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Without Paul Sacher, one could succinctly say, the history of music in the 20th century would look very different. In 1926, the Swiss conductor and patron of music founded the Basle Chamber Orchestra to perform new music and, in 1933, the renowned Schola Cantorum Basiliensis as a teaching and research centre for ancient music; but most importantly he commissioned more than 100 compositions and led over 200 world premieres during his active musical life. The most important of these, created at his instigation, include Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Corale by Luciano Berio, Paul Hindemith’s symphony Die Harmonie der Welt, Arthur Honegger’s Second and Fourth Symphonies, Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto en re and the Metamorphosen by Richard Strauss, as well as works by Boris Blacher, Richard Rodney Bennett, Alfredo Casella, Ernst Krenek, Rolf Liebermann and Sir Michael Tippett.
Paul Sacher turned 70 in 1976; for the occasion, Mstislav Rostropovich asked 12 renowned contemporary composers to write a piece for violoncello. Messagesquisse [“Sketched Message”] for solo cello and six violoncellos is the work Boulez contributed to congratulating Sacher. He added a foreword to the score to express his intentions:
Messages are often secretly hidden
Music has this advantage:
It dispenses with words,
The messages are essentially personal,
decoded by everyone according to the time.
A cipher – symbolic (reduced)
Notes – symbolic (multiplied)
Rhythms – symbolic (split up)
in order to add a certain number of messages, diverse, divergent,
in order thus to let some emotions to pass by, certainly not symbolic ones.
The violoncello is the instrument of choice,
able to reflect itself,
able to grow out of itself.
Is a conductor necessary?
Perhaps, to gain time – as always!
Only the metronome marks are missing, but who cares about the Possible when one wants the Impossible?
Is just as much testimony as it is a message …
Testimony to the cordial bonds made over all the years
by you to me
With deep and faithful affection.
Salzburg Easter Festival 2001