Mitsuko Saruwatari brings to life forgotten piano pieces by Wilhelm Berger after 100 years!

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How is it possible that the name Wilhelm Berger has effectively disappeared from musical history?

In his time, he was a well-respected composer with more than 100 pieces to his name, a famous pianist and chief conductor of a renown orchestra at the Meininger Hofkapelle in Meininger, a famous orchestra at that time with such well known conductors such as Max Reger and Richard Strauss having been chief conductor.

There are a number of reasons why he became lost in history: as a composer of the late romantic period he matured in a time when that new musical directions (impressionism and expressionism) developed and became the popular musical style of that time. The outbreak of World War 1 just after his death also impacted negatively of on the popularity of his music. Irrespective of how good his compositions were, prevailing circumstances at that time forced his music into obscurity.

Two prominent piano pieces from Wilhelm Berger, the ‘Piano Sonata, op. 76’ and ‘Variationen über ein eigenens Thema für Klavier, opus 91’ are now, through pianist Mitsuko Saruwatari produced onto CD. This CD will become available on the market in March 2018. The public can enjoy her piano recitals of this wonderful music which has disappeared for some 100 years. Never played, never produced but now live in new recitals.

A few questions to Mitsuko

Why did you choose Berger?
I had once played the clarinet trio from Berger (possibly the only known piece by him). I was then already amazed of the whole hearted nature and richness of sound of this trio. He immediately inspired me to play his piano pieces but they appeared very difficult to find.

So you went looking for his piano pieces?
Yes, quite a discovery trip. I did an in-depth search via the internet of various libraries around the world. Almost all his piano works have been unearthed. Once at the piano, I was immediately engrossed; what beautiful romantic music and what scale and depth! An absolutely remarkable composer. And what more remarkable is that his compositions have essentially been forgotten.

Are the compositions of Wilhelm Berger not played any more?
Strangely enough, no. They are played on very rare occasions even after 100 years. That includes the 25 piano compositions as they have not been published...

Also no CD?
Not that either, there is no piano CD!

Do you have any idea how it is possible that his name disappeared from musical history?
There appears to be a number of reasons why this may have occurred. As a composer of the late romantic period, his works did not come into maturity until a time when the new musical direction (impressionism and expressionism) developed and became popular. The outbreak of World War 1, not long after his death, also came at a most inappropriate time for his music. Music lost ground in that time and impact adversely on the notoriety of his name. However good his compositions were, they were more and more forgotten. Perhaps also because they not that easy to play.

So, as an enthusiast of Wilhelm Berger’s piano pieces, you aim to put him back in the spot light?
Absolutely, I have two prominent pieces of his within my repertoire: ‘the piano Sonata opus 76’ and ‘Variationen über ein eigenes Thema fur Klavier opus 91’.

You are producing the first Berger CD?
Yes, that’s right. The first Berger CD is for sale in March next year with those two pieces included. On the 13 th of April 2018 we are holding a special concert in the “Kleine Zaal” of the Concertgebouw Amsterdam.

interview: impresario piano