The programme for this Friday’s chamber music concert presents music by Johannes Brahms, Luciano Berio, Robert Schumann and Aulis Sallinen, who is also celebrating his 85th birthday at the beginning of April.
Musicians from the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra will perform chamber music without a live audience in the Concert Hall of the Helsinki Music Centre at 7pm on Friday 3 April. The online broadcast begins at 6:30pm on the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra’s HKO Screen mobile app and Yle Areena. The concert evening will be opened by a Visual Overture featuring the video installation Rearranged by visual artist Ewa Gorzna, which will also be presented on the media wall at the Helsinki Music Centre.The concert can be listened to on Yle Radio 1 on Wednesday 8. April at 7:02pm.
Schumann: Adagio & Allegro
To his contemporaries, the music of Robert Schumann was ‘difficult’ and ‘new’; they actually preferred listening to music by many other composers whose names say nothing to us today. Back then, Schumann was almost better known for his writings than for his music. Though his style of composition nowadays tends to be said to represent Romanticism at its purest, public taste and habits no doubt lagged behind his ‘progressive’ ideas.
Robert Schumann grew up in a family with a broad appreciation of culture. His father was a publisher and bookseller and his mother was musical. Robert’s happy childhood was, however, cut short by his father’s untimely death. His moods varied in adult a life, and this is said to be reflected in his otherwise optimistic music. The Adagio & Allegro well illustrate his conflicting inner emotions. He wrote them in 1849, when he was once again able to compose. The Adagio is highly introspective and the Allegro fiery and full of feeling, though it does look back to the moods of the opening.
Berio: Sequenza for solo flute
“…and here begins our desire, which is the delirium of my desire. Music is the desire of desires.”
The 14 Sequenzas for solo instruments by Luciano Berio (1925–2003) are one of the most important collections in contemporary musical literature, comparable in their monumental scope to, say, Das Wohltemperierte Klavier of Johann Sebastian Bach or the Beethoven piano sonatas. The first, for flute, was composed in 1958 and the last about a year before his death. They thus trace a line running almost right through his output.
Where do the limits of an instrument lie? And of music? It is these limits that Berio tests – along with the performer – in his Sequenzas. Most of them are extremely challenging for the player, and the rest more or less impossible. In grilling both instrument and performer, Berio nevertheless creates a specific idiom for each individual instrument. The pieces are also an attempt to make what once seemed impossible the new normal.
Text was a major element of Berio’s music. In 1994, a friend of his, the writer Eduardo Sanguineti, wrote a brief text – a sort of prelude – for each of the Sequenzas. A good approach to the Sequenzas might be to listen to them first simply as music, to discover the individual expression in each. The listener may of course then try to analyse them.
Aulis Sallinen: String Quartet No. 4 “Quiet Songs”
“Composers don’t think about theoretical rules in creating music; they choose whatever solution sounds best, most beautiful. Theory is musical history and follows in its wake.”
Aulis Sallinen composed his fourth string quartet in 1971, shortly before he resigned from his bread-and-butter job as General Manager of the Finnish Radio Orchestra and became a freelance composer. His first symphony also dates from that year. At around that time he was in fact known for his symphonies and chamber music – his operas still lay in the future.
The title of the quartet could hardly be more appropriate for the music, which unfolds as in a very slowly gyrating kaleidoscope. It begins far, far away, on the borders of the night, avoiding sudden movements, as if beyond a veil, and its elements tiptoe softly out of the dusk as the lines of sound gradually branch away from the unison, each instrument feeling its own way, as it were. The curtain fully rises – just – only during one denser episode.
Clarity of expression is one hallmark of Sallinen’s music, as is his handling of his material in a way that makes it easy for the listener to grasp. It is, he says, the composer’s job to help the listener by at least making his own ideas crystal clear. His aim is music that is idiomatic, that ultimately sits naturally on the instrument.
Johannes Brahms: Trio for piano, violin and horn
This flowing, romantic work warmed by the rich tones of a French horn is one of the few chamber works by Johannes Brahms incorporating a wind instrument. The piano is usually regarded as his own instrument – and he was the pianist at its premiere – but as a child he had also played the French horn, violin and cello.
At the heart of the Trio is the slow movement, mournful and sentimentally arresting. Its very tempo marking includes the word mesto (meaning sad or mournful). His mother, Christiane, had died and maybe the work was inspired by childhood memories. This sadness, clad in lyrical guise, is nevertheless offset by a joie de vivre and a coming to terms with mental anguish as the work proceeds.
The Trio is scored for a natural horn in E flat and the upper partials of the keynote feature largely in the themes. Whenever he himself was the pianist, Brahms specifically wanted a natural horn, even though the modern valve horn was by then gaining ground. A natural horn was, he felt, the best way to achieve the right balance and timbres. The sound of a natural horn has been described as more sombre and melancholy than that of a valve one, and because of this, listeners at the time would associate it with nature themes and hunting signals. Brahms indeed reported that the theme of the first movement had occurred to him while he was out walking in the forest.
English translation Susan Sinisalo