About the Music
Concert: Saturday, June 30
Bohuslav Martinů: Canzone No. 2
movement III from "Toccata e due canzoni"
Martinů composed the Toccata e due canzoni in New York and Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in May-October, 1946. It was commissioned by and dedicated to Paul Sacher and the Basel Chamber Orchestra for the Orchestra's 20th anniversary concert which was given on 21 January 1947 in Basel, conducted by Paul Sacher. The piece is scored for piccolo, two oboes, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet in C, percussion, piano and strings.
In all respects, Toccata e due canzoni represents composer's return to his favorite style, the Baroque concerto grosso, now reworked and articulated in his own language. While originally planned as a brief and light work, the composition assumed much deeper and substantial tone after Martinů's disastrous fall from his balcony while teaching at the Berkshire School of Music at Tanglewood. The piece is in three movements: Toccata, Canzone 1, Canzone 2, each movement representing an elaboration of the prior piece. The concluding Canzone No. 2 is a fireworks of brilliant orchestral effects, textures and original sonorities expressed in markedly impressionistic language within the framework of the concerto grosso. Interestingly, Martinů perceived these characteristic qualities as subservient to the music in the absolute sense. He explains:
I am delighted to return to my favorite form … It is not the mere matter of playing off soli and tutti against each other; here we find ourselves on the firm ground of pure music, or simply of music. Here we do not require so many colors or orchestral effects, here there is no climax of sound or emotion, which often leads you where you have no wish to go and which often impoverishes the line and the musical thought with this “climax-cliché,” where real music is completely lacking. Less obvious emotion, less noise, and much more music in a condensed form—that is the concerto grosso.
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 35
for piano, trumpet and string orchestra
Completed in 1933, the concerto was an experimentation with a neo-baroque combination of instruments. It was premiered on 15 October 1933 in the season opening concerts of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra with Shostakovich at the piano, Fritz Stiedry conducting, and Alexander Schmidt playing the trumpet solos. Contemporary accounts indicate that Shostakovich played brilliantly and that the concerto was well received. The performance was repeated on 17 October.
Shostakovich's Concerto No. 1 was written before his troubles with the Stalinist regime began in earnest. It is full of prankish humor, possibly as a challenge to the traditional Russian concerto. It opens with a series of rhythmic and harmonic clashes reminiscent of Stravinsky. The solo trumpet part, while playing a more accompanimental role, consists of commentaries influenced by military calls and by jazz. The composition includes quotations and allusions from both classical and popular music, as well as being strongly influenced by techniques used in film editing. In an interview in 1975, two years before his death, Shostakovich described the concerto as “written under the influence of American folk music”.
The concerto is generally viewed as dynamic and mischievous, with a touch of bravado because of its extreme contrast in dynamics, the impulsive character of the music, quotations from other composers and popular music, the use of dance rhythms, and the triumphant ending in C major with trumpet obbligato. The work keeps a humorous and light mood, rushing from one theme to another without preparation, but it is also serious with the grave main theme in the first movement and the sad and passionate second movement.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major "Jupiter"
Composed in early 1788 together with symphonies No. 39 and 40, the work was probably intended for subscription concerts in the summer of 1788. The piece is scored for a typical Classical orchestra of winds in pairs (two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, and two trumpets), timpani and strings.
The nickname “Jupiter,” by which this work has long been known, did not originate with Mozart. but, according to an entry in the British publisher Vincent Novello’s diary, Mozart’s son Franz Xaver reported that the London impresario Johann Peter Salomon gave the work its nickname after the most powerful of the Roman gods. The title first appeared in print for a performance in Edinburgh on October 20, 1819 and seems quite appropriate judging by the Olympian breadth and majesty of the piece.
What is remarkable about the work is not its inventiveness as much as it inspiration and sheer brilliance. The symphony embodies what is now identified as a paradigm of Classical symphonic form: four movements, the first and last in a quick tempo, the second slower, the third a minuet with trio. The first movement is characterized in part by the dramatic and effective employment of unexpected pauses in the rhythmic flow through the use of rests, a trait shared with and perhaps influenced by the symphonies of Haydn. After an initial regularity, irregular and changing phrase lengths contribute as well to the dramatic impetus. The serenity of the second movement's opening is soon disrupted, posed against more restless, rhythmically insistent minor-key episodes. This calm yet dark conflict continues throughout, the initial spirit eventually prevailing. The falling chromatic theme and flowing, even accompaniment of the Minuet set a graceful tone for the third movement. The Trio provides an overtly dancelike mood, which is however, interrupted by a suddenly more serious tutti outburst. The final movement is exceptional for the richness of its contrapuntal writing. The four-note motive that begins the movement is put through its paces in a number of guises, most prominently as the beginning of a recurrent canon and fugue subject which occurs both as originally presented and in its inversion. The effect of these complex devices, however, does not sound academic but rather dramatic, bristling in search of resolution which is finally found in the closing bars of the piece.
