Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904)
Symphony No. 9 (“New World”) in E Minor, Op 95 (1893)
Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, whose early career was given a boost by the older Johannes Brahms, had a strong connection with folk music, especially that of Moravia and Bohemia. By the age of fifty, his fame had grown enough that the newly formed National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City hired him as director. During his short three years in America, he came in contact with Native American and African American music and wrote newspaper articles about how these traditions could form the basis of an American national musical style.
While in New York, he was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Society to write a symphony, and in 1893 his Symphony “from the New World” was given a very successful premiere. It has now become one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire. Many commentators have noted that the abundant folk-like melodies have elements of both indigenous American music and Bohemian music, betraying the composer’s homesickness.
First movement: After a somber introduction, the movement proper begins with a rising figure in the horns, the first of three main themes. The third of these bears a strong resemblance to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (minus the first two notes of the spiritual). What follows is a conventional development and recapitulation of the themes.
Second movement: The brass section begins with a series of mysterious chords which give way to the famous English horn melody. Other wistful themes follow, and before the final return of the English horn there is a triumphant full-orchestra passage in which the main theme of the first movement reappears, the cross-movement recurrence of themes being a common technique among of Romantic Period composers of symphonies.
Third movement: The gently propulsive figure in the woodwinds soon becomes a pounding dance in the full orchestra. The tempo calms a bit as gentler dance themes ensue. The return of the opening theme leads to another high point during which themes from previous movements return.
Fourth movement: Trumpets and horns introduce the assertive main theme, the repeated cadences of which lead to a second theme made up of boisterous triplets. A more serene clarinet melody is followed by yet another loud and energetic theme, concluding the presentation of the main material of the movement. The development section brings in themes from the preceding three movements, so by the tie of the “home stretch” part of the symphony we are hearing a musical culmination of much of what has gone on before.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)
Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Op. 26 (1921)
Ukrainian-born Prokofiev spent much of the time following the 1917 revolution outside of his country, but was welcomed back as a hero in 1932. Most of the rest of his career was spent going in and out of the good graces of the Soviet government. Pianist William Hueholt offers the following reflection on Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3:
“Sergei Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto is an instantly appealing work––seemingly made to be enjoyed by a whole audience in a single delicious gulp. Yet it is also one of those rare works that is undimmed by familiarity. Those melodies––and what melodies they are!––are somehow elusive. After one hearing, it seems as though you could whistle them. But how does that part go again? Just as soon as you think you grasp where Prokofiev is leading you, whoosh: the bottom falls out, the music swoops away in another direction entirely.
The piece is, for the pianist, full of both fun and frustration. There is no mystery here as to the composer’s intent; Prokofiev is out to get you. This is not a virtuoso showpiece––it’s all about the composer, despite the reams of brilliant, flashy writing. His personality comes across so strongly that at times he almost feels like a physical presence. No matter how quick you are, Prokofiev the chess master is always one step ahead.
That is why the opening of the concerto is some of the most striking music he ever composed. The theme is presented by solo clarinet, then doubled by another, then joined by the whole orchestra in a single long sweep. It is startlingly simple music, a non sequitur; perhaps a lesser composer would have started the concerto somewhere else. But it lingers sweetly, through all the acerbic wit and glibness to follow. I think it is a glimpse into Prokofiev’s soul. And what a soul it is.”
Researched and written by Joan Olsson
W. A. Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, KV 491 (1786)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote concertos for many of the solo instruments typical of his time - violin, flute, horn (even bassoon), but he lavished some of his most beautiful music on the 27 concertos for his own instrument, the piano. Although he wrote most of them with himself in mind as the soloist, they are not mere showpieces for the keyboard, offering instead a chamber music-like balance between solo and orchestra.
Concerto No. 24, one of only two written in a minor key, is also distinctive in that there are extensive passages for the seven woodwinds and two horns during which the soloist and strings remain silent.
The First Movement begins with a shadowy unison statement introduced by the strings. While angular in outline, it is also tonally ambiguous in that it uses all twelve notes of the chromatic scale in the first ten measures. Soon the theme is given out by the whole orchestra, accompanied by a descending chain of diminished seventh-chords (the most dissonant chord in the harmonic palette of the 18th century). The ensuing material unfolds deliberately as more serene musical ideas appear. Even the solo piano part begins in a style that sounds more resigned than angry, and it takes a while for it to engage in the agitated mood of the opening. Mozart apparently struggled with proportions in this movement, because he lengthened the orchestral introduction after he realized how extended the solo sections were and how much time he needed to develop the themes.
The Second Movement is a Rondo structured around multiple returns of the graceful theme heard at the beginning. It is in the contrasting episodes that the wind group is often spotlighted (interestingly, using the oboes in the minor-key sections and clarinets in the major-key sections).
The Third Movement is a set of variations on a theme first played by the orchestra. The theme has a clear two-part form (with both halves repeated), the outlines of which can be heard in most of the variations. In later variations, instead of an exact repetition of each half, the focus passes between soloist and orchestra as the theme is transformed into different guises, from quiet and lyrical to assertive and agitated. The moment at which the solo oboe suddenly introduces a major-key version is particularly striking. For the final variation, the march-like rhythm is altered into a rollicking dance and the final statements of the soloist are swept up into a swirl of rising scales in the entire orchestra.
Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 (1877)
Brahms’s reluctance to complete a symphony is a familiar story. Feeling the responsibility of assuming the mantle of Beethoven, he produced a number of orchestra works that were symphonic in form but called something else before finally completing his first symphony at the age of 43. After that icebreaker, his second symphony followed comparatively soon.
The gentle beginning of Symphony No. 2’s First Movement is what has caused commentators to call this symphony Brahms’s “Pastoral.” The first theme is actually two themes, a three-note melody sung quietly in the low strings over which a pair of horns emerges with a different tune. The symphony unfolds at a leisurely pace until the three-note melody appears in a triumphant statement above the full orchestra. A short transition leads to the second theme, which recalls Brahms’s earlier-composed “Wiegenlied” (known popularly as “Brahms’s Lullaby”). The rest of the movement honors the tradition of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven by treating the various themes to development, fragmentation, and finally reintegration, ending quietly as the three-note theme seems to skip cheerily into the distance.
The brooding Second Movement begins with a somber theme played by the cellos. In the second phrase the three trombones and tuba add a solemnity that will recur as the music alternates between despair and moments of repose.
The graceful Third Movement features a lilting melody in the oboe that returns several times, each recurrence after much faster contrasting music. The episodes, though in different tempos and meters, contain motivic seeds from the main theme, giving the whole an underlying coherence.
The main theme of the Fourth Movement is a quick, sinuous melody barely whispered by the string section which shortly fades to near silence, setting up the sudden joyful outburst by the full orchestra playing an extroverted version of the theme. Once again, contrasting themes are introduced, developed, and reintroduced. In the home stretch, the trombones and tuba begin propulsion that finally reaches high into the trumpets and a brilliant conclusion.
