Program 8

Rêverie in E minor, Op. 24

Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915)

Composed in 1898.

Premiered on December 17, 1898 in St. Petersburg, conducted by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Soon after leaving the Moscow Conservatory in 1892, Scriabin began appearing as a concert pianist and had some of his piano pieces issued by Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky’s publisher. In 1894, the rival publisher Mitrofan Belaiff heard Scriabin play some of his own music and secured the rights to issue his Piano Sonata No. 1 and subsequent compositions. Belaiff supported the promising pianist-composer generously during the following years by rewarding him with high fees and competition prizes and by underwriting the European debut tour in late 1895 that culminated in a triumphant recital of Scriabin’s own works in Paris in January 1896. Soon after returning to Moscow, Scriabin composed a Piano Concerto and successfully gave its premiere in Odessa on October 23, 1897. He joined the faculty of the Moscow Conservatory the following year.

Despite Belaiff’s support of his burgeoning career, Scriabin, emotionally mercurial and never very tidy about maintaining his accounts, questioned the publisher’s payments around the time of the Piano Concerto’s premiere and a rift sprang up between them. In November 1898, soon after he had introduced the Concerto to Moscow, Scriabin went to St. Petersburg with a peace offering for Belaiff — an orchestral Prelude, his first purely orchestral work, which he had composed in secret. Belaiff was delighted with the piece but suggested the more evocative (and saleable) French title Rêverie, which they also rendered into Russian as Mechty (“Daydreams”). Belaiff showed the score to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who judged the work “delightful, wreathed in piquant harmonies and not badly orchestrated,” and convinced him to include Rêverie on his Russian Musical Society concert in St. Petersburg on December 17th.

Rêverie follows a nicely defined expressive arch, rising from its meditative opening mood to a point of expressive intensity near the center. A second crescendo begins but is quickly broken off by silence, after which the work comes to a dying close.

Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet and Strings in C minor, Op. 35

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Composed in 1933.

Premiered on October 15, 1933 in Leningrad, with the composer as soloist.

In 1927, Joseph Stalin secured the expulsion of Trotsky and Zinoviev, his two chief rivals for power in the Soviet Union. A year later, he ended Lenin’s “New Economic Policy” in favor of the first “Five Year Plan,” a scheme intended to industrialize and collectivize the nation under his leadership. Stalin’s dictates had serious consequences for all Russians (most devastatingly for those caught in the ghastly “purges” of the 1930s), not excluding artists and musicians. The period of almost Dadaist artistic experimentation in the 1920s came suddenly to an end when artists were instructed that they had “social tasks” to perform with their creations, and that “formalism” — the ill-defined Soviet term for avant-garde or personally expressive works — was absolutely forbidden. Musical compositions of the time, because of their abstract nature, were less directly affected by Party policy than were literature or painting, but nevertheless showed a significant change in attitude from the preceding years. Alexander Mossolov (1900-1973), at first a modernist composer who had written songs to the texts of newspaper advertisements, created a sensation in 1927 with his ballet The Iron Foundry, an attempt to imitate the patriotic sound of a factory by including a shaken metal sheet in the scoring. To the genre of proletarian music, Shostakovich contributed the rattlingly jingoistic Second and Third Symphonies (To October, 1927 and The First of May, 1929), the ballets The Age of Gold (1930) and The Bolt (the former strongly anti-Fascist, the latter on an industrial theme), and the anti-bourgeois opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1930-1932, premiered 1934). A strain of sarcasm, carried over from the music of the early 1920s, is evident in some of these pieces, and was dominant in the scathing opera of 1930, The Nose, based on a story by Gogol. This satirical quality appears again, balanced by the required “social realism” (described by one literary critic as “fundamentally optimistic” and “conservative”), in the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings, Op. 35 of 1933.

Its blend of caustic humor and a certain steely expressivity have made the First Piano Concerto one of Shostakovich’s most popular works; he frequently performed it as soloist. He was an excellent pianist, but the lack of practice time — in addition to his creative work, he was also active in 1933 as the elected deputy to the Oktyabrsky District in Leningrad and as one of the organizers of the Leningrad Union of Soviet Composers — prevented him from playing much music other than his own. The composer’s student Samari Savshinsky described him as “an outstanding artist and performer. The crystalline clarity and precision of thought, the almost ascetic absence of embellishment, the precise rhythm, technical perfection, and very personal timbre he produced at the piano made all Shostakovich’s piano playing individual in the highest degree.... Those who remember his performance of Beethoven’s mighty ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, followed by a number of Chopin pieces, can only regret that his talent as a pianist was never fully developed or applied.”

The musical style of the First Piano Concerto reflects the playing of its author. Its taut writing for the solo instrument, its pointed melodic and harmonic leadings and its brittle temperament are complemented by its novel scoring for piano, string orchestra and what Robert Bagar called “a comical trumpet obbligato.” When he performed the Concerto, Shostakovich accorded the trumpeter the importance of a virtual second soloist by having the player sit at the front of the stage, next to the piano, and sharing the applause with him at the end of the work. Eugene List, who was soloist in the American premiere in 1934 (when he was just sixteen years old), explained the success of the Piano Concerto No. 1: “It is contemporary without being too ‘far out’ for the average concert-goer. It has youthful fire and audacity, tongue-in-cheek jollity, a number of satirical allusions to well-known classics, and brilliant piano writing. It also has a beautiful slow movement. The trumpet solo part is strikingly effective; and the scoring in general is brilliant and unusual.”

