Music by Webern, Berg and Schoenberg
RNCM Concert Hall, 26 March 2011
There were three works from the Second Viennese School, or the school of serialism, in this splendid concert.
What matters ultimately, of course, is not school or aesthetic allegiance but talent; and the talents on show were immense, though their works seemed quite different in nature.
The first work was Webern’s Five Movements for String Quartet, a tense and unsettling tour de force. An inconsolable loss is conveyed, a fraught and fragile state of mind. Everything seems complicated and difficult, or is made so.
Berg’s Violin Concerto, composed in 1935 shortly before his death, was performed next. It can be seen as an elegy upon the death of a young woman, Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler. In musical terms, it is interesting for the way in which an atonal work can yet be imbued with deep emotion. In a telling manner, the virtuoso violin-playing of Gordan Nikolitch underlined a paradox that lay at the heart of Berg’s astounding achievement. For if the rationale of serialism was to remove rhetoric and therefore lyricism from music altogether – by creating works that seemed to have no key, a natural form of emphasis – then it signally failed in this case.
The concert culminated with a performance of Schoenberg’s sublime Verklarte Nacht (Transfigured Night), which was accompanied by a series of stark black and white images by Netia Jones: a film inspired by a musical work, which was in fact inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel. This was like watching a lost silent film with live accompaniment.
Revolutionary Vienna was a wonderful experience, as well as being something of an eye-opener.