HECTOR BERLIOZ 1803 – 1869
Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, Op. 23 (1838)
Berlioz was a Romantic-era firebrand whose innovations in exploiting the characteristic sounds of instruments coincided with the appearance of increasingly larger orchestras (and audiences.) His exuberant style often unpredictably lurches between one idea and the next, often with maximum contrast in style and volume.
The Overture to Benvenuto Cellini begins with a noisy outburst that gives way to a slower theme plucked by the cellos and basses. This slower music competes with recurrences of the faster music until it culminates in the contrapuntal combination (noted by the composer in the score to make sure it is appreciated) of “the theme of the Adagio combined with the second theme of the Allegro.”
ÉDOUARD LALO 1823 – 1892
Concerto in D Minor for Violoncello and Orchestra (1876)
Édouard Lalo was a French composer of Spanish descent who followed Berlioz by a generation. His music was criticized at first for being “too progressive and Wagnerian” but was later overshadowed by the colorful developments of later composers like Debussy and Ravel. Despite prolific production of chamber music, orchestral music, and even an opera, he is represented in modern orchestral programming mainly by his Symphonie Espagnol, which is essentially a violin concerto.
His Concerto in D Minor for Violoncello and Orchestra is cast in the typical three movements. The First begins with a brooding Prélude before launching into an expressive Allegro maestoso that takes advantage of the solo instrument’s ability to sing across wide pitch registers. The Second Movement begins slowly as expected, but several times it is interrupted with a lilting Allegro presto whose repeated rhythmic figures in the orchestra create a kind of minimalist background. The Third movement, like the first two, begins slowly and seriously but soon breaks into a rollicking Rondo, with contrasting sections that pave the way for the welcome return of the Rondo melody.
MODEST MUSSORGSKY 1839 – 1881
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)
orchestrated by Maurice Ravel (1923)
Mussorgsky was born into a family of Russian nobles that was impoverished by the Czar Alexander’s freeing of the serfs in 1861. He fell in with “The Five,” a group of amateur composers devoted to the creation of Russian music less affected by Western European influences. In Mussorgsky’s brief 46 years he was able to create a small body of works that show a distinctive, raw talent not inhibited by discipline or reliance on tradition.
His piano suite “Pictures at an Exhibition” was a tribute to his late artist friend Victor Hartmann. A number of short characteristic movements inspired by paintings and designs of Hartmann and are interspersed with “Promenade” movements which represent the exhibition-goer’s meanderings. The piano originals are vivid in the way rhythms and harmonies are used to evoke the visual images, but in Maurice Ravel’s masterful orchestration, they are made even more so. Ravel was not the first or last to orchestrate the suite, but his version is the most familiar, and the final section depicting Hartmann’s fairly modest (and unused) plan for a gate in Kiev is thrilling in its sonic magnificence.
1824 - 1884
Vltava (The Moldau) 1874
Bedřich Smetana was born in a small Bohemian town in what is now the southern part of the Czech Republic. At a very early age, the musical prodigy learned to play both violin and piano, and was first taught by his father, a brewmaster and amateur musician. His musical development was rapid, and as a young man he opened his own music school with the encouragement and help of Franz Liszt. It was Liszt who had greatly impressed the younger composer with his dramatic program music. As Smetana wrote to Liszt: “I cannot describe to you the soul-stirring impression your music has made on me. Such as become my credo.”
Smetana became fired up with a fierce patriotism and embarked on the cause of creating music based on Czech legends, history, geography, customs, and dances. A provincial theater for Czech music was established in 1861, for which Smetana composed a series of native-language Czech operas based on Czech themes. In 1874, at age 50, the composer filled a cycle of six symphonic poems called Má Vlast (My Fatherland) with folk legends and rhythms of Bohemian songs and dances. Fate intervened; during this time of a rapid outpouring of nationalistic themes, he became afflicted with total deafness. Although he still composed in a frenzy, soon came a deteriorating mind, followed by eventual death in a mental institution at age 60.
Among the six symphonic tone poems in Má vlast is Smetana’s most famous composition, “Vltava” (in German, “The Moldau”), a majestic portrait of the 270-mile river in land-locked Czechoslovakia. The tone poem takes the listener on a sensory journey down a breath-taking natural river, as expressed in musical imitation of the sights and sounds a traveler experiences. Completed in 1874, and still under the strong influence of Franz Liszt’s program music, the work was written amidst a 100-year Bohemian struggle for democracy and freedom from the Austria-Hungarian empire.
Smetana wrote his own preface to the tone poem as follows:
“The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer’s wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the fairies in the night’s moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St. John’s Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad (Upper Castle), and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe (or Elbe, in German).”
Concerto Elegiaco (Concerto No. 3) 1985
Juan Leovigido Brouwer Mezquida (Leo) was born in 1939 in Havana, Cuba. Descended from a long and wide line of musicians and drawn to the sounds of Flamenco
music he embarked on a largely self-learned experience of skills necessary for the guitar.
His physician and amateur classical guitarist father took over the direction of this musically-determined boy, even though he didn’t read music and was taught by rote. At the end of 1952, Leo’s formal guitar instruction was transferred over to renowned Cuban
guitar pedagogue, Isaac Nicola. It was Nicola who opened the young student’s eyes and ears to Renaissance, Classical, and Romantic periods of music history, and it was at this time when Leo’s compositional bent became alive. What he wanted to do was “fill the gaps” in Cuban music history and repertoire, creating compositions that emphasized his Afro-Cuban music heritage.
After his debut as a guitar performer at age 17, he was awarded a scholarship to study composition at The Juilliard School, and followed this with both a teaching and composition-studying position at Hartt College in Connecticut. He claimed that the training at both programs was the only formal instruction he had received as a composer-to-be.
Brouwer then returned to his beloved Cuba, where under the new communist regime, he became a strong advocate of Cuban nationalism, unquestioningly loyal to Castro’s principles of communism. With governmental approval, he became globally known as a Cuban music ambassador of his own works and those of other non-European origin. The composer’s personal catalogue lists at least 200 works. Brouwer also has over 60 film scores to his credit (including Like Water for Chocolate), has established a radio station network, played in chamber orchestras, and re-energized the Symphony Orchestra of Cuba. Now approaching his eighties, he continues on the concert circuit abroad and remains an active composer and arranger of music from his family home in Cuba.
The Concerto Elegiaco (Concerto No. 3) was written for guitarist Julian Bream. The halting two-note theme first heard in the low strings helps set the elegiac tone of the work. The low notes at the end of the First Movement (Tranquillo) fade into the Interlude, in which a rhythmically free, improvisatory guitar line is woven around held notes in the strings. This proceeds without pause to the Finale, an energetic Toccata in which rapidly repeated notes are alternately played by the guitar, strings, and percussion. Very near the end, the halting, dirge-like notes of the First Movement return before a final burst of energy from the guitar and orchestra.
