ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - FLEMING & GILBERT

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - FLEMING & GILBERT

PROGRAM NOTES

JOHN ADAMS
The Chairman Dances
Composed: 1985
Duration ca. 12 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes and 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, harp, and strings

Winner of the prestigious Grawemeyer Award in 1995 and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in music, John Adams is the most prominent and frequently performed American composer of his generation. More impressively, his work has won over many listeners who normally approach new music with some skepticism. Colorful, tremendously energetic, and accessible in the best sense of that term, Adams’ pieces draw on the virtues of different musical traditions: the expansive sonic architecture of the classical masters, the tonal sophistication of 20th-century composers, the rhythmic drive and momentum of American popular music, the shimmering textures of the so-called “minimalist” school, and the delight in new discoveries that has always characterized the American avant-garde.

Adams’ breakthrough composition, the one that brought him international attention, was his opera Nixon in China. Completed in 1987 after two years of work, Nixon in China imagines in fantastical, sometimes surreal, terms the historic 1972 visit of the 37th President to the People’s Republic of China and his meeting with Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong.

At the time he had begun working on the opera, Adams also was obligated to fulfill a commission from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra for a new orchestral piece. Engrossed in the sound-world and mise en scène of Nixon in China, he wrote a “Foxtrot for Orchestra” that he originally planned to include in the opera’s third act. This music, The Chairman Dances, ended up being, in the composer’s words, “an out-take” from Nixon in China, but it has acquired a life of its own as a concert piece.

The scene for which The Chairman Dances was conceived centers, Adams explains, “on Chairman Mao and his bride, Chiang Ch’ing, the fabled ‘Madame Mao,’ firebrand, revolutionary executioner, architect of China’s calamitous Cultural Revolution, and (a fact not universally realized) a former Shanghai movie actress. In the surreal final scene of the opera, she interrupts the tired formalities of a state banquet, disrupts the slow moving protocol, and invites the Chairman, who is present only as a gigantic forty-foot portrait on the wall, to ‘come down, old man, and dance.’ The music takes full cognizance of her past as a movie actress. Themes, sometimes slinky and sentimental, at other times bravura and bounding, ride above in bustling fabric of energized motives.”

 

RICHARD STRAUSS
Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs)
Composed: 1948
Duration ca. 20 minutes
Scored for 3 flutes and 2 piccolos, 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 3 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, celesta, harp, strings, and solo soprano

Richard Strauss enjoyed a long, productive career, and he devoted himself to different genres of music at different times in his life. As a young composer in the late-1880s and 1890s, Strauss wrote a series of famous orchestral poems that includes Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, and Thus Spake Zarathustra, all of which enjoy prominent places in today’s orchestral repertory. Later, he turned to the theater, creating music for plays, ballets, and especially opera. Among the latter compositions are such enduring works as Salome and Der Rosenkavalier.

But one compositional activity claimed Strauss’s attention throughout his life, from his student days and early career through his involvement with opera and on to his final years. This was Lieder, or German art song. Prompted in part by the fine soprano voice of his wife, Pauline de Ahna, Strauss wrote more than 200. Not only the quantity of these works, but their deep expressiveness, distinguishes Strauss as one of the masters of Lieder writing, the heir of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. But unlike those earlier Lieder composers, who wrote only piano accompaniment for most of their songs, Strauss often created orchestral settings for his Lieder, a penchant he shared with his great contemporary Gustav Mahler.

Strauss’s crowning achievement as a song writer also proved to be his final composition. Written when he was 84, Vier letzte Lieder, or Four Last Songs, closed the circle of Strauss’s life in music. In this work, which uses verses by Hermann Hesse and the 19th-century poet Joseph von Eichendorff, the composer returned to the lush Romanticism that had been his signature as a young musician. He also included in the final song a quotation from a composition he had written more than half a century earlier. 

The musical references to Strauss’s youth find a literary counterpart in the text of the first song, “Frühling” (“Spring”), a hymn to young life. But with the second song, “September,” it becomes clear that parting and death constitute the real theme of this cycle, the end of summer providing a metaphor for the mortality of all earth’s creatures. “Beim Schlafengehen,” the third song, shifts the focus from nature to the human realm. This is one of Strauss’s most moving songs, and it attains what seems an almost religious intensity of feeling.

The intimations of death thus far implied become explicit in the final song. But death is not a grim or frightful prospect for Strauss. A feeling of deep peace runs through the music of “Im Abendrot,” and in its final moments the composer presents two important symbols of life and continuity. Rising in the horn at the mention of death is the “trans­figuration motif” from Strauss’s 1889 tone poem Death and Transfiguration. As in that orchestral composition, this theme serves as an emblem of spiritual triumph over death. The music fades toward silence, and we hear the trilling of two larks encountered earlier in the song. The meaning of this sound is unmistakable: life will continue after the composer, after each individual, is gone.

                                                     

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68
Composed: 1854-1876
Duration ca. 45 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings

In 1854, around the time he turned 21, Brahms heard for the first time a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Almost immediately he began sketching a symphony of his own in the same key of D minor and in much the same spirit as Beethoven’s great work. Completing it took more than two decades. Brahms’s inexperience in orchestral writing cost a number of false starts, and the composer discarded much of his original material, including all of the first movement. It was replaced by a new one in 1862, by which time the music had migrated from D minor to C minor. Brahms continued to write and revise the symphony, ignoring pleas by his friends that he bring it before the public. Not until 1876 was he sufficiently satisfied that he released it for performance.

It is hardly surprising that, as the music became known, similarities to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony were noted by many critics. The stormy opening movement, the broad, folk-hymn theme of the finale, and the dramatic progression over the course of the work from struggle to triumph, have obvious precedents in Beethoven’s last symphony. But such comparisons failed to recognize the very Brahmsian qualities of the work. Characteristically, it was Theodore Billroth, a thoughtful surgeon and pianist whose judgments Brahms valued highly, who perceived both its inspiration and originality. After examining the score, he wrote to the composer: “That the whole symphony has a somewhat similar emotional groundwork as the Ninth of Beethoven occurred to me in my study of it. And yet ... your own artistic individuality stands out clearly.” His observation remains accurate and useful a century later.

The first movement opens with a dramatic introduction in slow tempo. In its initial measures two melodic lines — one rising, the other descending — pull roughly at each other while timpani and bass instruments toll somberly beneath them. A plaintive melody introduced by the oboe then leads to the main Allegro portion of the movement. “This is rather strong,” wrote Clara Schumann when Brahms showed her an early draft, “but I’ve grown used to it. The movement is full of beauties, the themes are treated masterfully.” So they are. And had she seen the complete symphony at the time, Frau Schumann might have added that the sense of turmoil and conflict that fills this movement serves to prepare the exultant finale.

The inner movements are less turbulent but no less moving. A religious serenity pervades the second, while the third is breezy and melodious. Its initial measures provide an example of Brahms’s fondness for thematic relationships and symmetries: the second phrase of clarinet melody is precisely the mirror image of the first, the melodic contours rising where previously they fell, and vice versa.

With the onset of the finale, Brahms returns to the drama established in the first movement. Its initial section seems shrouded in dark C minor harmonies. Suddenly, however, a clarion horn call dispels the shadows and leads to the movement’s broad principal theme. The triumphal character and folk-song-like simplicity of this subject inevitably brought comparisons with the “Ode to Joy” melody in Beethoven’s Ninth. Brahms dismissed the similarity as incidental and obvious. “Any ass can see that,” he reportedly exclaimed when the resemblance was pointed out. Clearly of greater consequence is how Brahms, in his own way, takes this theme to heights of exultant expression in the symphony’s concluding minutes.

 

STRAUSS: FOUR LAST SONGS, TEXTS

Frühling” (“Spring”) — Hermann Hesse

In dämmrigen Grüften                              In dusky graveyards

Trämte ich lang                                         I dreamed long

Von deinen Baumen und blauen luften  of your trees and blue skies,

Von deinem Duft und Vogelgesang.        of your scent and your bird song.

 

Nun liegst du erschlossen                         Now you lie uncovered

In Gleiss und Zier,                                    glittering and ornamented

Von Licht übergossen                               bathed in light

Wie ein Wunder vor mir.                          like a jewel before me.

 

Du kennst mich wieder,                            You recognize me,

Du lockest mich zart,                                you entice me gently,

Es zittert durch all mein Glieder               a shudder runs thought my body

Dein selige Gegenwart.                             your blissful presence.

 

September” (“September”) —  Hermann Hesse

Der Garten trauert,                                    The garden grieves,

Kühl sinkt in die Baumen der Regen.       cool sinks the rain into the flowers.

Der Sommer schauert                                The summer shivers

Still seinem Ende engegen.                       quietly at the prospect of its end.

 

Golden tropft Blatt und Blatt                   Golden drop the leaves slowly

Nieder vom hohen Akazienbaum.            from the tall acacia tree,

Sommer lacechelt erstaunt und matt         Summer smiles faintly and in surprise

In der sterbenden Gartentraum.                in the dying dream of the garden.

 

Lange noch bei den Rosen                        For a long time it lingers,

Bliebt er stehen, sehnt sich nach Ruh.      upon the roses, longing for the rest.

Langsam tut er die                                    Slowly it closes its great

Mügewordnen Augen zu.                         now weary eyes.

 

Beim Schlafengehen” (“On Going to Sleep”)  — Hermann Hesse

Nun der tag mich müd gemacht               Made tired by the day now,

Soll mein sehnliches Verlangen                my passionate longing

Freundliche die gestirnte Nacht                shall welcome the starry night

Wie ein müdes Kind emphangen.             like a tired child.

 

Hände lasst von alle Tun,                          Hands, leave all your activity,

Stirn vergiss du alles Denken.                   brow, forget all thought,

Alle mein Sinne nun                                  for all my senses

Wollen sich in Schlummer senken.           are about to go to sleep.

 

Und die Seele unbewacht                         And my soul, unguarded,

Will in freien Flügeln schewben,              will float freely,

Um im Zauberkreis der Nacht                  in order to live in the magic circle of the night

Tief und tausendfach zu leben.                 deep and a thousand-fold.

 

                                                     

Im Abendrot” (“At Sunset”) — Joseph von Eichendorff           

Wir sin durch Not und Freude                  In times of trial and joy

Gegangen Hand in Hand;                         we have gone hand in hand,

Vom Wandern ruhn wir beide                  now we can rest from our travels

Nun überm stillen Land.                           over the still land.

 

Rings sich die Taeler neigen,                    All around the valleys descend,

Es dunkelt schon die Luft,                       the sky is already growing dark,

Zwei Lerchen nur noch steigen                 only two larks ascend

Nachträumend in den Duft.                      night-dreaming into the fragrant air.

 

Tritt her, und lass sie schwirren,               Come closer and leave them to their fluttering,

Bald ist es Schlafenzeit,                            soon it will be time for sleep,

Dass wir uns nicht verirren                       lest we go astray

In deiser Einsamkeit.                                in this lonely hour.

 

O weiter, stiller Friede!                             Oh, boundless, silent quietude,

So tief im Abendrot                                  so profound in the sunset!

Wie sind wir wandermüde —                   How tired we are of our travelling—

Ist das etwas der Tod?                              can this perhaps be death?

NY PHILHARMONIC GUEST ARTISTS & ACADEMY FACULTY ARTISTS

NY PHILHARMONIC GUEST ARTISTS & ACADEMY FACULTY ARTISTS

PROGRAM NOTES

TIMO ANDRES
Tides and Currents
Composed 1986
Duration ca. 15 minutes
Scored for 2 pianos and percussion

Timo Andres is one of the leading figures among the younger generation of American composers and an accomplished pianist who has given distinguished performances of new music. He has received commissions and performances from the Boston Symphony, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Takács Quartet, Music Academy of the West, and other esteemed ensembles and soloists.

Tides and Currents is scored for two pianos (Andres will be a featured pianist in this performance) and two percussionists, an ensemble Bartók famously employed in his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Yet Andres’s work sounds nothing like that piece. Whereas Bartók used his pianos in a robust, percussive manner, Andres has created piano parts whose shimmering figuration, soft harmonies, and rhythmic fluidity create watery textures containing a wealth of canons, or melodic echoes. The continual rising and falling patterns of the piano parts, the composer says, “looked like waves in the score.”

The first portion of the composition traces a long crescendo built from a gradual accumulation of sonority as the piano parts become ever more full and sonorous. Andres writes of wanting “to give large reverberant instruments a sense of geological change over a relatively short time-span.” Following a conspicuous pause, the second portion focuses more minutely on some of the composition’s melodic motifs, thereby “revealing a gentler play of interlocking canons,” the composer notes. A figure of three quick chords also assumes increasing prominence, and a strong peroration in the final minute brings the composition to a vigorous close.

                                                                                   

FRANZ SCHUBERT
Auf dem Strom, Op. Post. 119
Composed 1828
Duration ca. 9 minutes
Scored for high voice, horn, and piano

Franz Schubert’s approximately 600 songs are the foundation of the Lieder repertory, the rich literature of German art songs. Schubert scored nearly all his songs for voice and piano. But in the last year of his life he wrote two songs that add a second instrument to the ensemble. We hear one of these, Aus dem Strom (On the River), which has a prominent horn part.

