"Funèbre" marks the beginning of a long-term collaboration between ECM Records and the Münchener Kammerorchester, an orchestra whose already impressive international reputation has soared in recent years, thanks to the inspired direction of conductor Christoph Poppen.
For the first recording in this new association, the release of which coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Münchener Kammerorchester, the orchestra and producer Manfred Eicher focus upon the work of one of the most important and independently minded German composers of the 20th century, Karl Amadeus Hartmann. (Parenthetically, it might be noted that this marks the first time in its 30 year history that the Munich-based ECM label has explored the works of a composer from Munich with a Munich-based ensemble). "Funèbre" embraces two of Hartmann's most well-known works which bridge the epochs of the Late Romantic and the Modern, as well as a premiere recording of his Cham-ber Concerto for clarinet, string quartet and orchestra.
Hartmann (1905-63), a rebellious and anarchistic spirit from the beginning, fought with his professors at the Munich academy, including Reger disciple Josef Haas, who tried to discourage the fledgling composer's enthusiasm for Stravinsky, Bartók, jazz, and Expressionism. By 1928 Hartmann (later to found the history-making Musica Viva concert series in Munich) was going his own way, strongly supported by conductor Hermann Scherchen, organizing a series of chamber concerts linked to the art exhibitions held by the Juryfreien, a Munich-based group of radical anti-Establishment artists. By the early 1930s, Hartmann was composing prolifically and moving beyond the influence of Hindemith, one of many composers he had actively promoted, and was beginning to write pure orchestral music in the grand manner and in a tone all his own.
When Hitler came to power, however, Hartmann made the unusual move of banning his own music from public performance in Germany, an act of solidarity with persecuted fellow composers. As music historian Guy Rickarts has written: "The accession of Nazi tyranny had coincided with an expansion in scale and maturity in Hartmann's music. He could easily have taken advantage of the vacuum left by the departure of so many composers and secured his own reputation. Instead, he opted for 'internal emigration', withdrawing altogether from German musical life and banning his music from perform-ance inside the German Reich. "His works were played only abroad. "At home, he provoked the Authorities as far as he dared....In due course Hartmann's music was branded 'atonal' and 'degener-ate'."
The Chamber Concerto for Clarinet, String Quartet and String Orchestra was begun in 1930 and com-pleted in 1935 but had to wait until 1969, six years after Hartmann's death for its first performance. The Concerto funèbre, written in protest against the political treachery that had pitched Europe to-wards an inevitable war, was originally titled Musik der Trauer (Music of Mourning): "To make his point explicit Hartmann wove into the fabric of this work allusions to the hymn tunes of the medieval Czech Hussites - a reference to the betrayal of Czechoslovakia in 1938 - and a Russian revolutionary song later used by Shostakovich in his Eleventh Symphony. "The work under its original title was first performed in St Gallen, Switzerland, in 1940. It was revised as Concerto funèbre in 1959.
Anton von Webern's biographer Hans Moldenhauer records that "at a time when the tidal wave of political nationalism swept his native country, Karl Amadeus Hartmann was one of the first to profess a pacifist creed and to engage in underground resistance against the Hitler regime."
From 1942, Hartmann studied with Webern - and fought with him as well, until he learned how to steer conversation away from politics (Webern still held, almost unaccountably, to right-wing convic-tions) and to benefit from Webern's compositional brilliance and fierce self-discipline. "In the end you could say that not only did I learn a great deal about composing from Webern but that due to him I became a more orderly person" (Hartmann in a letter to his wife).
In the liner notes for "Funèbre", Wolfgang Sandner writes, "Hartman spoke at once with reverence and self-confidence when he mentioned the lessons he had received from Webern: lessons in broken silence. He knew how important painstaking serial analysis was to him as a means of curbing his strong anarchistic tendency. He pored over Webern's Piano Variations op. 27, studying them down to the tiniest structural element, exploring the density of the structural coherence."
Whatever he took from Webern, however, he transformed. There are no stylistic borrowings. Hartmann's 4th Symphony is one of very few of his works in which Webern's influence is evident, and it employs themes with twelve-note properties. They are, however, freely and expressively integrated into the work as a whole; Hartmann had very little in common with the slide-rule serialists who would later define the new orthodoxy of Darmstadt and its "Vatican-like attitude of avant-garde infallibility" (to quote Guy Rickards). Indeed, the post-war experimental faction, while happy to enjoy Hartmann's patronage as Musica Viva administrator, had scant regard for his writing.
Finnish composer Paavo Heininen, who studied in Cologne in 1961 has recalled, "Practically nobody ever mentioned Hartmann at that time. I was an eager collector of recordings of radio broadcasts of the many German networks, but my harvest of Hartmann was very meagre. That was the time of the most ardent serialism, and I remember the name of Hartmann mentioned just once, on the occasion of the performance of a symphony, which was described as 'not so bad'. I preferred not to mention my great enthusiasm."
Too tonal and "romantic" for the unbending serialists, too challenging for what was left of the main-stream German concert audience, Hartmann's music remained underexposed and undervalued for too long in his homeland.
In recent years, however, Karl Amadeus Hartmann's work has been re-evaluated and his position as a composer outside all of the "schools" has been rightly viewed as a sign of his artistic strength and integrity.
