Koncerter · Symfoni nr. 8
Koncerter · Symfoni nr. 8
This album presents a glimpse of Paul von Klenau’s vast collection of music created during the Second World War when he produced works, almost obsessively, until his passing in 1946. The album includes world premiere recordings of Klenau’s Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 8, showcasing his mastery of both tonal and atonal sonorities, his distinctive introspective style, and his exceptional talent for venturing into uncharted musical realms.
Lights in the Twilight
By Steen Chr. Steensen
Paul von Klenau was born in Copenhagen in 1883 and received private tuition from the composer Otto Malling. In 1900 he began his studies in composition and violin at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory. At the age of 19 he travelled to Germany, where he extended his education as a composer with, amongst others, Max Bruch. He settled there, establishing a family and a successful career as a conductor and composer. Klenau became well regarded in Germany and Austria, having success with performances of the operasMichael Kohlhaas (1933), Rembrandt van Rijn (1933–37) and Elisabeth von England (1938–41). During these years he was able to navigate his way through a Nazi Germany where the boundaries between being inside or outside in relation to the prevailing ideology and artistic taste were blurred. Both in writing and in speech, Klenau gave expression to views that aligned with those of the Nazis, though he never actually joined the party.
Artists working under the Third Reich lived in constant danger of being labelled ‘entartet’, degenerate. Many fled, while those that remained had to conform to the Nazi party’s views until times changed. So for example, twelve-tone music was not acceptable, though at that point the government was in some doubt about what actually constituted the style and although Klenau worked in this direction through his friendship with, amongst others, Alban Berg, he developed his own ‘key-determined twelve-tone system’, as he expressed it, throughout the 1930s.
When the Second World War broke out, Klenau returned to Denmark, settling in Copenhagen, but as he said in a radio interview, ‘I hope, steadily, to be able to continue my activity in Germany from here.’ The Danish musical scene reacted with reserve to Klenau on his return, partly because he had chosen to serve German musical life and partly because he wrote in a foreign musical language, far from Carl Nielsen’s and from what one associated with Danish music, but there was no outright rejection. In his memoirs, Klenau pointed out that, ‘on the whole, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation treated my compositions in a respectful way, and performed a number of my older works.’
None of the three works on this release were performed during Klenau’s lifetime. They are characterized by a tonal language which seeks to engage the public without troubling them with the compositional principles Klenau had worked on for so long. The three works were all found amongst his surviving papers, which were brought to the Royal Danish Library in 2005. Two sets of notebooks written by Klenau and reviewed by his second wife, Margarethe Klimt, were important sources included in this recovery, as well as no fewer than three manuscripts of articles or lectures.
Klenau began to write his memoirs in January 1944. He lay in his bed to get relief from a heart condition that had troubled him for several years. Though he was weakened, his level of activity remained high, as witnessed by these words from his memoirs: ‘At the same time as I write down these memories and reflections, I have made drafts for and completed a number of musical works, amongst which there are a piano concerto, a cello sonata, a set of Nietzsche songs and the opera, Fårekyllingen ved arnen (The Cricket on the Hearth).’
Klenau continued his high work rate despite his weak health, without knowing whether the works he produced would be performed or not. Amongst the works he composed while he dictated his memoirs was the piano concerto.
Violin Concerto (1941)
Klenau divided his compositions into two groups: those which were twelve-tone and those which weren’t. The violin concerto belongs to the first group. Information about the work is very sparse. In the notebooks, the only mention is brief: ‘Written…Spring 1941’, and the concerto’s manuscript is dated 29 July that year.
The work is Classical in its formal structure, with three movements, and in its orchestration, with strings, woodwind, horns, drums, and cymbals. Even though the concerto is, according to Klenau’s own classification, a twelve-tone work, its musical expression is more late Romantic in style, comparable to works by Richard Strauss and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, built on a tonal foundation. Sketches for the concerto show which rows and inversions are in play in the twelve-tone system, so the combination results in a symbiosis of tonal, bitonal and distinctive atonal strategies.
The first movement follows the Classical sonata form, but it functions as a template as the movement’s expression is more melodically imaginative, built on two fundamental thematic ideas. The first is presented by the solo violin in its introduction, with a characteristic rising tone row spun out of a twelve-tone scale. The story-telling atmosphere continues in the slow second movement, in which the solo violin seems to have its own life and floats above the waters. It unfolds in a twelve-tone universe with which the orchestra discreetly resonate.
