Click on a concert title or scroll down for detailed notes by Don Adkins.
March 22 & 23
May 17 & 18
Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus
Cheryl Anderson, choral director
Lei Xu, soprano
Renee Tatum, mezzo-soprano
Mario Chang, tenor
Ryan Speedo-Green, baritone
Concert 1 – CELEBRATION
Saturday, October 5, 8 pm Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Sunday, October 6, 2 pm Mello Center, Watsonville
Overture to Die Fledermaus, Op. 362 (1874)
Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899)
The operetta in the 1800s and early 1900s served the same basic function as our American musical does today. Entertainment was usually the primary goal and story lines often involved material to which audiences could easily relate. The most common German language operetta was the singspiel which featured spoken dialogue between the musical numbers. Die Fledermaus is the most popular of all singspiels because of both its great humor and, more importantly, the music of Johann Strauss Jr.
Johann Strauss Sr. was an extremely successful composer and performer based in Vienna but he discouraged his three sons from the business of music. All three ignored him and Junior soon eclipsed his father in every way. Strauss Jr., the “Waltz King,” was widely acclaimed for his dance music which included not only his well-known waltzes but just as many other dances, such as polkas, not involving three beats to the measure. He usually wrote the dances rapidly with the assistance of orchestrators and copyists who also played in his orchestras. These pieces were often performed that night. His evening schedule would usually include appearances at several different venues in Vienna where his dance orchestras were playing.
Strauss’ ability to write great melodies in such large numbers and with great rapidity was envied by the greatest composers of his time. Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss expressed admiration for his music and, especially, his ability to write memorable melodies so effortlessly. His dance orchestras undertook long tours that were met with an adulation that would make today’s popular musicians extremely jealous. Strauss reported that one of his performances in Boston was held in a specially built concert hall that could hold an audience of 100,000 people and a choir of 20,000. 100 assistant conductors helped Strauss, who was on a platform 100 feet in the air, lead the concert. A cannon shot signaled the beginning of the concert. Strauss, terrified by the situation, said that when he gave the signal to start the Blue Danube, “there broke out an unholy row such as I shall never forget.” These tours sometimes lasted so long that his players would rebel because they missed their families and wanted to return home.
Strauss also wrote sixteen operettas of which Die Fledermaus, The Bat, was the third. The libretto for Die Fledermaus comes from a French comedy used by Jacques Offenbach which is based on a German comedy. The loose plot involves a Dr. Falke who had, before the operetta begins, been made the butt of a practical joke involving a bat costume by his friend Eisenstein. Falke gets his revenge by persuading Eisenstein, his wife and maid to attend a party disguised as different people. Many hilarious complications occur because of mistaken identities and Falke gets his revenge on his friends when they are thrown in a jail run by an especially funny drunken jailor. Everyone except Eisenstein is eventually released and all is forgiven. The overture is a pastiche of five different tunes from the operetta including one of the great waltzes. Due to a bad economy, Die Fledermaus initially ran for only sixteen performances before it closed. After that it immediately became a staple of opera houses around the world including in Vienna where, on New Year’s Eve, it is now presented by several opera houses at the same time.
Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503 (1786)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Even though Vienna during the 1780s was the largest city in Germany and Austria, 230,000 people, it didn’t come close to the size of London, Paris or Naples. The nobility, while in residence, made up about three percent of the population and the upper middle class was slightly larger at four percent. Over ninety percent of the typical concert and opera audiences often came from these two groups who had a long tradition of concert attendance, were quite sophisticated in their musical tastes and were willing to pay extravagantly for quality music. Together with the Catholic Church, these groups strongly supported the activities of musicians in Vienna, making this city a magnet for many successful composers and performers. When Mozart moved in 1781 from a secure job in Salzburg to be a free-lance composer/performer in Vienna, he did so knowing that the possibilities of creative and financial success were extremely high in this exciting atmosphere.
Mozart’s output during the years 1784-86 included twelve piano concertos for his own performance. The quality and quantity of compositions he produced just during 1786 was remarkable even for Mozart: The Impresario, The Marriage of Figaro, four piano concertos, a piano quartet, a horn concerto, three piano trios, a piano duet sonata, the Symphony No. 38 “Prague” and a concert aria. He wrote the symphony in preparation for a trip to Prague where a production of The Marriage of Figaro, already a smash hit, guaranteed Mozart the most jubilant reception of his career. He wrote Piano Concerto No. 25 at the same time as the symphony and put the finishing touches on both within two days of each other in December. The fact that he wrote both at the same time explains many similarities between the two. It is also probably the reason that the manuscript of the concerto, uncommonly for Mozart, contains substantial corrections. Mozart was in the habit of not committing his compositions to paper until they were worked out in his head which resulted in manuscripts free from changes, as found in final drafts. The task of keeping two major works in process at the same time appears to have been a bit of a struggle, even for Mozart.
Piano Concerto No. 25 is the longest of his piano concertos and one of his most difficult. It demonstrates a radical shift in his concerto style from a more entertaining operatic style to a symphonic approach. Instead of music that is direct, humorous, charming and lyric, Mozart provides us with a convoluted work that expresses loftier sentiments. The soloist no longer completely dominates but is asked to play the challenging piano part in the service of the orchestral sound. Mozart’s audiences would have been puzzled by a less-entertaining piano concerto where the soloist was not always the center of attention. Noted music scholar H.C. Robbins Landon thought this concerto was “one of the grandest, most difficult and most symphonic of them all,” and pointed out “the complete negation of any deliberate virtuoso elements.” It is because of these factors that this is the least-known of his great piano concertos. The concerto was first played in Vienna in 1787 and then not played there again until 1934. It received few performances anywhere else until after World War II when it was finally recognized as one of the greatest piano concertos ever written. Even now it is not performed nearly as often as its more engaging siblings.
The opening of the concerto, which fully utilizes the large trumpets and drums orchestra, is often compared to the opening of Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter.” Mozart scholar Cuthbert Girdlestone thought this concerto revealed Mozart at the same height of his symphonic powers as in the later Jupiter. Eric Blom, on the other hand, labeled it “frigid and unoriginal.” The composer Oliver Messiaen believed that “the first movement is without a doubt the most finely wrought, the most perfect of all the first movements of Mozart’s concertos.” Many writers point out the similarities between the main theme and that of Beethoven’s much later Symphony No. 5 which is interesting but not significant. It is also fun to notice that a secondary theme sounds suspiciously like a part of the Marseillaise, which would become the theme song of the French Revolution several years later. The main theme of the last movement is a gavotte from his opera Idomeneo with a few light-hearted notes removed. This theme was probably on Mozart’s mind because, although he had written this opera five years earlier, he had considered revising it in January of 1786.
Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36 (1877)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Tchaikovsky revealed his own artistic credo in criticizing the music of Brahms: “He never speaks out his musical ideas to the end....He excites and irritates our musical senses without wishing to satisfy them, and seems ashamed to speak the language which goes straight to the heart.” Tchaikovsky, the prototypical Romantic musician, will never be accused of being ashamed to speak “the language which goes straight to the heart.” Many composers managed to keep the difficulties of their lives out of their music; Tchaikovsky was not one of these. His struggles with his homosexuality in the intolerant atmosphere of Tsarist Russia and gambling problems caused him intense emotional anguish. The paranoia he suffered from these situations can be seen in his diaries, where he often referred to both his homosexuality and depression from gambling with the symbol “xxx.”