Concert: Thursday, June 28
Joseph Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne (selections)
French composer, pianist and musicilogist Marie-Joseph Canteloube de Malaret, better known as Joseph Canteloube, was born in Annonay on 21 October 1879 to a family from the Auvergne region, France. He first studied the piano then entered the Schola Cantorum where he worked with Vincent d’Indy. Canteloube composed chamber music, songs, symphonic scores with or without voice, an opera Le Mas – a celebration of the Auvergne for which he wrote the libretto as well as the music, and a stage epic, Vercengétorix. He owes his current fame to his arrangements of many folksongs from the French regions.
Joseph Canteloube is often compared to Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly because of his notable collection and preservation of folk songs of his native country. Like Kodaly, Canteloube was recording and preserving a human heritage at the point it was about to be wiped out by 20th century progress. His magnum opus was a huge scholarly edition of folk songs which he had collected from various corners of France - the Languedoc, the Pays Basque, Alsace, Catalonia, and his native Auvergne.
Canteloube wrote that a transcribed folk song "is like a pressed flower, dry and dead - to breathe life into it one needs to see and feel its native hills, scents and breezes". He provided evocative orchestral accompaniments to many of the songs from the Auvergne, in order to breathe that life back into them. In effect, Cateloube's settings transcend the goal of the folk-song purist/musicologist in that they are transformed into something else -- a new piece of art that pays homage to its folk roots. It is this act of transcription and orchestration however that made Canteloube's name famous, and the result is often exceptionally beautiful. Chant d'Auvergne were issued in four volumes and are in the Auvergne dialect, which is a variant of the old south French language known as Langue d'Oc - an ancient tongue based on Latin with a smattering of Celtic words.
Felix Mendelssohn: The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26
The Hebrides (Die Hebriden) was composed in 1830, revised in 1832, and published the next year as his Op. 26 and premiered on 14 May 1832 in London. It is dedicated to King Frederick William IV of Prussia, then Crown Prince of Prussia. Scored for winds in pairs, timpani and strings the work was inspired, according to Mendelssohn himself, by his trip to the Scottish island of Staffa with its basalt sea cave known as Fingal’s Cave. He at first called the work The Lonely Island (Die einsamen Insel), but then settled on the present title.
While the work is known and referred to as a concert overture since it does not precede a play or opera but is a standalone composition, in essence it is an early example of programmatic music, thus a tone poem. And while the work does not attempt to tell a specific story nor is it about anything in particular, it does depicts an inner experience by the composer while visiting the Fungal Cave. In fact, Mendelssohn himself attest to this fact in a postcard to his sister Fanny saying that "In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there."
Mendelssohn's sketch of the Hebrides theme found in a letter dated 7 August 1829 to his sister Fanny
Original in the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
The work consists of two primary themes. Low strings open the piece with the theme Mendelssohn had mailed off to his sister, a restless one-measure motif that repeats for 46 bars over continually changing harmonies and dynamics that rise and fall like the swelling sea. A brass fanfare announces the arrival of the second theme in D major, stated by cellos and bassoons. Then violins take up the theme, the development leading to a turbulent climax that ends in another fanfare and a call-and-response series between brass and woodwinds. The recapitulation of the opening theme becomes increasingly more agitated, resulting in virtuosic work for the entire string section. A clarinet duet provides a brief respite, then the extended coda returns us to the "storm" that subsides only in the final bars, with a soft repetition of the opening figure by clarinets and a quiet, rising statement by the flute.
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 104 "London"
Haydn made two trips to England, in 1791–1792 and 1794–1795. For them, he composed twelve new symphonies, Nos. 93 through 104. They were his final works in this form. No special reason has survived to explain why No. 104 has come to be known as the “London” Symphony. The first performance probably took place on April 13, 1795. What is certain is that Haydn chose it to be played at his farewell London concert three weeks later. The work is scored for winds in pairs, timpani and strings.
