Johannes Maria Staud (1974)
for cello and orchestra
- General information
Composition date :
Revision dates : 2008
- Duration : 22 mn
- Publisher : Union Musical Española
- Commission: Festival de Salzbourg 2006
- Composition date : 2006
- Concertant music [Cello and orchestra]
- soloist : 1 cello
- 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 1 soprano saxophone, 1 tenor saxophone, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 1 tuba, 1 timpani, 3 percussionists, 1 accordion, 12 violins, 10 second violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 4 double basses
23 July 2006
Autriche, Salzbourg, grand palais des festivals, festival de Salzbourg
Heinrich Schiff et l’orchestre philharmonique de Vienne, direction : Daniel Barenboim.
20 February 2009
Allemagne, Berlin, Konzerthaus
Jean-Guihen Queyras et l’orchestre du Konzerthaus de Berlin, direction : Lothar Zagrosek.
When you tell people you’re working at the moment on a piece for cello often you find yourself being asked: "Ah, so you mean a cello concerto?" No, I always answer – not a cello concerto! A "music for cello and orchestra".
Perhaps, in the beginning, I coined this expression just as an aid for myself. Naturally I might also have called the work Piece for Cello and Orchestra – or quite simply Cello and Orchestra, as for example Morton Feldman did. Or I could have decided on retro-modern titles like Confrontation, Constellation, …(con)cert(are), or even chosen the totally post-modern Symphonic Sketches for Violoncello and Orchestra.
But right from the start, the description Music presented itself as the most inspiring, most liberating starting point for personal discovery. Neutral, with no formal expectations, no self-gratifying complexity, no emphasis on points of historical connection – just plain: Music for Violoncello and Orchestra.
But why not Concerto, then? Anyone who is enthusiastic about music associates this term with quite specific ideas. Several people – including the specialists – like to derive the concept concerto from the mediaeval Latin/Italian concertare ("sound together", "act together"), or from the Latin concertare ("compete", "contend"), and point to the works of those composers who first introduced this term. Examples that may be cited are perhaps the concerti of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, or the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte of Heinrich Schütz. After the form’s further evolution, under Arcangelo Corelli, into the concerto grosso, alongside the solo instrument/accompaniment configuration Antonio Vivaldi established the three movement form, with its fast-slow-fast layout, as the way forward – a pattern which has predominated ever since. The resultant development of this successful concerto model in the classical, romantic and early modern periods has, thanks to the multitude of great works so produced, impressed itself on all our minds as one of the high peaks of Western music.
But what if, as a composer today, you no longer want to confront this formal model? Well – you might point out – Liszt or Saint-Saëns had already developed one-movement concerto forms of rhapsodic character in the nineteenth century. Or look at Busoni, who at the beginning of the twentieth century had already bequeathed us a multi-movement monstrosity that overstepped the boundaries of the whole genre. But none of these could wholly abandon the sonata form main movement which for so long helped shape the concerto’s development. Only with the irreversible abandonment of the major-minor key system – and, with it, the functional harmony that had shaped the concerto until then – were new formal models developed, still called concerto, which can be seen as more or less faithful further developments of the traditional type: for example the works of Bartók, Webern, Maderna, Zimmermann or Dutilleux. Or, alternatively, models that represented a complete, and often ironic, negation of the concerto, preserving only the name of the former bourgeois bravura piece intact, as in Cage’s example. Little by little however, and especially after the disastrous tide of neo-tonality that swept the 70s and 80s of the last century, the word concerto began to acquire a taste that was more than a little stale and stagnant. And so, if my work bears no resemblance at all to a concerto form I no longer feel to be authentic today, why then should I give it that name?
The first part of the title, Segue (Italian: "it follows"), is an expression used in musical terminology to indicate, for example, the continuation of the music on the following page. Here the concept stands as a poetic symbol for my intention, while composing the piece, not to be required to bear in mind a formal model that has become anachronistic. The succession of events is determined wholly and solely by the work’s inherent dramaturgy. Of course, Segue. Music for Violoncello and Orchestra also plays with the predictability of formal developments and its negation, with continuity and contrast, with surprise and implacable rigour. Apparently new material, which nevertheless has already been introduced subcutaneously, is juxtaposed with supposedly familiar musical situations which, however, over time reveal themselves to be new. In the process the focus is as much on the solo performance of the cello as on the orchestral tutti, as well as on every possible combination between the two extremes. The negation of concerto form, however, demands a correspondingly more conscious and personal handling of form, which in its turn also exerts an influence on the formation of each musical germinal cell, however small.
The overall duration of the work is about nineteen minutes. It is constructed from four large sections, some of quite differing lengths, underlying all of which is a common proportional relationship. The starting point for this work was provided by an unfinished sketch of Mozart’s, an Andantino for violoncello and keyboard instrument, Ka. 46 (374g). However in Segue. Music for Violoncello and Orchestra this sketch is neither introduced as an alien element in the polystylistic sense, nor as haunting reminder of a halcyon past. Instead something totally different was attempted – which however I do not wish to give away here.
Segue – it follows, it goes on – is also a pointer towards the fact that there will always be new and unusual things in art – here considered also as a mirror for society. What at first sight seems strange and unfamiliar, even weird, on closer inspection often reveals itself as immensely enriching and broadening of one’s horizons – just like the immigration of people from other cultures that is so important for every country. Of course a musical country should be aware of its artistic tradition, but not as a museum piece, rather, in a constructive way. It needs its great composers of the past just as much as it relies on its wonderful interpreters of the present. But to stay alive, to create a tradition for tomorrow, it also needs above all else – and this, unfortunately, is too often forgotten – artists creating and discovering here and now. And whoever denies the new its right to exist, whoever is content simply to consume over and over again nothing but the same old favourites mildly spiced up (for example the 459th Traviata with star-studded cast) can be compared with the gourmand who every day eats his fill of his favourite dish – and yet one day perishes from malnutrition.
Johannes Maria Staud.