Camerata Transsylvanica, Erich Bergel Richard Strauss: Metamorphoses, Arthur Honegger: Symphony No. 2.
℗ 1998 & 2001
The coupling of the two works appearing on this CD is justified by their compatibility: Metamorphoses is Richard Strauss' monumental lament, the most significant of “late absolute music” pieces, while Arthur Honegger's Symphony No.2 is one of the most ascetic pieces of his oeuvre, bearing the message of humanity overcoming barbarism. Erich Bergel made only three recordings in his lifetime; this album is one of them.
About the album
Art director: János Selmeczi
Musical redaction: György Selmeczi
Recording made by the Hungarian Radio
Recording producer: László Matz
Sound engineer: Károly Horváth
Cover photos: Dániel Németh
Design: Meral Yasar
Produced by László Gőz
The recording was sponsored Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.
Arthur Honegger: Symphony No. 2
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Metamorphoses for 23 strings (10 violins, 5 violas, 5 cellos, 3 contrabass). Winter, 1944-45: the most significant of the late absolute" pieces; a monumental funeral dirge in which Strauss mourns the fate of Germany: behind the weeping, motifs from the funeral march of the Eroica symphony can be heard.
In this piece - still following the tenets of Goethe - Strauss composed his last metamorphosis-variation, and this time needed neither a text nor a stage. Longer and shorter melodies are transformed, linked together, die away and are reborn in endless succession. This polyphonic progression resounds for thirty minutes, and this large form, constructed with such great concentration, reminds one of Wagner. The endless lament of the strings recalls the slow moments of Mahler's Ninth and the unfinished Tenth symphony. It is surprising how close Strauss comes to Mahler's transcendent world, the music of the spheres" towards the end of his life without thinking consciously about these pieces. The nether regions of this world horrified Strauss much later than they did the more sensitive Mahler, who seemed to sense things in an almost prophetic way. Metamorphoses is the expression of the infinite anguish caused by the destruction of the irreplacable cultural treasures, the German cities, the historical monuments and theatres. It is a requiem for Munich: this was the title given to one of the outlines of the piece; another is given a quotation from Goethe as a title: "I am deeply distressed. The Goethe-house, the most precious sanctum of mankind, is gone! My beautiful Dresden, Weimar, Munich - all gone!" - sounds the cry of the broken-hearted old master.
Yet it is not despair that characterizes this piece. Even in the darkest moments of anguis, Strauss' music is a delicate manifestation of universal beauty, of perfection, of transfiguration - the living reflection of the past.
Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)
Symphony No. 2.
"The Muses are silent among arms" - so goes the Ancient Latin proverb, but the history of music in the 20th century seems to have forgotten about this wisdom. Honegger's second, so-called stringed symphony (Symphonie pour Cordes) was written in wartime. The composer wrote this work in the autumn and winter of 1941, during the German occupation of Paris, in his unheated flat. The conditions of its birth made a deep impact on the symphony's dark-toned, sharply drawn image, it's not a mere coincidence that the symphony was labelled "tragic".
There is an old commission in the background of this composition. Already in 1936, on the 10th anniversary of the ensemble's existence, Paul Sacher, founding conductor of the Basel Chamber Orchestra, asked several composers to write works of music for the anniversary. (It was for this occasion that Bartók wrote his Music for strings, percussions and celesta, too.) Honegger also started writing, but only finished a slow introduction in time, and this he didn't use in the final form of the symphony.When he tried again for the second time, the first movement to be finished was a slow one, the heart-wrenching lament of the middle movement, Adagio mesto.
