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The Blue Hour is that fleeting moment between the end of the night and daybreak, a moment of silence, of uncertainty, of rocking, where the course of the world, as if at a standstill, is veiled in a uniform hue, an indefinable blue that belongs only to those few minutes.
In the image of this moment of waking dream, the program of this album is built around Hartmann’s Funeral Concerto and the luminous work of Hildegarde de Bingen – to which the concerto echoes through the numerous quotations it contains. The compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich and Philippe Hersant also gravitate in a subtle interlacing. It is because these pieces all evolve between light and darkness, between sound and silence, between dream and nightmare, that we have brought them together here: a constant dialogue between heaven and hell, on the edge of time, they open the breach of this world and thus give birth to L’Heure Bleue – the image of this other side of the universe that only music can give us.
Karl Amadeus Hartmann, a German composer fiercely opposed to Nazism, chose inner exile in 1933 and refused to take part in any cultural life. His wish to remain in Germany then appears as a form of resistance, which aims to bear witness to the horrors that were going to occur there. He remained convinced that freedom would prevail.
His works are as much denunciations as they are calls for resistance. It was in 1939 that he wrote his Funeral Concerto, in reaction to the invasion of Poland and the annexation of Czechoslovakia by Hitler; he dedicated it to his son, then aged four. The concerto was then premiered in Switzerland in 1940. Dark and gloomy, it is born from silence and sinks into the night. The line of his violin seems to evolve at the limit of sound, interrupted by fleeting outbursts: nightmarish visions that the orchestra accompanies frantically, and that the brief breath of the last movement barely relieves. A true cry against human blindness, this work also aims to convey hope and deep faith in the future of humanity.
“My Funeral Concerto was composed in the fall of 1939. This moment was decisive in the conception of the work. The four movements Choral-Adagio-Allegro-Choral follow one another without interruption. The hope expressed in the two chorales, at the beginning and at the end of the work, responds to the intellectual despair of the time“.
Karl Amadeus Hartmann
The first movement quotes the chorale “You who are the fighters of God”, already used by Smetana in Ma Vlast: it is undoubtedly a political denunciation. The solo violin comes to whisper a deep gesture of solitude, which finds little echo in the orchestra.
As for the Adagio, it blossoms like a meditation, a narration, an introspection, interspersed by a dance with nostalgic contours. The Allegro explodes the revolt: it is a call to uprising in which various quotations from exiled composers – Bartók, Stravinsky, Shostakovich – come together. It is an increasing and uninterrupted acceleration in the heart of the abyss. The violin comes to settle in two barely audible stops of music and delivers a desperate phrase.
After a long silence, the orchestra begins the final chorale, which takes up a Russian revolutionary song also used by Shostakovich in his 11th Symphony. The violin responds with ascending motives, opening with a lyrical phrase, before falling back into silence and concluding with a final implacable chord.
To this work of insubordination, we wanted to respond with the celestial music of Hildegard of Bingen, known to have been inspired from childhood by numerous visions: “Simultaneously I see, I hear, I know and, almost at once, I learn what I know. At the same time abbess, composer, doctor and writer, she also directed a school of illuminations, working to unravel the mystery of plants and the human body, of forms and lights. The choice of Hildegarde de Bingen’s three Visions was made in mirror image of Hartmann’s Funeral Concerto: Magne Pater, the origin, Rex Noster, written for the Innocent Martyrs, Vos Flores Rosarum, a message of hope describing the roses capable of growing on a bloody field.
Then, we placed an order to Philippe Hersant : A vision of Hildegarde brings a contemporary look at this opposition between Hartmann’s disastrous vision and the flamboyant vision of the poetess.
“Une vision d’Hildegarde is like a link between these two worlds – a mystical vision and a vision of hell. The work is carried, from beginning to end, by the melody of one of Hildegard’s most beautiful songs, O Vis Aeternitatis. But I have also included an allusion to Hartmann, through the Hussite chorale “You who are the fighters of God”, which is quoted in the first movement of his concerto.
The work, in one piece, is presented as a vast adagio for solo violin and small string ensemble. Its course is almost continuously ascending. Hildegard’s melody, entrusted to the solo violin, is repeated several times, each time in a higher register, until the last stanza where, surrounded by the harmonic sounds of the entire orchestra, it reaches stratospheric heights”.
Echoing the references and quotations from Hartmann’s Concerto, we have chosen to include in this program two pieces for string octet by Shostakovich, dedicated to the poet friend Volodia Kurtchavov, who died prematurely. Shostakovich was only eighteen years old when he wrote these two movements of an unfinished Suite. The prelude opens with the dramatic intensity of a French overture, alternating solo recitatives and more symphonic statements. In the scherzo, dissonant and squeaky, this visceral force, particularly striking in Shostakovich’s work, is unleashed, and never leaves one indifferent. An almost expressionist gesture, it seems to reveal itself, with a strangely twisted smile, through a distorted prism of reality.
“Beyond a succession of works that could exist solely by their eloquence, strength and beauty, we have tried to propose a sensory and intellectual experience, which we invite to share”.