Performance Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | 8 PM

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is an integral part of a city rich with a history of important composers and performers. The incomparable orchestra is joined by maestro Franz Welser- Möst for an exploration of enduring scores by influential composers from their native land and a contemporary work from a composer who is creating in Vienna today. The program includes Bruckner’s magnificent and genial Sixth Symphony and Mozart’s Symphony No. 28, paired with Johannes Maria Staud’s On Comparative Meteorology.

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

Symphony No. 28 in C Major, K. 200

About the Composer

Because Mozart's dating on the score of his Symphony No. 28 is blurred, scholars are not certain whether he wrote this superb yet rarely heard work in November 1773 or November 1774. The precise year hardly matters, though, for this was a period of stasis in his career. After the summer of 1773, when he had joined his father on an unsuccessful trip to Vienna to seek a better post, he was marooned for years in his hometown of Salzburg, the employee of the Archbishop Colloredo, who seemed to have no idea of the talent he was harboring in his minor provincial court. Mozart's principal job there was to serve as co-concertmaster of the Archbishop's orchestra, with only occasional demands for his powers as a composer.

Yet perhaps because of the music he'd heard at the Viennese court, notably that of the great Joseph Haydn, Mozart's abilities as a symphonic composer at this time suddenly took a quantum leap forward. Three remarkable symphonies were created between late 1773 and 1774 by the still-adolescent composer that showed an originality, complexity, and refinement of craftsmanship beyond anything he'd produced before. Two of them are well-known: the fiery Symphony No. 25 in G Minor and the elegant No. 29 in A Major. But the third of these-and it may actually have been the last to be composed-No. 28 in C Major is unjustly neglected.

About the Music

The opening Allegro spiritoso is an intriguing mixture of strength and grace, the former reflected in the sturdy opening motive marching down the C-major chord and the latter in the trilling shimmer of the strings' response. The well-mannered second theme emphasizes the dancing qualities of the 3/4 meter. A brief but very effective development section mixes the vigor and charm of both themes.

With the violins muted, the Andante second movement in F major is a lovely example of the dreamy nocturnal slow movement that became a Mozart specialty. Its legato flow of song also includes a short, atmospheric development section introduced by the horns.

The third movement is a vigorous and spacious Menuetto, featuring a wonderful echo effect for the solo horn. Contrasting with the brass colors of the main dance, the trio section is given to the strings but nevertheless retains much of its strength of character.

Perhaps inspired by Mozart's recent exposure to Haydn's symphonies and their vivacious concluding movements, the Presto finale races breathlessly through all the elements of a very compact sonata form, even finding time for a delicious comic-opera–flavored second theme. Mozart's final trump card is a thrilling crescendo to the finish line.

—Janet E. Bedell

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

On Comparative Meteorology

About the Composer

"Whoever denies the new its right to exist, whoever is content simply to consume over and over again nothing but the same old favorites mildly spiced up (for example, the 459th Traviata with star-studded cast) can be compared with the gourmand who every day eats his fill of his favorite dish—and yet one day perishes from malnutrition."

With these words, Austrian composer Johannes Maria Staud boldly states his credo. Though not yet well-known in the US, Staud is one of Europe's most sought-after young composers; his music has been commissioned by such august organizations as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, and the Salzburg Festival.

Born in Innsbruck, Staud studied theory and composition in Vienna at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts; before he had completed his studies, he was already signed by the renowned Universal Edition publishers. After winning a plethora of Austrian and European composing prizes, Staud was appointed as The Cleveland Orchestra's Daniel R. Lewis Young Composer from 2007 to 2009. It was during that residency that he created the first version of On Comparative Meteorology, which he dedicated to Franz Welser-Möst. The Cleveland Orchestra gave the world premiere on May 28, 2009, but this evening we hear a revised version Staud completed in 2010.

About the Music

Staud is a passionate reader of world literature; On Comparative Meteorology was inspired by his discovery of the vivid, hallucinatory short stories of the Polish-Jewish Bruno Schulz (1892-1942). "Using fantastically exaggerated memories of his own childhood, Bruno Schulz creates a bizarre world that is a law entirely unto itself, with a hyper-realistic language of incomparable colorfulness," says Staud. "Schulz dissects reality into its individual components and puts them together again in new combinations like a kaleidoscope." And this is exactly what Staud does musically in this highly imaginative work: A large orchestra is disassembled and re-combined into a continually evolving kaleidoscope of changing instrumental colors, ranging from ethereal delicacy to violent intensity.

The work's intriguing title is taken from the short story entitled A Second Autumn. Staud describes Schulz's stories as being filled with "hypertrophic descriptions of nature and weather and their unique reflections on the inner lives of humans ... The heat of an August day, the violence of a stormy night ... the fertility of the arrival of spring ... I do not exaggerate when I say that I have seen all these things with new eyes and experienced them with new senses since I started reading Bruno Schulz."

