ProMedica Masterworks Series Program Notes
by Kalindi Bellach ©2018
Trudel's Debut / Colors / A Hero's Life / Nordic Air / Grieg's Piano Concerto Featuring André Watts / Brahms's First / The Majestic Sea / The Scottish Symphony / Mahler's Resurrection / Beatles Concerto
Alain Trudel, conductor
Featuring dancers from Toledo Ballet
Smith - The Star-Spangled Banner
Beethoven - Symphony No. 5
Dietz - Caldera
Tchaikovsky - Selections from Swan Lake
SYMPHONY NO. 5 IN C MINOR
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
“It is his own intimate thought which is there developed; and his secret sorrows, his pent-up rage, his dreams so full of melancholy oppression, his nocturnal visions and his bursts of enthusiasm furnish its entire subject whilst the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and orchestral forms are there delineated with an essential novelty and individuality, endowing them also with considerable power and nobleness.”
– Hector Berlioz
Shortly after completing his third symphony, the massive “Eroica,”Beethoven began work on his Symphony No. 5 in C Minor. Technically it would have been his fourth, except that he had to pause to write another in order to fulfill a prior commission. This other piece became Symphony No. 4 in B-flat. Beethoven rarely worked on only one project at a time, and so he also wrote the “Razumovsky” Quartets, Op. 59, the Piano Concerto No. 4, and the Violin Concerto before completing what was now his fifth symphony in 1807 (although the score was not signed until 1808).
While Beethoven’s earlier symphonies can all be loosely described as expansions on previously established forms, composer Hector Berlioz notes that here, in his fifth, “Beethoven has given his imagination free scope … without electing to be either guided or supported by any outside thought … [it] appears to us to emanate directly and solely from the genius of Beethoven.”
While working on this symphony, Beethoven also somehow found time to begin his Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral,” as well. Annotator Michael Steinberg points out that these two works are both “opposites and twins … each sheds light on the other.” At its opening, the Pastoral illustrates “the awakening of joyful feelings upon arriving in the country,” whereas the opening of the Fifth Symphony has been described differently: “Thus fate knocks at the door.” The main tie and simultaneous contrast between the two works that Steinberg points out is how Beethoven uses the concept of saturation to make his point. In the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven compresses the rhythmic figures, using sheer repetition to drive the gestures. In the Sixth, he goes in the other direction, expanding and lengthening the chords into near timelessness.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is in the traditional four movements, with the third leading directly into the Finale. The first movement opens with what is perhaps the most famous phrase in all of classical music, the “ta-ta-ta-TA” figure, the long note at the end of which is marked with a fermata and not exactly measured. In modern performances, tempi of this opening vary, as tempo in general is a hotly debated issue in Beethoven’s symphonic work. The metronome marks weren’t added until years later and sometimes seem to directly contradict the character indications. Steinberg also point out, “Misunderstanding of this opening was nurtured by a nineteenth-century performance tradition in which the first five measures were read as a slow, portentous exordium, the main tempo being attacked only after the second hold. In World War II, when the Allies co-opted Beethoven by declaring that ta-ta-ta-TA represented V for victory in Morse code, that tradition was occasionally revived.” This opening movement is permeated with a sense of urgency, heightened by sudden holds and nearly continuous reminders of the driving rhythm even under the sweeter legato melody in the strings in the second theme.
Berlioz describes the movement as “devoted to the expression of the disordered sentiments which pervade a great soul when a prey to despair … not that calm and concentrated despair which bears the outward appearance of resignation; or the grief, so somber and silent, which Romeo evinces on hearing of the death of Juliet. Rather it is the terrible fury of Othello.”
The second movement is Adagio, marked quasi menuetto, and extensively features the celli and basses. The theme is presented in sets of variations interspersed with small contrasting sections. Berlioz notes that it “presents some characteristic relation with the allegretto … of the Seventh Symphony; and with [the analogous movement] in E-flat of the Fourth. It offers equally the melancholy gravity of the first and the touching grace of the second.” The melody is carefully shaped and delicately supported, a welcome sweetness after the first movement. Renowned writer and musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey characterizes the minor variation (the third) as “smiling through tears.”
The Scherzo, according to writer, musician, and artist E. T. A. Hoffman, is “grotesque and creeping and threatening … its restless yearning … heightened to a fear which tightly constricts the heart.” Having returned to C Minor, Beethoven restricts most of the Scherzo to the very softest pianissimo, against which he contrasts the robust Trio. Trio is remarkable mostly for its use of the celli and basses, who perform a section, Berlioz writes, “accentuated with all the force of the bow; the uncouth weight of which shakes the very feet of the players’ desks and resembles somewhat the gambols of a delighted elephant.”
The Scherzo leads directly into the Finale. Listen for the timpani in the transition, hinting once again at another key before giving way to the triumphant chords of the last movement in bright C Major. This last movement introduces for the first time the trombones, which have not yet played. Berlioz remarked, “This Finale … being in itself of a magnificence and richness in comparison with which there are few pieces which could appear without being completely crushed.”
Dedicated to Count Andreas von Razumovsky and Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 was premiered in Vienna in 1808. Also on the program were his Fourth Piano Concerto and his Sixth Symphony. Steinberg notes, “How wild the driving Fifth Symphony must have sounded to an audience that did not meet it as the most familiar of classical masterpieces and that encountered its aggressive mien after the spaciousness and warmth of the Fourth Piano Concert and the Pastoral Symphony.”
It is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
Christopher Dietz (b. 1977-)
Notes provided by the composer.
A caldera is a volcanic crater with a diameter many times that of the vent that leads up to it from inside the earth. It is formed by particularly large and violent eruptions and is an expression of the intense forces that are constantly at work beneath the surface. Mount St. Helens in Washington State is a famous North American example. Caldera was composed in 2004. It is scored for three flutes, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, two trombones and bass trombone, tuba, percussion, timpani, harp, piano, and strings.
SELECTIONS FROM SWAN LAKE, OP. 20
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, doubtless one of the most beloved classical ballets, was the composer’s first venture into that genre. He began work on it in 1875 after receiving a commission from the Imperial Theatre in Moscow, basing it on an earlier work he’d sketched out for his nieces. He completed it the following year. Besides the sketches from the ear-lier version of Swan Lake, Tchaikovsky also included excerpts (adjusted) from two of his early operas, Undine and Voyevoda.
Swan Lake, at heart, is a love story. It’s in four acts, combining elements of tragedy, romance, and magic. A sorcerer puts the Princess Odette under a spell, and so by day she lives as a swan swimming on a lake of tears. By night she returns to her human form. Prince Siegfried happens on her one evening, and the two fall in love.
Act I opens with Prince Siegfried’s birthday celebration at the palace. On this occasion Siegfried’s mother gifts her son with a crossbow and also tells him he must soon choose a bride. The prospect frightens him, and he escapes to the woods with the bow.
In Act II Prince Siegfried is alone in the forest beside an enchanted lake, complete with floating swans. He notices the most lovely swan and stays to watch her. As night falls, Odette returns to her human form and spots Siegfried. She explains that she and her sisters are swans because of the spell of Von Rothbart, the sorcerer who, incidentally, is disguised as Siegfried’s teacher, and that their parents’ tears formed the lake they swim on. The only way to break the spell is with a pledge of true love. But before Prince Siegfried can make that pledge and break the spell, Von Rothbart interrupts, whisking Odette away and forcing the swan maidens to dance on the lake so that the prince may not speak to them.
In Act III Prince Siegfried has returned home, and his mother brings all the princesses she can find to meet him, but none of them is Odette. In order to delay his having to choose a bride, the prince dances with each princess to satisfy his mother. Von Rothbart arrives, bringing his daughter, Odile, to present to Siegfried. To ensure that Siegfried chooses Odile, Von Rothbart casts another spell to make her look like Odette. The ruse works, and Siegfried proposes to Odile. Unfortunately, the real Odette witnesses the whole thing through one of the windows, and when Siegfried sees her fleeing he realizes what he has done and chases after her.
Act IV opens back at the lake, where Odette has retreated. Siegfried finds her and explains what happened. Odette forgives him, but then Von Rothbart and Odile interrupt again, demanding that the prince honor his word and marry Odile. Siegfried tells Von Rothbart that he would rather die with Odette than marry Odile, and the two leap into the lake together. This breaks the spell, and the remaining swans turn back into girls, who push Von Rothbart and Odile into the lake with Siegfried and Odette, where the four of them drown. The spirits of Siegfried and Odette rise into the sky above the lake.
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake premiered in Moscow in 1877, but it wasn’t popular initially. Annotator Phillip Huscher explains, “The dancers were uneven, the scenery and costumes shabby, the choreography pedestrian, and the conductor inept.” Nearly twenty years later it was re-choreographed for a production in St. Petersburg, and the musical score was revised, with some sections being excluded altogether on the grounds that they were too difficult either to play or to dance. The reception and subsequent alterations caused Tchaikovsky to remark in a letter to friend Nadezhda von Meck, “I tell you that Swan Lake is not fit to hold a candle to Sylvia [by Leo Delibes].”
Although it took some time to get off the ground, Swan Lake, along with Tchaikovsky’s other two fairytale ballets (The Sleeping Beauty in 1889 and The Nutcracker in 1892), have taken their places among the masterworks of the genre. Various selections from the full ballets have been put together into suites for the concert hall, becoming just as ubiquitous there as in the theater. Tchaikovsky, who never imagined their possibility, approved none of these orchestral suites.
The selections you will here tonight span the entire work, including the Danses des Cygnes (“Dances of the Swans”) from Act II (which Huscher describes as having a “ducky” main theme in oboes and bassoons), and the Finale from Act IV. The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets and two cornets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, harp, and strings.
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Alain Trudel, conductor
David Saltzman, tuba
Holly Carr, silk painting artist
Rimsky-Korsakov - Tsar Saltan Suite and the Flight of the Bumblebee
Adler - Tuba Concerto (world premiere)
Borodin - Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor
Stravinsky - Suite from The Firebird
TSAR SALTAN SUITE AND THE FLIGHT OF THE BUMBLEEBEE
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar Saltan is the tenth of his fifteen operas. In addition to these fifteen he left four other operas in progress. As was fairly common with music for both operas and ballet, suites were made from some of them so that they could live in the concert hall as well as on stage. Rimsky-Korsakov composed the music for Tsar Saltan in 1889–90, and the opera was premiered in the fall of 1900.
Rimsky-Korsakov was quite fond of the writing of Alexander Pushkin, and he wrote the story of Tsar Saltan in honor of the poet’s birthday. Gerald Abraham of New Grove characterizes this work, along with two other operas by Rimsky-Korsakov, as a “musico-scenic fairytale.” It is not based on any particular folk tale, Russian or otherwise. The libretto is by Vladimir Belsky, and the full title is The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of his son the famous and mighty hero Prince Guidon Saltanovich, and of the beautiful Swan Princess.
The story goes that Tsar Saltan is based on elements of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. In it, Tsar Saltan hears three sisters talking among themselves about how each would define happiness. The youngest wants to be the mother of a heroic man. Saltan chooses her for his wife. But while he is away at war, her sisters become jealous and put her and her young son in a barrel and float them out to sea. Instead of drowning, however, the pair wash up on an island and manage to survive there. Fast-forward to when the boy is a young man and rescues a swan from a pursuer. As a result, he gains magical powers with which he is able to build a “Wonder-City” that rises from the ocean. The rescued swan becomes a princess and joins him in the city. Finally, returning from war, Saltan travels to the city and is returned to his family.
This knack for color and imagery is a commonality throughout Rimsky-Korsakov’s work in all genres. Commentator Paul Godfrey notes, “All of them have in common an element of mythological symbolism which gives the composer plenty of opportunity to indulge in his two greatest strengths: the depiction of nature in all its guises, and his superlative command of the science of orchestration.”
Rimsky-Korsakov presents The Tale of Tsar Saltan in four acts, introducing each with the same fanfare. Annotator Roger Dettmer points out that Stravinsky would later lift and translate this as the snare-drum roll in Petrushka. Rimsky-Korsakov, perhaps giving a nod to Berlioz and/or Wagner and the concept of the recurring musical fragment representing a particular person or place, kept the fanfare (in the brass) in the Suite.
The Suite was compiled in 1901. The opening piece, The Tsar’s Departure and Farewell, is taken from the prelude to the first act. The Tsarina in a Barrel at Sea was the prelude to the second act in the opera. From the fourth act comes The Three Wonders, which refers to the swan princess, a squirrel that whistles and finds acorns with emeralds in them, and thirty-three warriors with gold helmets that are left behind after a flood.
The Flight of the Bumblebee comes from the third act of The Tale of Tsar Saltan (when the young prince is temporarily transformed into the small buzzing insect). Though the movement is not actually part of the Suite, most modern recordings include the movement because of its familiarity. Indeed, the Flight of the Bumblebee is Rimsky-Korsakov’s most wellknown and instantly recognizable work, and there are many arrangements for various instrumental configurations.Though only a couple of minutes long, it is wonderfully vivid and illustrative.
The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, three clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and celesta, harp, and strings.
CONCERTO FOR TUBA AND ORCHESTRA
Samuel Adler (b. 1928)
Notes provided by the composer
The Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra was written on a commission from the Toledo Symphony Orchestra for its tubist David Saltzman in 2017. It is a work in three movements with a cadenza between the second and third movements.
There are too few concertos for tuba and orchestra, probabl y because the tuba as an instrument that we know today was not perfected technically until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Also, before the twentieth century it was not considered a solo instrument, though, especially with composers like Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler it is a most important member of their orchestras.
I was delighted to write a concerto for tuba because it does possess all the possibilities found in a solo instrument. It has lyrical qualities in all its registers, and with today’s excellent tubists it is an instrument that can have excellent dexterity. Therefore I have divided my concerto into three movements. The first is called Cantilation and shows off the lyrical qualities of the instrument with free flowing song-like phrases accompanied by similar music in the orchestra. There is constant dialogue between soloist and the orchestral forces, the latter sometimes foreshadowing, sometimes repeating gestures of the soloist.
The second movement, entitled Scherzo, as well as the Finale are written to demonstrate the great versatility of the tuba. Both are ‘fast and furious’ but often whimsical and always bright in nature and demand great virtuosity from both the soloist and the orchestral forces.
Separating the two fast movements is a very lyrical slow cadenza. Usually a cadenza is included to demonstrate the virtuosity of the performer, however, since that will be the case in the second and last movement, I felt I wanted to give the soloist another opportunity to emphasize the beauty and the lyrical side of this neglected solo instrument and also a chance to ‘sing’ by himself. The work is about twenty minutes long.
The tuba concerto is scored for three flutes with one doubling on piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns,three trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, two percussion, and strings.
POLOVTSIAN DANCES FROM PRINCE IGOR
Alexander Borodin (1833–1887)
Borodin, although obviously an excellent musician and composer, was actually a professor of chemistry at the Medico-Surgical Academy of St. Petersburg, an appointment he took up in his early thirties after earning a doctorate while simultaneously composing several of his early chamber pieces.
Throughout the 1860s Borodin, together with writer and critic Vladimir Stasov, and fellow composers Mussorgsky, Balakirev (also a great mentor of Borodin’s), Cui, and Rimsky-Korsakov, formed a group of nationalist composers most commonly referred to as The Mighty Handful, who took inspiration from Russian folk elements and shared a fascination with all things Eastern, real or imagined. It was one of their main goals to turn away from the contemporary Western European styles and hopefully create a musical soundworld that was more authentically Russian. This included the musics of recently annexed Asian groups.
It was really only at the urging of Balakirev and the Mussorgsky that Borodin began to venture out of chamber music and into the larger genres, and, in 1868, Stasov introduced Borodin to the (possibly) twelfth century poem Epic of the Army of Igor. Whether or not its origins were as advertised, the story intrigued Borodin.
Borodin began composing Knyaz’ Igor or Prince Igor in 1869, worked on it for almost a year, then set it aside until 1874, when he took it up again. He worked on it intermittently for the next thirteen years, but did not complete it. However, Rimsky-Korsakov enlisted the help of another composer, Alexander Glazunov, to complete the work after Borodin’s unexpected death. Between them, they managed to fill in the gaps as necessary with their own compositions, transitional material, and to complete some of the pieces Borodin had left half-finished. Prince Igor was premiered in St. Petersburg in November 1890.
It was not a resounding success, but it was not a failure either. One possible issue was the somewhat haphazard narrative, no doubt a result of the fact that Borodin wrote the libretto himself and failed to complete it before beginning on the music. The complete opera is now seldom performed in its entirety. However, like Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin exhibits an incredible command of color, and the ballet numbers collectively called the Polovtsian Dances is undeniably a favorite. In the story, these dances served to occupy Prince Igor while the Khan held him prisoner, and included chorus interjections that are usually left out of concert versions.