The Concerto is in four continuous movements, with the third movement acting as a slow introduction to the finale rather than as an independent essay. The opening Allegro moderato is in modified sonata form. After a prefatory flourish from piano and trumpet, the soloist presents a serious melody growing from the tones of the C minor triad. The violins soon present a complementary theme of similar nature, which is then elaborated by the piano. A sharp change of mood ushers in the secondary motives: a mock-fanfare from the soloist above a martial string accompaniment, and a natty little tune tossed off by the trumpet. The middle portion of the movement is given over to a development of the letter and the spirit of the secondary themes. The recapitulation begins with the violins’ complementary theme rather than with the piano’s serious opening melody, which is held in reserve to serve as a coda.

The slow movement breathes a scented, nostalgic air that seems almost more French than Russian. (Had some of Poulenc’s early works found their way to Shostakovich’s ear?) The main melody is a wistful waltz in slow tempo, given first by muted violins. The piano enters with its own melody, which gathers intensity as it proceeds. The theme and mood of the opening return when the trumpet recalls the principal melody.

The following movement, an introduction to the finale, comprises two cadenzas for the soloist: the first is unaccompanied; the second, prefaced by a sad melody for the strings, is supported by the orchestra. The closing movement is a brilliant, bubbling affair of several episodes whose sparkling vivacity recalls some of Haydn’s symphonic finales. The cadenza near the end, added because a pianist friend of the composer was disappointed that the Concerto’s original version allowed no provision for a closing solo display, is an ironic treatment of a theme from Beethoven’s rondo titled Rage over a Lost Penny.

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major, Op. 102

Dmitri Shostakovich

Composed in 1956-1957.

Premiered on May 10, 1957 in Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Anosov with Maxim Shostakovich as soloist.

The life and music of Dmitri Shostakovich abound in dichotomies. In 1925, he was accompanying silent films on a battered piano in a frigid Leningrad cinema; a year later, after the premiere of the First Symphony, he was hailed at age twenty as the leader of the first generation of post-Revolution Soviet composers. During Hitler’s siege of Leningrad, he worked on the giant Seventh Symphony between tours of duty as a fireman. He was denounced in 1948 as a musical scoundrel; in 1954, he was honored as “People’s Artist of the U.S.S.R.” and two years later given the Lenin Prize. He was the chief adornment and most visible representative of Soviet culture for almost four decades though he did not formally join the Communist Party until 1962.

His music, as well, is filled with stark contrasts. Beginning with the Symphony No. 1, many of his individual works juxtaposed satire and pathos, grandeur and tragedy. The avant-garde style of his first mature decade — grotesque humor, biting dissonance, steely expressivity — was followed beginning with the Fifth Symphony by much music of conservatism and universal appeal. Symphonies (Nos. 11 and 12) extolling Lenin and the Revolution were succeeded by a musical condemnation of Soviet anti-Semitism in the Thirteenth Symphony. While maintaining a singular personality throughout his oeuvre, Shostakovich displayed a wider range of musical attitudes than perhaps any composer except Gustav Mahler, by whom he was indelibly influenced.

The dichotomy dividing Shostakovich’s works between those primarily for public display and those that were more introspective and reflective of his deepest thoughts veered in his later years toward the latter — the wondrous series of string quartets and the last three symphonies are the principal evidence. Standing beside these inward-looking pieces, however, is a large amount of immediately appealing music embodying one of his most important tenets: “I consider that every artist who isolates himself from the world is doomed. I find it incredible that an artist should wish to shut himself away from the people.” One of the best-crafted among this group of film scores, tone poems, jingoistic anthems and occasional instrumental works is a piano concerto that Shostakovich wrote in 1956-1957 for his son, Maxim, who was just finishing his studies at the Moscow Conservatory. The outer movements, both marked Allegro, are propelled by an almost demonic energy grown from a hybrid of march and galop. They call for an invigorating display of virtuosity — nimble, powerful, percussive by turns — that gives the soloist ample opportunity to display his technique. In contrast, the slow middle movement, for piano and strings only (with the exception of a single entry by the solo horn), is of a lyricism and tenderness reminiscent of Chopin, filtered perhaps, in its harmonic suavities, through Poulenc.

Symphony No. 15, Op. 141

Dmitri Shostakovich

Composed in 1971.

Premiered on January 9, 1972 in Moscow, conducted by Maxim Shostakovich.

Historically, the symphony is a public genre. In the 18th century, when the form was derived from the opera overture — the sinfonia — by Sammartini and his Italian colleagues, it was used as an imposing opening concert piece to call attention to the importance of what followed. It differed from the chamber music of the day in its use of large orchestra, its broad expression and its performance for a sizeable assembly of music lovers in a spacious hall. Though the symphony underwent many changes at the hands of Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and the others capable of handling its challenge, the form continued to be the bearer of the grandest emotions, while a composer’s more personal thoughts were confided to chamber music or songs or other intimate works. It was only late in its development that a way was found to turn the symphony inward, to make it a vehicle of introspection as personally revealing of its creator (and moving for the listener) as the masterworks of the chamber literature. The composer who joined together these public and private worlds to create works of an unprecedented expressive range was Gustav Mahler. Especially in the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde, it is precisely this juxtaposition of the inner and outer life that gives his music much of its emotional power and incomparable poignancy.