Where the second movement is passively reflective, the third is full of unexpected energy. ‘In a good mood’ (Mit guter Laune), Klenau wrote at the beginning of the movement. This good humour unfolds itself in a dance-like and virtuosic manner, both the solo violin and the orchestra. The movement has the character of a Baroque concerto grosso, with the contrast between solo and orchestra clearly defined.
Piano Concerto (1944)
Klenau was inspired to compose his piano concerto after hearing the young pianist, Boris Linderud, and collaborating with him on performances of Klenau’s Piano Sonata in F minor and Six Preludes and Fugues for a radio broadcast. In a letter to his wife, he wrote: ‘Yesterday a young, highly gifted pianist by the name of Linderud played my new piano sonata for me. I was satisfied with the work. Only I feel that this serious art is homeless.’ The concerto is end-dated 28 May 1944. It has three movements, and is built upon Klenau’s ‘key-determined twelve-tone system’. There is a sketch for the work in which we can see that he has used a twelve-tone row with various possibilities as a basis for development.
Although the concerto is based on twelve-tone technique, it comes across, on the whole, as Classical, both in its use of its material and its orchestration. Tonally speaking, Klenau makes use of leading notes, cadences and sequences that are familiar in tonally based music. The piano concerto is a personal work that, like the memoirs, plays out the composer’s situation during the Second World War.
The first movement presents a series of thematic ideas without there being an actual development in the Classical sense. Instead Klenau juxtaposes development and stasis. The enormous energy of the first movement remains pent-up, a memory of the situation in which Klenau had found himself ‘at home’ in Denmark. The second movement is searching in character, developing towards a bombastic climax which fails to materialize. Instead there is a contemplative calm, a search for beauty in simplicity bordering on the banal. The final movement has the marking, ‘Lively, and with humour’, a playful movement tonally characterized by sequences and melodically by scales running up and down.
Symphony No. 8 (1942)
Klenau composed the opera Die Lästerschüle during the winter of 1924–25. This was a cheerful opera inspired by the Rococo, and when it was performed by Statsradiofonien (today the Danish National Symphony Orchestra) in the summer of 1942, Klenau had the idea of composing a new symphony ‘in olden style’, because, as recorded in his notebooks, he had an ‘impulse to do it’. It is the Rococo spirit from Die Lästerschüle that has been brought into a symphonic form: light, cheerful, playful. It is a symphony carried away by its ‘impulse’, a kind of exercise in the style of the old Baroque and Viennese Classical masters which Klenau had, at other times, written about and given lectures on. Perhaps it is so much an exercise that the symphony was just for his own pleasure, as he didn’t try to have it performed or published.
In his notebooks, Klenau wrote: ‘in Classical style, like a little Mozart symphony’, and elsewhere it says ‘Not 12-tone!’. In contrast to most of Klenau’s production, there is a key signature, stressing that the work is based on the major and minor modes. In its overall form, the work can put us in mind of a pastiche of an early Mozart symphony, with four short movements, but if we listen to the detail, there is much more in the music than just a stylistic exercise.
The first movement’s main theme is a good example of the way in which Klenau, within the framework of a conventional sonata form, plays with tonal relationships. The symphony appears to begin in D major, but already in the course of the first theme’s presentation, the piece moves away from this key. Klenau gives his style-exercise a new direction. The second movement’s Andante grazioso is built up of thematic elements that follow each other naturally, in an arch form that is characterized by a perpetuum mobile with repetitions and a continuous pizzicato in the strings. The movement is graceful in its simplicity. In the third movement, Klenau comes nearest to his Rococo model with a minuet in the French court style, with a distinctive use of the timpani. The fourth movement is a rondo with a characteristic playful main theme. In this movement, Klenau allows himself some freedom in relation to a conventional rondo, blending small abrupt shifts in the metric structure and displacements in the sonic balance.
On the whole, the eighth symphony stands in contrast to the preceding seventh and the following ninth symphony, which both bear the imprint of the twelve-tone system. Klenau’s eighth had been hidden so well that it had been forgotten: he gave the number 8 to its successor, number 9, a mistake that was only corrected when his wife, Margarethe Klimt, revised the list of her husband’s compositions, and gave number eight its correct number.
This release only contains a small part of Klenau’s massive production during the Second World War. He produced works, nearly manically, until his death on 31 August 1946, but then he and his music disappeared from view in a kind of collective amnesia. It was only in the last decade of the last century that there was any attempt to rectify the omission, with concerts, an opera performance and recordings, making it possible to assess Klenau’s significance in Danish music history of the 20th century.