1906 - 1975
Suite from the film The Gadfly 1955
Shostakovich’s musical parents realized that by age 5, their son was unusually gifted. They had taken him to a performance of one of Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas, and noted that he was singing several of the opera arias afterward. Still, the young child’s musical training was delayed until age 9. His conservatory graduate mother did not believe in structured musical training before then.
During Shostakovich’s first year of piano instruction, he began composing. The spirit of the most recent Russian Revolution inspired his musical writing, and he responded by such pieces as Hymn to Liberty and the Funeral March for the Victims of the Revolution.
As a teenager, he was employed to accompany silent films in the theatre, and would become so absorbed in the screen activity that he would forget to play. Although fired as piano accompanist, he was permanently hooked on movies and the eventual soundtrack writing that followed.
At age 13, the boy entered the Leningrad Conservatory, where the Conservatory director and composer Alexander Glazunov claimed, “the boy’s gifts are comparable to Mozart’s. If asked, I would give up my food rations for him.” Shostakovich rose quickly to top recognition in the Soviet Union, after public praise for his Symphony No. 1, which had been a graduation requirement. His subsequent career was spent under the regimes of Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev, and he had to weather the irrational and unpredictable winds of official opinion. Criticism mostly centered on his compositional endeavors as not having enough mass appeal. Music needed only to be simple, tuneful, optimistic, and glorifying of Soviet ideals.
Although remembered principally for large-scale orchestral works and concertos, Shostakovich’s output for the big screen was prolific. Between 1919 and l970, Shostakovich wrote more than 30 movie sound tracks, which tend to be light, simple, charming additions to the plots.
The 1955 film The Gadfly is a boisterous affair, a swashbuckling costume drama depicting the life of a Russian hero in 1830’s Italy. The setting gave the composer the excuse to borrow musical ideas from Italian Romantic composers (Verdi, Bellini), and to write pseudo-Neapolitan songs and folk tunes. Most famous are the catchy “Galop” and the lovely “Romance,” but the other five numbers of the suite hold their own in their surprisingly tonal and rhythmically straight-forward and melodic style.
Researched and written by Joan Olsson
1865 – 1931
Overture to Maskarade (1906)
Maskarade is a comic opera based on a play by Ludvig Holberg. The story is one of love and mistaken identity that unfolds with a series of glittering masked balls as its backdrop. In the overture, Nielsen draws the listener immediately into the opera’s atmosphere of high spirits and romantic intrigues. Punchy melodies sparkle with wit and humor, clothed in brilliant, inventive orchestration. The opera itself is seldom heard outside of Denmark, but its overture is performed frequently as one of the composer’s most widely circulated works in Europe and North America.
1841 – 1904
Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 53 (1879)
The Bohemian people regarded music as a fundamental part of life. So, in keeping with the tradition of his culture, young Dvořák learned to play the violin, and soon composed and played dance tunes and folk melodies in the village band. A local teacher recognized the young boy’s innate talent, taught the boy viola, piano, and organ, but soon recommended that the 16-year-old enter the Organ School in Prague. The young musician struggled against hunger and extreme poverty, but ultimately earned a position in the orchestra of the National Opera. Music had become his life (along with an addiction to trains). He composed a prolific number of works, eventually attracting the attention of famed Brahms and fellow Czech, Smetana.
After receiving recognition for his Slavonic Dances, the 38-year-old Dvořák’s career was launched, and next came the 1879 Violin Concerto. This work was initially looked down upon by critics because of its failure to observe standard German tradition and form. Rather, the Concerto was of a folksy, exotic style which pleased its large audiences.
The First Movement begins with a four bar, fanfare-like orchestral introduction before the solo violin enters with its main theme, which features dashing, daring leaps in an unusual improvisatory, rhapsodic flavor. What follows is a sedate, lyrical second theme. Throughout the movement, a gypsy fiddling tradition and the feeling of the uncontainable Hungarian spirit play roles in this Slavic work. The customary recapitulation of opening material is eliminated, and is replaced by a brief cadenza and interlude that lead directly into the Second Movement.
Its opening section is in a serene major key, while a contrasting middle section features a stormy minor key. Throughout, the soloist plays florid passages that act as embellishments to melody played by the orchestra. The beautifully soaring lyricism of this movement makes it a special favorite, and thus it is often played as an independent piece.
The Third Movement is filled with Bohemian-flavored dance and song characteristics. The main theme is a furiant, a Czech dance of rapid nature, which is reprised in brilliant instrumentation near the end. The dance is played by cellos and oboes imitating bagpipes. Shortly before the end of the movement is a wistful dumka melody, exhibiting a gentle contrast to the furiant.
1813 – 1883
Introduction to Act III of Lohengrin (1848)
Transformation Music from Act I of Parsifal (1879)
Lohengrin is a chivalric melodrama that plays spiritual purity against evil. The barnstorming Prelude to Act III is vividly colorful, and prepares the way for the curtain to rise on a wedding scene.
Parsifal is Wagner’s last opera, and its three acts are witness to a stage-consecrating festival drama based on a medieval legend and poem. The Transformation Music accompanies the Knights of the Holy Grail as they enter the Hall of the Grail. The musical themes are mostly solemn (Lutherans may recognize Wagner’s use of the “Dresden Amen”), but at one point a wrenchingly sorrowful theme rises out of the orchestra, representing the knight Amfortas, who was entrusted to guard the relics but succumbed to temptation.
1844 – 1908
“Danse Indienne” from Mlada (1890)
Mlada is an opera-ballet in four acts that recounts a fantasy tale about the ancient pagan Slavs of the Baltic seacoast. Three national dances are featured in Act II amidst a midsummer festival of dancing and frolicking. The “Danse Indienne” allowed Rimsky-Korsakov to indulge his genius for composing what the Russians thought of as “Oriental” melodies - complex, sinuous, and played by combinations of woodwinds with underpinnings of a snare drum. During the dance, the spirit of the deceased Mlada appears.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
1840 – 1893
“Cossack Dance” from Mazeppa (1883)
Based on a narrative poem by Alexander Pushkin, the story concerns itself with a young woman whose powerful love draws her into a catastrophic, downward spiral. The
“Cossack Dance” (Hopak) is a national Ukrainian dance usually performed by athletic males. It features acrobatic jumps and spins, and often has battlefield “fights” depicted in pantomime form.
1858 – 1924
Intermezzo from Suor Angelica (1918)
Puccini followed in the tradition of Rossini and Verdi but also was aware of the developments by his contemporaries Debussy, Stravinsky, and even Schoenberg. Suor Angelica is the middle opera in the series of three one-act operas Puccini called Il Trittico. Sister Angelica is from a wealthy family that has committed her to a convent because of bearing a child out of wedlock, and she has just learned that the son she has been imagining for seven years actually died of a fever two years ago. She has a vision that she will join him in heaven, and during the Intermezzo she is seen preparing a fatal mixture of herbs that she intends to drink.
