Posted by Anneliese McGee-Collett
Saturday 21st January, 2017

Jörg Widmann Reinterprets Beethoven

AYO National Music Camp
Week 2, Orchestral Concert: Saturday 21 January, 7.30pm

WIDMANN Con brio

Alexander Orchestra — Dietrich Paredes, conductor 


‘To make an air sound with a wind instrument is the most natural thing in the world,’ said composer and clarinettist Jörg Widmann. ‘I go on a journey into the most remote places in terms of sound. But I don’t use electronics. So the aura of the sound is always going to be there, even with the most experimental playing techniques.’

Widmann was speaking with German musicologist Sibylle Kayser in an interview before the 2008 premiere of Con brio. The work was commissioned by Mariss Jansons for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra as part of a Beethoven cycle which also included newly-commissioned works. The piece makes many references to Beethoven’s 7th and 8th symphonies, but none of them are overt.

‘I don’t quote a single note,’ Widmann explained. But influences can be heard in his orchestration, form, rhythm, harmony and gesture. ‘Beethoven doesn’t have four horns or trombones in the 7th and 8th symphonies, the way he does in the 9th. He makes this incredible “noise” with just two horns, two trumpets and timpani.

‘You compose differently if you have more choice. In cases like this, I have to divide the material carefully between all of the instruments.’

Widmann was impressed by Beethoven’s revolutionary use of the timpani in his 8th Symphony. ‘Beethoven tuned the timpani in octaves. It was so effective that I was inspired to use only timpani. But in the course of my piece, the percussionist has to re-tune many times.’

He was also inspired by Beethoven’s harmonic invention in the 7th and 8th symphonies.

‘I took the keys in which the two symphonies were composed: A and F. I played with the relation of thirds between these notes. But not with a sentimental reverence to tonality. It’s the genius of Beethoven that he’s so completely unsentimental.’

Jansons’ commission also signalled a change in Widmann’s compositional style. ‘Before this, I was intrigued by the blending and melting of sounds into one another. It’s a cosmos of weightlessness. But here in Con brio, I was thinking in a much more block-like manner.’

Fellow clarinettist and AYO National Music Camp tutor Dean Newcomb identifies with this.

‘The sound of the whole orchestra is more like chamber music. There are no voices that come out soloistically. But the music is so extremely detailed. Every single note has a very particular way that it has to be played.’

– Anneliese McGee-Collett*

* Words About Music participant at AYO National Music Camp 2017