It was in August 1976 at the Lucerne Festival that Anne-Sophie Mutter first set foot on the world’s stage. She was thirteen at the time. The following year she made her Salzburg Whitsun Festival debut under Herbert von Karajan, and a year after that her first recording was released by Deutsche Grammophon. The words “child prodigy” inevitably appeared in the newspapers. “I was half-aware of what was being said,” the violinist recalls, “but it was of little interest to me. I knew that I was a child. And the ‘prodigy’ part struck me as somehow comical.” To become world-famous as a teenager practically overnight was gratifying, of course, but it was also an emotional and a mental challenge. “As a result I learnt from a very early age to adopt a realistic attitude to all that was written about me and to place a certain distance between it and my private life.” This down-to-earth attitude was to prove useful to Anne-Sophie Mutter, for what followed was an international career unlike that of any other subsequent violinist.
But whatever she may have achieved – initially, in the 1980s, working with Karajan, later in the form of numerous world premieres of works by leading composers, to say nothing of her Foundation for highly gifted young musicians and of her own ensemble, Mutter’s Virtuosi – journalists and others were always lying in wait, hoping to witness one of those obligatory crises that are said to befall every child prodigy at some stage in their careers. After all, the history of classical music can tell many a tale of musicians who got off to an early start but who, the older they became, the more they were beset by problems. “For a while this annoyed me, because when you are growing up, you take an interest in your colleagues and in their lives. Interviewers often struck a threatening tone by saying that it was now time for a crisis in my life. Later, when I turned thirty, it became an adult crisis; and, when I turned forty, it was a mid-life crisis; and, by the time I’d reached fifty, it was a miracle that I could still move. You can’t take it seriously. Every life obeys a different logic and follows a different tempo. Of course, I too have had to face challenges that have been hard to resolve, but you learn from experience and also from the difficult times, and, most important of all, you discover the strength that you can draw from all this.”
Anne-Sophie Mutter was able to learn something new even from one of her very first concerts. She was six when she first performed in public at the “Trompeterschlössle” in Bad Säckingen close to her home town of Wehr in Baden-Württemberg. She had had her first violin lesson barely a year earlier. Among the elegantly dressed audience was the local mayor. Although they all sat there in a state of apparent passivity, they took an interest in what was going on onstage, including the music, their reaction clear not only from their applause but above all from their silence and attentiveness and from their open eyes and ears. A concert is a form of dialogue, the audience also affecting the artist, and even at this early age the young Anne-Sophie Mutter could already sense this very clearly – not that this had an entirely positive effect: “In the front row there was a woman with goldcoloured shoes. At that date I wasn’t yet sufficiently experienced to ensure in advance that the lights in the auditorium were turned down. But since being distracted by those gold shoes and having to repeat my piece from the very beginning, all because l’d lost the thread, I prefer to be surrounded by darkness. Your senses are then directed all the more keenly at what you can feel and hear and sense, not at what you can see. I drew two conclusions from this: I love shoes, and it has to be dark in the auditorium.”
However much the world may have changed since the late 1960s, classical concerts still run along the same lines as they did then, at least in 90 per cent of cases. Anne-Sophie Mutter is convinced that this ritual will survive and that it will continue to be justified: “I don’t believe that you need to say a few words by way of an introduction to a Beethoven concerto. Not only is the repertory familiar but the music requires no witty commentary, such is its depth and seriousness.” Over the years, however, a fundamental change has taken place in the audience, an interlocutor that is so emphatically present at the moment of the performance. More importantly, the social status of classical music has shifted. And Anne-Sophie Mutter sees this very much as a danger – but also as an opportunity: “Not least as a result of its non-existence in the media, classical music is now treated as a cultural asset of the most sensitive kind and has been locked away in an ivory tower, so that every emotion on the part of a concert audience, including even enthusiasm, seems practically to have vanished from the concert hall. I find a very different audience whenever I go to the opera or ballet. But in the symphonic and chamber repertory the audience, even though it may be incredibly well educated and inquisitive, tends to remain politely aloof. The impression is of something being repressed. More spontaneity on the part of the audience is important not only for the artist and for the success of the evening but also for the listener. People should simply allow themselves to respond to music in a more relaxed and a more emotionally charged way.”
This is one of the reasons why for many years Anne-Sophie Mutter has performed not only in major international concert halls but also in clubs, where a young audience, largely unconcerned with traditional rituals, reacts to the music much more spontaneously. It is only logical, therefore, that she increasingly uses the social media to engage in a dialogue with her fans. To take an example: the cover of the present album is the result of an online design competition, Anne-Sophie Mutter having personally chosen the winner from among the designs that were submitted.
But classical music naturally needs not only new and freshly minted forms but above all living ideas to fill those forms, which is why Anne-Sophie Mutter believes that it is so important that the repertory should continue to develop. In this regard her outstanding contribution to the international world of music has been honoured not only with a number of Gold Discs for record sales figures but also with the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize. Among the great composers who have written works for her are Sebastian Currier, Henri Dutilleux, Sofia Gubaidulina, Witold Lutosławski, Norbert Moret, Krzysztof Penderecki, Sir André Previn and Wolfgang Rihm. And, finally, there is her commitment to the next generation. Among the young musicians who have been helped by her Foundation are the violinist Vilde Frang and the cellists Daniel Müller-Schott and Maximilian Hornung, all three of whom are now stars in their own right.
The present release brings together recordings that date for the most part from the last twenty years. It invites listeners to undertake two tours of Anne-Sophie Mutter’s multiple worlds of music. The first explores the highways and byways of the core repertory and features well-known works for violin and orchestra by Dvořák and Schumann alongside less familiar pieces.
The second focuses on a sonata and single-movement works, often with Mutter’s long-standing piano partner, Lambert Orkis, and combines virtuosity and light-heartedness, the popular and the surprising, and emotion and rhythmic energy.
Translation: Stewart Spencer
The cover of this set was created within the context of an open design competition held on the online platform 99designs and was personally selected by Anne-Sophie Mutter from a total of 1,284 entries.