The years that I spent living in Berlin from the mid 80’s till 2000 signified a momentously formative time for me in many ways and Berlin Music, written in July and August of 2010 during my first extended period back in the city in more than ten years, pays homage to the role Berlin’s rich musical life played in my own development as musician and composer. A further inspiration for the piece came through the awareness that I was writing this work for one of the great violin virtuosi of our age.
Written in five movements, the first four, relatively short movements form a suite of character pieces that are followed by a lengthier final movement. In fact, it was with this final Hauptsatz, or “main movement”, that work on the piece began, and it serves therefore as both wellspring and summary of the ideas and harmonies found in all of the preceding movements.
The genesis of every new work begins with a blank page of manuscript. As my starting point in this particular instance, I noted several violin chords and sonorities that came about by playing around on a fiddle with the G string tuned down a whole tone to F.
It is remarkable how significant a change such a seemingly small adjustment like this can make to the overall sound, colour and resonance of the instrument. Furthermore, hitherto impossible passagework then becomes quite playable, such as the extended passage of running major 6ths in the violin part early on in the final movement.
In addition, the violinist is required to play the third movement, (a moto perpetuo that doffs its hat to the finale of Ravel’s Violin Sonata), using a practice mute (designed to deaden the sound for practising in hotel rooms, for example), while the pianist changes instruments and plays this movement seated at an adjacently-positioned upright piano, similarly muted by a practice pedal. The nervous energy emitting from closed practice rooms, such as I remember so intensely from my student days at Berlin’s Hochschule building in Bundesallee, momentarily takes centre stage in this middle movement.
More importantly however, it is my intention that Berlin Music pays humble homage to the great duo combination of violin and piano.
Brett Dean, 2011
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer