Performance Tuesday, November 13, 2012 | 8 PM

The Cleveland Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
The Cleveland Orchestra presents an exhilarating evening of music, beginning with two works by Beethoven: the ebullient Symphony No. 4 and an arrangement of the demanding Grosse Fuge. The performance concludes with Scriabin’s mystical Poem of Ecstasy.

The contemporary work on this program is part of My Time, My Music.
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The Program


Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60

Two years intervened after the completion of his Third Symphony (the "Eroica") before Beethoven ventured upon another. Three symphonies (the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth) followed in succession, each very different from the others in character and scale.

The Fourth is always observed to be less forceful and dramatic than the Third and Fifth, but it surpasses them in athletic energy and, in places, in sheer beauty of sound. Yet Beethoven's purpose was never quite what it seems, so that simply to characterize the Fourth as "light-weight" or "relaxed" is to tell only a part of the story. Robert Schumann compared it to a "slender Greek maiden," but even he would admit that the extremes of seriousness and skittishness found in the work do not properly belong to such a maiden's drapery.

Like many of Haydn's symphoniesand a few of Mozart'sBeethoven opens with a slow introduction. The purpose of these introductions was not to foreshadow the themes or even the mood of the rest of the movement, but to act like the overture to an opera, and accustom the audience to the orchestra's sound and to induce a serious concentration. In the "Eroica,"  he had dispensed with an introduction, but the Fourth has a fine one, dark and mysterious in character, and without any clear sense of direction until a fortissimo burst and some rocket-like figures in the violins force the issue.

Once the main Allegro vivace sectionand the true key of the symphony, B-flat major, is establishedall tension evaporates. The standard procedures of Classical sonata form fall into their assigned places. In the development, the actual pace of the music is still brisk, but the harmonic pace is very slow, giving an impression of immense breadth, like a glance forward to Wagner or Bruckner. Beethoven keeps us waiting expectantly for the return of the opening theme, even after the correct key has been firmly reached. The rest of the movement duly follows, with only a brief codanot another massive peroration in the manner of the "Eroica."

The main melody of the slow movement is of wonderful serenity. The second melody, introduced by the solo clarinet, provides not contrast but rather completion, as though the whole first paragraph were a single sentence. There are stern pages in this movementbleak pages, toobut its profound placidity marks it off as one of the greatest of Beethoven's slow movements. None of his contemporaries could approach him on this ground.

Although marked menuetto, the third movement has the character of a scherzo, with teasing cross-accents and a lively pace. The trio section is a little slower and pastoral in character. The strings join it later with some strange rumbling inner lines, and the original tempo returns. Beethoven repeats the whole process, so that the trio is heard twice, the scherzo three times.

The finale is as muscular and energetic as a tiger. The bustling opening theme has no introduction and immediately plunges into the bass register. It is more often used as accompaniment than as theme, though it can serve either purpose. The flow is sometimes broken by more relaxed passages, and there is an extraordinary series of harsh baying chords that recur from time to time. The recapitulation is marked by the spotlight falling briefly and famously on the first bassoon, and at the end the principal melody stops running, apparently exhausted. But its faint is merely a feint. This is another of Beethoven's jokesjust when you think his melody cannot keep going even one bar more, it leaps up and slaps you rudely in the face.

Hugh Macdonald


Chute d'Étoiles

With a brazen outcry from a massive orchestra-an explosion, a breakdown, a collapse-Matthias Pintscher's Chute d'Étoiles begins. The title, which translates as "Falling Stars," refers to Anselm Kiefer's monumental installation of the same name in the Grand Palais in Paris in 2007, and engages with it in a complex intellectual exchange, matching it in force and drama.

Not just an homage to Kiefer and his oeuvre, however, this orchestral composition also incorporates motifs and material from Pintscher's recent works. Through the image of falling starsthe idea that the world was born from an explosionKiefer combines destruction and creation. Creation emerges from the process of obliteration, as one state breaks down and gives birth to a new one.

Pintscher has long admired this artist, his work, and his rigorous evolution, stating, "He is one of the few artists in whose earliest works you can already find exactly the same aura and archaism that he has refined up to the present. There is an idiom of strength and clarity that he has continued to develop further for over 40 years. I find it very exciting to see such consistency in an artist's work." Chute d'Étoiles is an homage to Kiefer and at the same time a translation of the apocalypse depicted by the artist-the collapse of the world and of our conceptions of it-into the medium of sound.

The starting point for Pintscher's orchestral composition was

the sound and aura of the entire installation: an inspirational moment that enabled me to think further about the force of sounds I have previously developed. The material is, so to speak, melted into lead; the entry of the solo trumpets is like opening two valves of a gigantic instrument made of lead, which supplies air in a very finely-chiseled and concise form.

Janus-faced, the orchestral sound gives birth to a breathing voicea voice that does not appear as one individual, but is instead articulated in two forms. The trumpet part unfolds as one instrument playing in two directions. This goes back to a method Pintscher used 15 years ago in his composition Janusgesicht (Janus Face):

There is no virtuoso struggle between the two; rather, they mutually inspire each other, they represent the same attitude, playing the same repertoire of sounds and techniques. One part fans out in two ways.

Instead of the orchestra and soloists entering into a concertante dialogue, the trumpets are much more "like growths, fused onto this orchestral sound. In concentrated form, they release the aggregate of this lead-like orchestra, guiding it into various states as soon as they exit this orchestral space." Both the softness and the heaviness of lead, which Kiefer uses in his works, provide Pintscher with an inspiring starting point:

I find the "sound" of lead in Kiefer's works incredibly fascinating. The strength that is captured in this material! It is flexible, malleable, yet unbelievably heavy. I find this state of matter, with its combination of softness and heaviness, to be exciting-this is what I try to make audible in the music.

