Ernest ANSERMET, sa tournée aux USA de fin décembre 1955 à mi-janvier 1956

Ernest ANSERMET, sa tournée aux USA de fin décembre 1955 à mi-janvier 1956

Les enregistrements suivants de cette tournée se trouvent sur Notre Histoire:

Un court entrefilet dans la Tribune de Genève du 23 décembre 1955, page 10, annonçait "[...] Le chef de l'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, le maître Ernest Ansermet, est parti hier à 17 heures en compagnie de Mme Ansermet, pour New-York, à bord de l'avion de la Swissair. Le maître restera deux semaines à Boston, où il dirigera plusieurs concerts avec l'Orchestre philharmonique de cette ville. Puis toujours avec cet orchestre, il donnera des concerts dans diverses villes des Etats-Unis, pour terminer en donnant deux concerts à New-York. Le maître rentrera le 15 janvier. [...]"

Ce portrait d'Ernest Ansermet fut publié dans le «The Boston Sunday Globe» du 25 décembre 1955, en page 30, avec la présentation suivante:

"[...] VISITOR FROM SWITZERLAND - Ernest Ansermet has arrived in Boston to prepare for a two-week stint as guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He will direct his first program at the concerts of next Friday afternoon and Saturday evening.

Ernest Ansermet Symphony Guest

Ernest Ansermet, who has just arrived in this country from Switzerland to be the guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, will lead the concerts next Friday afternoon, Saturday evening and Tuesday evening (Dec. 30 and 31, Jan. 3). His program will consist of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony; the Lyrici Suite in orchestral form by Alban Berg, which will be heard for the first's time at these concerts; Debussy Nocturnes - Clouds, Festivals, Sirenes - in the last of which the New England Conservatory Chorus will assist; and Ravel's Bolero. Mr. Ansermet will also conduct the "Open Rehearsal" on Jan. 5 in preparation for his last pair of concerts in Boston on the following days. [...]"

Le concert de l'après-midi du 30 décembre 1955 fut diffusé en direct sur WBGH-FM (ref.: Boston Daily Globe, December 30, 1955, page 19), puis rediffusé partiellement les jours suivants, toujours sur WBGH-FM.

Dans le «The Boston Sunday Globe» du 31 décembre 1955, en page 8, Cyrus DURGIN - chroniqueur musical très connu, décédé prématurément en 1962 - commentait le concert du 30 décembre sous le titre «Boston Symphony Orchestra - Ansermet guest conductor»:

"[...] It was a great pleasure yesterday afternoon to hear the excellent Swiss Musician, Ernest Ansermet, again at Symphony Hall as guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As we have known from his first visit in the season of 1948-1949, and his longer stay in 1951-52 during the illness of Charles Munch, he is a conductor of technical prowess and much delicacy and imagination as interpreter. The gifts which we had come to know in years past again were abundantly evident yesterday.

He offers us, this week, no new music in the sense of recent creation, but the massed strings version of three movements from the Alban Berg Lyric Suite is new to the Symphony concerts. As Mr. Ansermet has stated, and with emphasis, he does not esteem the 12-tone system of musical fabrication, but he does regard these Berg pieces as music of beauty. He is quite correct. Strangely, though the composer worked them out faithfully according to 12-tone rules, the over-all effect is of emotional communication, certainly of much beauty of sound.

But just as strangely, the worth of the Lyric Suite, in this amplified scoring, lies in a comparative style and harmony, melody and timbre, which is very close to Schoenberg's Transfigured Night, a work originally created more than 50 years ago. To be sure, Berg went farther out of tonality and into organizational dissonance than did Schoenberg of 1899, but the emotional suggestion is a good deal the same. This is especially true of Berg's first and third num bers, for the second, that vague allegro of much buzzing and little residue, is the least of the three numbers.

Some in yesterday afternoon's audience liked the Lyric Suite excerpts, some as evidently did not. But it was good to hear them, for, as one elder listener said: "They may not be easy to take, but they are challenging".

Viennese "Jupiter"

Mr. Ansermet conducted Mozart's great Jupiter Symphony with a sustained line of rhythm and architecture, and a softness of outline almost Viennese. The reduced orchestra sounded full and rich, and also relaxed. There was no forcing, either of sound or emphasis, in Mozart or any other piece of the afternoon.

The Debussy Nocturnes were marvelously mellow and evocative, although Mr. Ansermet asked from the chorus a biger volume of sound than one might have expected in so evanescent a score. As the orchestra played with extraordinary clarity and pure colors, so did the girls' chorus sing.

It was interesting to observe the Ansermet performance of that much-overworked Ravel hit, Bolero. From first to last it was all musical, a long and finely graduated crescendo, and the big bang at the end was in proportion. Surely this performance put in the best light what has become none too fascinating a score. Let me here also enter my personal commendation of the valiant playing of the snare drum part, so long and reiterative, by Harold Farberman.

