Post-Romantic Music VS Other Music (28.Feb.2018)

I thought that the year 2018 would be amazing.


It’s been literally a thunderbolt.

I can’t describe thoroughly enough how vexed I am that rarely these days do I find myself remaining in control with what day of the week or the date it is, and a diary doesn’t seem to do much good 😦
So let me summarize for a minute these past 2 months:
At the begining of January we were rehearsing symphonies by Schubert and Clarinet Concerto by Mozart for a week. Then I landed in Osaka to perform the Violin Concerto by Prokofiev following the Requiem project in Kobe, and two more concerts of chamber ensemble in Kyoto and Tokyo around the early February followed, performing 3 Divertimenti by Mozart, Serenade for strings by Dvorak and Simple Symphony by Britten - which all received fair applauses. Back here in Milano shortly after the last concert in Tokyo I played 2 compositions by F.Schreker (1878-1934) and H.Dufourt (1943- ) as “a Concertmaster” in the chamber orchestra “Ensemble Bernasconi“, which took place two Thursdays ago (at the small hall in the Teatro alla Scala). And now we’ve just started our rehearsal for another music, this time by Alban Berg (1885-1935).
In short, the first half was concentrated around classic & romantic music, while the other half around post-romanticism (i.e. the 20th & 21st century).
(By the way, I prefer the term “Concertmaster” to a leader, because in my view a Concertmaster is only responsible for specific occasions throughout rehearsals and concerts and not necessarily “leading” the entire orchestra. Instead the person who facilitates and keeps the whole process under control is a director. Directors present themselves with tactfulness and awareness with the overview of the entire company which are prerequisites for leading the orchestra, not concertmasters although they’re something all should be established with.)
In any piece of music, there’s the golden rule that we must strive to abide by the intentions of the composer and therefore to represent it to the audience. Everything that’s written in a piece of music ― marks, indications or any slight notations ― is made in order to produce certain ideas or effects. And every composer has a unique style and a different sound world so that no matter what one may have learned in the past, it’s practically impossible to play without the understanding of them or substitute them with others.


Western music evolved tremendously around the 19th and the 20th century thanks to Wagner (1813-1889), Shoenberg (1874-1951) and Webern (1883-1945) who made some of the most significant transformations in the history of western music. There’s a major difference: unlike the common music such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven etc. who hardly ever left specific instructions for their music, post-romantic music is written down to the smallest details and is full of markings for dynamics, tempo changes, key changes, time changes, rhythmic specifications, timbral specifications and many more.
For instance, in the “L’amérique D’Après Tiepolo” written by Dufourt in 2016 as you can see above in the picture, a concrete instruction on how the harmonics should be played is given at the beginning of the violin part. The harmonics has a chromatic ascendance with a dynamic range from p to f, and then moves on to the bars with slightly more complicated notation of ┌ 3:4 ┐ (figurative proportion with a bracket to describe that the value of the notes to fit into 3 crochets is worth 4 crochets). And this is just the first page, and there are 8 more pages of equally dense passages remaining.
So when we practiced and rehearsed this music, we had to pay extra attention on what is written in the music in order to materialize the musical ideas. The notes are often extremely difficult to be played, and in certain occasions they cannot be executed at all due to the instrumental structure. Once we’ve read everything and attempted to play it faithfully to the score, we then finally begin to grasp the overall atmosphere of it. Usually this is the case with the modern composers whose music is less tangible at the first glance than their counterparts.
On the contrary, music written by the classic composers are more straitforward and less demanding. Certainly not everything is written down ― in fact very little is provided in a score when it comes to Bach, Haydn, Mozart etc. ― what’s in a score is a minimum detail and everything else is a mystery as we don’t see it. Any dynamics, tempo changes or any slightest nuances are left to one’s imagination, which inevitably requires musicians to think of what is not written and to be able to guess and read between the lines on their part. The background for this inclination is that, as F. Mendelssohn (1809-1847) once remarked, the words are rather ambiguous yet music itself is much more precise and anyone can clearly understand what it means.
 This is the opening from the chamber symphony (a single movement) by Schreker (composed in 1917), and the piece could be regarded as something that lies between romanticism and modernism. Schreker was an Austrian composer who was evidently influenced most by Wagner and his contemporaries such as R.Strauss, Schoenberg and Webern. The idea of conluding the symphony in a single movement comes directly from R.Strauss as he did in his “Don Juan”, “Ein Heldenleben” etc. (in a sense it is rather “a symphonic poem“), and the work contains a lot of the elements from Wagner, which is as clear as the blue sky. Tito Ceccherini who directed it with us in the concert of February 15 was arguably convincing when he pointed out in many occasions that  the prolonged appoggiaturas orginating in Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde” is the strongest characteristics of all which should be firmly emphasized till the harmony resolves into a candence and should not fade away into the distance.
Another composer who was equally influenced by those contemporaries was Alban Berg (1885-1935) who studied composition with Shoenberg in Austria and made “atonal music” all the more pervasive in the world of the 20th century following his ancestors. Right now I’m playing the violin solo of the Chamber Concerto written and completed in 1925.
The trouble with this piece when it comes to performance is that not only is it confusing to read through the transitions of time (from a 3/4 to a 2/2, from a 2/8 to a 7/8 and so on) but also every one of the players have completely different content in their parts at any bar of the entire music which is pretty disturbing if one thinks about put it truly under control.
We have only one week till the concert all though we’re very much all over the place at the moment, and it will probably take ridiculous loads of kicks in the ass and bandages for the wound. We’ll see.

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