Sunday, March 17, 2013

Notes before a final (3): Anton Webern

When you look at a score by Webern, the really obvious thing you notice is there really aren't many notes there.  You might think this makes it easy to play. You'd be wrong about that.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was going to be playing Webern's Three Little Pieces as part of my set for the Office Musician Final, her reaction was something along the lines of, "All the rep for cello you've got, and you're doing that?" 

There are  lot of preconceptions about Webern.  It's cold. It's difficult. It's unrewarding to play.  All thse things are bollocks.  Webern's music is some of the most emotional there is. He was deeply traumatised by the death of his mother in 1906, when he was 22.  He never really got over it, and pretty much his entire output after then is, I think, consumed with grief at his loss. It's grief quietly expressed.  Not chest-beating, extroivert grief, but internalised, a weight held deep inside that never leaves.  It's highly condensed: a fleeting gesture or even a single note carries the sort of weight that in conventional music would be carried by a long melody or a cascade of notes.  This is what makes it so difficult to perform: you have to reach deep inside yourself and put so much into so little.  The other thing that people find difficult to appreciate is that it needs great accuracy.  There are complex rhythms and tempo changes that aren't necessarily directly evident to the listener, but it matters to get those silences and those placements of single notes just so.  I think the point is that as a musician, you need to be filled with that level of intense concentration to put the music across to the listener. I cn honestly say that rehearsing this music has been incredibly rewarding, and my admiration for it has only increased.  It's all very well to play somethign fast and showy with lots of notes and scrambling about, but to play a single note just right - now that's real virtuosity, and far harder to bring off.

There's a affinity between Webern's inconsolable grief and that of the protagonist in "The Long-Departed Lover" which I hope will come across whn they're heard one after the other.  This is what I hope to achieve in a good programme: that the pieces all fit together and illuminate each other in some way.  I hope that the contrast of the Falla piece that follows the Webern will also shine a new light on it.  If a few people come out of it feling better disposed to Webern than they were before, I'll feel like I've achieved something.

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