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     "I let Bach decide what his Music has to say"

   Christoph Schlüren interviews Renate Eggebrecht


What criteria govern your choice of tempo in Bach's music for unaccompanied violin?

I've been studying Bach's music since the age of six, beginning with the little Inventions for keyboard and continuing with the early chamber music up to The Art of Fugue. Then I went on to study the complete Well-Tempered Clavier, the violin concertos, the keyboard concertos, the great choral works and much more. I experienced Bach's music – the organ pieces, the cantatas and Passions – in our north-German churches with their wonderful acoustics. So when I now record his sonatas and partitas to round off my VIOLIN SOLO series I naturally have an idea of tempo that has evolved since my earliest childhood. I believe I was 12 years old when I started to learn the G-minor Sonata. And think of all the performances I've heard by 'leading' violinists over the decades!

  Let me begin at the beginning, with the first movement of Sonata I in G minor, marked Adagio. The common time signature implies 'very slow'.
  To clarify the rhythmic relations precisely I first decide to take a quaver as the basic pulse. At some point, when the melodic lines and the chordal writing coalesce and the harmonic structure finds expression, I try to broaden the tempo. But never do I abandon the continuous inner pulse. I always practice with a metronome to develop a firm framework, but without giving up the musical shape, the inner voice, despite the relentless tick, tock, tick, tock. It's a sort of mental exercise that liberates me....
  Because of the arpeggiated bowstrokes, the four-part chordal writing requires more time than the melodic line. Here I have to find metrical compensation to support and clarify the musical structure. The very first chord in the G-minor Sonata places the rhythmic emphasis on the top note, G, which then chooses to become a line. So I arpeggiate the two lower parts slightly ahead of the beat.

  Finding a basic tempo for the fugues takes patience. At first the subjects are still quite unde-manding, but then come the great four-part broken chords, perhaps revealing that the chosen tempo is too fast. The concertante episodes also have a rhythmic energy all their own, but this shouldn't
bring about a change in the underlying pulse. Again, the metronome can be a sobering aid. But the overriding goal of all these efforts must be to have the tempo partly define the character of movement (this is even more urgent for the dance pieces in the partitas) without damaging either the large-scale formal design or the most delicate after-notes of a trill. Mozart gets to the heart of the matter when he writes, 'The most necessary, the most difficult, and the main thing in music, is tempo'.

  Of course I've studied the arguments from period performance practice, and surely one or another of them has entered my playing. But by and large I agree with Friedhelm Krummacher when he says that:
‘Any analytic method based solely on historical principles runs the risk of doing an injustice to Bach's music to the extent that it addresses only what the theorists of his day also addressed. For the sake of historical correctness, it has to overlook precisely those things which made Bach's music so new and unique that contemporary theorists were unable to grasp them... The scholarly and artistic stature of a performance should be judged less by its correctness than by what it brings to life in the work of music.’ 1)


What's your view of and approach to intonation, and to what extent does it differ from oday's norms?

It's not enough to have a 'view' of intonation on the violin: there was never a consistent practice in the past, nor do we have one today. When my first violin teacher was a very young man he played under Wilhelm Furtwängler in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, where his father was concertmaster. It went without saying that the musicians played with just intonation, and vibrato was not wanted. Even Joseph Joachim, who gave lessons to my teacher when he was a boy, based his intonation on this tuning system and passed it on to his pupils. They went on to become very good chamber musicians and much sought-after orchestra members, especially in the Berlin Philharmonic, which Joachim helped to establish.
My violin teacher was very strict. I remember him insisting relentlessly on my playing a c' in a Handel sonata a bit higher. Tears streamed down my face, but he knew no mercy. But what do we mean by 'today's norms'? Do we mean a lower minor 3rd, a higher major 3rd, an imperfect 5th (all 'well-tempered') and stretched octaves?

  Let's return to the beginning. The first movement of the G-minor Sonata begins with a pure G-minor chord: an open G string, an open D string, a b♭' on the A string and a g" on the E string. One would like to think that the low g and the high g" form a pure double-octave and a perfect 5th with the d'. And shouldn't the b♭' form a minor 6th with the lower d' and a major 6th with the upper g"? To crown these intervallic relations, taken together they produce a powerful G-minor sonority spreading radiantly through the auditorium. Its inner strength produces a line undulating downwards via f" to a dominant 7th chord with tritone.
  What a soft, gentle tritone, with a low f#'! What is it trying to tell us? But soon the entirely new f#' yields a second line that is again enclosed in a dominant 7th chord with tritone, only to join three fellow-pitches with a b♭ to re-establish the G-minor chord we already know from the opening. The meaning of this exciting story can only be discovered and understood if the harmonic relations are as clearly audible as possible.
As a performer, I'm responsible for translating these notated events into sound. This is why I've devoted a deep study to the problems of intonation.