Tchaikovsky wrote of the conflict between life and art in a letter to his patroness Mme von Meck, who began supporting him just as he began work on Symphony No. 4: “An artist lives a double life, an everyday human life and an artistic life, and the two do not always go hand in hand.... It is absolutely necessary for a composer to shake off all the cares of daily existence, at least for a time, and give himself up entirely to his art-life.” In the case of Symphony No. 4, Tchaikovsky was unable to follow his own advice. The symphony speaks directly of all of his experiences that took place in what could be considered the worst year of his life. Tchaikovsky was hard at work on his opera Eugene Onegin, based on a story by Pushkin. The heroine, Tatiana, reveals her love to Onegin, who cruelly rebuffs her. This unkind action was shocking to Tchaikovsky who clearly favored Tatiana throughout the opera. In real life, Tchaikovsky received ardent love letters from a conservatory student, Antonina Miliukov. He could not hurt her feelings or, when she threatened suicide, endanger her life; so he agreed to marry her. Tchaikovsky attempted to explain to her his sexual preferences and how this would affect their marriage. His inability to clearly verbalize the situation and her complete innocence in anything sexual created more confusion than understanding. The marriage was a disaster. He fled the house after just a month and didn’t return until the end of the summer. Things were no better when he returned although his wife continued to believe that she could make their marriage work. He finally had a hysterical breakdown that is given different degrees of severity depending on whose letters you read. After he recovered sufficiently, a meeting occurred between Tchaikovsky, his wife and several friends, when it was explained to her that they would permanently separate. He never saw his wife again, and she eventually died in an insane asylum believing that the failure of their marriage was due to the interference of his friends.
Not only did he feel isolated in his personal life but he also must have felt separated from his fellow Russian composers. The group of Russian composers that included Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Borodin looked upon themselves as true Russian artists attempting to express their nationalism through music. They looked upon Tchaikovsky with suspicion because of his polished technique and strong ties to the Western musical tradition. Although he also used Russian folk music as a source for many of his compositions, he did not invoke the peasantry as did Mussorgsky. He sought to give his music a distinctly Russian character that crossed all classes of society. Because of the more “classical” nature of his work, Tchaikovsky used folk melodies that were more rounded and symmetrical than the exotic, more primitive tunes favored by the Russian nationalists. In a letter to Tolstoy, he thanked the famous novelist for sending some peasant songs but pointed out how they were not correctly notated because they were too regular in rhythm and phrase lengths and written in standard keys rather than the more exotic church modes favored in original Russian folk music.
Symphony No. 4 demonstrates both Tchaikovsky’s acceptance of current Western techniques and his willingness to utilize folk materials. The opening Fate theme reappears in the last movement, unifying the entire symphony in much the same way favored by Berlioz and Liszt. The last movement also quotes the Russian folk song “Over in the meadow stands an old birch-tree.” The third movement pizzicato was probably directly inspired by the balalaika orchestras that are so important to Russian culture.
Tchaikovsky wrote a long, confidential letter to Mme von Meck explaining the meaning of his symphony. Although his description might have been arrived at after the creation of the music, as was sometimes the case in many programmatic works, it reveals much about his creative process:
“Our Symphony has a program. That is to say it is possible to express its content in words, and I will tell you – and you alone – the meaning of its entire work and separate movements. Naturally I can only do so as regards its general features.
“I. Andante sostenuto. Moderato con anima. The Introduction is the kernel, the quintessence, the chief thought of the whole symphony. This is Fate, the fatal power which hinders one in the pursuit of happiness from gaining the goal, which jealously determines that peace and comfort do not prevail, that the sky is not free from clouds – a might that swings, like the sword of Damocles, constantly over the head, which poisons continually the soul. This might is overpowering and invincible. There is nothing to do but to submit and vainly complain. The feeling of despondency and despair grows ever stronger and more passionate. It is better to turn from the realities and to lull one's self in dreams. O Joy! What a fine sweet dream! A radiant being, promising happiness, floats before me and beckons me. The importunate first theme of the Allegro is now heard afar off, and now the soul is wholly enwrapped with dreams. There is no thought of gloom and cheerlessness. Happiness! Happiness! Happiness! No, they are only dreams, and Fate dispels them. The whole of life is only a constant alternation between dismal reality and flattering dreams of happiness. There is no port; you will be tossed hither and thither by the waves, until the sea swallows you. Such is the program, in substance, of the first movement.
“II. Andantino in modo di canzona. The second movement shows another phase of sadness. Here is that melancholy feeling that enwraps one when he sits at night alone in the house exhausted by work; the book that he had taken to read has slipped from his hand; a swarm of reminiscences has arisen. How sad it is that so much has already been and gone! And yet it is a pleasure to think of the early years. One mourns the past and has neither the courage nor the will to begin a new life. One is rather tired of life. One would fain rest awhile, recalling happy hours when young blood pulsed warm through our veins and life brought satisfaction. We remember irreparable loss. But these things are far away. It is sad, yet sweet, to lose one’s self in the past.
“III. Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato, Allegro. There is no determined feeling, no exact expression in the third movement. Here are capricious arabesques, vague figures that slip into the imagination when one has taken wine and is slightly intoxicated. The mood is now gay, now mournful. One thinks about nothing; one gives the fancy loose rein, and there is pleasure in drawings of marvelous lines. Suddenly rush into the imagination the picture of a drunken peasant and a gutter song. Military music is heard passing by in the distance. These are disconnected pictures that come and go in the brain of the sleeper. They have nothing to do with reality; they are unintelligible, bizarre, out-at-the elbows.
“IV. Finale: Allegro con fuoco. If you find no pleasure in yourself, look about you. Go to the people. See how well they know how to be jolly, how they surrender themselves to gaiety. The picture of a folk holiday. Scarcely have you forgotten yourself, scarcely have you had time to be absorbed in the happiness of others, before untiring Fate again announces its approach. The other children of men are not concerned with you. They neither see nor feel that you are lonely and sad. How they enjoy themselves, how happy they are! And will you maintain that everything in the world is sad and gloomy? There still is happiness, simple, naive happiness.
“This is all that I can tell you, my dear friend, about the symphony. Rejoice in the happiness of others – and you can still live. My words naturally are not sufficiently clear and exhaustive. It is the characteristic feature of instrumental music that it does not allow analysis.”
Concert 2 – FANTASY & FATE
Saturday, November 16, 8 pm Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Sunday, November 17, 2 pm Mello Center, Watsonville
Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose) (1908, 1911)
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
It seems impossible that many of Ravel’s great orchestral works were first created for solo piano, then later orchestrated. The orchestrated works are so detailed and varied that hearing them on the piano is like experiencing an entirely new piece. Ravel was a master of the technique of orchestration and reveled in the art of invention rather than personal expression. This precision and craftsmanship (Stravinsky described him as a “Swiss watchmaker of music”) resulted in music that conveys a sense of beauty and variety more than a depth of emotion.
Ravel’s personal life was much like his musical life except when he was around children. He would often visit his relatives only to find himself on the floor playing with the children or demonstrating some new mechanical wind-up toy he had found for them. He loved this innocent world of children and displayed a warmth for them that was far beyond his normal relationships with adults.
Ravel wrote Ma Mere l’Oye for one-piano four-hands in 1908, the same time he was completing the highly complex Gaspard de la Nuit. It was dedicated to the son and daughter of his friends Jean and Mimi Godebski. Ravel wrote: “It was my intention to evoke the poetry of childhood, and this naturally led to my simplifying my manner and style of writing.” The public premiere of the piano duo version in Paris 1910 was played by two girls, both age 10. By this time, Ravel was well known for works such as Pavane pour une Infante defunte, Alborada del gracioso, the string quartet, Rapsodie espagnole, and the opera L’Heure espagnole. He wrote a charming letter after the performance to one of the young pianists, Jeanne Leleu: “Mademoiselle: When you have become a great virtuoso and I am either an old fogey covered with honours, or else completely forgotten, you will perhaps have pleasant memories of having given an artist the rare happiness of hearing a work of his, of a rather unusual nature, interpreted exactly as it should be. Thank you a thousand times for your childlike and sensitive performance of Ma Mere L’Oye.”
