Leila Josefowicz on Berg Violin Concerto Second Movement - part 1

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ln the first of two articles, Leila Josefowicz explores ideas of feverishness, hallucination, death and resurrection in the second movement of a great 20th-century concerto

This piece is a work of art of the Viennese School. It is dramatic, deeply emotional, genius writing of unbelievable music at the most profound level, and it uses the 12-tone-row serialist technique so masterfully. Please have a full orchestral score on hand as you read this article, so that we can go through it together. Pay close attention to the opening legend, because it forms one of the backbones of 12-tone writing.

The Viennese sound

I first studied the concerto with Felix Galimir at the Curtis Institute of Music when I was 16 years old and he was about 80. That was one of the great experiences of my teens, and from him I got a very clear idea of how I wanted Berg to sound. Galimir came to America to escape the Nazis during the Second World War, but he was from Vienna and he understood the musical inflections of the time. If the waltz at the end of the first movement sounded too refined, for example, he would shout, ‘No, no, no!’ and dance around the room, singing. It wasn’t a buttoned-up, overly elegant waltz; it was rustic, with a growl and a fierceness to it. He would emphasise the bowings and dots to give an Austrian ‘lift’ and authority, without it being too nice or well behaved. He taught me these sounds and showed me that just because something is softer in dynamic, it doesn’t mean it has to be prettier or any less bold.

Read more in The Strad’s December 2019 issue…

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