—Janet E. Bedell

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Symphony No. 6 in A Major

About the Composer

Born in rural Upper Austria to a family of sturdy peasant origins, Anton Bruckner was the latest bloomer of all the major composers. His early life was devoted to teaching and serving as organist in a series of local churches, including the great Baroque abbey of St. Florian, and he mesmerized listeners with his inspired improvisations on that instrument. With great reluctance, he finally left his provincial sanctuary for Vienna in 1868 at the age of 44. It was there that he wrote his last eight symphonies while building a legend at the Vienna Conservatory as a beloved yet eccentric teacher of music theory. So devout a Catholic was Bruckner that students recalled his interrupting classes to kneel in prayer at the sound of the Angelus bell from nearby St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Bruckner wrote his Sixth Symphony between 1879 and 1881. Sadly, he only heard the second and third movements played in concert; the symphony's first complete performance did not come until 1901, nearly five years after his death. Contemporary conductors were reluctant to tackle his works, and Bruckner was neither a forceful enough personality nor an accomplished enough conductor to organize his own performances.

About the Music

To enter fully into the world of a Bruckner symphony, listeners must readjust their 21st-century internal clocks. Inspired by Wagner's tremendous expansion of the operatic form in his music dramas, Bruckner conceived his symphonic movements on a very broad scale. Even when his tempos are not actually slow, his music still seems leisurely. Bruckner themes are very long, built cumulatively from many elements. If Beethoven's can often be likened to pithy sentence fragments, Bruckner's themes are fully developed paragraphs. His harmonic strategies are even more protracted: Harmonies often change slowly, and the home key becomes a distant goal approached by a very circuitous route. Fortunately, the composer had the habit of taking pauses before beginning new themes or sections of his movements—"If I have something important to say, I must first take a deep breath," he explained—and these pauses are godsends to listeners trying to find their way.

Bruckner has been unfairly accused of writing for immense orchestras in the manner of Wagner or Mahler. In fact, he was a master of achieving monumental effects from moderate means. Bruckner's orchestral sound is unique: Like the great organist he was, he juxtaposed contrasting blocks of wind, brass, or string sound much as an organist moves to different manuals with new stop combinations. We often hear his brass section, or sometimes the whole orchestra, playing together in mighty unison statements. His strategy for building his immense climaxes was to fall continually short of the summit and build again to achieve truly Olympian heights.

A Closer Listen

In the home tonality of A major, the opening movement begins with cricket-like high violins chirping a rapid, intricate rhythmic pattern. Below, in the cellos and basses, a lumbering theme—"Leviathan-like," in the words of Donald Francis Tovey-begins to awaken. It soon develops an assertive rising shape. Finally, the orchestra shouts the Leviathan theme in a grand Bruckner unison, and the theme's rising component begins to stride energetically forward. Next we hear very different music: string music of gentle, aspiring lyricism with many interweaving contrapuntal lines. This gradually grows in intensity and yearning, eventually colliding with a third and final theme: an angular, battling idea carried by the brass.

This climax fades into the development section. The opening Leviathan theme returns, now turned upside down and gentler in the violins. Before long, it comes roaring back, right-side-up, in trumpets and winds. But the key is wrong for a recapitulation: E-flat major, about as far from the A-major home key as one could be. Ultimately, the whole orchestra miraculously finds its way back to A and loudly celebrates the homecoming. The coda is one of the work's greatest moments, as the orchestra, on the Leviathan theme, slowly builds to a radiant pealing close.

The Austrians dubbed Bruckner the "Adagio-Komponist" for his tragic eloquence in slow movements. The Sixth's second movement is one of his finest. In F major, it opens with the strings singing a grave, prayerful theme, made more poignant by a wailing solo oboe. As in the first movement, the second theme group is contrapuntally woven string music with a wonderful cello line. A muffled drum beat ushers in the last theme group: a solemn, drooping funeral march for strings. A Bruckner pause, and the development section begins to weave these ideas together into a tragic but beautiful tapestry. Near the end of the movement, the first violins' long scale, slowly descending over four octaves, seems to summarize the movement's emotional burden.

The third movement is one of Bruckner's characteristic scherzos: a triple-meter dance interlude that recalls his roots in rural Austria. But nature's raw elemental power can also be heard in the sudden explosions of the brass. Hunting horns set the rustic mood for the middle Trio section in contrasting 2/4 time.

Bruckner's finales are a gathering in, his unique resolution of the musical and spiritual problems posed by the previous movements. Because we haven't heard A major since the first movement, this finale must find its way home, and it won't be an easy harmonic journey. Its opening violin theme sounds lost and rhythmically adrift; brass soon spur it to take up the search more energetically. After a Bruckner pause, filled by a lone horn, we hear another second theme group for strings. It continues the harmonic search and reaches a climax that contains a strident new six-note theme in the brass.

Another Bruckner pause leads into the development, where the strings launch a beautiful and moving passage bedeviled by loud brass fanfares. The music soon becomes a powerful, forward-moving march. Another pause and hope is in sight: The strings' lovely second theme returns with a glimpse of A-major. Home is reached at last in a triumphant brass fanfare, fashioned from the first movement's Leviathan theme. His spiritual journey done, Bruckner has returned home, with a deeper understanding of his special artistic mission on earth.

—Janet E. Bedell

© 2014 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

Lead funding for Vienna: City of Dreams is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Funding for the Carnegie Hall Live broadcast series is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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