Following the première of the “London” Symphony, the critic for the Morning Chronicle wrote that “for fullness, richness, and majesty, in all its parts, [it] is thought by some of the best judges to surpass all [Haydn’s] other compositions. That, for fifty years to come Musical Composers would be little better than imitators of Haydn; and would do little more than pour water on his leaves.” While the work, at its time, pushed the boundaries of the Classical ideal, the prophecy would eventually prove false because the next fifty years would see the symphonic form evolve to encompass a variety of innovations in the symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Berlioz, among others.
However, Symphony No. 104 remains a quintessential example of symphonic music of the period. With it's four standardized movements (allegro, andante, a minuet/trio, and finale) and Haydn's craft, cleverness and sense of humour, it is a work of a musical genius. This is evident from the very start. The slow opening is dark and in a minor key and the listener has no idea that what is to quickly follow will be transformed into a running current of graciousness throughout the rest of the symphony. The Andante is one of his most engaging slow movements even though it is constructed of very simple ideas. The slyly pompous minuet that follows is relaxed and the sparsely scored country dance serves as theme of the central trio section. Recent research has identified the joyous (and monothematic) subject of the finale as a folk melody. It has been heard in several countries including Croatia, where Haydn had once lived. This same tune was also used as two London street peddlers’ cries at the time of his visits: “Hot cross buns!” and “Live cod!” Perhaps the shouts that he heard as he walked the bustling streets awakened his memories of the days he had spent in southeast Europe.
Concert: Thursday, July 5
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in G Major, op. 121a “Kakadu variations”
"Kakadu Variations" is the nickname given to Ludwig van Beethoven's set of variations for piano trio on the theme "Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu" by Wenzel Müller. Published in 1824 as Opus 121a, it is the last of Beethoven's piano trios to be published. The work is notable for the contrast between its solemn introduction and the lightweight variations that follow.
The work with a solemn adagio introduction in G minor that lasts for about a third of the work's total duration. The theme itself, when it finally appears, is simple and almost anticlimactic taken from Wenzel Müller's opera Die Schwestern von Prag, composed in Vienna in 1794 and popular during Beethoven's lifetime. This theme is followed by 10 variations, the first eight of which are conventional in style—a sequence of increasingly ornate decorations on Müller's theme as it passes back and forth between the three instruments. With the ninth variation, the music returns to the minor key and slow tempo of the introduction, while the final variation is a longer movement with several episodes of contrasting mood and tempo. Like the introduction, this final variation shows a chromatic and contrapuntal complexity that goes beyond what Beethoven achieved in his early works, and that likely reflects revisions made during his period of greatest maturity.
Bohuslav Martinů: Piano Trio No. 3 in C Major
This is Martinu's third work in this genre. It is scored for the traditional group of instruments which includes, in addition to piano, violin and cello. Both this thrio and the one preceding it (in D Minor) were written in 1951 and thus during Martinu's dozen-year period (1941–1953) in the U.S.
The C-Major Trio, Martinu's last, has a dark side to it but on the whole, it is more extroverted than its D-Minor companion. The slow movement is of melting beauty, with a final cadence of the most comforting tranquility.
Antonin Dvorak: Trio in F Minor, op. 65
The piece was composed in 1883. It represents his finest chamber work to date and is written decidedly as a non-Slavic work in order to please the political mood in Austria at the time. The piece is altogether darker in mood and more dramatic and likely reflects to some extent his personal tragedy -- the recent death of his mother. It is case in four movements (Allegro, Allegretto, Adagio, and Finale) and last some 45 min. It is by all accounts a piece of substantial depth and masterfully written.
The first movement starts innocuously enough with the violin and cello very quietly in octaves. But two bars later they descend fortissimo from the heights in triplets into angry despair with spread chords. The cello then introduces a quiet, tender theme, and the movement continues on an elegiac, emotional roller coaster with a wealth of contrasting melodic material. The writing is complex, reminiscent of Schumann and of Dvořák's champion, Brahms.
The scherzo-like Allegretto shifts the key down a third from the previous F minor into C# minor – actually Db minor in disguise, but Dvořák kindly gives the player only 4 sharps instead of 8 flats! Why does Dvořák write in these complicated keys? You'd never catch Mozart doing that. (Ironically, in the 1930's a distant American relation, August Dvorak, designed a simpler keyboard for the typewriter!)
The movement starts off with the strings alternating notes that can sound like paired 8th notes in a fast conventional scherzo in 3/4, but are actually triplets in a slower 2/4, a time signature that is confirmed when the piano enters in the third bar. Playing 3 against 2 in interesting ways was a favourite device of Dvořák's champion, Brahms, and indeed this work has been described as Dvořák's most Brahmsian.
