of one single chord. The Closing scene, with the exposure, comes to just as abrupt an end as Pushkin’s poem: the listener has to work out the “edifying” moral for themselves.
It is no accident that Stravinsky loved Mavra dearly: in fact he held it to be his most accomplished work. The ironic style of the mini-opera is an accurate musical equivalent of Pushkin’s sarcastic poem. And when the composer continually confounds the listener’s expectations, he brings the musical style into the plot of the opera: after all, that too is based on deception. The use of musical irony to this extent makes Mavra revolutionary in its daring, though this daring is of an entirely different nature to the primeval energy of Le sacre. The Paris public at the world première were confused by the piece, and left the performance disappointed. But somebody that listens with an open ear to the frivolous games with style, the cruel poking of fun at convention, will benefit from many enjoyable hours with what is perhaps Stravinsky’s most entertaining composition.
translated by Richard Robinson
Le sacre du printemps – synopsis
The libretto for Le sacre was the joint work of Stravinsky and his friend Nicolas Roerich, painter, archaeologist and researcher into ancient Slav culture. Roerich sent the following description of the plot of the ballet to Diaghilev: “In the ballet The consecration of spring Stravinsky and I are planning, my task is to create a series of scenes of earthly pleasure and divine triumph. [...] I think the first series of scenes shall be set by the foot of a holy hill, on a fertile plain, where the Slav tribes meet to hold the rite of spring. The scene features an old witch who foretells the future, nuptials of violence, and a round dance. Then follows the most solemn moment. The Wise Elder is brought from the village to bestow his holy kiss on the earth as it blossoms anew. During the ritual the crowd is possessed by a mystic terror. [...] After the outbreak of earthly pleasure, the second scene shows us heavenly mystery. On the holy hill, amongst enchanted rocks, young virgins are dancing in the round. Then they choose the sacrifice, and she dances the last dance before the elders, who are dressed in bearskin as a sign that the bear was the ancestor of man. Finally the men, with their hoary beards, offer the sacrifice to the god Yarilo.”
Mavra – synopsis
Mavra is set in Kolomna, a provincial suburb of St Petersburg, in the time of Charles X. The curtain reveals the living room of a middle-class family, where Parasha, the girl, is doing her embroidery. Their neighbour, Vasili, the handsome hussar, appears at the window. The lovers sing a duet. After the hussar leaves Parasha’s mother enters, lamenting that they no longer have a servant because Fekla, the old cook, has recently died. Parasha goes out, hoping to find somebody. While she is away the neighbour arrives to gossip about the weather, servants and clothes. Parasha comes back with the hussar dressed in women’s clothes, and introduces him as the new cook, Mavra. The mother rejoices at her good fortune. In an ensemble quartet they praise the virtues of the deceased Fekla, then the neighbour takes her leave, and the mother goes up to her room to change before going out. Left alone, the two lovers sing a passionate love duet. Then Parasha goes for a walk with her mother. In the empty house Mavra decides it is time to shave. But Parasha and her mother arrive home unexpectedly early from their walk and find the new cook in the middle of the manly ritual. The mother faints from fright, but comes to just in time to see the hussar jump out of the window, and her daughter shout after him, “Vasili! Vasili!”, while the curtain falls.
Péter Eötvös was born in Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc, now in Romania) in 1944.
1958 Admitted to the Academy of Music in Budapest on the recommendation of Zoltán Kodály, to major in composition.
1966-68 Studied conducting at the Music College of Cologne on a DAAD scholarship.
1968-76 Member of the Stockhausen Ensemble.
1971-78 Member of the WDR Electronic Studio.
1979-91 Music director of the Parisian Ensemble InterContemporain.
1985-88 First guest conductor of the BBC Symphonic Orchestra in London.
1991 Founded the International Eötvös Institute for young conductors and composers.
1994-2004 Leading conductor of the Dutch Radio Chamber Orchestra.
Since 2002 he has been the principal guest conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.
He has received several international and Hungarian prizes and awards (among others: Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Bartók-Pásztory Prize, Kossuth Prize). His compositions have been released on CD by BMC, DGG, Bis, Kairos, ECM and col legno.
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
The National Orchestra of Sweden
The year 2005 marks the Centenary of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, The National Orchestra of Sweden and one of Europe’s most distinguished ensembles. During Neeme Järvi’s leadership from 1982 to 2004, the orchestra became a major international force, a development now taken further by the orchestra’s new Principal Conductor, Mario Venzago. Christian Zacharias and Péter Eötvös are the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductors.
Wilhelm Stenhammar, the great Swedish composer and conductor of the early 20th century, contributed strongly to the Nordic profile of the orchestra. He invited his colleagues Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius to conduct their own works. Since then the orchestra has performed with legendary conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Pierre Monteux and Herbert von Karajan. Several of today’s most in-demand conductors work regularly with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra: Kent Nagano, Gianandrea Noseda, Vladimir Jurowski and Herbert Blomstedt, among others.
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, called “one of the world’s most formidable orchestras” by the Guardian, has toured the USA, Japan and the Far East and performed at major musical centres and festivals throughout Europe.
Among the orchestra’s recordings on Deutsche Grammophon, many of them award-winning, are the complete symphonies of Sibelius, Nielsen, Stenhammar, Berwald, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, operas and symphonies by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and the complete orchestral music (6 CDs) of Edvard Grieg.
The Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (Young German Philharmonic)
The Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (JDPh) has been regarded as one of Germany’s leading symphony orchestras since it was founded in 1974. The 100 musicians of various nationalities who belong to the orchestra have been selected from among the 25,000 pupils attending the 24 German music academies. In effect this means that half of all European music students are eligible to apply to join the JDPh. The quality of the orchestra is maintained by means of auditions that take place twice a year.
Joint responsibility and democratic decision-making in all artistic and organisational matters have been the undisputed hallmarks of the JDPh since its establishment. The orchestra’s modus operandi is quite unusual in the orchestral world in that it doesn’t have a resident conductor and acts autonomously in the choice of soloists, programmes and concert arrangements.
The orchestra’s music is as young as the musicians themselves. Contemporary music regularly forms part of their repertoire and is placed in a meaningful context with classical romantic orchestral works. The musical programmes are developed under the direction of renowned conductors in three intensive rehearsal sessions spread throughout the year.
The JDPh is in demand wherever something out of the ordinary is required. They are regular guests at the Berlin Philharmonie, in the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, the Kölner Philharmonie, the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg and the Prinzregententheater in Munich as well as national and international music festivals.
The list of conductors, composers and soloists who have worked with the orchestra and hold it in high regard includes Daniel Barenboim, Gary Bertini, Pierre Boulez, Péter Eötvös, Heinz Holliger, Eliahu Inbal, Steven Isserlis, Gidon Kremer, Witold Lutosławski, Lorin Maazel, Sabine Meyer, Ingo Metzmacher, Markus Stenz, Christian Tetzlaff, Seija Ozawa and Tabea Zimmermann.
Lothar Zagrosek, music director of the Württemberg State Opera in Stuttgart and designated chief conductor of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra has been the principal guest conductor and artistic adviser of the JDPh since 1995.
The ensemble has won many awards including first prize in the Herbert von Karajan competition, the German Gramophone Record prize for Artist of the Year, the German Critics’ prize, the Grand Prix Année Européenne de la Musique and the Ernst von Siemens Foundation Bursary.
The JDPh is supported by the city of Frankfurt and the state of Hessen as well as the BKM (Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien). Nevertheless the orchestra’s ambitious projects can only be realized through cooperation with organisers, festivals, sponsors and private patrons.