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Work

Kurt Weill

Kurt Weill Composer

Concerto, for violin and wind orchestra, Op.12   

Performances: 7
Tracks: 29
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Musicology:
  • Concerto, for violin and wind orchestra, Op.12
    Year: 1924
    Genre: Concerto
    Pr. Instrument: Violin
    • 1.Andante con moto
    • 2.Notturno. Candenza. Serenata
    • 3.Allegro molto, un poco agitato
The frenzied earnestness of German musical life between the end of the Great War and Hitler's rise to power—the Jazz Age—looms as at once fantastic and touching. The intense rivalries and jealous watchfulness, manifestoes and critical infighting, performance politics and machinations—satirically reflected in the gamey knockabout of Berlin cabaret—and, above all, the very different musics of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schreker, Pfitzner, and Toch, to name but a few, were full of megalomania. Young composers responded to this bewildering plurality by becoming camp followers or avant-garde faddists according to type—one recognizes in Krenek, for instance, the eternal opportunist, in Jarnach the organization man, and in Weill the idealist.

In this carnival atmosphere, Ferruccio Busoni's return to Berlin in the fall of 1920 must have made him an Apollonius of Tyana—a revered sage and miracle worker to some, a mystagogical charlatan to others. Kurt Weill was among the initial members of Busoni's composition master class, sponsored by the Prussian State Academy, and remained to become less a student than a disciple and confidant. Looking back, he wrote that "We young musicians had clung to a distorted image of beauty. But we could not shape the new that we longed for—we could not find the form for our content. We burst the bonds of tradition, but we stammered where we wanted to thunder. Then Busoni returned to Berlin."

That this is no exaggeration is confirmed by Weill's Sonata for Cello and Piano, completed in the summer of 1920—a work awash in the surging, billowing gestures of Strauss and Schreker, spiced with an acerb harmonic vocabulary, and pedantically developed beyond the point of diminishing returns. Indeed, Weill continued to "stammer" during the master class period, July 1921 to October 1923, in such works as the lugubrious First Symphony and the involved, overlong a cappella Recordare, and did not absorb the lessons of the master until Busoni was on his deathbed. Then, suddenly, it came together in the Concerto for Violin and Wind instruments, composed over April-May 1924, with its "objective" coolness, its formal concision, its nod to his mentor's Italianità; it is Weill's first masterpiece, whose curious musical Esperanto becomes a living language. Composed for Joseph Szigeti—who eventually performed it all over Europe—the Concerto was given its premiere in Paris on June 11, 1925, by Marcel Darrieux with Walther Straram conducting the Straram Orchestra.

Weill's choice of instrumentation for his concerto was innovative; indeed, there had been no violin concerto like it before. The orchestration—an orchestral wind section with percussion plus a single double bass—sets the voice of the violin apart entirely from the sound world of the ensemble. His use of the winds, especially, is characteristic of the "socially-conscious" works he wrote in the 1920s (from Der Protagonist and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny to The Threepenny Opera).

The first movement occupies a surreal sound world in which ghostly tranquillo episodes alternate with distant alarums and excursions coming closer and fading away in pseudo-Baroque business. The succeeding Notturno—with its prominent xylophone, conjures a spectrally brittle pantomime; this is interrupted by a pleading, protesting central Cadenza, again awakening martial fanfares. The piquant and eerie Serenata's Allegretto can only be the love song of Pierrot to Columbine. The final agitato tarantella passes like a haunted dreamscape impassively observed.

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