The first section is introduced by the woodwinds and becomes a base for the second section, which repeats elements of the theme in different textures until a brief pause follows the climax. The third section is the most boisterous and, as it finally winds down, gives way to the insistent dotted rhythm (long-short) in the final section. As mentioned above, the chorus is usually not included, a fact that annotator Paul Serotsky calls “a great loss … The words are of no particular importance, but the sound is … Rimsky[-Korsakov] saw the chorus as an extension of his prodigious orchestral palette, to maximize the ‘oriental splendor.’” Serotsky further urges us, if we’re not familiar with the choral version, to seek it “without delay!”
While Prince Igor and its Polovtsian Dances are not technically purely Borodin’s, Rimsky-Korsakov’s contributions are excellent. Serotsky cites the latter’s “greater flair for orchestration, immediately apparent if you compare the Polovtsian Dances with any bit of ‘pure’ Borodin.” Nevertheless, Prince Igor is Borodin’s finest work and most formidable achievement. The score calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
SUITE FROM THE FIREBIRD
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
Stravinsky composed his Firebird during his first creative period, which is characterized by the extensive use of folk elements and color (similar to that of his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov). He began work in the fall of 1909 on receiving a commission from the impresario Sergei Diaghilev (his first commission of a completely new score), and completed it the following spring. Diaghilev had actually tried to secure other composers for the project first, including Liadov, Tcherepnin, and Glazunov. After none of those composers could commit to the project, Diaghilev approached the young Stravinsky, who set to work right away.
Diaghilev was reputedly quite proud to have “discovered” Stravinsky and told one of the dancers during a rehearsal to “mark him well; he is a man on the eve of celebrity.” This was not an overstatement, as Stravinsky became extremely famous seemingly overnight following Firebird ’s premiere in 1910. Annotator Phillip Huscher explains, “According to Ravel, the Parisian audience wanted a taste of the avant-garde, and this dazzling music by the daring young Russian fit the bill.” Of course, Firebird was only Stravinsky’s first huge success; it was promptly followed by Petrushka and then, of course, the infamous Rite of Spring. Huscher notes that the first “enhanced his reputation; the second … made him the most notorious composer alive.”
In the fairytale, the firebird is held captive by the evil King Kashchei, whohides his own soul inside an egg hidden in a chest for safekeeping. One day, Prince Ivan catches a glimpse of the firebird and follows her, accidentally wandering into Kashchei’s magical garden. The prince captures the firebird, who begs him to release her. In exchange, she gives Prince Ivan a feather from her tail that will protect him. He releases the firebird and goes on his way. However, he soon meets thirteen princesses, all under Kashchei’s spell. After falling in love with one of them, he tries to follow them deeper into the garden, which leads to his own capture by Kashchei. Kashchei prepares to cast a spell that will turn Prince Ivan to stone, but the prince remembers the feather and calls the firebird to his aid. She sings a lullaby that makes Kashchei sleep and then tells the prince about the egg in the chest. He finds it and breaks the egg. With Kashchei dead, the princesses are free and Prince Ivan is betrothed to his love.
Stravinsky describes his work on Firebird and the subsequent rehearsals and performances:
The firebird did not attract me as a subject. Like all story ballets it demanded descriptive music of a kind I did not want to write. I had not yet proved myself as a composer, and I had not earned the right to criticize the aesthetics of my collaborators, but I did criticize them, and arrogantly, though perhaps my age (twenty-seven) was more arrogant than I was. Above all, I could not abide the assumption that my music would be imitation Rimsky-Korsakov, especially as by that time I was in such revolt against poor Rimsky.... Fokine is credited as the librettist of The Firebird, but I remember that all of us … contributed ideas to the plan of the scenario…. I was flattered, of course, at the promise of a performance of my music in Paris, and my excitement on arriving in that city … could hardly have been greater. These ardors were somewhat cooled, however, at the first rehearsal. The words “for Russian export” seemed to be stamped everywhere, both on the stage and in the music. The mimic scenes were especially obvious in this sense, but I could say nothing about them as they were what Fokine liked best. I was also deflated to discover that not all of my musical remarks were held to be oracular, and Pierné, the conductor, disagreed with me once in front of the whole orchestra. I had written “non crescendo,” but Pierné said, “Young man, if you do not want a crescendo, then do not write anything.”
The first-night audience glittered indeed, but the fact that it was heavily perfumed is more vivid in my memory; the gaily elegant London audience, when I came to know it later, seemed almost deodorized by comparison. I sat in Diaghilev’s box, where, at intermission, artists, dowagers, aged Egerias of the Ballet, “intellectuals,” balletomanes, appeared. I met for the first time Proust, Giraudoux, Paul Morand, St. John Perse, Claudel at The Firebird…. A moment of unexpected comedy occurred near the beginning of the performance. Diaghilev had had the idea that a procession of real horses should march on stage – in step with, to be exact, the last six eighth notes of bar eight. The poor animals did enter on cue all right, but they began to neigh and whinny, and one of them, a better critic than an actor, left a malodorous calling card. The audience laughed, and Diaghilev decided not to risk a repetition in future performances. That he could have tried it even once seems incredible to me now – but the incident was forgotten in the general acclaim for the new ballet afterwards.
I was called to the stage to bow at the conclusion, and was recalled several times. I was still on stage when the final curtain had come down, and I saw Diaghilev coming towards me, and a dark man with a double forehead, whom he introduced as Claude Debussy. The great composer spoke kindly about the music, ending his words with an invitation to dine with him. Some years later, when we were sitting together in his box at a performance of Pelléas, I asked him what he really thought of The Firebird. He said, “Que voulez-vous, il fallait bien commencer par quelque chose” [“Well, you had to start with something”]. Honest, but not extremely flattering. Yet shortly after The Firebird premiere he gave me his well-known photo (in profile) with a dedication “à Igor Stravinski en toute sympathie artistique.”
While pulling material out for the orchestra suite years later, Stravinsky also tightened some of the orchestration, dispensing with some of what he called a “wastefully large” orchestra. Stravinsky wrote, “For me, the most striking effect in The Firebird was the natural-harmonic string glissando near the beginning, which the bass chord touches off … I was delighted to have discovered this, and I remember my excitement in demonstrating it to Rimsky’s violinist and cellist sons.”
Although Stravinsky admittedly worried about arriving at a point too near that of his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov, he needn’t have. As annotator Peter Laki affirms, “Stravinsky’s first ballet shows a remarkable individuality.” His command of rhythm in particular as an expressive tool is already in evidence here, if not as fully developed as in his subsequent ballets. Harmonically and texturally, though, everything is spectacularly and carefully colored, in an incredibly detailed score that commentator Ronald Gallman calls “as lush and colorful in … orchestration as the story is fantastic.”
Stravinsky ultimately derived three distinct suites from The Firebird, in 1911, 1919, and 1945. Tonight’s performance is the 1919 version. The score (reduced from the original ballet) calls for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, harp, and strings.
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A Hero's Life
Alain Trudel, conductor
Members of the Toledo Symphony Youth Orchestras
Howe arr. Wilhousky - Battle Hymn of the Republic
Williams - Summon the Heroes
Zwilich - Symbolon
Strauss - Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life)
BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC
Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910)
Battle Hymn of the Republic is one of the most popular songs for patriotic programming in the US, and there are hundreds of versions and arrangements of it. The melody is based on the popular song John Brown’s Body, which in turn is based on the Methodist hymn Say, Brothers, Will You Meet Us?, by William Steffe. John Brown’s Body was actually written about a Scottish sergeant in Massachusetts and not the famous abolitionist named John Brown, as most people assume. Despite its origins, John Brown’s Body has become inextricably linked with the abolitionist, who was executed in 1859. But despite the song’s developing strong ties to the Union, John Brown’s Body was wildly popular with soldiers on both sides of the Civil War, and like a lot of popular and folk music of the period, it gradually changed shape as people taught it to one another and added verses, changed words, and embellished the melody.
In 1861, poet and writer Howe accompanied her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, of President Lincoln’s Military Sanitation Commission, and their friend Reverend James Freeman Clarke on a tour of the Union army camps in Washington, D.C. It was here that she first heard John Brown’s Body, and on the suggestion of Reverend Clark, penned new text for the familiar tune. As the story goes, the words came to her almost finished the very next night. She later described the process: “[I] awoke … in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, ‘I shall lose this if I don’t write it down immediately.’”
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
His day is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His Judgement Seat.
Oh! Be swift, my soul, to answer Him, be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Howe’s text was published in 1862 in the Atlantic Monthly. It was christened Battle Hymn of the Republic by the paper’s editor, who paid her $5 for the work. Following the war, Howe maintained a career as a successful lecturer and was a founding member of the New England Women’s Suffrage Association.
SUMMON THE HEROES
John Williams (b. 1932)
Williams composed his Summon the Heroes for the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Olympics. He dedicated the work to Tim Morrison, trumpeter with the Boston Pops Orchestra. It is not the only piece Williams wrote in honor of the Olympics; his related works include Olympic Fanfare and Theme (1984), Olympic Spirit (1988), and Call of the Champions (2002). In each of these works, Williams depicts the elements of tradition, honor, heroism, and grandeur associated with the Games.
The one-movement work is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, six trumpets, four trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, and strings.
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b. 1939)
Symbolon is one of Zwilich’s most popular works. In 1988, the New York Philharmonic toured the Soviet Union and commissioned this work for that occasion. This made it the first American work to premiere in Russia. It was performed under the baton of Zubin Mehta at Bolshoi Hall in Leningrad. Commentator Chris Morrison writes that the political climate at the time, and the purpose of the commission, highlight the meaning of the title. Zwilich explains, “The word Symbolon comes from the Greek and refers to the ancient custom whereby two parties broke a piece of pottery (or a stone, or a coin) in two, each retaining half. Each half (or symbolon) thus became a token of friendship as well as proof of identity of the bearer. The word came to have many other meanings, among them: the identity-token given to Athenian dicasts on entering the courts, entitling them to vote; a passport or the seal thereon; a secret code; and in the plural, a treaty between two states. Usually the word symbolon describes a relationship between two parties with a particular connotation of goodwill and friendship.
“While Symbolon… is not a programmatic or narrative work, I am certain that it was inspired by its circumstances. From the beginning I knew that the piece would receive its first performance in the Soviet Union, and I found this profoundly moving. I am sure that my complex feelings, embracing both hope and sadness about the state of the political world, have found their way into this work.
“Symbolon is in one movement and is written for the modern orchestra with its characteristic robust string sound and instrumental virtuosity. It is dedicated to Zubin Mehta.”
Symbolon opens with strong chords intensified by the use of unisons. Zwilich intersperses these with shorter repetitive, livelier figures that serve almost as punctuation. The melody is splayed over a wide pitch field, which increases the tension until we burst onto a sparser plain. Even now, though, repetitive drum figures remind us of the earlier tension and threaten to bring it back. A solo cello leads us into the final section. Zwilich ends it softly, with a hopeful chord in the major mode.
Symbolon is scored for three flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, three clarinets and bass clarinet, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, two trombones and bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
EIN HELDENLEBEN (A Hero’s Life), Op. 40
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Though Strauss is most well known now as a composer of tone poems, before composing Ein Heldenleben, Strauss could be referred to as primarily a composer of operas. Not only did most of his compositional output live in this genre, his thriving career as a conductor was also firmly rooted in it. Though his opera Guntram (1895) was not particularly successful, it marks an important time for Strauss, as it was during the rehearsals for this piece that he fell in love with and became engaged to Pauline de Ahna. Pauline was one of his students and also performed in that first production of Guntram. Pauline also plays quite an important role in Ein Heldenleben.
Although Strauss was focused mostly on opera, Ein Heldenleben is by no means his first symphonic work, or, more specifically, his first symphonic poem. He had been interested for some time in the concept that new ideas, particularly philosophical ones, should find new forms for presentation. This thought was based loosely on the work of pianist and composer Franz Liszt, who often based his pieces around poetic ideas rather than musical ones.
Strauss began sketching for Ein Heldenleben in the spring of 1897 and completed it the next year. Originally calling it Held und Welt, or “Hero and World,” it is fair to admit a strong element of musical autobiography about it, though not necessarily a completely serious one. Musicologist Matthew Boyden explains, “Such a combination of nerve and talent was unprecedented. Neither Beethoven nor Wagner, whose opinions of themselves inclined towards hyperbole, indulged in any outright musical autobiography. Indeed, it was the irony of the gesture that distinguished Heldenleben as probably the boldest work of self-deprecation in the history of music, for Strauss was, in every respect, the least heroic figure imaginable.” Unfortunately for Strauss, not everyone caught his levity. In 1906, the conductor and critic Rudolf Louis launched a verbal assault against Strauss for “presuming to elevate his own person … [Heldenleben displays] a shallow, even trivial sentimentality, which made [it] a repellent experience.”
Besides serving as an outlet for his own hubris, Heldenleben also had a second inspiration. In a letter to a friend, Strauss wrote, “Beethoven’s Eroica is so little beloved by our conductors, and is on this account now only rarely performed, that to fulfill a pressing need I am composing a largish tone poem entitled Heldenleben, admittedly without a funeral march, but yet in E-flat, with lots of horns, which are always a yardstick of heroism.” Boyden notes that Strauss may have assumed at this time, as others did, that Beethoven had composed his Eroica not in honor of the Emperor but of himself.
Regardless of who the hero is in Heldenleben, the idea of the hero’s – and a heroic – life was clearly important to Strauss at the time. It’s also the subject of his Don Quixote, which he was working on almost simultaneously and completed first. Don Quixote was a massive success, and some of that success doubtlessly spilled over onto Heldenleben. In fact, the two pieces were delivered and received as companion pieces. In a letter to the director of the Frankfurt Museum Concerts, Strauss wrote, “Don Quixote and Heldenleben are conceived so much as immediate pendants that, in particular, Don Q. is only fully and entirely comprehensible at the side of Heldenleben.”
Despite the anticipation of Heldenleben, the road to publication was not a smooth one. Strauss was endeavoring to persuade the government to amend the copyright and publication laws for musical scores, being of the firm belief that tone poems must be eligible for royalties “such as at present [are] already enjoyed by the authors of dramatic works in their lifetime.” However, his publisher did not agree with his aims, and in a letter to them on completion of the score Strauss wrote, “Dear friend, it is with regret that I learn of your refusal to take Heldenleben, because, as I have said before, it is absolutely impossible for me to give the performance rights of my works to the publisher in future. This is the cardinal point in our whole movement, and as instigator I cannot set a bad example. Publishing rights to the publisher. Author’s rights to the author.”
In the end, a convenient way around this and other tricky problems, such as the difficulty of the score and of fulfilling the instrumentation requirements, was to dedicate the work to a whole orchestra so that as a group the musicians might take responsibility for its performance. So Strauss dedicated Heldenleben to conductor Wilhelm Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, though he insisted on conducting the premiere (in Frankfurt) himself. Despite varied responses by critics, the piece became a favorite with audiences.
Ein Heldenleben, though not formally broken into movements, is presented in six descriptive sections. The first, labeled “Hero,” presents the main theme. The second section describes the “The Hero’s Adversaries,” which Boyden describes as “the squealing of the critics.” Listen for the tuba part in this section, which Strauss cleverly sets in intervals so as to form a theoretical mistake meant to represent the pedantic “Adversaries” (critics).
“The Hero’s Companion” is about Strauss’s sometimes difficult but always loving wife, Pauline. Strauss paints her with a lone violin, which later becomes a duet between the violin and horn. Of this movement Strauss said, “It’s my wife I wanted to portray. She is very complicated, très femme, a little perverse, a bit of a coquette, never the same twice, different each minute from what she was a minute earlier. At the beginning, the hero follows her lead, picking up the pitch she has just sung, but she escapes farther and farther. Finally he says, ‘All right, go. I’m staying here,’ and he withdraws into his thoughts, his own key. But then she goes after him.”
This section gives way to “The Hero’s Deeds of War,” where the hero must battle his adversaries, called by trumpets. Eventually, the hero is victorious. Following war, Strauss writes of “The Hero’s Deeds of Peace,” in which he quoted heavily from his own earlier works, including Guntram, a couple of his songs, and all of his tone poems except Aus Italien. Musicologist Michael Steinberg describes this section, “Strauss, when accompanying song recitals, used to build bridges from one song to the next by playing – almost inaudibly – passages from his operas, passages that would turn out to be closely related to the song they prepared. Here Strauss weaves a texture both dense and delicate as he combines music from Don Juan, Also sprach Zarathustra, Death and Transfiguration, Don Quixote, Macbeth, and the song ‘Traum durch die Dämmerung’ (“Dreaming at Twilight”). The episode is one of Strauss's orchestral miracles – richly blended, yet a constantly astonishing, shifting kaleidoscopic play of luminescent textures and colors.”