Mr. Ansermet was most cordially greeted by the Friday subscribers. He, in turn, at every opportunity shared the applause with the orchestra.

Next week Mr. Ansermet will conduct Bartoks Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Stravinsky's Symphonies for Wind Instruments (first time at these concerts), and the D Minor Symphony of Cesar Franck. [...]"

En présentation de la deuxième série de concerts:

"[...] Ernest Ansermet to Conduct Premiere of Stravinsky's Symphonies for Winds

Ernest Ansermet, completing his stay of two weeks as guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall, will lead the concerts next Tuesday evening and next Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. There will be an open rehearsal on Thursday evening, Jan. 6, under the direction of Mr. Ansermet.

The program for Tuesday will consist of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony; Berg's Lyric Suite; Debussy's three Nocturnes - Cloudy Festivals, Sirens - (with a female chorus of the New England Conservatory participating in Sirens) and Ravel's Bolero.

At the concerts of Friday and Saturday Bartok's Music for String Percussion and Celesta will open the program. Stravinsky's Symphonies for Wind instruments will have its first performance at these concerts. The concluding number will be the Symphony in D minor by Franck. [...]" cité du «The Boston Sunday Globe» du 1er janvier 1956 en page 29.

Dans la meme page du «The Boston Sunday Globe», sous le titre «More About Ansermet's Views on Music in 12-Tone System», Cyrus Durgin exposait plus en détails les considérations d'Ernest Ansermet sur la musique dodécaphonique: une comparaison avec le communisme n'était pas sans déplaire dans certains milieux des USA de cette époque...

"[...] «The strict 12-tone system in music is like Communism, a ready-made order for those who are confused or lost, who do not know what to do or where to turn. Many younger composers today do not know what style to adopt, and the 12-tone system offers them a haven in which to work, for the rules are thorough and they cannot be accused of sounding old-fashioned.

« So with people dissatisfied with their own society. The Communists say to them: 'Here is a complete system of social justice, all you have to do is conform to the rules'.

His Analogy

So declared Ernest Ansermet, the Swiss currently guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, over a Turkish cigarette in the Green Room at Symphony Hall after rehearsal last Thursday morning. He did not add that both the 12-tone system and Communism, in this analogy, are attractive to confused and lost people because there is no longer any possibility of individual thought and responsibility, but I gathered that was his drift.

He was speaking half in fun, half seriously in his analogy, but it was obvious he dislikes both systems intensely. Yet he does believe that selective use of some elements of the 12-tone system with conventional tonality can produce musical beauty. That is why he performed, last week, the massed strings version of numbers from Alban Berg's Lyric Suite.

Mr. Ansermet is a man of exceptional intellect, his horizons extending far beyond his own art of music. He was a professor of mathematics before he turned to music professionally. For 10 years he has been writing a book upon the "phenomenology" of music, a work which, he says, will take still two or three years to finish. When it is published, I shall read it with care, for his views are, to make an understatement, most interesting.

The 12-tone system in music is one in which the 12 semi-tones of our scale have equal relationships with each other. This is quite different from the tonal system which was evolved over the years in which the masterpieces (and the junk!) of the past have been created. There music is ruled by greater and lesser relationships of tones and of families of chords. Tonality has definite keys, 12-tone music has none. Tonality includes strong, dissonant chords - "harmonic tensions", and static chords which make repose. Musical expression works between them. The 12-tone system, taken literally and strictly, is just about all dissonance.

"I have examined the laws of hearing and I have proved by mathematical formulae that the 12-tone system is entirely contrary to those laws. You see objects in perspective, the closer ones bigger to your eye, the distant one smaller. So in music," continued Mr. Ansermet. "You perceive closer certain tones of greater authority in tonality, lesser ones are perceived more distantly, a sort of hearing perspective. The 12-tone system has no perspective, just as it has no strong and governing bass."

How It Started

When I suggested that the 12-tone practice of having to make a melody out of a "tone-row" end putting in each of the dozen tones before you can repeat any of them, is sheerly mechanical, the conductor agreed.

"It is mechanical, but if you ignore that rule, at once you begin to return to tonality, and the men who believe in the 12-tone system forbid any suggestion of traditional tonality.

"The 12-tone system began because, after Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde," which has extremely chromatic harmony and rapid changes of key, some German composers felt that the language of music as they knew it was worn out. Reger, for example, tried to renew it by going back to counter point but that was not enough. Others, notably Arnold Schoenberg, thought they could renew the musical materials by this system of free relationships among the 12 tones of the scale. That is not a natural but a fabricated, a synthesized, an artificial system.

"The eternal principle in musical development is rationality. Our old tonal system is rational, and the human mind demands rationality, not mere complication. The complication of 12-tone writing is fiercely demanding. I truly believe that Alban Berg, who died at the age of 50, in 1935, was worn out from the mental ravages of working at details of his system.