Ravel later conceived of a ballet using the five main pieces interspersed with interludes, which was premiered in 1912. The orchestral suite consists of the ballet’s orchestration of the five major sections without the additional interludes:
I. Pavane de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty)
A dreamlike opening of delicate fanfares suggesting “the horns of Elfland faintly blowing.” The episodes follow without pause.
II. Petit Poucet (Hop-o’ My Thumb)
“He thought he would be able to find the path easily by means of the bread he had strewn wherever he had walked. But he was quite surprised when he was unable to find a single crumb; the birds had come and eaten them all.” By Charles Perrault
III. Laideronnette, Imperatrice des Pagodes (The Ugly Little Girl, Empress of the Pagoda)
A former princess made ugly by a wicked witch has hidden in a faraway castle. She undertakes a journey, with a prince turned into an ugly green serpent, to the land of the Pagodas – tiny people with bodies made of jewels, crystal, and porcelain. Both prince and princess are restored to their original form and are married. Ravel’s music delicately describes the following episode in the story.
“She undressed and got into the bath. Immediately the toy mandarins and mandarinesses began to sing and to play instruments. Some had theorbos made from walnut shells; some had viols made from almond shells; for the instruments had to be of a size appropriate to their own.” By Mme d’Aulnoy, Serpentin Vert.
IV. Les entretiens de la Belle et de la Bete (Conversation of the Beauty and the Beast)
The following conversation takes place:
“When I think of your good heart, you do not seem so ugly.”
“Oh, I should say so! I have a good heart, but I am a monster.”
“There are many men who are more monstrous than you.”
“If I were witty I would pay you a great compliment to thank you, but I am only a beast.”
“Beauty, would you like to be my wife?”
“I die happy because I have the pleasure of seeing you once again.”
“No, my dear Beast, you shall not die. You shall live to become my husband.”
“...The Beast had disappeared, and she beheld at her feet a prince more handsome than the God of Love, who was thanking her for having lifted his spell.” By Mme Leprince de Beaumont.
V. Le jardin feerique (The Fairy Garden)
Sleeping Beauty is awakened by Prince Charming in a magnificent fairyland garden. A joyous fanfare accompanies the gathering of the other characters about the couple as they are blessed by the Good Fairy.
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107 (1959)
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
The great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich first met Shostakovich when he won first prize at the All-Union Competition for Performers in December 1945. Shostakovich was the chairman of the jury that awarded the prize and later helped Rostropovich purchase his first concert outfit. They celebrated the event by drinking large quantities of the local moonshine which they characterized as “near lethal.” Rostropovich was a faithful friend who made several personal sacrifices and risked political censure from Stalin’s regime by supporting Shostakovich through several run-ins with the government’s committees overseeing artistic standards for the Soviet Union. Rostropovich had dreamed for years that Shostakovich would write a cello concerto for him but was counseled by Shostakovich’s first wife: “The only recipe I can give you is this: Never ask him or talk to him about it.” Rostropovich heeded her advice with great difficulty and was eventually rewarded with the first cello concerto fourteen years later followed by another cello concerto and a cello sonata.
Rostropovich remembered the days after he first received the concerto: “Shostakovich gave me the manuscript of the First Cello Concerto on August 2, 1959. On August 6th I played it for him from memory, three times. After the first time he was so excited, and of course we drank a little bit of vodka. The second time I played it not so perfect, and afterwards we drank even more vodka. The third time I think I played the Saint-Saëns Concerto, but he still accompanied his Concerto. We were enormously happy....”
Shostakovich expressed his admiration for his good friend: “In general, Rostropovich is a real Russian; he knows everything and he can do everything. Anything at all. I’m not even talking about music here, I mean that Rostropovich can do almost any manual or physical work, and he understands technology.” The two were neighbors in the Composer’s House in Moscow for a number of years until Rostropovich and his wife defected to the West in 1974, one year before Shostakovich’s death. Rostropovich continued to champion the music of his friend until his death in 2007.
Shostakovich was inspired to write the cello concerto by Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra which was completed with the collaboration of Rostropovich. Shostakovitch had a recording of the work and said that he played it so many times that he wore it out. Shostakovich hid one of two political messages in the cello concerto by using the theme of “Procession to Execution” from his film music to The Young Guard (1948) at the beginning of the concerto, in the “jocular” march that follows and in the last movement. This four-note theme is also a musical representation of Shostakovich’s name which is a telling comment on how insecure he must have felt under Stalin’s regime in 1948. The second message is also found in the last movement which includes an ironic version of Stalin’s favorite folk song, Suliko which Shostakovich earlier used in his musical satire Rayok. Shostakovich fragmented the melody so thoroughly that even Rostropovich did not recognize it at first. Stalin, dead for the past six years, was still a threat in Shostakovich's mind.
The concerto was premiered in 1959 in Leningrad with Rostropovich playing under the direction of the great Soviet conductor and supporter of Shostakovich, Yevgeny Mravinsky. It was played again by Rostropovich five days later in Moscow. Then things took what must have seemed like a weird turn considering the political realities of the time. Shostakovich was a member of the Soviet delegation that toured seven American cities from October 22 to November 21 1959. This was a high-profile cultural exchange program under the direction of the U.S. State Department. On November 6, Rostropovich played the concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Shostakovich was in the audience and stayed to supervise the first recording made of the concerto. As was the case in on a similar trip ten years earlier, Shostakovich was never comfortable in the United States. In stark contrast to the good humor of his Soviet colleagues, reporter Walter Arlen described Shostakovich as “highly nervous, a chain smoker with darting eyes and fidgeting hands, ill at ease and seemingly anxious most of the time.” Shostakovich refused to say anything against the Soviet Union’s frequent criticism of his music and used obviously well-prepared statements in support of the changes he made under the guidance of the Composer’s Union. When he returned to the Soviet Union he wrote an article praising American musicians, thanking the United States for its hospitality and interest in the Soviet Union, and cautioning young composers to write music that would express the inner world of the human being.
Several musical features stand out in this concerto. Although it is listed as having four movements, the last three are played as one. The third movement is for unaccompanied cello which can be called a long cadenza but actually serves an important, dynamic structural function by tying the different movements together and propelling the whole work into the last movement. The orchestration is a bit unusual in that only one brass instrument, a horn, is used. The horn frequently takes on a variety of important roles throughout the concerto. The ferocity of the concerto’s ending was described by the Sovietskaya Kultura as depicting “the will to live, victory in the struggle for happiness.” Lev Ginsburg, an important writer on the cello and its literature, observed that the ending “bears a vivid, life-asserting character, developed out of the intensely dramatic content of the entire work; it is an affirmation of life, triumph in the struggle for fulfillment.” It is not clear whether or not Shostakovich would have agreed with these assessments.
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 (1808)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is the most familiar musical work in the world. How can a piece of music written by a 19th-century German speak so convincingly to people of different cultures and times? The use of a concise four-note theme can be found in the music of all cultures. The highly-charged rhythmic spirit of this symphony summons primal instincts in us all. The abstract world it creates fosters as many interpretations as there are listeners. Yet it is obvious to even the most diversified audience that the opening theme is a powerful and individualistic statement with no compromises. Beethoven is supposed to have said of this theme: “Thus fate knocks at the door.” The Allies in World War II confirmed its universality by using the opening theme as a propaganda tool. What would this German patriot have thought of his music being used as the “V for Victory” signature by the enemies of his country? Considering his loathing of kings and despots, Beethoven probably would have approved.