The song’s verses constitute a traveler’s farewell to his beloved as he embarks on a river journey that ultimately will lead him “far from every smiling coast,/where no island is seen.” The speed and insistence with which the river bears him away seem to auger a fatal destiny, for he is seized with trembling, and in the final lines he looks forward to seeing his love in a celestial realm.

Schubert establishes the horn’s importance from the outset. It sounds a broad introductory melody over a rippling accompaniment in the opening measures and plays nearly continuously thereafter, providing counterpoint to the vocal line and taking the lead in several interludes between stanzas. It also helps direct the music from the feeling of wistful tenderness that prevails during much of the song into the stormy expression of the penultimate stanza, and from there to Romantic resignation at the end.

 

ANDRÉ PREVIN
Trio
Composed 1994
Duration ca. 19 minutes
Scored for oboe, bassoon, and piano                  

Over the course of a career that has spanned more than 70 years, André Previn has distinguished himself in a wide range of musical endeavors. As a symphonic conductor, Previn has directed most of the world’s major orchestras. An expert jazz pianist, he has performed and recorded with some of the legendary practitioners of that music, but he is equally at home classical repertory. Early in his career he established himself in Hollywood as an outstanding composer, conductor, and arranger of film scores. He subsequently turned to writing operas, songs, and concert pieces, one of which we hear now.

This work, the Trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano, adopts the venerable form of three movements in a fast-slow-fast pattern. The first begins in energetic fashion, with a theme that initially pits the two wind instruments against the piano. After some rough-and-tumble interplay, the tempo relaxes and the piano gives out a nostalgic-sounding melody. Later, these two contrasting ideas combine in counterpoint.

A stately, contemplative theme sounded by the piano begins the second movement, the oboe and bassoon answering in turn. The rest of the movement follows the pattern thus established: propositions by the piano and responses from the woodwinds. Except during a pair of slow interludes, the finale is both “jaunty,” as Previn promises, and rhythmically bracing.

 

TOMASO ALBINONI, “transcribed” by REMO GIAZOTTO
Adagio for Organ and Strings
Composed late 1940s
Duration ca. 8 minutes
Scored by Ralph Sauer for 4 trombones

AND

CLAUDE DEBUSSY
“Jimbo’s Lullaby,” from The Children’s Corner
Composed 1908
Duration ca. 3 minutes
Scored by Ralph Sauer for 4 trombones

Our next two pieces provide examples of the arranger’s art, the process of transcribing music from one instrumental medium to another. We hear each of these works not in its original scoring but reconfigured for trombone quartet.

This task has been performed by Music Academy faculty artist Ralph Sauer, who is eminently qualified to do it. In addition to his achievements as a performer, he has made brass-ensemble arrangements of hundreds of compositions by a wide range of composers, an activity he has pursued since the earliest part of his career.

We hear two of Sauer’s arrangements. The first is itself a purported arrangement by an Italian musicologist, Remo Gaziotto, of a fragmentary work of the Venetian Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni. It was, however, almost certainly composed entirely by Gaziotto, for it sounds unlike any eighteenth-century music. Rather, its harmonies convey an intense pathos reminiscent of Puccini. Whatever its pedigree, this work has undeniable expressive power. Its lines and harmonies bespeak sorrow and solace, carrying both ecclesiastic and sensual connotations.

The second arrangement we hear is of one of the piano pieces Claude Debussy wrote for his young daughter and collected under the title The Children’s Corner. This piece takes its title from one of the girl’s toys, a stuffed elephant called Jumbo. Debussy apparently mistook the name but wrote a charmingly pachydermian lullaby.

 

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, Quartetto Serioso
Composed 1810
Duration ca. 20 minutes
Scored for 2 violins, viola, and cello

Upon completing his Quartet in F Minor, Opus 95, Beethoven inscribed the manuscript “Quartett[o] serioso — 1810 — in the month of October ....” The composer hardly needed to describe this work. Its nearly every page proclaims its serioso character, suggesting the most earnest thoughts and impassioned sentiments. Through much of the composition, Beethoven offers concentrated offerings of musical materials that yield tremendous expressive tension.

This is especially evident in the opening movement. Here the initial theme is a series of brief and dissimilar gestures. These several component phrases contrast sharply, and the pauses that separate them heighten the sense of dissociation. The movement’s second subject, a descant for the first violin over a lilting line passed among the other three instruments, is more regular and more relaxed. But Beethoven’s interest is not in regularity or stability, and a third theme is both heralded and periodically rent by strong outbursts and wrenching harmonic dislocations.

The second movement also draws on disparate ideas that Beethoven juxtaposes for maximum contrast. The opening measures present a simple gesture, a descending and rising scale figure for the cello alone. This gives way to a song-like melody that ends in a series of soft dissonant chords, a quiet grinding of harmonic gears. The music now turns to a contrapuntal episode that proceeds uninterrupted until a sudden reappearance of the cello’s scale figure; when the contrapuntal discourse resumes, it does so with new urgency. Another recurrence of the cello’s scale figure brings us back to the lyrical melody and from there to a coda passage that leads directly to the third movement.

Here we find a somberness that seems more Slavic than Viennese. The galloping principal idea alternates with a twice-stated section of more relaxed character, the transitions between these paragraphs being not modulated but startlingly abrupt.

Following an introduction in slow tempo, the finale brings a tempest-tossed lament. After running its course, it comes gently to rest, and there the movement might have ended. But Beethoven, who has been anything but predictable in this quartet, now springs his greatest surprise: an effervescent coda in the major mode. The music twinkles in its texture of quickly running eighth-notes, and in a twinkling it is gone, vanished into the ether. What did Beethoven mean by this extraordinary conclusion? Has the tense drama that went before been happily resolved? Was it all some kind of elaborate jest? The impossibility of a definitive answer only adds to the fascination this quartet still holds more than two centuries after it was first heard. that seems born of sheer exultation.

DONIZETTI'S "THE ELIXIR OF LOVE"

DONIZETTI'S "THE ELIXIR OF LOVE"

PROGRAM NOTES

 

L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love)

 

Dramatis personae

Nemorino, a young peasant

Adina, a wealthy landholder

Belcore, a regimental sergeant

Dulcamara, a traveling medicine peddler

Giannetta, a peasant girl

Peasants and Soldiers

 

Background

Romantic love may be a relatively recent development in human history, as anthropologists contend, but it has been around long enough that its difficulties are universally familiar. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” Shakespeare tells us in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and countless poets, novelists, and songwriters since his day have concurred. So painful are love’s trials, so vexing its caprices and irrationality that we can hardly wonder at the notion of mastering the heart’s desires through magical or alchemical intervention.

This, too, has been a favorite theme of poets. Returning momentarily to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we find Shakespeare imagining a rare flower whose nectar, rubbed on the eyes of any sleeper, induces amorous passion for the first creature spied upon waking. But the most influential story of a supernatural inducement to love predates Shakespeare by several centuries. This is the medieval romance of Tristan and Iseult, who drink a potion brewed to ensure the latter’s love for her betrothed, Cornwall’s King Mark, and fall desperately, helplessly, and tragically in love with each other.

Revival of interest in the medieval romances became an underlying inspiration for the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, which even took its name from the old tales of love, valor, and magic. And none of those stories gripped the Romantic imagination more powerfully than the Tristan legend. Among other things, it provided the subject for that quintessential Romantic opera, Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Wagner, a profoundly serious artist, treated his story as a parable of love, alienation, and transcendence. But the most earnest subjects have a way of begetting comic treatments. A Midsummer Night’s Dream gives the love-potion idea a humorous twist — actually, several humorous twists. So, too, does Gaetano Donizetti’s sparkling comic opera L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love).

Donizetti (1797-1848), the leading Italian composer active during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, applied his talents to both dramatic and humorous stories. In L’elisir d’amore, composed and first performed in 1832, he and his librettist, Felice Romani, lampoon the legend of Tristan and Iseult, which is invoked in the opera’s opening scene. The satirizing of a venerable love story, the droll characters that populate L’elisir d’amore, and the various twists and turns of its plot make for a delicious comic confection. Musically, the work enjoys Donizetti’s foremost virtue as a composer, his ability to convey situations and emotions through supremely melodious music. L’elisir d’amore boasts several splendid arias and ensembles, the most famous being Nemorino’s aria Una furtiva lagrima. Its melody is well known, thanks largely to the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who made it something of a signature number and widely famous a century ago.

 

Synopsis

Act 1

In a field, a group of peasants rest from their labors while the farm’s young owner, Adina, sits reading. One of the peasants, Nemorino, is in love with her but despairs of ever winning the lady. The tale Adina is reading provokes her to laughter. It is the story of Tristan and Iseult, and the notion of a love potion that guarantees undying love strikes her as absurd. At their urging, she reads a passage to the curious peasants.

Just as Adina finishes reading, a platoon of soldiers passes. At its head is Belcore, whose self-confidence contrasts strikingly with Nemorino’s hesitancy. Eyeing Adina, he presents her a floral bouquet, declares his love, and proposes marriage to her. The lady meets his swagger with her own self-assurance, saying that she wants time to consider his suit.

The soldiers and peasants depart, but Nemorino lingers to speak with Adina. She, knowing his feelings, advises that he cease his sighing and return to the city to attend his sick uncle. Nemorino replies that his uncle’s condition is nothing compared his own heartache. Adina tries to warn him away. Though he is kind and modest, she tells Nemorino, she is fickle and will always seek new love and pleasure. Her heart is like a cloud, moving and changing with the breeze. He counters that his love is like a river, running unalterably to the sea.

The scene changes to the village square. The townsfolk are drawn by a trumpet call announcing the arrival of a traveling medicine seller, Doctor Dulcamara. In a brilliant “patter aria,” he extols the benefits of his concoctions, which miraculously cure any affliction imaginable. Nemorino, having decided the magical elixir that bound Iseult to Tristan is his only chance of gaining Adina, timidly asks Dulcamara if this potion can be had. But of course, the mountebank replies, the very one. And he produces a bottle of what we learn, in an aside, is merely wine. He cautions that a day must pass after drinking the elixir before it works its magic. Nemorino gladly pays his last cent for it.

After Dulcamara departs to a nearby inn, Nemorino happily drinks the “elixir” he has purchased. He is beginning to feel its effects when Adina happens by. Confident of the love potion’s power, Nemorino treats her casually. His apparent indifference irks Adina — so much so that she decides to punish him by flirting with Belcore, who comes upon the scene. When Nemorino remains insouciant, she raises the stakes by accepting Belcore’s marriage proposal. Still Nemorino appears unconcerned. Soldiers and villagers arrive with news that the regiment has been ordered to leave early the next morning, so Adina and Belcore agree to advance their wedding to later that day. Nemorino’s confidence vanishes, and he begs Adina not to marry before the coming day. She ignores his plea, and Belcore invites everyone to the wedding.

Act II

At a banquet preceding their wedding, Adina and Belcore entertain the guests by singing a duet. A notary arrives to officiate the ceremony, but Adina does not want to proceed without Nemorino present. After all, her purpose in marrying is to punish him. But when the assembly leaves for the chapel, she has no choice but to follow. Only Dulcamara remains behind, availing himself of the leftover food.

Nemorino enters and begs Dulcamara for a potion that will take effect immediately. The latter assures him that doubling the dose of the original elixir will produce the desired effect, but Nemorino has already consumed the entire bottle and has no more money. Dulcamara agrees to wait an hour at the inn while Nemorino tries to borrow enough for a second purchase.

Belcore returns, puzzled by Adina’s refusal to sign the wedding contract. Seeing the downcast Nemorino, he inquires as to his trouble. Nemorino explains that he needs money immediately but has no way to get it. Belcore replies that his regiment pays an enlistment bonus of twenty scudi, and he praises the joys of military life. Nemorino signs the enlistment papers, and each man expresses satisfaction: Belcore that his rival will soon be far from Adina, Nemorino that his dream of winning her is still alive.

Later, the village girls share the news that Nemorino’s uncle has died and left his estate to his nephew. When the young man enters, having consumed another bottle of Dulcamara’s love potion, the girls fawn over him, a development Nemorino attributes to the magic elixir. Adina enters and soon becomes jealous over Nemorino’s new-found popularity among the girls. Dulcamara, amazed at the turn in Nemorino’s fortunes, wonders if he actually did give the young man a love potion. In any event, after Nemorino and the girls leave for the ball, he touts its efficacy to Adina. She, learning of all that Nemorino has done in hopes of winning her, now realizes that she loves him. Dulcamara offers to sell a love potion to Adina, but she refuses. Better than any elixir of love, she sings, is her own magic: a tender glance, a little smile, a caress.