The Poco Adagio is a masterpiece, if anything could have won the Viennese audience over to a Czech composer, this would have done it. The cello introduces a melancholy, minor key theme and then joins the violin's embellished reiteration. Now comes a stroke of genius: the violin, unaccompanied, plays the tenderest of figures in the major that becomes a little canon with the cello. In turn, the cello leads, again embellishing, and the violin follows. Soon demisemiquaver rumblings in the piano presage a stormy passage (in 5 sharps, aka 7 flats), before the violin soars away pianissimo to a top B (aka Cb) and calm returns. All these glories are revisited before the movement ends happily. The Finale is based on the Czech Furiant dance – in 3/4 time with marked cross-rhythms, the loud, energetic opening contrasting with a lilting waltz-like episode introduced by the violin and cello. Towards the end, themes from the previous movement are recalled and the music pauses before the final 8-bar dash.
Concert: Saturday, July 7
Henryk Górecki: Concerto for Harpsichord/Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 40
After pushing one end of the envelope with three slow movements in his Symphony No. 3 (1976), Henryk Górecki swung back the other way in 1980 with his delightful Harpsichord Concerto. This sparkling piece lasts about nine minutes and consists of two fast movements, both centering around D. The harpsichord is accompanied by a small string orchestra; if the solo part is played on piano, the strings are expanded to compensate.
The first movement consists of a long, slow melody in the strings in octaves, ornamented by continuous figuration in the solo part. Each new phrase is signaled by a rising flourish on the keyboard, and the melody and the obbligato patterns feature much repetition. The music stays in the Aeolian mode (minor) until a contrasting middle section breaks in. At that point, the keyboard figuration shifts to a more chromatic pattern, creating oppositional tension with the strings, which shift to harmonized thirds, though remaining rooted in the minor mode. The return to the original material carries the movement through to the end; the phrases eventually become quite fractured, finally landing up on a sustained major triad to finish.
This concerto is strongly related to Górecki's Three Pieces in Olden Style (1963), which was shocking at the time for its unabashed simple, diatonic style. The second movement is dance-like, with a jaunty melody being passed back and forth between the soloist and the strings. The D major sonority is contrasted with blocks of material set of contrasting, more complex, sonority. The two forces eventually come together, the harpsichord playing off against ostinatos and other kinds of material in the strings. The duple, dance rhythm carries right through, but there are various kinds of sonorities making brief appearances, including sliding sounds in the strings, and chromatically descending sequences in the solo part. A final resolution on the tonic triad closes the piece, with one fleeting reference to the first movement to set up the final cadence.
by James Harley
Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 in A Major, "Italian"
Composed in 1833 when he was only 25, Mendelssohn recorded his impressions of a 10-month long trip to Italy in a series of watercolors and sketches as well as in this symphony. Strictly speaking, Italian Symphony (nicknamed "Italian" by the composer himself) is not a programmatic piece of music as the title may suggest. Rather, it is a series of impressions of Italy – its Mediterranean sunshine, religious solemnity, monumental art and architecture, and the beautiful countryside.
Mendelssohn completed the symphony on March 13, 1833 in partial fulfillment of a commission from the Philharmonic Society of London. He conducted the premiere exactly two months later, on May 13, which was a great success – the work was repeated in June. Mendelssohn, however, was never entirely satisfied with the work. He revised it twice, in 1837 and again before he died in 1847, but it was never published during his lifetime. This final version premiered in Leipzig on November 1, 1849, with Julius Rietz conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra. It is this version that was published in 1851 and is regularly performed today.
The Symphony opens with a burst of sound – woodwinds and pizzicato strings – whose irrepressible eighth notes become the accompaniment to a jubilant string melody. The winds play an especially prominent role in this movement, with Mendelssohn treating them with a great degree of freedom that gives the movement a transparent, airy texture. It’s like a musical rendition of the Italian blue sky that impressed Mendelssohn, who was used to the cloud-flecked skies of northern Europe, so deeply (he once described the Symphony as “blue sky in A major”). The movement is in sonata form, but it also uniquely includes a transitional passage between the exposition and its repeat whose material is developed later on. The turbulent minor-key development section also may remind the listener that Mendelssohn was working on his storm-cloud-riddled “Scottish” Symphony (in A minor) at the same time he was composing the “Italian.”
In the second movement, an Andante con moto in D minor, Mendelssohn recalls the impressive processions he had witnessed during his time in Rome. He evokes these with a dusky melody (oboes, clarinets, and violas) that unfolds over a plodding bass-line. This alternates with two contrasting, relaxed, major-key sections.