The beginnings of Beethoven’s work on his fifth symphony can be traced back as far as 1801, although it is generally agreed that 1804 is the year in which sketches appeared with any regularity. Beethoven always worked on several pieces at the same time. Along with Symphony No. 5, work progressed on the opera Fidelio, two piano sonatas, the Piano Concerto in G Major, and the Triple Concerto. Beethoven interrupted his work on the symphony to compose Symphony No. 4 in 1806. It is thought that he realized that his newest symphony would not be as well received as was his third symphony, so he decided to offer a less demanding work to the public. Symphony No. 4 provided this breathing room between his third and fifth symphonies.
The premiere of Symphony No. 5 took place in Vienna at an “Akademie,” a concert of Beethoven’s music given with the expressed purpose of earning him a large sum of money. During preparations for an earlier concert the month before, Beethoven had been so carried away while conducting a rehearsal that he knocked over a choirboy who was holding some lighted candles. The orchestra was so angry at Beethoven’s rude behavior that it refused to rehearse his next concert unless he was out of the room. After a particular section had been played, the concertmaster would go outside to receive suggestions from Beethoven, who was listening at the door. The young soprano brought in at the last moment to sing an aria was so terrified of Beethoven that she was unable to get through the rehearsal. None of the works on this unbelievably long concert received a complete run-through in rehearsal. The program included, in their entirety, all of the following works of Beethoven: the fifth and sixth symphonies, Choral Fantasia, Piano Concerto No. 3, the aria Ah! perfido, three numbers from his Mass in C Major and some solo piano improvisations performed by Beethoven. The atrocious performances, the antics of Beethoven such as shouting at the orchestra to stop and start over during the Choral Fantasia, the failure of the heating system and the sheer length of the concert overshadowed any comments on the success of Symphony No. 5. It was fortunate this event took place in Vienna, where the public was used to Beethoven’s eccentricities.
The symphony did not fare well in its first performances outside of Vienna either. Both audiences and players were befuddled and amused. When the Philharmonic Society of London first rehearsed the symphony, the players burst into laughter and the conductor laid it aside as “rubbish.” Familiarity with the music, however, revealed its power to all. The same conductor of the Philharmonic Society, the famous Salomon who had earlier brought Haydn to London, rehearsed the first movement two or three years later and stated: “Gentlemen, some years ago I called this symphony rubbish. I wish to retract every word I then said, as I now consider it one of the greatest compositions I have ever heard.”
The youthful Hector Berlioz reported the effect this symphony had on his teacher, who was not a Beethoven enthusiast: “The next day I hurried around to see him [Lesueur]….But it was easy to see that my companion was no longer the man who had spoken to me the day before [the concert]….I dragged from him a further acknowledgement of how deeply Beethoven’s symphony had moved him, at which he suddenly shook his head and smiled in a curious way and said, ‘All the same, music like that ought not to be written.’ ‘Don’t worry, master,’ I replied, ‘there is not much danger.’”
Concert 3 – IMMORTAL LOVE
Saturday, January 25, 8 pm Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Sunday, January 26, 2 pm Mello Center, Watsonville
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, (Songs of a Wayfarer) (1885)
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Songs of a Wayfarer, written three years before his first symphony, was the pinnacle of young Mahler’s compositions up to this point. His career began as a 15-year old student at the Vienna Conservatory where he won prizes in both piano and composition. His student friends admired his talent at song-writing, often referring to him as “our Schubert.” After graduation he went through a series of conducting jobs in provincial opera houses in Germany and Austria that he often viewed as drudge work. By age 23 he was assistant conductor of the Kassel Opera where he became infatuated with Johanna Richter, an alto in the chorus whose difficult personality kept the inexperienced Mahler painfully off balance.
He wrote a series of four poems during this ill-fated relationship in the style of his favorite set of folk-like poems, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The basic emotional arc of his poetry reveals the passion of youthful Romanticism. A young hero, betrayed by his sweetheart, is driven by grief to wander the countryside while experiencing a wide range of conflicting emotional states. When Johanna made it clear that things were over between them, a devastated Mahler (he described himself as an “exile of love”) set the poems for low voice and piano with the accompaniment ultimately planned to be played by orchestra. He wrote in 1885: “The songs are planned as a whole in such a way that it is as if a fated traveling journeyman now sets out into the world and wanders aimlessly.” He completed the orchestration sometime in the early 1890s but didn’t first perform Songs of a Wayfarer until 1896 after, typical of Mahler’s work habits, numerous revisions.
Songs of a Wayfarer, although written early in his career, is an important statement of his personality and artistic approach that continued throughout the rest of his compositions. This is due both to the musical content and, perhaps more importantly, the fact that he actually wrote all of the poems. The examination of his later works often reveals references to earlier pieces. Symphony No. 1 contains several examples of his tendency toward self-quotation. His borrowings from Songs of a Wayfarer include song number two which is the main theme of the symphony’s first movement and comes back in the last movement. He also uses song number four as the third theme in the third movement. If you know the texts of the songs, their appearance in the symphony elevates the instrumental music to another level of meaning. Other aspects of Songs of a Wayfarer can be heard throughout the symphony such as his tendency to frequently use the large orchestra as a multi-colored chamber group and his willingness to quickly and radically change emotional qualities.
Although self-contained, each of the four songs undergoes harmonic transitions that lead, inevitably, to the next as if the piece is one long song. The first song, Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht, describes how the hero’s former beloved’s wedding day will be a sad event for him. He will stay in his room and weep even though he knows the beauty of the outside world, including blooming flowers and singing birds, is offering consolation. The second song, Ging heut Morgen über’s Feld, places the hero outside with the flowers and birds. He appears to convince himself that this happy world will allow him to move past his despair, but the end of the song brings a return to his woeful state. The third song, Ich hab’ ein glühend Messer, describes how the hero has a burning knife of despair inside of him. Everywhere he looks, he sees his beloved and longs for death. The fourth song, Die zwei blauen Augen von Meinem Schatz, begins as a funeral march. He wanders through the night and mourns that her eyes ever looked upon him. In the end the hero lies under a Linden tree, the Germanic tree of lovers, in the hope of forgetting his pain. While he dreams of a better world, he is covered with the Linden’s blossoms.
Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde (1859)
Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
The origins of Tristan and Isolde come mainly from 12th-century French poetry inspired by earlier Celtic legends. There are several variations on the basic story and its influences can be seen in other legends including the relationship of Camelot’s Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. The plot, as used by Wagner for his opera, comes from a version of the legend by the 13th-century poet Gottfried von Strassburg. It involves King Mark, his bride for political reasons Isolde, and his trusted vassal Tristan. A love potion formulated for the King and his new bride is mistakenly taken by Tristan and Isolde. Their passion and the psychological complications it creates are thoroughly explored. In the end, King Mark has Tristan murdered and Isolde wills herself to death so she can be ultimately united with her true love. The Prelude is played at the beginning of the operaand the Liebestod, which ends the opera, begins where Isolde discovers Tristan’s body.
Wagner started work on Tristan and Isolde in 1856 with the intention of creating an opera that would be easy to produce. He was working on his massive, four-opera cycle Der Ring of the Nibelungen and realized it would require resources beyond his present situation to stage. Tristan would be a project to put his music back on stage. Wagner and his wife had no money and were being housed by friends in Zurich in a cottage they called “the refuge.” Wagner and the wife of their benefactor, Mathilde, began an intense relationship which eventually led to Wagner’s separation from his wife. Wagner appears to have worked through this difficult time by utilizing this story which directly related to his own life. Wagner was also an avid reader of Arthur Schoepenhauer, a German philosopher who believed that instrumental music was the ultimate vehicle for expressing the human condition. The combination of his real-life torments and philosophical tendencies led to the creation of an opera brimming with a bewildering wealth of conflict, passion and revolutionary music. What began as a simple project turned into one of the monumental works of western music history. Wagner himself did not fully realize the difficulty of what he had created until later as evidenced by a letter he wrote to Mathilde in 1860: “Upon reading it through again, I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. . . . I’ve overstepped whatever lies within the powers of execution.”