"I am not a polyphonist, nor an atonalist, nor a dodecaphonist. Johann Sebastian Bach is my example. I do not endeavour to return, as some impressionists do, to simple harmony." Thus wrote the composer, and the characterization of himself fits his Second Symphony, too. The tragical content of this work is brought to life with the help of modern, exciting musical means. The slow opening movement keeps repeating the first theme, the hopeless diatonic sigh of the solo viola almost fanatically. The dense, dark harmonies that loom in the background of this theme are really quite far from being simple. With the explosion of the fast main part, the close connection to Bach's way of thinking becomes evident, for the significant rhythm of the Allegro theme carries the "engraved" nature of Bach's fugue. Honegger was confronted with difficulties when writing this movement, for, as he writes: "I had to be careful to put it into a strict and rigid form and not to destroy its inner fire, which had to oppose the simplicity of the introductory theme." The composer's struggle was successful: he created one of the most ascetic pieces of his whole oeuvre, it is built almost completely from striking themes, and these wonderful stoneblocks are joined together without any binding material.
The Adagio mesto seemingly takes up from where the slow introduction of the opening movement left off: behind the disconsolate, monotonously repetitive bass, the endless tune of the cello can be heard winding along. The musical texture becomes close-woven, the atmosphere of the lament gets hotter and hotter and the listener realizes with amazement how similarly the masters of that age codified the common horrors of war into their scores - Honegger's swelling tunes are spiritually related to Bartók's funeral music written round about that time.
The gesture in the final movement, which proclaims victory at the end of the struggle, despite everything, is very typical of Bartók. The confident note of the main subject comes almost as a shock after the previous movements - it's as if we were listening to one of the forceful musical ideas of young Richard Strauss. One of the most evident signs of this victory, won through violent means, is the choral tune" that crops up at the end. It's not real church music, but Honegger's own invention. This choral appears like a Deus ex machina", a divine intervention, which suddenly brings the solution in a hopeless situation. The choral is strengthened by the sound of a trumpet (quite an unusual idea in a composition for strings). Despite its evidently inorganic nature, the choral serves as a moving ending - the composer, educated according to the Swiss Protestant tradition, steps into the shoes of Johann Sebastian Bach for a minute, in order to show, with the triumph of the choral tune over the frequently contrapuntal orchestral accompaniment, the eternal message of humanity's victory over barbarism.
“Music is basically always a religious service.
I thank God every day for making me a musician.”
Johann Sebastian Bach could have spoken Bergel’s words. The similarity is not accidental: the Transylvanian Saxon musician is connected by invisible strings to the German organist-kapellmeister tradition that once gave the world the greatest genius in the history of music.
Bergel was born on 1st June 1930 in Rumania, in the Transylvanian village of Rozsnyó and spent the first four decades of his life there, in one of Europe’s most ethnically complex regions. He received dual advantages from the paternal home. Firstly a multi-national family, as his father was of Saxon descent while his mother was descended from Spanish/Hungarian ancestors, and more importantly a musical education. He could play the violin, flute and the piano from an early age and enjoyed performing daily at home, with his sister and two brothers under the direction of his violinist father. The organ and several brass instruments soon followed in a long line of instruments to be discovered, and this exceptionally manifold musical career once again brings to mind the Golden Age of Bach. (He was able to make use of his excellent instrumental knowledge later, in orchestral work, and when, in the 1960’s, he was barred for political reasons from conducting, he made a living playing the trumpet with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Cluj). In 1955 he graduated from the College of Music in Cluj, specializing in conducting, composing and the organ. His years of studying only strengthened Bach’s heritage in him, passed on by Kurt Mild, a pupil of Günter Ramin and Fritz Heitman, the best representatives of the German organist school.
Bergel’s passionate interest in Bach’s final monumental work, Die Kunst der Fuge, dates from these years of study. After graduating he worked as a musical director for four years in Nagyvárad, then from 1959 he became conductor of the Cluj Philharmonics but he was arrested that same year, falsely charged with “subversive activity against the state”. His real “crime”, in the eyes of the Communist regime was that in his capacity of musical director, he regularly performed religious oratories and took part in several organ concerts. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment, but after spending three and a half years in gaol and labour camp, he was granted an amnesty in 1962. For a while he couldn’t even use his conductor’s baton, though he slowly recovered from the physical and spiritual torments of his captivity with the help of yoga and the intensive study of Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge. Between 1965 and 1971 he was once again conductor of the Cluj Philharmonics. With Herbert von Karajan’s personal patronage he was finally able to leave Rumania in 1971 and his career as an international conductor developed rapidly. Karajan invited him as guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonics, and from 1972 he taught at the Music Academy of Berlin. In the course of his career, as a conductor, he worked with 160 orchestras in 35 different countries, on every continent. He directed the Houston Symphonics, several BBC orchestras and the Flemish Radio Orchestra (Brussels) among others, for long periods. From 1989 to 1994 he was the leading conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Society’s Orchestra and a regular guest conductor of the Hungarian State Opera. He worked successfully at raising the artistic level of these renowned orchestras. His interpretations of Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner raised the interest of both professionals and audiences alike. Critics praised and described him as the continuation of the great line of conductors, from Furtwängler to Karajan.