The Münchener Kammerorchester was founded by Christoph Stepp in 1950, and it was taken over by conductor and composer Hans Stadlmaier in 1956. Christoph Poppen has been the orchestra's artistic director since 1995. The orchestra gives about 70 concerts per year, works with numerous leading soloists and conductors, undertakes concert tours all over the world and appears regularly at important festivals including the Rheingau Musik Festival, the Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival, the Würzburger Mozartfest, the Janacek-Festival Ostrava, the Musikfestival Kreuth, the Bonner Beethovenfest, the Richard-Strauss-Tage Garmisch and the Klangspuren Schwaz. The orchestra has also gained a great deal of operatic experience in recent years when taking part in the Munich Biennale - for example with highly successful premières of Tan Dun's "Marco Polo" and Chaya Czernowin's "Pnima…Ins Innere".
The Münchener Kammerorchester has been awarded three prizes by the Ernst-von-Siemens Founda-tion since 1995. In 1998 it received the European Culture Prize for Music and in 2000 - for the or-chestra's concert programmes, "which show a successful balance between fostering tradition and commitment to New Music", and diminish the public's "fear of engaging with the new" - the City of Munich's Music Prize. As well as being wholeheartedly committed to contemporary music, the Münchener Kammerorchester fosters tradition in the best sense by responsible interpretation of older music within a historical perspective that relates to the present.
Christoph Poppen, born in Münster in 1956, has made a name for himself in the world of international music as a conductor, soloist, chamber musician and as a teacher. Poppen won numerous national and international violin competitions and founded the Cherubini Quartet in 1978, with which he won the Grand Prix at the International String Quartet competition in 1981, playing as first violinist. Concerts on all the world's most important platforms followed, also as soloist with major orchestras and con-ductors.
As conductor, he was artistic director of the Detmolder Kammerorchester from 1988 to 1995, before moving to the same post with the Münchener Kammerorchester in 1995. He gave the Munich orches-tra a new profile almost immediately - not least as a result of his careful and thoughtful approach to programme planning. As guest conductor he has worked with orchestras including the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin, the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken, the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, the Ostbottnisches Kammerorchester, the Kanazawa Symphony Orchestra and the Radio Kamerorkest Hilversum.
Violinist Isabelle Faust was born in Esslingen am Neckar in 1972, and is one of the outstanding artists of her generation; she has undertaken a large number of concert tours in recent years, involving Europe, Israel, Japan and the United States. Her teachers have included Dénes Zsigmondy and Christoph Poppen. Isabelle Faust one 1st prize in the "International Leopold Mozart Competition" in Augsburg in 1987, when she was only 15 years old. In 1993 she won the "Premio Paganini" in Genoa, and the British magazine "Gramophone" made her its "Young Artist of the Year" in 1997.Isabelle Faust has played with many distinguished orchestras including the Hamburger Philharmoniker under Sir Yehudi Menuhin, the Stuttgart, Cologne, Leipzig and Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Or-chestras and, the Münchener Kammerorchester, the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, the Deutsche Kam-merphilharmonie Bremen, the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. As well as her solo work, she has devoted herself intensively to chamber music. Isabelle Faust plays the "Dornröschen" (Sleeping Beauty) Stradivarius dating from 1704.
Paul Meyer was born in Mulhouse in Alsace in 1965. He played his début concert with the Orchestre Symphonique du Rhin at the age of 13 and graduated from the Paris Conservatoire and the Basel Mu-sikhochschule at the age of 17. His prizes included the 1st prize in the "Young Concerts Artists" com-petition in the USA in 1984, and gave several concerts in New York as part of this. He attracted the attention of Benny Goodman while he was there, and his musical influence has played a major role in Paul Meyer's life since then. Meyer has appeared on numerous occasions with major European, American, Asian and Australian orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Orchestra di Santa Cecilia, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sinfonia Varsovia, under conductors like Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kent Nagano, Günther Herbig and David Zinman. His contemporary repertoire includes important pieces by Pierre Boulez and Hans Werner Henze; Krzysztof Penderecki and Luciano Berio have composed concertante works specially for him.Meyer also organizes two annual music festivals in France, in Chalon-sur-Champagne and Salon-de-Provence.
The Petersen Quartet was founded by students of the "Hans Eisler" Hochschule für Musik in East Berlin in 1979. Its members have since held important solo posts in distinguished orchestras in Berlin and Leipzig, but then turned exclusively to quartet playing. Since then the quartet has won many prizes, including the 2nd prize in the 1985 Evian competition, the 1st prize in the International Chamber Music Competition in Florence in 1986 and 2nd prize in the ARD Music Competition in Munich in 1987. Their mentors include the Amadeus Quartet, Thomas Brandis, Sándor Végh and Rudolf Koeckert. The have recorded numerous CDs of the classical and Romantic repertoire, but also works by Erwin Schulhoff, Pavel Haas, Boris Blacher and Henri Dutilleux; several of these recordings won international awards like the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik and the Prix de l'Académie Charles Cros.
CD package includes 32 page 3-language booklet with liner notes by Wolfgang Sandner and Michael Zwenzner