Overture to King Stephan, Op. 117
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
2020 is the 250th birthday year for Beethoven, so we’re kicking the celebration off with a performance of one of his lesser-known works. It was written for the 1811 inauguration of a new theater in Pest; the title refers to König Stephan I, who founded the Kingdom of Hungary in the year 1000. The main part of the work, marked Presto, features the breathlessly driving energy so typical of Beethoven. Listen also for the second theme, which begins with an eight-note rising and falling sequence which later shows up as the “Ode to Joy” theme in the Ninth Symphony. Composers are allowed to borrow from themselves, after all.
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Samuel Barber’s music, while always rooted in late Romanticism, covers a stylistic span which ranges from gentle and lyrical to aggressively dissonant. The first movement of his Violin Concerto tends toward the former, and it skips the expected long, dramatic introduction by having the solo violin play a simple melody right at the beginning. This main melodic idea reappears a number of times, sometimes subdued and at other times soaring and ecstatic. The other main idea is first heard in the solo clarinet, a theme with a “Scottish snap,” which a short note followed by a long note (the reverse of what normally happens).
Oh, quand je dors…
Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)
One of seven Victor Hugo poems that Liszt set to music, the beginning of “Oh, quand je dors” translates as “Oh, while I sleep, come beside my bed as Laura came to Petrarch.” Much like the Barber work, the emotional range of the song varies from the quiet beginning to an intense moment on the words “Let your gaze be lifted like a star... Suddenly my dream will shine!” Liszt’s setting was for piano and voice, but the orchestration by Tamás Sulyok allows us to hear it with the richness of a symphony orchestra.
Cinderella Suite No. 1, Op. 107
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)
During my college years in the early 1970’s, when serialism and other avant-garde styles ruled the campuses, composers like Prokofiev, who wrote a style still attached to traditional tonality, were quite out of fashion. However, one of my theory teachers at the time, Paul Boylan, told us his prediction that after the dust settled on the many trends of the 20th-Century, Prokofiev would be one of a handful of composers still being played in the 21st. With fifty years’ hindsight, I would say his prediction has been borne out. In works such as Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella, Prokofiev’s memorable tunes, rhythmic vitality, and orchestral color still sound fresh. His ability to express emotional complexity can be heard right at the beginning of Cinderella Suite No. 1, where the brooding strings suggest that this is not going to be a simple fairy tale. The suite heard tonight collects eight sections from the whole ballet, and (spoiler alert) it ends where the clock strikes midnight. Perhaps in future WSO seasons we’ll play Suites Nos. 2 and 3 to complete the story.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.