Notes and Editorial Reviews
SOPHIA – Biography of a Violin Concerto
A film by Jan Schmidt-Garre
In August 2007, Anne-Sophie Mutter premiered Sofia Gubaidulina's 2nd violin concerto in Lucerne with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. Gubaidulina (b. 1931) is one of the world's leading contemporary composers. Her international breakthrough came in 1980 with her 1st violin concerto, Offertorium; ever since, violinists, conductors & orchestras around the world have been eagerly awaiting her 2nd. Commissioned by conductor and arts patron Paul Sacher, it was his wish that the new violin concerto be first performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter. After 15 years, that dream finally came true. The film concentrates on the work in progress and
documents the collaboration between Mutter, Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 56 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 5)
R E V I E W:
SOPHIA: BIOGRAPHY OF A VIOLIN CONCERTO
Anne-Sophie Mutter (vn)
ARTHAUS 101 545 (DVD: 56:10)
Recording staff members make it clear from the beginning that Jan Schmidt-Garre’s documentary tracing Sofia Gubaidulina’s Second Violin Concerto from its genesis to its world premiere performance by Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Lucerne Festival purports to be about the “piece” rather than the composer—hence, perhaps, the movie’s title. Accordingly, performance clips play only an insignificant role: a brief one of Anne-Sophie Mutter playing Bach’s Second Violin Concerto with the Trondheim Soloists, another of Gidon Kremer rehearsing Gubaidulina’s First Concerto, “Offertorium,” with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, several of Mutter going through the solo part at home, later with a pianist in the presence of the composer, then in rehearsal, then in dress rehearsal, and finally at the concert itself (there’s also a snippet from Brahms’s
, which opened the program). As interesting as these may be in themselves, it’s clear that they’ve been included only to further the plot.
The second thread—woven from interviews—that runs through the documentary takes up such topics as the name “Sophia.” It’s Gubaidulina’s first name, Mutter’s second, and the composer makes a great deal of this, ruminating on metaphysical mysteries like the meaning of Sophia, unity, and God (the notes in the box include an interview that develops these themes further). Gubaidulina produces charts and graphs with structures laid out in advance and embellished by squiggles representing musical events. Mathematics pervades this matrix, and she throws around terminology like “Bach numbers” and the (additive) series of Lucas and Fibonacci. Like-minded viewers will no doubt find this fascinating (Bach wasn’t the only composer in his own time to delve into number mysticism—so did Giuseppe Tartini, although some might say after reading his speculations that he actually lost his way in that labyrinth—and plenty of earlier examples come from the Renaissance). Gubaidulina seems to enjoy teasing out the philosophical implications of words, as in the First Concerto, relating its title, “Offertorium,” to the contact of strings and fingers. But in the end, she claims to rely on mathematical exploration in a reaction against simple intuition, and she holds Bach as the archetype of a composer who fuses mathematics with the flow of ideas.
A third strand will perhaps appeal more broadly with its glimpses of the composer, violinist, conductor, and orchestra all encountering the score and its problems in scenes strikingly natural and fresh. Before Mutter has received the score, it seems, we watch Gubaidulina showing her sketches and explaining how she develops ideas. Then Mutter finally receives the score, tries it out, and adds fingerings. She discusses making the “cubes” of ideas flow as a whole. We see the copyist at work on her computer, then Mutter working with an accompanist for the composer. In an ecstatic moment, Gubaidulina exclaims that everything has been understood, absolutely. It’s hard not to be carried along by a joyous outburst like this one. We’re privy to scenes at the orchestra rehearsal, as the musicians—an interviewed oboist, harpsichordist, violist, and pianist among them—discuss fitting their parts into the whole. Gubaidulina sits for a television interview before the concert; then, at last, we watch that concert begin.
For those who have played roles in the creative process, this documentary may be an exercise in nostalgia. For those who haven’t, it should provide an intriguing close-up, perhaps with warts touched up (although one large one remains, which I won’t mention; viewers will find it for themselves) but truthful, nonetheless, it seems to me, from my own experiences with composers. Watching Gubaidulina decide how fast a flute part should be played and Mutter taking up the score for the first time shouldn’t be missed by anyone. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin "In tempus praesens" by Sofia Gubaidulina
Anne-Sophie Mutter (Violin)
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 21st Century
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