ALEXANDER ZEMLINSKY: Kammersymphonie (arr. Richard Dünser)
Fergus McAlpine: Conductor
Zemlinsky Chamber Orchestra
Zemlinsky’s second string quartet is seen by many as the composer’s largest instrumental work. Written between 1913-1915, he dedicated it to his former student and brother-in-law, Arnold Schoenberg. Around this time, Schoenberg’s marriage to Mathilde Zemlinsky was on the brink of collapse, as she was having an affair with the painter Richard Gerstl, one of Schoenberg’s closest friends. This piece as a result isn’t so much a gift to Schoenberg, rather it was a very powerful message from Zemlinsky to his sister, pleading for her to return to her husband and two children. Reluctantly, she did return to her family and not long afterwards, Gerstl committed suicide.
The music itself is built upon two musical themes, both similar in sound but also counteract each other: the first is referred to as the “motif of the self”, an ascending series of three notes (D-E-G), heard right at the beginning. The second is known as the “motif of the other”, which is identical to the first motif, but with an added fourth note at the end. The motif, in the piece’s core key, D major, roughly spells out Mathilde: (m)-A-(t)-H-(il)-D-E, and is heard in many different forms, but never truly appears in its purest form until the very end of the piece - creating a real emotional climax.
Additionally, one could also argue that other than this piece being about the relationship between Schoenberg and Mathilde Zemlinsky, the “self” could refer to Zemlinsky, pining over his ex-partner, Alma Mahler Schindler, as the “other”. He wrote to Alma after the piece’s completion, telling her: “Only you know exactly what this piece means.”
Richard Dünser’s arrangement on the piece is based on the orchestration of Schoenberg’s Kammersymphonie, Op. 9. He remarked “it made sense to release the explosive symphonic force of this work - whose sound is restricted in the original version by the instrumentation for string quartet - in scoring for a larger ensemble.” (Dünser, 2013).