  So-called 'equal temperament' requires the distance between adjoining notes of the scale to be always the same. It is thus a closed system. It produces a slightly out-of-tune 5th, a somewhat high major 3rd and 6th and a decidedly high 7th. This tuning system is unsuitable for a proper rendering of Bach's extremely advanced harmony. (Nor is it likely that Bach the trailblazer would have been satisfied with only 12 notes defined at equal temperament!)
  In 'Pythagorean tuning' the major 3rd is also high, and the minor 3rd low. The 6th is slightly high and the 7th is even higher than in equal temperament.
  Pure major and minor 3rds are indispensable to chordal writing. When the perfect 5ths are joined by perfect 3rds, we call this 'just' or 'pure' intonation. It has a slightly lower major 3rd and a lightly higher minor 3rd compared to Pythagorean tuning, as well as a slightly lower 6th and 7th. The ear hears in terms of small integral ratios: 2:3 for pure 5ths, 3:4 for pure 4ths, 4:5 for major 3rds, and 5:6 for minor 3rds. (Leopold Mozart precisely specified this intonation in his violin treatise of 1756 and taught it to his son Wolfgang Amadée, who in turn handed it down in his theory and composition lessons, as we know from the notebooks of his pupil Thomas Attwood.)

  This tuning system allows the most difficult progressions in Bach's harmonic cosmos to be rendered properly in sound and to be grasped and emotionally experienced by the listener. Overtones and combination tones give the sound resonance, expressive power and a distinctive character. The opening of the First Partita, in B minor, provides a good example with its special sound – an intimate glow, almost a glittering white, compared to the triumphant radiance of the ascending arpeggios in the D-minor Ciaccona.
  In its underlying theory this tuning system is open-ended; the tonal material it defines is not rigidly delimited and can evolve into the most minuscule microtones. As Max Reger put it, 'There are a lot of North and South Poles waiting to be discovered!'
  But this tuning system not only accommodates the music of Bach, who commented on it himself. Composing with pure overtones and harmonics is equally natural today, as we have just heard here in Munich with Unsuk Chin's Cello Concerto. Valentin Silvestrov also works with pure intervals and harmonics in his Postludium for violin.

  Alfred Schnittke, who considered Silvestrov one of the most important and sensitive composers of our time, touched on this point: 'The Postludes suffer noticeably when they are played well, but in a customary and commonplace manner. Silvestrov is one of those composers who cast doubt on the conventional view of pitch and intonation, and I hope it will bring about a rethinking of this subject .... I assume that once the quality of his music has been understood, the appreciation of and the attitude toward it will also change. This music opens up an invisible spectrum that cannot be reproduced in words.' 2)


What about the relation between continuous flow and tempo rubato in Bach's music?

Flow and rubato are basically present in all human utterances, whether language, dance or music. To quote Leopold Mozart, 'The violin was invented by Orpheus, the son of Apollo; and the poetess Sappho conceived the horsehair-strung bow, and was the first to play the instrument in the manner known today.'
  Rubato on the violin is entirely a matter of bowing, and if Sappho gave us the bow, she also gave us rubato. In any event, Bach accepted this gift. As Forkel tells us, 'When playing his own pieces, Bach usually took the tempo at a very quick pace; but despite the fast tempo, he was able to coax so much diversity from his playing that each piece sounded like human speech in his hands.' Bach did not indicate rubato in his Sei Solo. Ysaÿe was a bit more cautious in this respect and added painstaking rubato instructions to his sonatas. In Silvestrov's Postludium the request for rubato is present in the very title: Andante, poco rubato, Allegretto, rubato.

