Written for Stephan Dohr

  • cl.bn. cor.2vn.va.vc.db.
  • 28 min
    • 3rd August 2024, ballroom, Whitefield, NH, United States of America
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Programme Note

I have known Moments Musicaux since childhood when my father, an amateur pianist, often played these pieces. Later, when I myself played the piano, I loved them very much. These musical moments are like poems; short and precise and so poetic in their expression.

Later, as a young horn student, I performed Schubert’s incomparable Octet many times. It is a jewel for this ensemble with its writing for winds and strings. Schubert is, by the way, a deeply original orchestrator; not least in his late symphonies, the last of which has some absolutely fantastic places with a multi-layered music which creates a dimension of new depth and activity.

During the autumn of 2018, while I was working on my horn concerto (a commission from Stefan Dohr and the Berlin Philharmonic) I attended a concert with Moments Musicaux performed by the Danish pianist Amalie Malling (for whom I wrote my Seven Studies for piano back in 1983). This evoked many memories in me from my horn-playing days (I have not touched the instrument since the late 1980s) and, as I continued working on my horn concerto, the many wonderful places for the horn in the Octet came to mind; not least the horn’s farewell line at the end of the first movement, but also many other instances.

By the beginning of 2019, I had finished the first movement of the horn concerto and was about to begin the second. But before I could get started with this, I needed a detour or displacement activity - here Moments Musicaux appeared, as for many years I’d had it in mind to create a version for the Schubert Octet line-up.

In his musical moments (as with Beethoven in his late Bagatelles), Schubert sets a world that leads to the short and condensed pieces of the Second Viennese school of Schönberg and not least Webern, who also orchestrated Schubert (his Deutsche Tänze D. 820). But Schubert’s moments are not short as Webern’s, but as moments magnified up, as moments of eternity.

As I recall, Webern tells us that he orchestrated Schubert as Schubert himself would have done. I have also tried to do this in my octet version of Moments Musicaux, where I use the instruments that I imagine Schubert could have done. I selected four of Schubert’s six pieces, the first three and the last, leaving out numbers four and five as they are relatively pianistic.

When transcribing Moments Musicaux, I was in the middle of writing of my horn concerto and therefore the horn was very much in my mind. In my octet version of Moments Musicaux I am writing for the horn as the instrument was in the time of Schubert - without valves. Of course, I know that today it can and will be played on the modern valve horn, but I feel that to write with this challenge and limitation you get very close to the soul of the instrument. I continued with this approach in my work on the subsequent movements of my horn concerto for Stefan Dohr.

I was thinking of asking if Stefan Dohr would perform them with the Berlin Philharmonic Octet and so I am deeply grateful that this has become a reality and even to be premiered at the Brahms-Saal in Vienna.

© Hans Abrahamsen

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