Performance Sunday, January 15, 2012 | 3 PM

The MET Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Fabio Luisi has graciously agreed to replace James Levine as conductor for this performance. Mr. Levine has cancelled his appearance as he continues his rehabilitation from a fall last September that necessitated emergency back surgery.
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The Program

Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622

Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto dates from the last months of his life and stands as the final purely instrumental work he produced; only the unfinished Requiem and Laut verkünde unsre Freude, K. 623 (known as the “Little Masonic Cantata”), received the composer’s attention between the completion of the concerto in October 1791 and his sudden death on December 5. Like almost all of his late music for clarinet, Mozart’s concerto was inspired by and written for the virtuoso Anton Stadler, a slightly seedy character and a close—if unreliable—friend of Mozart’s, who shared the composer’s love of food, drink, and (to the dismay of Mozart’s family) gambling. Stadler’s artistry, however, won universal approval and acclaim, sometimes rhapsodically so: “Never have I heard the like of what you contrive with your instrument,” wrote critic Johann Friedrich Schink. “Never should I have imagined that a clarinet might be capable of imitating the human voice as faithfully as it was imitated by you. Verily, your instrument has so soft and so lovely a tone that none can resist it who has a heart, and I have one, dear Virtuoso. Let me thank you!”

To complement his prodigious talents and advance his instrument, Stadler developed a clarinet with an extended lower register, completing its deepest octave by adding length and extra keys. Though he didn’t have a special name for it (presumably hoping that it would simply become the standard clarinet), it is now referred to as a “basset clarinet.” It was for this extended instrument that Mozart wrote his concerto. Unfortunately, the original manuscript was lost soon after its completion, and so the version known to audiences ever since is a slightly adjusted transcription for standard clarinet made by publishers in the years following Mozart’s death. In the last 50 years or so, scholars and performers have attempted to reconstruct the original version, but none of these has gained much traction. Barring a new manuscript discovery, the version for standard clarinet will continue its primacy.

Mozart prudently scored his concerto for an orchestra with a full assortment of strings and a wind section of only two flutes, two bassoons, and two horns, sparing the solo clarinet any competition from instruments with a similar timbre. Or perhaps timbres would be more accurate, as the clarinet’s greatest strength is its wide range, each register of which has a distinct and striking voice. Mozart took full advantage of this timbral abundance, including extended sections to showcase each of them—from the crystalline upper register to the husky resonance of the deepest—as well as passages that emphasize the contrast by requiring the soloist to quickly jump between registers. The concerto is also a tribute to the clarinet’s and Mozart’s lyric abilities. Judging from Schink’s praise of Stadler’s voice-like playing, this work was perfectly designed for its intended soloist; at times, its ravishing music sounds like it was written for orchestra and voice—if that voice somehow had the combined range of a baritone, tenor, mezzo-soprano, and soprano.

—Jay Goodwin


Gustav Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, published in a 1910 collection alongside two songs on folk poetry from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, do not form a song cycle in the traditional sense. Though the five songs are commonly performed together, Mahler did not originally intend for them to be, as is evident from the wide variation of instrumentation and the lack of clear musical connections between songs. As such, there is also no standard order of performance—each artist chooses the progression of songs that makes the most sense in his or her own mind. What holds the “cycle” together is the selection of texts and the character of Mahler’s settings.

Friedrich Rückert (1788–1866), a college professor and extremely prolific writer, studied more than 30 languages and was best known as an outstanding translator of Oriental poetry as well as original poetry in the style of those foreign works. The texts Mahler chose for these five songs, however, belong to the rather more traditional style of German Romantic poetry, so familiar from the lieder of Mahler’s predecessors (especially Schubert, Schumann, and Wolf), who perfectly captured in music the verse of the great German lyric poets, such as Goethe and Heine. Just as these five poems by Rückert are very traditional compared to the texts Mahler tended to prefer (the folk poetry of Des Knaben Wunderhorn and the Orientalist texts upon which the composer based his late masterpiece Das Lied von der Erde, for example), the musical settings here are very traditional compared to most of Mahler’s work.

“Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft” is a lovely pastoral setting that evokes the fresh, gentle aroma of a twig of linden left by the person’s lover. (The text plays on the word lind(e), which in German stands for both “gentle” and “linden tree.”) The song becomes almost a duet between the singer and the winds as they echo one another and allow their phrases to intertwine. “Liebst du um Schönheit” is the only one of the five songs not orchestrated by Mahler himself; its original piano accompaniment was expanded by the first publisher. Written as a gift to his new wife, Alma, its music is ardent yet intimate and simple, matching the poem’s four short stanzas of eloquent and heartfelt verse on the futility of loving for beauty, youth, or money if it is not accompanied by true love.