  Continuous flow and tempo rubato are two forces that mutually intermingle, especially in Bach's music. Let me give you an example by turning once again to the opening of the Adagio, the first movement of the G-minor Sonata:
  The opening chord, g-d'-b♭'-g", establishes the harmonic framework. It begins with the open G string and its overtones, which encompass the top note g". This causes the G string to reverberate for a long time. The open D string provides the next lowest Gas a combination tone. Thus, the g" glows on the E string and can calmly decide whether to proceed further as the note of a melodic line. The resultant line is now supported in turn by the reverberating overtones and combination tones. The tension we sense in the linear progression resides in the harmonic development, the goal of which is the next chordal sonority. If I allow myself a bit of time at the opening and let the unexpected scale steps to f" and e♭" sing, I can let loose on the notes that follow. The tiny neighbour-note embellishment before the next three-note chord is basically a written-out rubato (échapée), which I support.

  The Andante in the Second Sonata is a good example of a tempo rubato in which the accompanying part should remain at a fixed tempo while the melodic part moves more freely. This is easier to accomplish with two hands on a keyboard instrument; for the bowing arm of the violin it's almost a matter of wizardry. A few bars before the first repeat mark the line frees itself from the lower voice and can breathe a little with a well-savoured rubato. The dance movements in the partitas also offer many opportunities for an elegant rubato, as can be seen in the freely lilting transitional line in bars 18-19 of the Borea in Partita I.
  It would go too far to discuss more examples of this sensitive art of execution. The Ciaccona alone would cost us many hours, and how should I deal with the rigorous writing in the fugues? The rule of thumb is, of course, 'The time you give away has to be taken back!'
  Albert Schweitzer, a great authority on Bach, said of this subject: 'In general, the rule applies that the vitality of Bach's pieces does not reside in the tempo taken, but in the phrasing and em-phasis. In this sense, every player should strive to play him with a fiery spirit.'


Bach referred to the Sei Solo as a first series of pieces for unaccompanied violin. Have you ever considered how he might have proceeded in a second series? Or whether it may have been composed and is now lost?

I'm aware of these speculations, having read them just recently in a facsimile edition of the autograph. To my way of thinking, the words 'Libero Primo' added to the title mean that this flawless, immaculately prepared manuscript was meant to serve as a master copy for all future manuscripts. Incidentally, Max Reger's handwritten engraver's copies are similarly precise, with colour-coded dynamic and expression marks. In Bach's day, copying from the 'rightholder's' manuscript had the same function as a printed publication today. After all, the Bach family operated a music dealer's business on the side.
  However, the title admits a much deeper interpretation, one that Helga Thoene probed in her four-volume study of the three sonatas and the Ciaccona. She made use of a procedure whereby letters are translated into numbers corresponding to their position in the alphabet. This procedure, known as gematria, is a meaningful form of the ancient alphabetic mysticism found in many Jewish and Greek traditions. Above all, gematria proceeds from the secret Jewish doctrine of the Kabbalah. It is predicated on the original use of letters as signs for numbers. Helga Thoene has this to say about it:

  As far as the text is concerned, some questions naturally arise. Why is the work called Sei Solo instead of Sei Soli? Even the rather unusual Libero Primo might have read Prima Parte or Pars I, as we find on the cover page of Anna Magdalena Bach's copy. Similarly, the work's authorship is given as 'da Joh. Seb. Bach' on the title page, but as 'di J. S. Bach' after the title of the First Sonata. Were these measures taken to produce the gematric number 592? The number of the perfectio caritatis is 16, that of the Christ monogram is 37. This may even suggest that the Sei Solo had a 'dedicatee' for whom they were written: Christ and the perfection of His love .... A linguistically precise translation of the Italian title Sei Solo would read, 'Thou art the only one'. 3)


Given what we now know, do you hear the sequence of underlying chorale notes when you play this music? And if so, how does it affect your performance?

I don't read scholarly articles before a concert or while preparing a recording. It would seriously obstruct my musical imagination. After making a recording – a festival of my innermost relation to Bach – I gladly sit down with an exciting book and check whether my acoustical rendering will bear up to modern scholarship. Helga Thoene's research into 'numerical semantics' and 'chorale quotations' as musical building blocks is fascinating, of course. Bach blends the 'plainness and lowliness of the church hymn' into his rich musical universe and, using his wealth of compositional resources, erects a sonata architecture that fuses the 'Incarnation Sonata' (G minor), the 'Passion Sonata' (A minor) and the 'Pentecost Sonata' (C major) into a unified whole. Within this unified whole, however, they form a mirror-reflection of the Triune God, united in praise of the Trinity – 'In Nomine Sanctissimae Trinitatis'.

