Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Beethoven’s sketchbooks show how many different versions he would make before being satisfied, but this effort sometimes continued even after the music was performed. In the case of his sole opera Fidelio, the overture went through a number of versions, and comparing them allows us to see the composer searching for the right proportions and dramatic structure. His first two versions (Leonore No. 2 and No. 3) used the same musical ideas, but in No. 3 the time scale was extended- passages which built up tension were given more time, climaxes were more powerful, to the point at which it overwhelmed the first few scenes of the opera. Realizing the problem, Beethoven eventually went on to write two more versions (using different musical materials), ultimately settling on the more lightweight work known today as the Fidelio Overture. Leonore No. 3 has special significance for me because it was on the first concert I conducted with the Wilmington Symphony back in the fall of 1986.
Concerto in E minor for violoncello and orchestra, Op. 85
Edward Elgar (1857- 1934)
One of Elgar’s last major works, it composed in the aftermath of World War I. The first movement has what I can only describe as a “somber lilt,” a kind of autumnal melancholy that pervades the music.
“Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio” from La Clemenza di Tito
W. A. Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Written in haste for a lucrative commission during Mozart’s last year of life, La Clemenza di Tito has been overshadowed by his concurrent project, The Magic Flute. In the aria “Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio,” Sestus (a castrato role) agrees to execute an assassination at the bidding of his beloved Vitellia. In addition to his dramatic writing for the voice, Mozart elevates the clarinet from a member of the orchestra in the pit to a character on stage.
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”
Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828)
Franz Schubert (who, as a 17-year old, reportedly sold his text-books to pay for a ticket to see Beethoven’s Fidelio), wrote symphonies that continued the classical style of his predecessors Haydn and Mozart. But in the Symphony No. 8, one can feel new winds blowing. The shadowy beginning of the first movement has a subtle agitation and gradual unfolding that makes it understandable that this symphony was an audience favorite in the second half of the 19th century. And this was despite Schubert having only completed two movements out of the expected four. In the serene second movement, one of my favorite passages is the long oboe solo (the second theme) that drifts over a kaleidoscopic series of key changes in the string accompaniment. It has a relaxed pacing that is more characteristic of the Romantic period.
Donna Diana Overture
Emil von Reznicek (1860 – 1945)
Reznicek unfortunately comes to us as a one-hit wonder despite the large amount of music he composed. He was a contemporary of Richard Strauss but never achieved the success of his more extroverted contemporary. If Reznicek’s popular Donna Diana Overture, with its non-stop good spirits and sparkling orchestration, is any indication, some of his other works deserve attention.