Alexander Polzin, Age Of Anxiety 23/99, 1999 (detail) View full image

Bernstein: Age of Anxiety

Alexander Polzin, Benjamin Shwartz

Anxiety is the feeling that you have no destiny, … that you do not really know what you are supposed to become.

Professor Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, American literary theorist and Professor at Stanford University

Conductor, Benjamin Shwartz and visual artist, Alexander Polzin join force on a project presenting a program illustrating how the momentous events at the beginning of the 20th century irreversibly changed music and, above all, the perception we have of life. 

In this unique creative project Leonard Bernstein's 2nd Symphony, The Age of Anxiety takes centre stage. It is performed alongside projections of the series of 99 paintings of the same title by Alexander Polzin. Both the Bernstein and the Polzin series hew closely to the six-part structure of Auden's poem and respond to particular moments of insight and beauty in the poem.

Age of Anxiety (Trailer)

Alexander Polzin, Benjamin Shwartz, all images © Alexander Polzin, 2014

The Age of Anxiety was published in 1948, following Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and two World Wars, the poem profits from the benefit of perspective. Auden strives to show us that the anxieties exacerbated by the immediacy of wartime do not simply dissipate when conflict is over. Rather, these profound worries remain.  

Bernstein composed his second symphony, The Age of Anxiety, between 1948 and 1949.  He described W.H. Auden’s epic poem as one of the most shattering examples of pure virtuosity in the history of English poetry. Premiered in 1949, the symphony was composed as a concertante work, scored for solo piano and orchestra, and closely mirrors the structure of Auden’s poem. 

Literature and, above all, poetry have been a deep inspiration for Alexander Polzin’s artworks. In 2002, Polzin created a series of 99 paintings based on Auden’s book length poem, adopting the title Age of Anxiety. The essence of the feeling of anxiety is deeply expressed in this series of paintings.

Bernstein: Age of Anxiety, The National Forum Music NFM, Wrocław, 2017

Between the softness of the lines and the softness of the chaos I see a constant movement…  One correspondence between this oscillation between soft lines and soft chaos, this oscillation between becoming and unbecoming is the motive of anxiety.

Prof Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht at the Alexander Polzin exhibition at the Los Angeles Goethe Institut

Creative Team

Visual concept: Alexander Polzin
Conductor: Benjamin Schwartz