  Thoene also used the chorale quotations to demonstrate that 'death and resurrection' are the hidden theme of the Ciaccona. (The climax of the piece is the 'Resurrection' arpeggios of Variation 12, enclosing the BAxCH emblem.) This 'dance' was written as a tombeau, an 'epitaph in notes', in memory of Bach's first wife Maria Barbara, who died in 1720. He engraved her name cryptographically – that is, in code – at the opening of the Ciaccona.
  These deliberately inaudible and wordless chorale quotations are 'decipherable' and hidden – even from performers – throughout the musical fabric. Yet a knowledge of this Christian stylistic ideal will alter the player's inner ear. This by itself will prevent the player of the Sei Solo from becoming too egocentric and superficial. That said, the rendering of this music into sound draws on different sources altogether.

  At this point we should actually be talking about the 'theologia crucis', the Sign of the Cross, which Bach used as prime building material for Cruciger. But as this would take us too far afield, let me simply quote Albert Schweitzer from Bach the Mystic: 'Just as a Bach fugue belongs to the 18th century by virtue of its form, but is a timeless musical truth by virtue of its essence, the mysticism of Christ for all the ages is modelled in the mysticism of St Paul'.
  Interestingly, Thoene can build her depiction of 'Three Sonatas under the Banner of the XP Monogram' on Günter Hartmann's study Die Tonfolge B-A-C-H. Zur Emblematik des Kreuzes im Werk Joh. Seb. Bach (The pitch series B-A-C-H: the imagery of the Cross in the music of J. S. Bach). According to Hartmann, the BAxCH emblem, the sign of the Cross, in all its possible permutations and transpositions, is the basic germ-cell of Bach's musical creations. But Hartmann arrives at conclusions all his own:

  Thus, by virtue of the χ, Christ intervenes actively in God's creation; indeed, in so doing he determines the paths of the fixed stars and planets, including that of the Earth. It is He who causes the world to maintain its preordained order and harmony .... Just as it pervades the cosmos of God's creation in the apologetic writings of the Church Fathers, the Sign of the Cross – the χ, Christ's logos – permeates the body of Bach's musical creations, represented by the BAxCH emblem as found in the canon BWV 1077, with the words 'Christus coronabit crucigeros' and the Lambdoma numbers from Plato's Timaeus inscribed within it. In other words, Bach indeed created unique music of an elemental experience of the world. However, this music is not content to symbolize a harmonious late-orthodox-baroque numerology, as theologians fondly imagine. On the contrary, it will burst it apart. 4)


Are the slurs that Bach set down in his manuscript incontrovertible, or do you see solutions more appropriate to the character and flow of the music?

Bach's phrase marks form an inalienable part of the structure of his music. It is I who has to grasp the meaning of the slurs he set down in his expressive handwriting. Character and flow are not the sole criteria for a slur; the goal may equally well be to stretch the tempo or to clarify the rhythm. There are myriad ways to work musically with slurs in the Sei Solo; time and again one discovers new relations that bring the music to life. To give you an example, take the Allemanda from Partita II, which has slurs of many different kinds. Some move forward, others produce a slight congestion, still others slightly stretch the tempo, or the phrasing is laid out on such a scale that the basic metre is suspended for two brief measures (mm. 9-10). That said, it is immediately stabilised with slurs that solidify the pulse. A legato line very often harbours covert counterpoint that must be made audible beneath a slur.

  In the opening Grave of Sonata II we can easily hear how the legato lines slip into chordal writing as their goal. The expressive power of the legato line is supported by harmonic contexts and covert counterpoint. Perhaps the most obvious climax of this interaction of functions – chordal cohesion and simultaneous part-writing with multiple legato lines – is found in the Ciaccona, where maximum variety creates coherence and flow, and all beneath a single bow!
  Speaking of slurs, we naturally have to mention the bowing concepts that Bach was fond of using. One of them is ondeggiano (ondulé), where notes that could actually be executed on one string are played on two. When one of the notes falls on an open string, the resultant effect is called bariolage. Bach applied this playing style in the Preludio of Partita III: what we always hear is an implied legato line embedded in a harmonic progression. Mastering the bowing techniques in Bach's masterpiece, the Sei Solo, is a challenge!


Should dynamic range, sonic density and sharpness of articulation be strictly related to the instruments of Bach’s day, or do you see the music as less dependent on the qualities of the original instruments than today's musicologists generally presume?