The opera’s final scene begins with Nemorino alone. He spied a tear in Adina’s eye when they were last together, and he is sure that she now loves him. Adina approaches, but he again feigns indifference. She hands him his enlistment papers, which she has purchased from Belcore, and urges him to remain in his hometown, among people who appreciate him. Nemorino asks if she has more to say. When she declines to add anything, he declares that he would rather die a soldier than live without love. Adina finally surrenders and confesses that she loves him, and they embrace joyfully.

The remainder of the cast enters. Belcore quickly recovers from finding the young pair in each other’s arms. After all, he says, there are plenty of other women in the world. Dulcamara announces the news of Nemorino’s inheritance, of which neither Adina or Nemorino were aware. He then takes the opportunity to acclaim his elixir’s amazing power. Nemorino and Adina sing of their happiness, and the villagers praise Dulcamara as he departs.

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - STRAUSS & BRAHMS

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - STRAUSS & BRAHMS

PROGRAM NOTES

 

RICHARD STRAUSS
Serenade in E-flat Major for Wind Instruments, Op. 7
Composed ca. 1882
Duration ca. 10 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, and contrabassoon

Although Mozart and Mendelssohn are music’s best-known youthful prodigies, Richard Strauss was scarcely less precocious. Born into a musical family, Strauss began piano lessons at age four and started to compose when he was six. During his adolescence he produced a string quartet, several sonatas for different instruments, a number of orchestral pieces, and some attractive songs. But perhaps the finest of his early works, and in any case the first one to gain a secure place in the concert repertory, is his Serenade, Opus 7, for wind instruments.

Strauss seems to have composed this piece in 1882, the year he turned 18, though it may have been written somewhat earlier. Its first performance took place in November 1882. While it is a youthful effort, it looks back to a venerable tradition. Serenades for bands of wind instruments had been a popular musical form in the late 18th century. Haydn and Beethoven left works of this type. Those of Mozart, especially his great Serenade for Thirteen Winds, K. 361, crown the literature for wind ensembles. As the son of a professional horn player, Strauss undoubtedly was familiar with those compositions and learned from them how to blend and contrast wind sonorities effectively. The composition that opens our program does just this, and in a manner that updates the Classical wind serenade with the harmonic palette of the 19th century.

Another way in which Strauss’s work differs from the Classical-period wind serenades from which it clearly is descended lies in its formal layout. The serenades of Haydn, Mozart, and their 18th-century contemporaries usually unfold in from three to as many as seven movements. Strauss’s contribution to the genre, however, is a single-movement composition. It presents a quite straightforward musical discourse, beginning with a stately theme given out in the opening measures. Upon the conclusion of this subject, six measures of fanfare-like music lead to a more animated second theme, introduced by clarinet and horn. A seemingly improvisational passage for oboe launches the brief development section, in which Strauss combines elements of both principal melodies. After an abbreviated reprise of the two subjects, a pleasing coda passage brings the work to a close.

 

ARNOLD SCHOENBERG former Music Academy faculty member
Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night”), Op. 4
Composed 1899
Duration ca. 32 minutes
Scored for 2 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos

As its title suggests, Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, or “Transfigured Night,” relates through music a near miraculous transformation. Yet it is not truly the night that is altered but, rather, the emotional and spiritual state of a woman, which changes from despair to hope, from grief to joy, through an act of love.

Schoenberg is remembered in connection with one of the most important, and controversial, musical developments of the 20th century: the abandonment of traditional harmony centered on a single “home” tone, or tonic, to which other notes are related to greater or lesser degrees through a kind of sonic gravitational pull. This may sound complex, but it describes the familiar aural world of Bach, Beethoven, and every other composer of the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as all our popular music, past and present. Schoenberg’s gradual move away from this well-ordered harmonic universe into the uncharted waters of what became known as “atonality” was the most revolutionary musical development in more than 300 years. It prepared the ground for the challenging work certain advanced composers produced during the 1950s and 1960s, for which reason Schoenberg is regarded as the prophet of high-modernist radicalism. Yet Schoenberg’s own musical ethos was firmly rooted in the late-Romantic tradition of Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the composer’s early tone poem Verklärte Nacht. This piece, Schoenberg’s first important composition, is strongly indebted to Wagner, particularly that composer’s Tristan und Isolde, in its use of searching harmonies and rising sequences of melodic phrases to convey the welling up of emotion. There are, however, some distinctly original elements: the long phrase lengths, the thoroughly contrapuntal textures and, occasionally, the complete abandoning of traditional tone-centered harmony that foreshadows the atonal direction of Schoenberg’s later music.

Verklärte Nacht is unusual for being a piece of programmatic chamber music — that is, an instrumental composition with a narrative structure. Schoenberg composed the work in 1899 as a string sextet after a poem by the German writer Richard Dehmel. Dehmel’s verses, paraphrased below, relate an emotional story:

A couple walks through a cold, leafless grove. Above, the moon moves through the pointed branches. The sky is cloudless as the woman begins to speak. She had given up hope of true happiness, she confesses, and in an attempt to find some purpose in life sought the fulfillment of motherhood. She is with child by a man she never loved. Now life has taken its revenge, for she loves the man she walks with and is overwhelmed by guilt. As she proceeds unsteadily in the moonlight, her eyes dark with despair, her companion answers: “Don’t let these thoughts oppress you. Look at this brilliant, moonlit world. It is like a cold ocean, but there is a flame within each of us that warms the other and which will transfigure the child and make it mine also. You have brought me life and made me like a child.” He embraces her, and they kiss. Then together they walk on through the radiant night.

Verklärte Nacht mirrors the spiritual metamorphosis implied by this text, beginning lugubriously and becoming by turns agitated, compassionate, and rapturous, the work’s ripe harmonic idiom producing the highly emotional tone Schoenberg desired. A closing episode brings music of ineffable tenderness, with even the dirge-like theme of the opening minutes transfigured into something comforting. With this composition, Schoenberg said very nearly the last word in Romantic musical expression. Soon he would move into the uncharted realm of atonal modernism.

Richard Dehmel: Verklärte Nacht
Translation by Michael Hammond

Transfigured Night

The two walk on through barren, frigid grove.

Their eyes float to the moon above.

It runs on over high oaks reaching

Toward its light, where no cloud strays,

Their dark and jagged branches stretching.

The woman’s voice is heard. She says:

I bear a child; it is not yours.

Between us now there stands a curse.

Against myself I have offended.

I’d lost all hope for my true good,

And yet my longing was not ended---

For life, its beauty, for motherhood’s

Demands. I gave myself in shame;

With one who was a stranger, nameless,

Allowed my shuddering flesh be blended.

Thought myself blessed, my purpose clear.

Now life’s revenged upon my blood.

O you have come. You, you are here!

She staggers on with eyes upraised.

The running moon returns her gaze.

Her somber glance is drowned in light.

The other’s voice rings through the night.

The child that you are carrying now

Should give no sorrow to your soul.

See how the moon’s enveloping brightness

Illumines all and all ingathers.

You drift with me on chilling waters,

But still there flows a warmth and lightness---

Yours into me and mine to you.

The infant stranger is transfigured now:

From another’s body but from my soul:

I too a child again in your moon’s light.

I stand transfigured in its sight.

He holds her round her ample hips.

Deep kisses breathe forth from their lips:

These two, who move through shimmering,

lofty night.

 

JOHANNES BRAHMS
String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36
Composed 1866
Duration ca. 34 minutes
Scored for 2 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos

Schoenberg’s use of a string sextet Verklärte Nacht was unusual when he wrote that piece, but not unprecedented. Some three decades and some earlier, Johannes Brahms had composed a pair of string sextets, the first important works of their kind. Brahms wrote an initial piece for pairs of violins, violas, and cellos, his Sextet in B-flat Major, Opus 18, in 1860. Four years later, during a summer sojourn at the Austrian spa resort of Baden, he completed three movements of a companion work in the key of G major. Following his habit, the composer sent these movements to Clara Schumann, widow of the composer Robert Schumann and a trusted musical confidant. In a letter dated January 1, 1865, she replied: “I need hardly tell you of my surprise and joy at what you have sent ... The Sextet seems to me a wonderful work.” Brahms completed the composition’s finale the following summer. Ironically, in view of its subsequent success, Breitkopf & Härtl, Fritz Simrock, and several other prominent music publishers all rejected the piece. Simrock eventually reversed himself and issued it as Brahms’s Opus 36.

Brahms was famously guarded about his private life and not given to autobiographical statements in his music. It is remarkable, therefore, that the first of the G Major Sextet’s four movements makes a veiled reference to a youthful love affair that ended unhappily. The movement begins with a figure oscillating persistently between two notes. This motif runs as counterpoint to the statement of the opening subject, a theme built on a vaulting melodic gesture. Moreover, it recurs throughout much of the first movement. (The dramatic development episode, for example, dwells upon it at some length.) The second subject, a wide-stepping theme featuring handsome melodic arches, is one of Brahms’s most attractive melodies. To this idea the composer appended a five-note motif of unusual significance. Its pitches spell A-G-A-H-E — “H” being B-natural in German musical nomenclature — and thus enshrine Agathe von Siebold, the composer’s one-time fiancée. Pointing to the thrice-stated figure, Brahms later told a friend: “Here is where I tore myself from my last love.” In view of Brahms’s usual reticence, the reference to Agathe is quite exceptional. Rarely, if ever, did he give such unambiguous satisfaction to romantically inclined listeners.

Brahms calls the second movement a scherzo, but its music conveys a more wistful mood than that term usually implies. Only with the central episode, with its intimations of rustic dance music, does the composer give us something like the characteristic scherzo spirit. 

The ensuing slow movement takes the form of a theme with variations. Its subject melody, given out in the opening moments, is closely related to the initial theme of the first movement. Further evidence of the kinship of these two movements emerges during the variations, where Brahms recalls the oscillating figure that had opened the Sextet. He also works in a variant of the “Agathe” theme. 

The carefree tone of the finale belies the skill with which Brahms has crafted it. Here the initial idea, running lightly in the manner of Mendelssohn’s fairy-scherzo style, sounds repeatedly over the course of the movement. Between its recurrences, Brahms develops a pair of more lyrical subjects. The movement thus combines aspects of rondo and sonata procedures in a fascinating hybrid. But these formal intricacies need not distract us. The poetry of Brahms’s melodies and the exquisite use of string sonority, quite apart from its ingenious design, make this movement one of the glories of the chamber music literature.

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - MENDELSSOHN & BEETHOVEN

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - MENDELSSOHN & BEETHOVEN

PROGRAM NOTES

 

FELIX MENDELSSOHN
Octet for Strings, Op. 20
Composed 1825
Duration ca. 30 minutes
Scored for 4 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos

Several composers who went on to important achievements were known first as child prodigies. Mozart was and remains especially renowned in this respect, his early fame stemming largely from the concert tours he undertook as a boy. No composer, however, was more precocious than Felix Mendelssohn, whose creative talent matured at an earlier age than even that of Mozart. For while the latter’s juvenile compositions, impressive though they are, only faintly suggest the great works of his maturity, several pieces Mendelssohn wrote as an adolescent stand among his finest achievements. The first of these was his Octet for Strings, Opus 20. Mendelssohn composed this work in 1825, when he was sixteen. While full of youthful vitality and directness of expression, its music enjoys a wealth of melodic detail that a seasoned composer would proudly claim. Moreover, its sure handling of harmonic movement and compositional form impart a strong sense of shape and direction to each of its four movements, and to the composition as a whole.

The ensemble of eight string instruments for which Mendelssohn scored this piece approaches the outer limit of what can be considered chamber music, and much of the Octet seems more than that, sounding almost symphonic in character. The composer evidently conceived the work in such terms, for he directed that the music “must be played by all the instruments in an orchestral style,” with contrasts between loud and soft dynamics emphasized. This quasi-symphonic conception is especially evident in the expansive first movement. Here the surging principal theme that initially dominates the proceedings — echoes of it even punctuate the dance-like secondary melody — gives way to surprisingly somber music in the central development episode. But after descending to a point of dramatic stillness and near-silence, the music rides a long and equally dramatic crescendo to the reprise of the first theme, recovering its momentum and the spirited character in which it began.

There follows a slow movement colored by poignant minor-key harmonies, then a scherzo whose running figuration foreshadows the “fairy music” style Mendelssohn would use so effectively, and so influentially, in his overture and incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Fanny Mendelssohn, the composer’s sister, declared that this movement was inspired by another literary work imbued with a sense of the supernatural: the Walpurgis Night scene in Goethe’s Faust, which describes a convocation of witches, demons, and spirits. “The isolated tremolos, the trills flashing like lightning,” she wrote, “all is new, strange, and yet so ingratiating and pleasing. One feels close to the world of spirits, carried up into the air, inclined to grab a broomstick and follow the airy procession.” 

The finale also employs fleet melodic figuration. Its character, however, is generally brighter than that of the scherzo, and its textures are thoroughly polyphonic, the different instrumental lines echoing each other in counterpoint but joining together at important junctures to form a tightly knit, concerted musical fabric. A tag to the main theme, in relatively elongated rhythms, gives a quotation from the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s Messiah, the melody at the words “And He shall reign forever.” Whether Mendelssohn realized the connection, or attached any significance to it, we can only guess.

