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ClassicsOnline Home » RIHM, W.: Violin and Piano Works (Tianwa Yang, Rimmer)
Wolfgang Rihm is one of the world’s most eminent and prolific composers. His works for violin and piano encompass almost his entire compositional career, from Hekton in 1972 to the solo violin Über die Linie VII in 2006. Each draws on a wide range of influences, from folk-like moments, embedded quotations and dazzlingly virtuosic episodes. They reflect the breadth of Rihm’s various changing styles, which are almost unique in today’s music in marrying contemporary technique with emotionally powerful resonances.
By Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide
Wolfgang Rihm (b. 1952)
Complete Works for Violin and Piano
Wolfgang Rihm was born in Karlsruhe on 13 March 1952. He began composing at the age of eleven, studying with Eugen Werner Velte at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe from 1968–72, then with Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne from 1972–73, and with Klaus Huber at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg from 1973–76. He received an honorary doctorate from the Freie Universität Berlin in 1998. Among his numerous honours are the Preis der Stadt Stuttgart in 1974, Berlin Kunstpreis Stipendium in 1978, a residency at Villa Massimo in Rome from the Deutsche Künstlerakademie for 1979–80 and the Beethoven-Preis der Stadt Bonn in 1981. He was elected to the Akademien der Künste in Berlin, Mannheim and Munich in 1991 and received the Prix de Composition Musical de la Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco in 1997. He was made an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2001 and received the Ernst von Siemens Musikpreis in 2003. He taught at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Karlsruhe from 1973–78 and has been Professor of Composition there since 1985, dividing his time between Karlsruhe and Berlin.
Among the most prolific of present-day composers, Rihm has amassed a catalogue of over 400 works which takes in all of the major musical genres—including opera (in both chamber and full-length guises), orchestra (many of which fall into titled or numbered sequences of related pieces), chamber ensemble (including a dozen numbered string quartets) and solo instruments. Although his formative pieces denote the influence of the European avant-garde from the post-war era, he has never repudiated the musical past: some of his first mature works make unmistakable allusion to an Austro-German late Romanticism then enjoying renewed acceptance, while his subsequent music draws upon the fullest extent of that tradition—however indirectly or obliquely. These qualities can be discerned in the music for violin and piano, and for solo violin, that features on this disc—an output that encompasses almost the entirety of his composing career as well as providing an overview of his varied stylistic thinking. Contemporary without being self-consciously ‘modern’, while making a relatively infrequent recourse to novel or unorthodox playing techniques, these works are free in their evolution while lacking nothing in formal logic or expressive consistency—making for music as cohesive as it is thought-provoking.
Written during 1993/94, Phantom und Eskapade was a commission from the Paul Sacher Foundation and is dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mutter, though given its première by the violinist Ulf Hoelscher with the pianist Siegfried Mauser at Schloss Johannisberg in Germany on 1 July 1996. The title may suggest speculative qualities, while the subtitle ‘Stückphantasien’ (Pieces of Fantasy) draws attention to the work’s multivalent sequence of individual episodes which coalesce into an overall piece as if in spite of themselves. As so often in the composer’s more recent output, however, the music’s seemingly random connections conceal a purposeful approach to unity as much to do with force of personality as with motivic integration. Abrupt gestures from the piano usher in a long-held violin line, the two instruments continuing in a ruminative dialogue until the return of the initial gestures launches a brief but passionate exchange that returns to the manner of the previous music. A more resolute passage then contrasts eloquent violin writing with incisive piano chords, presaging a headlong interplay before regaining its earlier poise and building steadily yet purposefully on these elements to what is the most sustained music of the whole piece—its robust and folk-inflected manner in turn subsiding to a more inward expression. From here, fragmentary aspects from earlier in the piece are touched on as the work heads towards its questioning close.
Among the earliest of Rihm’s published works, Hekton (the title makes reference to scenic gestures such as can be only be realized in live performance) was composed in 1972 and first performed on 5 December that year at a Musica Viva concert in Lenbachhaus, Munich by the violinist János Négyesy with the pianist Cornelius Cardew. The piece actually consists of two interdependent pieces, and it is the formal as well as the expressive tension that is created between them which determines the trajectory of the composition as a whole. Capricious gestures from the violin alongside hammered chords from the piano set up the basic premises of Hekton I, which unfolds as a fractious dialogue in which occasional recourse is made to the inside of the latter instrument along with an unusual variety of playing techniques for the former. Hekton II, which then follows without a pause, is more expansive in its manner though no less visceral in its content—with strenuous passagework from the violin that propels the piece with unceasing impetus to its unresolved conclusion.
Written during 1992/93, Antlitz (Countenance or Visage) was a commission by the Cologne Philharmonic and had its première in Cologne on 9 May with the violinist Thomas Zehetmair and pianist Siegfried Mauser (to which musicians the piece is also dedicated). The subtitle ‘Zeichnung’ translates as ‘drawing’ but also ‘portrayal’ or ‘depiction’, which terms provide an overview of its content. It opens with raptly inward exchanges between the instruments, the music gradually opening-out in terms of its expressive and dynamic range, and to a degree which essentially determines the work’s overall evolution. At length the music returns to its initial fragmentation, and on to a close where its elements are held in inscrutable accord.
Originally composed as early as 1969 and first performed as Violinsonate, the piece in question was revised in 1971 as Duosonate and again in 1975 as Eine Violinsonate. Such changes indicate something of the differences in conception behind a work that, while it may not approximate to a violin sonata in the traditional sense of the term, follows in that lineage in many subtle particulars (in a manner akin to the three numbered symphonies Rihm composed during the same period). Sustained writing for violin near the top of its register is belatedly joined by piano, its trenchant chords punctuating the dialogue before it becomes more impetuous and begins to allude to archetypal gestures from across the history of the duo medium. Around the mid-point of the piece, the violin repeatedly focusses on a single note—in turn goading the piano into a headlong motion which presently subsides to leave sparse violin gestures offset by quiet piano chords. Although the music regains something of its earlier impetus, the dialogue remains largely subdued through to its peremptory close.
Written in 2006 to a commission from the Alten Oper Frankfurt for the Auftakt 2007 festival, Über die Linie VII was given its première by Carolin Widmann (to whom the piece is dedicated) at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt on 15 September 2007. Unfolding with seeming spontaneity, the piece none the less makes various allusions to earlier works for the solo violin medium. It gets underway with a calmly unfolding melodic line which soon touches upon an overtly expressive vein as it gradually intensifies in manner, paralleled by the frequent recourse to multi-stopping together with other unmistakable facets of the violin ‘tradition’. What unfolds is a sustained discourse whose numerous emotional peaks arise naturally out then merge back into the cumulative whole, all of which is effected without appreciable breaks in the music’s continuity. The latter stages bring this inherently personal approach to its climax, with the violin being called upon to engage in a high degree of emotional rhetoric prior to withdrawing into the relative introspection with which the work (nearly) ends.
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