Sickness and death as tone poems
When death still seems far off, the fascination it holds is often strongest – at least, this was the case for Richard Strauss when he was only 25. His tone poem »Tod und Verklärung« (Death and Transfiguration) takes us to a man’s deathbed. The patient’s fitful pulse seems to dictate the rhythm of the music, which reflects sighs and cries of pain as well as memories of happy times. And yet at its climax, the score soars up to a sweeping motif of release; Strauss gave a vivid description of the end of his composition in a letter: »The moment of death comes closer, the soul departs from the body to find in the eternal universe in consummate form what couldn’t be found here on earth.«
There is a similar level of confidence in Bach’s cantata »Ich habe genug«, which is inspired by the belief in a life after death. It opens with a gentle, swaying tune on the oboe, which is then adopted by the double bass; the verses Bach sets are taken from the Gospel of St Luke: as an old man, Simeon sees the infant Jesus and recognises him as the Redeemer. Now he is finally ready to die. Filled with the certainty of deliverance after death, the last of the three arias ends in lively triple time, full of dance-like grace and virtuoso coloratura.
Mikko Franck, principal conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, interprets the motto of the Hamburg International Music Festival, »War and Peace«, with his choice of programme chiefly as an inner process of a person close to death. Yet the Finnish conductor opens his guest appearance with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra with a work that deals with the impact of a real war: in »The Wound-Dresser« for baritone and chamber orchestra, contemporary composer John Adams sets to music a poem by Walt Whitman about the American Civil War. Baritone Matthias Goerne is the vocal soloist, assuming the role of a doctor at the front who dresses the wounds of the mutilated soldiers.
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester
Matthias Goerne baritone
conductor Mikko Franck
The Wound-Dresser for baritone and orchestra
Johann Sebastian Bach
Ich habe genug, BWV 82
Tod und Verklärung / Symphonic poem for large orchestra, Op. 24
19:00 / Elbphilharmonie, Großer Saal
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra Subscription A
Hamburg International Music Festival