Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone / speaker
Shai Wosner, piano
MAHLER: “Trost im Unglück” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Piano
MAHLER: “Aus! Aus!” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Piano
DEBUSSY: Général Lavine—eccentric from Préludes, Book 2 for Piano
MAHLER: “Der Schildwache Nachtlied” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Piano
DEBUSSY: Pièce pour l’œuvre du “Vêtement du blessé” for Piano
MAHLER: “Zu Strassburg auf der Schantz” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Piano
DEBUSSY: Berceuse héroïque for Piano
MAHLER: “Revelge” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Piano
DEBUSSY: Elégie for Piano
MAHLER: “Der Tamboursg’sell” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Piano
ULLMANN: Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke) for Speaker and Piano
Riding, riding, riding. And courage is grown so weary, and longing so great.
Inspired by the story of a 17th-century relative who died in combat, Rilke wrote The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke in 1899. It became a best-seller in Germany, and in the World Wars to come, young men would carry the book into battle with them. As part of 92Y’s festival on the art of Terezín, we present a rare performance of composer Viktor Ullmann’s setting of The Cornet for speaker and piano, which he wrote from within that Nazi holding camp before being deported to Auschwitz. The program will also feature works by Debussy and Mahler.
Part of our Will to Create, Will to Live: The Culture of Terezín series.
Will to Create, Will to Live: The Culture of Terezín is generously supported by The Rita Allen Foundation; and The Harold W. and Ida L. Goldstein Lecture Fund through the Estate of Sanford Goldstein.
Additional support is provided by an anonymous donor; Suzi and Martin J. Oppenheimer; UJA-Federation of New York; the Austrian Cultural Forum; the Czech Center New York; and the Consulate General of Israel in New York.
$52 - Premium Orchestra / Balcony
$38 - Rear Orchestra / Regular Balcony
$25 tickets available for patrons ages 35 and under
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Explore The Music
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Introduction to the Program by Michael Beckerman
This concert features several songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, a collection which was performed in Terezín, and intersperses them with piano pieces Debussy had written around the time of World War I, several of which were composed in connection with specific incidents related to that war. Both the Mahler and Debussy works explore the question of war with depth, passion and utter directness. The program concludes with one of the most powerful works written in Terezín, and one of the last compositions: Viktor Ullmann’s 1944 melodrama Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke) for Speaker and Piano.
Gustav Mahler was a fitting presage to Terezín. Engaged in a range of powerful instrospections caught somewhere between an idealistic deification of German culture and the realities of being perceived as a minority, Mahler’s tortured, fantastical and occasionally triumphant visions of his world fit precisely into the Terezín mentality. A concert dedicated to his work alone was presented on July 9, 1943, a rarity in Terezín according to Joža Karas, author of Music in Terezín. That these works resonated with the composers there is clear, and it is likely that Gideon Klein quotes a snippet of Kindertotenlieder in his final Trio.
Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) is the name usually given to a large collection of songs written and published between 1887-99, which appeared in several sections. Based on the famous collection of texts published in the early 19th century, Mahler’s songs in both their piano and orchestral version feature some of his most powerful writing. In this concert these pieces alternate with the wartime piano pieces of Debussy.
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GUSTAV MAHLER: Selected Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Born Kalischt, Bohemia, July 7, 1860; died Vienna, May 18, 1911
“Trost im Unglück” (“Comfort in Misfortune”) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn for Voice and Piano
Composed in 1892; 3 minutes
“Aus! Aus!” (“Out! Out!”) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Composed in 1892; 3 minutes
In the ironic song, “Trost im Unglück,” a man and a woman have fallen in love but now their relationship is strained. The man, “speaking” in a jaunty, bugle-influenced 6/8 meter, decides that he will ride away and have a better life. The woman responds “tearfully” in a different meter and dashes the Hussar’s arrogance. Composers rarely invite the “distant beloved” into the song with them, but the presence of the young woman as an actual vocal presence challenges the swagger of the opening.
“Aus! Aus!” (“Out! Out!”) with its march rhythm and aggression, stark parody and air of cockiness, perfectly captures the false braggadocio of a soldier going off to war.
“Der Schildwache Nachtlied” (“The Sentinel’s Nightsong”) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Composed in 1892; 6 minutes
This song is a dialogue between a sentinel and his lover who wishes for his safe return. Malher uses a military motif to convey the sentinel’s decision to reject his love and his home for life as a soldier.
“Zu Strassburg auf der Schanz” (“On the Ramparts of Strassburg”) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Composed in 1906; 4 minutes
This song tells the story of a young man who is lured away from his regiment by the Alphorn, symbolic of the sounds of home. Mahler composes this aching song in a dark, funereal F minor but deceptively has it begin with the Alphorn call in F major. An aching middle section features a high wailing range and a chromatic descent forecasting the soldier’s demise.
“Revelge” (“Reveille”) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Composed in 1899; 7 minutes
This song is almost symphonic in conception. Not only is it almost seven minutes long, but in its “entrails” we find marches and funerals, fussilades and bugle calls, and in its very center, a full-fledged musical battle. The text tells of a young drummer boy who has fallen in battle and watches soldiers pass him despite his pleas.