In the finale, Mendelssohn uses another dance, the raucous Neapolitan saltarello, as the basis of the movement. He never relaxes the tension during the movement, which hurtles to a close with a minor-key reiteration of the first movement’s opening theme.
by John Mangum
Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto for Violin, Violoncello & Piano, Op. 56
Beethoven had much to keep him busy in 1804. The “Eroica” Symphony was complete and ready for premiere and he was working hard on his opera, Fidelio. Throughout all of it, he maintained his duties as a private piano instructor. Two of his students are worth mention here. Josephine von Brunsvik, who became a love interest for Beethoven (was she his “Immortal Beloved?”), and the 15-year-old Archduke Rudolf.
Rudolf is the person at the heart of a historical debate surrounding the Triple Concerto. There is little doubt that Beethoven completed the score for this unusual concerto in the summer of 1804 but we are left to wonder for whom it was intended. Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s earliest and most “subjective” biographer, later claimed that the piece was written for the Archduke. Rudolf had just begun his studies with Beethoven at the time he wrote the Triple Concerto and the relative simplicity of the piano part certainly suggests the composer had an amateur performer in mind. It is nice to think that Beethoven would have written this work for his young student and also practical given Rudolf’s later associations as dedicatee of the 5th Piano Concerto and the “Archduke” Trio. Proof in this case is wanting however and, in the end, we have little more than speculation and the highly disputable word of Schindler.
The first verifiable public performance occurred in 1808 and by most accounts, the soloists did not give the piece a very good reading. That first impression seemed to stick as critics over the years took an unkind view of the Triple Concerto. Most did no more than damn it as forgettably mediocre by Beethoven’s own standards. This is likely due to the Triple Concerto’s position in time near “Eroica,” the 4th Piano Concerto and other such monuments but also possibly related to its strangeness as an idea. No composer had ever thought to cast a piano trio as a concerto soloist grouping and no one has successfully done so since. The critics were wrong about this piece, of course, as any performance by appropriately virtuosic soloists proves.
by Jeff Counts
Concert: Tuesday, July 10
Frederick Delius: Pieces (2) for Small Orchestra
The Two Pieces for small orchestra are charming tone poems written in Delius' typical Post Romantic idiom and depicting two adjacent seasons of the year. The works were written in 1911 and 1912 after the completion of his last opera, Fennimore and Gerda, Here, Delius shifts gears, looking forward to his later style of composition as well as looking back to his earlier, more personal style. Both tone poems are scored for a small orchestra consisting of flute, oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, and strings.
On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring (1912) opens on a beautiful sustained major seventh chord followed by the oboe introducing a pastoral bird-like pattern. Then "with easy flowing movement," a song in triple meter is introduced in the strings with drones in the cellos and basses. The simple, sweet, pastoral, modal melody is harmonized by Delius with chromatic passing tones that at times give the impression of bitonality when set against the lower harmonic roots. The melody is built in cumulative phrases, until the oboe has learned the whole tune and now steps forward as a solo underscored by lovely strings. The clarinet then comes forward with an authentic "cuckoo" call. The middle section of the tune is developed as the "cuckoo" clarinet enters at several points. The strings create a small looping pattern just before the ending, and manifest some simple yet rich new harmonies. A major chord dies away to silence. The piece is based on the Norwegian folk song "In Ola Valley, in Ola Dale," and is, to some extent, a transcription of Edvard Grieg's own treatment of the piece in his Norwegian Folksongs for piano, Op. 66.
Summer-night on the river (1911), one of the few thoroughly impressionist pieces by this composer, opens with gently sighing winds, over a droning pedal point in the muted double basses, and sustained horn notes. The string section enters, their muted sound creating a rich yet somber timbre. There is the beginning of a sea-faring melody but it quickly transforms into undulating figures and trills that perfectly describe a flowing river. A solo cello sings out with a lyrical theme, which is taken over by a solo violin, soon joined by a solo viola, all surrounded by the flowing patterns. The solo violin melody becomes "softer and softer as if dying away in the distance." There is a mystical and atmospheric coda with trilling chromatics in the solo violin, supported by sustained and pizzicato strings. The river in question is the Loing, upon which the wildly blossoming garden of Delius' villa, in the French village of Grez, near Fontainebleau, faced; this distilled tone poem -- playing between six and seven minutes -- is the upshot of many meditative hours spent there.
by Gene Tyranny
Aaron Copland: Clarinet Concerto
Composed in 1945-47; commissioned and premiered by Benny Goodman with NBC Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner conducting; scored for clarinet solo, harp, piano and strings; the piece last approximately 20 minutes. The work is in two movements; the first section is lyrical and melodious; the second is in an all-out jazzy style. The movements are connected by a cadenza. Benny Goodman once said that he "always felt good about that commission and about playing the Concerto with Aaron conducting."
