Notes and Editorial Reviews
The unusual head note encompasses two separate films on this DVD, both directed by Frank Scheffer. Each analyzes one piece of music in great detail, through commentary and rehearsals, and closes with a complete performance. The films are Dutch, but most of the dialogue is in English; subtitles are available in many languages; when English subtitles are chosen, they appear only when another language is being spoken, as when Reinbert de Leeuw rehearses the Netherlands Wind Ensemble.
The chorale referred to in the 1991 Stravinsky film occurs in the finale of his Symphonies of Wind Instruments. In addition to the rehearsals, Robert
Craft discusses the structure of the piece on camera, and an unidentified English narrator does so while de Leeuw examines the score and a clarinetist and oboist cut and shape reeds for their instruments. We learn that every section of the nine-minute work is based on the chorale in some way; Craft refers to it as “variations very thoroughly disguised.” We read the score bar by bar on the screen as we hear it, usually the published score but occasionally a facsimile manuscript or even some unrealized sketches. We see and hear Stravinsky on several occasions, including a brief segment of a Symphonies rehearsal. It is all very informative, but we are overexposed to the first dozen bars of the piece, again and again, by the wind ensemble, on a piano, and even on a harmonium.
The Schoenberg film (the head note honors the film’s title, which uses the German form of his name) goes even deeper into the Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16. Michael Gielen rehearses the Netherlands Philharmonic and sits with us to explain much about Schoenberg, the era (1909), and each individual movement. He shows us how a dissonant chord composed of fourths is made to sound consonant by moving the top note to the bass. He stresses the freedom involved: Having abandoned tonality and all that it implies, the composer was experimenting, looking for some new musical logic to replace it. As he had not yet found the system of 12 tones, this work, especially its final movement, is the freest (from rules) in all music; Gielen tells us that he regards it, along with the 1909
, as the high point in music “at least of this century” (the film was made in 1994). In addition, pianist, musicologist, and theorist Charles Rosen presents his views that Schoenberg’s music is filled with violent emotion; he also plays the op. 11 piano pieces of the same year. Finally, historian Carl E. Schorske, author of
Fin de Siecle Vienna
, connects Schoenberg to Gustav Klimt and Sigmund Freud, delving into the psychological elements behind the music, finding “explosions that go on in the depths of the psyche and in the world of the instinct.” Each movement is covered thoroughly, as we not only follow rehearsals but also examine paintings by Schoenberg and Klimt, who found different forms of order in their common world. Schoenberg appears in a few silent film clips; a rare sequence shows the usually dour-faced composer playing and laughing with some students.
This is superior filmmaking on every level, from the writing to the photography. Video and audio quality are high, but when the disc is played on my laptop computer there is some audio pre-echo, much like tape print-through. The disc has few extras: scene selections and extended previews of three other DVDs. An unusually thorough booklet supplies additional analyses and includes recommended recordings for each composer; I can agree with those for Stravinsky (although an error has Boulez leading the “New York Philharmonia” in
), but the Schoenberg choices strike me as all wrong.
I have learned much about each piece, discovered new facets of Schoenberg’s paintings, and found out why de Leeuw and Gielen are such great musicians. Gielen in particular demonstrates that the conductor’s most important work is done before he faces his musicians. One can only be amazed at this use of the DVD medium. To reverse an old saw: Never in America! Nothing I have seen on video even approaches such erudition; this could be a graduate seminar.
FANFARE: James H. North
Picture Format: 4:3
Sound Format: PCM stereo
Running Time: 104 minutes
Region code: All zones
TV system: NTSC
Languages: English – Français – Deutsch -Español – Nederlands - Japanese Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphonies of Wind Instruments by Igor Stravinsky
Reinbert De Leeuw
Netherlands Wind Ensemble
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1920; France
Pieces (5) for Orchestra, Op. 16 by Arnold Schoenberg
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1909; Vienna, Austria
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