The music of the great masters, Beethoven and Bruckner, frames the long and content-rich 1800’s, the great age of Romanticism.
Beethoven’s famous Violin Concerto (1806) is a highlight of the Romantic era and of its kind. The same cannot be said of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 (1881), but if you listen closely, the “ugly duckling” among all his symphonies might prove to be the fairest of them all, if permitted to grow and get enough air under its wings. In this programme, Canadian James Ehnes brings his Stradivarius along and is led by Spanish conductor Juanjo Mena.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) can be said to have revolutionised every musical form he worked within, and this is also true of the concerto, as he did away with the traditional framework and filled it with his own dramatic and forward-thinking musical language. His Violin Concerto (1806) had a difficult start and was forgotten for nearly half a century, but after Joseph Joachim breathed new life into it in the 1840’s it has become one of the most popular and most frequently performed of all solo concertos. The first movement is long, dramatic and typical of Beethoven’s writing. In contrast, the second movement shows the composer at his warmest and most lyrical, while the lively, convivial and rustic third movement offers some real virtuoso challenges for the soloist.
Seventy-five years later, Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) realised that Romanticism, which had evolved further through Beethoven’s innovation, was coming to an end, and that there were dramatic changes around the corner. Neverthless, he wanted to demonstrate that Beethoven’s models could still be filled with new ideas and previously unheard content. Symphony No. 6 (1881) lacks a few traits typical of Bruckner’s music — and is therefore referred to as the “ugly duckling” among his symphonies — but if there is one symphony which can disprove the irreverent claim that Bruckner “wrote the same symphony nine times” it is this one. Here we witness Bruckner’s most inventive use of sound, intricate textures, multiple rhythmical layers and a cyclical thought process which leaves the listener feeling unresolved, much to the despair of Brucknerians as the completeness of their universe starts showing up cracks. Yet, through the cracks comes new light with new colours and a new direction. Listen carefully to the Adagio, and you might experience that the ugly duckling is indeed the fairest!
(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation (from Norwegian): Sarah Osa; In photo: Juanjo Mena; Photo: Michal Novak)
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