The piece’s structure and instrumentation are far from conventional. It is written in two movements, rather than the traditional three-movement concerto form.The first movement, marked “Slowly and expressively,” uses the clarinet’s lyrical and expressive capabilities, showcasing the way the instrument can blend with the strings in a very introspective way.The virtuosity that audiences expect from a piece called a Concerto doesn’t appear until the cadenza that links the two movements. One can hear hints of Leonard Bernstein’s musical style in the cadenza (in fact, Copland and Bernstein were very close). The second movement is clearly influenced by jazz and Latin American music. Inspired by Goodman’s unique background of playing both classical and swing music, as well as Copland’s own travels to Brazil (Copland spent 1947 in Rio de Janeiro as a lecturer, when he was starting to work on the Clarinet Concerto), the composer manages to incorporate a Brazilian popular tune into the movement’s texture.
Copland explained his choice of instrumentation this way: “The instrumentation being clarinet with strings, harp, and piano, I did not have a large battery of percussion to achieve jazzy effects, so I used slapping basses and whacking harp sounds to simulate them.” The Clarinet Concerto ends with a fairly elaborate coda that finishes with a clarinet glissando—or “smear” in jazz lingo. Goodman played the premiere of the Concerto in 1950, a little over two years after Copland had begun writing it, in a radio broadcast with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Copland, who was pleased to write for Goodman and admitted he never would have thought of writing a clarinet concerto had it not been for the commission, did not consult with Goodman during the work’s composition. In the end, Goodman made some adjustments to the score, changing certain passages to make them slightly easier to play.
by C. Baldini
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 11
The work was completed on 31 March 1824, when the composer was only 15 years old and dedicated to the Royal Philharmonic Society which performed the London première on May 25, 1829, with Mendelssohn conducting. The work was premièred at a private gathering on 14 November 1824 to honor his sister Fanny Mendelssohn's 19th birthday. Its public première occurred on 1 February 1827, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra performing under the leadership of its then-Kapellmeister Johann Philipp Christian Schulz.
Mendelssohn's music is influenced by Mozart and Beethoven, and his use of form and harmony is rooted in the classical period. His extensive education also brought him in contact with the work of Bach and Handel whose distant influence can be traced in his use of counterpoint. From around 1824 he developed a characteristic style of his own, which places him clearly among the early romantic composers. His works are often programmatic in nature, with underlying literary sources, or descriptive of nature or emotions.
The first symphony is built on a classical plan, very much on the model of Mozart, though with some of the drama of Beethoven thrown in. The two outer movements are fast and dramatic, and the two contrasting inner movements are a lyrical andante and a minuet and trio.
The first movement is in sonata form and is constructed on a large scale. The musical material contrasts a dramatic stormy opening idea with a calmer more lyrical second theme. The impetus of the music is never lost and the movement surges on relentlessly to it's dramatic ending. The slow movement is a simple and lyrical andante based on a flowing legato melody accompanied by a syncopated figure, which is elaborated as it is passed round the orchestra. There is one declamatory outburst, which only briefly disrupts the mood of tranquillity.
The third movement, a minuet and trio, makes one dramatic break with the past in that it is written a compound time signature (6/4) which has two beats in the bar rather than the traditional three. Clearly Mendelssohn did not expect anyone to dance to it. The minuet is perhaps the most original movement of the symphony and has many elements of his mature style. It is based on a dramatic theme, which has drive and energy and is immediately appealing to the listener. The trio is simpler and much gentler. It is linked back into the minuet with a short dramatic passage reminiscent of Beethoven.
The final movement is in sonata form and is based on two contrasting ideas. The first having fast running sixteenth notes and dramatic contrasts in dynamics. The second is begun by quiet pizzicato strings, which are joined by the woodwinds playing a simple legato melody. The development section introduces a fugal idea that is built into a long and complex contrapuntal section. At the end of this the fugue subject is cleverly interleaved with the opening semi-quavers building to a climax that presages the blazing recapitulation.
