Historical connections can sometimes be entertaining. In the scholarly literature, one reads that Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto was dedicated to a Habsburg named Rudolf. This building, the Rudolfinum, was also named for Rudolf. But make no mistake, one Rudolf is not to be confused with the other. Beethoven’s friend was Archduke Rudolf, to whom he also dedicated his great Archduke Trio, Op. 97, while “our” Rudolf was the crown prince seventy years later. Beethoven had given the premieres of all of his piano concertos, but by the time of the Emperor Concerto, he almost could not hear at all, unfortunately, so the part was entrusted to Friedrich Schneider in Leipzig and to Carl Czerny in Vienna. The composition is a culmination of the classical-era instrumental concerto while also throwing the door wide open to Romanticism.
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony concludes a tetralogy through which songs from the cycle The Youth’s Magic Horn run like a common thread. The preceding symphonies work with material from several of the songs, while the Fourth Symphony quotes only one, Das himmlische Leben (Heavenly Life). There are flashes of the song in various forms throughout the symphony, then it finally appears as a whole in the fourth movement. The title Das himmlische Leben comes directly from Mahler, and it captures a child’s idea of heaven. He had originally wanted to use the song in his Third Symphony, which contains quotes of it. Ultimately, however, he made Das himmlische Leben the focal point of his Fourth Symphony, with its breath of heavenly beauty, child-like purity, and deep peace.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op. 73 (“Emperor”)
Symphony No. 4 in G Major
Rudolf Buchbinder is firmly established as one of the world’s foremost pianists and is frequently invited by major orchestras and festivals around the world. His comprehensive repertoire encompasses numerous 20th-century compositions. Rudolf Buchbinder’s emphasis lies in his meticulous study of musical sources. He owns 35 complete editions of Beethoven’s sonatas and has an extensive collection of autograph scores, first editions and original documents. In addition, he possesses copies of the autograph scores and piano parts of both Brahms concertos.
More than 100 recordings document the scope and diversity of Rudolf Buchbinder’s repertoire. Notable recordings to his credit include Haydn’s complete works for piano, which caused a stir and earned him the Grand Prix du Disque, as well as Waltzing Strauss, a CD featuring piano transcriptions. Today Rudolf Buchbinder favours live recordings, a preference which has resulted in a CD with the Brahms piano concertos (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt) and in two DVDs featuring six Mozart concertos with Buchbinder as pianist and conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic at the 2006 Vienna Festwochen. Another live recording of the two Brahms piano concertos, released in 2010, was made together with the Israel Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta.
In May 2011, Rudolf Buchbinder’s performances as pianist and conductor in Beethoven’s five piano concertos at Vienna’s Musikverein together with the Vienna Philharmonic were released on DVD and Blu-ray. In November 2012, Rudolf Buchbinder presented a live recording of Mozart concertos with Concentus Musicus Wien and Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
The interpretation of the “new testament” of the piano repertoire has developed into a core interest for Rudolf Buchbinder. He continues to set standards with his performances of the complete 32 sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven in more than 40 cities, among them Vienna, Munich, Zurich, St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Beijing and Milan. In the 2012/2013 concert season Rudolf Buchbinder performs his entire Beethoven cycle in Berlin.
Throughout the 2010/2011 season he maintained a particularly close cooperation with the Staatskapelle Dresden as the orchestra’s first Artist in Residence. His cycle of all Beethoven piano sonatas at the Semperoper in Dresden was recorded live and released in May 2011 as a CD box by Sony/RCA Red Seal. In 2012 it won the prestigious Echo Klassik Award in the category “Instrumentalist of the Year” and the Choc de l’année 2012.
Rudolf Buchbinder is the founding artistic director of the Grafenegg Music Festival near Vienna, which has quickly gained its rank among the major orchestra festivals in Europe since its foundation in 2007. In his biography Da Capo (which includes an introduction by German music critic Joachim Kaiser), Rudolf Buchbinder offers insights into his life as one of today’s most distinguished pianists.
Music Director and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Semyon Bychkov was born in Leningrad in 1952, immigrated to the United States in 1975, and has been based in Europe since the mid-1980’s. In common with the Orchestra, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the cultures both of the East and the West.
Following his concerts with the Czech Philharmonic in 2013, Bychkov and the Orchestra devised The Tchaikovsky Project, a series of concerts, residencies and studio recordings which allowed them the luxury of exploring Tchaikovsky’s music together. The Tchaikovsky Project launched in autumn 2016 with Deccaʼs release of Symphony No. 6 coupled with the Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture, and was followed a year later with the release of the Manfred Symphony. The Tchaikovsky Project culminates in autumn 2019 with the release of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini, followed by residencies with the Czech Philharmonic in Prague, Tokyo, Paris and Vienna.
