Since my schooldays, my heart has beaten faster at the thought of the French Revolution (1789 to 1799) and its ideas and consequences. The famous slogan Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité – freedom, equality, brotherhood – fascinated me, like many others – it touched the depths of my soul. A logical extension of these ideals was the Paris Commune of 1871 – Commune de Paris – with its barricades and battles. The drama of the commune and the mass executions which followed shook me to the core. For a long time I have felt an urgent desire to explore these ideas in music. The approaching 100th anniversary of the Paris Commune in 1970 seemed a good opportunity to do so. Thus I decided to seize the opportunity in the form of a violin concerto.
When I began to write this violin concerto, I had already collected a considerable amount of material – but the range of this material was too large to be encompassed in a single piece, musically, dramaturgically or aesthetically. But this multifaceted collection of ideas and images still seemed valuable to me. As the work continued, the solution became clear: a trilogy of concertos.
In this way, the greater part of my initial idea about the Paris Commune became concentrated in the final part of the trilogy. This part – the third concerto – was completed in 1972. The tension and drama of the piece were also inspired by Brecht's statement that “this is a time for trumpets rather than violins“. In this piece, the stronger qualities of the violin come to the fore.
I wanted to start the trilogy Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité with a literal and metaphorical bang: my first thought was to use a cannon shot (or three shots). However, I soon realised that this would be difficult to put into practice in a concert hall. As an alternative, I wanted to replace the cannon shots with pistol shots. But in the well-behaved social atmosphere of the former East Germany, that would probably also have been impractical. In the end, these thundering cannon-shots were sublimated into a triplet in the solo violin - Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. This initial triplet played a decisive role in the conception of the material and the compositional work which followed. It was an impulse for the rhythmic flow of the creative process. The musical material was explored and expanded by the two equal partners – the solo violin and the orchestra – moving through a range of varied characteristics from autonomy to mutual dependence. The resulting musical dualism between the solo instrument with its flexible, advanced musical language and the more traditional orchestra – almost polar opposites – is a distinctive feature of this concerto. This dualistic way of thinking confronts us in the structural form of the parts of both solo and orchestral protagonists. Architectonically it determines the whole structure, along with the musical and dramaturgical development of the composition. As they both share the same inspiration, the two modes of expression meet each other in an almost “bilingual“ conversation, even exchanging verbal elements – from relations to opposites – between each other.
This work is not determined by a balance of formal classical proportions, but rather by a “dynamic balance as a rhythm of pure interdependency“, as Piet Mondrian puts it. The dualistic principle explored in this concerto remained significant in my further work, and indeed for my ideas in general, in a number of ways. For example, a movement away from the axiomatic “either-or“ dichotomy, replaced by the “both-and“ of the modern thought of our age, with its hints of old Eastern wisdom. This leads seamlessly to a pluralistic way of thinking.
The motor-driven dynamic of this piece – which appears in various forms in many of my works, and which is not only a reflection on our dynamic age, but also has roots in Balkan folklore – and the build-up of its series of suspenseful layers, starting with the initial semiquaver triplets, a “bundle of energy“, as if developed from a nucleus, required a compact presentation, and thus became a single movement. Thus a freely developed sonata-allegro movement was formed. At the same time, I reject the formal structure of the sonata-allegro, a symbolic rejection of all such relics of form and thought, which will have significant repercussions for my further compositional work. Shortly after the start of a quasi-reprise, the solo violin seizes the moment for a declamatory “speech“. This section, like the rest of the concerto, demands the highest level of instrumental and musical skill – but it is not merely a cadence to showcase simple virtuosity, but a fundamental part of the architecture of the whole piece, with an overarching dramaturgical function. The final part of the concerto is built on sonic deconstruction, on parting and dissolution, sinking into the depths, remembering nothing – in order to reassess and discover new ways to re-emerge...
*) The three parts, with their different visions and characters, are to be considered as separate works. However, they can also be performed in sequence as a cycle – a challenge for an exceptional soloist. (from the programme of the premiere at the Berliner Philharmonik).