There are a number of 20th-century works that owe their existence to a war injury: the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, the older brother of the philosopher Ludwig, lost his right arm in World War I. With the intention of continuing his musical career he commissioned leading composers of that day to write works for the left hand. In addition to such artists as Paul Hindemith, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel also complied with the wishes of the industrialist’s son. His Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, premiered in 1929, is unquestionably the most important of the compositions written for Wittgenstein. In a concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Pierre Boulez, soloist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who is acclaimed not least for his interpretations of contemporary music, gave a brilliant performance.
The programme reflected a chronological and stylistic focus typical of Boulez: Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, which is characterized by rhythmic elan, conceptual refinement and unusual instrumentation, was composed only six years after Ravel’s Concerto. The origins of Boulez’s own Notations also date back to the same period of music history, namely 1945, when he composed the first version for piano. Boulez was not only fascinated by developments in music history but also strived for ongoing growth in his own works. The last of the five pieces, arranged for large orchestra and substantially expanded in structure and length, did not appear until 1997, 52 years after the original version.