The final section describes “The Hero’s Retirement from the World and the Fulfillment of his Life,” and is doubtless one of the parts of Heldenleben that so enraged Louis with its “trivial sentimentality.” Boyden remarks, “The glory of these last two movements and the ease with which Strauss fuses so much disparate material into a symphonic passage that thrives independently of the material’s origin … touch an emotional depth anticipated only by the closing pages of Don Quixote, and conductors have to work very hard not to allow the sentiment to get the better of them.”
In the first edition, Strauss ends the piece with a reflective gentleness, a choice that he’d made also before in some of his other works. However, he composed a second version of the end, reportedly at the urging of his friend Friedrich Rösch, who was disappointed at the prospect of another subdued ending and, speaking for all of Strauss’s audiences, ordered Strauss to produce an ending with more energy. Apparently, Boyden writes, Strauss asked for pen and paper and jotted down the new ending on the spot “amid tea and toast.” This new ending was subsequently published and is now standard.
Though he did approve the descriptive titles, Strauss also wrote, “For me, the poetic program is nothing more than the formative stimulus both for the expression and the purely musical development of my feelings, not, as you think, a mere musical description of certain of life’s events. That, after all, would be completely against the spirit of music. But, for music not to lose itself in total arbitrariness or dissolve somehow into the boundless, it has need of certain boundaries, and a program can provide such bounds. An analytical program isn’t meant to be more than a kind of handhold for the listener. Whoever is interested in it, let him use it. Anyone who really knows how to listen to music probably doesn’t need it anyway.”
It’s also possible that Strauss was just being difficult. According to music writer Alex Ross, “Both [Strauss and Mahler] saw music as a medium of conflict, a battlefield of extremes. The heroic narratives of nineteenth-century Romanticism … invariably ended with a blaze of transcendence, of spiritual overcoming. [They] told stories of a more circuitous shape … Strauss continued to pursue the underlying theme of Guntram, the struggle of the individual against the collective … always seems doomed to end in defeat, resignation, or withdrawal.”
Nevertheless, Ein Heldenleben, which composer Claude Debussy likened to a “book of images,” continues to capture our attention and love, perhaps because of its abstract nature, which leaves so much room for the listener in the experience. In attendance at one of the first performances, writer Romain Rolland described seeing people “shudder … suddenly rise to their feet, and make violent and unconscious gestures.” He also described his own experience as a “strange intoxication, the dizziness of this heaving ocean,” which led him to the conclusion that “for the first time [in] thirty years, the Germans had found their poet of victory.”
Ein Heldenleben is scored for three flutes and piccolo, four oboes (one doubling English horn), two clarinets, E-flat clarinet, and bass clarinet, three bassoons and contrabassoon, a staggering eight horns, five trumpets, three trombones, tenor and bass tubas, timpani, extensive percussion, two harps, and strings.
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Alain Trudel, conductor
Augustin Hadelich, violin
Sibelius – Finlandia
Sibelius – Violin Concerto
Grieg - Peer Gynt Suites No. 1 and 2
Nielsen – Aladdin March
“Edvard Grieg, in the late nineteenth century, wrote the ‘song of Norway.’ And Carl Nielsen, in Denmark, wrested music of brilliance and violence from rough-hewn folk melodies. Sibelius, the great composer of the small nation of Finland, set the pace for many others.” – Alex Ross
FINLANDIA, OP. 26
Sibelius composed many works across various genres throughout his career and was something of a celebrity in his native Finland. Music writer Alex Ross credits him with the continued importance of classical music in Finnish culture. He is also well-known for furthering the development of symphonic forms and for incorporating strong nationalistic elements into his art.
Finlandia is his most famous work, composed in 1899 for a political demonstration in Helsinki. The piece underwent revisions the year after it was premiered. While Sibelius was renowned in his country before Finlandia, it was Finlandia that catapulted him into the international spotlight.
Huscher explains, “1899 was a time of heightened political tensions, as the Russian hold on Finland was growing tighter, and so a simple and brief, but stirring composition called ‘Finlandia Awakes,’ crowned by a big singable tune, struck home like a thunderbolt.” While working on Finlandia Sibelius was taken with the central theme of Finnish author Zachris Topelius’s dramatic poem, “The Melting of the Ice on the Ulea River: “I was born free and free will I die.” Finlandia, originally titled Finland Awakens, began as the closing movement of a larger piece based on this poem.
The year after its revision, the newly formed Helsinki Philharmonic took Finlandia on tour in Europe, finishing at the World Expo in Paris. Annotator James Keays notes that “the work has virtually become Finland’s second national anthem.” He adds that for some time after its composition, Finlandia was performed under other titles to circumvent the Russian restrictions, which lifted only after Finland gained its independence following the First World War.
Sibelius opens Finlandia with long, threatening chords in the brass that Keays connects with the “powers of darkness” from Topelius. It’s also been suggested that these chords represent the distant but towering Russian Empire. The darkness finally gives way before a lovely hymn, presented in the woodwinds. The score here bears the words: “On great long hills, where tempests brood and gather, primeval earth beneath primeval sky.” The melody grows gradually, until the exultant final sounds.
Huscher points out that not everything about Finlandia’s reception was good for Sibelius, despite the “personal fame, sweeping popularity, and national pride that these few minutes of music inspired. Just as Boléro eventually hounded Ravel, the success of Finlandia came to irritate Sibelius, particularly when it overshadowed greater and more substantial works.”
The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings.
VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MINOR, OP. 47
Jean Sibelius (1865–1957)
Sibelius’ violin concerto is somewhat unique in his repertoire. It’s among the few works he wrote that doesn’t reference Finnish mythology, folklore, or culture. Like Finlandia, the concerto has a substantial history of revisions, including both before and after the premiere.
Sibelius began taking violin lessons when he was fifteen, and by all accounts he learned quickly. He enjoyed playing in both chamber and orchestral settings, and nurtured a strong desire to perform as a soloist. He wrote, “The violin took me by storm, and for the next ten years it was my dearest wish, my overriding ambition, to become a great virtuoso.” Sadly, it was not to be. “My tragedy was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price … I played my violin … practicing from morning to night. I hated pen and ink, and, unfortunately, preferred an elegant violin bow. My preference for the violin lasted quite long, and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of an eminent performer too late.” Nevertheless, his training on the instrument stood him in good stead, and his marked fondness for the instrument, as well as his intimate knowledge of its mechanics, are clear in his work. Besides this concerto, he also wrote several shorter works that showcase the violin.
Sibelius began sketches for the violin concerto as early as 1899, writing to a friend, “I have been thinking of writing a violin concerto,” although the finished piece would not appear for several more years. Based on a letter that Sibelius’s wife, Aino, wrote in 1903, it is safe to assume that much of the work was completed toward the end of this period: “Janne has been on fire all the time (and so have I!) … He has such a multitude of themes in his head that he has been literally quite dizzy. He stays awake all night, plays incredibly beautifully, cannot tear himself away from the delightful melodies – he has so many ideas that it is hard to believe…. And all the themes are so capable of development, full of life.” Annotator Michael Steinberg comments, “His Violin Concerto is imbued both with his feeling for the instrument and the pain of his farewell to his ‘dearest wish’ and ‘overriding ambition.’”
More personal accounts of this time in Sibelius’s life suggest that he may have tried to subdue the fire Aino refers to with alcohol, a claim backed by his treatment of violinist Willy Burmester, the original dedicatee of the work. Burmester was reputedly the main source of encouragement behind Sibelius’s decision to write a violin concerto, and also loved the work when he first saw the score. However, Sibelius inexplicably pushed for a premiere he knew Burmester couldn’t make. Therefore, lesser-known violinist Viktor Novácèk performed the work for the first time in Helsinki in 1904. Though the earliest review praised Novácèk’s playing, subsequent reviews, doubtlessly more realistic, cite problems with the piece’s tempi, and musicians in rehearsals reported that Novácèk complained extensively about the difficulty of the passagework.
Disappointed by the quality of the premiere, and blaming himself for Novácèk’s struggles, Sibelius began revising the concerto, details of which he described in a letter to a friend in 1904: “I shall remove my violin concerto; it will not be published until two years have passed. The first movement must be rewritten, the same goes for the proportions in the andante, etc.” At this point, Burmester put aside his affront at not being given the premiere and offered to perform the work in order to give it the benefit of his greater experience and artistry. But again Sibelius chose a date for which Burmester had a prior engagement. Burmester never did perform the concerto, and the second premiere took place in 1905 with Karl Halír (a violinist in Joseph Joachim’s quartet and concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic) playing the solo. Composer Richard Strauss conducted.
Despite the early buzz over it in the violin community, the concerto did not achieve immediate popularity. It was not until world-renowned violinist Jascha Heifetz championed the work in the 1930s that it was set on the path of becoming one of the most frequently recorded and performed works of that genre in the twentieth century. Steinberg suggests that one of the reasons for the concerto’s success stems from Sibelius’s desire to compose a work with emotional depth, not just a showpiece. “Sibelius [also] set store by having composed a soloistic concerto rather than a symphonic one.… He opposes rather than meshes solo and orchestra.”
The first movement, Allegro moderato, is in a loose sonata form. Sibelius juxtaposes the intensity of certain moments with a more subdued quality. In keeping with his decision to set the violin and orchestra apart, the solo part first enters off the beat and with a gentle dissonance. In a letter to Aino, Sibelius wrote of this “marvelous opening idea.” Finnish composer and musicologist Erkki Salmenhaara points out that across the work “the virtuoso material springs organically from the themes.” This idea supports the unusually lengthy cadenza, which forms a significant section in the arc of the first movement.
The Adagio di molto opens with a lovely duet in the winds. The effect is one of simplicity and aching beauty that traces a melody both restrained and rich that commentator Chris Morrison compares with one of Tchaikovsky’s most lush. The first section of the solo part is marked sul G – to be played entirely on the lowest and thickest string, lending the tone a darker color. Steinberg calls this movement “one of the most moving pages Sibelius ever achieved … [he] never found, perhaps never sought, such a melody again: This, too, is farewell.”
The Allegro ma non tanto (“fast, but not too fast”) is a dance movement, and Sibelius sets the melody in a quick dotted rhythm interspersed with flurries of notes in the solo part. This main melody is a quote from an earlier work for string quartet. Sibelius later replaced the tempo marking with the unapologetic and unqualified Allegro, explaining that the character of the movement could only be understood at a slightly faster tempo. This was evidently at least partially in response to Novácèk’s tempo, though it doubtlessly also accounted for whichever performances caused musicologist Donald Francis Tovey to refer to the movement as a “polonaise for polar bears.” Despite this comment, Tovey greatly approved of the concerto, elaborating, “in the easier and looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann I have not met with a more original, a more masterly, and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius Violin Concerto.”
Sibelius biographer Eric Tawaststjerna explains the concerto well: “[It] is distinctly Nordic in its overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The orchestra does not wallow in rich colors, but in the sonorous halflights of autumn and winter; only on rare occasions does the horizon brighten and glow.” Ross adds, “[Composing music] is a laborious traversal of an imaginary landscape. What emerges is an artwork in code, which other musicians must be persuaded to unravel … unlike a novel or a painting, a score gives up its full meaning only when it is performed in front of an audience; it is a child of loneliness that lives off crowds.”
Sibelius’s concerto is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
PEER GYNT SUITES NO. 1 AND 2
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
Peer Gynt is a poetic drama written in 1867 by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. In it, Ibsen accomplishes something impressive in how he creates and then nurtures a character almost completely without good qualities. In Ibsen’s text, Peer is a young peasant who is proud, dishonest, and promiscuous. However, as annotator Peter Laki notes, “Ibsen showed how earnestly this unsavory character had struggled all his life to make sense of human destiny, and made this quest the focus of his play.” He also manages to incorporate an intriguing mix of current philosophical ideas and Norwegian folklore. Historian Edvard Beyer called Peer Gynt a combination of “fairytale and … folk-life; tragedy and fantastical, satirical, Aristophanic comedy; dream play and morality.”
Grieg outlines the story: “Peer Gynt, the only son of impoverished Norwegian peasants, is described by the poet as a personality suffering from an excess of fantastic imagination as well as from delusions of grandeur. In his youth he commits many a mad prank; he comes to a peasant wedding, abducts the bride and carries her up to the mountain heights, where he leaves her, to roam with wild shepherd girls. Soon he loses his way in … the realm of the Mountain King, whose daughter falls in love with him and dances for him, but he makes fun of the dance and the … music, whereupon the mountain folk set out to kill him. He escapes, journeys to foreign continents. In Morocco he assumes the airs of a prophet and is greeted by Arabian maidens. After many a strange turn of fate he finally returns home as an old man, once more penniless, having suffered shipwreck on the way. Here the love of his youth, Solveig, who has remained true to him through the years, greets him; his weary head at last finds rest in her lap.”
In 1874, in the process of putting together a full production of Peer Gynt, Ibsen wrote a letter to Grieg asking that he contribute the incidental music. Though Grieg agreed, he was not immediately excited by the prospect, calling Peer Gynt “the most unmusical of subjects … terrifyingly intractable,” and adding, “The text is such that you really have to kill all thoughts of writing true music, and concentrate merely on the external effect.” Laki suggests that it was the philosophical element that challenged Grieg, as the folklore definitely provided no shortage of inspiration or material.
Grieg also had difficulty with the restrictions of the production. They were not as bad as what Nielsen would endure with Aladdin, but they were not what Grieg had had in mind either. Conductor Bjarte Engeset explains, “At first Grieg undervalued his Peer Gynt music, as he later did with the Holberg Suite. Both were created in circumstances he had not chosen for himself, so he felt that the musical results could not be any good! He did not dare show up at the premiere of Peer Gynt in 1876. It was a huge success, and he gradually came to recognize the power of the music.” In the end, Grieg’s incidental music was not only good for his career but also helped to fix Ibsen’s work in the international view.
A little over a year later, Grieg extracted and rearranged his favorite sections of the music for Peer Gynt, setting them into two suites of four movements each. Suite No. 1, Op. 46 was finished in 1888, and Suite No. 2, Op. 55 in 1891. The first movement of the first suite opens with music from the beginning of Act IV of the play and is titled “Morning.” This section describes the sun rising over the desert in North Africa, though, as Laki points out, the music could just as easily describe a Norwegian morning. The melody floats over long mooring bass notes. When in the play Peer makes a reed pipe, Grieg illustrates it with the flute.
The second movement tells of the death of Peer’s mother, Åse (Aase). While traveling, presumably in Africa, Peer hears a voice that tells him to go home, where he finds his mother dying. He clearly loves her, but like any relationship, theirs has had its fraught moments, such as the scene at the beginning of the play when Åse calls Peer a liar, and he retaliates by lifting her onto the shed roof and stranding her there. However, as she approaches death, Peer speaks softly and sweetly to her, indulging his own fantasy of riding with her to the gates of St. Peter, where she is welcomed with respect. This movement is given to the strings, all of which, excepting the basses, are instructed to play with mutes on.
The third movement, “Anitra’s Dance,” is marked “Tempo di Mazurka.” This music is from the scene in the play where Peer, back in North Africa, is visiting a Bedouin tribe. There he meets Anitra, his host’s daughter, who tries to seduce him. Grieg scores Anitra’s dance for strings – again, muted – and triangle, and introduces elements of chromaticism. Grieg was fond of this movement, calling it “a little darling” and instructing that it should be played “completely ppp.”
The final movement of the first suite is one of the most popular and well-known pieces Grieg ever wrote. Called “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” it follows Peer as he first falls and hits his head on a rock, then enters a large underground hall that is home to trolls, goblins, gnomes, and other such creatures. Whether this is happening or he’s experiencing the aftereffects of the concussion is unclear. Throughout the movement, the music builds, becoming more threatening and wilder until the end. Grieg explained, “I came up with something for the Mountain King’s hall that I literally can’t bear to listen to: it reeks of cow pies, exaggerated Norwegian provincialism, and trollish selfishness!”
The second suite follows a more logical chronology than the first, and the opening movement depicts “Ingrid’s Lament.” The first melody is from the overture, but Grieg presents it here in a minor mode. Engeset notes, “This G minor universe of Grieg’s is full of supernatural and demonic forces, of wandering and delusion, of grief and loss.” He also points out that Ingrid is not the only one suffering here – she is broken-hearted that Peer has left her: “In his way, Peer is desperate too. Ingrid is beseeching and imploring.”
“Ingrid’s Lament” makes way for the soft percussive opening of the “Arabian Dance.” Here, Grieg has made an Arab flute out of the piccolo. The suite’s third movement describes Peer’s arrival home. On his way he is shipwrecked, and therefore when he arrives he is as he began, with almost no worldly possessions. Engeset notes, “This music is both an antithesis and a parallel to the nature-impression Morning … full of details and colors, chromatic lines and accents.”