Chamber Music Concert: Thursday, July 12
Missy Mazzoli: Still Life with Avalanche (2008)
Missy Mazzoli (b. 1980) is contemporary American composer and pianist living in Brooklyn, New York, who has received critical acclaim for her chamber, orchestral and operatic work. Her first chamber opera Song from the Uproar, based on the life of Swiss explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, premiered at New York City venue The Kitchen in March 2012. It was performed again by LA Opera in October 2015. She is the founder and keyboardist for Victoire, an electro-acoustic band dedicated to performing her music.
Composer's note: The work was commissioned by ensemble Eighth Blackbird. The piece is essentially a pile of melodies collapsing in a chaotic free fall. The players layer bursts of sound over the static drones of harmonicas, sketching out a strange and evocative sonic landscape. I wrote this piece while in residence at Blue Mountain Center, a beautiful artist colony in upstate New York. Halfway through my stay there I received a phone call telling me my cousin had passed away very suddenly. There's a moment in this piece when you can hear that phone call, when the piece changes direction, when the shock of real life works its way into the music's joyful and exuberant exterior. This is a piece about finding beauty in chaos, and vice versa. It is dedicated to the memory (the joyful, the exuberant and the shocking) of Andrew Rose.
by Missy Mazzoli
Bartok: Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937)
Steve Reich: Double Sextet (2007)
The composition is scored for two sextets of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, vibraphone and piano. It won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Music. The piece was commissioned in 2007 by Eighth Blackbird who performed its premiere in 2008, at the University of Richmond in Virginia. The Liverpool Culture Company hosted the rest-of-the-world premiere at St. George's Concert Room, Liverpool in 2008 as part of Liverpool's European Capital of Culture celebrations.
Composer's note: There are two identical sextets in Double Sextet. Each one is comprised of flute, clarinet, vibraphone, piano, violin and cello. Doubling the instrumentation was done so that, as in so many of my earlier works, two identical instruments could interlock to produce one overall pattern. For example, in this piece you will hear the pianos and vibes interlocking in a highly rhythmic way to drive the rest of the ensemble.
The piece can be played in two ways; either with 12 musicians, or with six playing against a recording of themselves. In these premiere performance you will hear the sextet Eighth Blackbird, who commissioned the work, playing against their recording.
The idea of a single player playing against a recording of themselves goes all the way back to Violin Phase of 1967 and extends though Vermont Counterpoint (1982), New York Counterpoint (1985), Electric Counterpoint (1987) and Cello Counterpoint (2003). The expansion of this idea to an entire chamber ensemble playing against pre-recordings of themselves begins with Different Trains (1988) and continues with Triple quartet (1999) and now to Double Sextet. By doubling an entire chamber ensemble one creates the possibility for multiple simultaneous contrapuntal webs of identical instruments. In Different Trains and Triple Quartet all instruments are strings to produce one large string fabric. In Double Sextet there is more timbrel variety through the interlocking of six different pairs of percussion, string and wind instruments.
The piece is in three movements fast, slow, fast and within each movement there are four harmonic sections built around the keys of D, F, Ab and B or their relative minor keys b,d,f and g#. As in almost all my music, modulations from one key to the next are sudden, clearly setting off each new section.
Double Sextet is about 22 minutes long and was completed in October 2007. It was commissioned by Eighth Blackbird and was premiered by that group at the University of Richmond in Virginia on March 26, 2008. The New York Premiere was at Carnegie Zankel Hall on April 17, 2008.
by Steve Reich
Concert: Saturday, July 14
Pēteris Vasks: Vēstijums (Message) (1982)
Vasks was born in Aizpute, Latvia, into the family of a Baptist pastor. He trained as a violinist at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music, as a double-bass player with Vitautas Sereikaan at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, and played in several Latvian orchestras before entering the State Conservatory in Vilnius in the neighboring Lithuania to study composition with Valentin Utkin, as he was prevented from doing this in Latvia due to Soviet repressive policy toward Baptists. He started to become known outside Latvia in the 1990s, when Gidon Kremer started championing his works and now is one of the most influential and praised European contemporary composers.
Vasks descries Vestijums (Message) as a battle between the forces of good and evil. Written in 1982, it is scored for strings, two pianos and percussion, and built around sections of aleatoric writing: each instrument given its own set of notes to repeat or improvise around; in Vasks' words, "freely rhythmical, but playing together". The architecture of the work is based on passages of great tension and dissonance, contrasted with release sections of melody and sensuous harmonies. The "message" is Vasks' own spiritual message to his countrymen: to be optimistic, because the beauty and strength of nature will emerge triumphant.
