Friedrich Cerha: World première in Manchester

Reading time: 3 min. world première Friedrich Cerha

The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester have invited Friedrich Cerha to the most extensive presentation of his music in Great Britain so far. The opening concert kicks off with the world première of the Viennese Kaleidoscope, and a British première, the Concerto for soprano saxophone and orchestra. Also on the programme: Like a Tragicomedy. HK Gruber directs the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra on 19 Oct.

Cerha about his Viennese Kaleidoscope:
My familiarity with the music of the suburban Viennese establishment (also home in their day to Strauss and Lanner) dates back to the time when as a twelve-year-old I used to play second violin in a small ensemble at so-called “academies”, balls and other parties – waltzes, polkas, Viennese songs and numbers from operettas.[nbsp] My Geschwandtner Tänze from 1938 were the first musical results of these experiences. When I began to be interested in folklore from outside Europe in the 1970s, and at the same time read with great pleasure the “Viennese proverbs” of my friend Ernst Kein, I was inspired to turn back to this folk music, which I had been carrying around with me since I was a small child, but had always ignored as a serious composer. So in 1980 – 1982 and 1983 – 85 I wrote my two song cycles for chansonnier and ensemble, which I called the 1st and 2nd Keintate. The title is a play on “cantata”, as in something to sing, and also the name of the lyricist Ernst Kein. The premiere of the 1st Keintate took place in 1983 at the “Metropol” – one of the aforementioned suburban establishments; the captivating chansonnier was HK Gruber, who has performed the pieces a number of times since then.

In 2006 my publisher suggested that I might put together the instrumental numbers to form a short cycle of their own, arranged for small orchestra. I liked the idea and did my best to keep some of the “typically Viennese” aural associations of the original in the concert suite, which I arranged for clarinets, horns, strings, button accordion and percussion. Because the suite seemed to need it, I also integrated two “Viennese songs”.

The musical models sometimes make reference to well-known melodies, but more often simply use the characteristic tone of Viennese folk music. All in all, I did not want to make fun of this music or use it as a “gag”; I took it as a model and then returned to it with a degree of alienation, exaggerating or specifically illustrating certain elements of the style.

Five pieces from the panopticum of this Viennese Kaleidoscope were performed on 25 October 2008 by HK Gruber and the Vienna Philharmonic at the Vienna Konzerthaus; the première of the whole cycle takes place in this concert in Manchester.

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