Péter Eötvös Gliding – Four Works for Symphonic Orchestra
If I didn’t know the oeuvre of Péter Eötvös, and I was asked who is the earliest composer with whom Eötvös enters into dialogue within a symphonic work, I certainly wouldn’t immediately think of Mozart. I’d sooner go for Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Boulez, because Eötvös conducted many of the world premieres of works by these two composers a generation older than him. Between 1968 and 1976 he played in Stockhausen’s ensemble, and from 1979 to 1991 he was the musical director of Boulez’s chamber orchestra, the Ensemble Intercontemporaine. He has perhaps conducted more Boulez and Stockhausen in his life than Mozart. In the case of his work Dialog mit Mozart of course one could point to coincidences: that in 2016, the 175th anniversary year of its founding, the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra commissioned a work from him, but in the case of such a deliberate composer as Eötvös, things are unlikely to be left to chance. Perhaps planned coincidence...
Frankfurt Radio Symphony
Conducted by Péter Eötvös
Håkan Hardenberger – trumpet (2)
About the album
Recorded live at the Alte Oper Frankfurt on 18-19 May, 2017 (2); 7-8 December, 2017 (4); 17-18 January, 2019 (1, 3)
Recording producer: Udo Wüstendörfer (1-3), Philipp Knop (4)
Recording engineer: Philipp Knop (1, 3), Andreas Heynold (2), Robin Bös (4)
Edited and mixed by Udo Wüstendörfer (1-3), Philipp Knop (4)
Music publisher: Schott Music GmbH & Co KG, Mainz (1-3), Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest (4)
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Blair Sanderson - AllMusic ****1/2
Jérémie Bigorie - Classica ***** (fr)
Pierre Rigaudière - Diapason (4 diapasons) (fr)
Paco Yáñez - Mundoclasico.com (es)
Tomás Marco - Scherzo (es)
Fittler Katalin - Gramofon ***** (hu)
Molnár Szabolcs - Magyar Narancs (hu)
Fittler Katalin - Parlando (hu)
Komlós József JR - Alföldi Régió Magazin (hu)
Péter Eötvös: Alle vittime senza nome
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
If I didn’t know the oeuvre of Péter Eötvös, and I was asked who is the earliest composer with whom Eötvös enters into dialogue within a symphonic work, I certainly wouldn’t immediately think of Mozart. I’d sooner go for Karlheinz Stockhausen or Pierre Boulez, because Eötvös conducted many of the world premieres of works by these two composers a generation older than him. Between 1968 and 1976 he played in Stockhausen’s ensemble, and from 1979 to 1991 he was the musical director of Boulez’s chamber orchestra, the Ensemble Intercontemporaine. He has perhaps conducted more Boulez and Stockhausen in his life than Mozart. In the case of his work Dialog mit Mozart of course one could point to coincidences: that in 2016, the 175th anniversary year of its founding, the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra commissioned a work from him, but in the case of such a deliberate composer as Eötvös, things are unlikely to be left to chance. Perhaps planned coincidence.
The similarity between the two composers naturally lies not in the superficial features of the music, for Eötvös lives just as intensively in his own era as Mozart did, and with 200 years between the two eras obviously in many respects they cannot be spoken of in the same breath. A composer at the turn of the millennium works with different sonorities, melodic arcs and formal principles to one in the second half of the 18th century. And yet, in terms of the basic features of the musical personality, they are surprisingly similar. Mozart and Eötvös are both opera composers to the core, even writing operas when they work in other genres. One result of this is that their way of writing for orchestra is markedly influenced by the concerto principle: in Eötvös’s orchestral output there is a preponderance of concertos (or concerto-like pieces), and although in numerical terms Mozart composed more symphonies than concertos, a good many of his concertos are far more personal pieces, and have with good reason become a more integral part of the repertoire than the first thirty-five of the fortyone symphonies. Eötvös and Mozart are also linked by compositional virtuosity, the lightness derived from extraordinary compositional skill, with which they are able to address the most serious questions without any strain whatsoever. They have no need of diving suits or oxygen tanks to bring genuine pearls to the surface.
The Dialog mit Mozart is a symphonic transcription of the piece da capo originally written two years earlier, in the winter of 2013–2014, for cimbalom or marimba solos with chamber ensemble, in other words it was originally a concerto which – just like Mozart’s concertos and arias – was inspired by a particular performer, in this case cimbalmist Miklós Lukács. The piece is based on Mozart manuscript fragments held in the archive of the Mozarteum in Salzburg, nine in all, in other words Eötvös starts out with actual Mozartian melodies, harmonic progressions, and textures, and weaves these according to his own imagination. The symphonic transcription faithfully follows the original, preserving even the soloistic material, lending the dialogue with Mozart something of the character of a Baroque concerto grosso.