I've been working with my violin almost every day for more than 60 years to transform my own potential and ideas into living sound on this inexhaustible instrument. The question of the importance of period instruments has always been part of my work. But the 'truth' inherent in Bach's music does not depend on the characteristics of the original instruments; on the contrary, they can even obstruct our own unconditioned response to this universal music. The 'historical' influences in Bach's music also interest me, but the musician's task is, after all, to explore what the music means for us today. (The German word for performer, Interpret, is rather inappropriate in this context.) We cannot use 'period performance practice' to avoid searching, evaluating, thinking and feeling for ourselves. I have to let Bach's universe grow within me by asking what this sound, line or rhythm ultimately means. And that can also be done on today's violins.

  My own instrument is not 'young', but it's in very good condition. Even violins built today are 'historical' in their form and often sound very good. Incidentally, the evolution of the violin bow is just as important for the nature of the violin sound. I play with a slightly earlier bow that is ideal for turning my musical ideas into reality. The bowing arm should be able to translate every nuance of the imagined sound, without commands or discussion. It breathes, speaks, sings, suffers, chooses, and has the sound 'in its hand'. I think that we can go a very long way with our present-day tools.
  The most important thing for the player is that the violin be perfectly adjusted: the bridge must be neither too thick nor too thin, but perfectly positioned between the bass bar and the voice; the strings should precisely suit the instrument; even the chin rest, the fine tuners and the shoulder pad affect the sound. If the instrument is ideally balanced, I can actually bring forth all the sounds in my mind and develop my own Bach sound. That is the true challenge, and it takes a long time to achieve.

  Mentally hearing every chord, every note in all its relations, should be cultivated on the basis of the autograph. This is ultimately what we call 'practicing'. In this sense, criteria such as dynamic range, sonic density and sharpness of articulation are part of the evolutionary process of musical assimilation.
  I had the good fortune to start working with historical keyboard, wind and string instruments at the age of 12, with good preparatory training and a natural rapport. On this basis I was able to incorporate them into the Sei Solo, and I've constantly delved higher, deeper and farther into this universe ever since – a universe we can never really leave in any case! We should also remember that Bach left 'baroque' harmony well behind him and plunged far into chromaticism by constructing his pieces with the BAxCH emblem. His music even has nascent stages of the Tristan chord.
  I think that we musicians need not bother so much with baroque rhetoric or other 'catalogues of rules'. Instead, we should keep our inner and outer ears wide open for the revelations inherent in this timeless music!

  Turning to your question about dynamics, density and sharpness: Bach added very few dynamic marks to his Sei Solo. We find them in the last movement of Sonata II and the Preludio, Bourrée and Gigue of Partita III. They all relate to terrace dynamics.
  Dynamic vitality should adhere closely to the musical structure, which I experience not just in theory but also in my ear. Subtle dynamic gradations can illuminate the part-writing. Not least of all, I have to find a dynamic level suitable to the character of each movement in the set. This search is particularly important for the Ciaccona, where each variation must come into its own while su¬staining the larger line of development. This absolutely must be supported by the dynamics. Similarly, every fugue produces a strong dynamic momentum virtually by itself, though always with a different inner meaning and expression in each case.

  Clarity of articulation is a matter of bowing technique, which basically enacts a complete analysis of the musical text. If I wish to prefer schematic, vague and mechanical playing, the bowing would be nothing more than an unbroken series of upbows and downbows. But if I wish to expand my capability for 'articulation' that can 'speak' – crisp, soft, light, energetic, brutalement (Ysaÿe) or verlöschend ('fading out', Silvestrov) – this is the supremely challenging function of bowing technique. Viewed in this light, it is unimportant whether I work with a 'baroque' bow or a more recent modern bow that can withstand a bit more pressure. The important thing to me is that I know the musical text, with all its secrets, and can turn it into music with my favourite bow.


What's your personal relation to Bach's masterpieces?

My childhood was permeated with the music of Bach. Every year I heard the Christmas Oratorio and the St Matthew Passion with my mother and brother in our church in Eutin. Today I have the feeling that no performances of these masterpieces are more urgent and riveting than those that moved me as a child. When I listen to Bach's Siciliano in the First Sonata today I hear the rhythmic impetus of the Sinfonia from the Christmas Oratorio. And if I now know that the chorale quotation from O Sacred Head Now Wounded is a component part of the Passion Sonata, I have borne this via crucis from the St Matthew Passion within me since childhood as a harrowing memory.
  Barely had my feet touched the ground than I sat in the front row of the concert hall and listened to my mother playing recorder in the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto. When I later played the solo violin part from the same work, this early experience was my musical point of departure.

