There is often an aura around the very last works of the great composers. You listen to them in a different way, maybe we are looking for a summary or a message, a kind of last Word.
Into the Music with Bettina Smith begins at 18:30.
Few musical works stand out as a blatant farewell to life like Richard Strauss’ ‘Vier Letzte Lieder’. Written in 1948 when the composer was 84 years old, his last wish was that they should be performed by Norway’s own Kirsten Flagstad. That desire was fulfilled after Strauss died when Flagstad performed the piece on May 22, 1950, under the legendary conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Philharmonic Orchestra. The work is characterized by a deep inner calm where the music builds a frame of reconciliation around the piece. At the same time, he placed his own life in the instrumentation itself: Strauss himself was a prominent conductor, his wife Pauline de Ahna, a famous soprano, and the many beautiful horn solos are a final salute to Richard’s father, the hornist Franz Strauss. And towards the end of Abendrot, after the words Ist dies etwa der Tod? (Is this possibly death?) He draws the lines back to himself as a young man, with a quote from Tod und Verklärung, which he wrote 60 years earlier.
There is another type of aura about the dramatic symphony No. 6 byTsjkovsky – another musical farewell letter. Tchaikovsky wrote this piece in the summer of 1893, and even unveiled the piece a few days before he died under circumstances similar to suicide. When you listen to the symphony, it sounds almost like a testament. The dramaturgy is so clear: After ten minutes of vain idyllism, the first movement explodes in a cataclysmic disaster unprecedented in the history of music, then the symphony manically pushes between triumph and despair until the finale: an Adagio lamentoso where febrile life struggle is slowly forced into total resignation. At the end of the piece, you hear nothing more than what sounds almost like a beating heart, until it stops. We never know whether Tsjkovsky wrote this about himself, but the obvious and recognizable drama in this work has made it one of the most beloved symphonies ever.
Dalia Stasevska, conductor
Lise Davidsen, soprano
Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder
Tsjajkovskij: Symphony No. 6, Pathétique