 

Ludwig van Beethoven
Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20
Composed 1799-1800
Duration ca. 43 minutes
Scored for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and bass

Beethoven completed his Septet, Opus 20, sometime during the first months of 1800, though drafts in his sketchbooks suggest that he began writing it during the previous year. On April 2, the composer gave the first public presentation of his music in Vienna, and this provided the occasion for the Septet’s official premiere. (A private reading had already occurred.) The program for this concert included also the inaugural performance of Beethoven’s First Symphony, one of his early piano concertos, and keyboard improvisations by the composer. But it was the Septet that made the most favorable impression. It became enormously popular — so much so that the publisher to whom Beethoven presently sold the work was kept busy bringing out arrangements of it for smaller ensembles more readily available at domestic chamber-music gatherings; one of these was a transcription for piano trio made by Beethoven himself. Nearly a quarter of a century after its premiere, the Septet retained such favored that Franz Schubert would be commissioned to write something just like it. (The result was his Octet, which indeed resembles Beethoven’s work in several important respects.)

The success of this piece did much to establish Beethoven as the foremost young musician in Vienna, the successor to Mozart and the now aged Haydn. Ironically, the work’s popularity eventually came to irritate the composer. According to his student Carl Czerny, “He could not endure his Septet and grew angry because of the universal applause with which it was received.” Beethoven’s reaction undoubtedly had much to do with the less favorable reception of some of his later and more ambitious compositions.

Scored for violin, viola, cello, bass, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, the Septet unfolds in six movements of diverse character. In this it belongs to the genus and species of Classical-period serenade, a type of composition Mozart had cultivated with considerable artistry. As in many of Mozart’s serenades, its outer movements provide the work’s most thoroughly developed music, while the inner ones are either dance-related (the minuet and scherzo) or leisurely slow movements. The tone throughout is relaxed and unbuttoned. None of Beethoven’s famous heroic struggles or defiance of fate here; this is one of the composer’s most unambiguously sunny compositions.

The first movement begins, as do so many Classical-period symphonies, with an introductory passage in slow tempo. Pausing momentarily on an expectant chord, the music then plunges into the rapid main portion of the movement, which Beethoven bases mostly on the energetic theme given out in its initial minute.

The second movement, marked “Adagio cantabile,” flows out of a long-breathed melody begun by the clarinet and passed to the violin in the opening measures. Here and throughout the movement, the elegantly shaped instrumental lines and gently pulsing accompaniment indicate a romanza, and the sense of reverie typical of that genre pervades the music.

There follows a pleasantly bouncing minuet whose central section, or “Trio,” is enlivened by fanfares from the horn and clarinet. The fourth movement takes the form of a theme with variations. Its subject melody, stated at the outset, is nearly identical to a Rhineland folk tune — the inevitable debate over whether Beethoven knew the song has proved inconclusive — and each of the paraphrases that follow has some distinguishing feature. The first, for example, uses just string trio; the third features the clarinet and bassoon chasing each other in echoic counterpoint; the fourth resorts to minor-key harmonies. A brief coda concludes the movement.

Next comes a scherzo in which the spirit of hunting music is never far from the surface. (Note the horn figures in the opening measures, as well as the robust melody for the cello in the Trio passage.) Like the first movement, the finale begins with a slow introduction. This time the prologue takes the form of a dirge, one whose pathos is, however, far from convincing. Whatever suspicions we may harbor about the music’s sincerity would seem confirmed by the ease with which it slips into the ensuing Presto. Here Beethoven betrays hardly a trace of melancholy. The movement races along in high spirits, propelled to a considerable extent by the playing of the violin. That instrument contributes athletic passagework, including a solo cadenza, and brings the entire work to a conclusion by leaping to a stratospheric E-flat just before the close.

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - CONCERTO CELEBRATION

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - CONCERTO CELEBRATION

PROGRAM NOTES

MATTHEW AUCOIN
Crossing Suite
Composed 2017
Scored for vocal soloists, 2 flutes, both doubling on piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoon, second bassoon doubling on contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, percussion, piano, strings

In December 1862, as the Civil War raged across Virginia, Tennessee, and in the Mississippi valley, Walt Whitman traveled from his home in New York to Washington, DC. The poet had come to find his brother George, who had been reported wounded in the battle of Fredericksburg. George Whitman’s wound proved slight, but the suffering Walt saw among the more seriously hurt moved him so deeply that he decided to remain in the nation’s capital.

There Whitman found work as a copyist in the army paymaster’s office, but he spent more time as a volunteer nurse in army hospitals caring for wounded soldiers. “It was an extraordinary life decision,” notes composer Matthew Aucoin. “Whitman, a vigorously healthy middle-aged man, had already published the path-breaking first edition of Leaves of Grass, and though he wasn’t exactly rich and famous, he was hardly destitute or unknown. ... Though he had no medical training, he remained for more than three years, all through the war’s bloody, drawn-out dénouement.”

Mr. Aucoin adds that in light of the harrowing sights that confronted him daily on his hospital rounds, Whitman’s decision to uproot himself and devote years of his life to unpaid service has been rightly seen as an act of great generosity and even heroism. “And yet,” Aucoin continues,

our motives are never as simple as we’d like them to be, and the more I studied Whitman’s biography, the more I found hints of a midlife crisis. He had always been a wanderer, capable of chameleonic social transformations (newspaperman, odd-job day laborer, opera-loving dandy); the elusive spirit was surely in search of a new guise. And – perhaps more importantly – the geyser of poetic inspiration that found its form in the 1855 Leaves of Grass had already begun to dry up; I find most of Whitman’s later poems unreadably baggy, exhausting, and exasperating in their never-ending exhortations. It seems he needed a change of life and change of form: he later published his Civil War-era diaries, which arguably contain stronger writing than the poems from the same period.

And then there is the uncomfortable reality that Whitman was a middle-aged gay man who spent three years among relatively helpless boys and young men. Though I agree with the scholar Helen Vendler, who has said that surely erotic attraction would not be enough in itself to sustain a person through three years of intensive hospital work, it’s hard to ignore Whitman’s constant descriptions of his patients’ beauty, or the fact that after the war’s end he became involved with a man he’d met in the hospital.

Mr. Aucoin adds, “All this struck me as a fascinating, fruitfully ambiguous world for an opera.” This was an opera for which Aucoin would write both libretto and music. Titled Crossing, it received its premiere, with Aucoin conducting, in Boston in May 2015.

Opera has been a major focus of Aucoin’s career. He was Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera from 2013 to 2015, the youngest musician ever to hold that position, and he currently serves as Artist-in-Residence at LA Opera, a post that entails both conducting and composing a new work for the company. In addition, he has appeared as conductor with Rome Opera Orchestra, Juilliard Opera, Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari, Italy, and Music Academy of the West, where last summer, as the Elaine F. Stepanek Foundation opera conductor, he led performances of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride and his own children’s opera, Second Nature.

Mr. Aucoin also is accomplished as both a pianist and a conductor. In the former capacity, he has performed chamber music with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and appeared in recital as accompanist to Renée Fleming and other musicians. Aucoin’s achievements as a conductor are no less impressive. He was the Solti Conducting Apprentice with the Chicago Symphony, which he has led in concert. He also has directed the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and other ensembles. Despite the demands of his performing schedule, Aucoin is a prolifically active composer. His music includes two operas, with a third on the way; a piano concerto and several other orchestral pieces; chamber music, piano works, and a solo piece written for and performed by violinist Jennifer Koh; and numerous songs, including a cycle based on poems of James Merrill that was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and London’s Wigmore Hall.

Were this rich and varied musical life not enough, Aucoin also is a talented writer. His essays and poetry have appeared in The Yale Review, The Colorado Review, The Boston Globe, and The Harvard Advocate, and he has written the librettos for both of his operas, Crossing and Second Nature.                

Aucoin describes Crossing as a “fantasia” on Whitman’s life during his Civil War nursing years. In it, the composer notes, “the hospital is a kind of purgatory. Whitman does not know why he stays, and yet he can’t bring himself to leave. Like Dante, he has somehow found himself, ‘midway through the journey of our life,’ in a strange place at the very edge of our world. The opera traces Whitman’s emotional and psychological journey, starting with the arrival of a mysterious patient who turns out to be a Confederate soldier in disguise, with whom Whitman falls in love.”

We hear a suite Aucoin has drawn from the complete score of Crossing. The composer describes its five selections as follows:

1. The opera’s Prologue, in which Whitman addresses the audience directly.

2. The aria of Freddie Stowers, an escaped slave who had experienced a strange vision on his journey north.

3. A setting of Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” which I imagine as having been inspired by Freddie Stowers’s vision.

4. A setting of Whitman’s “The Sleepers.” In this scene, we hear the murmuring of the sleeping patients, and Whitman expresses the sense that he can have no rest, that his imagination never rests, even as the rest of the world sleeps.

5. The opera’s Final Chorus. After the dramatic action ends, the chorus sings a kind of ecstatic ode to Whitman’s spirit. The text is a collage of his words alongside the words of poems about him by Garcia Lorca and others.

SINCE THE REMAINDER OF THE PROGRAM WAS NOT DETERMINED UNTIL THE CONCERTO COMPETITION TOOK PLACE, THE PROGRAM NOTES ONLY APPLY TO THE AUCOIN PREMIERE

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - APPALACHIAN SPRING

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - APPALACHIAN SPRING

PROGRAM NOTES

 

DARIUS MILHAUD former Music Academy faculty member
La création du monde
Composed 1923
Duration ca. 17 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, alto saxophone, horn, 2 trumpets, trombone, piano, timpani, percussion, 2 violins, cello, and bass

Dance and music have been intimately connected throughout human history and, it is safe to say, deep into our pre-history. They remain so today. Much modern instrumental music has been written for dance. Our concert opens and concludes with notable examples. Between them, we hear a work celebrating a great and influential dancer and choreographer.

Among the musical styles most closely associated with dance is jazz. Beginning around 1920, composers on both sides of the Atlantic became fascinated with the new American idiom. Among the first was the French-born Darius Milhaud. When a concert tour brought him to the United States in 1922, Milhaud made a point of listening to as much jazz as he could. Between appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony, he frequented the nightclubs of Manhattan’s Harlem district. In his autobiography, Milhaud recalls that “the music was unlike anything I had ever heard before and was a revelation to me. Against the beat of the drums the melodic lines crisscrossed in a breathless pattern of broken and twisted rhythms. ... Its effect on me was overwhelming. ... More than ever I was resolved to use jazz for a chamber work.”

An opportunity to do this presented itself upon Milhaud’s return to France, when he was engaged to collaborate on a ballet with scenarist Blaise Cendrars and painter Fernand Léger. Cendrars had devised a plot based on an African legend of the creation of the world and agreed that a jazz-influenced score could be effective. The music Milhaud produced proved not only an effective ballet score but one of the finest of all his works, and it soon established itself as a successful concert piece.

La création du monde is not jazz: it contains no improvisation and employs established procedures of European art music for its structure and development. Indeed, the strength of the work is in its use of jazz-like elements within a fairly rigorous compositional framework. Milhaud’s sophisticated workmanship is most apparent and effective in its second section, where a lively syncopated theme serves as the subject for that most learned of musical forms, a fugue, an intricate weaving of echoed statements of a singular theme.

A juxtaposition of Old World and New informs the piece from its first measures. The evocation of the formless chaos before creation achieved in the restless churning of the strings recalls, however distantly, the opening of Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, while the soulful singing of a saxophone and interjections from the trumpets and trombones add new colors to that venerable soundscape. We subsequently hear a blues-like melody, introduced by the oboe, and an animated dance tune, given to the clarinet. Milhaud unifies his composition with several references to both the opening theme and the fugue subject, combining these in counterpoint with each other, and with other motifs, before closing the work on a convincingly jazzy final chord.

 

JAMES STEPHENSON ('88, '89, '91)
Martha Uncaged                                                                               
Composed 2017
Duration ca. 18 minutes
Scored for solo trumpet, 2 flutes, clarinet, English horn, 2 saxophones, contrabassoon, trombone, percussion, harp, piano, and bass

Any discussion of modern dance must acknowledge the achievements of Martha Graham (1894–1991). Over her long and productive career, the pioneering dancer and choreographer invented a new vocabulary of movement and used it this to create dances of unprecedented emotional and dramatic intensity. She also was responsible for the composition of several important scores by American composers. The most famous of these follows on our program.

Graham’s life and work has been documented and celebrated in books, on film, and now in music. James Stephenson conceived Martha Uncaged is a ballet score imagining different episodes from Graham’s career. At the same time, this is a concerto-like piece for trumpet and small orchestra. This last feature is not as surprising as it might initially seem. Stephenson was for years a professional trumpet player. Since turning full-time to composition he has written music in a variety of genres, but brass instruments generally, and trumpet particularly, have had an important place in his output.