In terms of form, the composition does not trace a conventional dramatic development. Pintscher creates a sculpture, an eruptive sound object, which propels the events from the opening outburst. In the process, the composer explains,

the ending mirrors the beginning. Individual particles break loose from the force of the opening explosion, which are then led, transformed, and developed into a concentrated mode, at the end almost finding their way back into their original state. And yet the trumpet lines are not isolated at the end, but are positioned at the top of the sound in a high attack; at the highest point, the whole then breaks off.

Marie Luise Maintz

Grosse Fuge in B-flat Major, Op. 133


Even by Beethoven's standards, the Grosse Fuge is an extraordinary work. On its own, it has a puzzling intensity; in its original context as the finale of a long, complicated, profound string quartet, it is even more mystifying.

That quartet, the Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130, is a six-movement work that embodies all the richness and complexity of Beethoven's late years. Its fifth movement is the famous Cavatina, a piece that leaves very few of us anywhere but in a remote heaven of emotion. To follow it, Beethoven originally conceived of an enormous fugue, far surpassing any fugue he had ever written in its many-layered designand in the tough demands he makes on players and listeners alike.

The quartet was written rapidly between July and November 1825 at a time when Beethoven's obsessively paternal regard for his nephew Karl was leading inexorably to the point of crisis. It was performed a few months later, when the public and Beethoven's publisher found the finale incomprehensible. The composer was persuaded to detach it from the rest of the work, publish it separately and put another, less ambitious finalenin its place. He may have agreed to do so, not so much because the quartet was disfigured or overburdened by it, but because it contains so many facets and contrasts that it makes a remarkably whole and complete work on its own.

The fugue theme is drawn from the four notes that featured prominently in the previous Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132. The chromatic contour becomes insistently familiar as the fugue proceeds. Several clearly separate sections can be identified when listening. The opening, headed Overtura, is a forceful unison statement of the theme, followed by brief foretastes of sections to comelike a table of contents in a book or a movie preview. The first main section is furiously loud and emphatic for an almost unendurable length, or so it seems. There is no relief until a complete change of key and character appears in a central slow movement. This moves directly into a brisk Allegro moltomuch more tuneful and exultant, although it passes through innumerable complex corridors, with much trilling and erupting, before finally exorcising all memories and closing with youthful gaietylike a return to the distant world of Beethoven's earliest music.

It was Hans von Bülow, a formidable pianist and champion of Beethoven's music, who first arranged the Grosse Fuge for string orchestra, when he was serving as music director to the Duke of Saxe-Meiningen from 1880 to 1885, introducing the weight of the bass section to the original four instrumental parts. He instilled such discipline in his orchestra that he had the entire string section play the work from memory while standing up! They performed it this way in Berlin soon after and caused a sensation. Many conductors have programmed the work in this formincluding Furtwängler, Klemperer, and Toscaninibut have graciously allowed the players to use printed music … and chairs.

Hugh Macdonald



The Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54

Le poème de l'extase (The Poem of Ecstasy) is a superb example of the huge, self-obsessed orchestral repertoire from the period before World War I, which we generally associate with Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. Scriabin was a strongly progressive and individualistic composer who saw himself as the prophet of a new cosmos, and his works as the voice of a divine being.

Like many Russians who, once they were attached to an idea, pursued it relentlessly to its ultimate point, blind to other influencesMussorgsky and Tolstoy come to mindScriabin was driven by a powerful inner force to capture his mystical vision in music. He is easily dismissed as a crazy megalomaniac, but his music is superbly crafted and excitingly modern, even today.

Most of Scriabin's music is for the piano, with some important orchestral works composed at regular intervals throughout his short career. His previous orchestral workSymphony No. 3, "The Divine Poem"was a three-movement symphony completed in 1904 when he was 32. It ventured into the territory of philosophical abstraction, which had begun to consume his mind shortly before. His next orchestral work was to be a symphony entitled Orgiastic Poem, but it eventually emerged as a one-movement work, The Poem of Ecstasy, giving an even greater prominence to the composer's obsession with the spirit's search for ecstasy and his monomaniac belief in his own creativity. Alongside the orchestral piece, Scriabin wrote a long verse-poem of the same name, full of mystical fantasizing, which also embraced his Fifth Piano Sonata in its grandiose vision.

But while the poem is safely ignored as the rambling of a deluded egomaniac, the orchestral work is a masterpiece that stands fittingly beside the other great orchestral creations of those years. The Poem of Ecstasy was completed early in 1908 and first performed later that year at Carnegie Hall under the baton of the composer's friend Modest Altschuler. Two months later, it was played in Moscow under Vasily Safonov, and it was soon adopted by orchestras all over the world keen to present the latest in advanced music.

The orchestra is large, and contrasts of mood are extreme, yet the piece has a concentration that was to become even more pronounced in Scriabin's final orchestral work, Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, of 1910. While Mahler's symphonies were reaching further out into all realms of human thought, Scriabin's were concentrating into a densely packed kernel of feeling and belief.

The themes have particular functions. For example, the opening theme on the flute is the theme of longing; the clarinet's melody over hazy strings is a dream theme, and the trumpet's succession of rising phrases with a chromatic descent is "victory." Galloping horns offer "dark presentiments." Such labels are easily understood in the context of 19th-century program music, although a sustained interpretation of their relationship is hardly possible or desirable. We have simply an alternation of moods in the composer's mind, with a clear recapitulation of the opening material leading to an ecstatic climax.

Hugh Macdonald

$10 student rush tickets are available in the center balcony and balcony sections.
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This concert, presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with Lucerne Festival, is made possible by a generous contribution from Roche.

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