1864 – 1949
“Dance of the Seven Veils” from Salome (1905)
The setting is the court of King Herod in the Middle East around 30 A.D. Herod, in the mood for some entertainment on his birthday, asks his beautiful young stepdaughter Salome to dance in return for anything she wants. Her desire is for the head of John the Baptist delivered on a plate. The fulfillment of this is even too much for Herod, and as the final curtain comes down he orders Salome to be slain by the palace guards.
The dance’s origin is from Oscar Wilde’s l891play Salome, who transformed the Biblical image of Salome into an incarnation of female lust. The opera (with its “Dance of the Seven Veils”) received rave reviews around Europe, but was immediately cancelled after its New York 1907 debut; it was considered “moral stench.”
WOLFGANG A. MOZART, 1756 - 1791
Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major, KV 361, “Gran Partita” 1781 - 1784
Moviegoers may remember a scene from Miles Forman’s quasi-historical film Amadeus, where court composer Salieri recognizes Mozart’s genius while following a printed copy and listening to this Serenade. Its Adagio movement begins with a simple bass accompaniment. Then, several measures later, a solo oboe sounds a sustained ¸tone on a high B-flat, while the rest of the ensemble continues its simple accompaniment.
To quote the fictionalized Salieri, “It was music I have never heard, so filled with such unfulfillable longing. It seemed that I was hearing the voice of God. The music came right down from God through a strange, clownish juvenile and not by way of myself.”
The Serenade No. 10 was written during the popularity of Harmoniemusik (music for wind band), background music composed for court dining, highbrow audiences at salon performances and quiet socializing of strolling guests. Mozart wrote this Serenade for 13 instruments, including four clarinets and four horns. This work was uncommonly long – 50 minutes if all seven movements are performed, and each was diverse in mood, style, and tempo. The genesis of this work still causes disagreements regarding date and purpose, and even the nickname “Gran partita” is in dispute because it was added by an unknown hand to the original manuscript. It was apparently begun during Mozart’s miserable employment under Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg but appears to have been finished by the time of Mozart’s wedding in 1782.
And what a composition for wedding or other “background” entertainment! It has its melancholy, subdued moments, and joyful, tender ones as well. The work is an exploration of the differences in sound created by alternating individual solos and sections for the full ensemble. It mixes the dark colors of the low clarinets, bassoons, and horns with the brightness of the oboes.
Largo - Molto allegro is a full symphonic-styled movement. In the slow introduction, pillar-like tutti chords alternate with leisurely solos. The bustling Molto allegro that follows is a sonata-allegro form featuring one main theme rather than the customary two. Mozart creates contrast by first giving the theme in the upper clarinets in the home key and later in the lower clarinets in the dominant key.
The Adagio offers lovely exchanges between oboe and clarinet, each appearing like characters in an operatic ensemble under the perfumed glow of night air.
The graceful Menuetto has not one but two contrasting Trio sections, which, when combined with the recurring minuet, results in five dance-inspired sections.
The Tema con variazioni begins with a simple two-part form with the melody stated by the clarinet. The six variations that follow explore the possibilities of the theme and the characteristics of the instruments. The Finale is in rondo form, with links to an earlier Mozart four-hand piano sonata written at age 9. It features many passages in which oboes and clarinets play in sparkling unison, revealing a large measure of the great composer’s wit, cheerfulness, and virtuosity.
FRANZ SCHUBERT, 1797 - 1828
Symphony No. 9 in C major, D 944, “Great” 1825 - 1828
The early musical education of Schubert began at home with his father, an amateur cellist and parish schoolteacher. Between raising and burying children (9 of 14 died), Schubert’s father encouraged and cultivated music at home. Young Franz was taught violin by his father, and an older brother provided piano lessons. Realizing their inadequacies as teachers for an incredibly musical and “quick-start” student, the two teachers put the 11-year-old through an audition at the School of the Imperial and Royal Court Chapel. He was accepted and received free tuition, board, lodging, and vocal training. One of the examiners was Antonio Salieri, friend of Haydn, one of Beethoven’s teachers, noted member of court staff, and court peer of Mozart.
Salieri gladly took on the phenomenally gifted youngster, and provided sporadic lessons in theory and technique. Franz’ playing in family quartets, being a member of the string section of the school orchestra, and singing in the choir were positive experiences; partaking in music made up for the unpleasant consequences of poverty.
Franz’ life was his music, although he was forced by family to train for a dependable job - schoolteacher. For three miserable years, young Schubert labored as an incompetent, highly uninterested teacher. While his pupils were scribbling in their notebooks, he scribbled music at his desk, and continued it in the evenings. Upon leaving teaching and with no way to earn a living, the unemployed composer became penniless - a state of affairs which lasted for the entirety of his short life.
By age 17, the teenager had already completed an opera, a mass, two string quartets, and many small pieces for piano and voice, including an undisputed masterpiece “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” By 1820, the 23-year-old had composed more than 500 works, written with non-stop rapidity. Of theory and composition, the genius absorbed required knowledge from self-study and from participating in the Chapel orchestra.
The shy, reticent, diminutive Schubert enjoyed a lifetime of membership in a group of artistic bohemians who shared their works during evenings in local taverns and other “hang-outs” in Vienna. Loyal friends and family rescued the non-stop composer from indebtedness, often providing housing, use of a piano, pens, and music-writing paper.
Critics and publishers did not approve of his “too complicated” works, so the composer remained unknown, unpublished, and dependent on the kindness of others for survival. At age 31, he was a chronic victim of poor health, which carried along the burden of emotional despair for being an unsuccessful composer of hundreds of works. In September of 1828, a weak and ill Schubert died of typhoid – still stumbling around to work on compositions (including Symphony No. 9). Never could he have thought that his life-long work would place him high on the list of the titanic masters in music history. In Vienna, Franz Schubert was buried as he wished - as close as possible to the grave of his hero, Ludwig von Beethoven, deceased only 3 years earlier.
The “Great” C Major Symphony reveals the deep influence of Beethoven. Not only is the Schubert symphony almost as long as Beethoven’s 9th, but draws from Beethoven its compositional structure. The symphony’s nickname was originally intended to distinguish the symphony from Schubert’s earlier, shorter (“Lesser”) symphony in same key, and scholars still haven’t reached consensus on its numbering (it is numbered “No. 8” in Germany, for instance).
It was composer and music journalist Robert Schumann who discovered a ragged bunch of Schubert manuscripts that had been lying in a disordered state since the composer’s death a decade before. Schubert’s brother Ferdinand had approached publishers who claimed that the “Great” was technically “too difficult, too bombastic” and turned away from it. And so it rested for years on a dust-laden shelf. Realizing its colossal merits on a read-through, Schumann paid to have the work published and provided a copy for Felix Mendelssohn, who shared his enthusiasm and agreed to conduct its premiere in 1839. In his role as music critic for his published music journal, Schumann mentioned that the instruments would sound like beautifully expressive voices. “I wish that I could write such a symphony,” Schumann informed fiancée Clara Wieck.