The effect of Mahler on the music of Dmitri Shostakovich was pervasive. In the grandiloquent program symphonies (No. 7, “Leningrad,” for example) or the works with voices (No. 13, “Babi Yar,” and No. 14) or the large tonal canvases painted in starkly varied colors (No. 8 and No. 10), Shostakovich’s indebtedness to the Austrian master is striking. Perhaps nowhere are the parallels closer, however, than in the last symphonic works of each man — Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15. These pieces share a quality of introspection that is both revealing and enigmatic, as though the composer had opened the recesses of his soul only to then stand behind a shielding scrim. This music’s intimacy is largely created through attenuated orchestration and texture, which acquire a chamber-like clarity and immediacy, and against which the mass of the full orchestra can serve as a powerful foil. As in Mahler’s creations, these qualities in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 invite a search for its “message.” Mahler’s works are “songs of farewell,” a summing up not just of an individual life dedicated to music, but also of the entire historical tradition of which he saw himself as the last representative. The Ninth Symphony and Das Lied, however, are not works of exhausted bitterness, but rather of nostalgia and acceptance and gentle resignation. Shostakovich’s last Symphony (though reports from the Soviet Union noted, without the substantiation of the manuscript, that he had completed two movements of another symphony) may very well have a similar expressive content of thoughts and visions at life’s end. Testimony varies, however.

Discussion of the emotional engine driving the Fifteenth Symphony has been fueled by Shostakovich’s use of quotations: a familiar snippet from the William Tell Overture (his earliest musical memory, according to the composer) in the first movement, and motives from Wagner’s Tristan and The Ring of the Nibelungen in the finale, as well as references to his own earlier music and even the inclusion of his musical “signature” — the notes, D–E-flat–C–B (D-S-C-H , the composer’s transliterated initials, in German notation). The least likely explanation of the first movement, probably nothing more than a diversion to deflect criticism, is one attributed to Shostakovich by his son, Maxim, who conducted the premiere of the Symphony No. 15. This reading set the music in a toyshop at night, with the dolls coming to life and a toy soldier tootling William Tell on a miniature trumpet. The music, however, speaks of more profound things. Maxim himself thought that the Symphony “reflects the great philosophical problems of a man’s life cycle, from the appearance of certain childish emotions to the acquisition of energy, vitality and wisdom. In the Finale, the storms subside and there emerges triumphant a sincere feeling of humanity and great philosophical peace.” Eugene Ormandy, who recorded the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra, felt the finale “could be entitled ‘They Shall Not Be Forgotten,’” referring to the Soviet war dead. He supported his view by noting the use in the movement of an ostinato bass first encountered in the Seventh Symphony, “Leningrad,” commemorating the ghastly Nazi siege of that city in 1941.

In his purported memoirs, Testimony, the composer offered yet another explanation: “I love Chekhov; I often reread Ward Six. And I feel sorry that I didn’t do as much work on Chekhov as I had wanted to.... I have a work based on motifs from Chekhov, the Fifteenth Symphony.... I never did learn to live according to Chekhov’s main tenet. For Chekhov, all people are the same. He presented people, and the reader had to decide for himself what was bad and what was good. Chekhov remained unprejudiced. Everything churns inside me when I read Rothschild’s Violin. Who’s right, who’s wrong? Who made life nothing but steady losses? Everything churns within me.”

Shostakovich’s Fifteenth is one of the great 20th-century symphonies, and, like other musical masterworks from throughout history, will sustain many interpretations in its performance and philosophy. From the pellucid opening movement, into which the William Tell fragment is seamlessly woven, through the plangent lament and funeral march of the Adagio and the cheeky insouciance of the scherzo, to the enigmatic finale, with its references to the “Fate” motive from Wagner’s Ring, the opening melodic gesture of the Tristan Prelude, the ostinato from the “Leningrad” Symphony and the ticking percussion sounds from his long-unperformed Fourth Symphony, Shostakovich created a composition steeped in reference and suggestion. That the work speaks personally for the composer is without doubt, since he inscribed it with his “DSCH” signature and kept it for himself, in effect, by giving it no dedication. Yet this creation is also a universal statement, one that can touch every sympathetic listener in an individual way.

©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Program 9

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Rückert Lieder for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra

Composed in 1901-1902.

Premiered on January 29, 1905 in Vienna, conducted by the composer with baritone Friedrich Weidemann as soloist.

Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866) was Professor of Oriental Literature at Erlangen and Privy Counselor for King Friedrich Wilhelm IV at Berlin from 1841 to 1848. (Mendelssohn was Kapellmeister at the German court at the same time; he wrote his incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the Royal Theater in 1842.) Rückert was known as both a productive scholar, with many translations of texts from Persian, Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Ethiopian, Coptic and Sanskrit, as well as a prolific writer of poems, many of which were influenced by the forms, images and content of Oriental verses. His poems, which appeared in many periodicals, anthologies and collections during his lifetime, were popular and highly regarded, and they inspired musical settings from a number of 19th-century composers, including Schubert, Schumann, Marschner and Litolff. Among the most notable of Rückert’s thousands of poems were the 428 verses collectively titled Kindertotenlieder — “Songs on the Death of Children” — that he wrote in 1832-1834 to assuage his grief over the death of his infant son; they were published only posthumously, in 1872. Gustav Mahler came to know the Kindertotenlieder through his extensive readings in German philosophy and literature, and they appealed to him mightily not only for the expressive quality of their poetic images and the refinement of their language and structure, but also for their first-person viewpoint, the revelatory expression of self that he believed was the dynamic force driving artistic expression. (“Only when I experience do I compose — only when I compose do I experience,” was his life-long dictum.) When Anton Webern asked him in 1905 about his attraction to Rückert’s poems after having been immersed for many years in the folkish verses of Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Mahler replied, “After Wunderhorn, Rückert was the only thing I could do — this is poetry at first-hand; all other poetry is second-hand.”