The composition of Martha Uncaged was made possible by a commissioning consortium that includes Paul Merkelo, who plays the solo part this evening. This is the work’s first performance. The piece unfolds in five movements, each corresponding to a phase of Graham’s life. Notes by James Stephenson form the basis for the following commentary:

Caged Lion: As a young dancer, Martha watches a lion pacing in captivity. Fascinated by the power and purity of its movement, she watches the animal take four steps and turn, as she recalled, “in a wonderful way.” The beating of a bass drum suggests the lion’s pacing, Stephenson writes. “I used a mixed meter (adding an eighth-note to each bar), both to reflect the time it would take for the lion to turn, but also to inject a bit of uncertainty, since this marks the beginning of Martha’s career. A four-note ‘Martha motif’ in the low flute becomes the centerpiece of the entire work.”

Denishawn Dance Company - Martha’s breakaway: Martha joins the Denishawn Dance Company, gaining valuable experience touring with the ensemble but ultimately finding herself wanting to break free. The music reflects her freedom-seeking spirit and the importance of gravity in her movements.

Interlude I – Louis Horst: Martha had a long love affair with Louis Horst, her company’s musical director. It ended only when another dancer, Erick Hawkins, entered the picture. This “pas-de-deux” expresses certain sadness, since neither partner could commit to a permanent relationship. A couple of short interruptions indicate the arrival of Erick Hawkins, foreshadowing the next movement.

Interlude II – Erick Hawkins: This movement, a modern form of a Baroque “Bourée,” corresponds to the entrance of Erick Hawkins into Martha’s life. They married, but it didn’t last long. Musically, the movement ends almost before it begins.

Finale – Gravity: Many of the themes find their way back into this final movement, which reflects Graham’s strength and agility. It also conveys a strong sense of gravity, the signature element in her work. Many of the musical lines lead downward. The bass drum returns,  fortifying this gravitational essence but also recalling the caged lion Graham watched early in her career. Now, however, the bass drum has no uncertainty about it, and the ‘Martha motif’ finally resolves itself, giving the piece closure and stability.

 

AARON COPLAND
Appalachian Spring, Ballet Suite
Composed 1943-44
Duration ca. 26 minutes
Scored for flute, clarinet, bassoon, strings, and piano

As mentioned in connection with Martha Uncaged, Martha Graham’s work prompted the creation of several important scores by American composers. Of these, the most famous is Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring. In 1943, Graham approached Copland about providing music for a new ballet. The scenario she had devised was unpretentious: a young pioneer couple, beginning life together in rural Pennsylvania, celebrates the building of a new farm house. Joining them are their neighbors and a revivalist preacher. 

Modest as this seems, no subject could have better suited Copland at the time. Like many artists, he had been strongly affected by the wave of populist sentiment that swept the country during the Depression, a humane populism expressed in the novels of John Steinbeck and paintings of Thomas Hart Benson. Responding to the growing sympathy for ordinary Americans, the composer moved in the mid-1930s to make his style more accessible and turned to American folk music as a source of thematic material. His use of traditional dance tunes and song melodies was highly personal, however, for instead of quoting these literally, Copland usually transfigured them in subtle yet telling ways. Nevertheless, they imbued his work with a distinctly national flavor and drew from him that rare eloquence reached only by a mature artist using clear and economical modes of expression. In Appalachian Spring, Copland achieved the expression of a sturdy populist vision of America and the full flowering of a musical idiom for which he had been striving nearly a decade.

From its initial performance in October 1944, Appalachian Spring has enjoyed a success unequaled by any American work of its kind. It remained for years a staple of Martha Graham’s repertory, and Copland’s music received the Pulitzer Prize in 1945. The composer’s original ballet score used a theater orchestra of thirteen players. Copland later reworked part of his music into a concert suite for full orchestra, and this has become one of the most widely heard compositions of the last century. But he also created an alternate scoring of the suite that retains the original theater ensemble, and it is this version of the work that we hear now.

The music vividly suggests the setting and action of the ballet: the pastoral countryside, the gathering of farm folk, their barn dance, the frightening admonitions of the preacher, the shy affection of the young couple. The final section presents a set of variations on the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” which Copland made famous through his ballet score. All this, however, hardly conveys the achievement of Appalachian Spring. With this work, Copland captured not only an appealing frontier atmosphere but something more significant: a transcendent feeling of rural life as a wellspring of purity and harmony with nature.

 

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - RACHMANINOFF SYMPHONY NO. 2

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - RACHMANINOFF SYMPHONY NO. 2

PROGRAM NOTES

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527
Composed 1787
Duration ca. 6 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni is, in the words of the English critic and opera authority William Mann, “an opera of ambivalences.” Though descended from a straightforward morality tale — the centuries-old story of Don Juan, that seducer extraordinaire whose refusal to abandon his libertine ways brings about his doom — the opera walks an uncertain line between comedy and tragic drama. Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, recalled in his memoirs that the composer was intent on a serious approach to the story, while he, Da Ponte, preferred a humorous one. In the end, their opera fused both points of view. Certainly, a dark tone underlies the work as a whole, and Mozart’s setting of the final scene, in which the title character is dragged to the underworld by the ghostly statue of a virtuous man he has killed, is genuinely chilling, thanks largely to its hair-raising music. But much of Don Giovanni sparkles with comic gaiety and its score features ingratiating arias, witty banter, and winsome dance tunes.

The ambiguous mixture of gravity and playfulness that marks the opera as a whole is a prime characteristic of the overture Mozart wrote the night before the dress rehearsal for the first performance of Don Giovanni, in 1787. This piece begins with an introduction in slow tempo. Here menacing chords, restless melodic lines made more so by their sharply syncopated rhythms, and inexorably rising and falling scale figures combine to convey an ominous atmosphere. Mozart used the same music in the opera’s climactic scene, the confrontation between the unrepentant Don Giovanni and the supernatural statue.

These dark sounds give way, however, to the main body of the overture, a buoyant aAlegro in which Mozart presents a succession of attractive melodies. Both the pleasing quality of these themes and the skill with which Mozart develops them are such that, despite other well-known instances of his high-speed composing, we can only marvel at this piece having been written during the course of a single night.

 

MASON BATES
Garages of the Valley
Composed: 2014
Duration ca. 17 minutes
Scored for 3 flutes (2nd doubling alto flute, all doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets (2nd doubling E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, percussion, and strings

The American composer Mason Bates is at home in two musical worlds. Having studied at The Juilliard School and earned a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, Bates is a well-trained composer of contemporary classical music. But he also performs as a DJ in clubs around the country, blending rhythm tracks and other diverse sounds in a very up-to-date fashion.

More remarkably, Bates has managed to bring these disparate musical realms together. His orchestral compositions sometimes feature the kinds of electronic sounds that are the signature of “techno” music, and he has created hybrid classical/techno events in which he DJs with orchestral players. Even without DJ equipment, Bates often transposes the rhythms and aural textures of techno dance music to acoustic instruments in his own pieces. The results have made him one of the most widely performed composers of his generation.

In light of his embrace of the electronic resources at the heart of techno music, it is not surprising that Bates might compose a work celebrating the digital age itself. Completed in 2014, Garages of the Valley resulted from a commission tendered jointly by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Toronto and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestras. Edo de Waart, who leads this evening’s concert, was involved in the commission from the start, and it was his illustrious tenure as music director of the San Francisco Symphony, in the 1980s, that turned Bates’s thinking to the early days of the computer revolution, which occurred at that time in the nearby Silicon Valley. “Much of the Digital Age,” Bates observes, “was dreamed up in the most low-tech of spaces. The garages that dot the landscape of Silicon Valley housed the visionaries behind Apple, Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Google. Within the bright Valley’s dark garages, the great inventors of our time conjured new worlds ... All this in a windowless cube without insulation: that’s where imagination steps in.”

Imagining in sonic terms the workshops of the early computer visionaries, Bates says, “challenged me to write vigorous and visceral music that would also be filled with a kind of digital exoticism.” He adds, “I also wanted energy: lots of it. We all have an image of zillions of lines of computer code whizzing down a screen, and I needed a way to bring that to life in a fresh and evocative way.”

That Garages of the Valley indeed bristles with energy is evident from its opening moments, in which woodwinds give out bustling figures with sharp percussion accents. Initially the phrases are brief, asymmetrical in length, and separated by silence. Bates soon counters these running lines with their opposite: sustained sonorities pulled into tight, elongated strands of sound. The tension between these diametrically different musical materials animates the whole of Garages of the Valley, even as the two types of sounds evolve over time.

Though written as a single movement, the piece unfolds in four sections that approximate the form of a classical symphony. The strong opening introduces and develops the contrasting animated and static modes of musical expression. The latter dominate the second portion of the piece, which is largely given over to a series of sustained tones and chords that emerge and recede in slow succession. This stately music gives way to a third section with the playful character of a Scherzo. The energy of the finale reflects, Bates says, the infectious optimism of those Silicon Valley seers whose creations have so remarkably transformed our world.

 

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF
Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27
Composed: 1907
Duration ca. 58 minutes

Scoring: 3 flutes and piccolo, 3 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings

The year 1907 saw a turning point, really the turning point, in Sergei Rachmaninoff’s career as a composer. Rachmaninoff had already established his reputation as a pianist of exceptional virtuosity, and he had also enjoyed success as a conductor. But Rachmaninoff’s artistic progress came to an abrupt standstill in 1897 with the disastrous premiere of his Symphony No. 1. The reception of that work, on which Rachmaninoff had pinned much hope, could not have been harsher. César Cui, a respected composer and critic, likened the piece to the product of “a con­servatory in Hell.” Other commentators were scarcely more kind. This unmitigated public failure plunged the composer into a prolonged state of depression, self-doubt, and inactivity. During the next three years he composed nothing, and only after undertaking a course of therapeutic hypnosis, in 1900, did he regain the confidence to begin writing music again. Still, he pointedly avoided symphonic composition and continued to subordinate his creative work to his career as a performer.

By 1906, however, the life of a part-time composer was no longer satisfactory. Rachmaninoff’s confidence and ambition had recovered considerably, and he now wished to establish himself as a major creative figure. Above all he needed to prove himself in the field of orchestral music, and for this he required time to work out his ideas on a large scale. Resigning the conducting post he held at the Bolshoi Opera, Rachmaninoff moved to Germany and in Dresden rented a secluded house where he could devote his energies fully to composition. 

The first work Rachmaninoff completed in his Dresden retreat was his Second Symphony. A piano draft of the music was finished in early 1907 and orchestrated during the summer. Audiences greeted the new work enthusiastically at its first performances in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, in February of 1908, and its success encouraged Rachmaninov to proceed with one of his most famous works, the tone poem The Isle of the Dead, completed later that year.

Although its very immediate emotional appeal constitutes its most obvious and winning quality, we can admire the Second Symphony also for its thoughtful construction, evidenced in the close relationships among its themes. We find this particularly in the first movement, whose introductory Largo is based entirely on a brief “motto” figure — a thematic idea that recurs conspicuously at different points over the course of the composition — presented in the opening measures by the cellos and basses. Rachmaninoff builds this section with care, restraint, and a skilled use of counterpoint, making it one of the most satisfying passages in his symphonic output. The main body of the first movement, which follows in a quicker tempo, also issues from the motto theme. Its principal melody, heard in the violins over a plaintive clarinet accompaniment, begins with an almost literal rephrasing of the motto, and the graceful second theme develops the motto’s tail of descending eighth-notes.

Rachmaninoff replaces the melancholy tone of the first movement with a distinctively Russian vigor in the ensuing scherzo. Here a brash opening gives way to a more lyrical second subject and a lively, rhythmic central episode. Rachmaninoff plays his strong suit in the ensuing Adagio, spinning out the kind of voluptuous, romantic melodies at which he excelled.  

The finale presents a succession of contrasting themes: a playful opening subject, a march-like figure, and a warmly expressive melody for the violins. As the movement progresses towards its conclusion, the composer recalls ideas heard earlier in the symphony, most notably the motto theme and the principal subject of the Adagio.

 

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - BRAHMS' HORN TRIO

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - BRAHMS' HORN TRIO

PROGRAM NOTES

 

JEAN FRANÇAIX
Trio
Composed 1994
Duration ca. 15 minutes
Scored for oboe, bassoon, and piano

Jean Françaix typifies the kind of composer the French refer to as un petit maître, “a small master,” an artist of relatively modest ambition and attainment but whose work is pleasing and impeccably crafted. Active through much of the last century, when modernist upheavals were reshaping musical thinking in dramatic fashion, Françaix avoided experimentation and controversy, writing in an idiom intended to please himself and his listeners.

Born in Le Mans, in 1912, Françaix studied at the Paris Conservatoire and privately with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, who also taught Aaron Copland, Astor Piazzolla, and many other prominent composers. He came of age musically in the 1930s and, like his somewhat older compatriots Françis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, and Jacques Ibert, developed what was essentially a light neo-classical style, one that accommodated elements of popular music, and in which a certain distinctly French insouciance held sway. Although he lived to witness the high-modern abstraction epitomized by another Frenchman, Pierre Boulez, Françaix retained his own compositional style throughout his long career.