  My mother was a close friend of the recorder player Ferdinand Konrad and his wife, a harpsichord player. They often came to visit us. I listened to them singing and playing music and learned how diverse and vital 'early' instruments sound when played by masters. Among these was the viol player August Wenzinger, who rehearsed Bach's Art of Fugue in a viol consort with my mother and her friends. I listened during the rehearsals and was transfixed by his playing and his instructions. Again and again they spoke of handling the viol bow with the almost physical sensation of 'air' beneath the horsehair. He demanded light and elegant upbeats and a pellucid timbre. I can still hear his playing today, and in memory of this fine musician I employed his 'airy' bowstroke for the fugue subjects in Sonatas I and III.
  While gathering these impressions I built up my own relation to Bach. I started taking piano lessons at an early age; to a very young child the Inventions are already 'masterpieces'. Soon I had to practice the C-major Prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier and was already turning the page to the first fugue, sensing that fundamental greatness intrinsic to all of Bach’s masterpieces.

  At the age of 12 I enrolled as an underage student at the Lübeck Academy of Music for training in piano, violin and orchestra. Bach was our daily bread in this north-German town, the city of Buxtehude. I don't believe that a single day passed without my studying Bach's music, not only by practicing, but by avidly sight-reading new works. I did this not only by myself, but in a duo with my brother (he played piano or harpsichord to my violin, and I reciprocated to his cello), or in a string quartet or the Academy's orchestra.
  My brother had built an organ for our music room, so I could practice Bach's chorale preludes at home. At that time I definitely wanted to make music with my feet as well, and I was allowed to play on a 'proper' organ in the church where my fellow chamber musicians' father was pastor. The sound it produced left me overwhelmed and has remained central to me ever since.
  I'm speaking at such length about my early contact with Bach because it laid a musical cornerstone for my future critical confrontation with the general reception of his music.
  While I was rehearsing Fanny Mendelssohn's E-flat major String Quartet with my quartet and preparing its première publication I started a 'conversation' with her about Bach – his 'romantic' harmony, his chorale settings and his Well-Tempered Clavier, which she already had firmly in her mind and fingers as an 11-year-old girl. In this way I learned from her Bach!

I could discuss Bach's chromaticism with Max Reger when I studied his 11 solo sonatas (including three chaconnes) and his 14 preludes and fugues for my complete recording. For Reger, Bach was 'the be-all and end-all of music'.
  With my CD series VIOLIN SOLO I launched into intensive 'Bach conversations' with modern composers such as Bartók, Vieru, Bloch, Schnittke, Bacewicz, Denisov and many others. They all had a personal relation to Bach that entered their composing. I didn't have to search for Bach; he touched me directly with his presence. It was as if Bach were alive and always had been.
  These musical experiences entered my preparation of the Sei Solo. I maintained the conversations with all my composer-friends and let Bach decide what his music had to say and signify.


Which musicians past and present have given you substantial inspiration?

First and foremost I'd like to mention my mother in deep gratitude. She introduced me patiently and judiciously to the elementary principles of music from my fourth year. She staunchly promoted and supported my gift not only for music, but also for the visual arts. It was at her suggestion that I played 'period' instruments with her pupils – recorders, krummhorn, zink, dulcian, psalter, even a tromba marina. I was able to sing 'early' music in a chamber chorus, from Heinrich Isaac's Ricercar to Monteverdi's Vespers. I even learned 'ancient' contredances.
  My mother had a cabinet full of sheet music, including the entire classical-romantic literature for string quartet. Together with my brother, I only needed to invite two musically minded friends, and we eagerly sight-read everything we could get our hands on until well into the night.

  My piano teacher Wilhelm Rau helped me to acquire a polished technique and taught me how to learn systematically and critically. I still return to his strictures today, whether in Chopin or Bach. 'Singing' with the keys of a piano is almost more difficult than with a violin bow! He suggested that I invent imaginary colours for chord progressions. We started doing this with a Beethoven sonata. He also invited me to give him critical accounts of concerts I'd heard. I gave him my impressions of the playing of the very young Christoph Eschenbach and a lieder recital by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, a concert of the Musici di Roma and the Berlin Philharmonic under the still young Karajan. He merely grinned when my reports turned out to be highly critical. At some point I wanted to see more of the world, so I transferred to a larger conservatory. The further training I received there on my main instrument, the violin, was very thin gruel and a genuine waste of my time – a lesson in 'how not to do it!'