The Symphony opens with the quintessential Romantic instrument, a horn, which brings forth the spacious, dignified melody of the Andante introduction. Momentum increases, finally bursting into lively tempo of the Allegro non troppo. Themes accrue into a towering structure that integrates melodies, rhythms, and tonal areas that rival Beethoven forcefulness. Early critics said, “too much, too much music,” while Schumann stated, “a heavenly length.” The material unfolds at a deliberate, leisurely pace, which probably wouldn’t be successful were it not for the sheer beauty of the melody and harmony. In an imaginative passage, soft-sounding trombones play a fragment of the introductory theme, quite an unusual role for that instrument during Schubert’s time. The trombone theme grows and grows, takes hold of the orchestra, and it all comes to a blazing climax.
The principal theme of the Second Movement (Andante con moto) takes form with a subdued, melancholy but proud march rhythm, as piped by a solo oboe, and followed by strings. The march yields to an almost chorale-like expanse of lyricism by the string section. The oboe returns throughout this movement, assertive strings and brass are set against more wistful woodwinds. A hush falls over all, leading to a passage by a horn call from a distance. “Was this some heavenly messenger hovering over the orchestra?” thought some critics.
The Third Movement (titled Scherzo in the manner that Beethoven often did) begins in a burly, robust mood by unison strings answered by winds and timpani. The middle section is devoted to a flowing Austrian Ländler-like melody followed by a graceful contrasting theme.
The Fourth Movement (Allegro vivace) finds Schubert needing 15 minutes to “wrap things up” by recalling melodic bits, rhythmic figures, and different key relationships from earlier movements. The movement begins with an outburst of demoniac energy, as full orchestra lets out a vigorous outcry. The second theme is announced by four repeated notes on horn and clarinet leading to a tune in the woodwinds and brass; strings accompany endlessly with a triplet figure (which was tiring and infuriating for the musicians at early performances). In the final stretch, the four repeated notes originally heard quietly in the second theme are hammered out full force by the entire string section and the music hurtles to a triumphant conclusion.
Researched and Written by Joan Olsson
Sinfonia in G minor - pub. 1700
Tomaso Albinoni, 1671 - 1751
Tomaso Albinoni was a Venetian Baroque composer, born in l671 to a successful paper merchant in Venice. At an early age, he became proficient in music through studies in both violin and voice, but he had the good fortune to be able to cultivate music for pleasure rather than as a livelihood. He became a prolific composer and operated a successful academy of vocal music. Unlike many composers of the era, Albinoni appears never to have sought a post at either a church or a court of nobility, which freed the composer to choose to work at what and when he wrote and performed.
He achieved early fame as an opera composer in many cities in Italy and although his output reached 89 operas, most were never published and thus lost. He did complete and publish nine collections of instrumental works, and it is as composer of instrumental music that he is known today. Musicologists have favorably compared Albinoni’s works with those of Arcangelo Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi. In 1751 the composer died of what was thought to be diabetes.
Much of the composer’s work was lost during the latter years of World War II with the bombing of Dresden and the State Library, but some of his instrumental works survived. The Sinfonia in G minor is cast in three contrasting movements (fast-slow-fast) and is similar to the tripartite overtures (for which the term “sinfonia” was also used) to Baroque Italian operas. The outer movements feature an interplay between the two violin sections, and the middle movement is a lilting song.
Serenade in C for String Orchestra, op. 48 - 1880
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1840 – 1893
Careers in the arts are greedy consumers of time, and often the specter of financial insecurity leads a musician to other professional options. For that reason teenager Peter Tchaikovsky became a lawyer. As a compromise, he also attended St. Petersburg Conservatory as a part-time student and ended up graduating. He then dropped law completely to become a theory professor at the newly opened Moscow Conservatory. While teaching, the young, handsome composer/teacher succumbed to the pursuits of a music student but their marriage only lasted 7 months. To ease the pain of failure, the overly sensitive Tchaikovsky traveled abroad, during which time his future was to change dramatically and make him the first independent composer in the western world.
An admiring, rich patron, Nadezhda von Meck, had contacted him with an offer to provide financial support if he would devote himself entirely to composition. He then churned out his best masterpieces in all styles of music.
The Serenade in C turned out to be the composer’s favorite work, but he was also writing 1812 Overture under an independent commission. He wrote to von Meck that he disliked the second work. “It is noisy, showy music without artistic merit, warmth, or caring.” In contrast, his beloved Serenade was written “from the heart” with its composer most eager to have it performed in whole.
The lively Piece in Form of a Sonatina begins with a chorale-like introduction before veering off with a simple four-note theme that develops into vigorous scale passages; these passages demonstrate the various tones and colors available within the string section. Brilliant passages complement the lilting movement of the short theme that is followed by a more playful second theme. A reprise of the introductory, chorale-like introduction follows, but provides more energy and animation. The Waltz is the composer’s 19th century answer to the minuets of Mozart’s serenades, as heard in his Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The string sections take turns carrying the dancing melody to rhythmic lines from the other string sections. The movement ends in a gentle softness that leads to a subdued Elegy. Like previous movements, it is built on a scale passage whose notes rise with energy and force. The lower strings carry a good portion of the reflective, somber, songlike melody. Luscious swings of emotions are provided by a passionate, heart-breaking melody. The passion ends in a whimper, as the work softly heads into the Finale. Its first theme is a slow folk song depicting Russian boatmen hauling goods on the Volga River. This is followed by a second Russian folk tune - an animated Russian dance scored with pulsing, balalaika-like pizzicatos. The movement returns to the stately chorale-like introduction prefacing the first movement.
Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas
(Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) - 1965
Astor Piazzolla, 1921 – 1992
The Argentine composer and bandoneon (a small accordion) prodigy Astor Piazzolla ranks among his country’s most celebrated composers, standing high in the realm of 20th century tango and Argentine music. His early classical training in composition was under Argentinean composer and teacher Alberto Ginastera. After six years he was encouraged to participate in a grant to study in Paris with eminent pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. It was 1954 and he had grown weary of his fame as a tango composer, and he longed to have a career of composing “serious” classical music. Boulanger coaxed Piazzolla to pull out his bandoneon and play his compositions. She discovered that his most recent works resembled bits and pieces of Stravinsky, Ravel, Bartok, and Hindemith “but no Piazzolla. Do not give him up!” These words from the renowned pedagogue convinced the composer to recreate his tango style. He then experimented with 20th century styles of jazz, fugal technique, and percussive rhythms and sounds and ended up with a new Argentinian tango form that revealed exciting, hypnotic rhythms. Tango had been regarded as “disreputable folk music” in the field of serious music, but now in its place was the “Nuevo Tango” style.
Between 1965-1972 Piazzolla composed four Nuevo Tango-inspired compositions and had them published as Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas. Since “porteño” means “of or related to a port city,” and in Argentina the main port city is Buenos Aires, the English rendition of the title is usually The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. He scored the four works for a quintet of violin (or viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneon. The composer also made a bow to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by structuring each movement into the Baroque tripartite form of fast-slow-fast. The composer also directly inserted sly references to Vivaldi’s 1725 work.