As evidence for this last point, we have the work that opens our program, the Trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano. Written in 1994, it sounds much like the music Françaix was composing half a century earlier. Formally, in unfolds in a classical design of four movements, the first prefaced by a short introductory passage in moderate tempo, with a scherzo, slow movement, and finale completing the sequence.

The composition opens with a languorous duet for oboe and bassoon. Quickly, however, Françaix launches into the main body of the first movement, a swiftly coursing allegro whose initial theme features jaunty phrases traded among the three instruments and much other contrapuntal interplay. A second theme begins with tango-like rhythms from the piano. Over this, the two woodwinds spin lyrical lines that are variants of the duet melody from the introduction. The development of these ideas requires virtuosity from all three players, as often in Françaix’s work.

This is true, also, of the ensuing Scherzo, whose music is close in sound and spirit to that of the preceding movement. By contrast, the Andante that follows presents a broad song tinged with a feeling of nostalgia. But the finale returns to Françaix’s favored mode of effervescent gaiety, with a fleeting recollection of the third movement’s melody just before the close.

 

CAROLINE SHAW
Broad and Free
Composed 2017
Duration ca. 10 minutes
Scored for violin and piano

Caroline Shaw has distinguished herself in three spheres of musical activity, her achievements in any one of them being amply rewarding in themselves. An accomplished violinist, she is at home with both new and old music, having performed as soloist and with top-flight ensembles devoted to contemporary music (including Alarm Will Sound, American Contemporary Music Ensemble), as well as with the Mark Morris Dance Group Ensemble, the Yale Baroque Ensemble, and others. At the same time, she is active professionally as a singer, most notably with the brilliantly innovative vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth.

But even while remaining busy as a performer, Ms. Shaw has emerged as one of the most skilled and inventive members of the new generation of American composers, a status confirmed with her receipt of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for composition. Her music has been performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble, Roomful of Teeth, So Percussion, American Contemporary Music Ensemble, the Brentano Quartet, and at the Music Academy of the West. (Her viola-cello duo Limestone and Felt was presented here last summer.) She has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Carmel Bach Festival, the Cincinnati, Baltimore, and North Carolina Symphony Orchestras, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Guggenheim Museum, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and the Folger Library, and she has collaborated on recordings with rapper Kanye West. Ms. Shaw was the first musician-in-residence at the Dumbarton Oaks estate, near Washington, DC, and has served as composer-in-residence with the Vancouver BC concert series Music on Main.

At the time these program notes went to press, last spring, Ms. Shaw had not yet composed the work we hear this evening. She knew with certainty little about the piece at that time, other than that it would be scored for violin and piano and performed by Kathleen Winkler, who had been Ms. Shaw’s teacher at Rice University. That association gave special meaning to the project. “I really wanted to write this piece because it’s for Kathleen Winkler, my former violin teacher,” the composer said. “But it’s also incredibly intimidating. I studied with her for four years, and she gave me so much insight into the music of Brahms, Schumann, and other composers important to the violin, music we discussed often.”              

Accordingly, Ms. Shaw anticipated that the new work might attempt to look at the music of those composers through a new lens. She has used comparable procedures, refracting the sound of older music through a post-modern sensibility, in a number of her compositions, including the Pulitzer-winning Partita for Eight Voices. Given her past success with this approach, it will be fascinating to discover how Ms. Shaw might apply it to the present work.  

 

JOHANNES BRAHMS
Trio in E-flat Major for Violin, Horn, and Piano, Op. 40
Composed 1865
Duration ca. 30 minutes
Scored for horn, violin, and piano

Brahms wrote his Trio for violin, horn, and piano, Opus 40, in 1865, during a somewhat unsettled period of his life. Having been passed over as a candidate for director of the Philharmonic Society in his native Hamburg three years earlier, the composer had left that city for Vienna but was not yet firmly established in the Austrian capital. Meanwhile, he spent much of his time traveling and giving concerts. Among the more successful of these presentations were performances of his First Piano Concerto with the orchestra of the German city of Karlsruhe. That ensemble enjoyed the services of a fine horn player, and it was with this musician in mind that Brahms a trio featuring the instrument, along with violin and piano.

The horn occupied a special place in the minds of nineteenth-century composers, who associated its sound with nature, heroism, and the realm of the spirit — in short, with the fundamental passions of Romanticism. Weber’s use of a horn call to conjure a magical world in his opera Oberon, and Wagner’s to indicate Siegfried’s boldness in the operas of the Ring cycle, are telling in this regard. Even without such manifestly dramatic purposes to fulfill, the horn solos that open Schubert’s “Great” C Major Symphony and Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto launch those works on a decidedly Romantic note, and the instrument imparts its distinctive quality to numerous passages in orchestral compositions by Schumann, Dvořák, Bruckner, and many of their contemporaries. 

 The character of Brahms’s “Horn Trio” similarly stems from the instrument. The theme that opens the first movement, although begun by the violin, is perfectly suited to the wind instrument, its first two notes intimating a horn call. (It should be noted here that although valved horns, with their greater agility and repertory of notes, were in use by the 1860s, Brahms wrote his Trio so that it could be played on the “natural” horn, which relies solely on changes of air pressure, embouchure, and hand position to achieve different pitches.) Even the form of the movement must be attributed to the natural properties of the horn. In place of his usual sonata-form opening, which would require movement through tonal areas inhospitable to the valveless horn, Brahms simply alternates his initial idea with a second subject, whose quicker tempo and minor-mode harmonies set it off from the first. Each theme is heard twice, with the initial idea recurring briefly a third time to conclude the movement. 

The second movement brings a robust scherzo. Its outer paragraphs are enlivened by the occasional grafting of duple rhythms onto the prevailing three-beat pulse, while the central section is a wistful Ländler, a country-cousin to the waltz. Brahms’s minor-key harmonies give this dance a melancholy tinge in a way that recalls examples by Schubert. More somber still is the ensuing slow movement. Brahms’s biographers are virtually unanimous in attributing its dark tone to the death of the composer’s mother early in 1865. Supporting that idea is the quotation here of a folk song, In den Weiden steht ein Haus (“In the Meadow Stands a House”), which Brahms had known as a boy and may have heard his mother sing.

Most German and Austrian compositions featuring the horn conclude with a “hunting finale” — Mozart’s horn concertos provide obvious examples — and Brahms’s Trio is no exception. The theme that launches this movement was presaged briefly during the quiet adagio; Brahms then presents it boldly and without apology for its rustic character. Much of the horn part here is confined to two-note signal calls (the chief melodic interest lies with the violin), yet these provide most of the movement’s hunting flavor and a good deal of its momentum.

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - ENIGMA VARIATIONS

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - ENIGMA VARIATIONS

PROGRAM NOTES

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK
Carnival Overture, Op. 92
Composed 1891
Duration ca. 9 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings

In the spring of 1891, the year he turned 50, Antonín Dvořák began writing a set of three concert overtures which were to express an elaborate biographical program. He originally intended the three overtures to be performed together and planned to call the composite work Nature, Life and Love. Eventually, however, Dvořák consented to their publication as separate pieces and settled on the titles In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello. Although the overtures remain loosely connected by a common melodic idea that appears in all three, each stands quite easily on its own. Carnival, the centerpiece of the set, has proved by far the most popular.

This overture is laid out in a broad A-B-A plan, opening with bustling, vivacious music whose festive character is quite in keeping with the title of the work. But with a clarion note from the French horn, an instrument the Romantic composers associated with the forest and magic, we are suddenly transported far from the carnival scene to a more pastoral setting. The section that follows is given over to the gentler voices of the English horn, clarinet and rustling strings. This woodland reverie proves short-lived, however, and we are soon returned to the opening material and a noisy conclusion.

 

FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
Symphony No. 96 in D Major, Miracle
Composed: 1791

Duration c. 27 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

Haydn spent the first three decades of his career working in relative isolation as music director and resident composer at the rural palace of a princely Hungarian family with a devotion to the arts. During this time, he produced nearly 80 symphonies; works that helped spread his reputation throughout much of Europe. By 1790, that reputation was such that Haydn was able to undertake a step that marked a new phase in his career. Obtaining leave from his duties, he paid an extended visit to London, where he found himself treated as a celebrity, and where he presided at a series of public concerts featuring his music. This initial London sojourn, from 1790 to mid-1791, proved so successful that Haydn returned to the English capital in 1794-95, again appearing in a series of highly publicized and well-attended concerts.

The name “Miracle,” by which Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 has long been known, stems from an incident that occurred at one of those concerts. Our only detailed account of the event comes from Albert Christoph Dies, Haydn’s early biographer, whose Biographical Accounts of Joseph Haydn, published in 1810, describes it this way:

When Haydn appeared ... to conduct a symphony himself, the curious audience in the parterre left their seats and crowded toward the orchestra, the better to see the famous Haydn quite close. The seats in the middle of the floor were thus empty, and hardly were they empty when the great chandelier crashed down and broke into bits, throwing the numerous gathering into the greatest consternation. As soon as the first moment of fright was over and those who had pressed forward could think of the danger they had luckily escape and find words to express it, several persons uttered the state of their feelings with cries of “Miracle! Miracle!”

A contemporary newspaper report corroborates the main facts that Dies sets forth: that a chandelier fell during one of Haydn’s London concerts and, astonishingly, no one was hurt. But it also shows that this occurred on February 2, 1795 — not, as Dies says elsewhere, during the composer’s first visit to London three years earlier. The work Haydn presented on that later date was his Symphony No. 102. However, because Dies’s report was for so long accepted without scrutiny, the “Miracle” designation became erroneously but irretrievably attached to Symphony No. 96.

Symphony No. 96 may not be the true “Miracle” Symphony, but it reveals the high degree of originality and inventive treatment of thematic ideas that mark the dozen symphonies Haydn composed for England. From a musical standpoint, that is miracle enough.

The first movement begins, as in all but one of Haydn’s “London” Symphonies, with an introduction in slow tempo. There follows an Allegro based a confident theme that supplies all the ideas Haydn needs to build a rich and stimulating movement.

The ensuing Andante opens calmly enough, and then breaks without warning into a turbulent central episode in the minor mode. Still more surprising is the unexpected pause, followed by what is essentially an orchestrated cadenza featuring two solo violins, just before the end of the movement.

The minuet is robust and grandly scored, its central section given over largely to the oboe. Like the second movement, the finale opens in a genial vein, bursts suddenly into a tempestuous central section marked by minor-key harmonies and strong contrapuntal textures, then reverts to the pleasant tone in which it began.

 

EDWARD ELGAR
Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36, Enigma
Composed: 1898-99
Duration ca. 33 minutes
Scored for 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings

The first recorded reference to Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” is found in a letter of October 24, 1898, written by the composer in humorous shorthand to his close friend August Jaeger:

I have sketched a set of Variations (orkestra) on an original theme: the Variations have amused me because I’ve labelled ‘em with the nicknames of my particular friends — you are Nimrod. That is to say I’ve written the variations each one to represent the mood of the “party” — I’ve liked to imagine the “party” writing the var: him (or her) self and have written what I think they wd. have written — if they were asses enough to compose — it’s a quaint idea & the result is amusing to those behind the scenes & won’t affect the hearer who “nose nuffin.”

“Amusing” in a typically English way and innocent enough, it would seem. But Elgar, intentionally or otherwise, created with this work one of the most tantalizing mysteries in music. For although he freely divulged the identities of the friends pictured in each of the fourteen variations, he designated the original theme that sets the entire piece in motion as simply “Enigma.” Elgar’s comments, provided in a program note for the work’s first performance, only deepened the mystery:

The enigma I will not explain — its “dark saying” must be left unguessed ... ; further, through and over the whole set another and larger theme “goes,” but is not played. ... So the principal Theme never appears, even as in some late dramas ... the chief character is never on the stage.

Thus Elgar posed not one but two riddles: the “dark saying” represented in the single word “enigma,” and the identity of the “larger theme” that “goes” through the set. Elgar hinted that the latter was a well-known melody to which his original theme is a variant or counter-melody. His friends tried to hit upon what this familiar tune might be, offering up “God Save the King” and “Auld Lang Syne.” But the composer dismissed these and other guesses, and its identity remains a secret.

The programmatic nature of this theme — its “dark saying,” as Elgar alluded to it — has proved an even more intriguing puzzle. Did it represent Elgar himself? This seems unlikely, for he paints his own portrait in the final variation, “E. D. U.” (a paraphrase of “Edoo”, his wife’s nickname for him). More general themes have been proposed, among them friendship, religious devotion — Elgar was a practicing Catholic — and the trials and joys of musical creation.

Elgar never revealed the meaning of the “enigma,” and in all likelihood its true nature will never be known with certainty. Fortunately, this in no way diminishes the attractiveness of the Variations as music, and it to the music itself, as distinct from its attending mysteries, which we should now turn.

