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Nietzsche redet

28 Jan 2024
Age restrictions

Studies in musical translation: Anton Webern recomposes Bach, Schoenberg sets Byron to music, Louis Andriessen references Nietzsche, and Kurt Weill dispels the musical myths of the past with all the firmness necessary in order to survive in the present.

Programme 


On 7 May 1747, King Frederick II of Prussia, the founder and mastermind of German statehood, and also a flautist and composer, received Johann Sebastian Bach at the palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam. Keen to test Bach’s reputation as a great improviser, Frederick played a theme and challenged him to improvise a fugue, which Bach instantly did, to the admiration of King and courtiers. Two months later Bach completed a collection of keyboard pieces based on Frederick’s theme (the “Thema Regium’’ or “Royal Theme”), which we know as the Musical Offering, a masterpiece of Baroque music.

Photo: Anya Todich

On 31 August 1928, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill premiered The Threepenny Opera in Berlin. The work reinvented musical theatre into a platform of political struggle and created a lasting symbol of the brilliant and tragic flowering of German culture in the 1920s. According to the theatre historian Olga Fedyanina, Brecht’s treatment of the story of the charmer-murderer and London gang leader, Mack the Knife, was “born of an era that withdrew all previous guarantees of truth and stability” and “the main object of Brecht’s attack is art, which creates and inspires illusions.” The principal role in this struggle against illusion falls to Weill’s orchestration. The composer’s trademark anti-academic, uncompromisingly harsh sound was patented in The Threepenny Opera, where wind instruments, banjo and piano, played cabaret-style, mockingly debunk the musical myths of the past, from Baroque polyphony to Romantic opera.

In 1934, soon after the fall of the Weimar Republic, Anton Webern began working on an orchestral version of the six-voice Ricercar from Bach’s Musical Offering. The term “Ricercar” (an Italian word meaning “to search for”) was used in Bach’s time to describe a musical work of particular artifice, in this case a highly complex fugue for harpsichord. Webern distributes the melodic line of the original between the instruments of the chamber orchestra, so that each note takes on a different timbre. Every sound and chord is isolated from every other, so that their belonging together is no longer self-evident. Webern translates Bach into the language of his time, creating a masterpiece of musical pointillism. His orchestration, with its kaleidoscopic flickering of tones, turns Bach’s text into a musical model of the disintegrating fabric of reality in the 1930s.

Webern’s teacher Arnold Schoenberg composed the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte for reciter, string quartet, and piano in 1942. The 1814 poem by Lord Byron, denouncing tyrannical power, is reinterpreted not just as a bitter anti-fascist pamphlet but as a passionate comment on the failure of humanism, expressing disillusionment with man and the meaning of his existence.

In 1989, the reciter’s voice (this time accompanied by a chamber orchestra) was again heard in Louis Andriessen’s Nietzsche redet (“Nietzsche Speaks”). The work, which is receiving its Russian premiere, sums up the themes and motifs of this first concert of the What is the Contemporary? series at GES‑2. Using texts by a philosopher whom posterity has declared the godfather of the 20th century, the Dutch composer offered a preliminary review of the artistic results of that century as it drew to its close, reflecting at the same time on themes that particularly interested him: the place of the artist in society, reconciliation between the two poles of “serious” and “low” musical genres, the fate of the musical avant-garde and whether (to paraphrase Godard) it was possible to write music “politically.”


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685—1750)—Anton Webern (1883–1945)
Fugue (Ricercar) from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079 (1742—1749/1935)
for chamber orchestra

Kurt Weill (1900–1950)
Kleine Dreigroschenmusik (Little Threepenny Music) (1928)
for wind orchestra

I. Ouverture
II. Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (The Ballad of Mack the Knife)
III. Anstatt daß-Song (The Instead-Of Song)
IV. Die Ballade vom angenehmen Leben (Ballad of the Easy Life)

V. Polly’s Lied (Polly’s Song)
VI. Tango-Ballade (Tango Ballad)
VII. Kanonen-Song (Cannon Song)
VIII. Dreigroschen-Finale (Threepenny Finale)

Louis Andriessen (1939–2021)
Nietzsche redet (1989, first performance in Russia)
for reciter, brass, two pianos, and strings

Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951)
Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte (1942)
for reciter, piano, and string quartet

Performed by

Fyodor Lednev conductor
Alexander Belousov reciter
Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble | MCME

Fyodor Lednev (b. 1971, Minsk) is a conductor. He graduated from the St. Petersburg Conservatoire where he studied choral conducting (1995) and opera and symphonic conducting (1998). He has been a teacher at the St. Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov School of Music since 1995. Fyodor Lednev has worked as guest conductor with leading Russian orchestras, including the Svetlanov State Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, the Russian National Youth Symphony Orchestra and others. He has been resident conductor at musicAeterna since 2019.

Alexander Belousov (b. 1972, Kirovograd) is a composer, director and singer. He studied at the Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine, the Laboratory of Anatoly Vasiliev and at Boris Yukhananov’s Studio of Individual Directing. He wrote and directed the opera Maniozis 1+2 at the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre in Moscow and has also composed music for several films and performances at the same Electrotheatre: The Storm (2015), Before Sunset (2016, jointly with Oleg Makarov), (2018), The Engagement (2020) and The Book of Seraphim (2020). He composed the second opera in Boris Yukhananov’s project The Nonsensorics of Dreems (2022). Alexander Belousov was short-listed for the national Golden Mask theatre award for The Book of Seraphim and The Nonsensorics of Dreems. He has directed a number of films and is currently curating the Electrostatics programme at the Stanislavsky Electrotheatre.

The Moscow Contemporary Music Ensemble (MCME) was founded in 1990 by the composer Yuri Kasparov alongside the leader of the Russian avant-garde Edison Denisov. MCME was the first Russian ensemble aimed at promoting twentieth and twenty-first century music and supporting contemporary composers. Since its establishment, MCME has performed over 1000 premieres.

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