Visiting Orchestras

Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden

At this musikfest berlin concert, the two rivals Ferruccio Busoni and Hans Pfitzner enter into direct competition. “I should like to catch hold of a corner of the coming art of music and, where possible, sew a seam in it myself”, Busoni declared. “Ever more clearly, I sense how all our chirping will be regarded in the future as a prehistoric era.” In his Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music, he presented the utopia of future music as a counter-proposal to late Romanticism. Hans Pfitzner responded polemically in his essay The Danger of the Futurists: “What if our last century or century and a half represented the flowering of Western music, the climax, the real golden age, which will never return and which is now passing into decline, into a state of decadence, as after the age of Greek tragedy?”

Busoni wrote his Nocturne Symphonique as a preliminary study – to generate a stimulus, standards and atmosphere for the composition of his magnum opus, the opera Doktor Faust. Once again he ventures into the realm of polytonality, and instead of Romantic scoring based on tonal colours he weaves transparent, chamber-like orchestral textures. Hans Pfitzner, on the other hand, deliberately takes up the assertive manner of Beethoven’s piano concertos in his own E flat major Piano Concerto, but also pursuing new formal paths in laying out the work unconventionally in four movements, which follow on without a break.

“I shall never write a symphony,” Johannes Brahms once wrote to a friend. “You can't have any idea what it's like always to hear such a giant marching behind you!” Brahms struggled long and hard to emerge from Beethoven’s shadow, which he found so overwhelming. He faced a further difficulty in the form of competition from Wagner’s music dramas, which were seen as the logical development of Beethoven’s symphonic language. Not until he felt he had sufficiently mastered other genres could Brahms achieve the act of artistic liberation represented by his First Symphony. This process required the invention of individual structural solutions, and it was these in particular that led Schoenberg to hail Brahms – often derided as a classicizing epigone – as a progressive. The tension between conservativism and progressivism in the music of Busoni, Pfitzner and Brahms will be examined by Christian Thielemann with the Dresden Staatskapelle and pianist Tzimon Barto.

Concert Programme

Ferruccio Busoni [1866–1924]
Nocturne Symphonique
for orchestra op. 43 [1914]

Hans Pfitzner [1869–1949]
Concerto for piano and orchestra in E flat major op. 31 [1922]

Johannes Brahms [1833–1897]
Symphony No. 1 in C minor op.68 [1862–77]