The “enigma” theme, which opens the set, begins and ends with halting phrases built from brief fragments of melody in the key of G minor. Between them is a more lyrical and continuous section in G major. The theme, then, reveals a clear A-B-A form, and this in turn shapes the variations that follow. Each has its own character and its own special charm. The crowning piece of the set is the ninth variation, “Nimrod,” portraying August Jaeger. As an editor at the London publishing house of Novello, Jaeger encouraged Elgar and championed his works long before they were fashionable. The deep friendship that grew between the two men finds reflection in the moving strains of this Adagio. Elgar recalls music from “Nimrod,” and also from “C. A. E.,” in the final variation, his own.                  

 

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - VIVALDI'S STABAT MATER

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - VIVALDI'S STABAT MATER

PROGRAM NOTES

 

JEAN-MICHEL DAMASE
Trio for Trumpet, Trombone, and Piano
Composed 1983
Duration ca. 20 minutes
Scored for trumpet, trombone, and piano

The French composer Jean-Michel Damase was born into a musical family. (His mother was a renowned harpist who had given first performances of works by Faure, Ravel, and other composers.) Damase learned music early and became an outstanding pianist. He also was composing by age nine. Over the course of a long career he produced a substantial body of music in a style that adopted certain modernist innovations while remaining firmly rooted in tradition.

Although he wrote orchestral works and vocal pieces, Damase was most prolific in the field of chamber music. Among his small-ensemble pieces are ten trios, nine of them including the composer’s own instrument, the piano. One of these, scored for trumpet, trombone, and piano, opens our concert. Written in 1983, it is cast in two movements.

The first unfolds in a leisurely moderate tempo. In the initial moments, Damase establishes two contrasting compositional ideas: broad melodic statements from the two brass instruments, which answer and echo each other in a pleasant contrapuntal dialogue; and crystalline interjections by the piano, its brief phrases suggesting recollections of a children’s song. The composer maintains the discourse of these distinct elements through the first portion of the movement. Soon the music grows animated as the piano introduces a second theme, the brass player picking it up quickly. The central part of the movement finds the dialogue among the instruments growing increasingly vigorous — the rhythms more lively, the statements more urgent, as the music builds toward a climax. That event is reached with a return of the broad initial theme, sounded by the trumpet in elongated. From there, the energy slowly dissipates, and the movement closes with a varied reprise of its opening material.

The second movement uses an old compositional format, the passacaglia, in which a short repeated theme provides a scaffold on which to build an ever-changing sequence of counter-melodies. Here, in the opening moments, the passacaglia theme is presented in short, staccato notes by the three instruments playing in unison. The first repetition of the theme is assigned to the piano while the brass instruments play new material in counterpoint to it. The players then switch roles, the piano spinning delicate musical filigree over the passacaglia theme intoned by its partners. From this point, the generative theme is rarely heard but always implied, its phrase structure and harmonies underlying the remarkable variety of invention Damase creates in response to it.

 

ANTONIO VIVALDI

Stabat mater, RV 621
Composed early 18th century
Duration ca. 20 minutes
Scored for voice, strings, and continuo

Antonio Vivaldi’s many concertos, especially the quartet of violin concertos collectively titled The Seasons, are among the most popular works in the vast literature of what we call “classical music.” His sacred music remains far less familiar to the listening public. Nearly all of the Venetian composer’s church music lay unknown until the 1920s, when the dramatic discovery of a large cache of 18th-century manuscripts in an Italian monastery brought hundreds of his works to light. Among the compositions recovered through this lucky find was the setting of the hymn Stabat mater we hear now.

Practically nothing is known of the particular circumstances attending the composition of Vivaldi’s sacred works. The composer was never employed as a church musician per se, but he spent most of his career as maestro de’ concerti at the music conservatory of the Pio ospedali della Pietà, a remarkable boarding school maintained by the city-state of Venice for orphaned and illegitimate girls. Lacking any evidence to the contrary, musicologists assume that the composer wrote all of his church music for the Pietà’s chapel concerts.

Vivaldi cast his setting of the Stabat mater as a solo cantata for soprano and strings. Written in the 13th-century, possibly by the Franciscan monk Jacopone da Todi, the text offers a meditation on the suffering of Christ’s mother as she witnesses the crucifixion of her Son. It is the most sorrowful of all major Christian litanies, and it traditionally calls for music of poignant character. Vivaldi fulfills this customary requirement admirably. In different ways throughout the work, minor-key harmonies, suspended dissonances (whose notes seem to strain against each other), and descending melody and bass lines combine to convey a doleful spirit.

The composition unfolds in nine brief movements. These yield an unusual structure, however, in that the music of the first three movements returns in sequence, movements 1 - 3 repeating with different verses as movements 4 - 6. In the first and fourth movements, plaintive melodic phrases and chains of suspended dissonances, impart a bittersweet tone. After each of these movements comes a recitative of extraordinarily simple texture, the vocal line arching over a restrained and rhythmically unvaried accompaniment. The third and sixth movements are more elaborate and entail a sturdy ritornello theme, a signature melodic idea that recurs between episodes devoted to more free-flowing developments.

Whereas the central movements reprise the opening portion of the composition, the last three movements bring new music. Vivaldi’s settings of the verses beginning Eja mater, fons amoris, and also Fac ut ardeat cor meum, show his penchant for obsessively reiterating accompaniment patterns. Above them, the soprano spins exquisite lines whose winsome contours do not preclude occasional surprising turns of harmony. The resulting texture is one heard often in the slow movements of Vivaldi’s concertos, which these movements resemble to a considerable degree. The composition concludes with a contrapuntal Amen — another bow to tradition — with a surprising turn to the major mode at the very end.

 

 

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK

Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 87
Composed 1889
Duration ca. 35 minutes
Scored for violin, viola, cello, and piano

“Do you want to know what I’m doing? My head is full of it ... I’ve now finished three movements of a new piano quartet, and the finale will be done in a few days. It came easily; the melodies just surged upon me.”

We can readily believe Antonín Dvořák’s account, written in August 1889, of the fluency with which he composed his Piano Quartet in E-flat Major. Dvořák generally wrote quickly and with little effort once he had embarked on a new work, and the composition he would publish as his Opus 87 is imbued with appealing melodic ideas. It also reveals two aspects of the composer’s music that came to define his mature style: first, an affinity for classical principles and compositional design; and second, but no less importantly, his appropriation of aspects of Czech folk music.

In the first of these matters, the E-flat Major Piano Quartet follows a four-movement plan that had served Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and other composers. It consists of a strong initial movement in fast tempo, followed by a slow movement, a quasi-scherzo, and an animated finale. Within this venerable framework we find the sophisticated handling of harmony, thematic development, and instrumentation characteristic of Dvořák’s best music. This piece also carries a distinctly national flavor, especially in its third and fourth movements, where folkloric elements come into play.

The composition begins with an arresting gesture: the three string instruments playing in unison a thematic fragment built upon the strong four-note motif with which it begins. The piano answers with proud figures in martial rhythms. Dvořák now extends the contention between these distinct ideas by, ironically, compressing them — the strings restricted to the initial four-note motif, the piano’s imperious answers also shortened — until a cascade of scales brings the players to a full-throated statement of the theme that so far has only been suggested.

Soon a prancing figure leads to a more gentle and lyrical second subject. Dvořák gives its presentation to his own instrument, the viola. (Early in his career, the composer supported himself in part by playing viola in theater orchestras and cafes in Prague.) As pleasing as this new theme is, it has a relatively limited role in the adventurous developments that follow. Instead, Dvořák concentrates on his first theme, whose constituent motifs, especially the signature four-note figure, furnish material for inventive musical discourse.

The second movement begins with a soulful melody intoned quietly by the cello over a restrained accompaniment. This opening promises a gently meditative interlude, and much of what follows is just that. But after touching on several more melodic ideas, the ensemble suddenly launches into a vehement episode replete with thundering octaves in the piano and impassioned phrases from the string trio. This outburst, however, subsides as quickly as it had arisen, and the players move on to a glittering melody over lilting accompaniment figures from the strings. When it has run its course, Dvořák embarks on a varied repeat of all we have heard so far, then winds down the movement with a dream-like coda passage.

In place of a typical scherzo, which we would expect as the composition’s third movement, Dvořák gives us a lilting dance whose harmonies and instrumental figuration again impart a dream-like quality. Its second theme strikes an exotic note, using a scale found in Moravian folk music. The central episode offers strong contrast, with robust music in the manner of Czech folk dance. Dvořák provides another folkloric evocation in the lively theme that launches the final movement and dominates its proceedings, some lyrical secondary material notwithstanding.

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - THE RITE OF SPRING

ACADEMY FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA - THE RITE OF SPRING

PROGRAM NOTES

RICHARD STRAUSS
“Dance of the Seven Veils” from Salome
Composed 1905                       
Duration ca. 10 minutes

Scored for 3 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet, 3 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, and strings

This evening’s concert presents three compositions written for, or inspired by, dance. Such music is often energetic, but it is exceptionally so in the case of these works. We begin with one of the most notorious creations of Richard Strauss.

As a young composer, Strauss made his reputation with a series of tone poems that retain a prominent place in the orchestral literature. He then turned to the theater, producing a series of highly successful operas. The most daring of those works was an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, a play that retold the biblical story of the enticing and lustful step-daughter of King Herod. Strauss’s operatic treatment of Wilde’s stage play provoked outrage and censorship when it was first performed in 1905. Since then, Salome has gained recognition as a masterpiece of expressionist opera.

The plot of Salome turns on the title character’s deranged love for John the Baptist, Herod’s prisoner. When the holy man spurns her advances, Salome is overcome with a vengeful passion and demands the prophet’s head. The King, who harbors his own desire for Salome, agrees to this if only she will dance for him. She does, performing a frankly sensuous pantomime with her veils. When Herod delivers her promised reward, Salome, sinking completely into madness, continues her dance with John’s severed head.

Salome’s dance before Herod, the “Dance of the Seven Veils,” has become the most famous portion of Strauss’s opera, and no wonder. As an expression of eroticism it has few parallels in music, and its orchestration is colorful in the extreme. From the start, Strauss strikes what he called an “oriental” tone — that is, one redolent of the Near East. But Strauss is not wholly given to exoticism, and the character of the music begins to give way to a more central-European sound, even intimating a waltz. Finally the tempo accelerates, and the music grows more energetic. Apart from a few moments of relative quiet just before the end, the final minutes are ones of mounting frenzy, with Strauss pulling out all his orchestral stops.

 

GABRIELA LENA FRANK
Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra
Composed 2003
Duration ca. 17 minutes
Scored for 3 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and English horn, 2 clarinets and bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, piano, harp, and strings

Much of the excitement in concert music these days stems from the infusion of multi-cultural influences on new composition. Few composers exemplify this trend more than the California-based Gabriela Lena Frank. In her music, Frank blends South American mythology, poetry, and folk song with western classical forms to reflect her Peruvian-Jewish heritage. She has traveled widely in Latin America and has been attentive to the music she has encountered there. Like Bela Bartók and the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera, both of whom she regards as kindred spirits, she has used folk music as a principal source of her work.

Three Latin American Dances exemplifies Frank’s transformation of folkloric sources into sophisticated modern orchestral music. The first of these dances begins with a scherzo-like introduction which, the composer admits, pays “unabashed tribute to the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, by Leonard Bernstein.” The music then becomes a “Jungle Jaunt,” using harmonies and rhythms culled from different pan-Amazonian dances, though, as Frank notes, the borrowed material passes so quickly that it remains well hidden.

Frank describes the second movement as the heart of Three Latin American Dances. It begins and concludes with music in the style of the Andean harawi, a slow, melancholy song traditionally played on a bamboo flute to accompany a single dancer. Here the composer aimed to capture the “mystery, vastness, and echo” of Peruvian mountain music. Between the two harawi sections comes a fast-paced interlude. It was inspired, Frank says, by thoughts of Illapa, a Peruvian-Inca god of weather, who spins the zumballyu, a great whirling top, in the highland valleys of the Andes to create thunder, lightning, and rain.

The third dance, “The Mestizo Waltz,” pays tribute to the music of the mixed-race populations of the South American Pacific coast. In particular, Frank notes, it references the “romancero” tradition of popular songs and dances that blend influences from both indigenous Indian and African slave cultures with the sounds of western brass bands.

Gabriela Lena Frank studied at Rice University and the University of Michigan, where she earned a doctorate in composition. Her teachers include William Albright, Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, and Samuel Jones. She divides her time between California and South America.

 

IGOR STRAVINSKY
Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring): Scenes of Pagan Russia in Two Parts
Composed 1911-13
Duration ca. 33 minutes
Scored for 5 flutes, including piccolo and alto flute; 5 oboes, including 2 English horns; 5 clarinets, including E-flat and bass clarinets; 5 bassoons, including 2 contrabassoons; 8 horns, including 2 “Wagner tubas;” 5 trumpets, including piccolo and bass trumpet; 3 trombones; 2 tubas; timpani and a large battery of percussion; and strings

Only a handful of musical works may truly be said to be epochal, compositions upon which the entire course of music seems to turn weightily in a new direction. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, though not the first work to express a modernist sensibility, nevertheless stands as a landmark in the emergence of a new tonal order. Its thrilling rhythms, hypnotic phrases, audacious discords, and bold orchestral effects represented a radical break with the musical past and exerted an enormous influence on a succeeding generation of composers. And they remain as exciting today as in 1913, when the score first was heard.