In the summer of 1901, when he escaped from the pressures of directing the Vienna Court Opera to his country retreat at the village of Maiernigg on the Wörthersee in Carinthia, Mahler made orchestral settings of six of Rückert’s poems, three of which were from the Kindertotenlieder. Three years later, he added two more settings to the Kindertotenlieder cycle, which has remained one of his most esteemed works. Mahler did not regard the other three Rückert settings of 1901 — Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen — as a unified cycle, though their texts, which evoke love, nature and philosophical resignation, are related in the gentle contrast that they provide to the tragedy of the Kindertotenlieder. The following summer, after he had met and married the talented and beautiful Alma Schindler, he appropriated two more Rückert poems for musical treatment — Um Mitternacht and Liebst du um Schönheit. In her reminiscences of Mahler, Alma recorded a delightful tale about Liebst du um Schönheit, which her husband wrote to celebrate their love and new life together: “I used to play Wagner a lot at the piano, and this gave Mahler the idea for a charming surprise. He had composed for me the only love-song he ever wrote — Liebst du um Schönheit — and he slipped it between the pages of Die Walküre. Then he waited day after day for me to find it; but I never happened to open the volume, and his patience gave out. ‘I think I’ll take a look at the Walküre today,’ he said abruptly. He opened it, and the song fell out. I was overwhelmed with joy, and we played it that day twenty times at least.” He gathered the five independent Rückert songs together with two others on Wunderhorn texts (Revelge and Der Tamboursg’sell), and published the set in 1905 as Sieben Lieder aus letzter Zeit (“Seven Last Songs”).

Rückert wrote Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft (“I breathed a gentle fragrance”) when his wife decorated his desk with a lime-tree branch for his birthday. (The text plays on the pun of the German words Linde [“lime-tree”] and linde [“gentle”].) Mahler’s caressing treatment captures perfectly the poem’s sweetness and affirmation of love.

Liebst du um Schönheit (“If you love for beauty”), Mahler’s paean to his marital love at the beginning of what proved to be the happiest period of his life, is rapturously lyrical and glowingly optimistic.

“The very text of Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder (‘Do not look at my songs’),” according to the composer’s close friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner, “is so characteristic of Mahler that he might have written it himself.” Its mood is playful and tinged with humor.

Um Mitternacht (“At Midnight”), scored for full complement of winds but without strings, is one of the most dramatic of Mahler’s creations. A nighttime uneasiness dominates much of the music, which is haunted by a starkly eerie scale descending into the most subterranean reaches of the ensemble. The mood brightens for the closing stanza, the brass is marshaled, and the song ends in sun-bright affirmation as poet and composer entrust themselves to God’s care.

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (“I have lost touch with the world”), which the composer told Bauer-Lechner represented himself, is both a vocal analogue to the transcendent introspection of the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, on which Mahler was also engaged in 1902, and a preview of the resigned, peaceful acceptance that closes both the Ninth Symphony and Das Lied von der Erde. This movement limns an ineffable elegiac emotion that Mahler was capable of expressing better than any other composer; it may well be the finest symphonic song that he ever wrote.

Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor

Composed in 1902; much revised through 1911.

Premiered on October 18, 1904 in Cologne, conducted by the composer.

“Oh, heavens! What are they to make of this chaos, of which new worlds are forever being engendered, only to crumble in ruin a minute later? What are they to say to this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound, to these dancing stars, to these breathtaking, iridescent and flashing breakers?” So Gustav Mahler wrote during the rehearsals for the premiere of his Fifth Symphony in Cologne to his wife, Alma, in Vienna. He was concerned that this new work, so different in style and aesthetic from his earlier symphonies, would confuse critics and audiences just when his music was beginning to receive wide notice. Deryck Cooke noted the ways in which this Symphony and its two successors differ from the Symphonies No. 1 through No. 4. “Gone are the folk inspiration, the explicit programs, the fairytale elements, the song materials, the voices,” Cooke wrote. “Instead we have a triptych of ‘pure’ orchestral works, more realistically rooted in human life, more stern and forthright in utterance, more tautly symphonic, with a new granite-like hardness of orchestration.”

What brought about the radical change in Mahler’s symphonism in 1902? Heinrich Kralik’s comments typify the bafflement among scholars: “Nothing is known of any outward experiences or inner transformations during that period that could account for the new mode of expression. There was no outward struggle that could have threatened the composer’s career [which also included directing the Vienna Opera] and shattered his peace of mind. Mahler’s music provides us with the only indication that his inner life underwent a change at that time.” With a rare unanimity, commentators have ignored the central biographical event in Mahler’s life during the time immediately preceding the composition of the Fifth Symphony — he fell in love, a condition not unknown to alter a person’s life.