Another particular performer, the trumpeter Markus Stockhausen (the composer’s son) was the inspiration, dedicatee, and first performer of the 2002 trumpet concerto Jet Stream, which is linked to the tradition of the concerto not by a grand three-movement scheme (it consists of one long movement), but the special relationship between soloist and orchestra, the state midway between cooperation and rivalry, which leads us back the origin of the expression “concerto”. The Italian expression derives from the Latin concertare, and this can mean both cooperation and dispute or rivalry. As regards the musical language of the piece, this time the reference is not Mozart, but jazz, which has been an important source of inspiration for Eötvös ever since he was young. In this case however, we should not imagine some “jazz” concerto. Eötvös does not use the musical language of jazz in the same way as Gershwin in Rhapsody in Blue, or Bernstein in his Symphony No. 2 (which is actually a piano concerto in disguise). For Eötvös jazz is just a starting point, as was Mozart’s music in the case of the Dialog.
Béla Bartók writes in his 1931 essay that peasant music can appear in three ways in art music: the composer can borrow a particular folk melody; or can invent melodies that are folk nature, but the highest level is when “[n]either peasant melodies nor imitations of peasant melodies can be found in his music, but it is pervaded by the atmosphere of peasant music. In this case we may say, he has completely absorbed the idiom of peasant music which has become his musical mother tongue.”. 1 In Jet Stream Eötvös has as completely absorbed the musical language of jazz as Bartók did that of the language of peasant music. Perhaps there is only one composer in the history of twentieth-century music who was able to meld the influence of jazz into his own musical language, and whole works, as Eötvös’s Jet Stream are “pervaded by the atmosphere” of jazz: Maurice Ravel (the “Blues” movement of the Violin Sonata, or the slow movement of the piano concerto are just two examples of many). The expression “jet stream” refes to a meteorological phenomenon, zones of high-speed horizontal air currents concentrated into a narrow cross-section. Péter Eötvös writes of the work: “Jet Stream is a painting, horizontal stripes made with paintbrushes of varying thickness (even of several kilometres), dangerous yellow-bluequicksilver colours, the energy of high-altitude winds, current, which might be like that of a mass of Japanese people in a one-way street, where only one person (the trumpeter) is trying to go in the opposite direction. Current and Resistance...”
For Eötvös such visual metaphors are hugely important, whether interpreting a completed work in retrospect, as in the case of Jet Stream, or when speaking of the intellectual spark that fired the compositional process. This latter was the case for The Gliding of the Eagle in the Skies commissioned by the Basque National Orchestra, with the world premiere given in 2012 in Pamplona in Spain. The main source of inspiration for the work was Basque folk music, which does not appear in the work in the manner used by Bartók or Kodály. i.e. not directly.
Eötvös listened to countless Basque folksongs while the work was gestating, and in the middle of one song an extremely powerful image appeared in his imagination. As the composer explains: “an eagle, as it glides through the sky, floats motionlessly on high, with wings spread swish on the wind, infinite space and the feeling of total freedom”. This one-movement work gives musical shape to this image: in accordance with the powerfully rhythmic Basque folk music Eötvös thinks in terms of a symphony orchestra with a large percussion contingent (right at the beginning of the work an important role is given to the cajón from South America, a wooden box used as a drum), and the folk characteristic if further reinforced by several melodies, and the subtly mistuned piccolos, conjuring up the sound of slightly out of tune folk pipes. If Jet Stream is pervaded by the atmosphere of jazz, and Dialog by that of Mozart, then Gliding is suffused with freedom.
By contrast, the longest piece on this disc (and perhaps I do no injustice to the other works if I say the weightiest) speaks of the lack of freedom. Alle vittime senza nome [To the victims without names] was commissioned jointly by the four largest Italian symphony orchestras from Péter Eötvös, and the world premiere was held in La Scala, Milan in 2016. The work is a comment on what is perhaps the greatest international problem of our time. Eötvös writes of the work’s conception: “My work is written to the memory of the Arab and African people who against their own wishes scrambled aboard overcrowded ships in the hope of arriving in a happier world, but before reaching the Italian coast they sank in the open sea. While I was composing I saw extremely sharp images before my eyes: not only the faces of individuals, but the dense crowds of humanity, who are travelled crowded together on these unseaworthy vessels. These images became music in the soft melodies of the solo instruments and the heavy blocks of sound mobilized in the orchestral tuttis.”
In Eötvös’s oeuvre, this is the piece that lies closest to the traditional symphony, both in size and in its threemovement structure, while in line with the fundamental nature of the composer it continally teeters on the brink of several genres. In its tone, we might even consider Alle vittime as a requiem mass; the extraordinarily powerful musical gestures seem to cry out for performance in ballet or mime (and Eötvös himself does not rule out the possibility of his work being used as a “dance-requiem”), while the harrowingly beautiful instrumental solos and the tuttis that contrast with them also evoke in the listener the genre of the concerto.