The several decades of passionate attention that Bergel gave to Bach’s mysterious opus ultimum resulted in two books (Die Kunst der Fuge, 1980 and Bachs letzte Fuge, 1985; both published by the Brockhaus printing house). These books are among the most significant musicological essays endeavouring to interpret the chef d’oeuvre of Bach. Bergel contributed to the afterlife of Die Kunst der Fuge not only with his scientific conclusions, but also as composer. He complemented the unfinished closing fugue of this monumental cycle. Karajan called it an “epoch-making feat” and one of the most noted Bach-scholars of this century, Friedrich Smend, said it was a “revolutionary insight into Bach’s last work of art”. Bergel re-worked the instrumentation for the whole work and his variation is different from all the others in that the orchestra is treated in an untraditional, organ-like way. The Bergel instrumentation bears the traits of the musician’s most personal character: that inner flame which has made his famous interpretations legendary, that spiritual fire in which discipline and planning are combined with the magic of spontaneity.
There is a common faith at the base of Bergel’s rich musical character: the conductor, music scholar, organist, “musical preacher” and teacher were all inspired by what he described with these most beautiful words: “Music is an invitation to the greatest joy and at the same time to the greatest solemnity. It teaches you both. I cannot think of a more complex pedagogy than music.”
The Camerata Transsylvanica was founded in 1966 at the Transylvanian town of Marosvásárhely in Rumania, and has for generations represented that very special school of string and chamber music, which emerged between the two world wars and continued after World War II – merging the French style ŕ la Enescu Thibaud, and the Vienna/Budapest tradition marked by Hubay’s name, and having produced outstanding results ever since. There is hardly a major orchestra in the world without at least one or two disciples of this school.
Owing to well-known circumstances, the seventies and eighties wave of migration brought an especially large number of Transylvanian musicians to Budapest, making it possible for Transsylvanica to be re-formed in Budapest, in May 1989, under the leadership of violinist János Selmeczi.
The orchestra’s repertory covers almost every period of musical history, from Baroque to contemporary music, with special regard to the already classical 20th century pieces, including those by R. Strauss, Schönberg, Honegger, Stravinsky, Bartók and Lutosawski, and the compositions of the generation following Bartók (Veress, Lajtha, Farkas, Maros, Szöllőssy). Camerata’s name is associated with several first performances, and many prominent contemporary Hungarian composers write expressly for the orchestra. The ensemble is committed to the performance of Transylvanian Hungarian, Rumanian and German composers, and makes conscious efforts to pass on the Central European instrumental and chamber musical tradition.
Depending on the repertory, the orchestra performs independently, under the leadership of János Selmeczi or with a guest conductor. Its most frequent conductors in the past decade were Erich Bergel, Adrian Sunshine, Pieralberto Cattaneo, Brynmore Jones, Harry Spence Lyth, Miklós Erdélyi, György Selmeczi, János Kovács and Géza Török.
The orchestra makes numerous CD, radio and TV recordings and performs at various festivals all over Europe and America. Camerata Transsylvanica is characterised by an exceptionally rich, brilliant string sound, the outstanding virtuosity of each performing artist, a chamber-music philosophy and absorption marked by the name of Sándor Végh, also of Transylvanian origin, and although the ensemble has by now become a loose association of excellent instrumentalists, their performances and recordings are a real event in musical life.