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Corigliano Mutter Wagner
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Anne-Sophie Mutter

"Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' is a unique celebration of life,
a veritable riot of color"

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Could I start our little discussion by changing places with you and asking you one or two questions - questions from a violinist to a journalist who has heard her play these works by Vivaldi and Tartini live with the Trondheim Soloists?

Harald Wieser: With the greatest of pleasure. But don't expect a critic au fait with the subtleties of spiccato bowing and double-stopping and sporting a silver tie. Ask the man in row 17 who sits there open-mouthed with amazement. Just ask your public.

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Very well then, dear public. Can you still remember my early recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, which I made with Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1984?

Harald Wieser: Yes, indeed. There was a photograph of you on the cover sitting on the forest floor with your Stradivarius and with Herr von Karajan standing beside you among the trees, a bright red pullover draped over his shoulder.

Anne-Sophie Mutter: You've answered with your eyes. I'll tell you in a moment why I particularly want listeners to use their eyes in the case of the present recording, but first I'd like to bend your ear, as it were. Do you hear different sounds when you compare the two Vivaldi recordings - the old one and the newer one?

Harald Wieser: Can one hear the difference? One can even savor it. The recording that you made with Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic was very beautiful. Very beautiful, but also very stolid. It was like a good, heavy red wine. A musical High Mass celebrating the Four Seasons. But it is the popping of vintage champagne corks that one hears in your playing with these young Norwegians, playing in which you yourself are so infectiously youthful and one can almost literally see the twinkle in your eye.

Anne-Sophie Mutter: If only we had a bottle! I'd be happy to open it to thank you for your kind remarks.

Harald Wieser: Don't put temptation in my way! But there's a further compliment that I must pay you. For me, the High Mass has been turned into a high-spirited celebration, with a pure and sometimes even boisterous delight in music-making. In the Presto from "Summer" and the Allegro from "Autumn", the Trondheimers literally leap from their seats, such is their sense of pleasure and high spirits. This goes even for the phenomenal Knut at the harpsichord. And I'm still stone-cold sober. Your Four Seasons for Karajan was an example of life as art. The present recording, under your own direction, is an example of art as life. The mellow maestro's devotional exercises have become a feast of emotion on the part of the eternally youthful Anne-Sophie.

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Ah, the man in row 17 must be a speed freak. He prefers the Porsche-like speed of lively tempi. Don't you like the slow movements, with their mischievously cruel streak, with Vivaldi turning the violins into flies buzzing incessantly round q shepherd? With an impudence that is almost palpable?

Harald Wieser: But he can appreciate the slow movements on a physical level, too. When the crisp cold of "Winter" stole into the well-heated concert hall in the Allegro non molto, he even felt himself struggling to fight off a cold. But it's not so much the sustained movements as the fiery ones that mark the difference between smoldering desire and white-hot passion - the difference, in short, between your older and newer recordings.

Anne-Sophie Mutter: I'd never have made another Vivaldi recording with a symphony orchestra. The same goes for Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata. Obviously, a huge, eighty-strong orchestra can produce an emotional firework display, but there's not much subtlety to it. For the filigree finesse of Tartini's music and the sparkling exchanges between the different instruments in Vivaldi, to say nothing of the wonderful spontaneity of both composers and the sort of tone-painting that delights in the tiniest ornaments, the symphony orchestra is like a Rolls Royce trying to negotiate a country lane. Here the little paper boat of chamber music, with its keenly balanced textures, can almost certainly invest his intimate moods and exchanges with a greater sense of effervescent wit.

Harald Wieser: Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata and Vivaldi's Four Seasons enjoy a legendary reputation as classics of narrative program music. Vivaldi's work is based on sonnets that describe a cuckoo calling and dogs barking. There are critics who wrinkle their noses at what they regard as the lightweight nature of these "greatest hits".

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Enter the critics. I'd like to invite them to play these lightweight hits as audition pieces. After all, Vivaldi's Four Seasons inspired a work as complex as Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony. Admittedly, Vivaldi isn't so very different from Mozart in terms of his purely technical difficulty: these pieces contain no hurdle that a good music student couldn't clear as a teenager. But art involves more than just playing a piece quickly, cleanly and accurately. Art consists in investing the score with a soul. Vivaldi's Four Seasons is a unique celebration of life, a veritable riot of color. It takes a sensitive violinist to bring out this riot of color in the form of a tone-painting.

Harald Wieser: Open, Sesame! This brings us on to your favorite painter, Gotthard Graubner, to whom you pay more than just a decorative tribute with your new CD.

Anne-Sophie Mutter: Yes, without Gotthard Graubner's painting, this Vivaldi CD simply wouldn't exist. It was because of his work that I said earlier that I'd like my public to listen to my interpretation with their eyes as well as their ears. The idea of making this recording came to me on one of my visits to Gotthard Graubner's studio. The images I saw made me think I was listening to Vivaldi's music. There is such a close affinity here between light and shade on the part of both the modern painter and the Baroque composer. This explosive spark, this flash of lightning in the art of both men! Graubner's images convey a sense of the most extreme elemental force that resembles the musical storms conjured up by Vivaldi. But in the same breath I find the most delicate transparency in both artists: notes and colors that weigh as light as a feather, as though I were being breathed on by a tiny creature as it comes into existence. Teeny-weeny abstractions. Brainspun beings smaller than any embryo.

Harald Wieser: The most famous twins in the history of art are the composer Arnold Schoenberg and the painter Vasily Kandinsky. One of them freed music from tonality, while the other freed painting from representationalism. But with them the miracle of their affinity isn't so great, since they lived at the same time and exchanged ideas. Antonio Vivaldi and Gotthard Graubner are separated by almost three centuries. Your feelings for them represent an incredible balancing act between the Baroque and modernism.

Anne-Sophie Mutter: I think we have to redefine what is modern in the arts, including music. For me, it's as though Antonio Vivaldi and Gotthard Graubner were on the phone to each other several times a day.

The writer Harald Wieser has discussed Anne-Sophie Mutter's life with her on frequent occasions with a view to writing a book, which will be published under the title "Die Seele der Musik".
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