Wagner performed the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde in concert in 1859 and then paired it with the Liebestod for another concert in 1863. The entire opera was performed in 1865 thanks to the financial support of Ludwig II King of Bavaria. Ludwig became the main financial supporter and most distinguished fan of Wagner’s operas for a number of years. Das Rheingold from Der Ring of the Nibelungen was finally performed in 1869 followed by Die Walkürie in 1870. The entire Ring was eventually produced in 1876.
By performing parts of Tristan and Isolde as purely instrumental music, Wagner demonstrated the ability of instrumental music to convey emotional meaning beyond the capability of mere words. This music was revolutionary to his audience and established a new standard for the concept of tonality in western music. The opening cello notes lead into an unresolved chord so unique that it is still known as the Tristan chord. The instability generated by the Prelude and its avoidance of tonal resolution depicts the psychological turbulence of the opera and its depiction of love and longing at its most primal level. The Liebestod, even when performed without the voice of Isolde, is an ecstatic depiction of transformation from the physical to the spiritual realm of love. As Isolde sinks into death and her union with Tristan, the unresolved chord at the beginning of the opera comes to a quiet resolution.
Selections from Romeo and Juliet (1936)
Sergei Prokofiev (1891 – 1953)
The decisions Prokofiev made during the first part of his career seem unusual to those of us who were brought up on the west side of the Iron Curtain. Why would he return to the Soviet Union knowing that his artistic freedom would be restricted? The composition of Romeo and Juliet took place at the point when he made the decision to become a Soviet citizen. Prokofiev received his early musical training from the best Russian composers and attended the prestigious St. Petersburg Conservatory at age 12. He did not readily accept the more traditional training and received average grades from the school. However, Prokofiev’s more radical approach to composition and his obvious talent placed him in the top level of modern composers before he was 20.
Prokofiev signed a contract with a major publisher in 1911 which allowed him to tour internationally including a trip to Paris in 1913. There he wrote several one-act ballets for Sergei Diaghilev and his world-famous Ballets Russes. This experience, while invaluable to the young composer, gave him unrealistic expectations of the capabilities of dance companies. Prokofiev left Russia in 1918 due to both the difficulties in living conditions created by the revolution and the intolerance he found for his modern, avant-garde music. The ensuing political climate demanded that Soviet composers write music that “paid heed to the social content” and was representative of the common people. Soviet composers were constantly under the scrutiny of critics and committees whose task was to keep Soviet artists in conformity to the standards of “Social Realism.” At the beginning of the Revolution, the People’s Commissar of Enlightenment, Anatoly Lunacharsky, recognized Prokofiev’s conflict: “You are a revolutionary in music, we are revolutionaries in life. We ought to work together. But if you want to go to America I shall not stand in your way.”
The highlight of Prokofiev’s stay in the United States was the commission for this opera The Love for Three Oranges. The process of having it produced, however, took so much time that he was unable to do other things to support himself. He began to travel back and forth between America and Europe until he decided to move to Paris in 1922 and resume work with Diaghilev. He then spent 14 years composing and living throughout Europe. During this time his compositional style became less experimental. His tours allowed him the opportunity to visit and maintained his ties with the Soviet Union. The Kirov Theater in Leningrad commissioned Prokofiev to write Romeo and Juliet in 1934 and Prokofiev decided to return to the Soviet Union in 1936. Prokofiev never completely revealed his reasons for returning because candid public statements were not always welcome in the Soviet Union. The reasons did include a sense of nostalgia and homesickness, a belief that his mature musical style had a place in the political system, and the rewards that come with being one of the top composers in a country that valued the efforts, however restricted, of its artists. The rest of Prokofiev’s career was typical of a modern Soviet composer as he balanced his desire to write modern music with the fear of condemnation by the state. It wasn’t until 1948 that his music was first condemned as “marked with formalist perversions and alien to the Soviet People.”
Romeo and Juliet immediately ran into problems due to two main issues, the perception that the music could not be danced to and a major plot change made by Prokofiev. The original ending was problematic for the ballet directors. The composer explained his initial decision to use a happy ending and his ultimate change: “In the last act Romeo comes a minute too soon and finds Juliet alive. The reason for taking such barbarous liberty with Shakespeare's play was purely choreographic: live people can dance, but the dying can hardly be expected to dance in bed....It is interesting to note that, while in London they limited themselves to stating simply that Sergei Prokofiev is writing a ballet Romeo and Juliet with a ‘happy ending,’ our Shakespeare scholars turned out to be more Catholic than the Pope and stormed in defense of the maltreated Shakespeare. Actually I was affected by something else – someone had remarked that at the end my music did not sound like ‘true happiness,’ and this was true. Therefore, after discussing the whole problem with choreographers, we found a way of ending according to the original play, and I have rewritten the music.”
Prokofiev made these changes several years after he completed the ballet. The Kirov Theater, probably due to government pressure to reject avant-garde music, backed out of their contract in 1934. The Bolshoi Ballet then picked up the contract in 1935 but then reversed that decision declaring the music too difficult to dance. Prokofiev then arranged the music in 1936 into two different suites for orchestra and ten piano works which were successfully performed in the Soviet Union. This is one of the few cases of a ballet appearing as concert music before it is staged. He then made the changes to the ending and the ballet premiered in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1938 which was an embarrassment to the Soviet government.
A year later the Kirov Theater produced the ballet in spite of several internal difficulties. The dancers, unable to understand how the music worked, at first substituted familiar melodies that they could imagine while dancing. The choreographer added music from one of Prokofiev’s piano sonatas and changed orchestrations without Prokofiev’s permission. The composer was ultimately forced to make numerous changes to the score before the production which, in spite of the tensions on stage, was an enormous success. Prokofiev then spent several years revising and polishing the score to create the ballet as performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1946. At this point he wrote: “I have taken special pains to achieve a simplicity which will, I hope, reach the hearts of all listeners. If people find no melody and no emotion in this work, I shall be very sorry—but I feel sure that sooner or later they will.” Romeo and Juliet is now considered not only Prokofiev’s greatest work but also one of the greatest ballets ever written.
Concert 4 – DANCE PRISMS
Saturday, March 22, 8 pm Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Sunday, March 23, 2 pm Mello Center, Watsonville
Rumanian Folk Dances, Sz. 68 (1917)
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály both joined the faculty of the Budapest Academy of Music in 1906-1907 and remained there for many years, working to revitalize Hungarian musical culture. A major element of this task for both musicians was the ethnomusicological study of the folk music of their native Magyar people. They would live in the country with the peasants, recording the traditional folk music on Edison cylinders. The music was then carefully notated and categorized according to structure. The first publication was the 20 Hungarian Folk Songs 1906 for voice and piano. Each composer contributed 10 songs to this collection which not only included the accompanied versions, but also the original tunes in their undisturbed form. Both composers continued this careful separation of ethnomusicological and practical publications throughout their careers.
Intensive research in Rumanian peasant music occupied Bartók for several years beginning in 1910. He recorded both songs and instrumental dance music from the Transylvanian districts of Hungary occupied by Rumanians. From this research came the small set of Rumanian Folk Dances, written in 1915. These dances must certainly be Bartók's most frequently performed music, not only in the original piano version, but in the many transcriptions which include this version for small orchestra made by Bartók in 1917.