It is rare in contemporary music for a composer to deal with such recent and pertinent social problems (it is rather light music genres like hip-hop that react immediately to such issues), but the symphony orchestra was seen as a metaphor for society even at the beginning of its history, and eighteenth-century theorists interpreted the concerto as a musical allegory of the opposition of the individual and the community. In Eötvös’s work we seem to see the reverse side of the social utopia embodied in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as if from under the sea, with strange, refracted light. The plan for Enlightenment, which for Beethoven still brought hope, has after two world wars and the Holocaust, failed for good, and the fact of its failure is merely reinforced by the cruelty of the millennial refugee crisis. And yet, as the expressive instrumental solos representing the drowning refugees in Eötvös’s piece speak of individual destinies, while the enormous tuttis sound the suffering community, one has the feeling that though the illusion of “All people become brothers” has been destroyed, the world has not lost all its humanity. It is there in the volunteers helping the refugees, in those who donate in self-sacrificing ways to help those in need, and humanity is there in music too. In the music of Péter Eötvös.
Translated by Richard Robinson
1 Béla Bartók “The Influence of Peasant Music on Modern Music” (1931), in Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London, 1976), 341–44.
PÉTER EÖTVÖS - COMPOSER, CONDUCTOR, PROFESSOR
Various cultures meet in the personality and music of Péter Eötvös, now, at the age of seventy-five, at the peak of his career: in the last decades, he has encountered a plethora of different worlds and his roots are also quite diverse. He was born in multi-ethnic Transylvania – just like Kurtág and Ligeti –, was brought up in Budapest, studied composition at the Liszt Academy, then at the age of twenty-two, he moved to Cologne, where he earned a degree in conducting. Following his graduation there, he acted as piano accompanist at the Cologne Opera, then spent half a year in Japan at the Osaka Expo 1970 accompanying Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ensemble, which made a great impact on his attitude towards performance and composition. He then lived in Western-Europe (Germany, France and the Netherlands) for several decades before returning to Budapest for good in 2004. In the meantime, he became one of the best-known musicians of the world, and as music educator, he got a series of generations to appreciate and enjoy contemporary music.
FRANKFURT RADIO SYMPHONY
Founded in 1929 as one of the first radio symphony orchestras in Germany, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony (hr-Sinfonieorchester) has successfully negotiated the delicate balancing act between preserving tradition and meeting the challenges of a modern top-ranking orchestra. Its artistic profile is defined by series of concerts with highly diverse programmes, in which symphonic performance meets music from an earlier time and projects aimed at younger audiences meet Modern music.
With international guest performances an award-winning CD releases the symphony orchestra of the Hessischer Rundfunk (German Public Radio of Hesse) has an outstanding reputation worldwide. Regular tours to Japan, Korea and China are as much an integral part of its activities as its continued presence in important concert halls across Europe, for example, in Budapest, Madrid, Prague, Salzburg and Vienna.
Famed for its outstanding wind section, its rich string sound and its culture of dynamic performances, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony now offers a broad spectrum of styles. Together with its Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada, the ensemble is associated not only with musical excellence but also with an interesting and varied repertoire.
Rising to prominence with its ground-breaking CD recordings, which set new standards in the Romantic and Late Romantic repertoire, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony is considered an internationally leading Mahler and Bruckner Orchestra. This musical tradition, initiated by Eliahu Inbal, has shone through under the aegis of Music Directors Dmitri Kitaenko and Hugh Wolff into the musical work of Paavo Järvi, the current Conductor Laureate.
Håkan Hardenberger is one of the world’s leading soloists, consistently recognized for his phenomenal performances and tireless innovation. Alongside his performances of the classical repertory, he is also renowned as a pioneer of significant and virtuosic new trumpet works.
Hardenberger performs with the world’s foremost orchestras, including the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, New York Philharmonic, Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig etc. Conductors with whom he collaborates regularly include Alan Gilbert, Daniel Harding, Ingo Metzmacher, Andris Nelsons, Sakari Oramo, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and John Storgårds.
The works written for Hardenberger stand as highlights in his repertory and include compositions by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Brett Dean, Robin Holloway, Rolf Martinsson, Olga Neuwirth, Tōru Takemitsu, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Rolf Wallin among others. His recording début in 1985, on BIS, formed the start of a distinguished and extensive discography on numerous labels. For BIS, Hardenberger has recorded music by HK Gruber, Arvo Pärt and Vagn Holmboe among others. Hardenberger also conducts orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic, St Paul and Swedish Chamber Orchestras, Dresden Philharmonic, Real Filharmonía de Galicia and Malmö Symphony Orchestra. In recital he has duo partnerships with pianist Roland Pöntinen and percussionist Colin Currie. He is a professor at the Malmö Academy of Music.