When Peer finally reaches home, he finds his childhood love Solveig singing softly and waiting for him. Grieg admitted that this was the only song in the whole work that was influenced by folk music, but he colored it with light dissonance and chromatic passages in the inner voices. Engeset suggests that these elements “perhaps represent Solveig’s yearning thoughts and glances.” In the play, Ibsen instructs the character of Solveig to spin (thread) while she sings, and Grieg translates that circular motion clearly. Despite its touches of pain, “Solveig’s Song” is run through with sweetness. “Here there are associations with religious consolation; and also with Goethe’s Ewigweibliche – the ‘Eternal Feminine.’ Grieg’s music closes the story in a dream-state.” Of the ending Grieg declared, “I believe I gave of my best.”
Grieg scores the Suites from Peer Gynt for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones and bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.
MARCH FROM ALADDIN SUITE, OP. 34
Carl Nielsen (1891–1931)
Danish composer Carl Nielsen exerted a huge influence on twentieth-century music, both internationally and in his native Scandinavia. Despite his fame, he presented himself as an artisan not above devoting time to smaller scale works and productions. A new version of Aladdin (The Miraculous Lamp), by Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger, was one such small-scale production. It was to be presented at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen. But the work could not be taken too seriously since the production was short on both preparation time and resources.
Despite the red flags those caused, Nielsen gave the project his full attention, creating a richly textured score and about eighty minutes of music. Unfortunately, the producer later commandeered the orchestra pit for part of the set, necessitating a sizeable reduction in performing forces, since the musicians had to squeeze into the space off to one side, beneath the stairs. The producer also insisted on several cuts to the music and took it upon himself to rearrange the order of some of the numbers. Nielsen declared this offensive and unacceptable, and while it was too late to withdraw his music, he refused to allow his name to appear in the program.
It wasn’t until 1919 that Nielsen (with the enthusiastic encouragement of his publishers) arranged sections from the work as an orchestral suite. There’s some debate over whether he arranged the work as an orchestral suite or arranged isolated movements for individual performances that were later gathered by his publisher to form a set. In any case, the full suite wasn’t published until 1940.
Aladdin Suite has seven movements, several of which are dance movements. Compared with other twentieth-century music, or even examples from the last decades of the nineteenth century, in some respects Aladdin appears quite conventional. However, Nielsen cleverly introduces various eccentricities into the harmonies that take it from a pale watercolor to a bright oil painting. Listen especially to some of the accompanimental parts and notice how Nielsen uses these to emphasize various rhythms in the melodies unwinding above them.
For most of his career both as a conductor and composer Nielsen was not particularly well known outside his native Denmark because he didn’t like to travel – it was not a comment on his music. After the premiere of Aladdin, which he conducted, Nielsen gained tremendous popularity – a fame that only increased later in the century, when recordings became a viable way to distribute music internationally. Annotator Don Adkins cites another reason for his rising popularity: “He was a modern composer who did not join with the extremely dissonant composers but pursued different approaches to tonality. He loved melody and had a sense of clarity that recalled classical composers such as Haydn.” His symphonies are evidence of this as well.
Commentator Roy Brewer compares Nielsen’s Aladdin to one of his contemporaries: “The fairy-tale atmosphere of the original remains … [as] fresh … as Grieg’s equally celebrated incidental music for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.”
Nielsen’s Aladdin Suite is scored for flute and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones and bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.
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Grieg's Piano Concerto Featuring André Watts
Alain Trudel, conductor
André Watts, piano
Mendelssohn - The Hebrides "Fingal's Cave"
Grieg - Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"
THE HEBRIDES, OP. 26 (FINGAL'S CAVE)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
“It is in pictures, ruins, and natural surroundings that I find the most music.” — Felix Mendelssohn
Nature is far from an unusual source of inspiration for artists, but Mendelssohn seems to have loved traveling and visiting new places even more than his contemporaries. The son of an affluent family, he had the means to travel. At twenty, and already an accomplished pianist and conductor, he traveled throughout the UK and Western Europe on a journey that was part sightseeing expedition and part concert tour. In London he met friend and fellow composer Karl Klingemann, and the two of them decided on a quick side trip to Scotland.
At Holyrood Mendelssohn wrote, “I believe I have found [here] today the beginning of my ‘Scotch’ Symphony.” Several days later, Mendelssohn and Klingemann traveled to the Hebrides islands, just off the Scottish coast, and Mendelssohn began sketching a concert overture, a form relatively new to the nineteenth century. Unlike operatic overtures, a concert overture is self-sufficient, unattached to a larger dramatic or operatic work. In a letter to his sister Fanny, he included the opening lines with the note: “In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following that came into my mind there.”
The next day, Mendelssohn and Klingemann took a boat to visit the island of Staffa and its famous cave, where the legendary Fingal had made his home. Fingal is the character Fionn mac Cumhaill, or “White Stranger,” from Gaelic mythology who built the bridge between Ireland and Scotland in the third century. Annotator Phillip Huscher notes, “The cave’s Gaelic name, Uamh-Binn, means ‘cave of melody.’” Because of the location of the cave and the nearby currents it was necessary for Mendelssohn and Klingemann to take a small boat – an unpleasant experience for Mendelssohn. Klingemann later commented that Mendelssohn got on more easily with the ocean “as an artist than as a person with a stomach.”
Mendelssohn opens his Hebrides overture with a series of arpeggiated motives that rise with each successive iteration. He begins it in the depths of the ensemble to mirror the depth of the sea, and as the theme rises, thelower voices slide into a rippling accompanimental figure beneath. The lower instruments again rise to the forefront of the texture as they introduce the second theme, which leads directly into the coda. Though Mendelssohn sets it up as if he’s going to end the overture with a bang, he backs away from that “bang” at the last moment, giving the final fragment to the clarinet and then the flute.
Mendelssohn completed the overture in 1830 while he was in Rome and working on his “Italian” Symphony. As a composer, Mendelssohn is somewhat notorious for revising his work beyond necessity, and this one, short though it is, is no exception. In a letter to Fanny dated January 1832, he wrote: “I still do not consider [The Hebrides overture] finished. The middle part, forte in D major, is very stupid, and savors more of counterpoint … and seagulls and dead fish … and it ought to be the reverse.” The revised edition, premiered in May 1832, is a little shorter and more tightly structured. Mendelssohn rewrote the “very stupid” section completely.
When the overture was published it confusingly arrived with two names. The score was titled “Fingal’s Cave” while the parts all bore the heading “The Hebrides.” Regardless, it was received with appreciation, with one reviewer commenting on Mendelssohn’s successful painting of the conflict between wind and waves.
The overture is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trombones, timpani, and strings.
CONCERTO IN A MINOR FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA, OP. 16
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
For symphonic audiences, Grieg’s reputation rests largely on this concerto. However, the Norwegian pianist and composer is one of the foremost musical influences of the Romantic era, and his highlighting of Norwegian folk music helped to foster a national identity for his native country.
Grieg’s mother, a piano teacher, began giving him lessons when he was only six years old. The prominent Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, a distant relation, suggested he attend conservatory in Germany. There he received a first-rate education in both piano and composition – he had a particular affinity for Robert Schumann’s music – but a combination of respiratory diseases and his own lack of discipline postponed his graduation until 1862. Despite his illnesses, Grieg maintained an active schedule of performance and travel.
He was married in 1867, and he and his wife had a daughter not long after. It was during this year that he worked on the Piano Concerto, which he completed in 1868. Like Mendelssohn, he continued to revise the piece extensively for years to come. However, unlike Mendelssohn, this had more to do with his lack of comfort and familiarity with larger forms than any actual dislike of the piece.
The Piano Concerto is an outlier in Grieg’s catalogue. Upon completion of the concerto, Grieg discovered a collection of Norwegian folk music, and, from that point onward, Grieg infused Norse folk elements into almost every one of his pieces. He also scaled back his works in terms of length and performing forces.
Reputedly, a main inspiration behind Grieg’s Piano Concerto was Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Musicologist Gerald Abraham explains, “In both [Grieg’s and Schumann’s opening] movements we find an introductory … passage for the soloist, descending from the high to middle register. In both, the main theme is then stated by the winds and repeated.… Both naturally have the second subject in the relative major, though Grieg does not follow Schumann in fashioning first and second subjects from the same idea.” Abraham continues with a lengthy list of similarities, finishing with, “There is no resemblance between the actual ideas; it was simply that Grieg, at the highest stage of his development as a composer in sonata form, still felt the need for a formal model.” Annotator James Keller adds that not only are both concerti in A minor, they are also both their respective composers’ only contribution to the genre.
The first movement is marked Allegro molto moderato and opens with a swelling timpani roll leading into a forceful chord in the orchestra and solo piano. After an initial flourish, the soloist gives way to the main theme, presented by the woodwinds and then by the strings. The second movement is a lovely Adagio, warmed by touches of a major tonality. The finale, Allegro moderato molto e marcato, begins simply in the orchestra, but almost immediately is overrun by the virtuosity of the solo part. A lively dialogue follows.
Composer and music theorist Jonathan Kramer suggests that what makes Grieg’s Piano Concerto so appealing, “even more than … the melodies and piano figurations … lies in its harmonies. Grieg had a wonderful sense of coloristic chords and progressions, liberally spiced with dissonances…. It was this … that convinced Liszt of the concerto’s importance. At one of their first meetings, Liszt was sight-reading the concerto, when as Grieg later recalled: ‘[he] suddenly jumped up, stretched himself to his full height, strode with theatrical gait and uplifted arm through the great monastery hall, and literally bellowed out the theme … and exclaimed: “Splendid! That’s the real thing!’”
Tchaikovsky also loved Grieg’s work, appreciating in particular “that fascinating melancholy which seems to reflect in itself all the beauty of Norwegian scenery, now grandiose and sublime in its vast expanse, now gray and dull, but always full of charm … and quickly … into our hearts to evoke a warm and sympathetic response.... If we add to this that rarest of qualities, a perfect simplicity, far removed from affectation and pretense … it is not a surprise that everyone loves Grieg.”
Grieg’s Piano Concerto was premiered in Copenhagen in 1869. Unfortunately, Grieg was not able to attend, but he was relieved to hear of its warm reception. The soloist for the occasion, Edmund Neupert, apparently reported to Grieg that the renowned composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein remarked that he was “astounded … [by] such genius.”
The concerto is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, strings, and solo piano.
SYMPHONY NO. 6, OP. 74 "PATHÉTIQUE"
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)
Tchaikovsky is one of the most prolific, respected, and troubled composers. His output spans a number of genres, although he’s best known as a composer of symphonies and of music for the ballet. He was also an accomplished conductor, and was received well in that capacity almost everywhere he traveled. However, none of this professional success was able to alleviate his depression, and he attempted suicide at various points in his life.
Tchaikovsky began writing preliminary sketches for his Symphony No. 6 in 1893. Not long before, he’d been dealt a debilitating blow when Nadezdha von Meck, a prominent business woman with whom he’s maintained a long friendship, ended their relationship, claiming impending bankruptcy. Though they’d never met, they’d exchanged countless letters and she was his closest confidante. The year before, The Nutcracker and his opera Iolanta had come out but had not gone as well as he’d hoped. Despite this, his career was still going quite well. He was presented with an honorary doctorate, and by all accounts was excited to be working on a new symphony.
Unfortunately, Tchaikovsky’s depression was manifesting in intensifying mood swings. His enthusiasm over his new symphony alternated with self-recriminations over its smallest details. In a letter to his nephew, Bobyk Davidov, he reported difficulties with the orchestration that would undoubtedly result in the audience’s “abuse … [and] misunderstanding.” Yet he added, “I certainly regard it as easily the best – and especially the most sincere – of all my works, and I love it as I have never before loved one of my musical offspring… Without exaggeration, I have put my whole soul into this work.”
During the work’s early stages, Tchaikovsky outlined his plans for it: “Much [will be] novel with respect to form…. For instance, the finale will not be a big Allegro but an Adagio on a considerable scale…. The ultimate essence of the plan … is LIFE. First movement – all impulsive passion, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short. (Finale DEATH– result of collapse.) Second movement, love; third, disappointments; fourth, ends dying away (also short.)”
Clearly much of this plan fell by the wayside during composition, but the core of it is there. At its heart, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 is just as concerned with fate as his previous symphonies, but the symphony tackles the subject with a different approach and has a different outcome.
Annotator Michael Steinberg describes the opening Adagio – Allegro non troppo as beginning with “an extraordinary sound, that of a very low bassoon solo rising through the murk of double basses … with violas in their most sepulchral register adding their voices…. This and the beginning of the finale, which is at precisely the same tempo, are the symphony’s slowest passages.” The tempo picks up, but the change is a continuation of the phrase rather than a new idea. Tchaikovsky includes an adaptation to one of his favorite themes from Bizet’s Carmen.
The second movement, marked Allegro con grazia, is basically a waltz with a twist. Instead of being in the traditional 3/4, Tchaikovsky sets it in the more adventurous 5/4, with each bar containing a group of 2+3. This makes the dance feel as if the first beat is never quite long enough, and it always keeps moving. The movement ends delicately with a luminous plucked chord in the strings followed by the final hum of the woodwinds, and leads almost directly into the third movement, a sizzling scherzo marked Allegro molto vivace. Steinberg explains that together, “the second and third movements form a double intermezzo between the [first and fourth] movements that carry the real burden of the … program, but it is an intermezzo of immense dramatic power.”
The Finale: Adagio lamentoso – Andante is the movement that truly merits the symphony’s name, given after it was finished. Just after the premiere, fellow composer Rimsky-Korsakov inquired about the work’s program, expecting a lengthy explanation as was usual for Tchaikovsky’s works. But Tchaikovsky refused to explain, saying that it would simply be called “Symphonie à Programme.” The next day, however, he reconsidered, writing, “This program is saturated with subjective feeling, and often … while composing it in my mind, I shed many tears.… Do not speak of this to anyone.” Modest, Tchaikovsky’s brother, suggested the title “Tragic,” but Tchaikovsky said no. Modest writes, “[Then] suddenly the word patetichesky came into my head.… I remember as if it were yesterday … I uttered the word. ‘Excellent … bravo, patetichesky!’ and before my eyes [Tchaikovsky] wrote on the score the title by which it has since been known.” However, Tchaikovsky tried to retract the title, asking his publisher to strike it from the score and dedicate the work to his nephew Bobyk. The publisher ignored him, and published as Symphonie Pathétique. According to Tchaikovsky biographer John Warrack, the title refers to “the Russian word … [that] carries more feeling of ‘passionate’ and ‘emotional’ in it than the English ‘pathetic,’ and perhaps an overtone, which has largely vanished from our word, of … ‘suffering.’”
Tchaikovsky wrote in a letter to a friend, “I give you my word of honor that never in my life have I been so contented, so proud, so happy in the knowledge that I have written a good piece.” But the reception following the premiere was mixed. Eduard Hanslick, the famous Viennese critic who usually intensely disliked Tchaikovsky’s work, called it an “original and intelligent work that despite its faults [certain operatic characteristics, its length, and the “disagreeable rhythm” of the 5/4] … made a strong impression.” Mahler was less forgiving, calling it a “shallow, superficial, distressingly homophonic work – no better than salon music.” Tchaikovsky wrote about the various reactions he was receiving, saying, “it is very strange.… It was not exactly a failure, but it was received with some hesitation.” Perhaps it is the slow pianissimo ending, with its lack of definite finality, which unsettled listeners.
A little over a week after conducting the premiere, Tchaikovsky died – ostensibly from contracting cholera from a contaminated glass of water (multiple theories as to Tchaikovsky’s death have yet to be proven or disproven by conclusive evidence). Two weeks later, the “Pathétique” was performed again. Steinberg describes the occasion: “Tchaikovsky had died twelve days before, and that of course was something the audience could not stop thinking about as they bathed in what the English writer Martin Cooper called the ‘voluptuous gloom’ of this all but posthumous symphony. Black drapery and a bust modeled after Tchaikovsky’s death mask heightened the atmosphere.” According to Rimsky-Korsakov, who was again in attendance, “the public greeted [the symphony] rapturously, and since that moment the fame … has kept growing and growing, spreading gradually over Russia and Europe.”
In a recent poll, Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” was voted the second most popular symphony of all time, surpassed only by Beethoven’s Fifth. Comparing the two composers, revered musicologist and composer Sir Donald Francis Tovey writes: “There are probably a hundred lovers of music who would be moved to tears by Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetic’ Symphony – I freely confess not only that the Tchaikovsky Symphony is a work for which I have great respect and admiration, but also that it produces far more effect on me when I hear it.”
The work is scored for three flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.
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Lio Kuokman, conductor
Sara Davis Buechner, piano
R. Schumann - Overture to Genoveva
C. Schumann - Piano Concerto
Brahms - Symphony No. 1
The journals, letters, and sketches of Robert and Clara Schumann are a musicological treasure trove. We can gain fascinating insight into their personal, musical, and romantic relationships, and delve into their compositional methods. These documents are also some of our primary sources of information about the famously private composer, Johannes Brahms. Brahms assiduously destroyed most of his sketches and correspondence, but his relationship with both Robert and Clara Schumann led to some of his most honest and heartfelt communications – in both words and music. This concert explores one of the Romantic era’s defining musical friendships – a relationship that encompasses so many roles – performer, composer, critic, advocate, caregiver, friend, and muse. We take special pleasure in highlighting a prodigious compositional achievement – Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto, written when she was in her teens.