"But I do believe, and make no mistake, that you can utilize some practises of the 12-tone system, always in a tonal way, and produce music of beauty. Strangely, the Lyric Suite is strict in its 12-tone manipulation, but it is also good music because Berg's sense of musical beauty in this piece was stronger than his system." [...]"

Après le concert radiodiffusé du 6 janvier 1956 est paru le compte-rendu suivant dans le quotidien The Boston Globe du samedi 7 janvier 1956, en page 20, chronique de Cyrus Durgin:

"[...] Boston Symphony Orchestra - Bartok and Stravinsky played

by Cyrus Durgin

The Boston Symphony Orchestra yesterday afternoon gave the first concert of the 11th pair in the Friday-Saturday series, at Symphony Hall. Ernest Ansermet, as guest, conducted the following programm: Bartok, Music for Strings, Pervussion and Celesta; Stravinsky, Symphonies for Wind instruments (first time at these concerts); Franck, Symphony in D minor.

Just how many friends were made and people influenced by guest conductor Ernest Ansermet yesterday afternoon is a question to remain forever moot. It is not likely that those who were enthralled by Bartok and Stravinsky were even interested by Cesar Franck, and vice versa. I kept thinking of Abraham Lincoln's re mark, in paraphrase: "You cannot please all the people all the time."

All the same, Mr. Ansermet did some commendable missionary work in giving us Bartok and Stravinsky. Symphonies for Wind Instruments, now nearly 36 years old and sounding very tired for that age, was new to the Boston Symphony repertory, and, indeed, I can find no records in the office which show a previous Boston performance.

This is a thick slice of heavy and monotonous wind sonorities, with no "lift" not much sense of motion, no communication save the purely technical one of a study in some effects of balance and instrumental colors. When Eric Walter White (quoted by Mr. Burk in the program notes) says that "the final impression is one of sombre brazen mathematical splendor," he has uttered about the last 10 words on the Symphonies for Wind Instruments.

Nonetheless, it is good to hear such a piece, especially from a man who is one of the top-ranking composers of the first half of this century. I'd like to hear it again - without however, expecting too much. With a few notable exceptions along the way, most of the Stravinsky I have heard following that masterpiece, "The Rite of Spring," has seemed bleakly dry, laboratory experiments in patterns of notes and rhythms. Let us all try, try again, nonetheless, and perhaps the door will be opened for us.

Bartok Fascinating

Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, on the other hand, is endlessly fascinating. Fascinating in its ingenuity, its variety of writing, its unfailing liveliness and play of tonal colors. There is something out of Mother Earth in Bartok, something with all the healthy activity of earth's flora, where Stravinsky is as antiseptic as a surgical pavilion. Bartok's musical intellect was prodigious but it never severed the bonds which happily connected Bartok with the earth, which is to say folk music. In Bartok's piece, as in all his other music which I have come to know, there are both intellect and passion. It is all very human.

Mr. Ansermet must have worked hard to obtain clean, clear performances of the modern scores. Bartok certainly went well, and Stravinsky was as well treated. So with the Franck Symphony, which sounded with a Gallic brilliance and yet a rich, full-bodied tone. By the time of the counter pointed summary in the finale, the music was a growing but transparent tissue of beauty. Yet, to enter an Old Curmudgeon's caveat, now that we have heard again this music of seraphs-and-incense, let us put it away for an other five years.

Next week the orchestra will be out of town. Charles Munch will return, Jan. 20 and 21, to conduct Beethoven's "Leonore" Overture No. 2; Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun", Howard Hanson's "Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitsky (composed for the Boston Symphony's 75 Anniversary, first performance) and the D minor and Piano Concerto of Brahms, with Rudolph Serkin as soloist. [...]"

Le séjour d'Ernest Ansermet aux USA fit à son retour l'objet d'un seulement très court entrefilet dans la Tribune de Genève du 14 janvier 1956 en page 11:

"[...] Engagé pour plusieurs semaines à la tete de l'orchestre symphonique de Boston, M. Ernest Ansermet vient de remporter une série de succès signalés autant par l'accueil du public que par celui de la presse.

Au cours des deux premières semaines, M. Ansermet a donné, à Boston, les deux programmes suivants, répétés chacun trois fois:

1) Symphonie «Jupiter» de Mozart, «Suite lyrique» d'Alban Berg, «Trois Nocturnes» de Debussy et «Boléro» de Ravel;

2) «Suite pour cordes, piano et percussion» de Bela Bartok, «Symphonie pour instruments à vent» de Strawinsky et «Symphonie» de César Frank.

M. Ansermet est parti ensuite en tournée à New york (deux concerts), Washington, Newark et Brooklyn. Le chef de l'O.S.R. a en outre fait, à l'Université de Harvard, un exposé de quelques chapitres du livre qu'il est, on le sait, en train d'écrire sur la musique. [...]"

Une partie de ces enregistrements sont sur Notre Histoire, suivre les liens ci-dessus!

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René Gagnaux
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