Bernd Alois ZimmermanConcerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra
German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann was one of the great lonely artists of the post-war era: a seeker, a doubter and a pessimist who eventually ended up killing himself in the absence of any other solution to his life and his artistic impasse. In the 1950s, he progressed from the Neo-Classicism of his early works to atonality, dodecaphony and eventually serialism, but he is best known for the pluralist idiom bringing together a variety of styles that he ended up with in the 1960s. His most celebrated work is the massive and wildly heterogeneous opera Die Soldaten (1965).
Zimmermann’s Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra is a relatively early work, dating from 1952. He wrote other solo works around that time, such as the Violin Concerto (1950), the Trumpet Concerto Nobody knows the trouble I see (1954) and Canto di Speranza for cello and small orchestra (1957). His Oboe Concerto reflects his stylistic shift from Neo-Classicism to dodecaphony, and its musical material is based on the same twelve-tone row that he used in his Trumpet Concerto. Yet the work is very much Neo-Classical in its idiom, and the first movement bears the sub-title ‘Hommage à Stravinsky’. The solo oboe part requires a performer of virtuoso calibre and makes effective use of rapid transitions between the registers of the instrument.
The Concerto is in three movements and very concise; the slow middle movement is nearly as long as the two flanking movements combined. The opening movement is edgy and acerbic in a Neo-Classical vein, and the homage to Stravinsky is evident in the form of references to his Symphony in C. By contrast, the tense and menacing slow movement, ‘Rhapsodie’, is like a nightmare variation on the night music from Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, although there are a few brighter moments with a fairy-tale feel. The oboe part is largely recitative-like and eventually breaks off into a solo cadenza. The lively and airy finale also includes a cadenza for the soloist before the brief concluding gestures.