OVERTURE TO GENOVEVA
Robert Schumann (1810–1856)
Robert Schumann embarked on formal piano lessons when he was six years old, and proved a talented musician, if sometimes a poor student. At his parents’ insistence, Schumann agreed to attend law school, but was more interested in composing and playing the piano than in studying. He finally convinced his mother to allow him to abandon his degree to pursue music. To this end, he applied to the studio of Friedrich Wieck, a renowned piano teacher. It was here that he first met Clara, Wieck’s nine-year-old daughter, a dazzling pianist already beginning her concert career.
For a time, lessons seemed to go well, and Robert even moved into the Wiecks’ home to receive more continuous instruction. However, an impatient Schumann became frustrated with Wieck’s insistence that he master all the basics of technique. It’s also likely that he found practicing alongside the very young and very talented Clara frustrating, as her virtuosity highlighted his own shortcomings. This disparity was exacerbated by a worsening injury to his right hand. He began to turn increasingly
The first of many collaborations between Robert and Clara was his cycle of piano pieces, Papillons (Butterflies), which he asked Clara to perform. His reliance on Clara to interpret his music would only deepen over time, and pre-dated any romantic relationship. In a letter to her written several years later, Schumann describes his feelings: “I am sometimes unhappy…because I have an injured hand. And I want to tell you it is getting worse… Music is so complete and alive within me that I ought to be able to exhale it like a whispered breath. But now I can scarcely play at all and one finger stumbles over the other…. Now, you are my right hand and you, you must take care of yourself so that nothing happens to you. I often think of the happy hours you will give me through your art.” Having already been her father’s creative partner for years, it seemed natural for Clara to assume the same role with Robert—and, years later, with Johannes Brahms.
Schumann wrote to Clara often over the next few years, finally asking her father’s permission to marry her in 1837. His many years of study with Wieck had led to an almost familial relationship, and he was surprised and deeply hurt by his teacher’s vehement refusal. A lengthy period of separation between Clara and Robert followed, during which Wieck forbade her to write him and scheduled concert tours for Clara to keep them apart. Schumann poured himself into his work until Clara returned, at which point the couple married without Wieck’s blessing. Wieck severed ties with both of them. The early years of their marriage were happy ones, with Clara encouraging her husband to broaden his compositional output. At her urging, he produced a slew of chamber pieces, various shorter works, and his first symphony. Unfortunately, these periods of creative fertility began to be interrupted by bouts of depression and self-doubt.
In 1844, Schumann suffered his first severe mental breakdown, and over the next few years, his composing became more labored. He turned to his life-long love of literature for inspiration, and in 1846, he set to work on his first (and only) opera. After much deliberation, he finally settled on his subject—Friedrich Hebbel’s Genoveva, a tragic play based on the medieval tale of Saint Geneviève of Brabant. Schumann made particular note of how Hebbel had “invested his characters with a powerful psychological realism.” In the story, Geneviève of Brabant is married to Count Siegfried, who leaves her in the care of his knight Golo while he goes to fight in the Crusades. Golo acts dishonorably in Siegfried’s absence and makes advances towards Geneviève, who refuses him. Humiliated and angry, Golo blames her, telling Siegfried that she has been unfaithful with a servant named Drago. Enraged, Siegfried orders Geneviève’s execution. However, à la Snow White, the servants charged with killing Geneviève merely take her into the forest and leave her. Siegfried discovers Golo’s dishonesty, orders him killed, and goes into the forest to find his wife. The couple is reunited and all is well again.
A typical operatic overture incorporates thematic material from the opera itself, and serves as an introduction the full work. Most composers delay writing the overture until the very end of the process. However, Schumann sketched the overture immediately, and finished it in only a few days.
The Overture to Genoveva opens with a heavy introduction in which Schumann does not shy away from dissonance. The main theme in the violins is stirring and somewhat anxious. This leads into a quicker section marked Leidenschaftlich bewegt, or “passionately moving.” Listen for the horn calls in this section—Schumann uses them here and throughout the opera to set the scene whenever the story enters the forest. Like the opera, the overture has a happy ending.
Completed in 1847, Genoveva was premiered in 1850 in Leipzig, with the composer conducting. Unfortunately, it was somewhat of a critical failure—in no small part because the composer Richard Wagner and several of his friends enthusiastically, loudly, and publicly eviscerated the work, poisoning the pool of public opinion. Though the opera as a whole is not often performed, the overture, described by music critic Eduard Hanslick as “the best part of the opera,” is a favorite in the concert hall.
Schumann’s Overture to Genoveva is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
PIANO CONCERTO IN A MINOR, OP. 7
Clara Schumann (1819-1896)
Clara Schumann, née Wieck, was the eldest child of piano teacher Friedrich Wieck. His professional judgment immediately discerned his daughter’s immense potential as a virtuoso and he molded his life around his daughter’s intensive musical education. Wieck wrote: “My daughters always had a special tutor with whom I worked so that with just a few hours a day, their general education could keep pace with their artistic training.” Clara submitted to his supervision and governance of her every waking hour, practicing industriously and beginning her concert career at a very young age.
Around this time, Robert Schumann moved into the Wieck home to study with Clara’s father. Years later, Clara and Robert’s daughter Eugenie described this time in the Schumanns’ lives: “Now a glorious life began. The mornings belonged to work, to serious study under Wieck’s direction [for both Robert and Clara]…. Evenings were the nicest time. Robert would fetch the children … [and] would become a child again…. So, in this way, Robert … brought something of the sunshine of childishness to the serious life of his little friend. One can imagine how she loved him.” On hearing Clara play at about twelve years old, a member of the Duke of Weimar’s court described the young pianist as “a veritable marvel. … For the first time in my life I caught myself admiring with enthusiasm a precocious talent: perfect execution, irreproachable measure, force, clarity, difficulties of all sorts successfully surmounted—here are rare things at any age—but still one encounters them occasionally and if little Clara had offered nothing more, I should have said that she was a machine, to play so remarkably, and I would have remained cold as stone; but she is a musician, she feels what she plays and knows how to express it; under her fingers the piano takes on color and life…. She has a look of unhappiness and of suffering, which distresses me, but she owes perhaps a part of her fine talent to this inclination to melancholy; in examining closely the attributes of the muses, one could almost always find the same traces of tears.” Hanslick later described her as “not a wonder-child—and yet still a child and already a wonder.”
By the time Clara was fifteen, her concert fees provided the bulk of the family’s income. Her father’s constant and overbearing control made her depressed and sometimes rebellious. The next year, the romance between Clara and Robert blossomed. An entry in Robert’s diary from this time describes “Clara’s eyes and her love…. The first kiss in November [followed by] her trip back to Zwickau… I follow.” Though Clara returned his love, her father stood in the way.
After more than a year of holding themselves apart to avoid Wieck’s anger, Robert passed a letter to Clara through a mutual friend, writing: “Are you still firm and true? As indestructible as my belief in you is, yet even the strongest spirit loses confidence when nothing is heard of the one who is loved more than anyone else in the world. And you are that to me. I have thought it all over a thousand times, and everything says to us, ‘It must be, if we wish it and if we act.’ Write me just a simple ‘yes.’” In his next journal entry, Robert wrote, “A union for eternity.” The couple had become engaged.
Once they were married, Robert encouraged Clara to continue her life as both pianist and composer. However, her time was largely consumed by her performing career, while Robert’s was spent composing. Though her compositions are good by any standard, she had begun composing at her father’s insistence, and did not believe it was where her talents lay. “I once believed I had creative talent, but I have given up this idea…. That was something with which my father tempted me in former days…. May Robert always create; that must always make me happy.” The genesis of Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto is a single-movement work she called Concertstatz, written when she was only thirteen. This later became the third movement of her concerto. Feeling inadequate to the task of orchestrating Concertstatz, Clara asked Robert to do it for her. He obliged, and though she made some revisions on his work and orchestrated the other two movements herself, she kept most of what he had done.
Musicologist Nancy Reich writes, “The Concerto in A Minor is a remarkable achievement for an adolescent…. [Clara] offers many innovative ideas, perhaps inspired by Mendelssohn’s G Minor Concerto, written a few years earlier…. Clara’s concerto, like Mendelssohn’s, has no pauses between movements, no cadenzas in the classical tradition, nor does it have the expected orchestral exposition before the entrance of the soloist.” Reich also points out a feature of the Romanze, which is sometimes called ‘Notturno’—namely the section where the solo piano plays with only a solo cello line. “[This is possibly] foreshadowing the prominent cello parts in the Intermezzo movement of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto (1845) and later, interestingly enough, a solo cello in the Andante of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto (1882).”
Though Clara performed her Piano Concerto as early as 1833, she revised it several times, then premiered the more final version officially in 1835,
with Felix Mendelssohn conducting. She revised it again, and it was published in 1837, though this published version was a solo part with instrumental cues in a copyist’s writing, sprinkled with comments by both Clara and Wieck. A full orchestral score was not published until the twentieth century.
Robert apparently once asked Clara if she performed her concerto because it was what she wanted. She replied, “You had Becker [the friend who delivered Robert’s proposal to Clara] write about my concerto, and what did he write? ‘We forgive the young for the many tenth chords.’ I know quite well what is lacking in the concerto, and know that I would compose it differently now. I wouldn’t play it so often in public here and in Prague if I had not pleased the experts and the non-experts with it so much, here and in public recitals in Prague. However, I do know that it would have been worthy of a better review than the one Becker wrote.”
Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, timpani, and strings.
SYMPHONY NO. 1 IN C MINOR
Johannes Brahms (1833–1897)
Like Clara Schumann, Brahms grew up with parents who fostered his musical aspirations, though they were considerably less overbearing than Wieck had been, and their ambition was based on what they considered his talent and interest. Brahms was not unambitious, but he was generally more interested in making good music than in whether or not others
thought it good. His parents enrolled him as a child in piano and composition lessons with the best teacher available, and Brahms took full advantage of the instruction.
He began performing solo recitals when he was fifteen. Most of his compositions from this time were for the piano. He left home to go on tour a few years later, joining violinist Eduard Reményi as his accompanist. It was during this trip that he met and befriended violinist, composer, and conductor Joseph Joachim. In Düsseldorf he also met the Schumanns for the first time. Brahms felt an immediate affinity for both Clara and Robert, but he didn’t get to study Schumann’s music for a few more years.
Unfortunately, at the time of their meeting, Robert’s mental health was deteriorating rapidly, and his work and livelihood were in jeopardy. Nevertheless, both Clara and Robert helped Brahms begin his career, suggesting work, reading his scores, and advocating for him. Robert became one of Brahms’s most zealous advocates, writing: “To me … it seemed that under these circumstances there inevitably must appear amusician called to give expression to his times in ideal fashion; a musician who would reveal his mastery not in a gradual evolution, but like Athene would spring fully armed from Zeus’s head. And such a one has appeared; a young man over whose cradle Graces and Heroes have stood watch. His name is Johannes Brahms.… he has been working in quiet obscurity…. This is a chosen one. Sitting at the piano he began to disclose wonderful regions to us. We were drawn into even more enchanting spheres. Besides, he is a player of genius who can make of the piano and orchestra of lamenting and loudly jubilant voices. There were sonatas, veiled symphonies rather; songs the poetry of which would be understood even without words … some of them turbulent in spirit while graceful in form … every work so different from the others that it seemed to stream from its own individual source. Should he direct his magic wand where the powers of the masses in chorus and orchestra may lend him their forces, we can look forward to even more wondrous glimpses of the secret world of spirits. May the highest genius strengthen him to this end.”The first time Brahms had a piece published, he wrote to the Schumanns: “I am taking the liberty of sending you your first foster children, who owe to you their right to exist.” It was not long after this that Robert was admitted to a mental hospital following a suicide attempt. While there, he often asked that Brahms’s scores be sent to him so that he might study them and play through sections at the piano. With Robert in the hospital, Clara was responsible for raising and educating their seven children, and she turned to Brahms and a small circle of friends, including Joachim, for support.
Thankful for her and Robert’s continued friendship, Brahms put his career on hold and rented rooms nearby. He managed the Schumanns’ money and helped care for the children so that Clara could practice, because she was still performing regularly. Brahms supplemented his and Clara’s income by taking in piano students. In 1855, Brahms’s mother wrote expressing her support and nudging him back toward composing. “That you’re giving lessons is probably good; at least it’s something. But you always dislike it and it brings in very little—I mean for you, who can do so much more…. When one has been so richly endowed by God with so many gifts, it is not right to remain sitting there so calmly.”
When Robert died, Clara described a little of her relationship with Brahms to her children: “Like a true friend, he came to share all my grief; he strengthened the heart that threatened to break, he uplifted my spirit; brightened my soul.… He was, in short, my friend in the fullest sense of the word.” Eugenie Schumann adds, “She [Clara] once asked me if I could at all realize what it meant to have had a friend [Robert] from childhood upward who stimulated all your noblest and most artistic qualities, who in daily hourly intercourse lavished pearls and jewels upon you; if I did not think it was natural that she felt she could not go on living deprived of such gifts, and that she clung to friends like Brahms and Joachim who could console her in some measure for what she had lost.”
Like Robert, Brahms was inspired by his love for literature, especially E. T. A. Hoffman, Jean Paul Richter, and Goethe. He even reportedly referred to this time in Düsseldorf with Clara and the Schumann family as his “Werther years.” Reich notes, “Certainly there were many parallels between the young Brahms and Goethe’s sensitive young hero, with his
unrequited love for the beautiful, maternal Lotte, the betrothed of another man.” In a letter to Joachim, Brahms wrote, “I often have to restrain myself forcibly from just quietly putting my arm around her.” This is a sentiment that undoubtedly affected Brahms’s entire life.
Inevitably, Brahms could not remain in the Schumann household after Robert’s death. Eugenie Schumann later wrote, “It was inevitable that he should recognize that the destiny he had to fulfill was irreconcilable with single-minded devotion to a friendship. To recognize this and immediately to seek a way out was the natural outcome.… That he broke away ruthlessly was perhaps also an inevitable consequence when one takes his inherent qualities and the nature of his situation into account. But without doubt he had had a hard struggle with himself before he had steered his craft in a fresh direction, and he never got over the self-reproach of having wounded my mother’s feelings at the time, and felt that this could never be undone.” Brahms never married and Clara never remarried. Brahms took a far longer time than most composers to both start and finish his first symphony. He was painfully aware of the dual weights of Beethoven’s legacy and the hope placed in him by Robert. The first mention and sketch of part of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 dates from 1862. We read of it in a letter from Clara to Joachim, where she shared the exciting news that Brahms had sent her part of a new symphony. Only one year earlier Brahms had exclaimed, “I shall never write a symphony! You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant [Beethoven] marching behind you!” Since he destroyed almost all of his early sketches of the work, there’s no mention of it again until 1868, when Brahms sent Clara a snippet of the horn theme in the fourth movement. He finally completed the work in 1876, nearly fourteen years after the first sketch.
Annotator Michael Steinberg notes that this symphony is “still within earshot of the giant’s echoing footsteps, and it was not for nothing that Hans von Bülow called it the Beethoven Tenth. To write a C-minor symphonywith a triumphant C-major conclusion was anything other than a trivial decision, and Brahms knew just what he was about when, at the great arrival in C-major, he evoked the Ode to Joy.”
The first movement is marked Un poco sostenuto – Allegro – Meno allegro, and opens with an intense and controlled introduction underpinned by repeated booming beats given by the timpani. This moves into a faster allegro section, which is something of a relief but still does not move forward freely. Instead, each idea expands to fill the time it’s given, almost painfully. The meno allegro near the end of the movement brings back a little of the introduction, softening it briefly before the close of the movement.
The Andante sostenuto is one of the loveliest movements in the repertoire and one of the few occasions in Brahms’s work where we can glimpse his creative process through letters between him and Clara. Clara wrote, “In one respect you have unconsciously met my wishes, and that is in the alteration you have made in the adagio. To my mind one needs some rest between the first and last movements—some broad melody, which, particularly at the beginning, should be less elaborate in form and which would not obscure the actual melody itself.” Listen in this movement for the melody in the oboe, which is then passed to the clarinet before being taken up by the woodwinds. Musicologist A. Peter Brown suggests also that Brahms may have been inspired at the end of this movement by the close of Wagner’s Tristan.