Kurt Weill: The Seven Deadly Sins
ballet chanté for soprano, dancer, vocal cast, and orchestra
Kurt Weill (1900-1960) was a German composer, active from the 1920s in his native country, and in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage and was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht. His Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins) was commissioned by Edward James, a wealthy Englishman who had been in Paris during Weill's visit in December 1932. James's wife, Tilly Losch, was a ballerina who James described as having a striking resemblance to Weill's wife, Lotte Lenya. Because James knew that Weill was going to write for Lenya, he included language in the contract commissioning the work requiring that his wife, Losch, dance opposite her lookalike. This dictated the complicated split personality plot before Bertolt Brecht was even asked to write the libretto.
The Seven Deadly Sins is a satirical melodrama, an amalgam of Viennese Expressionist theater, dance and operetta. It premiered in the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in Paris on 7 June 1933 where the composer was in exile at the time. The work was met with bewilderment by the French audience but praised by local German emigre. Directed and choreographed by George Balanchine with staging and scenery by Caspar Neher the work represents one of most lasting achievements of Weill.
The Seven Deadly Sins tells the story of two sisters, Anna I and Anna II. Anna I, the singer, is the principal vocal role. Anna II, the dancer, is heard only infrequently and the text hints at the possibility that the two Annas are actually the same person. Brecht conveys this ambivalence, the split personality as an inherent lot of the sinner by dual personality of Anna (Anna I and Anna II): the cynical impresario with a practical sense and conscience, and Anna II, the emotional, impulsive, artistic beauty, the salable product with an all too human heart.
"The Family", which consists of a male quartet, fills the role of a Greek chorus. They refer to Anna as a single daughter of the family, making a verbal allusion to her divided nature: "Will our Anna pull herself together?" The sisters set out from the banks of the Mississippi River in Louisianato find their fortune in the big cities, intending to send their family enough money to build a little house on the river. After the prologue, in which Anna I introduces the sisters and their plans, each of seven scenes is devoted to one of the seven deadly sins, each encountered in a different American city:
Adopted from Wikipedia
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
The symphony was written between 1804–1808 and is one of the best-known and frequently played compositions in classical music, First performed on December 22, 1808 in an unheated Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1808 in lengthy, All-Beethoven program, the work achieved its prodigious reputation soon afterward. E. T. A. Hoffmann described the symphony as "one of the most important works of the time". The symphony consists of four movements and is scored for a typical orchestra of the period with winds in pairs, timpani and strings.
Beethoven made sketches for the Fifth Symphony as early as 1800 but most of it was composed between 1805 and 1808. Beethoven spent the summers of 1807 and 1808 in the town of Heiligenstadt, where he had written his famous testament (1802) and there he also wrote the Fifth and Sixth symphonies.
The C minor first movement begins with what is mostly likely the most famous motif in all music; the so-called fate motif. Beethoven's first biographer, Anton Schindler described it as “fate knocking at the door.” Throughout the symphony’s first movement, Allegro con brio, the core motif takes on various characters—sometimes foreboding, sometimes triumphant—as it migrates from one section of the orchestra to another, shifts to different pitch centres, and sounds at different dynamic levels. Late in that movement, a brief oboe solo offers a poignant contrast to the musical storm that surrounds it.
The more lyrical second movement, Andante con moto, consists of two alternating themes in variation form. The general rhythm of the “fate” motif is salient in the movement’s second theme.
The third movement, Allegro, is cast as a scherzo and trio. It begins gently, with a theme that uses the “fate” rhythm. That rhythm soon explodes into prominence before shifting to a bold and busy fugal climax in the trio section. The first moods of the scherzo then return very softly before the symphony plunges without pause into the blazing fourth and final movement.
Like the third movement, the finale is labeled Allegro, and, like the second movement, it features the “fate” rhythm in its second theme. The finale returns to the sonata form of the first movement but concludes with a high-energy coda that increases in tempo and in volume as it races toward the symphony’s closing cadence.
The hallmark motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has had tremendous appeal well beyond the realm of classical music. During World War II, for instance, Allied forces used it to signal a victorious moment, as its rhythm—short, short, short, long—matched that of the letter V in Morse Code. In the mid-1970s, American musician Walter Murphy released “A Fifth of Beethoven,” a popular disco recording based on the signature motif and other elements of the symphony’s first movement. The “fate” figure has also been featured in many films and has been used in television commercials to promote a range of products and services from liquor to convenience stores to an Internet browser. More than two centuries after its premiere, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5—especially its foundational four-note theme—has remained remarkably durable.