The song that veers farthest afield of the traditional, “Um Mitternacht” sets a darkly meandering text of ambiguous philosophical and existential ruminations. Mahler’s music here is fascinating and varied, calling for an orchestra without strings and joining the singer’s almost desperate strains with a chorale-like, sometimes contrapuntal, accompaniment that surges and recedes until its final triumphant fanfare. “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder,” a charming miniature that ends almost as soon as it has begun, returns to more grounded territory, addressing the insecurity of the artist, a topic close to Mahler’s heart. The composer uses Rückert’s analogy of a poet’s work to that of industrious bees building a honeycomb as the thematic inspiration for his music, establishing at the outset an insistent buzzing that continues throughout the song.

“Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” represents Mahler’s first clear foray—both in text and in music—into a style and a theme that would permeate and define his late masterpieces: peaceful resignation in the face of approaching oblivion. His unique ability to create music in which human melancholy seems to melt away into a mesmerizing, otherworldly sense of tranquility reached its pinnacle in the Ninth and unfinished Tenth symphonies, as well as Das Liedvon der Erde. Even in 1901, during one of the happiest periods of his life and before the crushing series of professional setbacks and personal tragedies that darkened his final years, Mahler recognized that Rückert’s world-weary poem—whose title translates to “I am lost to the world”—and his own ethereal musical setting of it, encapsulated his identity as an artist and a man, saying, “It is I myself.”

—Jay Goodwin

Clarinet Concerto

Benny Goodman, the “King of Swing,” is surely the most well-known and commercially successful clarinetist in history. A fearsomely accomplished and complete musician, he was a first-rate classical player in addition to his storied exploits in jazz—including the historic performance that brought jazz to Carnegie Hall for the very first time and acted as proof of the genre’s acceptance into the mainstream. Goodman was also a powerful advocate for his instrument, and using the money from his success as a band leader, he commissioned works for the clarinet that endure as part of the standard classical repertoire today, including Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, Malcolm Arnold’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2, and Bartók’s Contrasts for clarinet, violin, and piano.

By 1947, when Goodman commissioned the concerto, Copland was firmly established as America’s leading composer, having captured the sound and the hearts of America with his iconic ballets Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and Appalachian Spring, and shorter works of Americana, such as Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait. The music of Copland’s underrated masterpiece of a concerto is a kind of portrait of the multifaceted Goodman. The opening movement is yearningly wistful and full of classical lyricism: “I think it will make everyone weep,” Copland wrote of this music, which was used prominently and poignantly in Ken Burns’s documentary The War. Following the opening movement is a dazzlingly inventive cadenza that pushes the boundaries of what the instrument is capable of, just as Goodman did. This gives way without pause to a jaunty, angular finale that combines jazz and folk influences and seems to meld the styles that made both Goodman and Copland famous.

—Jay Goodwin

“Give Me Some Music,” from Antony and Cleopatra;
“Do Not Utter a Word,” from Vanessa
“I Have Dreamt,” from Wuthering Heights

This afternoon’s program concludes with three 20th-century arias from two American composers, one very well known in the classical realm and the other less so. The first, Samuel Barber, is of course best known for his Adagio for Strings, but he also composed many other instrumental works, more than 50 songs, and three operas—if you count the 10-minute-long A Hand of Bridge. Today, we hear one aria from each of the composer’s full-length operas. Antony and Cleopatra, based on Shakespeare, premiered at the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s new house at Lincoln Center in 1966. In “Give Me Some Music,” an agitated, nervous Cleopatra alludes to the opening lines of Twelfth Night, saying “Give me some music; music, moody food / Of us that trade in love.” Vanessa is Barber’s first opera, which also premiered at the Met and for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958. It tells the story (loosely based on Isak Dinesen’s gothic tales) of a middle-aged woman and her daughter who are both seduced by the son of the older woman’s long-lost lover. “Do Not Utter a Word” comes from the first act and finds Vanessa in a hysterical state.

Bernard Herrmann’s legacy rests mainly on his music for the screen, including the scores for Citizen Kane and Taxi Driver, multiple collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, and the music for The Twilight Zone. His only opera, Wuthering Heights was completed in 1951. Catherine Earnshaw’s brief, heartbreaking aria “I Have Dreamt” comes from Act II, as the heroine laments that she is still trapped by the earthly confines of Wuthering Heights rather than in heaven as she dreamed.

—Jay Goodwin

This performance is part of Song of the Siren - Students.

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