The third movement, Un poco allegretto e grazioso, is replete with sweetness and seeming simplicity. However, beneath the surface, there is careful thought and planning, and a tight structure. Brahms bypassed Beethoven’s symphonic template, which suggested a scherzo in triple meter, and instead chose a duple meter. Also outside the normal practice are the phrase lengths of five bars rather than the traditional four. And, the coda slows the tempo further instead of speeding toward the end. Listen for the delicate, arpeggiated figure in the clarinet and the horn line moving opposite the celli and basses.
The finale, Adagio – Più andante – Allegro non troppo ma con brio – Più allegro, is in multiple sections (as you may have guessed by the title!) and begins with a feeling of temporal uncertainty. This and the harmonies he uses suggest a return in temperament to the first movement. The Più andante section is very different, with the bright horn melody set in the warmth of C major over a shining texture in the strings. When Brahms shared this horn melody with Clara, he included the text:
Hoch auf’m Berg, High on the mountain
tief im Thal, Deep in the valley
grüss ich dich, I greet you
Viel tausendmal! Many thousand times!
The subsequent string chorale has been repeatedly compared to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, and the two do share thematic elements. However, Brahms develops his melody differently from Beethoven’s, and in terms of form, the movement has more in common with Schubert’s “Great” Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944. Following the development, the melody bursts into a triumphant fortissimo coda that seems to grow with joy until its final chords.
Otto Dessoff conducted the premiere of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in 1876. Despite the score’s complexities, the piece was greeted warmly. Conductor Hermann Levi, a friend of Brahms and Clara, described the work as “probably the greatest thing [Brahms] has yet created in the instrumental field.” However, in the course of subsequent performances, Brahms significantly revised the score before its publication in 1877. He wrote: “One should never forget that by actually perfecting one piece one gains and learns more than by starting or half-finishing a dozen. Let it rest, and keep going back to it and working it over and over again, until … there is not a note too many or too little, not a bar you could improve on. Whether it’s beautiful too, is an entirely different matter, but perfect it must be.… I never cool down over a work, once begun, until it’s perfected, unassailable.”
In his biography of Brahms, author Jan Swafford points out that while Brahms may not admit to feeling the importance of beauty, he still maintained “that yearning voice … [that] has been a prime source of his popularity all along. The lyricism and emotion draw listeners into his music before they come to grips with complexities—the sheer difficulty of absorbing his constant protean variation, his tonal deflections, his experiments with conventional forums…. Even if he made considerable demands on his listeners, even if he never coddled them in his big pieces, he still never forgot their feelings, or his own. He made sure the warmth stayed in his work…. [He was] an elusive master of an elusive art.”
Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
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The Majestic Sea
Alain Trudel, conductor
Michèle Losier, mezzo soprano
Hadley - The Ocean
Chausson - Poème de l'amour et de la mer
Debussy - Clair de lune
Debussy - La Mer
The sea, with its myriad qualities and colors, has been an irresistible subject for artists in all disciplines for centuries. The ocean is simultaneously raw power, wildness, depth, and tranquility – all of which render it a versatile and mysterious muse and metaphor. Music critic Lawrence Gilman appreciates the “sense of all the sea … confined … neither to dreams nor to storms. The ocean has been … a thing not merely of iridescent spray and summer stars…. moved by the sense of what Mr. Kipling called ‘its moods of cosmic and terrifying elation, its thunderous laughter, the huge and solemn voice that chants its immemorial song under brooding skies.’… [attended to] its inexorability, its timelessness, its serenity, its haunted beauty, its savage and cruel magic.”
Louis K. Anspacher
Tear a leaf from the Furies’ history,
Loosen the wind’s hoarse blast,
Unroll the scroll of stormy mystery
Over the ocean’s vast!
Let the wind with its shrill lash
Whip the waves until they gnash
And spume and foam and seethe and fret,
And gape their jagged jaws to spet
Their angry spray anent the sky;
And rear their towering might to try
To quench the heaven’s sullen ashes
And fulminating flashes
Leaping through the smoky clouds,
That hang low like trailing shrouds
From wailing winds wild in their cry;
While the echoing thunder crashes
Tremendously from high.
Rise, thou monster muddy-muscled,
Now if ever thou hast tussled,
Wrestle with thy Protean thews.
Engulf the wind that scornful mocks
Thy hoary head and spray-dashed locks.
Show thy fangs and foaming teeth,
Growl thy darkest growl beneath!
Rise, oh rise!
Blot the light and drown the skies:
Stoop, thou Heaven, ope thy gate,
Not in mercy but in hate,
Rise, oh rise!
Death’s abroad and will be sate.
Naiads bound in graceful slumber
Lie within the dark green caves;
Where the flush of slipping waves
Scarce disturbs the shadowy umber
Of the willowy weeds, and laves
The pearlèd grottoes without number.
The wash of waters laps the strand,
Then a retreating hush
Of waves soft gliding from the sand
With a hearkening tush.
The Undines dance at the curving edge
Where falls the spray;
They move to the murmurs of the sedge
That darks with mystery the ledge,
In the moon’s pale day.
The crooning wind floats half asleep
Tuning its haunting monotone,
But wandering still on the breast of the deep,
Alone – Alone –
Mingling its sigh with the sedge’s moan,
All else doth silence keep.
Save where the tripping sea-sprites dance,
With dripping toes in gleeful advance
And eager retreat,
Treading the time with faery feet,
Threading mazes like those of Crete,
Throughout the serrate rim.
The dreaming moon-light silvers all
In the eve serene;
And the rolling rise and fall
Of the waves, careen,
Rhythmical and gradual,
Hold the sea in silent thrall
And undulate the sheen.
Now the halcyon breeds its young
On the ocean’s lull;
Now is heard the distant call
Of the wandering gull.
Under night’s deep sapphire pall
All else to steep is sung.
Thy deep rest pervades, my soul
With inviolable quiet.
Oh, thou great, dark sea,
I would be one with thee.
Gliding like thee to thy goal,
Gaining ever closer nigh it.
Riding on a tidal roll.
Over every hindering shoal,
And ever grandly sweeping by it
THE OCEAN: A TONE POEM
Henry Hadley (1871-1937)
An American composer and conductor, Hadley enjoyed international acclaim throughout his life. Sadly, his work has become more obscure in recent decades, and there is not much careful research into his life and work.
Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, Hadley’s first music lessons were from his father, who was a music teacher. It didn’t take long for his father to notice his talent and secure more rigorous instruction for young Henry, who continued his studies privately with four separate professors in violin, harmony, counterpoint, and composition. These teachers, especially those instructing him in composition and associated disciplines, heavily influenced his later works.
By the time he was twenty-one, Hadley had produced a string quartet and an orchestral overture. He was also becoming restless in his studies, so he decided to travel to Vienna to study with Eusebius Mandyczewski, the celebrated musicologist and editor of the definitive editions of many works by composers like Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms, and others. While in Europe, he began conducting studies, and received several excellent opportunities to guest conduct with various European orchestras.
Hadley returned to the United States to take up the post of conductor of the Seattle Symphony, followed by four years with the newly-formed San Francisco Symphony. In 1920 Hadley was appointed Associate Conductor of the New York Philharmonic Society and continued to guest conduct with various orchestras – most notably the Chicago and Boston Symphonies. Additionally, he also founded a new group, the Manhattan Symphony, in 1929, where he was able to promote and advocate for new works by fellow American composers. Meanwhile, his own works were being taken up and performed by such conductors as Serge Koussevitzky and Leopold Stokowski.
In an interview, Hadley explains what it was like for him to work on a new piece, and his comments help us understand why a full-time conducting obligation might interfere with his process: “The way a composition grows?…. No one knows. It just grows. If the subject is Oriental or medieval, you naturally soak yourself in Oriental books or medieval lore. Live the thing, even to time and place, so far as imagination will allow. Then themes begin to come; vaguely at first, perhaps; or maybe, one comes all complete, so that you can say, ‘This is it.’ You try this and that at the piano, a figuration, a chord, ‘This might do, but this is better. Ah! Here it is!’ and it goes down on paper. Some days the measures write
themselves and a great deal is done; other days very little. Sometimes nothing. Orchestra rehearsals generally consume the early part of the day until three o’clock; and if they leave one limp, the little time that is left before evening is hardly enough;”
In terms of style, Hadley espoused a variation on German Romanticism à la Wagner, leaning slightly toward colorful French Impressionism. Hadley also favored other impressionistic elements, especially the delicacy and grace sometimes missing from the heavier true Romantic soundworld. He also chose not to participate in the more dissonant explorations of some of his contemporaries, something that caused music historian Louis C. Elson to “pay the sincerest tribute” to him for his music’s “freedom from morbidness and excessive dissonances.” Though he was no doubt aware of the time’s modernist movements, he reportedly stated, succinctly: “I am an artist … I paint landscapes.”
Hadley began sketching for The Ocean in the fall of 1920 and completed the piece the following year. It’s inspired by a poem, printed above, by Louis K. Anspacher (1878–1947) called Ocean Ode, though Hadley takes liberties both with structure and emphasis. In his own notes on the piece Hadley explains: “I have not followed these strophes in the order in which they appear in the Ode. I intended the first section to be (after a short introduction of majestic harmonies for full orchestra) the Allegro proper of the work, suggesting the elements ‘let loose’ with all the fury and tumult of a tempestuous sea. The introduction contains a short phrase (of three chords) – a ‘motto’ which recurs again and again throughout the piece, always with great vigor and sinister portent, except at the close, when it is heard for the last time pp in the trumpets and trombones, alternating …
“Then follows the middle section, which contains the ‘sea-sprites’ motif, sung by the three flutes over a background of motion in the celli and solo clarinet with sustained string accompaniment.
“The last part is the quiet, serene ocean flowing on through eternity. This begins with an undulating movement in the divided double basses and harp over which sounds a succession of broken chords in the strings with bell-like effect. Against this the solo horn sings a new melody of great calm, which is answered by the oboe and in turn taken up by all the solo instruments. This theme is finally developed and expanded by the full orchestra, and after a fff climax the music dies away with the reiteration of the motto pp and the sound of bells.”
Hadley conducted the premiere of The Ocean with the New York Philharmonic in 1921. The tone poem was immediately successful, and both Chicago and Boston symphonies programmed it soon after. American music critic Henry T. Finck wrote, “Few contemporary composers know how to handle the orchestral forces with such supreme command of their possibilities as Henry Hadley. He knows what every group does best.… [The Ocean is] orchestrated and developed with a cleverness that Strauss himself could scarcely surpass.”
While we’re not sure what Strauss thought of that comment, he agreed with the general opinion of Hadley, reportedly answering a general question about American composers with “You have only one. Henry Hadley is the only man who knows the orchestra.”
The Ocean is scored for three flutes, three oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons, four or six horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, two harps, and strings.
POÉME DE L'AMOUR ET DE LA MER, OP. 19
Ernest Chausson (1855–1899)
Chausson has a relatively small list of works, as he took great care with each of them. He was first educated as a lawyer, and it was not until after he received his doctoral degree in that field that he became determined to pursue music and entered the Paris Conservatory in 1879 to study composition with Massenet and Franck.
Most of Chausson’s musical knowledge was centered on French opera and church music. In an effort to expand his musical horizons, he made a special point to see Wagner’s operas in Bayreuth. Inspired by what he heard, Chausson worked diligently on his opera, Le roi Arthus. He wrote the libretto himself, and the work took him nearly a decade to complete. This is not an unusually long period of time for such compositions, but Chausson seems to have struggled more than others might have with the setting of the text, a task that seems to have caused him difficulty in most of his works except those in the mélodie genre, a form of French art song akin to the German lied.
The earliest references to Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer (“Poem of Love and the Sea”) can be traced back to his time in the studio of Franck, as early as 1882, but it wasn’t finished until 1890 – and even then Chausson revised it over and over until 1893. He took the text from a collection of poems by his friend Maurice Bouchor (1855–1929). Annotator Paul Griffiths comments that Bouchor “was not a great … poet” and adds, “Perhaps [this is] as well, as his cliché-filled sketch of a seaside summer romance allowed Chausson extended opportunities, unhampered by undue explicitness, for mood and scene painting.” Freed from having to choose the words himself, Chausson created something extraordinarily lovely, coloring and imbuing his piece with the symbolism attempted in the poetry. Griffiths notes that, given the imagery – the ocean, drifting leaves, sky, moon, lilacs – “emotions are clearly the subject matter, but they are rarely reported directly; instead the central persona’s sensibility has bloomed out into the sights, sounds and scents of the world around him.”
The first part of Chausson’s Poème is titled Le fleur des eaux (“The Flower of the Waters”). This movement is gentle and sweetly hopeful, and the poet yearns for the face of his beloved. His anxiety is alleviated when he can look on her beauty, “letting eyes full of brightness wander … which smiled to me with a tender and wild expression.” Toward the close of the section, both poet and composer indicate what is to come: “What mournful and wild sound will sound the hour of farewell! … Birds pass by, wings outspread, nearly joyful over the deep; in the full sun the sea is green, and, silent, I bleed.”
The second movement is a brief orchestral interlude based on thematic material from the first. This leads into the final section, La mort de l’amour (The death of love”). The ocean has turned dark and cold, as “[the lovers’] brows had paled like the brows of the dead, and, silent, leaning toward her, [he] was able to read that fatal word written in her large eyes: oblivion.” Chausson follows the text with a last lament for the lost “season [of] the lilac and … season for roses,” and ends the piece softly.
Throughout his Poème and throughout his work in general, Chausson was taken with Liszt’s technique of thematic transformation. Franck encouraged him to incorporate this along with his own chromaticism. Also present in the Poème are elements from Wagner’s Parsifal, which had made an impression on Chausson. Drama seemed a highly prized element for Chausson in his music, no doubt because of the composers he chose to listen to and study. But he kept within the bounds of French style, maintaining a certain French delicacy throughout.
Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer was premiered in 1893 in Brussels. Even though the score was marked for a “high” voice – either a soprano or mezzo – the first performance was given by a tenor, with Chausson accompanying him on piano. Poème is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, harp, strings, and solo voice.
I. The air is filled with an exquisite scent of lilac
which, flowering from the top of the walls to the bottom,
perfumes the women’s hair.
The whole sea goes to the great sun to be set aglow,
and, over the fine sand which they come to kiss,
dazzling waves roll.
Oh sky which has to wear the colour of her eyes,
breeze which goes to sing in the lilacs in bloom
so as to come out of them all scented,
streams which will moisten her dress, o green paths,
you who tremble beneath her dear little feet,
let me see my beloved!
II. And my heart arose on this summer’s morning;
for a beautiful girl was on the beach,
letting eyes full of brightness wander over me,
and which smiled to me with a tender and wild expression.
You whom youth and love transfigured,
you appeared to me like the soul of all things;
my heart flew towards you, you took it forever,
and roses rained upon us from the part-opened des sky.
III. What mournful and wild sound
will sound the hour of farewell!
The sea rolls over the beach,
teasing, and hardly concerning itself
that it is the hour of farewell.
Birds pass by, wings outspread,
nearly joyful over the deep;
in the full sun the sea is green,
and, silent, I bleed
looking at the heavens shining.
I bleed as I look at my life
about to depart over the waves;
my very soul is taken from me
and the deep clamour of the waves
covers the sound of my sobs.
Who knows if this cruel sea
will guide her back towards my heart?
My stare is fixed on her,
the sea is singing, and the mocking wind
jeers at the anguish of my heart.
IV. Soon the blue and joyful isle
will appear to me among the rocks:
the isle will float upon the silent water
like a water-lily.
Across the amethyst sea
the boat gentle slips,
and I shall be joyful and sad
to remember so much - soon!
V. The wind rolled the dead leaves; my thoughts
rolled like the dead leaves, in the night.
Never had the thousands of golden roses, from which
fall the dews, sparkled so softly in the black sky.
A terrifying dance, and the crumpled leaves
which gave out a metallic sound, waltzed,
seemed to moan beneath the stars, and told of
the inexpressible horror of the dead loves.
The great silver beaches which the moon kissed
were ghosts: me, all my blood froze
upon seeing my beloved smiling strangely.
Our brows had paled like the brows of the dead,
and, silent, leaning towards her, I was able to read
that fatal word written in her large eyes: oblivion.
VI. The season for lilac and the season for roses
will not come back again to this spring;
the season for lilac and the season for roses
is passed, the season for carnations too.
the wind has changed, the skies are morose,
and we shall never again go to run, and gather
the lilac in bloom and the beautiful roses;
the spring is sad and cannot blossom.
Oh! Joyful and sweet springtime of the year
which came, last year, to light us with its sunshine,
our flower of love is so withered,
alas, that your kiss cannot awaken it!
And you, what are you doing? No flowers in bloom,
no happy sun nor cool shade;
the season for the lilac and the season for roses
with our love has died forever
Translated by Christopher Goldsack.