The seven dances in the set are taken from fiddle-tunes, following the melodies without change but supplying harmonies that are more adventuresome than earlier settings of folk songs. The dances vary greatly in character from the gentle Buciumeana to the brisk Maruntels. Most Hungarian peasant music is in 2/4 time as is this set except for the 3/4 Buciumeana and the Poarga which alternates between 2/4 and 3/4. The tunes are neither major nor minor but modal, utilizing distinctive augmented seconds in two cases.
Bartók wrote in 1931: “The right type of peasant music is most varied and perfect in its forms. Its expressive power is amazing, and at the same time it is void of all sentimentality and superfluous ornaments. It is simple, sometimes primitive but never silly. It is the ideal starting point for a musical renaissance, and a composer in search of new ways cannot be led by a better master. What is the best way for a composer to reap the full benefits of his studies in peasant music? It is to assimilate the idiom of peasant music so completely that he is able to forget all about it and use it as his musical mother-tongue.
“Many people think it is easier to write a composition round folk tunes than on ‘original’ themes. This way of thought is completely erroneous. To handle folk tunes is one of the most difficult tasks; equally difficult if not more so than to write a major original composition. If we keep in mind that borrowing a tune means being bound by its individual peculiarity we shall understand one part of the difficulty. Another is created by the special character of a folk tune. We must penetrate into it, feel it, and bring it out in sharp contours by the appropriate setting. The composition round a folk tune must be a work of inspiration just as much as any composition.”
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor
J.S. Bach (1685 – 1750)
A large percentage of instrumental music written up to the middle 1600s was dance music for social occasions. The tempos, meters, characteristic rhythms and structures of these dances were determined by the type of steps that had to be executed. The instrumental forces used to play these dances were usually determined by the size of the space, the amount of money available to pay the players and what instruments were available. Composers, who often led the dance band, would usually write generic parts for the dances and let the circumstances determine what instruments would play each part. A wide variety of national and regional dances made this a cosmopolitan affair with the French and Italians dominating the style of dancing. Dances were also popular at home and were often played for entertainment by amateurs on a keyboard or guitar-like instrument.
One of the changes that took place during the Baroque period was the rise of instrumental music to a prominence earlier enjoyed by vocal music. Composers began to exploit the capabilities of specific instruments and write parts that called for more virtuosity. The utilitarian dance became a vehicle for some of these compositions. As times changed, certain dances went out of style but continued to be the basis for compositions that were now intended for listening. These dances were often organized into suites, a collection of dances in the same key. The baroque dance suite offered the composer the opportunity to write a series of short pieces that could demonstrate a specific progression of emotions invoked by the different qualities of the dances. The dance suite is one of the precursors to the classical symphony which often retained one of the dances, the minuet.
J.S. Bach’s numerous dance suites include four surviving orchestral suites. These four are written for a basic string group with keyboard continuo and various combinations of wind and percussion instruments. We do not know when these suites were written but can identify two different situations that would have fostered their creation and performance. Bach worked for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen 1717-23. The Prince was an accomplished instrumentalist and expected Bach to compose secular music. Bach produced a significant amount of instrumental music during this period including several orchestral suites that we know are lost. It is possible that work could have been done at this time on the various parts of the four orchestral suites. Bach then returned to a church music position in Leipzig for the rest of his career where he also directed a series of concerts for fourteen years with the Collegium Musicum. These weekly concerts would have also provided him with the opportunity to compose and perform any of the four orchestral suites. Bach often adapted earlier compositions for new situations and probably used some of the music written during his time in Köthen for the Collegium Musicum concerts.
Bach begins each of the suites with a French overture, popularized by Jean-Baptiste Lully, which is a non-dance work that changes mood in the middle. Interior emotional changes are not typical of baroque instrumental music which is usually one mood per movement. The majestic opening, originally announcing the entrance of Louis XIV, is followed by a lively polyphonic section. The French overture often concludes with a return to the majestic material. Bach called his orchestral suites ouvertures instead of suites because of this opening movement and the fact that most of the dances are of French origin.
Orchestral Suite No. 2, written for strings, continuo and transverse flute, follows the overture with a series of short dances. It is tempting to consider this suite similar to a solo flute concerto but the flute part is often integrated into the texture of the full string group and allowed to play solo just a few times. The dances, in spite of all being in B minor, cover a wide range of emotional ground. This variety is created by different tempos, meters, melodies and nationalistic characteristics. The dances originated in France, Spain (Sarabande) and Poland (Polonaise). At the same time, the formal structures, rhythmic patterns and melodic characteristics of the dances seem to follow a natural progression and hint of relationships that are not quite tangible. It is this natural progression that turns what could be a loose collection of dances into an integrated, multi-movement masterpiece.
The Unanswered Question (1906)
Charles Ives (1874-1954)
In the words of the composer Arnold Schoenberg:
“There is a great Man living in this country [the United States] —
— a Composer.
He has solved the problem how to preserve oneself and to learn.
He responds to neglect by contempt.
He is not forced to accept praise or blame.
His name is Ives.”
Ives was the first truly original American musician. He attended camp meetings with his family, pitched for the Yale freshman baseball team, and went through formal music training at the college level. He was a fiercely independent thinker, a Northeast Yankee, an extremely successful insurance man who became wealthy through his business efforts and wrote music for his own ears, not those of the public audience. He experimented with modern techniques that would not be acceptable until years later, after composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Bartòk had paved the way in the concert hall. His greatest works were not performed until just before his death and in the years since.
Even as a young organist in New Haven, he would startle his congregation by improvising unusual harmonies to the standard hymn tunes. His pastor supported him: “Never you mind what the ladies’ committee says. My opinion is that God must get awfully tired of hearing the same thing over and over again, and in His all-embracing wisdom He could certainly embrace a dissonance — might even positively enjoy one now and then.”
The Unanswered Question is a piece that Emily Dickinson would have loved. The existentialism expressed by Ives’s music was a perfect complement to the ideas being discussed during these times. The Yankee firmness of purpose and refusal to compromise is as apparent in this relatively small piece as in his largest, extremely dissonant creations. Because of the small forces and relatively short rehearsal time required, this is probably Ives’s most performed piece in the orchestral literature.
The coordination of the strings, solo trumpet and woodwind group (“four flutes if possible”) is described by Ives in a loose manner. It doesn’t matter if they play in exactly the right spot, just as long as the ending is a held string chord for a few measures. Ives gave his thoughts on the music in a note in the score:
“The strings play ppp throughout with no change in tempo. They are to represent ‘The Silences of the Druids — Who Know, See, and Hear Nothing.’ The trumpet intones ‘The Perennial Question of Existence,’ and states it in the same tone of voice each time.
“But the hunt for ‘The Invisible Answer’ undertaken by the flutes and other human beings, becomes gradually more active, faster and louder through an animando to a con fuoco. This part need not be played in the exact time position indicated. It is played in somewhat of an impromptu way; if there be no conductor, one of the flute players may direct their playing. ‘The Fighting Answerers,’ as the time goes on, and after a ‘secret conference,’ seem to realize a futility, and begin to mock ‘The Question’ — the strife is over for the moment. After they disappear, ‘The Question’ is asked for the last time, and ‘The Silences’ are heard beyond in ‘Undisturbed solitude.’ ”
Pulcinella Suite (1922, rev. 1947)
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
The end of World War I witnessed the appearance of a new and popular musical style for ballets. Lesser-known Italian music of the 18th and 19th centuries was being refashioned into new dance scores. Vincenzo Tommasini had great success with his ballet The Good-humored Ladies based on music by Domenico Scarlatti, as did Ottorino Respighi for his ballet score La Boutique fantasque based on melodies by Rossini. Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the famous Ballets Russes, approached Stravinsky with the idea of emulating the formula of these successes in a ballet based on the music of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736). Stravinsky was at first reluctant but soon warmed to the task as he examined the music credited to Pergolesi that was in Diaghilev’s possession. The choice of Pablo Picasso as designer and Leonide Massine as choreographer probably helped make Stravinsky’s decision easier. The result of this collaboration was the ballet Pulcinella (1919-20), a work many consider the beginning of Stravinsky’s “Neo-Classical” period.
