Out of Chaos
Robin Ticciati and the London Philharmonic Orchestra present a concert that pairs songs by Mahler and music by French Baroque composer Rebel with Dvořák’s glorious 8th Symphony.
On 2 July 2021 Robin Ticciati and the London Philharmonic Orchestra will present a concert that pairs songs by Mahler and music by French Baroque composer Rebel with Dvořák’s glorious 8th Symphony.
Below you can find out more about each of the works that they will be performing.
Don’t forget that if you can’t make it to the concerts in person, you can watch online via Marquee TV. This concert will be available from 4 July. Find out how to buy a season pass.
‘I have risked opening with all the notes sounding together, or rather, all the notes in an octave played as a single sound…’
The dissonant opening of Rebel’s ‘choreographed symphony’ Lés Eleméns is as arresting as any ever composed: an arm-on-the-keyboard cluster of tones that comes as close to musical chaos as the French composer dared in 1738.
After this vivid picture of primordial confusion however, baroque order is soon re-established in a sequence contemporaries admired for its ‘wisdom, taste and tenderness’ combining the traditional French dances – a graceful chaconne, a bucolic rondeau, a strutting loure – with programmatic touches suggesting the different elements. Fire burns (decorously) while birds sing in the open air and rivulets of water flow.
Nature – raw and elemental in the Rebel – is a more consoling force in Mahler’s orchestral song-cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, present in the broad musical vistas and birdsong of ‘Ging heut’ Morgen übers feld’ (I went over the fields this morning), and the Linden tree of ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ (The two blue eyes) where Mahler’s narrator – like the narrator of Schubert’s Winterreise before him – rests and finds comfort.
There are many parallels between the two disappointed lovers, but where Schubert’s hero succumbs to bitterness, desperation and possibly even suicide on his cold, nighttime wanderings, Mahler’s young journeyman is travelling in a spring landscape full of life and renewal. By the end of the final song pain, if not fully abated, seems to have ebbed, giving way gradually to the realisation that, ‘All was well once more’.
The cycle opens with the hero at odds with his environment. He imagines his beloved marrying another man, while orchestral interventions insist on breaking into his lament with a sprightly little theme. Birdsong briefly distracts the speaker, but soon the sadness returns. Walking song ‘Ging heut’ Morgen’ strides out in a surging folksong-like melody, urged on by rustling, inviting strings. All is beautiful and blooming; only the lover cannot share in its joys.
Grief turns to violence in the stormy song that follows, pain transformed into a hot knife that cuts deep into the lover’s heart. His emotional ‘death’ is picked up in the funeral march that opens the final song, but the minor key is gradually tinged with major, and like the snowy Linden blossom covering the traveller, it conceals – even if it cannot erase – what lies beneath.
Echoing the unearthly sounds that open the Rebel, Czech composer Ondřej Adámek’s Sinuous Voices also grows out of the unfamiliar. Unlike the earlier work, however, it refuses to leave this sonic no man’s land, using its instrumental forces to generate striking new textures and effects – a cluster of voices and human outpourings without a single singer.
An ensemble including harp, piano, bass flute, percussion and strings takes us from a thrumming near-silence into a frenzied, battering maelstrom of sound that reaches a series of convulsive climaxes before we’re returned once again to silence.
It’s an arc full of sensation, translating both an old Bohemian prayer and a New Caledonian lullaby into instrumental writing, amplifying not only the original melodies and utterances but also their atmosphere, acoustic and emotion. The effect is disorienting, as you struggle to relate sound to its source, but also cathartic – a primal, pre-verbal release that sweeps you up in its ferocious energy.
If the Fourth Symphony is Mahler’s ‘Pastoral’, then the Eighth is Dvořák’s – a work teeming with new creative life and the colours of the Bohemian countryside. As the composer’s biographer Hanz-Hubert Schonzeler writes: ‘When one walks in those forests surrounding Dvořák’s country home on a sunny summer’s day, with the birds singing and the leaves of trees rustling in a gentle breeze, one can virtually hear the music.’
With this work – the first symphony after a gap of several years – Dvořák was determined to produce a piece ‘different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way.’ This new way was noticeably freer, more pictorial than the earlier symphonies, anticipating the tone poems of his later career – symphonies overflowing with melodic invention. As Janáček expressed it, ‘You’ve scarcely got to know one figure before a second one beckons with a friendly nod, so you’re in a state of constant but pleasurable excitement.’
The symphony opens, unexpectedly, not in the home key of G major but the cooler G minor. A cheeky flute solo soon interrupts the sober chorale, and while it returns again through the movement, there’s no stopping the giddy momentum of this Allegro con brio.
The musical drama continues to pivot around major and minor in the Adagio – a serene, bucolic scene troubled by occasional squalls – a light shower? A gust of wind? – but always returning to sunshine, glowing in moments of glorious brass intervention.
There’s a folk-flavoured colour to the third movement – not a scherzo but a waltzing Allegretto grazioso. Its bittersweet quality is balanced by a trio drawing on a theme from Dvořák’s comic opera The Stubborn Lovers.
A trumpet fanfare signals that we’ve turned for home at the start of the finale. A warm theme introduced by the cellos becomes the germ of the whole movement, transformed into a series of variations that show off all the colours of Dvořák’s orchestra, before the symphony closes with an irrepressible coda.
Written by Alexandra Coghlan, Glyndebourne’s opera content specialist
Image credits: LPO concert rehearsals, photos by Richard Hubert Smith