In November 1901, Mahler met Alma Schindler, daughter of the painter Emil Jacob Schindler, then 22 and regarded as one of the most beautiful women in Vienna. Mahler was 41. Romance blossomed. They were married in March, and were parents by November. Their first summer together (1902) was spent at Maiernigg, Mahler’s country retreat on the Wörthersee in Carinthia in southern Austria. It was at that time that the Fifth Symphony was composed, incorporating some sketches from the previous summer. He thought of this work as “their” music, the first artistic fruit of his married life with Alma. But more than that, he may also have wanted to create music that would be worthy of the new circle of friends that Alma, the daughter of one of Austria’s finest artists and most distinguished families, had opened to him — Gustav Klimt, Alfred Roller (who became Mahler’s stage designer at the Court Opera), architect Josef Hoffmann and the rest of the cream of cultural Vienna. In the Fifth Symphony, Mahler seems to have taken inordinate care to demonstrate the mature quality of his thought (he was, after all, nearly twice Alma’s age) and to justify his lofty position in Viennese artistic life. Since neither Mahler nor Alma explained the great change of compositional style of 1902, the question can never be securely answered. Mahler’s renewed musical language seems too close in time to the vast extension of his social life engendered by his marriage, however, to have been unaffected by it. In an 1897 letter to the conductor Anton Seidl, Mahler confirmed the symbiotic relationship of his music and his life: “Only when I experience do I compose — only when I compose do I experience.”

The musical style that Mahler initiated with the Fifth Symphony is at once more abstract yet more powerfully expressive than that of his earlier music. In his study of the composer, Egon Gartenberg noted that the essential quality differentiating the later music from the earlier was a “volcanic change to modern polyphony,” a technique of concentrated contrapuntal development that Mahler had derived from Bach. “You can’t imagine how hard I am finding it, and how endless it seems because of the obstacles and problems I am faced with,” Mahler confided to his friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner while struggling with the Symphony’s third movement. Free of his duties at the Opera between seasons, he labored throughout the summer of 1902 on the piece at his little composing hut in the woods, several minutes walk from the main house at Maiernigg. So delicate was the process of creation that he ordered Alma not to play the piano while he was working lest the sound, though distant, should disturb him (she was a talented musician and budding composer until her husband forbid her to practice those skills after their wedding), and he even complained that the birds bothered him because they sang in the wrong keys (!). Every few days he brought his rough sketches to Alma, who copied them over and filled in some of the orchestral lines according to his instructions.

The composition was largely completed by early autumn when the Mahlers returned to Vienna, but Gustav continued to revise the orchestration throughout the winter, daily stealing a few early-morning minutes to work on it before he raced to the Opera House. The tinkering went on until a tryout rehearsal with the Vienna Philharmonic early in 1904. Alma, listening from the balcony, reported with alarm, “I heard each theme in my head while copying the score, but now I could not hear them at all! Mahler had overscored the kettledrums and percussion so madly and persistently that little beyond the rhythm was recognized.” Major changes were in order, Alma advised. Mahler agreed, immediately crossed out most of the percussion parts, and spent seemingly endless hours during the next seven years further altering the orchestration so that it would clearly reveal the complex musical textures. Hardly any two performances of the work during his lifetime were alike. The premiere in Cologne brought mixed responses from audience and critics. Even Bruno Walter, Mahler’s protégé and assistant at the Vienna Opera and himself a master conductor and interpreter of his mentor’s music, lamented of the first performance, “It was the first time and, I think, the only time that a performance of a Mahler work under his own baton left me unsatisfied. The instrumentation did not succeed in bringing out clearly the complicated contrapuntal fabric of the parts.” It was not until one of his last letters, in February 1911, that Mahler could finally say, “The Fifth is finished.” Mahler had indeed solved the problems of the work with its final revision, according to Bruno Walter. “In the Fifth Symphony,” Walter wrote, “the world now has a masterpiece which shows its creator at the summit of his life, of his power, and of his ability.”

Though there have been attempts to attribute extra-musical dimensions to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (one, a 23-page analysis of the work’s musico/metaphysical aspects by Ernst Otto Nodnagel of Darmstadt — “What an eccentric!” Alma noted of him — appeared soon after the premiere), this is “pure” music. “Nothing in any of my conversations with Mahler and not a single note point to the influence of extra-musical thoughts or emotions upon the composition of the Fifth,” wrote Bruno Walter. “It is music — passionate, wild, pathetic, buoyant, solemn, tender, full of all the sentiments of which the human heart is capable — but still ‘only’ music.” For his part, Mahler, who once thundered across a dinner-party table, “Pereant die Programme!” (“Perish all programs!”), did not create any written description of the Symphony, as he had for his earlier works, but determined to let the music speak unaided for itself. He insisted that the audience have no program notes for the premiere or for later performances in Dresden and Berlin. The only quasi-programmatic indication in the score is the title of the first movement — Trauermarsch (“Funeral March”) — but even this is only an indication of mood and not a description of events. It is with this work that Mahler left behind the mysticism, mystery and symbolism of Romanticism and entered the modern era. It stands, wrote Michael Kennedy, “like a mighty arch at the gateway to 20th-century music.”

Mahler grouped the five movements of the Symphony into three parts. Thus, the opening Trauermarsch takes on the character of an enormous introduction to the second movement. The two are further joined in their sharing of some thematic material. The giant Scherzo stands at the center point of the Symphony, the only movement not linked with another. Balancing the opening movements are the Adagietto and the Rondo-Finale of Part III, which have the quality of preface and summation.