It seems appropriate that the inspiration for this visionary composition should have come to its creator in a vision. In the spring of 1910 Stravinsky was finishing the score to his ballet The Firebird, which had been commissioned by the impresario Serge Diaghilev for his Paris-based dance and theater company, the Ballets Russes. Perhaps Stravinsky’s preoccupation with the ancient, mythical world of The Firebird made him particularly susceptible to intimations from the distant past. In any event, he experienced one day a fleeting daydream of a scene out of Russian pre-history. “I saw in imagination,” the composer remembered, “a solemn pagan rite: wise elders, seated in a circle, watching a young girl dance herself to death. They were sacrificing her to propitiate the god of spring.”

Stravinsky related this vision to Diaghilev, who immediately determined to base a ballet upon it. But the composer was not certain how to approach his subject in musical terms, and he began instead to compose a work for piano and orchestra which eventually grew into the score for the ballet Petrushka. Diaghilev, however, continued to urge Stravinsky to produce his “pagan rite” music, and in the summer of 1911 the composer at last set to work. The score was completed in early March, 1913, and first performed some twelve weeks later.

The premiere of The Rite of Spring by the Ballets Russes on May 29 at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées ignited a near riot in the audience. Some of the controversy was provoked by the sets and choreography, but the principal point of contention was Stravinsky’s score. According to one eye-witness,

a certain part of the audience was [outraged] by what it considered a blasphemous attempt to destroy music as an art, and, swept away with wrath, began very soon after the rise of the curtain to make cat-calls and to offer audible suggestions as to how the performance should proceed. The orchestra played unheard, except when a slight lull occurred. The figures on the stage danced in time to music they had to imagine they heard and beautifully out of time with the uproar in the audience.

Stravinsky himself recalled that

Mild protests against the music could be heard from the beginning of the performance. Then, when the curtain opened … the storm broke out. Cries of “Ta gueule” [“Shut up!”] came from behind me.... The uproar continued … and a few minutes later I left the hall in a rage; I was sitting on the right near the orchestra, and I remember slamming the door. I have never been that angry. The music was so familiar to me; I loved it and could not understand why people who had not yet heard it wanted to protest in advance. I arrived in a fury backstage, where I saw Diaghilev flicking the house lights in a last effort to quiet the hall.

Despite this daunting baptism, The Rite of Spring has emerged as one of the most highly praised and frequently heard scores of the twentieth century, a classic of the modern era. The ease with which it has made the transition from ballet stage to concert hall is due in part to the fairly indefinite nature of its choreographic scenario. While a brief outline of this is given in the headings of the various sections of the score, it should be noted that the music has served well with a wide variety of dramatic treatments, perhaps the most familiar being the dinosaur sequence in Walt Disney’s film “Fantasia.”

Indeed, The Rite of Spring may perhaps most profitably be heard in general rather than specific programmatic terms, as a hymn to the violence and mystery of nature rather than as an aural depiction of particular scenes which have been choreographed to it. In this respect, a remark Stravinsky made late in his life seems particularly revealing. When asked what he most loved about Russia, the composer answered: “The violent Russian spring that seemed to begin in an hour and was like the whole earth cracking. That was the most wonderful event of every year of my childhood.”                                   

 

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - FAURÉ PIANO QUARTET

FESTIVAL ARTISTS SERIES - FAURÉ PIANO QUARTET

PROGRAM NOTES

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds, Op. 16
Composed probably 1797
Duration ca. 27 minutes
Scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and piano

Beethoven most likely wrote his Quintet for piano and wind instruments in the spring of 1797, for it was performed in Vienna on April 6 of that year, with the composer at the keyboard.  On this and subsequent occasions, Beethoven improvised elaborate cadenzas, rhapsodic solos for the piano. He did not, however, extend to other pianists the right to alter the music. When his pupil Carl Czerny added ornamental figuration and octave doublings during a performance in 1816, Beethoven openly reprimanded him, and the next day sent Czerny a letter describing himself as “a composer who would have preferred to hear his work exactly as he wrote it, no matter how beautifully you played in general.”

Beethoven’s model for this composition was Mozart's Quintet, K. 452, which is in the same key of E-flat major and employs the same instrumentation of piano, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. The broad formal outlines of Beethoven’s quintet also correspond to those of Mozart’s: an opening movement prefaced by a slow introduction, a song-like Andante, and a finale in rondo form.

As in the Mozart Quintet, the first movement is most grave in its opening section. Here the initial martial figures lead to dramatic and harmonically rich developments. The ensuing Allegro is, on the whole, more genial. Both of its principal themes are first given out by the piano and quickly repeated by the winds. The second subject implies contrapuntal echoes, a feature Beethoven does not fail to exploit.

The slow movement features a gracious theme that also is announced by the piano, then passed to the winds. This is heard three times, its appearances separated by a pair of digressions that begin with plaintive melodies for the oboe and horn respectively.

The closing movement, like many of Beethoven’s finales, is a rondo, a form predicated on a recurring main theme that alternates with episodes of material distinct from, but often connected to, that principal idea. Indeed, the second episode here consists of development of the initial theme. The music rides a rapidly flowing stream of lilting rhythms, and the rondo melody gives a clear suggestion of hunting music, a suggestion Beethoven makes explicit in the horn calls at the end of the movement.

 

JEREMY TURNER
Suite of Unreason
Composed 2017
Duration ca. 15 minutes
Scored for clarinet, cello, piano, and percussion

This is the Music Academy of the West’s 70th season. To commemorate that anniversary, the Academy has launched a Commissions and Premieres Program, which will include world premiere performances of Music Academy commissioned works by guest composers Caroline Shaw, Matthew Aucoin, James Stephenson, Joseph Tompkins, Joshua Roman, and Jeremy Turner. The first of these to be performed is Jeremy Turner’s Suite of Unreason.

This composition is a musical response to poems by the American writer Jim Harrison (1937 - 2016). Though best known for his novellas and screenplays (his Legends of the Fall is a famous example of both genres), Harrison considered himself a poet first and foremost. Suite of Unreason takes its title and inspiration from Harrison’s penultimate book of poetry, Songs of Unreason, published in 2011. That work consists of a long poem called “Suite of Unreason,” composed of many brief and seemingly unconnected vignettes, as well as shorter poems. The first five movements of Suite of Unreason consider specific stanzas of “Songs of Unreason;” the sixth movement addresses book’s the final poem, “Death Again.” 

Jeremy Turner notes that “Harrison writes in one of his poems, ‘Why does the mind compose this music, well before the words occur?’ I did exactly the opposite by reading his poetry and then creating a musical landscape of those words in my mind’s ear.” The composer comments on that musical landscape:

The first movement, “Fish,” opens with an aquatic pattern in 7/4 time, played by piano and glockenspiel, leading to the entrance of the clarinet, a descending line shadowed by bowed crotales, and the arrival of the cello (a fish?). The movement concludes with a small and distant splash. 

A heartbeat played on the bass drum begins Ghosts, the second movement. It slows to a stop; then a languid stroll begins with simple and dirge-like piano music. The spirit passes by, and all that is left is a faint echo, sounded by a super-ball dragged across the bass drum.

Mark tree bells, brushes on the drums, and air blown through the clarinet’s bell help create the sound of a breeze gaining momentum. “The Violent Wind” has begun. Soon the wind is upon us, as cello and piano weave ferocious passagework and snare drum intimates the windows rattling. Trees sway with great strength until one crashes with a thud.

“Soul Brush” is a playful movement full of competition. Piano, clarinet, cello, xylophone, and vibraphone offer up a vision of one’s soul: hopes and dreams to start the day, to head out the door and walk down the street with confidence. And then there is the brush. A conversation must be had; a delicate balance must be kept.

The dark and low registers of piano and cello paint a patient growl. “The Lion” evokes waiting and the passage of time, symbolized by temple blocks and recollections of a theme from “Fish” and “The Violent Wind.” It leads directly into the final movement …

A monotonous alarm sounds in the piano, echoed by the celesta as if, perhaps, a memory of childhood. “Death Again” recalls themes from earlier in the piece, though in modified form. The music descends into dark waters, one last shimmer of sunlight presented by the bowed crotales is heard, and then silence.

Jeremy Turner is an exceptionally accomplished, multifaceted musician. An outstanding cellist, he joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra at age 21 and rose to its Associate Principal chair. As a soloist and chamber-music player, he has performed at major festivals and with musicians ranging from Renée Fleming to Paul McCartney. An active composer of cinema and concert music, he has written scores for short, feature, and documentary films, and for live theater, art installations, and the Seattle Chamber Music Festival.

Jim Harrison: Songs of Unreason

Fish

Azure. All told a year of water.
Some places with no bottom.
I had hoped to understand it
but it wasn’t possible. Fish.

Ghosts

Recently ghosts are more solid than we are,
they have color and meat on their bones,
even odor and voices. You can only tell them
by what’s missing. A nose, ear, feet on backward,
their hair that floats though the air is still.

The Violent Wind

The violent wind.
The violent wind.
The violent wind.

Soul Brush

The brush I scrub my soul with each morning
is made of the ear-hairs of a number of animals:
dogs, pigs, deer, goat, raccoon, a wolverine,
and pinfeathers of particular birds, a secret.
Brush too hard, your ambitions will be punished.

The Lion

In Africa back in 1972 one day I studied
a female lion with blood on her fluttering whiskers,
traces of dark blood on her muzzle. A creature died
as we all must. In my seventies I see the invisible
lion not stalking but simply waiting, the solution
of the mystery I don’t want to solve. She’s waiting.

Death Again

Let’s not get romantic or dismal about death.
Indeed it’s our most unique act along with birth.
We must think of it as cooking breakfast,
it’s that ordinary. Break two eggs into a bowl
or break a bowl into two eggs. Slip into a coffin
after the fluids have been drained, or better yet,
slide into the fire. Of course it’s a little hard
to accept your last kiss, your last drink,
your last meal about which the condemned
can be quite particular as if there could be
a cheeseburger sent by God. A few lovers
sweep by the inner eye, but it’s mostly a placid
lake at dawn, mist rising, a solitary loon
call, and staring into the still, opaque water.
We’ll know as children again all that we are
destined to know, that the water is cold
and deep, and the sun penetrates only so far.

 

GABRIEL FAURÉ
Piano Quartet No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 45
Composed 1866
Duration ca. 34 minutes
Scored for piano, violin, viola, and cello

Gabriel Fauré completed the second of his two piano quartets in 1886 and played the keyboard part in the first performance, which took place in Paris on January 22, 1887. Nothing more is known of the circumstances surrounding the genesis of the piece. It would seem that Fauré composed it simply for publication, and out of his own interest in the possibilities offered by the piano quartet medium.

In this work, Fauré follows a classical four-movement plan, with an initial Allegro followed by a scherzo, slow movement, and finale. The first movement begins with a surging theme that suggests why Fauré has been described as the French Brahms. But the composer’s individuality also is evident. The restive piano figures that accompany the initial subject would be a bit too dramatic for Brahms; the ambiguous harmonies in the passage bridging the first subject to the more lyrical second theme lie well beyond what a German composer would have ventured; and the second theme itself intimates a calm and decidedly Gallic sensuality that was one of Fauré’s signature traits. The composer’s sophisticated play with these melodic ideas in the central part of the movement proves fascinating and utterly convincing, and the movement’s quiet conclusion provides another original touch.

Fauré’s unique voice is even more apparent in the ensuing scherzo. In the opening measures, the left-hand figures of the piano combine with pizzicato phrases to produce a jangling cross-rhythm, and the melody line that the piano soon lays over this texture has a modal contour. The strings answer with phrases equally unusual in their harmonic implications, and the piano introduces an element of complete tonal uncertainty with a three-note figure built on consecutive tritones, the most ambiguous of musical intervals. Fauré spins these brief thematic gestures into a flow of music whose momentum never slackens, all the while evoking a rather fantastic character.

Fauré grew up in a small town where, on calm evenings, he could hear the sound of church bells floating across the fields from a neighboring village. The composer recalled that childhood experience in the opening moments of the third movement. An air of nostalgia and reverie suffuses this part of the work. Or perhaps something more is intimated here. Émile Vuillermoz, Fauré’s student and eventual biographer, described this music as an example of “Fauré’s metaphysical lyricism,” which seems right.

After this idyllic slow movement, the finale returns to the dark harmonic region of G minor and something of the volcanic energy of the opening (thanks largely to some extremely energetic passagework for the piano in the initial moments). At first, the prevailing rhythms give the impression of a waltz by dancers possessed, but as the movement unfolds, the music accelerates and throws off energy that seems born of sheer exultation.