  I was truly desperate and sought inspiration outside this institution. By word of mouth I learned of a teacher who taught a new approach to violin technique. I began to take private lessons from him, which finally brought me to where I wanted to go with the violin: a complete congruence between the musical idea and its physical realisation on the instrument. Both have to be learned and pursued, over and over again. But Professor Wolfram König gave me the technical foundation I needed to meet all my musical demands. I'm grateful to him for that!

My master classes with the LaSalle Quartet gave me less inspiration than the flawless ensemble playing of the Borodin Quartet. I was naturally swept away primarily by the first violinist, Rostislav Dubinsky. A Haydn quartet, floating aloft so magnificently – and with consummate bowing technique! Anton Webern's Bagatelles, so deeply focused – a new experience of time! And then a Tchaikovsky quartet in every facet of its expression, with accurate yet singing articulation, musical intelligence, abounding in vitality! After the recital I was able to speak to Dubinsky and express my gratitude. He has been present in my mind ever since!
  I'd also like to mention three musicians who made it clear to me what music ought to be: Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. I was able to hear these artists in Munich several times, and every time we – the entire audience – went completely off our rockers! If that's not 'substantial', what is?

  I'm surely not the only violinist to be inspired by singers. The phenomenal Maria Callas held me spellbound even in my youth, and my admiration remains alive today. Think of all we string players can learn from her: maximum intensity of tone, supreme breath control, voluptuous expression in every hue ... the list could go on and on.
No one has captured this singer in words more closely than Ingeborg Bachmann in her Hommage à Maria Callas:

  "...Maria Callas ist kein ‚Stimmwunder‘, sie ist weit davon entfernt, oder sehr nah davon, denn sie ist die einzige Kreatur, die je eine Opernbühne betreten hat. Ein Geschöpf, über das die Boulevardpresse zu schweigen hat, weil jedes seiner Sätze, sein Atemholen, sein Weinen, seine Freude, seine Präzision, seine Lust daran, Kunst zu machen, eine Tragödie, die zu kennen im üblichen Sinn nicht nötig ist, evident sind. Nicht ihre Koloraturen, und sie sind überwältigend, nicht ihre Arien, nicht ihre Partnerschaft allein ist außerordentlich, sondern allein ihr Atemholen, ihr Aussprechen. [---] Sie wird nie vergessen machen, dass es Ich und Du gibt, dass es Schmerz gibt, Freude, sie ist groß im Hass, in der Liebe, in der Zartheit, in der Brutalität, sie ist groß in jedem Ausdruck, und wenn sie ihn verfehlt, was zweifellos nachprüfbar ist in manchen Fällen, ist sie noch immer gescheitert, aber nie klein gewesen. Sie kann einen Ausdruck verfehlen, weil sie weiß, was Ausdruck überhaupt ist. ...
  Sie war, wenn ich an das Märchen erinnern darf, die natürliche Nachtigall dieser Jahre, dieses Jahrhunderts, und die Tränen, die ich geweint habe – ich brauche mich ihrer nicht zu schämen. Es werden soviel unsinnige geweint, aber die Tränen, die der Callas gegolten – sie waren so sinnlos nicht. Sie war das letzte Märchen, die letzte Wirklichkeit, deren ein Zuhörer hofft, teil¬haftig zu werden. [---] Es ist sehr schwer oder sehr leicht, Größe anzuerkennen. Die Callas – ja, wann hat sie gelebt, wann wird sie sterben? –" 5)


What prompted you to use Valentine Silvestrov's Postludium II as an epilogue to Bach's sonatas and partitas? Where do you think Silvestrov's music fits into its historical context and present-day composition?

