Piano Concerto No.3
I. the deep and bitter flood
Elena Kats- Chernin
Elena Kats-Chernin was born in Uzbekistan before travelling to Australia and continuing her studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where she majored in Composition. Elena has written an extensive amount of music for a variety of genres, styles and instruments. Some of her most popular works include Eliza Aria, Russian Rag and Deep Sea Dreaming which was commissioned for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Her music extends from Solo Piano pieces to Concertos and Operas, as well as Theatre Music, Childrens CD's and modern art ensembles. She is considered a 'cosmopolitan composer' writing modern art music with flavours of dissonance rooted in her classical training and Russian influences. Her fusion of styles and influences creates an eclectic and unique atmosphere which establishes her distinct 'Kats-Chernin' sound
Among her many commissions are pieces for Ensemble Modern, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Australian World Orchestra, the Adelaide, Tasmanian, Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the North Carolina Symphony (Australian Music Centre, 2021) She continues to work and write from her home studio in Sydney today. This is her third piano concerto and although only written a couple of years ago, she has written several piece since then including her Opera 'Whitely' and her newest concerto for 4 saxophones ! Which is showing now at the Concourse in Chatswood
Composed in 2018
Lebewohl (German for "farewell") is a Piano Concerto (5 movements) exploring the psyche of Johan Sebastian Bach after the sudden and unexpected death of his first Wife, Maria. Each movement outlines the stages of grief likely experience by Johann after her death; shock and denial, pain and guilt, anger and bargaining, reflection and loneliness, acceptance and reconstruction. The concerto is a musical exploration into these emotions and brings to light an important and understated figure in such a famous composers life, his wife.
Below are the notes from Tamara-Anna Cislowska, Australian Concert Pianist and Elenas close friend:
"It was in fact Tamara-Anna Cislowska, the soloist of this work who expressed interest in this subject of Maria Barbara’s untimely death, when I started contemplating what the concerto would be like. Lebewohl was commissioned specifically for Tamara to premiere and she had very strong input into its creation. I am not sure if it is feminist or any other direction, but I am always interested in lives of (especially strong) women and what impact they had/have on the world around them and us" - Ellena Kats Chernin (through personal email correspondence )
"In this work Elena Kats-Chernin contemplates the uncelebrated wife of one of her primary inspirations. Piano Concerto no. 3 is called Lebewohl which means farewell in German. It’s an old fashioned term of endearment, literally ‘live well until we meet again’. Lebewohl explores the core and soul of Johann Sebastian Bach at the worst time of his life, the death of his first wife Maria. What are the ramifications of this tragedy? What does it do to Bach? Kats-Chernin honours the mysterious Maria with this work: the ‘forgotten’ wife of the baroque master about whom only cursory details are known.
Maria Barbara Bach lived for 36 years. In July 1720 her husband Johann Sebastian returned from a six week trip to find her dead and buried. Who broke the news to Johann Sebastian? Was it Maria’s sister? Was it his own six-year-old son Carl Philipp Emmanuel? Later Carl wrote of the awful shock that struck his father ‘he had left her hale and hearty on his departure. The news that she had been ill and died reached him only when he entered his own house’.
Imagine the scene for the thirty-five year old composer at the prime of his life and now suddenly, violently impelled to the edge of an abyss and plunged to his heart’s nadir.
Maria and Johann Sebastian had seven children together but lost three in infancy. It was thought that Maria’s unexplained final illness was a complication from childbirth. On that sickening summer day, Johann Sebastian arrived home to find himself the sole parent of four children between five and eleven, and without his wife of thirteen years.
How did this affect him? At what cost the psychological torment of losing Maria? Of being powerless to intercede in the most disastrous loss?
Did Johann Sebastian have a crisis of faith? Shake his fists in rage at his beloved God?"
Instrumentation: The Concerto is composed for a solo Piano and full orchestra with an extensive Percussion section. Instrumentation is included to the side.
I the deep and bitter flood
though in midst of life we be,
snares of death surround us
save us, Lord, from sinking
In the deep and bitter flood.
- Martin Luther
Marked Agitato, this first movements centres around D, the same as Bach's Chaconne for solo violin, often recognised as an elegy for Maria Barbara. The piano is relentless throughout, punctuated with sharp chords featuring brass and percussion 1st Movement Note (Cislowska, 2018)
Listen to the recording of the 1st Movement below...
Watch the behind the scenes video too! Tamara-Anna Cislowska was originally supposed to perform this with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, however due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, Alexandra Silocea stepped in (only learnt the piece in a handful of days!)
Take some notes on her observations for each movement as well as her understanding of the context of the piece