Voices of Spring
JOHANN STRAUSS II
1825 — 1899
“Fruhlingsstimmen” (“Voices of Spring”) 1883
Johann Strauss II was the son of Johann Strauss I, himself a composer, as were brothers Josef and Eduard. As the most famous of the family, Johann II was known as “The Waltz King,” having brought the form from peasant dance to sparkling entertainment for the royal Habsburg court. When the elder Strauss passed away, the business-oriented Johann II merged his and his father’s orchestras and engaged The Strauss Orchestra (including his brothers) in commission writing and tours across the continent. It was the choral waltz The Blue Danube that earned his place in the annals of music history.
In “Fruhlingsstimmen,” (“Voices of Spring”) the composer regarded the soprano voice as another solo instrument, providing the same kind of long, soaring, wide-range melodic lines that appear in the orchestra. The treatment of the voice results in the sounding of a single syllable with a long stream of notes creating a glorious sound but the song’s lyrics are not overly conducive to audio comprehension.
This well-known waltz tune begins with loud chords in waltz tempo and quickly moves into a gentle, swirling melody. Section two embodies the joys of spring with flute imitating birdsongs and sounds of pastoral awakening. A plaintive and dramatic third section is suggestive of spring showers and the fourth section breaks out of a pensive mood into a cheerful tune. The first waltz melody makes another grand entrance before strong chords, a timpani drumroll and a warm brass flourish end the work.
1841 — 1904
Concerto No. 1 in a minor for Violin & Orchestra, Op. 26 1880
Since music was considered a fundamental part of daily life in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) the young Dvorak had learned to “fiddle” by age 5. Soon he was imitating gypsy band music and native folk songs, singing in the church choir and spending as much time as possible playing and listening to the music of Bohemia. At age 11 the youngster was unhappily apprenticed to his father’s butcher and innkeeper trade. Fortunately the youngster encountered a musician who recognized Antonin’s natural musical abilities and viola, piano, organ, harmony and counterpoint studies followed. After struggling as a restaurant band player and church musician, Dvorak landed a position in the Czech National Opera orchestra under the direction of Bedrich Smetana; it was the famous Smetana who urged him to devote compositional efforts to the development of national music. Dvorak soon shed an imitative style of the popular Richard Wagner and began to draw deeply from native folk music. Yet the struggle to survive a state of poverty lasted until the 37-year-old’s composition Airs from Moravia caught the attention of the famous Johannes Brahms. Slavonic Dances followed and by 1884 he had become a musician’s “man of the hour.”
In 1892 Dvorak was invited to America to establish a school of composition at the newly formed National Conservatory of Music in New York (now Juilliard). The composer became deeply impressed by Negro spirituals, Creole songs, cowboy music and tribal songs and dances of the American Indian. His most admired American composer was Stephen Foster. During a three-year stay the composer wrote a cantata for the American flag, submitted an offer to write a new national anthem, and slipped a snatch of Yankee Doodle into one of his symphonies. But homesickness overcame the composer and he returned to his homeland. For the rest of his life, Dvorak composed and taught until his death from pneumonia in 1904.
The Third Movement (Finale) of the Concerto for Violin is full of Slavonic folk feeling. This spirited movement is cast in the style of a furiant, full of humor and delightful orchestral invention. It opens was a gay syncopated tune that receives a different setting on each of its frequent appearances. Dvorak writes in spiccato, a very sharply articulated violin technique on a fast-running line, while the orchestra attends to the melody line. What also appear are passages reminiscent of a Bohemian village jam session on a local Ukrainian dance, the dumka.
Notes below written by composer Steven Errante
Commissioned in 1989 by the North Carolina Music Teachers’ Association
The texts for Cradle Songs are drawn from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. This performance is the premiere of the orchestral version.
1. Infant Joy / Infant Sorrow
There are two poems in this movement, one depicting an infant born into warm surroundings and the other into destitution. The voice of the child in “Infant Joy” is sung by the baritone, while the mother’s lullaby floats over it in the soprano part. When the music abruptly shifts to “Infant Sorrow,” the baritone also sings the voice of the child. The last section of the song juxtaposes lines from both poems, reaching an unsettled conclusion.
2. Little Boy Lost / Little Boy Found
In this case there are also two poems, but here the second poem provides a happy ending. The subject gave me a chance to take some inspiration from Schubert’s “Erlking” in the galloping figures heard in the accompaniment
3. The Land of Dreams
The poem is a dialog between a father and his child: the little boy has been visiting his mother in the “Land of Dreams.” I decided to set this as simply as possible, like a folk song, in which the undulations of the accompaniment imitate the sound of a guitar.
4. Are Not the Joys
The soprano sings in a rhythmically free fashion about the joys of youth, especially when contrasted with “age and sickness.”
5. A Cradle Song
This is actually a setting of two different cradle songs drawn from Blake’s collections. One lullaby is serene and tender, but the second, sung mainly by the baritone, has some moments where sleep is disturbed: “When thy little heart does wake/Then the dreadful lightnings break.”
The work is dedicated to my wife Sandy and my first daughter Emmy, who was in the cradle at the time the music was written.
Symphony No. 2
Commissioned in 1989 by the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra for the 250th Anniversary of the founding of Wilmington, North Carolina
After a brief introduction in which some important thematic ideas appear in veiled form, an insistent rhythmic figure appears in the percussion section. Over this, melodies and chord progressions drift in and out of focus, and the movement is shaped by the process of these musical ideas gradually becoming louder and more sharply defined. At the end, though, the music fades into silence- this is unfinished business, and these themes will be more conclusively dealt with in the Finale.
The slow movement begins with a short, uneasy-sounding introduction, which leads to a somber melody in the bassoon. After the same melody is taken over by the violas and cellos, the mood quickly shifts and a major-key theme is heard in the English horn. The restless music returns, and even though the entire orchestra eventually gives out the somber melody first heard in the bassoon, the movement ends peacefully with the major-key theme, this time played by the oboe.
Very light-hearted throughout, this scherzo begins with a jaunty melody carried by the trumpet. In the middle section, a melody in the style of a folk song appears in the strings, followed by a gradual return of the tunes from the first section.
Once again, there is a brief introduction hinting at themes and motives, and then the first violins and piano present a anthem-like melody. Once this song passes through various sections of the orchestra, percussion and harp pick up the rhythmic figures from the first movement. The themes once again go in and out of focus, but this time they arrive at a point where they are now combined with the anthem theme from the beginning of the finale. They reach a triumphant high point, but things are not quite over. There is a sudden hush, and both the folk song melody from the third movement and the major-key melody from the second are heard in counterpoint. Then the tempo picks back up and the music hurtles toward a conclusion.
The Finale is dedicated to my daughter Casey.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.