WOLFGANG A. MOZART
1756 – 1791
Overture to The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492) 1786
The origin of Mozart's comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro, with Italian text by Lorenzo de Ponte, stems from a stage comedy by playwright Beaumarchais. The Marriage of Figarotakes place during one day of intrigue involving three calculatingly smart servants and their silly, foppish, aristocratic masters. As a farce of impersonation and cross-dressing, the plot unravels as servants outwit and rebel against their masters.
The opera's overture is an orchestral preview to the comical, silly foibles and follies that constitute the plot. The overture sets the tone for what is to come; it begins quietly but exuberantly explodes, subsides, and explodes again. Included are musical suggestions of whispering, visual signals, and human physical dashes between hiding places on stage. Most of the overture's musical ideas occur twice; sometimes the second time around is exactly like the first. Otherwise, the ideas are varied through changes of instruments or harmonies, although never straying far from the original form.
First Movement: Piano Concerto #23 in A major (K. 488) 1786
In the winter of 1785-86 Mozart wrote three piano concertos while also working on The Marriage of Figaro. In sharing his time between Figaro and other works of this productive period, Mozart developed an ability to create effective dialogue between music makers, either singers in an opera or as a concerto soloist with accompanying orchestra. This concerto opens in leisurely fashion, with the orchestra presenting the movement’s principal themes. The pianist then treats them with a mixture of elegance and beautiful flights of fancy with the briefest of digressions. The work is in line with Mozart’s use of the A major scale to create warm, tender, cheerful tonalities. He further embraces a constant exchange of ideas with smaller or larger groups from the orchestra that become particularly animated in the central portion of the movement. The composer eliminates oboes and adds clarinets, and thus creates special, darker-hued music. When the strings begin a new theme, it is embellished by piano elaboration and variations by other instruments. The cadenza contains expressive, singing music, as well as an expansion on the concerto’s thematic material.
1904 – 1987
First Movement: Violin Concerto in C Major, Op. 48 1948
Dmitri Kabalevsky, son of a mathematician, was born in St. Petersburg in 1904. Although the young boy revealed a marked talent for music, he did not begin intensive music study until age 14, when his father acquiesced to his plea to enter the Scriabin School of Music in Moscow. As a teenager, the boy began giving piano lessons and composing student pieces, a pastime which stayed with him for the rest of his life. Further piano and compositional studies were completed at the Moscow Conservatory where he graduated with honors in 1930.
In 1932 Kabalevsky was appointed composition instructor at the Moscow Conservatory and later became a full professor of composition. He also served as senior editor for the state-owned music-publishing house, and became an active, dedicated member of the Communist Party. As an official spokesperson for Soviet musical policy, Kabalevsky frequently appeared on television, addressed factory and farm workers, wrote articles for domestic and foreign newspapers, presented awards, and led delegations to other countries, including one to the United States in 1959. Comrade Kabalevsky's compositional work and party loyalty reaped honors and awards throughout his lifetime; he deeply believed the aesthetic theory that art works should reflect the political and social ideology of the State. As a result, his original work generally utilized conventional classical forms, traditional harmonies (with a smattering of dissonance), broadly lyrical melodies, and energetic, predictable rhythmic patterns. The composer's music was always uncomplicated, pleasant, and strongly identified with the country and people, thus creating an immediate appeal to listeners. He composed music in all forms — from concertos and symphonies to choral works, incidental music for radio and films, patriotic songs, and piano works for children. A valued contribution was that of musically motivating children and young students through the creation of a program for music education in the Soviet Union.
The U.S.S.R. reported his death in February 1987 at age 84, before the final collapse of the Soviet regime whose ideals he had served so faithfully.
Heavily infused with the spirit and characteristics of Russian music, as required by its current political establishment, the First Movement of Kabalevsky's Violin Concerto is brief and without a cadenza. It is composed of snappy rhythms and one particular theme that features a popular Ukrainian folk tune. Composed in 1948, form and content could musically pass for work written a half-century earlier. It is as romantic and tuneful as Tchaikovsky's work and would please the same audience for years to come. This violin concerto was composed with young virtuosi in mind, and requires technical brilliance by the soloist.
Three Spirituals for Orchestra 2005
A composer and college professor at Old Dominion University, Adolphus Hailstork was born in 1941 in Rochester, New York, and began his music studies with piano lessons and composing music at an early age. From teen years on, he wrote countless songs for choirs and string instruments, and became a conductor. He received his Bachelor's degree from Howard University, advanced degrees in composition from the Manhattan School of Music, and a doctorate from Michigan State University in 1971. His principal teachers were H. Owen Reed, Vittorio Giannini, David Diamond, and Nadia Boulanger (at the American Institute, Fontainebleau, France). In 1992 he received a Cultural Laureate honor from the State of Virginia, two honorary doctorate degrees, and became the recipient of countless other awards and honors. An influence affecting his compositional career was a class with Nadia Boulanger; the goal of the class was to develop the ability to hear and handle several parts of the whole simultaneously, a technique that would thus link all facets of the work.
Three Spirituals for Orchestra is a buoyant and uplifting concert suite consisting of arrangements of three traditional American spirituals. Originally composed as an organ piece, it remains symphonic in nature and true to the original character of its three songs. Said one music critic, "It has a feel that recalls Gershwin with its many jazz inflections."
SONGS OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
"A Change is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke, 1964. Written in a bus after a sit-in demonstration, the song exemplifies the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
"How I Got Over," Clara Ward, 1951. The song was inspired by an event that happened to Ward and her family while travelling in the South: their car was surrounded by a group of white men who threatened them with racial taunts. Originally recorded by Mahalia Jackson, the version heard tonight is based on the recording by Aretha Franklin.
"I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free," Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas, 1967. The title expresses one of the fundamental themes of the Civil Rights movement and has been frequently recorded, most notably by Nina Simone.
"Battle Hymn of the Republic," Julia Ward Howe, 1861. Mrs. Howe was a tireless supporter and active abolitionist in the anti-slavery movement. She was also a well-known author.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Joan Olsson.