Chamber Music by Candlelight
Hersch's After Hölderlin's “Hälfte des Lebens” (Half of Life), for Viola and Cello was first performed at a September 11th memorial concert at the Pantheon in Rome in December 2001. The work captures the essence of one of Friedrich Hölderlin's (1770—1843) archetypically crushing poems: a description of a lovely summertime lakeside scene that without warning is intruded upon by the poet's tormented thoughts of walls that "stand speechless and cold/in the wind/the flagpoles jangle." The literary juxtaposition of pastoral serenity and impending doom is an apt companion to the music, as Hersch has created a piece that does not so much portend as it is solely about portent. The strings are ominous, disturbing, and there is never any sense of narrative resolution, no crescendo of release. The listener is fully in a place of tension, where they remain.
Born in Hanau, Germany, Paul Hindemith studied the violin as a child. As a student, he supported himself by playing in dance bands, musical comedy groups, the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra, and the Rebner String Quartet. During Hindemith's 1917 conscription into the German army, he played bass drum in the regiment band and also formed a string quartet. In 1918, he was deployed to the front, where he served as a sentry; his diary shows him "surviving grenade attacks only by good luck." After the armistice he returned to Frankfurt and the Rebner Quartet.