CLAIR DE LUNE
Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
Clair de lune (“Moonlight”) is Debussy’s most famous and beloved work. It exists in hundreds of arrangements and dozens of instrumentations. Clair de lune was originally intended to be performed on its own. It was first published in 1905 as the third of four movements of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. According to the pianist Stephanie McCallum, the title “refers to masked festivals in the ancient Italian theater tradition, common also through[out] France, using archetypal peasant characters such as Harlequin, Columbine, and Scaramouche from the town of Bergamo.” Suite Bergamasque was written in 1890 for piano; the version we are familiar with today was revised and then published in 1905.
The title Clair de lune comes from Paul Verlaine’s poem of the same name, published in 1869. Debussy had previously set this same poemto different music. This version takes on a slightly different flavor when heard with the other movements of the suite, which are heavily influenced by French Baroque music, a popular source of inspiration for many composers in the second half of the nineteenth century. In that context, the Impressionistic harmonies of Clair de lune are even more lush and sensual.
McCallum notes, “Debussy’s music was a turning point from the Romantic music that had dominated the 19th century to the music of the 20th century. When asked what rule he followed, he scandalized his harmony teachers by answering: ‘Mon plaisir’ (My pleasure).”
LA MER: TROIS ESQUISSES SYMPHONIQUES
Claude Debussy (1862–1918)
Debussy began sketching for La mer “The Sea”, subtitled “Three Symphonic Sketches,” in 1903. It was a cherished undertaking for him; he’d tried for years to write a piece that would capture the sea’s many disparate qualities. Debussy gives us descriptive movement titles to help us imagine his beloved Mediterranean in its various aspects.
Annotator Phillip Huscher likens La mer, especially the first movement, to the work of painter J. M. W. Turner. Both painting and piece “reveal … those magical moments when sunlight begins to glow in near darkness, when familiar objects emerge from the shadows.” Though Debussy did not draw inspiration from Turner specifically, his music is deeply connectedto visual art.
La mer was published in 1905, the same year Clair de lune was published, though Debussy revised it over the next several years. Though Clair de lune is Debussy’s most famous and loved work, La mer is his greatest and most important contribution to the orchestral repertoire. He dedicated it to his publisher, Jacques Durand. Debussy asked to have “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, printed on the cover. Hokusai’s painting inspired a number of artists, including Van Gogh, so Debussy was not alone in his fondness for it.
La mer’s first movement is called “De l’aube à midi sur la mer,” or “From dawn to noon on the sea.” It depicts the slow shift in light as it moves across the water and the sun climbs into the sky. The movement opens with softly textured strings, to which he adds a solo oboe, closely followed by woodwinds and brass. The ocean brightens as the day begins and the tempo picks up. Listen for the lovely cello soli at the climax of this movement.
Jeux de vagues (“The play of the waves”) is a fantastical world filled with shimmering light across the surface of a bustling undersea world. Debussy scholar Oscar Thompson calls it “so evanescent and fugitive … [as to leave] only the vagueness of a dream.”
The third and final movement is called Dialogue du vent et de la mer (“Dialogue of the wind and the sea”). Debussy opens this movement in the lower reaches of the orchestra with an ominous figure, characterizing the more dangerous aspect of the sea. The crescendos and quick interruptions depict the wild surges of water. Debussy includes melodic cells from the opening movement, before floating into a calmer middle section, featuring woodwinds. In the words of music critic Ted Libbey, the work closes in “stormy triumph, dazzling and full of elemental force.”
Huscher draws another parallel between Turner and Debussy. While they spent an inordinate amount of time describing the ocean, they both did it from memory, following hours of exposure and close observation. Debussy wrote, “I’ve retained a sincere devotion to the sea. To which you’ll reply that the [sea] doesn’t exactly wash the foothills of Burgundy [where he was staying at the time]! And that the result could be one of those hack landscapes done in the studio! But I have innumerable memories, and those, in my view, are worth more than a reality which, charming as it may be, tends to weigh too heavily on the imagination.”
The Impressionist style in both painting and music is especially well equipped to encompass a subject as large and diverse as the sea. Color and texture are favored over literal depiction. In this piece, the small silences between the notes – the equivalent of negative space in visual art – are critical to the music’s effect. Debussy encourages us to listen with unfettered imagination, and to avoid the attempt to fit the music within traditional forms, rules, or roles. In his words: “We must agree that the beauty of a work of art will always remain mysterious…we can never be certain how.”
Critics had plenty to say about La mer, which received a less-than enthusiastic initial response. The piece’s length came under fire, though people seemed to have difficulty deciding if it should have been shorter or longer! Composer Louis Schneider commented “The audience expected the ocean…something big, something collosal, but…instead [received] some agitated water in a saucer,” while music critic Louis Elson complained that “[he] feared we were to have a movement seven hours long…it was not…but it was terrible while it lasted.” It did not help matters that Debussy had caused somewhat of a scandal, leaving his wife Lily and moving in with the wife of a prominent local banker.
To these complaints, Debussy replied that he didn’t mind if people disliked his piece, but it saddened him to think they couldn’t understand it. “I love the sea, and I have listened to it with attention and respect.” Having tried to translate the various faces of the sea into his music, in the end, he didn’t care whether everyone related to his expression of the sea, but he wanted each listener to interpret it as they wished. Nowadays, listeners everywhere have the chance to be moved by the beauty of La mer, as it is part of the standard repertoire of orchestras worldwide.
La mer was premiered in October 1905 in Paris with Camille Chevillard conducting the Concerts Lamoureux Orchestra. It is scored for two flutes and piccolo, two oboes and English horn, two clarinets, three bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets and two cornets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, two harps, and strings.
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The Scottish Symphony
Giordano Bellincampi, conductor
Leonardo Colafelice, piano
Cherubini - Overture to Medea
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 1
Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 3 "Scottish"
OVERTURE TO MÉDÉE IN G MAJOR
Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842)
A respected contemporary of Beethoven, Italian composer Luigi Cherubini was one of the most prolific craftsmen of his time both in the theater and the concert hall. Cherubini is best known for his contributions to the genre of opera: he completed more than forty of them. Annotator Lawrence Budmen notes, “[Cherubini] was at once the high priest of classicism and a path breaking romantic.”
Cherubini’s Médée premiered in 1797. Despite a slightly lukewarm reception at the time, Brahms called it “the highest peak of dramatic music.” It is, according to musicologist Philip Downs, “the only opera of its decade apart from Mozart’s to survive on the modern stage.” Most notable is the 1952 performance with Maria Callas and Leonard Bernstein.
Médée is based on Euripides’s Medea. Euripides’s play focuses on Medea revenging herself on Jason for his betrayal. Devastated and enraged that he wants to leave her for another woman after she’s helped him steal the Golden Fleece from her own father, Medea threatens to kill their children. Jason retaliates by banishing her, but he gives her a day to gather a few belongings and prepare to go into exile. He also tries to mollify her, but she will hear none of it. Calculating how to cause Jason the most pain, Medea poisons his lover. She then agonizes over her decision to also murder her children, but finally acts on it. Jason arrives to oversee her banishment and finds their children dead, and Medea fled to Athens.
Annotator Zoran Minderovic notes, “Traditional renditions of the story have portrayed Medea as a demonic figure, but Cherubini and his librettist, François-Benoit Hoffman, while conveying the sheer horror of Medea’s actions, bring out the humanity of a woman who is driven to unspeakable crimes by unbearable pain.”
In both the overture and the opera proper, Cherubini writes in a style similar to Beethoven’s. Unlike numerous other examples of the opera orchestra, this one doesn’t have a slow introduction. Rather, the main theme is presented in strident F minor, underpinned by heavy use of syncopations. Like many concert overtures, this one is heavily influenced by the opera itself.
Fellow composer Felix Mendelssohn cited Cherubini’s work for its “sparkling fire, his clever … transitions, and neatness and grace.” Minderovic adds, “Cherubini’s work is a brilliant synthesis of several types of opera: opéra comique, tragédie lyrique, Gluck’s operatic style, and the allegorical opera of the French Revolution.”
Médée is scored for one flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.
PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1 IN C MAJOR, OP. 15
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Before the misfortunes and hardships that came to him later in life, Ludwig van Beethoven was, as a young man, very different from the stormy and difficult artist he would become. Musicologist Peter Latham explains, “His genius, his magnetic personality, were acknowledged by all, and there was … a gaiety and animation about the young Beethoven…. He had no responsibilities, and his music was bringing in enough to keep him in something like affluence. He had a servant, for a short time he even had a horse; he bought smart clothes, he learned to dance … We must not allow our picture of the later Beethoven to throw its dark colors over these years of his early triumphs.”
Beethoven visited Vienna in 1787, moving there permanently about five years later. In Vienna he took composition lessons with Haydn, though it was not until after Haydn moved away that Beethoven’s career really began to take off. Annotator James Keller writes of the first piano concerto: “Anyone writing a piano concerto in Vienna in the last decade of the 18th century did so in the shadow of the late lamented Mozart, several of whose concertos Beethoven had in his performance repertoire. Indeed there is much that is Mozartian in this work, particularly in sections that make prominent use of the trumpets, horns, and timpani that Mozart was fond of using in C-major orchestral pieces, including three of his four piano concertos in that key.”
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is in the standard three movements. The opening Allegro con brio is, according to annotator Richard Rodda, “indebted to Mozart for its handling of the … form, for its technique of orchestration, and for the manner in which piano and orchestra are integrated…. Beethoven added … a wider-ranging harmony, a more openly virtuosic role for the soloist, and a certain emotional weight characteristic of his large works.” The movement opens softly, as Beethoven also does in several of his symphonies.
The Largo features the clarinet, and is more substantial than most analogous movements from any of Beethoven’s other concerti. Keller calls it “moody and contemplative,” and points out that it shares characteristics with the “Pathétique” Sonata still to come. The finale is structured as a rondo and bursts with playfulness and humor.
Beethoven completed this concerto (not actually his first!) in 1795 and premiered it himself in Vienna the same year. He went on to revise it for subsequent performances. It is dedicated to Princess Barbara Odescalchi, who took piano lessons from Beethoven.
The concerto is scored for flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, strings, and solo piano.
SYMPHONY NO. 3 IN A MINOR, OP. 56 "SCOTTISH"
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847)
Born into a wealthy family, Felix Mendelssohn was given every educational advantage while growing up. He studied not only music but literature and the visual arts, and he was quite talented in all these disciplines. Among his tutors was the landscape artist (Johann Gottlieb) Samuel Rösel, who fostered Mendelssohn’s love of scenery, nature, and travel, all of which spilled over into his music.
Mendelssohn visited England for the first time in 1829. He performed extensively while there, giving recitals, soloing with the London Philharmonic, and conducting his first symphony with the same. His performances were extremely successful and well received, but his visit there was not all work. He went to Scotland to do some sightseeing, accompanied by his friend and fellow composer Karl Klingemann. Among the sites they visited was Fingal’s Cave, in the Hebrides, and the beginning of Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” overture was inspired by this trip.
Toward the end of July that year, Mendelssohn wrote to his family about the inspiration for his “Scotch” symphony: “In darkening twilight today, we went to the Palace [of Holyrood] where Queen Mary lived and loved. There is a little room to be seen there with a spiral staircase at its door. That is where they went up and found Rizzio in the room, dragged him out, and three chambers away there is a dark corner where they murdered him. The chapel beside it has lost its roof and is overgrown with grass and ivy, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is ruined, decayed, and open to the clear sky. I believe that I have found there today the beginning of my Scotch Symphony.”
Annotator Michael Steinberg notes that Mendelssohn did not enjoy bagpipes or Scottish folk music of any kind, and he only wrote the first sixteen bars or so at this time, quickly losing interest in the piece while he was actually in Scotland. It would be years before he worked on it again, and many pieces later he wrote that he couldn’t “find the way back to the Scottish fog.”
In 1841, he took up work on the “Scotch” symphony again, and the next year, he returned to England, dedicating the work to Queen Victoria. While the “Scotch” symphony is labeled as Mendelssohn’s third, it is technically his fifth if we observe the dates of composition; because it was started earlier, before the “Italian.”
The “Scotch” symphony is written in four movements, and the composer indicates that they are to be performed without pause.
The symphony opens with a slightly melancholic yearning in the strings. This opening theme is almost chorale-like in its clarity. The movement is marked Andante con moto – Allegro un poco agitato. As Mendelssohn nudges us toward the allegro he keeps the pianissimo intact, heightening the tension before allowing it to open up into a larger dynamic. However, the hushed closeness is never far away. Steinberg writes, “The Scotch is very much … a pianissimo symphony. The scoring tends to be dense and dark in a manner that we, certain of the symphony’s title, are much inclined to interpret as Northern and peaty.”
This is a true testament to Mendelssohn’s skill at evocation, as by all accounts he disliked folk music in general and bagpipes in particular but still managed to make his listeners “hear” Scotland. The “Scotch” symphony is therefore more accurately described as a painting of how Scotland felt to him rather than anything in it actually being Scottish.
The jaunty Vivace non troppo follows, featuring the horns and winds playing over continuous busy sixteenth notes in the strings. In this movement, Mendelssohn passes the line between (instrument) sections very much in the manner he does in his Octet; despite being scored for orchestra, this is chamber music, with all the delicacy that implies.
The third movement is an adagio that Steinberg describes as “[alternating] a sentiment-drenched melody with stern episodes of march character.” This leads directly into the finale, marked Allegro vivacissimo – Allegro maestoso assai. Here, once again, Mendelssohn makes excellent use of pianissimo in a faster tempo to create a sense of urgency.
Mendelssohn completed his “Scotch” symphony in January 1842. Incidentally, the score did not bear the title. However, Mendelssohn often referred to it as his “Scotch” in his writings. He conducted the premiere himself in Leipzig in March 1842, and then promptly revised the work in time for a second performance a few weeks later.
Following the work’s publication, Robert Schumann published a review in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, in which he was unfortunately misinformed about the circumstances surrounding the symphony’s composition, causing him to publish what Steinberg calls “one of the most famous gaffes in the annals of criticism.” Schumann writes:
We learn from a third party that the beginning of the symphony was written … during Mendelssohn’s residence in Rome…. This is interesting to know in view of its special character. Just as the sight of a yellowed page, unexpectedly found in a mislaid volume, conjures up a vanished time and shines in such brightness that we forget the present, so must many lovely reminiscences have risen to encircle the imagination of the master when among his papers he rediscovered these old melodies sung in lovely Italy—until, intentionally or unintentionally, this tender tone picture revealed itself; a picture that—like those of Italian travel in Jean Paul’s Titan—makes us forget for a while our unhappiness at never having seen that blessed land.
And so it has often been said that a special folk tone breathes from this symphony—only a wholly unimaginative person could fail to observe it…. We do not find [here] traditional instrumental pathos and massive breadth, no sense of an attempt to outdo Beethoven; rather, it approaches, mainly in character, the Schubert [“Great” C major] Symphony—with the distinction that while Schubert’s suggests a rather wild, gypsylike existence, Mendelssohn places us under Italian skies. This is a way of saying that the latter is of a graciously civilized character, speaking a more familiar language, though we must allow Schubert other superiorities, particularly that of richer powers of invention…. In point of plan, Mendelssohn’s symphony is distinguished by its intimate connection of all four movements.
Every page of the score proves how skillfully Mendelssohn retrieves one of his former ideas, how delicately he ornaments a return to the theme, so that it comes to us as in a new light, how rich and interesting he can render his details without overloading them or making a display of pedantic learning.
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Alain Trudel, conductor
Sarah Shafer, soprano
Susan Platts, mezzo soprano
Mahler - Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"
SYMPHONY NO. 2 IN C MINOR "RESURRECTION"
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)
For most of his life, Gustav Mahler was known primarily as a conductor rather than a composer, and he held an impressive list of music directorships. In between conducting and the associated administrative duties his post required, he composed whenever possible. He premiered his own first symphony in Budapest in 1889. This, his first contribution to the symphonic genre, received a mostly poor reception, causing Mahler to entertain serious doubts about programmatic music—music following or illustrating a narrative. He thought about embracing a more conceptual writing style. Still, Mahler felt that his first symphony (and the second) contained “the inner aspect of [his] whole life … everything that [he had] experienced and endured.” Mahler reportedly once called himself “thrice homeless—as a Bohemian among Austrians, as an Austrian among Germans, and as a Jew everywhere in the world.”
Along with several of his contemporaries Mahler took the philosophical developments of his day seriously and considered it an imperative to give an artistic response. Conductor and composer Bruno Walter explains that despite the use of general programs, the “extra-musical [philosophical] ideas … used to hint at the content of the music … fall short, because only music can express that content fully and with emotional specificity.” Mahler believed that music, more than any other medium, was capable of suggesting meanings, ideas, and emotions that might otherwise be out of reach, and commented that he hadn’t meant “to depict … but to communicate something deeper … the Symphony must be a whole world.”
