Kocsis season ticket 2
Brahms, Koessler, Dohnányi – almost like members of the same family. Not biologically speaking, of course. Brahms is the grandfather. He was a towering figure in the second half of the 19th century. He was a believer in so-called “absolute” music without any related programme. But he still sometimes hid secret messages in his work. The start of his Symphony No. 3, for example, is obviously about Man and Woman. The Man is overflowing with passion, while the Woman is an ethereal phenomenon. A little fairy – in the sense of how an ageing bachelor imagines her. Twenty years younger than Brahms, János (otherwise known as Hans) Koessler, the creator of Symphonic Variations, is the son. Brahms is his role model: he even resembled him outwardly, wearing a bushy beard. For decades, he served as a professor of music composition at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. He taught in German, in the spirit of the German tradition. This was somewhat irritating for Bartók and Kodály, but not for Dohnányi. He is a true musical grandson. When the proud teacher Koessler showed Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet, his first opus, to Brahms, the elder composer is said to have murmured: “I could scarcely have written it better myself.” Then the decades passed. Dohnányi’s style changed a great deal. But the Brahmsian legacy could still be felt in the relatively late work Stabat Mater, which he composed in the United States. Some music historians consider this to be Dohnányi’s finest work, although this assessment is debatable. Nevertheless, hearing works by the three composers together certainly promises to be an extraordinary experience.
The conductor Zsolt Hamar is an Artist of Merit, winner of the Liszt Award and the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, as well as the music director of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra.
The Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra has been one of Hungary’s leading symphony orchestras for over ninety years. The era marked by the name of János Ferencsik and Kobayashi Ken-Ichiro was followed by a new chapter in the history of the orchestra when in 1997 Zoltán Kocsis became general music director until his death.
Hungarian music aficionados might recall the name Hans Koessler as a teacher of Béla Bartók, Ernő Dohnányi, Zoltán Kodály and other renowned Hungarian composers. His work as a composer is much less known, even though his Symphonic Variations were performed, during his lifetime, both in the leading music centres of Europe and in America.
Dedicated “to the spirit of Johannes Brahms”, the Symphonic Variations can be regarded as a portrait of the great German composer from Koessler’s perspective. The composer originally intended to give titles to the different passages of this orchestral work comprising the theme and its seven variations, but these ended up being omitted from the score. Nevertheless, the music itself can help to elucidate the hidden programme. In the initial variations, Koessler gives voice to his sadness over Brahms’s death and evokes their first encounter, which took place in Budapest. He then goes on to reminisce about him as a friend, and finally, in an almost acknowledged imitation of his style, pays tribute to the memory of the great German master
Ernő Dohnányi bequeathed to posterity two masterpieces in the realm of church music: the grandiose Szeged Mass (1930) and the unique-sounding Stabat Mater (1952-53, premièred in 1956). Having lived in Florida since 1949, he received a commission from the head choirmaster of the Denton Civic Boy’s Choir in Texas to write a large-scale choral work. His choice of text – which can be explained by his recent personal hardships and family tragedies, fell on the medieval poem by Jacopone da Todi: Stabat Mater dolorosa (“The sorrowful mother was standing…”). The work was written for a six-part double choir – which could be a boy’s choir or, as the composer instructed, a female choir – joined by soprano, mezzo-soprano and alto soloists and orchestra. Although it is post-Romantic in style, its opening theme might have been influenced by J.S. Bach’s cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and the Crucifixus part of his Mass in B minor. The gushing, and later on euphorically radiant, closing segment “paradisi gloria” is imbued – just like his Cantus vitae based on text by Imre Madach and his Second Symphony – with the loftiness and faith that was characteristic of the composer’s later work.
I. Allegro non troppo
II. Andante moderato
III. Allegro giocoso
IV. Allegro energico e passionato. Tema con variazioni
Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 is ambiguous from the very beginning: the first chord is in F major, but the soprano harmony in the second measure is an A-flat, more typical of the key of F minor. The passionate main theme that is played afterwards starts out in the major key, but then switches to the minor in the next instant. And the final movement also starts in F minor. János (Hans) Richter, who conducted the world première, considered Brahms’s Third Symphony to be similar to Beethoven’s Third, the Eroica Symphony. The main theme unquestionably suggests heroic pathos. The secondary theme in A major evokes more the atmosphere of old dainty and refined chamber music-style serenades. The melody is played by a clarinet – an instrument that also gets an important role in the beginning of the second movement, the Andante, written in C major. The third movement occupies the place of the customary scherzo (or minuet), but is more of a slightly livelier and more dancelike slow movement. Opened by the cello, it moves into the usual trio in the middle part, and then features a horn, followed by an oboe. What is interesting about the ominously starting finalé is that it returns at the end to the main theme from the first movement.