Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Vladimir Jurowski, conductor
Brahms / Schönberg / Adams

Watercolour sketch of a male head.

Arnold Schönberg, self-portrait, in 1919 © Belmont Music Publishers, Los Angeles, courtesy: Arnold Schönberg Center, Wien

Schönberg and Brahms – they sound like separate worlds. However, the twelve-tone composer was partly responsible for saving the late Romantic for the Modern Age. With Brahms’s “Tragischer Ouvertüre” and the American minimalism of John Adams’s “Harmonielehre” the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin finds a frame for Schönberg’s songs, whose huge contrasts demonstrate the remarkable breadth of his music. 

19:10, South Foyer
Work introduction

It is a fascinating relationship: the lecture “Brahms the Progressive” that Arnold Schönberg first gave in 1933 on Frankfurt Radio led to a re-evaluation of Brahms’s work. His contact with the broadcaster had been arranged through Hans Rosbaud, the boss of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, who had performed numerous Schönberg works in his concerts. It was Rosbaud who had also produced the world premiere of Schönberg’s “Four Songs for voice and orchestra” op. 22 the year before – a poignant cycle that had been written immediately before the outbreak of the First World War. Here the profound grief of a lyrical self abandoned by God encounters the utopia of a better world, though Schönberg himself emphasised the unconventional and “predominantly soloistic” style of the orchestration. “Harmonielehre” by the Pulitzer Prize-winner John Adams, whose influence on American music in the last few decades has barely been equalled by any other contemporary composer, refers to Schönberg’s theoretical textbook of the same name, albeit ironically. Its underlying principle is that of American minimalism, in which simple basic patterns are repeated over long periods with barely audible variations. The inspiration for the opening movement came from a surreal dream in which a large container ship in San Francisco Bay rose up into the sky “like a Saturn rocket” (Adams). The whole piece begins in suitably spectacular fashion: with powerful chord salvos whose continual rhythmic shifts and adjustments of emphasis create an unprecedented hypnotic effect. 


Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Tragic Overture in D minor op. 81 (1880)

Arnold Schönberg (1874 – 1951)
Four Songs for voice and orchestra op. 22 (1913 – 1916)

  1. Seraphita (1913)
  2. Alle, welche dich suchen (1914)
  3. Mach mich zum Wächter deiner Weiten (1914/15)
  4. Vorgefühle (1916)

John Adams (*1947)
Harmonielehre (1985)


Christina Bock – mezzo-soprano

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin
Vladimir Jurowski – conductor

An event by Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin in cooperation with Berliner Festspiele / Musikfest Berlin