Zum Konzert am 19. Januar 1966 in London
The Times, London, 21. Januar 1966
Latent Virtue of New Tippett Work
From Our Music Critic
It seems encouraging rather than the reverse that the first performance of Michael Tippett’s The Vision of Saint Augustine […] should leave one with so much to comment on. Some people may wish that Tippett would write music less crowded with incident music that yields a gratifying quantity of its secrets on first hearing. But the music that leaves you rather baffled at first often survives repeated hearing more impressively (particularly if the superficial characteristics of the total sound seem intriguing) than the work which yields a perfectly rounded impression at once. Contrast. For example, Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage with Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Not Merely Ocular
After Wednesday’s performance (preceded by two hearings at the final rehearsal that morning) I was left with, of course, profound admiration for the dignified, tonally beautiful and meaningfilled singing of Mr. Fischer-Dieskau – admiration, too, for the great range of mood and idea that Tippett has discovered in setting St. Augustine’s tale of his momentary glimpse into eternity. […]
So Much Going On in Vision of St. Augustine
Michael Tippett conducted the first performancen on Wednesday in the Festival Hall, of his new vocal and orchestral work, The Vision of St. Augustine, commissioned by the B.B.C., who presented the concert. Mr. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was the baritone soloist who relates Augustine’s account of the vision; the B.B.C. Chorus and Symphony Orchestra were charged with Tippett’s own commentary, through music and other Latin words. The subject of the work is the miraculous vision of eternity which was granted to Augustine and his mother shortly before her death.
Daily Telegraph, 21. Januar 1966
Tippett Tries to Seize Spirit of Ecstasy
The search for some musical equivalent of the mystic’s experience of "standing outside himself," or ecstasy, has been a constant feature of Michael Tippett’s music. It lay behind the rhythmic jubilations of the double concerto, the second string quartet and the "coloratura" of "Boyhood’s End."
For his latest work, "The Vision of St. Augustine," which had its first perfomance at the Festival Hall, he has chosen passages in the "Confessions" where Augustine recounts the two crucial experiences of his life.
These are the incident in the Milan garden which was the last straw in his conversion to Christianity and the conversation with his mother at Ostia shortly before her death. They are interspersed with quotations from the Bible and a hymn by St. Ambrose, Augustine’s close friend.
The texts are in Latin and their ingenious dovetailing and sychronisation often make it difficult for the inexperienced listener. This difficulty is increased by the profusion of detail in the score, not all of which could be captured by the ear on this occasion.
Tippett makes most original use of the traditional language of musical ecstasy – from medieval hocketing, through trills and dotted rhythms ("late" Beethoven), high-lying trumpet-parts (Scriabin and Holst), mysterious "ascetic" harmonies (Stravinsky) to the complex vocal and instrumental coloratura of Boulez.
The eerie sonorities and fanfares connected with Strephon in his own "Midsummer Marriage" also find a new, extended significance here.
If the true spirit of ecstasy cannot in fact be evoked at length simply by a number of stylistic devices and in fact remains intermittent in this work, the score is nevertheless full of personal, interesting and often remarkably beautiful passages and detail.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sang the solo part with great skill and intelligence, though perhaps a more unusual type of voice and a more declamatory, even incantatory style might have proved more effective in the difficult circumstances, which also accounted for Sheila Amit’s high soprano line being sometimes inaudible.
The BBC Chorus confronted boldly the considerable difficulties of the choral writing and the BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by the composer.
The Observer Weekend Review, 23. Januar 1966
The new Tippett
The trouble with teaching yourself is that it is apt to take a long time, and much of Michael Tippett’s career has been consumed in the process. But there are many passages in his latest work, The Vision of St Augustine, which suggest that in his sixty-second year he may finally have fashioned an idiom capable of expressing his mature imaginative powers.
I must admit that there are other passages so wildly individual that at first hearing they sound freakish. But I suspect that when a more routined conductor (on Wednesday the composer himself directed the BBC Chorus and Orchestra with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as a superlative soloist) gets to grips with this formidably taxing work it may all prove to be as fine as its best parts – and these are very fine indeed. "The Vision of St Augustine" may turn out to be Tippett’s masterpiece.
And yet the work as a whole remains problematic. I am not referring merely to the cruelly taxing vocal writing or to the confused textures set up by Tippett’s almost perversely independent linear writing. These are matters that may resolve themselves in subsequent performances, though it must be said that the BBC Chorus sustain their parts heroically, and it would be hard to conceive of a soloist who could meet the fearsome demands of the solo part more triumphantly than Fischer-Dieskau.
What worries me is rather the degree of oral fatigue that the work induces. Of course this is often a symptom of the strain of listening to a work you don’t fully understand. But in this case I suspect that all those exultant brass fanfares, those rushing strings and shrilling trumpets, those wild bells and clattering percussion and, above all, the ecstatic yet often strained an declamatory writing for the soloist, weary because they represent an unceasing assault on a bastion that no man can seize for more than a moment.