Mahler had already begun work on what was to become his Symphony No. 2, subtitled “Resurrection,” in 1888, pre-dating the premiere of the First Symphony. It’s possible that he intended this first movement, which he called Todtenfeier, or “Funeral Rites,” to stand on its own as a symphonic poem à la Richard Strauss. However, some of the early work on the second movement is also dated 1888, so even if Todtenfeier wasn’t initially a part of this fledgling symphony, the symphony itself was underway.
Mahler’s “Resurrection” is a massive piece both in length and depth, and it took him six years to complete, although he continued to adjust the orchestration until 1909. The symphony has five movements, and Mahler calls for a huge orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists. He even indicates that some of the musicians be placed offstage. Conductor Seiji Ozawa, remarking on Mahler’s excellent craftsmanship, said, “I was amazed that there was someone who knew how to use an orchestra so well. It was extreme—his marvelous ability to put every component of the orchestra to use.”
In 1893, Mahler completed a version of “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt,” or “St. Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fishes,” which would become the third movement of the “Resurrection” symphony. It’s interesting to note that he chose to leave out the lyrics, forming a purely instrumental scherzo. By the summer of the same year he also finished the second and fourth movements. The fourth movement is also an orchestration of a song, this one called “Urlicht,” or “Primal Light.” We have provided the text below.
O Röschen rot!
Der Mensch liegt in grösster Noth!
Der Mensch liegt in grösster Pein!
Je lieber möcht’ ich im Himmel sein!
Da kam ich auf einen breiten Weg,
Da kame in Engelein und wollt’ mich abweisen.
Ach nein! Ich ließ mich nicht abweisen!
Ich bin von Gott and will wieder zu Gott!
Der liebe Gott wird mir ein Lichtchen geben,
Wird leucthen mir bis in das ewig selig Leben!
O little red rose!
Humankind lies in greatest need!
Humankind lies in greatest pain!
Much rather would I be in Heaven!
Then I came onto a broad path,
And an angel came and wanted to turn me away.
But no, I would not be turned
I am from God and would return to God!
Dear God will give me a little light
Will light me to eternal, blissful life.
As the beginning of the concert season approached, Mahler was forced to put the symphony on hold in order to fulfill his conducting obligations, as he was required to do every fall. He began writing again in the spring of 1894 after attending the funeral of renowned conductor Hans von Bülow. Mahler wrote, “I had long contemplated bringing in the choir in the last movement, and only the fear that it would be taken as a formal imitation of Beethoven [Symphony No. 9] made me hesitate again and again. Then Bülow died, and I went to the memorial service.… The mood in which I sat and pondered on the departed was utterly in the spirit of what I was working on at the time … Then the choir, up in the organ loft, intoned Klopstock’s Resurrection chorale … It flashed on me like lightning, this thing, and everything was revealed to my soul clearly. It was the flash that all creative artists wait for—‘conceiving by the Holy Ghost!’ What I then experienced had now to be expressed in sound. And yet—if I had not already borne the work within me—how could I have had that experience?”
Mahler used the first two verses from Klopstock’s text and added his own continuation on them. Annotator Michael Steinberg explains that these additions of Mahler’s “deal still more explicitly with the issue of redemption and resurrection.” The full text is printed below.
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du,
Mein Staub, nach kurzer Ruh!
Unsterblich Leben! Unsterblich Leben
Wird der dich rief geben!
Wieder aufzublüh’n wirst du gesät!
Der Herr der Emte geht
Und sammelt Garben
Un sein, die Starben!
— Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube:
Es geht dir nichts verloren!
Dein ist, Dein, ja Dein, was du gesehnt!
Dein, was du geliebt,
Was du gestritten!
Du warst nicht umsonst geboren!
Hast nicht umsonst gelitten!
Was entstanden ist, das muβ
Was vergangen, auferstehen!
Hör’ auf zu leben!
O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer!
Dir bin ich entrungen!
O Tod! Du Allbezwinger!
Nun bist du bezwungen!
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen,
In heiβem Liebesstreben
Werd’ ich entschweben
Zum Licht, zu dem kein um zu leben!
Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du,
Mein Herz, in einem Nu!
Was du geschlagen,
Zu Gott wird es dich tragen!
Rise again, yes, you will rise again,
My dust, after brief rest!
Immortal life! Immortal life
Will He who called you grant you!
To bloom again you were sown!
The Lord of the Harvest goes
And gathers sheaves,
Us, who have died!
O believe, my heart, but believe:
Nothing will be lost to you!
Yours is what you longed for,
Yours what you loved,
What you fought for!
You were not born in vain!
You have not lived in vain, nor suffered!
All that has come into being must perish!
All that has perished must rise again!
Cease from trembling!
Prepare to live!
O Pain, piercer of all things,
From you I have been wrested!
O Death, conqueror of all things,
Now you are conquered!
With wings I won for myself
In love’s ardent struggle,
I shall fly upwards
To that light which no eye has penetrated!
I shall die so as to live.
Rise again, yes, you will rise again,
My heart, in the twinkling of an eye!
What you have conquered
Will bear you to God!
— Gustav Mahler
The symphony’s first movement, Todtenfeier, was written, according to musicologist Charles Youmans, as Mahler became more and more preoccupied with death and what might follow it. “The animating concern of the Todtenfeier was Mahler’s terror at imagining himself ‘dead, laid out in state, beneath wreaths and flowers.’ From this work forward, his mortality would condition everything he created; however different the topics, moods, and styles of his creative products, and whatever other concerns the works might have addressed, they all served in some way to help him come to terms with death. The early example of the Todtenfeier shows us just how easily this fear came to him.” The main questions Mahler confronts here are some of the largest: What is life? What is death? What comes after? Do our life and death have meaning?
The second movement displays Mahler’s wonderful gift for “nature painting.” Commentator Richard Freed describes “a memory, a ray of sunlight, pure and cloudless, out of the departed’s life … some long forgotten hour of shared happiness suddenly rose … sending, as it were, a sunbeam into your soul—not overcast by any shadow.” Steinberg adds, “Like the minuet from the Third Symphony, this movement was occasionally played by itself, and Mahler used to refer to these bucolic genre pieces as the ‘raisins in [his] cakes.’” The third movement returns us to reality and displays Mahler’s somewhat characteristic cutting sarcasm and black humor.
The fourth movement (as mentioned above) is constructed around a lied, or art song, that Mahler had completed earlier (“Primal Light”). Mahler took the text for this song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (“The Boy’s Magic Horn”), a collection of poems he turned to many times throughout his life. Steinberg calls the Urlicht “one of Mahler’s loveliest songs … full of Mahlerian paradox…. The chamber-musical scoring is also characteristically detailed and inventive.”
In the fifth movement, the chorus and soloists join the orchestra, singing a great hymn; it is from this movement that the symphony takes its title. Annotator James Keller notes that this does not refer to the Resurrection in the Christian context: “In this apocalyptic movement we witness Mahler confronting the inherited artistic tradition not only as a composer but even as a poet.” Following the destructive climax, the gentle text can be clearly heard, “Rise again, yes, rise again thou wilt … Then the glory of God comes into sight. A wondrous light strikes us to the heart. All is quiet and blissful … A feeling of overwhelming love fills us with blissful knowledge and illuminates our existence.”
Mahler’s close friend and confidante, Natalie Bauer-Lechner, describes the work in full in her diary:
The first movement depicts the titanic struggles of a mighty being still caught in the toils of this world; grappling with life and with the fate to which he must succumb—his death. The second and third movements, Andante and Scherzo, are episodes from the life of the fallen hero. The Andante tells of love. The experience behind the Scherzo I can describe only in terms of the following image: if, at a distance, you watch a dance through a window, without being able to hear the music, then the turning and twisting movement of the couples seems senseless, because you are not catching the rhythm that is the key to it all. You must imagine that to one who has lost his identity and his happiness, the world looks like this—distorted and crazy, as if reflected in a concave mirror. The Scherzo ends with the appalling shriek of this tortured soul.
The ‘Urlicht’ represents the soul’s striving and questioning attitude toward God and its own immortality. While the first three movements are narrative in character, in the last movement everything is inward experience. It begins with the death-shriek of the Scherzo. And now the resolution of the terrible problem of life—redemption. At first, we see it in the form created by faith and the Church—in their struggle to transcend this present life. The earth trembles. Just listen to the drumroll, and your hair will stand on end! The Last Trump sounds; the graves spring open, and all creation comes writhing out of the bowels of the earth, with wailing and gnashing teeth. Now the all come marching along in a mighty procession: beggars and rich men, common folk and kings, the Church Militant [die ecclesia militans], the Popes. All give vent to the same terror, the same lamentations and paroxysms; for none is just in the sight of God. Breaking in again and again—as if from another world—the Last Trump sounds from the Beyond. At last, after everyone has shouted and screamed in indescribably confusion, nothing is head but the long drawn-out call of the Bird of Death above the last grave—finally that, too, fades away. There now follows nothing of what had been expected: no Last Judgement, no souls saved and none damned; no just man, no evil-doer, no judge! Everything has ceased to be. And softly and simply there begins: ‘Auferstehn …’—the words themselves are sufficient commentary. And cried Mahler, ‘I absolutely refuse to give another syllable of explanation!’
The first complete performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 took place in 1895 with the Berlin Philharmonic and Mahler himself on the podium. A critic reported, “It was a resurrection without equal, and I gladly confess that the immense wonder of their music was clearer to me yesterday than ever before. [Mahler created music] so noble, beautiful, and convincing, that one can rightly believe in a powerful artistic renaissance, the dawn of a new age of this magnificent artistic institution.”
Steinberg notes that although Mahler’s second symphony is called the “Resurrection,” Mahler did not impose this title himself and was often reluctant to even outline the program. In a letter to his wife Mahler wrote, “[A program] gives only a superficial indication, all that any program can do for a musical work, let alone this one, which is so much all of a piece that it can no more be explained than the world itself. I’m quite sure that if God were asked to draw up a program of the world he created he could never do it. As best it would say as little about the nature of God and life as my analysis says about my C-minor Symphony.”
Mahler’s “Resurrection” is scored for four flutes (all doubling piccolo), four oboes (two doubling English horn), four clarinets (one doubling E-flat clarinet and one doubling bass clarinet), four bassoons (two doubling contrabassoon), ten horns, ten trumpets, four trombones, tuba, timpani (but two percussionists), percussion, two harps, organ, strings, mixed chorus, soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, and an offstage group that includes four trumpets, additional percussion. A second offstage group includes four horns and timpani.
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Alain Trudel, conductor
Hannah White, violin
Copland - Fanfare for the Common Man
Goulet - Beatles Fantasy
Daugherty - Metropolis Symphony
FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
American composer Aaron Copland received the majority of his compositional training in Paris along with several of his more well-known contemporaries, including Elliott Carter, Philip Glass, Virgil Thomson, and Walter Piston, who traveled there to study with the revered Nadia Boulanger. After returning to the States, Copland set about defining his compositional style, settling on something he called “populist.” This Whitmanesque sound-world was intended to be more easily comprehensible to any audience than some of the modernist work being produced in Europe at the time. Along with friendlier tonalities, Copland’s “populist” style is marked by large intervals that symbolize the openness of the American landscape. Trombonist Eli Mennerick adds that this style also reflects “both American democratic ideals and the natural grandeur of the country.”
Fanfare for the Common Man was commissioned in 1941 by Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony as part of a project in which Goossens asked various composers to submit fanfares for the 1942–43 season to support the war effort. Annotator Chris Myers notes that the titles of the resulting works “were indicative of the national mood: ‘A Fanfare for the Fighting French,’ ‘A Fanfare for Paratroopers,’ ‘A Fanfare for American Heroes.’” However, Fanfare for the Common Man is the only one to have truly remained a standard.
Copland took the title from a speech made in 1942 by then vice president Henry Wallace, during which he reportedly said, “Some have spoken of the ‘American Century.’ I say that the century on which we are entering—the century which will come out of this war—can be and must be the century of the common man.” Copland completed his Fanfare for the Common Man in 1942, and it was premiered in the spring of 1943. Goossens, taken with the title and the work itself, told Copland, “I think it is so telling that it deserves a special occasion for its performance…. We will premiere it [in] March … at income tax time.” Copland replied, “[He was] all for honoring the common man at income tax time.”
Annotator Michael Steinberg describes the piece. “Fanfare for the Common Man is made of the simplest imaginable materials, but Copland’s sense of timing in their deployment is masterful—evident immediately in the majestic but not in the least obvious progression of the percussion’s introductory call to attention. Leonard Bernstein called it ‘the world’s leading hit tune.’” Copland would later take these simple materials and build on them in his third symphony.
Fanfare for the Common Man is scored for four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, and tam-tam.
Maxime Goulet (b. 1980)
An internationally renowned composer, Maxime Goulet has produced works across several genres, most notably film and video game music. His works are widely performed by ensembles, including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Quebec’s Orchestre Métropolitain, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and a number of others. He has created music for numerous video games and is the founder of the Montreal Video Game Symphony.
Goulet composed Beatles Fantasy with fellow composer (and arranger) Eric Jones Cadieaux. The work follows The Beatles through their lives and creative periods, touching on their most popular songs along the way. They do not appear in a strict chronological order, however, but have been laid out to create a cohesive musical structure.
The first movement represents the Beatles’ early music and includes “A Hard Day’s Night,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “And I Love Her,” “In My Life,” and “Yesterday.” The second movement includes snippets from “All You Need Is Love,” “A Day in The Life,” “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,” and “Hello Goodbye.” The final movement presents “Lady Madonna,” “Let It Be,” “Black Bird,” and “Hey Jude.”
Beatles Fantasy was commissioned by violinist Lindsay Deutsch, and is dedicated to her. She premiered the piece in 2016 with the Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra. Beatles Fantasy is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Michael Daugherty (b. 1954)
Metropolis Symphony was written between 1988 and 1993. It was premiered in 1994 by David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It’s scored for three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba; timpani, percussion, synthesizer, keyboard, and strings.
*The following program note is by Michael Daugherty:
I began composing my Metropolis Symphony in 1988, inspired by the celebration in Cleveland of the fiftieth anniversary of Superman’s first appearance in the comics. When I completed the score in 1993, I dedicated it to the conductor David Zinman, who had encouraged me to compose the work, and to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The Metropolis Symphony evokes an American mythology that I discovered as an avid reader of comic books in the fifties and sixties. Each movement of the symphony—which may be performed separately—is a musical response to the myth of Superman. I have used Superman as a compositional metaphor in order to create an independent musical world that appeals to the imagination. The symphony is a rigorously structured, nonprogrammatic work, expressing the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and wit of American popular culture. Like Charles Ives, whose music recalls small-town America early in our century, I draw on my eclectic musical background to reflect on late-twentieth-century urban America. Through complex orchestration, timbral exploration, and rhythmic polyphony, I combine the idioms of jazz, rock, and funk with symphonic and avant-garde composition.
“Lex” derives its title from one of Superman’s most vexing foes, the supervillain and business tycoon Lex Luthor. Marked “Diabolical” in the score, this movement features a virtuoso violin soloist (Lex) who plays a fiendishly difficult fast triplet motive in perpetual motion, pursued by the orchestration and a percussion section that includes four referee whistles placed quadraphonically on stage.
“Krypton” refers to the exploding planet from which the infant Superman escaped. A dark, microtonal soundworld is created by glissandi in the strings, trombone, and siren. Two percussionists play antiphonal fire bells throughout the movement, as it evolves from a recurring solo motive in the cellos into ominous calls from the brass section. Gradually the movement builds toward an apocalyptic conclusion.
“Mxyzptlk” is named after a mischievous imp from the fifth dimension who regularly wreaks havoc on Metropolis. This brightly orchestrated movement is the scherzo of the symphony, emphasizing the upper register of the orchestra. It features two dueling flute soloists who are positioned stereophonically on either side of the conductor. Rapidly descending and ascending flute runs are echoed throughout the orchestra, while open-stringed pizzicato patterns, moving strobelike throughout the orchestra, are precisely choreographed to create a spatial effect.
“Oh, Lois!” invokes Lois Lane, news reporter at the Daily Planet alongside Clark Kent (alias Superman). Marked with the tempo “faster than a speeding bullet,” this five-minute concerto for the orchestra uses flexatone and whip to provide a lively polyrhythmic counterpoint that suggests a cartoon history of mishaps, screams, dialogue, crashes, and disasters, all in rapid motion.
Red Cape Tango
“Red Cape Tango” was composed after Superman’s fight to the death with Doomsday, and is my final musical work based on the Superman mythology. The principal melody, first heard in the bassoon, is derived from the medieval Latin death chant “Dies irae.” This dance of death is conceived as a tango, presented at times like a concertino comprising string quintet, brass trio, bassoon, chimes, and castanets. The tango rhythm, introduced by the castanets and heard later in the finger cymbals, undergoes a gradual timbral transformation, concluding dramatically with crash cymbals, brake drum, and timpani. The orchestra alternates between legato and staccato sections to suggest a musical bullfight.
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