In 1989, fourteen years after leaving the former Soviet Union, Bychkov returned to St Petersburg as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, the same year as he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. His international career had taken off several years earlier when a series of high-profile cancellations resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras. In 1997, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, and the following year, Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.
Bychkov conducts the major orchestras and at the major opera houses in the US and Europe. In addition to his title with the Czech Philharmonic, he holds honorary titles with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms, and the Royal Academy of Music with whom the Czech Philharmonic will initiate a series of education initiatives from 2020. He was named "Conductor of the Year" at the 2015 International Opera Awards.
On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. With repertoire that spans four centuries, this season, in addition to his commitments to the Czech Philharmonic which include an extensive tour across Japan and concerts in Russia, China and Spain, Bychkov will conduct the Munich Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw at home and in Germany, as well as performances of Strauss's Elektra in Vienna and Wagner's Tristan und Isolde in London.
Bychkov’s recording career began in 1986 when he was signed by Philips and began a significant collaboration which produced an extensive discography with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings – the result of his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne – include a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Strauss, Mahler, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov, Verdi, Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin was voted BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year in 2010; and his recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic chosen as BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month.
Gustav Mahler completed his Symphony No. 4 in G major in 1900 during the time he served at the Vienna Court Opera. It is scored for a very small orchestra, without trombones and tubas. Although it is quite long, it is actually the shortest of Mahler’s finished symphonies, and unlike the other ones it has a relaxed, cheerful mood.
The symphony starts with a two-stroke “sleigh bell” introduction, followed by a pleasing Mozart- or Haydn-esque rhythmic main theme played by the violin. A secondary lyrical theme has a classically light sound as well. The easy-going character of the first movement is enhanced by naughty parts of woodwind instruments. In the second movement, parodic echoes of Austrian urban folklore are heard. It features a part played by the solo violin whose strings are tuned a whole tone higher than standard, which makes it sound like a fiddle from the streets.
The slow third movement brings about two dreamy themes in the introduction. The first one goes through variations and arrives at the lightened mood of the first movement. Mahler himself said that the third movement “laughs and weeps at the same time”. At the end of this movement, the main theme of the fourth movement is foreshadowed in fortissimo. The song Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life) from the final movement of the symphony dates back to 1892 to Mahler’s time spent in Hamburg. Originally, he intended to use this song, sung by soprano solo, as the final movement of his Third Symphony, and it can also be found in his Das Knaben Wunderhorn cycle. The text about heavenly friends comes from a Bavarian folk song. Orchestral “sleigh bell” interludes, separating individual strophes of the song, are based on the motivic material of the opening two bars of the symphony. After the last strophe of the song, the composition comes to a calm conclusion.
The premiere of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony took place on 25 November 1901 in Munich with the composer as conductor. The audience, aware of Mahler’s inclinations towards monumentality, especially in his Second Symphony, expected another titanic work, and so this composition was received with some embarrassment. Time, however, has more than sufficiently tested the value of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) created five piano concertos, leaving unfinished the sixth one which he began in 1815. He built on Mozart’s legacy and developed it further in the presentation of the solo part; he strived for the unity of thought within movements as well as in their mutual relationship, and expanded the harmonic means. The introduction of Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in E flat major Op. 73 confirms the main key; then comes the orchestral exposition which is repeated in modified harmonies. The whole first movement oscillates between the major and minor keys; the change of moods is supported by a contrast of the thematic material. The second movement anticipates the Romantic period by its meditative lyricism. Its conclusion features the theme of the final movement, which moves from the second movement into the third one without interruption. Formally, it is a sonata rondo with an extensive coda.
Piano Concerto in E flat major was composed in 1809 and completed in February 1810; Beethoven dedicated it to his pupil and patron Archduke Rudolf of Habsburg. That same year the concert was published in London; the epithet Emperor was coined by its English publisher. In 1811 the score was also published by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, where on 28 November 1811 the concerto had its world premiere at the Gewandhaus with the soloist Johann Christian Friedrich Schneider. The Vienna premiere the following year, on 11 February 1812, was performed by another pupil of Beethoven, Carl Czerny. Within a very short time Piano Concerto in E flat major became the most popular of all five piano concertos by Beethoven.
Subscription A, B
Wed–Fri / 6:30 p.m. / Rudolfinum – Suk Hall
Thu–Fri / 6:30 p.m. / Rudolfinum – Suk Hall
Sat / 2 p.m. / Rudolfinum – Suk Hall
Pre-concert talks are offered free of charge as a bonus before the evening concerts of the A, B and C subscription series. They are given by conductors, soloists and members of the Czech Philharmonic, as well as musicologists and music writers who take part in discussions or lectures which will prepare for the evening concert.
They are presented by Eva Hazdrová-Kopecká, Pavel Ryjáček or Petr Kadlec.
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