While the whole world is celebrating Mozart this year, a Berlin classical music festival took a different approach: Organizers chronicled everything from early German vocal music to Brahms' famous "Requiem."
"Please, no Mozart"
The 10-day early music festival saw performances of the first German ever opera libretto as well as world premieres of avant-garde music. Nigel North, Hopkinson Smith and Paul O’Dette -- the best lutenists in the world -- played music by the greatest lute player and composer of all time: John Dowland.
The three lutenist stars sparked intimate musical moments in Berlin's grand Konzerthaus. They transposed the audience back to the days of the 17th century through John Dowland's lute works. The works were originally written for French and English courts and convey the melancholy that was so fashionable in music at the time, with "Pavane" being one of Dowland's 17th century hits.
The 17th century witnessed a major revolution in music. It was a period when Italian composers dominated the musical world. Famous German composers like Heinrich Schütz traveled across the Alps to study with Claudio Monteverdi and his contemporaries in Venice and Rome. "Seconda prattica" was the new musical school in Italy, where language had precedence over music.
As "Zeitfenster" festival director Folkert Uhde pointed out, when German composers returned home, they faced another challenge.
"The composers said: 'We can't just leave it all to the Italians!' They agreed that they had to find a way of putting the German language to music," Uhde said. "They wanted the audiences back home to understand the content of what was then avant-garde music."
17th-century musicians loved to experiment
Musicians experimented widely in 17th-century Germany. So the "Zeitfenster" organizers decided to take audiences on a voyage to discover that adventuresome musical history. It was a courageous act for Folkert Uhde and festival makers to present the largely unfamiliar repertoire of German songs and madrigals to festival-goers.
German soprano Annette Dasch has established a career singing romantic opera in Tokyo, Paris, Salzburg and Dresden. At this year's "Zeitfenster," she performed an unknown compositions by Heinrich Albert, Andreas Hammerschmidt and Johann Krieger.
"The music is very direct and modern," Dasch said. "It just grabs you. It goes straight to your heart and also makes you laugh. Even if you're a modern person, you understand every word. And the emotional message from 400 years ago lives on -- even today!"
Composers mix the old and the new
A recently discovered Bach composition
Berlin's "Zeitfenster" festival not only showcased concerts of rarely performed music, but it also brought together traditional and avant-garde music. The first ever German opera premiered in 1627. The opera's libretto -- or text -- by Martin Opitz still exists, but the music by Heinrich Schütz has been lost.
"So we commissioned three young composers in Berlin to write new music to the libretto from 1627," Uhde said. "They were told which instruments and which singers to write for -- just as it was done 400 years ago. We also asked them to compose three new versions of the old opera, each limited to 30 minutes."
Some of the 14 "Zeitfenster" concerts featured early vocal music, while others presented the development of instrumental dance music as an art form in its own right. Musicians performed work by neglected composer Georg Caspar Schürmann -- once considered Bach's and Händel's equal -- and played Brahms' "Requiem." Surprisingly, though, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did not appear on the program bill.
"Please, no Mozart," Uhde said. "This festival has nothing to do with him. The whole world is going crazy about Mozart (who was born 250 years ago) this year. We decided instead to focus on a great French composer -- Marin Marais. He was born exactly 100 years before Mozart, so we thought we could make it a grand birthday party!"