In the late 1990’s Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov was commissioned to rearrange the pieces into a suite for full string orchestra with solo violin, including the obvious portions of the Vivaldi work. The Piazzolla Seasons still displayed sassy, rhythmic elements of the tango mixed with Baroque era elements.
An extended melancholy cello solo dominates the first section of Autumn, using tango elements to illustrate falling leaves and dying vegetation. Winter provides the soloist the opportunity for cadenza displays using an intensely emotional tango form. Suggested are cold winds, breaking and bending of tree branches and falling sleet. With Spring, we hear an exciting re-creation of gardens and warm breezes, and with Summer come impressions of hot, tiring, sultry heat waves.
The composer’s percussive additions are especially magical and intoxicating. Between the usual tonal aspects of the strings and solo are moments of percussive sounds from the instruments - hitting strings with the wood of the bow and playing on the wrong side of the bridge (in imitation of the gourd-like instrument the “guiro”).
Four Seasons of Buenos Aires became a sensational success with this arrangement and others that use different choices of instruments. The work is an inspiring, challenging addition to 20th century violin repertoire, and Piazzolla’s deserved place in music history. He fulfilled his dream of becoming a composer of “classical chamber works” and audiences and critics heartily applaud the results.
GIOVANNI GABRIELI 1557 - 1612
Canzon Noni Toni a Duodecim Vocum
Giovanni Gabrieli of Venice, Italy began his studies with his uncle, well-known composer Andrea Gabrieli, and he continued his music studies in Munich under renowned composer Orlando de Lassus. By age 30, Gabrieli had returned to Venice to become principal organist at Saint Mark’s Basilica, followed by a similar position at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the most prestigious Venetian confraternity.
Renowned singers and instrumentalists in Italy performed under Gabrieli and he became one of the most noted European composers. His work contributed to the production of German Baroque and to the era of J.S. Bach.
Gabrieli preferred sacred vocal and instrumental music, to the exclusion of lighter, more popular forms of music. Among his innovations was a subtle employment of dynamics. He often used an arrangement of two choir lofts facing each other; the effect made a striking sound across the lofts.
The Canzon Noni Toni a Duodecim Vocum was composed for an ensemble of brass instruments. It is an early example of the first orchestration of instrumental music using a polychordal style, with dynamic contrasts between high and low sounding music.
The 55-year-old Gabrieli died in Venice of complications from a kidney stone.
JOSEPH HAYDN 1732 – 1809
Symphony No. 96 in D Major 1791
In the 1790’s renowned composer Haydn exchanged his aristocratic setting on the Esterhazy estates for cosmopolitan London. The 60-year-old had been the director of music for the royal Esterhazy family for 29 years. During his stay in London, Haydn wrote 12 London Symphonies, the crown of symphonic achievement. He was helped along by his newfound freedom to do, go, and feel life for the first time away from the musical dictates of the aristocracy. Although symphonic form existed before Haydn’s contributions, he structured its erratic parts into a 4-movement symphonic style that has been used since the 18th century.
Returning to Vienna, Haydn exchanged symphonic composing for vocal works, including his famous oratorio, The Creation. The dying 77-year-old’s last act was to play his composition, the Austrian National Anthem, while a Napoleonic honor guard stood at his doorstep during Austro-French battles.
Symphony No. 96 premiered at Haydn’s first London concert in March, 1791. The composer’s purpose was to appeal to a wide “bourgeois” audience that would replace the courtly crowd in Austria. Violinist and impresario Salomon took over the podium, while the audience was electrified at the sight of Haydn at the keyboard.
The First Movement starts with a slow, deliberate introduction, followed by an upbeat allegro that includes elaborate solo parts for two violins in complex interplays. The Second Movement features light-footed, rococo-type pastoral music. The music then plunges into minor key passages in a contrapuntal style. After a return to serenity, a long cadenza coda ends the movement. The Third Movement repeatedly alternates a brawny statement for full orchestra with delicate responses by strings and woodwinds. The second section highlights an oboe solo playing a delicate, waltz-swinging Austrian folk dance tune. The Fourth Movement presents an energetic, loud-soft/major-minor rondo on one theme, and includes a prominent wind-band passage.
RICHARD WAGNER 1813 – 1883
“Siegfried’s Rhine Journey”
From Gotterdammerung 1869 – 1876
Richard Wagner revealed no early interest or aptitude for the arts, despite a family involved in activities in the arts. His interests changed at age 15 after attending performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the opera Fidelio. After these experiences, he decided to become a composer. With only a smattering of training in music, he dropped out of the University of Leipzig, and embarked on an intense study of music scores, where he learned counterpoint from Beethoven, orchestration from Mozart, and harmony by “instinct”, e.g., what sounded right to him. His limited music education enabled him to earn music and choir directorships at small church ensembles.
Finally, upon the success of his opera Rienzi, at age 29 the die was cast. He, as both librettist and composer, was now involved in the process of combining music, poetry, literature, painting, sculpture, and architecture into one theatrical drama to replace the traditional way of presenting opera.
The four operas of Wagner’s RING cycle (das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung) constitute a fusion of all the arts in a 15-hour mythological music drama depicting the rise and collapse of civilization.
The RING, with its superheroes, deranged gods, and shape-shifting monstrosities, was the beginning of theatrical sagas. More than 100 years later, we are witnessing the descendants of his dramatic scheme: Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and others.
Wagner’s production encompassed 4 connected operas spread out over 4 days. He derived thematic material from medieval German epics, which displayed deep feelings for nature, the supernatural as dramatic element, and the glorification of the German lands and people. It had as its theme the full acquisition of power and ultimate destruction of the world. Moreover, the RING cycle centers around the location of gold and a ring that lay guarded on the bottom of the Rhine River; the ring confers unlimited power and a curse on whoever possesses it.
Siegfried’s Rhine Journey is music connecting with the prologue of the fourth RING opera, Gotterdammerung. The first music simulates darkness and is depicted by the lower, grumbling voices of the brass section. Then Fate casts the long shadow that follows the curse of the ring. Lighter, brighter music depicts the coming daybreak, along with the sounds of gurgling river waves. The music swells in increasing power, and leads to the reunion and love of Siegfried and Brunnhilde. Full daylight enlivens the scene, as Siegfried rises, sounds his horn and departs on her magic horse. The music increases in intensity and surges towards a towering climax. The orchestral motifs of Brunnhilde, Siegfried, and Magic Fire blast forth in a torment of sound. The music calms, while the motifs of the Rhine River and Lust for Gold are sounded. Siegfried rides toward the doom of death, as he continues his search for the Ring.
BENJAMIN BRITTEN 1913 - 1976
Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra 1946
(Variations & Fugue on a Theme By Henry Purcell)
For the Guide, British composer Benjamin Britten uses a Henry Purcell dance tune (from Purcell’s play Abdelazer) to serve as the unifying theme for this orchestral composition. He presents the theme for full orchestra, and then uses the theme and variations to musically illustrate the differing capabilities of each instrumental group. The work closes with a grand fugue based on the Purcell theme.