The structures of the individual movements are large and complex, bearing allegiance to the classical models, but expanded and re-shaped, with continuous development and intertwining of themes. The Trauermarsch is sectional, alternating between music based on the opening trumpet summons and an intensely sad threnody presented by the strings. The following movement (“Stormily moving. With great vehemence”) resembles sonata form, with a soaring chorale climaxing the development section only to be cut short by the return of the stormy music in the recapitulation. The Scherzo juxtaposes a whirling waltz/Ländler with trios more gentle in nature. The serene Adagietto, perhaps the most famous single movement among Mahler’s symphonies, serves as a calm interlude between the gigantic movements surrounding it. The closing movement (Rondo-Finale) begins as a rondo, but interweaves the principal themes with those of the episodes as it unfolds in a blazing display of contrapuntal craft. The triumphant chorale that was snuffed out in the second movement returns here to bring the Symphony to an exalted close.

©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Program 7

Suite from Mother Goose

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Composed for piano in 1908; orchestrated in 1911.

Orchestral version premiered on January 28, 1912 in Paris, conducted by Gabriel Grovlez.

“I would settle down on his lap and tirelessly he would begin, ‘Once upon a time ...’ It was Beauty and the Beast and The Ugly Empress of the Pagodas, and, above all, the adventures of a little mouse he invented for me. I laughed a great deal at this last story; then I felt remorseful, as I had to admit it was very sad.” So Mimi Godebski reminisced in later years about the visits of Maurice Ravel to her family’s home during her childhood. Ravel, a contented bachelor, enjoyed those visits to the Godebskis, and he took a special delight in playing with the young children — cutting out paper dolls, telling stories, romping around on all fours. Young Mimi and her brother Jean were in the first stages of piano tutelage in 1908, and Ravel decided to encourage their studies by composing some little pieces for them portraying their favorite fairy stories.

Ravel based his music on four traditional tales: Sleeping Beauty, Hop o’ My Thumb, Empress of the Pagodas and Beauty and the Beast. To these he added an evocation of The Fairy Garden as a postlude. In 1911, he made a ravishing orchestral transcription of the original five pieces, added to them a prelude, an opening scene and connecting interludes, and produced a ballet with a scenario based on the Sleeping Beauty story for the Théâtre des Arts in Paris. The production, though it quickly disappeared from the boards, was successful at the premiere, and its warm charm led the celebrated dancer Nijinsky, who was in the audience, to tell Ravel, “It’s like dancing at a family party.”

Such child-like miniatures as comprise Ma Mère l’Oye were much to Ravel’s impeccable taste. Hardly over five feet tall, he was most comfortable in surroundings that were small in scale and precisely managed. Lawrence Davies wrote, “The suite can be regarded as the equivalent of the dwarf trees, tiny glass models and china ornaments that filled the composer’s diminutive room [in his home].” Especially in the dazzling translucence of the orchestral transcription that the composer provided for the ballet, these tiny tone paintings display the polish, balance and logic that led Stravinsky to admiringly describe their creator as “a Swiss watchmaker.” To properly evoke the youthful naïveté of the fantasy tales, Ravel composed in a deliberately simplified style, characterized by suave melody and luscious, atmospheric harmony unruffled by rhythmic or textural complexities.

The Mother Goose Suite comprises the five orchestrated movements of Ravel’s original piano version. The tiny Pavane de la Belle au Bois dormant (“Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty”), only twenty measures long, depicts the Good Fairy, who watches over the Princess during her somnolence.

Petit Poucet (“Hop o’ My Thumb”) treats the old legend taken from Perrault’s anthology of 1697. “A boy believed,” noted Ravel of the tale, “that he could easily find his path by means of the bread crumbs which he had scattered wherever he passed; but he was very much surprised when he could not find a single crumb: the birds had come and eaten everything up.” The strings meander through scales as the boy wanders through the woods, with a few of his aviary nemeses returning to scavenge for the last morsels of bread.

Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes (“Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas”) portrays a young girl cursed with ugliness by a wicked fairy. According to Ravel’s inscription, “She undressed herself and went into the bath. The pagodas [grotesque little figures made of porcelain, crystal or precious jewels] began to sing and play on instruments; some had theorbos [large lutes] made of walnut shells; some had viols made of almond shells; for they were obliged to proportion the instruments to their figures.” This tale, too, has a happy ending in which the Empress’ beauty is restored. The music is decidedly Oriental in character, and is playable in the original version almost entirely on the black keys of the piano.

Ravel prefaced Les entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête (“Conversations of Beauty and the Beast”) with lines from the tale as interpreted by Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1757: “ ‘When I think how good-hearted you are, you do not seem to me so ugly.’ ‘Yes, I have, indeed, a kind heart; but I am a monster.’ ‘There are many men more monstrous than you.’ ‘If I had wit, I would invent a fine compliment to thank you, but I am only a beast.’ ‘Beauty, will you be my wife?’ ‘No, Beast!’ ‘I die content since I have the pleasure of seeing you again.’ ‘No, my dear Beast, you shall not die; you shall live to be my husband!’ The Beast had disappeared, and she saw at her feet only a prince more beautiful than Love, who thanked her for having broken his enchantment.” This piece, influenced by a certain Satie-esque insouciance, is among the most graphic in Ravel’s output. The high woodwinds sing the delicate words of the Beauty, while the Beast is portrayed by the lumbering contrabassoon. At first the two converse, politely taking turns in the dialogue, but after their betrothal, both melodies are entwined, and finally the Beast’s theme is transfigured into a floating wisp in the most ethereal reaches of the solo violin’s range.

