Hyperion Records

Concerto funebre
composer
1939, revised 1959

Recordings
'Hartmann: Concerto funebre' (CDA67547)
Hartmann: Concerto funebre
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67547 
Details
Movement 1: Introduction: Largo
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Allegro di molto
Movement 4: Choral: Langsamer Marsch

Concerto funebre
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By the time Hartmann composed the Concerto funebre in the Autumn of 1939, he had written several notable works including the original version of his first symphony, Versuch eines Requiems (Attempt at a Requiem, on texts by Walt Whitman), the symphonic poem Miserae, the first string quartet and the opera Simplicius Simplicissimus. He seems to have started the concerto in July and continued it through the outbreak of World War II. The work was partly inspired by Hartmann’s feelings about the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia the previous year, and he distilled into it all his feelings of pain for his country and countrymen and his foreboding of the fate that awaited them all. He dedicated it to his four-year-old son Richard, whose fate in the coming times concerned him most of all. As he wrote many years later: ‘The date indicates the underlying character of the work, and the reason I wrote it. The four movements … are played without a break. The chorales at the beginning and end are intended to offer a sign of hope against the desperate situation of thinking people … I wanted to write down everything I thought and felt, and that gave me the form and the melodic style.’

At this stage the work was called Musik der Trauer (Music of mourning), a title that recalls Hindemith’s Trauermusik for viola and strings written three years earlier. There was no question of such a work being performed in Germany at that time, nor had any of Hartmann’s works been heard there during the previous six years; but by this time he had something of an international reputation and contacts with musicians elsewhere in Europe. The premiere took place in Switzerland, in 1940, with the St Gallen Chamber Orchestra, whose leader Karl Neracher was the soloist. The conductor was Ernst Klug, with whom Hartmann had been in correspondence for some years; Klug had aided Hartmann’s brother, also called Richard, who had decided to leave Germany, to find a safe haven in Switzerland. Long after the war, in 1959, Hartmann revised the concerto, and it was only then that it acquired the title Concerto funebre by which it has become generally known.

As Hartmann’s note mentions, the work is cast in four movements, and makes use of chorale melodies. The movements are arranged in two pairs, but played without a break. To this extent it might recall the violin concerto by Alban Berg, but the two works have little else in common apart from their sombre colouring. (In fact the Hindemith Trauermusik, also in four continuous movements and ending with a hymn-tune, may be a closer parallel.) The first movement is essentially an introduction: the melody intoned by the violin, punctuated by brief responses from the strings, is a traditional Hussite chorale, ‘You who are God’s Warriors’, a direct reference to Czechoslovakia. The simplicity of this movement is immediately contradicted by the highly emotional Adagio which follows. Phrases of the chorale are varied here, in a highly chromatic texture, the strings’ dotted rhythms taking on a slow-march character, while the solo instrument’s lament unfolds freely, plaintively, and with increasing eloquence, climaxing in an outcry in the very highest reaches of its register. The violin joins in the strings’ slow-march music to create unanimity in a deeply expressive coda.

The Allegro di molto third movement is a frenetic, highly virtuosic scherzo, like a danse macabre, dominated by hammering quaver rhythms. Hartmann deploys the full resources of his complex, expanded-tonal language from dense polyphony to obsessive ostinati, explosive chords, rapid alternations of arco and pizzicato in both solo and orchestra. The tempo increases to a feverish climax, twice interrupted by a mysterious pianissimo theme in the violin’s low register. The second appearance leads to a short and brilliant unaccompanied cadenza, and the movement concludes with a slow coda, sehr breit (very broad), harking back to the mood of the Adagio. The final movement is entitled ‘Choral’, with the qualification Langsamer Marsch. But the melody, unfolded in a series of serene responses between strings and violin, is a Russian song, variously known as ‘For the Fallen Revolutionaries’ and ‘You fell in Battle’. (Three years previously, Benjamin Britten had used this theme as the basis of his Russian Funeral for brass; eventually Shostakovich would base the third movement of his Symphony No 11 on it.) In the coda the theme melds with reminiscences of the Adagio; all seems to be fading out into silence, but a sudden loud dissonance closes the proceedings in anger.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007

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