ARTURO MARQUEZ 1950 -
Danzon No. 2 1994
Arturo Marquez was born in Sonora, Mexico in 1950. His grandfather and father were mariachi musicians in Mexico, thus exposing the boy to music. Young Arturo was provided with formal lessons on the trombone, violin and piano. To study composition, he attended the Mexican Music Conservatory for 5 years. After this education, Marquez earned a MFA, a scholarship to study in Paris, a Fulbright Scholarship and collected other honors.
His music reached the international stage with a series of Danzones in the early 1990s. Based on the music of Cuba and Mexico, Danzon No. 2 became popular and is now a signature piece of orchestral repertoire.
Danzon No. 2 features solos for clarinet, oboe, piano, violin, trumpet, and piccolo. The rhythmic interest in the piece is maintained through varying accents and tempi attached to the folklore of the Mexican state of Veracruz.
NOTES RESEARCHED and WRITTEN BY JOAN OLSSON
CHARLES IVES (1874 - 1954)
Symphony No. 2
Charles Ives, born in 1874, a product of 18th century Puritan and Yankee heritage, was raised in rural Connecticut. His father, a Civil War bandmaster, was his principal music teacher who provided his son with a full set of rules and conventions of music theory, harmony, orchestration, along with cornet, piano, and organ instruction. He also encouraged an open attitude about music, especially in avoiding too much dependence on European musical influences. Thus, the bandmaster provided untraditional exercises to stretch the boy’s ability to absorb different sounds simultaneously. For example, while Charles played one tune, his father would sing another tune in a different key and time signature. He also encouraged Charles to listen to everyday sounds, such as uneven walking and running patterns, rain and wind hitting windows together, differing sounds emitting from moving vehicles.
At age 20, Ives entered Yale, where he studied composition under Horatio Parker. The student held his own by using his knowledge of “the rules,” but often subverted them with sudden, clashing changes in tone, key, timing, and tempo. Professor Parker’s typical comment was, “You are hogging all the keys, tempos, and time signatures to construct your music.”
After graduation, Ives knew he could not make a living as the innovative, untraditional composer he yearned to be. He thus entered the New York insurance business and quickly showed a natural acumen for sales and management practices. The rest of his time was spent in his barn, composing one work after another, which ended in stacks of unpublished, unperformed, and unshared compositions. His large, lucrative insurance business generated a million dollar income, thus providing a long life of comfort. The combination of these two demanding pursuits ultimately led to a serious heart condition. From after World War I until his death at age 80, the eccentric composer and successful businessman became a reclusive semi-invalid on his rural Connecticut farm outside of Danbury, CT.
Charles Ives developed into an authentically American composer, recognized as one of the great experimentalists and originators of 20th century music – not as a “primitive” but as a well-trained musician. He musically embraced bold harmonic dissonances, polyrhythms, and imaginative orchestral sound combinations and effects. His inspirational material was a potpourri of everyday sounds around him: enthusiastic singers singing off-key, a piano or organ accompanist playing behind or ahead of the others, tones from fiddlers sliding a bit off pitch, and the clashing together of different tunes and keys of parading bands filing by without enough silent space between their groups. Everything that made sound was music to his ears. Ives conceived musical complexities that anticipated, by ten years, similar innovations in the music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartok, and other avant-gardists. A main difference was his total lack of interest in the business of marketing, performing, and publication of his music. Still, he was the prolific composer of 200 songs, 5 violin sonatas, some chamber music, 2 piano sonatas, and 5 symphonies. Most of it gathered dust in his barn, its importance not being realized by the musical public until after he died.
In writing Symphony No. 2, the 28-year-old composer was fusing a musical path between the traditional and the innovative. The work features snippets from the music of late Romantic Era composers (Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Dvořák) which he interweaves or over-laps with contemporary American tunes such as “Camptown Races,” “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean,” and “Turkey in the Straw.” In five movements, the work unfolds as a quilt of diverse patches of many music quotations and styles, the most unsettling of which is heard in the explosive, raucous ending chord consisting of 11 notes sounded simultaneously.
Symphony No. 2 stayed “in the dark” until Leonard Bernstein brought it to a New York Philharmonic concert audience in 1951. The prospect of finally hearing his work half a century after it had been written appeared to annoy the introverted, eccentric composer who knew he had been more innovative and deserving of praise for his later endeavors. Still, the premiere received raves from audience and critics, while the composer stayed at home as one of a million radio listeners. Such is the ever-repeated story of the artist who is creatively ahead of his time.
LEONARD BERNSTEIN (1918 – 1990)
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
(Orchestrated by Ramin and Kostal)
From the beginning, Leonard Bernstein was a restless, adventurous soul who was raised to understand that business and success were paramount and that occupations involving the arts were off-limits. But when a relative gave the Bernstein household an old piano, his father realized that his 10-year-old son was showing an unusual talent for manipulating the piano and sent him off for formal lessons. He pursued studying piano and music through an A.B. in music at Harvard, and followed this with a year’s intensive study of composition, theory, and conducting at The Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. A short unemployment “drift” ended in 1940 when the ambitious musician was accepted at the new Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood) in Massachusetts under the its first director, Serge Koussevitsky. It was here that he conducted his first professional orchestra, which led to praise and friendships with prominent leaders of the music world. By age 25, the “whiz kid” had become assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. It was onward and upward for the ambitious, experimental dynamo with an irresistible personality. He forged together his many talents, training, and ambition, and struck out in several directions to conquer the world of music.
Bernstein left a legacy that endures and continues to thrive through an uncommonly rich and diverse catalogue of over 500 recordings and filmed appearances. His compositional output embraces every style of music — ballet, opera, choral, film scores, chamber music, Broadway shows, “classical”/symphonic traditions, and jazz. Additionally, he conducted all over the world, taught/televised at music appreciation forums, and even lent his hand to Vietnam protests and support of “Black Panthers.” Because of the latter, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI monitored his non-music involvements. The grand, all-encompassing musician finished off his career by conducting at the Berkshire Music Center where he had begun his rise to fame 50 years earlier.
As early as 1949, Bernstein and friends Jerome Robbins (choreographer) and Arthur Laurents (librettist) had batted around the idea of creating a musical retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The time period was established amid the tensions of rival, lower class social groups in modern New York City. Originally intended to focus on a doomed love affair between a Jewish girl and a Catholic boy, the idea simmered for several years before the trio ultimately realized that the religious differences had become extraneous. Cultural differences and gang frictions seemed a better fit as a focus of the 1950s. The collaborators thus decided that the action would center on a ghetto in New York’s Upper West Side, where a Polish-American boy falls in love with a Puerto Rican girl in a musical plot borrowing from the story line of Romeo and Juliet.