“Der Tamboursg’sell” (“The Drummer Boy”) from Des Knaben Wunderhorn
Composed in 1901; 5 minutes
A prisoner of war speaks to a drummer boy as he is being lead to the gallows. As the prisoner walks, he says good night to all he passes. When he reaches the gallows, he cries, “Good night! Good night.” The fate of the prisoner is reflected in the funeral march character and slow tempo of the piece.
—Rachel Thimke and Michael Beckerman
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CLAUDE DEBUSSY: Selected works for Piano
Born St. Germain-en-Laye, August 22, 1862; died Paris, March 25, 1918
Général Lavine—eccentric from Préludes, Book 2 for Piano
Composed during 1911-13; 3 minutes
Debussy’s Prelude No. 6 was composed in 1913 and is a musical commemoration of the famous vaudevillian clown Edward Levine, who played the Paris music halls in Debussy’s time. In its combination of geniality, slight of hand and manic, somewhat unfocused energy, this piece is a miniature tour de force. And of course, because Debussy is a composer, we are sure that it is not merely his intention to “paint” Lavine, but rather Lavine is a pretext to imagine new forms and sounds.
Pièce pour l’oeuvre du “Vêtement du blessé” for Piano
Composed in 1915; 1 minute
Debussy’s wife was active in charity work during World War I, particularly in providing clothing for the wounded. This work was probably the result of a request from Debussy’s wife to provide a manuscript to be sold as a fundraiser for the project. Debussy provided not only a manuscript, but a new composition. The piece is an elegant and charming waltz with slight variations of tempo and rhythm that give it a haunting quality.
Berceuse héroïque for Piano
Composed in 1914; 5 minutes
The very paradox of a Berceuse héroïque, a heroic lullaby, connects the work both with its own time and with Terezín as well. Written as a public response to the invasion of Belgium, and dedicated to “His Majesty King Albert I of Belgium and his soldiers,” this work also combines introspective and distinctly private moments along with an extroverted speech to the nation in time of war. We hear the slow march with hints of the lullaby as the sound of the Belgian national anthem combines with military fanfares and the alarum sounds of war.
Elégie for Piano
Composed in 1915; 2 minutes
The Elégie occupies a particularly enigmatic position among Debussy’s late works. It was published in a war album in 1915, part of a series of utterances by prominent figures honoring the contribution of women to the war effort. The money raised was to be used to benefit war orphans, something which alone ties it to these Terezín programs. While on the surface it appears to be a kind of public occasional work, it has a depth that many commentators have suggested makes it a uniquely personal utterance, and a confessional miniature of sorts. One can almost hear the composer thinking aloud.
—Rachel Thimke and Michael Beckerman
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VIKTOR ULLMANN: Die Weise von Lieb e und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke) for Speaker and Piano
Born Teschen, January 1, 1898; died Auschwitz-Birkenau, October 18, 1944
Die Weise von Lieb e und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke (The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke) for Speaker and Piano
Composed in 1944; 35 minutes
Viktor Ullmann, like so many other composers of his time, was absorbed by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). Rilke, at age 23, wrote this concise yet epic poem in a single night in 1899 and saw it published in May 1912. First titled The Cornet Rilke, whose protagonist is Rilke’s ancestor, Christopher Rilke, who fought against the Hussars in 1663, the larger theme of the work was widely recognized during the era of the World Wars.
Viktor Ullmann was born on January 1 in 1898 in Teschen, Silesia (which had been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but is now located in Czech Republic). Ullmann received his education in Vienna and became a prominent composer, pianist, conductor, music critic and overall artist. He stayed in proximity with the musical ideas of Arnold Schoenberg and spiritual ideas of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy. In 1944, Ullmann wrote, under the influence of Goethe and Schiller, that artistic form should be understood as that which “overcomes matter or substance [and where] the secret of every work of art is the annihilation of matter through form—something that can possibly be seen as the overall mission of the human being, not only the aesthetic but ethical human being as well.” Rilke and Ullmann, whose lives were afflicted by the incomprehensible trouble of their times, managed to engage themselves in successful artistic expression before their deaths.
For this, one of his very final compositions, Ullmann made the striking choice to use the musical genre of melodrama, that is, the combination of instrumental music and speech. Works in the tradition range from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat to Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and include passages from Beethoven’s Fidelio and Weber’s Der Freischutz. When speech is combined with music, special effects are created, and using this technique, Ullmann was to create a work of considerable power and directness.
Ullmann’s The Cornet Rilke is a picturesque representation of the vast stream of emotions continuously changing throughout the poem. The words are carefully woven within the piano’s compelling rhythmic and melodic phrases. Ullmann creates a sound world that invokes French impressionist sonorities while also drawing on his studies with Schoenberg to create an atonal atmosphere at times. Having studied the works of Mahler and Berg as well, Ullmann is able to skillfully create intense contrasts between styles within the piece as well as between moods, tone and overall sentiment. At times, the piece is shockingly dissonant and at others, peacefully pensive.