The rapt, introspective splendor of the closing Le jardin féerique (“Fairy Garden”) is not derived from a particular story, but is Ravel’s masterful summation of the beauty, mystery and wonder that pervade Ma Mère l’Oye. Its tranquil, shimmering serenity is matched among Ravel’s works only by some pages from the opera L’Enfant et les sortilèges, his other masterwork inspired by a vision of childhood. During this final scene of the ballet, Prince Charming awakens the sleeping Princess Florine with a kiss, and all the characters gather around the royal couple as the Good Fairy bestows her blessing.

Roland-Manuel, the composer’s friend and biographer, wrote of Ma Mère l’Oye, “By virtue of a privilege which he shared with the greatest creative artists, the composer never lost, in his obstinate determination to acquire technical mastery, that fresh sensibility which is the privilege of childhood and is normally lost with advancing years. He retained intact a freedom of imagination and an artless power.... Ma Mère l’Oye shows us the secret of his profound nature and the soul of a child who has never left fairyland, who does not distinguish between the natural and the artificial, and who appears to believe that everything can be imagined and made real in the material world, if everything is infallibly logical in the mind.”

Scottish Fantasy for Violin with Orchestra and Harp, Op. 46

Max Bruch (1838-1920)

Composed in 1879-1880.

Premiered in September 1880 in Hamburg, with Pablo de Sarasate as soloist.

Max Bruch, like many Romantic composers, was interested throughout his life in folk song. In 1863, he published twelve Scottish folk airs in four-part settings, and incorporated German, British and Hebrew traditional music into his works. (One of his best-known compositions is the Kol Nidrei for Cello and Orchestra, based on an ancient chant of the Hebrew ritual.) When Bruch was conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society from 1878 to 1880, he took the opportunity to gather first-hand knowledge of Great Britain’s indigenous music, and, like Mendelssohn (one of the gods in Bruch’s musical pantheon), he was inspired by the music, lore and land of Scotland to produce one of his finest works — the Fantasy with Free Use of Scottish Airs for Violin and Orchestra.

In a letter to the publisher Simrock on July 30, 1880 explaining the work’s appellation, Bruch wrote, “The title ‘Fantasy’ is very general, and as a rule refers to a short piece rather than to one in several movements (all of which, moreover, are fully worked-out and developed). However, this work cannot properly be called a concerto because the form of the whole is so completely free, and because folk-melodies are used.” Abraham Veinus added, “Bruch operates freely with a set of Scottish folk melodies, distinguished, as such melodies are, by a wholesome simplicity and beauty. Grafted on to this is the kind of elaborate virtuoso technique which usually brings the house down. Bruch’s harmonic idiom and his orchestration technique run to juicy, well-rounded and solidly set sonorities.”

The Fantasy is in four movements rather than the concerto’s traditional three. The opening movement is divided almost equally between a solemn introduction and an elegant setting of the tune Auld Rob Morris. The music scholar Wilhelm Altmann, a Berlin friend of Bruch, said that the Fantasy had been inspired by the books of Sir Walter Scott. The prominence of the harp, with its bardic and folk associations, prompted Altmann to continue that this opening movement represents “an old bard who contemplates a ruined castle and laments the glorious times of old.” The vigorous second movement, subtitled Dance, is based on the song Hey, the Dusty Miller. Connecting passages resembling recitative lead without pause to the next movement, a richly bedecked version of the touching Scottish love ballad I’m a-doun for lack o’ Johnnie. The rousing finale uses the traditional war song Scots wha hae, which, according to legend, was sounded by Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Composed in 1898.

Premiered June 21, 1898 in London, conducted by the composer.

Gabriel Fauré was one of the great figures of French music at the turn of the twentieth century. A student of Saint-Saëns, a master organist, the teacher of Ravel, Enesco, Koechlin and Nadia Boulanger, director of the Paris Conservatoire, and a composer of immense skill and refinement, Fauré was best suited to composing in the small forms of song and chamber music. Among the most successful of his handful of works for orchestra is the beautiful suite that he drew from his incidental music to Maeterlinck’s symbolist play, Pelléas et Mélisande, which he created for a production of the dramaat the Prince of Wales Theatre, London in 1898. (Fauré generally disliked writing for large ensembles, and often entrusted his most talented students with the orchestration of his pieces. Charles Koechlin was assigned the original theatrical version of Pelléas; Fauré based his 1901 suite upon the orchestration of his pupil.) This haunting and haunted drama, which premiered in Paris in 1893, embodied the Symbolists’ philosophy that mood is more important than plot. Such dramatic incidents as occur often defy logical continuity, seeming rather to be isolated events intended to suggest associations and feelings to the audience through the use of language and setting. Robert Layton summarized the drama’s plot: “Pelléas is set in mythical Allemonde, the protagonists in the drama remain shadowy and we are left knowing little or nothing of their background. Prince Golaud out riding one day discovers Mélisande, weeping and lost in the forest, and takes her under his protection. Maeterlinck’s play charts her growing infatuation for his younger half-brother, Pelléas, and Golaud’s ensuing jealousy.” The play inspired incidental music from Jean Sibelius for a 1905 production in Helsinki (in Finnish!), a concert overture from Cyril Scott in 1912, and a vast symphonic poem from Arnold Schoenberg in 1903. It also proved to be the perfect subject for the wispy, Impressionistic idiom of Debussy, and was equally well suited to the art of Fauré, whose incidental music preceded Debussy’s opera by four years.