The musical world was taken completely by surprise when Stravinsky followed the barbaric Russian style of his choreographic scenes, The Wedding, with the unemotional Pulcinella. This beginning of his Neo-Classical period culminated in Stravinsky's three ballets: Apollon Musagète, The Fairy’s Kiss, and The Card Game. The term Neo-Classical is misleading in that this was not a revival of the Classical period of musical composition but rather a return to tonality with new definitions of tonal relationships, a return to clarity through the use of well-defined forms. Thus Neo-Tonal or Neo-Formal might be more appropriate terms. The apparent anarchy loosed upon the world in The Rite of Spring was being reined back in by its creator.
In the book Dialogues and a Diary, Stravinsky recalled: “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late works became possible. It was a backward look, of course - - the first of many love affairs in that direction - - but it was a look in the mirror, too. No critic understood this at the time and I was therefore attacked for being a pasticheur, chided for composing ‘simple’ music, blamed for deserting ‘modernism,’ accused of renouncing my ‘true Russian heritage.’” Stravinsky’s change in compositional style was not as severe as it appeared. His use of diatonic materials had been seen in the ostinatos of The Rite of Spring. L’Histoire du soldat contains many elements that can be labeled Neo-Classical, especially the Grand Chorale which sounds like Bach with wrong notes. What Stravinsky started with Pulcinella was an intense development of another aspect of his musical personality, a public display of what he saw in that mirror.
The program note in the score of Pulcinella says the scenario is based on a Neapolitan manuscript of 1700 containing several comedies featuring Pulcinella, the hero of the Neapolitan theatrical style known as commedia dell'arte. The basic libretto of the ballet follows:
"All the local girls are in love with Pulcinella; but the young men to whom they are betrothed are mad with jealousy and plot to kill him. The minute they think they have succeeded, they borrow costumes resembling Pulcinella’s to present themselves to their sweethearts in disguise. But Pulcinella – cunning fellow! – had changed places with a double, who pretended to be mortally wounded. The real Pulcinella, disguised as a wizard, now resuscitates his double. At the very moment when the four young men, thinking they are rid of their rival, come to claim their sweethearts, Pulcinella appears and arranges all the marriages. He himself weds Pimpinella and receives the blessing of his double who has assumed the wizard’s mantle.”
The original orchestration utilized a small orchestra including strings divided into the concerto grosso model of a quintet of solo strings (concertino) contrasted against a larger group of strings (ripieno or tutti). The numbers taken from two Pergolesi operas were arranged into arias, duets, and trios for soprano, tenor, and bass. The singers were placed in the pit along with the instruments. Twenty separate numbers were divided into eight tableaux with an instrumental Sinfonia opening the ballet. The Pulcinella Suite compresses eleven of these numbers into eight movements and arranges the vocal parts of Nos. 2 and 8 for instruments. Stravinsky arranged these into a suite in 1922 and made some small changes, mainly metronome markings, in 1947. Making such a second arrangement was a business maneuver also used by Stravinsky on many other popular works, in order to extend the copyright. The original melodies and bass lines of Pergolesi are retained, but Stravinsky dresses them up with his unique sense of harmony, rhythmic displacement and formal structure to create music unmistakably his.
Concert 5 – RENEWAL
Saturday, May 17, 8 pm Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Sunday, May 18, 2 pm Mello Center, Watsonville
Ave verum corpus, K.618 (1791)
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756-1791)
The Mozart family was expecting their sixth child (one of only two who survived past childhood) and Constance, suffering in the summer heat of Vienna, wanted to spend some time at Baden bei Wien, a spa near Vienna. Mozart contacted their friend Anton Stoll, organist and choirmaster of the Baden parish church St. Stephen, who arranged for her stay and promised to look after Constance and their son Karl. Mozart was busy with the production of The Magic Flute in Vienna and would visit Constance regularly in Baden. On his second visit Stoll, who frequently performed Mozart’s sacred music, asked him to write a communion hymn for the Feast of Corpus Christi, an extremely important feast in the life of Austrian Catholics. Mozart was more than happy to comply and quickly wrote Ave verum corpus on June 16-17 so it could be performed the following week on June 23. Mozart would probably find it amusing that this quick moment of inspiration would result in the most performed of all his works. Today you can find a bust of Mozart over the door to the choir loft to commemorate Ave verum corpus.
Discussions of Ave verum corpus often include observations about the simplicity of the music and the possible relationships to the ideals of the Enlightenment. Haydn and Mozart scholar H.C. Robbins Landon wrote: “With this composition…Mozart was establishing what he considered to be a new style of church music…Even in his church music, Mozart was an inspired product of the Enlightenment: vox populi = vox Dei, that is, a return to the voice of the people in its simplest and most basic form, implying a kind of truth which in turn was considered to have a touch of the divine.” Robbins Landon’s love of Mozart started in junior high school when his choir sang Ave verum corpus, “the most amazing piece of music I had ever heard.”
Mozart was a devoted and active Catholic. He wrote sacred music throughout his career which demonstrates not only his musical genius, but a sincerity and total belief in their sacred texts. The piece he wrote just before Ave verum corpus was Adagio and Rondo, a chamber work for five instruments featuring the glass harmonica played by the blind virtuoso Marianne Kirchgässner. Alfred Einstein, noted Mozart scholar, describes this work as a “heavenly” work and an instrumental counterpart to the Ave verum corpus. When Mozart was approached by Stoll to write a piece for a performance in just a few days, Mozart was confronted with not only an artistic task but one with several practical constraints. These constraints are integral to the piece’s simplicity and length.
Stoll was not only organist and choirmaster of the Baden parish church but also a schoolmaster. This implies that the church job was part-time and that the musical resources of the church were typical of a smaller congregation. Mozart would have written a piece that would allow the vocalists and instrumentalists of the church to be successful with less than a week to rehearse. The mood and length of the music was intended to support activities in the mass specific to a certain point in the communion service and the text was one that had been used for this purpose since the 14th century. In spite of these constraints Mozart, like a great painter working on a small canvas with just a few colors, transcends the physical limitations to create a work that continues to touch our souls centuries later. Aaron Copland wrote about the compositions of Mozart’s last year which include many masterpieces: “They fill us with awe and wonder, not unmixed with despair. The wonder we share with everyone; the despair comes from the realization that only this one man at this one moment in musical history could have created works that seem so effortless and close to perfection.” Alfred Einstein believed that Ave verum corpus impresses us “by its humanity, by its appeal to all devout and childlike hearts, by its directness.”
Chichester Psalms (1965)
Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
Leonard Bernstein, then music director of the New York Philharmonic, took a sabbatical in June of 1964 to focus on composing. The first major project during this sabbatical was to be a new musical setting of Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth written in collaboration with Adolph Green and Betty Comden who had worked with him on On the Town. By early 1965 it became apparent that the musical was not going to work and Bernstein was left to reorganize his schedule which he filled with a variety of atonal and other avant-garde compositions. Bernstein wrote an article for the New York Times on October 24, 1965 in which he describes how he spent this composition sabbatical. Much of it was written in rhyme such as the following:
“Pieces for nattering, clucking sopranos
With squadrons of vibraphones, fleets of pianos
played with the forearms, the fists and the palms
—And then I came up with the Chichester Psalms.