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story was first performed by the New York Philharmonic in an all-Bernstein concert in 1961, four years after the Broadway opening of West Side Story. The songs of the musical had become popular standards, and the dance music was felt to be sophisticated and polished enough to find its way into the concert hall. The following dances from the show are included in the suite: Prologue- a rivalry between the Sharks and the Jets; Somewhere- a dream sequence in which Tony and Maria imagine a place with no strife; Scherzo- the gangs break out of the city into open space, fresh air, and sunshine; Mambo- A section of the Dance at the Gym; Cha-Cha- the lovers’ first meeting, based on the song “Maria;” Cool- the Jets anticipate a fight and try to control their hostility; Rumble- a fight ending in the death of the gang leaders; Finale- music from the final scene in which the rival gang members cooperate in slowly carrying off the body of slain Tony.
Notes researched and written by Joan Olsson
1910 — 1981
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra 1940
Samuel Barber was born in 1910 into a comfortable, educated and socially distinguished family that included an opera-singing aunt and a composing uncle. Samuel wrote his first composition at age 7 and his first opera at age 10. Well-trained in piano and organ technique, the 12-year-old filled a post as a church organist but was forced to resign because he refused to acknowledge fermatas (holds) in playing hymns. At 14 he entered the newly established Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where he majored in piano, voice and composition. Nine years later he graduated with honors. Mary Curtis Bok, (head of Curtis), G. Schirmer, Gian Carlo Menotti and Leonard Bernstein had already performed some of his compositions.
An introduction to Arturo Toscanini was a page-turning event; the young Barber was the first American composer to work alongside the great conductor. From then on the path was clear for international recognition and many commissions were offered by prominent artists, performers and ensembles, enabling Barber to sustain his livelihood by composing.
Barber died of cancer in 1981 while living abroad and was buried in the family plot in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
Concerto for Violin, op.14, First Movement
This concerto begins immediately with the violin soloist strumming the first note and a single, uninterrupted phrase of 27 bars, right up to the point where a fresh theme by the clarinet makes its appearance with a perky, syncopated figure. The rhythm of this theme is known as a “Scotch Snap,” giving the impression of American jazz. Sometimes the composer burst forth in a somewhat belligerent manner but the two themes return with great warmth and lyricism before returning to the first theme. The movement ends with a brief clarinet recollection of the opening theme.
1906 — 1985
Concertino for Marimba and Orchestra 1940
Paul Creston was born Giuseppe Guttoveggio in New York City in 1906, son of immigrants from Sicily. As a child Creston visited Sicily where he was exposed to the folk songs and dances of Sicilian peasants and his love of music was awakened. He persuaded his parents to provide piano and organ lessons and soon surpassed the ability of his teachers. By age 14 he began to compose but dreams of a musical career were cut short at age 15 when he was forced to drop out of high school to help support his family. He still spent all his free time practicing the piano, studying theory, composition, music literature, and history, literature and philosophy. In order to stay awake he smoked ground coffee beans.
His nickname was “Cress,” derived from playing the part of Crespino in a school play, so he decided to “Americanize” his name and changed it to Paul Creston.
The school dropout’s diligence in the self-study of music paid off. At age 20 he was hired as a theater organist for silent movies and was appointed organist of St. Malachi’s Church in New York, a post he held for the next 33 years.
At age 34 Creston worked as musical director of several radio programs, including the Philco Hall of Fame and Storyland Theater. He reaped awards for work in radio and television and an Emmy citation for his score for the 1964 documentary, American Grain. He also wrote a number of books.
The self-made composer-writer-musician was diagnosed with cancer in 1983 and died in California in 1985.
Concertino for Marimba, First Movement
Creston often chose unusual instruments for his compositions — trombone, saxophone and marimba. This Concertino was thus designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the marimba as a solo instrument, and it emphasized song and dance rhythms. The First Movement is marked “Vigorous” and is based on two themes, one of which is strongly rhythmic while the other is very lyrical. An orchestra introduction precedes the solo.
1810 — 1856
Piano concerto in a minor, op. 54 1845
Robert Schumann, son of middle class parents, was a self-taught composer with no musicians in his family history. Yet he easily found his way around the piano keyboard and became an improviser with song material at his fingertips. By age 16 he had become a good pianist and self-taught composer and was placed with one of the foremost piano teachers of the time, Friedrich Wieck.
A long, troubled courtship of Wieck’s daughter Clara led to a successful marriage and partnership. He composed while his acclaimed, professional pianist-wife introduced his works to the public.
Piano Concerto in a minor, first movement
This movement was actually composed originally as a Fantasie and is a fantasy in structure. Early in the movement a poetic melody is introduced by the wind instruments and taken over by the piano. This theme is expanded and transformed and may be regarded as a second theme. The fantasia section follows this with an extended cadenza for the piano leading to a coda that makes use of the main theme.
JEAN (JAN) SIBELIUS
1865 — 1957
Symphony No. 5, op. 82, in Eb major 1915, 1918
Son of musically trained parents, the 5-year-old Sibelius began experimenting with harmonies and melodies on the piano. By age 14 his interest had shifted to the violin, saying, “The piano does not sing as does the violin.” A lover of both nature and the violin, young Sibelius often took to the woods and spent hours trying to duplicate the sounds of nature on his violin.
He entered Helsinki’s Institute of Music, soon outgrowing its limited offerings and he accepted a grant to study in Berlin and Vienna. During this time he realized his instrumental proficiencies were too limited to reach the level needed for a concert violinist’s career. Disappointed, he moved to compositional studies where his aptitude was recognized as exceptional. After 1900 he received a stipend from the Finnish government to devote himself exclusively to composing.
Sibelius’ works display a deep devotion to his country by his images of huge blackish pine trees, windy, icy landscapes and the melancholy, silent images of fjords and forests. He also paid homage to the sounds and rhythms of Finnish folk songs, but his most famous composition is the nationalistic Finlandia, a patriotic response to oppression under Czarist Russia.
Finland awarded Sibelius national hero status and the composer returned the honor by creating seven symphonies, one concerto, a collection of tone poems, chamber and choral music, and incidental music for plays.
In order for the composer to work undistracted, the Finnish government provided him a small life-long pension in 1897. For the next 28 years he composed and concertized throughout Europe and America but at age 60 he ceased composing for reasons never disclosed and was musically silent until his death in 1957.
Symphony No. 5
Written in the second year of World War I, the symphony was finished at a time of great difficulty for the composer. The annual grant had lost its purchasing power, and in order to put food on the table and provide home heat, the composer had to do “hack work.” Fortunately, the government came through with a 1915 commission for Symphony No. 5.
The First Movement is built of germinal ideas and developed from embryo to full growth as the work progresses. The first idea is an ascending theme for horn, and the second is a stark motive for the woodwinds against quivering strings. The third motive is a bright, triumphant passage for 3 horns.
A Scherzo Movement with a lilting theme by woodwinds follows without pause from the first movement. The music gains in momentum until it erupts in a climax of shattering force.
Two major themes dominate the Third Movement — a lyrical one by violas, followed by horns in a climax of powerful dimensions.
Steven Errante, conductor
Unless indicated, all program notes are researched and written by Dr. Steven Errante.