At the heart of the New Administrative Capital, the wonderful Arts and Culture City buildings rise like a rare flower pond in the middle of a lush garden. It is the spirit of the capital which confirms that the development and construction movement we have been witnessing, and which the Administrative Capital symbolises, not only aims at administrative buildings and residential towers but is also based on a superior objective that is the uplifting of the human soul without which buildings remain lifeless stones.
Last week, I was delighted to attend the inauguration of the Music Hall inside the new Opera building, which was built using state-of-the-art design and acoustics within the classic architecture of the building. The inauguration was made up of two concerts performed by one of the most important and prestigious orchestras in the world, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, established in 1842, headed by the renowned Italian conductor Riccardo Muti (80). During the two concerts, the orchestra performed compositions by Mozart, Schubert, Stravinsky and Mendelssohn.
With the exception of the Russian Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), who stands at the top of classical music composition in the 20th century, the rest of the composers belong to the 18th and the 19th centuries’ Germanic heritage, including musicians from Germany and Austria. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the musical genius of the second half of the 18th century, and he influenced his fellow Austrian Franz Schubert, who heard Mozart’s music for the first time when he was 11 years old and studying music in the Stadtkonvikt school in Vienna. Perhaps this was the only relation between the two giants whose music were performed in our music hall, for Mozart belonged to the Classical school which prevailed in the 18th century while Schubert came in a period between the Classical and Romantic schools in the early part of the next century. He combined in his music features from both schools. As for the German Mendelssohn, he belonged to the Romantic school; he had a special relationship with Schubert even though they probably never met in person; Schubert died when Felix Mendelssohn was 19 years old. Had it not been for the efforts of Mendelssohn to promote Schubert’s music, may be his compositions would have remained unknown to this day.
Franz Schubert is seen as one of the most important names in world music heritage. He died in 1828 of typhoid (though some say syphilis) when he was just 31 years old. Had he lived longer perhaps he might have outclassed many of the musical geniuses we know; he didn’t acquire the fame he enjoys today during his short life. His fame started after his death when the great musicians of the 19th century like Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt discovered his compositions. Felix Mendelssohn had a special role in promoting Schubert’s music, which now has a place of prominence in the classical music repertoire, during the first half of the 19th century.
Some critics regard Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, which was performed by the Vienna Orchestra, as his greatest; that is why it is called the “Great”. However, his Eighth Symphony, which was never completed, has a special place in my heart, almost matching the Ninth. Schubert composed only two movements, and people often think that is because of his early death. The truth is that Schubert fell ill while he was composing it and on recovery he felt that the symphony had taken on its own identity as it was, so he didn’t add a third or fourth movement and moved onto his ninth and final symphony instead. This incomplete symphony remained the first competitor in fame against the Ninth.
As for Mendelssohn, he was born to a German Jewish family and was the grandson of the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn though he was baptised when he was seven years old; his sister Fanny Mendelssohn was one of the rare female composers at the time. Mendelssohn’s fame spread all over Europe, especially England, which he visited more than ten times and where his music was welcomed with great enthusiasm. His Fourth Symphony, which he composed in 1833, is his most famous. It was composed after a visit he made to Italy while in his twenties though he wrote in his letters that he didn’t hear in Italy music composed worthy of remembrance. That is why there are almost no Italian melodies in the symphony except the fourth movement which comprises the rhythms of two popular dances in southern Italy, the saltarello and the tarantella.
In the 1960s, the Cairo Symphonic Orchestra used to give a concert every Saturday evening at the old Opera House before it was burned down, then at the Gomhuriya Theatre. Some of the world’s most notable conductors, such as Charles Munch and Gika Zdravkovich, were invited to these concerts. The orchestra itself was headed by world-class musicians like the Armenian-Russian genius Aram Khachaturian. Can the new Music Hall bring this tradition back to life?
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.