These psalms are a simple and modest affair,
Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square,
Certain to sicken a stout John Cager
With its tonics and triads in B flat major.
But there it stands the result of my pondering,
Two long months of avant-garde wandering—
My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet.
And he stands on his own two tonal feet.”
Dr. Walter Hussey, Dean of the Chichester Cathedral in Sussex, England had commissioned Bernstein to write a piece for the 1965 Three Choirs music festival, an event that would prompt most composers to create ecclesiastic music suitable for a large, Anglican cathedral and all-male choir. Dr. Hussey, aware of Bernstein's unique talent in fusing both classical and popular styles wrote: “I think many of us would be very delighted if there was a hint of ‘West Side Story’ about the music.” Bernstein took Dr. Hussey's words to heart. Of the seven main melodies that occur in Chichester Psalms, six come from The Skin of Our Teeth and the aggressive chorus in the second movement is a discarded number from the opening of West Side Story which is now the setting for the text from Psalm 2. The musical theme that begins and returns throughout Chichester Psalms originally was a setting of the text “Save the human race.” Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms likely served as a starting point for Bernstein and the Psalms also provided common ground for a Jewish composer writing for a Christian choir.
Bernstein immediately realized he could think of the Psalms only in Hebrew. Dr. Hussey agreed to the choice of language and the Anglican choirs went to work on their Hebrew pronunciation with the assistance of the vicar at Chichester Cathedral who had studied Hebrew. Bernstein later established that the work would be sung only in Hebrew by publishing it without an English language version. Chichester Psalms is still the only choral work in the standard repertoire which is in Hebrew. Dr. Hussey is reported to have told Bernstein that he was especially excited that the Psalms “came into being at all as a statement of praise that is ecumenical.” The Bishop of Chichester is said to have remarked that he had envisioned David dancing before the Lord during the performance.
By choosing several Psalms for his text, Bernstein was able to stay true to his Jewish heritage while creating music for a Christian venue. His choice of specific Psalms allowed him to express praise and unity while obliquely addressing several issues of the time including Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. The other factor in the choice of certain Psalms was their adaptability to the musical tunes he had already created for the musicals. Each of the three movements consists of an entire Psalm with one or more lines from other Psalms added that provide a contrast or commentary on the full Psalm. The final chorale was characterized by Bernstein as “a prayer for peace.” When he first finished the composition, he wrote to Dr. Hussey: “It has an old-fashioned sweetness along with its more violent moments.”
Bernstein received permission to premiere the work in New York two weeks before the performance at the Three Choirs festival. After the premiere he told an interviewer: “I think the Psalms are like an infantile version of Kaddish [his Symphony No. 3]. They are very simple, very tonal, very direct, almost babyish in some ways, and therefore it stands perilously on the brink of being sentimental if wrongly performed.” Not everyone was happy with the piece. A reviewer for the London Sunday Times considered the music “shallow and slick” although he thought the overall effect was appropriate for the circumstances. The reviewer considered Bernstein a religious composer “of the kind Luther must have had in mind when he grudged the devil all the good tunes.” Bernstein wrote about the Chichester premiere: “To Chichester, en famille, to hear my Psalms in the place for which they were written. Smitten... In Chichester I heard angels sing.”
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756 – 1791)
Austrians were extremely unhappy with the war that was fought against Turkey 1787-1791. Many aristocratic families left Vienna to keep their sons from being conscripted. Citizens were disillusioned with Emperor Joseph and his apparent betrayal of the promises of enlightened reform. The economy went into a severe depression, food prices almost doubled and, for the first time, Vienna’s bakeries were looted. The musical life of Vienna almost came to a complete halt with the closure of two opera companies and the severe decline of instrumental performances. Musicians, Mozart included, found themselves out of work in a totally demoralized social climate. The death of the emperor in 1790 gave the population hope that the end of the war was coming and the economy began to slowly turn around in 1791. The end of the war in August 1791 provided the final boost to the recovery.
July of 1791 was a happy and busy time for Mozart. He was in the middle of preparations for the premiere of Die Zauberflöte in September. He had just received a commission for a new opera La Clemenza di Tito to be performed in Prague, a city that, even more than Vienna, loved his music. His financial situation was improving as he began to receive commissions and pay off his debts. His wife Constanze gave birth to their son Franz. In the middle of all this came the commission for the Requiem from Count Franz Walsegg zu Stuppach in memory of his wife who had died several months earlier. Stuppach kept his identity from the Mozarts as one of the conditions of the commission. Mozart immediately sketched 40 pages and then set the project aside to continue work on his two operas.
The work through August and September exhausted Mozart and his health began to fail. He wrote his last instrumental work, the Concerto for Clarinet which was premiered to great acclaim by his friend Anton Stadler in Prague in October. Die Zauberflöte was enjoying tremendous success and he spent almost every evening with friends at the performances in spite of his increasing bad health. He completed a Masonic cantata and then resumed work on the Requiem until he became bed-ridden. He died two weeks later on December 5. He death was attributed to “severe military fever”, a vague term that has led to numerous articles and continuing speculation from poisoning to bad pork chops. The most likely cause is severe edema brought on by a minor epidemic of kidney failure among young men in Vienna at this time caused by a fever coming from the military hospital. Rheumatic fever is often cited as another likely culprit. No autopsy was conducted and the circumstances of his burial, as prescribed by law, made the location of his remains for further study impossible to determine.
Mozart finished only the Requiem and the Kyrie and sketched eight sections from the Dies irae through the Hostias. These sketches included all of the voice parts, the bass line which probably included figures for the harmony, and hints for the instrumentation. He wrote nothing for the last three movements. Mozart considered the possibility that he would not recover from his illness and referred to the Requiem as his “swan song.” However, he continued to look ahead and begin new works as if he expected to recover. After Mozart’s death, his widow was afraid that not only would she not receive the full sum for the work but that Stuppach would insist that all the up-front money be returned. She appealed to several musicians to finish the project until Franz Xaver Süssmayr agreed to help. Süssmayr had worked with Mozart as a copyist on La Clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte and probably wrote the secco recitatives for La Clemenza di Tito. He completed the instrumentation of the sketches as he saw best and wrote music for the close of the Lacrimosa, the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. He repeated the music of the Kyrie to the words “Cum sanctis.”
The completed Requiem was performed in January 1793 by Mozart's friends to benefit Constanze in spite of the fact that it was Stuppach’s property and he wished to claim it as his own composition. He performed it as his own work on December 14, 1793 in memory of his wife at the Cisterian monastery of Neukloster in the Wiener Neustadt. Constanze Mozart then went through a series of deceptions and legal maneuverings concerning publication until Stuppach wrote a letter on February 8, 1800 to the publisher Brietkopf and Härtel explaining the truth of the matter. Because of this ten-year deception, he has not been forgiven by many writers. One recently labeled him the “no-account count.” Stuppach is often talked about in discussions of the Requiem as much as the other circumstances surrounding its creation and relationship to Mozart’s death.
Mozart, heavily involved in writing music closely tied to Masonic concepts, chose to write a requiem that does not demonstrate a purely ecclesiastic attitude. Elements of Masonry as well as dramatic operatic approaches can be found next to sections in the more typical conservative church style. For example, the opening begins with the strings accompanying basset horns (larger clarinet-like instruments) and bassoons. These woodwind instruments are usually featured in music written for the Masonic Lodge by Mozart and other Masonic composers. A sense of rebellion rather than prayer can often be heard which is a typical Masonic attitude toward organized religion. Many points have been made about the inadequacies of Süssmayr’s contributions to the Requiem but, without his effort, Mozart’s last creation would have probably been set aside and maybe even lost.