Tuesday 29 October 2013, 16:56
In just a few weeks' time, you will be able to watch us on BBC Four in Requiem. Part of the channel's dedicated, really very excellent classical music programming, it sees the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the direction of Ed Gardner, along with other artists explore the Requiem.
You can catch the trailer on YouTube - I think you'll agree, it looks like a very powerful programme.
For tonight's concert, which sees the return of Thierry Fischer, we are exploring a different type of requiem. At first glance, the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg and the Fourth Symphony by Franz Schmidt may appear somewhat tenuously linked. However, only a little research reveals the many parallels between these two works.
Both works are non-vocal requiems for women taken too young in their lives. Berg's Concerto (performed by Baiba Skride) was famously dedicated 'to the memory of an angel', in remembrance of the daughter of Mahler's ex-wife, Alma, and her husband, the architect, Walter Gropius. Schmidt's Fourth Symphony was composed as 'a requiem for my daughter', after the composer's daughter died shortly after childbirth.
Berg can sometimes look a little intimidating when you see him on a programme, both as a performer and a listener. His name is synonymous with the Second Viennese School, and to that end, can seem scarily inaccessible.
Not that the music of the Second Viennese School is inaccessible, but somehow, over the years, it has become steeped in a mystic and reverence that wrongly suggests it is only enjoyable by those who have the ability (and the patience) to comprehend avant garde musical language and progressive harmonic structures. Which frankly is nonsense.
Over the last few seasons, I have been both moved and disturbed in equal measure by Berg's operas, staged by our WNO neighbours. I have come to enjoy his music very much, although I will concede that the operas always seem to have something of the 'video nasty' about them (though that is more to do with the subject matters than the music perhaps).
However, the Violin Concerto feels very different. There is a feeling of great intimacy, in spite of the large orchestral forces employed, and it is deeply personal. It is still steeped in the use of the 12 tone row, but it is expressive and lyrical in a way that my university studies could never convince me twelve tone composition had the capacity to be. For me, the Berg Concerto is one of THE violin concertos.
Until this week, I was entirely unfamiliar with the work of Franz Schmidt. A contemporary of both Berg and Schoenberg, I had assumed his music would be of a similar sound world. Perhaps some of it is, I haven't heard enough to say, but the fourth symphony would appear to owe more to late romantic expression that the progressive tonalities and structures than is often associated with music of this time.
So, a sombre tone for tonight's concert, but in the grief of Berg and Schmidt there is also a great expression of beauty and grace.
There is limited availability for tonight's concert (Tuesday 29 October) – to join the reserve list, call 0800 052 1812. The concert will be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Tuesday 29 October 2013, 14:49
Wednesday 30 October 2013, 12:01