12 NOVEMBER 1965, Page 17




NOTHER chunk of flotsam is home, dry and rehabilitated. It turns out, as Moses and Aaron did, to be one of the monuments of the 6: century. In the case of Moses and Aaron one-third of the monument is missing; in the case of Die Jakobsleiter half. Even half a monument can make petits mitres look like termites.

On the eve of 1914,, when right-minded men were busy with syndicalism, empire, dread- noughts and gold, Arnold Schoenberg had the archaic effrontery to bother about God and prayer. Picking notions and texts from the testaments, Swedenborg, Balzac, Strindberg and others, he wrote an oratorio text on man's ts,,orted torments and revolts and on the Angel Ci.thriel's efforts to knock some sense into man's head. The libretto is in two sections. Mostly during the Kaiser's war and, for the rest, in fits and starts up to 1944, he set Section I for eight solo voices, choirs and symphony orchestra. In roughly equal part the soloists and choirs either sing according to conventional notation or do Sprechstimme recitations, Why Schoenberg failed to write music for Section I is an unresolved mystery, like his abandoning Act 3 of Moses and Aaron. Did he, like his own Moses (Act 2), find the ultimate challenge crushing? Was God too much for Schoenberg the artist-philosopher? All I can say is that in both' the opera and the oratorio there is no sign of a musical falling-away, or dis- illusionment, or slckening fervour.

Completed as to its scoring by one of Schoen- berg's pupils, Die Jakobsleiter had its first per- formance in Vienna four years ago and, thanks to the BBC, reached the Festival Hall this week in a production conducted by Erich Schmid Which, heard twice (including the final rehearsal), struck me as on a par with Schoenberg's con- ception—a considerable compliment to pay. Only one thing I couldn't make much of. That was the rhythmic declamation and counter- declamation of the Zurich Speaking Choir at the start, a performance, very accurate I have no doubt, that involved wails, gnashed syllables and what sounded like the cheers of a distant football crowd. Were we really expected to get their drift ('.e, that it's hell being human) against other sounds that were going on?

It was the following episode, a sequence of Polyphonies by three conflicting groups drawn from the BBC Chorus, that put us definitively on the Schoenbergian rails. The towering out- lines of melody and counter-melody hereabouts, like the sinking of the women's voices at the end into `nostaglia mud,' anticipate the muscu-

lature of Moses and Aaron and one of its musico-dramatic values by anything up to fifteen years. In its interlqdes and accompani- ments, the orchestra (in this case the London Symphony), on the other hand, is sometimes of earlier provenance, with' echoes from the Five Orchestral Pieces and harmonic leniencies' of a sort that Wozzeck popularised.

But the core and didactic purpose of Die Jakobsleiter as it stands arc the 'confessions,' heard and adjudicated upon by Gabriel, from

six bewildered and raging souls. Among these there were three performances that stood out from the rest, mainly because the roles involved have exceptional bite and power. I am thinking

first of how impetuously Joseph Ward flung his tenor into the Monk's laments and of vast con- comitant tumults among strings and brass. Second, of the agonised bitterness with which Gerald English (The Protester, a Sprechsiimme part) exclaimed against a God who points one way through the Commandments, and another way through the human instincts. Third, of use Hollweg who, as The Dying One, spoke' syl- lables that already seemed muffled by the grave. The orchestra here was at first fragmentary and laconic, then clothed itself in shadow and trembled at the touch of ice.

Although they didn't have quite the same chances, the other three soloists—Robert Tear, John Shirley-Quirk and Otakar Kraus—can be praised in much the same vein. The point is that all six brought passion, insight and every external sign of belief to a score which isn't for the lukewarm on either side of the platform rail. Incidentally, some of the solo voices came a little better over the air' than they had done in the hall at rehearsal ten hours earlier.

During the week before Die Jakobsleiter the Festival Hall heard eight other twentieth- century pieces. Three, including the Five Orchestral Pieces cited above, will bear men- tioning in the same breath. The other two, both by Stravinsky—the Symphony in C (1940) and the Variations on the Chorale Von Himmel hoch (1956)—were performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (with the help of the LSO Chorus in the second case) at a concert con- ducted by Aaron Copland. After the interval Mr. Copland gave us four pieces of his own. Like everybody else, I find Mr. Copland's more ambitious music astonishingly lucid, natty, craftsmanlike and up-to-the-minute for its period. Also I find most of it empty. His Short Symphony (1933) and his Statements (1935) for orchestra reminded me in the main of music that I sometimes hear in dreams: stuff I've never heard before but understand on the dot, with ruthless clarity. Since I'm subconsciously com- posing it as I go along this isn't in the least surprising. I must say I'm never really sorry when I wake up.

Mr. Copland rounded off the night with two choruses from his opera The Tender Land (1954)—just the thing for a Saturday night pop

Max von Sydow

but an affront to ears still seized of the sublime end-harmonies to the Stravinsky Symphony in C. Once a page of this latter kind lodges in the ear it is not readily syringed out. The same may be said of the neo-Bachian counterpoint of the Chorale variations, in which bland mid- eighteenth-century formulae are discreetly salted with Stravinsky's harmonic idioms. What Mr. Copland gave us in effect was two concerts in one. There can be no doubt which concert pleased the more. After the Tender Land choruses the crowd took him to their bosom. Can it be that the Stravinsky pieces had bored them a bit?

My eighth 'contemporary' piece is Hans Werner Henze's Symphony No. 5 (1962), which Christopher Dohnanyi, grandson of the late Ernst von, conducted with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. On this work I reserve judgment, though I was sufficiently impressed to follow up the concert with a tape-and-score session. Into fifteen minutes Henze has packed racy velocities and deliciously calculated sounds that are for connoisseur reading as well as hearing. My big doubt is about the bass flute, viola and cor anglais solos in the Adagio. These have the same general shape: they lope around in triplets, take jumps of up to two octaves plus, and mean little or nothing as tunes.