Widmann: Idyll und Abgrund

Program Note

Jörg Widmann (b.1973)
Idyll und Abgrund, Sechs Schubert-Reminiszenzen (2009)

 Idyll und Abgrund was originally conceived as a prelude to Schubert’s great Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, D.960, with its famous trill; therefore, in number six (in this set) you will hear a shocking moment with these trills.  I have written two other Schubert reminiscence pieces—the Oktett and my orchestra piece, Lied.

Why am I so obsessed with Schubert’s music?  There is utopia in his music.  Before Freud, Schubert was the one who knew something about our soul—something about the human psyche.  Despair, and at the same time beauty, that is Schubert: Idyll und Abgrund, idyll and abyss… not only one at a time, but existing at the same time.   Therefore, this piece is dangerously tonal.  Though on the surface it looks (and is) tonal, it is not a less modern piece of mine.  As always in my music, it is about the exceptions: what you expect to hear, where you expect it to go, and where the music goes instead; as in Schubert's piano sonatas, where he takes you to the most remote keys and you think, “how did we get here?”  

When I say Schubert has knowledge of the human soul, it sounds scientific.  But no, it is an instinct—what is resolved and what is not resolved.  We talk about tonality now but, before Mahler, Schubert was the one who went the farthest to the most remote regions of our soul.  It is scary to be there, but he leads us with the utmost beauty and idyllic character of his music; with the abyss always present. 

—Jörg Widmann