Fauré’s musical style, though looking forward in some of its techniques to Impressionism, is more refined, classical and understated than that of Debussy, concerning itself with purity of line and precise formal balance rather than with mood-painting through unconventional harmonies and indistinct structures. Julien Teirsot described the elegant essence of Fauré’s music in these words: “It is the spirit of Hellenism that is reborn in him.... He thrusts himself beyond the spheres to bring back pure beauty.” Such terms as “taste,” “unerring judgment,” “delicacy,” “impeccable workmanship” and “sensibility” attach themselves easily and appropriately to the music of Fauré, and they certainly apply to this lovely Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande. The Prélude was intended to be played before the curtain rises to evoke the play’s aura of melancholy and mystery. There is a meditative quality about this music, a deep stillness that rises only briefly to peaks of tension before again subsiding. The horn-calls near the end invest the music with a suggestion of the antique, sylvan setting of the drama. The second movement (Fileuse) depicts Mélisande at her spinning wheel. The whirring of the wheel is portrayed by the steady rhythmic filigree in the strings, which serves as background for the heroine’s plaintive song, intoned by the oboe. The third movement, Sicilienne, is one of Fauré’s most famous inspirations, though it was not originally composed for the incidental music for the play. Pressed for time during his preparations for the opening night of the London Pelléas, the composer borrowed this work from a chamber piece first written for cello and piano. In the London production, its quality of bittersweet nostalgia was used to underline the touching love scene between Pelléas and Mélisande. The finale, The Death of Mélisande, is a mournful elegy of quiet intensity.

Milton Cross wrote of the exquisite art of Gabriel Fauré, “In Fauré’s music, we have the art of understatement. The pure and classic beauty that pervades his greatest works is derived from simplicity, restraint, delicate sensibility, refinement, and repose.”

Suite from Carmen

Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Composed in 1872-1875.

Premiered on March 3, 1875 in Paris, conducted by Adolphe Deloffre.

Carmen, Prosper Mérimée’s earthy novella of 1845, was an unlikely subject for Georges Bizet to have chosen for representation at the Opéra-Comique, whose bourgeois works had accustomed the theater’s audiences to lighthearted, happy-ending stories disposed in breezy musical numbers separated by spoken dialogue. Heroism, tragedy and recitative were reserved for the hallowed environs of the Paris Opéra. Even though Bizet and his librettists, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, smoothed the edges of the story and the characters (Carmen was little more than a raw prostitute in Mérimée’s novella), critics and audience were bemused by the tragic progression of its plot, the depth of its characterization, the lubriciousness of its emotions, and the cumulative power of its impact at the opera’s premiere on March 3, 1875. Though Carmen did not initially achieve the success Bizet had hoped for, neither was it the fiasco that some legends later made of it. It was retained in the Opéra-Comique repertory, and given 35 times before the end of the 1875 season and thirteen the next, though Bizet died in Paris exactly three months after the premiere, knowing little of the opera’s success. Carmen then was produced to much acclaim across Europe and in America (first at New York’s Academy of Music on October 23, 1878), and by the time that it was revived at the Opéra-Comique, in 1883, the original spoken dialogue had been replaced with composed recitatives by the New Orleans-born composer Ernest Guiraud. Carmen was invariably performed in this through-composed version until Bizet’s original score again came to light in the 1960s.

The lure of Carmen continues unabated. Carmen is perhaps the most frequently performed opera in the world, having reached its 3,000th performance in Paris alone within a half-century of its premiere in 1875. In America, Carmen is one of the “operatic A-B-C’s,” the three most popular works at the Metropolitan Opera — Aida and La Bohème complete the triumvirate. It has been recorded some three-dozen times, more than any other opera save Rigoletto (according to Alan Blyth’s compendious book about Opera on Record), and it was the third opera to be recorded complete, when Emmy Destinn created the title role (in German!) in 1908, preceded only by Aida (1906) and I Pagliacci (1907). In addition to its innumerable stage presentations, three unusual versions of the opera have appeared during recent decades: Peter Brook’s controversial adaptation as a play-with-music, which emphasized the grittiness of Prosper Mérimée’s novella of 1845 on which the opera was based; Carlos Saura’s spectacular flamenco movie with Bizet’s music as accompaniment for some of the most exciting dance ever photographed; and a filmed production of the complete opera with Julia Migenes-Johnson and Placido Domingo shot on location in Spain.

Carmen continues to excite and intrigue as do few other musical works. The fascination of the opera is not just in the glorious music but also in the characterization and dramatic power that electrify the score: Carmen herself is an unfathomable mixture of dark sensuality and steely scorn; Don José is an all-too-human Everyman, drawn like a moth into the searing flame of Carmen’s temptations; Micaëla is sweet and good and pitiable and defeated by events beyond her control; Escamillo, the Toreador, parades his machismo as a mask for his lack of feeling and tenderness.

With their abundance of melody, exotic Spanish milieu and vivid orchestral colors, excerpts from Carmen have long been concert-hall favorites. “If you want to learn how to orchestrate,” counseled Richard Strauss, a master of symphonic sonority, “don’t study Wagner’s scores, study Carmen.... It is sheer perfection. What wonderful economy, how every note is in its proper place.”

The Toreadors is the brilliant music heard as the procession of bull fighters enters the arena in Seville in Act IV. In the seductive Seguidilla (Act I), Carmen lures Don José to a local tavern. In the Habanera (Act I), which Bizet based on a popular song by the Spanish composer Sebastián de Yradier, Carmen sings of the fickleness of her love. The Song of the Toreador (Act II) is the swaggering melody of the haughty bullfighter Escamillo. The Danse Bohême (Act II) is the fiery music marking Carmen’s return to her Gypsy band after fleeing from Seville.

©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

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