The Cornet Rilke begins with a repeating octave that alludes to the protagonist’s riding on horseback. Once the intensity of the repeating octaves stop, an atmosphere of lightness takes hold. The next section begins with a slow jazzy rhythm and is much more impressionistic than the first. Because of a lack of tonal center and the resultant harmonic ambiguity, an insecure atmosphere is created, but the continuation of similar harmonies connects the storyline. Throughout the piece, we find an oscillation between a faster and more forceful section and a light-hearted, softer part. At times, the piano seems to be part of the narration, somehow speaking for itself, and at others, the speaker gives a soliloquy, and the piano disappears. The interlacing between the music and the words is coordinated so that the energy of each coincides with the other. At one point, the speakers shouts, “Cornet!,” as the piano line alternates between repetitive notes, chromatic phrases and vigorously dissonant chords. A few melodic phrases return frequently throughout the piece, creating a tightly woven cohesive composition.
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Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone
Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair has performed in recital in the leading musical capitals of the world, including London, Lisbon, Amsterdam, New York and Washington, DC. Last spring, he organized and appeared at a festival dedicated to Mahler at ORF RadioKulturhaus in Vienna. The previous year, he curated a Hugo Wolf festival at the same venue for the 150th anniversary of Wolf’s birth.
A regular participant at international music festivals, Mr. Holzmair has appeared at the Risör Festival (Norway), Bath Festival (UK), Menuhin Festival (Switzerland) and Carinthian Summer Festival (Austria). In addition to his artistic relationship with the British pianist Imogen Cooper, Mr. Holzmair has collaborated with several of the leading pianists of our time, most recently Andreas Haefliger.
As an orchestral soloist, Mr. Holzmair has sung with such leading ensembles as the Berlin, Dresden and Israel philharmonics; the Cleveland, Leipzig Gewandhaus and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras; the Vienna Symphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. His current appearances include Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen in both Vienna and Amsterdam, orchestrated Wolf songs with the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Budapest and Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem in Oviedo, Spain.
Mr. Holzmair has an operatic repertoire ranging from Gluck to Britten. His future plans include Beckmesser (Die Meister-singer) in Japan and Agamemnon (Iphigénie en Aulide) by Gluck/Wagner in Bayreuth. In North America, he has sung Papageno (Die Zauberflöte) and Eisenstein (Die Fledermaus) in Dallas, Faninal (Der Rosenkavalier) in Seattle, and both Don Alfonso (Così fan tutte) and Demetrius (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) in Toronto. Other performances include Wolfram (Tannhäuser) in Erfurt, the Music Master (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Madrid, and the Father in Hänsel und Gretel on a tour of Japan.
Mr. Holzmair has an extensive, critically acclaimed discography. His recordings with Imogen Cooper include lieder by Clara and Robert Schumann (Philips) and songs by Wolf (Wigmore Hall Live Series), and he has made various Schubert recordings with Gérard Wyss (Tudor). He was a soloist for Pelléas et Mélisande with Bernard Haitink and the Orchestre National de France (Naive) and Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem with Herbert Blomstedt, which won a Grammy Award. He is also a committed advocate of the performance and recording of works, especially lieder, by formerly persecuted composers, including the Terezín composers.
Born in Vöcklabruck, Austria, Mr. Holzmair studied at the Vienna Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Since 1998, he has taught lieder and oratorio at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and given master classes in Europe and North America. He is also a visiting professor and fellow of the Royal College of Music in London. His website is www.wolfgangholzmair.com.
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Shai Wosner, piano
Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry, musical integrity, creative insight and a broad range of repertoire, from Mozart and Beethoven to Ligeti and Mr. Wosner’s own contemporaries. This past October, he released his second solo album, an all-Schubert disc, which follows his 2010 debut CD of works by Brahms and Schoenberg, both made for Onyx Records.
Highlights of Mr. Wosner’s 2011/12 season include recitals in London’s Wigmore Hall and LSO St. Luke’s, and a return to the Baltimore Symphony. In May 2012, together with the Seattle Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz, he is scheduled to premiere Along the Ravines, a new concerto by Michael Hersch written for him and commissioned by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust. Last summer, he performed with Jennifer Koh at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival and appeared at numerous chamber music festivals.
Born in Israel, Mr. Wosner is the recipient of a 2005 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he recently completed a residency as a BBC New Generation Artist, during which he played frequently with the BBC orchestras, including conducting Mozart concertos from the keyboard with the BBC Scottish Symphony. He has also been a guest of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco symphonies; and Philadelphia and Cleveland orchestras, He has given solo recitals at Wigmore Hall, Cardiff’s Hoddinott Hall and the Piano Aux Jacobins festival in France. As a chamber musician, Mr. Wosner has collaborated with such artists as Pinchas Zukerman, Lynn Harrell, Christian Tetzlaff and the Tokyo, Miró and Parker string quartets. His website is shaiwosner.com.
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