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Name of Work

Webern, Anton (1883-1945)
Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24 (2006)

Movements:
Etwas lebhaft
Sehr langsam
Sehr rasch

Performances:


Oct 08, 2006



Jennifer Gunn, Flute
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Gail Williams, Horn
Barbara Butler, Trumpet
Peter Ellefson, Tenor trombone
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
James Giles, Piano
Michael Mulcahy, Conductor
Jennifer Gunn, Flute
Michael Henoch, Oboe


Oct 09, 2006



Jennifer Gunn, Flute
Michael Henoch, Oboe
Larry Combs, Clarinet
Gail Williams, Horn
Barbara Butler, Trumpet
Peter Ellefson, Tenor trombone
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
James Giles, Piano
Michael Mulcahy, Conductor

WEBERN-Concerto for Nine Instruments, Op. 24

Composed in 1934.

Premiered on September 4, 1935 in Prague, conducted by Heinrich Jalowetz.

BACKGROUND
Since Webern found it impossible to make a living from the performance royalties for his own music or from an occasional bit of prize money, he spent much of his time conducting, teaching and lecturing to produce an income. By the early 1930s, he was regularly traveling to various music centers — London, Barcelona, Paris — to lead concerts of his own and other composers’ music (he especially favored conducting Mahler), but the core of his livelihood was furnished by his directorship of the Workers’ Symphony Concerts and the Workers’ Chorus in Vienna, the musical branches of Austria’s Social Democrat party. He made a modest but steady living from these various duties.

As soon as Hitler was designated Chancellor by Hindenberg in January 1933 and voted dictatorial powers by the Reichstag two months later, the German National Socialist party began to spread its propaganda and strong-arm tactics into neighboring Austria in order to subvert political pluralism in that country. The Nazis provoked clashes with entrenched political parties, Communists and other opposition groups, and gained crushing power with startling speed. Not only were Jews and other ethnic minorities persecuted, but virtually all creative people working in avant-garde styles were put on what Webern called the Nazi-German “black list” and labeled as “cultural Bolsheviks.” “Everything is becoming increasingly horrible,” he confided to his diary. “What is being done to me here day to day is hardly bearable. Perhaps salvation from these terrible conditions will come for me.” When the Social Democrats were outlawed, his job as that organization’s music director — and his main source of income — was destroyed along with the party.

Webern stayed in Austria throughout the years of the Third Reich. He lived in the distant Viennese suburb of Mödling until spring 1932, tried an apartment in the central city for a while, but retreated again to the country and a house at the edge of the Vienna Woods at Maria Enzersdorf in September of that year, where he remained for the rest of his life. “A splendid all-around atmosphere and absolute quiet,” he wrote to Schoenberg of his new place. It was into this house and its adjacent garden, a spot he adored because of its isolation and undisturbed tranquility, that Webern withdrew after he had been stripped of his positions and public performances. His meager income was derived from an occasional fee for a lecture on modern music given in a private home and a pittance for some slight responsibilities for Austrian Radio. Concerning the works of the mid-1930s, specifically the Concerto, Op. 24, and the Piano Variations, Op. 27, Ernst Krenek, the serialist composer and a friend of Webern, wrote, “One might say that he is no longer concerned with finding ways to register most faithfully and passionately the emotions of man; rather, he withdraws more and more into the detached, cool, miraculous and exciting world of musical patterns, where the abstract spirit of music seems to have its enigmatic life, sufficient unto itself.” It was in this world of absolute, pure tone that the Concerto for Nine Instruments was created.

The first evidence of the music that Webern eventually worked into the Concerto appeared among his sketches in January 1931 under the title Orchesterstück (“Orchestra Piece”). He conceived the work as a one-movement overture, but by July, when he had completed its tone row to his satisfaction, he decided to cast it in three movements as a piano concerto. He decided on the instrumentation and wrote a page or two by September, when he had to put the score aside for lack of time. He tinkered with the piece again in September 1932 (when it was called Konzertstück), but did not return to serious composition on it until the spring of 1934, soon after the foundation of his professional activities had been shattered by the February revolt. He worked on the piece throughout the summer, when he changed its name yet again (in July it was to be “Divertimento”) before settling on the final title of the Concerto shortly before the score was finished on September 4th. He dedicated it to his mentor and colleague Arnold Schoenberg on the occasion of Schoenberg’s sixtieth birthday just nine days later. Schoenberg learned of the tribute at Chautauqua, New York, where he had stopped on the way to take up residence in California after having escaped Hitler’s purges.

MUSIC
Like all of Webern’s works, the Concerto for Nine Instruments is concentrated and jewel-like. Lasting only seven minutes, each one of its few polished tones is a precious aural event set upon a background of velvet silence. The music grows from a single three-note cell which is varied, transformed and permutated with a craftsmanship of Beethovenian ingenuity and mastery. Indeed, the principal unifying element of the concerto’s three movements (arranged in the traditional fast–slow–fast order) is the sense of continuous variation of its three-note motive. The work, strictly serial, contains enough technical complexities to make theorists delirious with the joy of discovery, but the real point of the Concerto is simply the sound of its component notes — the sheer, unadulterated, visceral joy of hearing these acoustical events patterned with impeccable logic and purpose. “It is obvious,” wrote Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1953, “that everything which has been and will be said about Webern’s technique and style of composition will not demonstrate that he wrote beautiful music.”

Program Notes by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performance date: October 8 & 9 2006



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