Sun, Jan 16|
STRAUSS & BRAHMS
Metamorphosen - R. Strauss String Sextet Nr. 2, Op. 36 - J. Brahms
Time & Location
Jan 16, 5:15 PM – 6:45 PM
Amsterdam, Kleine Wittenburgerstraat 1, 1018 LS Amsterdam, Netherlands
By 1944, Strauss was in poor health and needed to visit the Swiss spa at Baden near Zurich. Unfortunately, he was unable to get the Nazi government's permission to travel abroad. Karl Böhm, Paul Sacher and Willi Schuh came up with a plan to get the travel permit: a commission from Sacher and invitation to the premiere in Zurich. The commission was made in a letter by Böhm on August 28, 1944, for a "suite for strings". Strauss replied that he had been working for some time on an adagio for 11 strings. As a matter of a fact, his early work on Metamorphosen was for a septet (2 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and a bass). On this concert, we explore the version of Rudolf Leopold based on the exact original early work R. Strauss was woring on. In addition to this, and regarding the work itself, Strauss builds the music from a series of small melodic ideas "which are the point of departure for the development of the entire composition." In this unfolding of ideas "Strauss applies here all of the rhetorical means developed over the centuries to express pain." But he also alternates passages in a major key expressing hope and optimism with passages of sadness, as in the finales of both Mahler's 6th symphonuy and Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony.
"I think I may say that from that time until the present, a golden light has been cast on my life, and that even now in my late old age, something of the radiance of that unforgettable time has remained. I loved Johannes Brahms very much, and for a short time he loved me..."
We’ll never know the whole story of why, in January 1859, Johannes Brahms broke off his relationship with the only woman to whom he would ever be engaged. No letters on either side survive; all we have are the memoirs, written decades later, of his unhappy former fiancée Agathe von Siebold. Brahms' second Sextet first impression that most players and listeners take away is of something like that Agathe's “golden light” that described. Like the first sextet, its mood is lyrical and relaxed; but where the first has all the brilliance of its key, B flat major, the Second is somehow richer, more mellow and at the same time warmer. The key helps: G major lies comfortably under the hands of a string player and makes a naturally sonorous effect on a string instrument – and that sense of naturalness and relaxation often comes out in the way it is played.
The listener must pay attention because he does give us two crucial clues back in the first movement. In the very opening bars – where a classical master would confidently establish the cheerful key of G major – Brahms gives us a theme in sombre G minor, over a quietly rocking accompaniment. Daylight quickly breaks through, but it is enough to cast a modest shadow of uncertainty over the whole sunlit work. Brahms was a master-craftsman: like so much of his music, the Second Sextet is emotion recollected in tranquillity. But the source of that emotion? Remarkably, Brahms encoded it in an outwardly jubilant five-note phrase that he repeats, over and again at the end of the development of his first movement – and the end of movement itself. Five notes: A, G, A, D (there’s no “T” in music), H (German for B natural), E: AGATHE. The smile in the music conceals something that Brahms somehow couldn’t put into words: however much the real Agathe might have wished that he had.
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