The first CD in my VIOLIN SOLO series opens with the final bars of the Bach Ciaccona in a gentle fade-in. The sound emerges as if 'from olden times'. Then we hear Reger's op. 117 Chaconne, a 20th-century counterpart that has absorbed Bach's music. The other works in the series likewise have unmistakable ties to Bach. I imagined Bach, in the seventh and final instalment, being 'himself' present in all his grandeur and finding at his side a friend familiar with his music. I investigated a great many contemporary pieces to see if they were suitable for this august role, and decided in favour of Silvestrov's Postludium. It is the second 'Postlude' in a triptych of chamber pieces.
  Yuri Kholopov wrote that 'Russia's musical tradition is rooted in the European tradition. Every musician starts to study music with Beethoven sonatas and Bach fugues'.

  Silvestrov is a Bach connoisseur. Two of his pieces reveal a close relation already in their titles: In memoriam J.S.B. (2004) and Hommage ä J.S.B. (2009). Bach's shade is a constant musical building block throughout Postludium II: major triads in triple whole-tone strands conjure up associations with Bach's Toccata in D minor. Then come 6th chords in whole-tone strings or mingled chains of triads: here too I hear a familiar echo, perhaps wafting from Prelude No. 6 of the Well-Tempered Clavier. From what 'lost era' does Postludium II open with its archaic 5ths, poco rubato, dolce? Is it a canzona da sonar with its characteristic parallel part-writing? Or do I hear, in the muted pianissimo, a barebones texture familiar to me from Webern, as is the floating rhythmic structure? And doesn't the 24th bar touch me with a gentle suggestion of Beethoven's world?

  The unmuted Allegretto clearly alludes to the d"-a' motif from the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth. In Postludium II, this motif flourishes and ebbs away in every dynamic variants, up to and including the softest cadential figure. The result is a vision of a resonant space in which the music of joy has not fallen silent, and where Silvestrov, too, is at home.
  Neither did Schumann ever let go of Bach. Here he is in his own words: 'When I think of the supreme kind of music bequeathed to us by Bach and Beethoven in a number of their works, [I find] poetic depth and novelty everywhere, in the details and in the totality. ... But the deeply structural and poetic side of recent music usually has its origins in Bach.'

  Surely Fanny Mendelssohn would gladly have heard echoes of this 'poetic space' in her Eichendorff settings: '... Are not the colours notes / And the notes bright wings?'
  In Postludium II the relationship between music, poetry and painting is a source of inspiration for rendering the meticulously notated musical text. Meeting the challenge of the infinite shades of piano, while observing such performance instructions as sul tasto, leggiero, senza vibrato, accelerando, ritardando and many more, amounts to a musical steeplechase for the violinist. Unlike in Bach's music, here I had to wait patiently for the notes to come to me, to speak to me in what Silvestrov calls their fragile, 'frail' existence. The bar lines are merely suggested; time is liberated from supercilious metre and redefines itself; the structures are created by durations of rest; small rhythmic figures emerge and vanish. In this silence there is room for 'echoes ... reverberant pauses. The music does not disappear; it continues to resound in the invisible, inaudible space' (Silvestrov).

  In the Allegretto sections the sound is unmuted and the piano grows in dynamic waves to a fortissimo motif. By precisely working out the tempo, dynamic and agogic marks, not to mention the counterpoint with all its intervallic constructs (open 5ths are the piece's constant component), we receive an inwardly growing notion of a new musical reality, or, to quote the composer, a resonant 'semantic overtone'.

  At the end there is a final reminiscence of the opening Andante, a single harmonic, played sul tasto in quadruple piano, a farewell to the Beethoven motif, and the pitch b♭', played sul tasto in triple piano with the extreme desire for a dolcissimo, a sound 'beyond the pale of music' (Silvestrov). Is this pitch a sort of leave-taking, scattering the music into a distant future? Or does it transmute, in the 12 seconds of its fadeout, into something from the past?

Munich, June 2013


Notes
1) Friedhelm Krummacher: Bachs Vokalmusik als Problem der Analyse, Bachforschung und Bachinterpretation heute S.108, Neue Bachgesellschaft Leipzig 1981
2) Alfred Schnittke: Über das Leben und die Musik, Gespräche mit Alexander Iwaschkin S.129, Econ Verlag, München-Düsseldorf 1998
3) Helga Thoene: Cöthener Bach-Hefte 7 S.17, Köthen 1998
4) Günter Hartmann: Die Tonfolge B-A-C-H. Zur Emblematik des Kreuzes im Werk Joh. Seb. Bachs S. 306, Orpheus Verlag, Bonn 1996
5) Ingeborg Bachmann: Hommage à Maria Callas (Entwurf), Werke 1-4, R. Piper & Co. Verlag

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