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October 09, 2010

October 9, 2010 Program Notes

GIOVANNI GABRIELI

Born Venice, between 1553 and 1557.  Died Venice, 21 Aguust, 1612.

Canzon septimi toni No. 2

Published in 1597, and first performed in St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice.  The score, in this edition by Robert King, calls for 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, and tuba.  The work lasts approximately 3 minutes.

Giovanni Gabrieli was organist and chief composer of St. Mark’s Basilica of Venice, Italy-a position he took over from his uncle Andrea Gabrieli in 1585.  His many works for brass, published in a volume called Sacrae Symphoniae, were antiphonal: that is, the instruments were in dialogue with one another across the resounding spaces of the church.  Since the 1960s, when brass sections from American orchestras made stereo recordings from the balconies of San Marco, American orchestras made stereo recordings from the balconies of San Marco, displaying Gabrieli’s music in the acoustic it was written for, his Canzoni or “songs” for brass have become favorites in the symphony concert hall as well. One of the most popular is the Canzon Septimi Toni No. 2, whose title indicates that the piece is in the Mixolodian church mode, based on G, the “seventh tone.”

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, 17 December 1770; died Vienna, 26 March 1827.

Consecration of the House Overture, Op. 124

Composed in September 1822, and first performed in Vienna on 3 October, 1822, the composer conducting.  The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.  The work lasts approximately 12 minutes.

Beethoven wrote his Consecration of the House (Die Weihe des Hauses) Overture to celebrate the opening of a remodeled hall in Vienna, the Theater in der Josefstadt, in 1822.  (The theatre is still going strong today!)  But the piece simultaneously served as a new overture for The Ruins of Athens, a pageant-like play by August von Kotzebue (1761-1819). Beethoven had already written incidental music for the 1811 premiere of the play in Pest, but substituted the new overture (and revised other parts of his score) for the revival that opened the Josefstadt.  Though deaf, he conducted the overture himself with the aid of an assistant.  The last overture Beethoven composed, The Consecration of the House was to be heard again in Vienna in 1824 during the concert that premiered his Ninth Symphony.

Beethoven had been studying scores of George Frideric Handel shortly before writing this overture, and the influence can be felt in the festive stateliness of the early sections and in the double fugue that climaxes the piece.  Following the declamatory opening chords, we hear proud processional music, and then a faster section featuring trumpets, kettledrums and bassoons.  A transitional section leads us to the main Allegro of the piece, with its extravagant double fugue (i.e., one with both a theme and a counter-theme), filled with Beethoven’s distinctive mood of joyful excitement.

SSO Music Director Kevin McMahon has chosen Beethoven’s overture for this program “to joyfully ‘consecrate’ a new era and relationship between orchestra, conductor, and audience.”

JOHANNES BRAHMS

Born Hamburg, 7 May 1833.  Died Vienna, 3 April 1897.

Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2, in A Major

Composed for piano in 1893.  This arrangement for orchestra by Kevin McMahon is receiving its world premiere tonight.  The score calls for oboe, clarinet, bass trombone, solo viola and strings, and lasts approximately 5 ½ minutes.

Brahms named several of his last pieces for piano “intermezzi” (interludes), perhaps on the analogy of Chopin’s Preludes, which were not written to precede other pieces of music any more than these intermezzi were meant to be inserted between larger units.  One critic has suggested that these mostly calm (though emotion-laden) works are intended as intermissions or “time outs” from the onrush of daily living; others see them as love poems to Clara Schumann, to whom they are dedicated.  The Intermezzo in A Major, the second in a set of Six Pieces, Op. 118, has a songlike structure, with the opening section separated from its subtly varied repeat by a contrasting section.  The piano score is marked Andante teneramente (tenderly slow).

Maestro McMahon, commissioned by the Maud Powell Music Festival to write an orchestration of a piano piece, chose this work of Brahms “because of its great beauty.”  The four solo parts are intended “to honor four of my conducting colleagues and friends, each of whom is represented by their instrument”: David Leibowitz (New York Repertory Orchestra, oboe), James Smith (UW-Madison, clarinet), David E. Becker (Laurence U., viola), and Michael Alexander (Cobb Symphony, trombone).

ALEXANDER ARUTIUNIAN

Born Yerevan, Armenia, 23 September, 1920.

Trumpet Concerto in A-flat Major

Composed in 1949-50, and premiered with trumpeter Aikaz Mesiayan.  The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, harp, strings, timpani, cymbals, bass drum, snare drum, and triangle.  The work, which lasts approximately 15 minutes, was last performed by the SSO on 23 November 1991, with trumpeter Dennis Najoom.

The music of Alexander Arutiunan (whose name is sometimes spelled Arutunian and even Harutyunyan) is virtually unknown in the United States-with the major exception of his Trumpet Concerto.  Made famous by the world-renowned Soviet trumpet virtuoso Timofei Dockschitzer, who wrote its elaborate cadenza, the Concerto has become one of the standard repertoire pieces for trumpet with orchestra.  Its strongly Armenian-flavored tunes and harmonies call to many listeners’ minds the music of fellow Armenian Aram Khachaturian, whose ballets and concertos are much better known in the West.

Arutiunian’s Concerto is in one movement in various contrasting sections, a traditions going back to the piano concertos of Franz Liszt.  It opens with a dramatic statement, first given to the trumpet soloist, that leads to a jaunty allegro.  A slower section is introduced by a clarinet solo spinning out an “exotic” melody with a Central Asian flavor, soon taken up by the trumpet.  Next is a development section, marked once again by the clarinet, with a new statement of the “jaunty” theme; this and the “exotic” theme are now tossed about between trumpet and orchestra.  The original dramatic theme leads to a moonlit slow movement, with the trumpet muted.  One more clarinet solo forms a bridge back to the dramatic theme, followed by the jaunty allegro and a lengthy cadenza for the trumpeter, before a quick conclusion.

AARON COPLAND

Born Brooklyn, NY, 14 November 1900; died Peekskill, NY, 2 December 1990.

Our Town, Music from the Film Score

Composed in 1940; the present arrangement was first performed in Boston on 7 May 1944, by the Boston Pops under Leonard Bernstein.  The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, glockenspiel, and strings.  The work, which lasts approximately 9 minutes, was last performed by the SSO on 3 February 1997.

Aaron Copland’s first film score was for a documentary called The City, shown at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.  It led to his being invited to Holly-wood to score the prestigious Of Mice and Men (1939) and soon thereafter, Our Town; he received Oscar nominations for both of the latter scores.  An arrangement of some of the Our Town music was given a radio performance by the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony under Howard Barlow just a month after the film’s May 1940 premiere. Copland used a shorter excerpt as the fourth movement, “Grover’s Corners,” of his suite Music of Movies in 1943, before revising his original arrangement for Leonard Bernstein, to whom the score is dedicated.

Copland’s score is, like the 1938 Thornton Wilder play on which the movie is based, both starkly simple and extremely sophisticated, and (again like the play) seems both timeless and drenched in nostalgia for a lost American past.  The music portrays Wilder’s little New England town of Grover’s Corners at the dawn of the 20th Century: its sense of community, family relations, young love, and the cycle of life death.  The melodic phrase of opening bar, one of Copland’s most memorable, will be heard many times with subtle variations, tender at first, grand and noble near the end, while an even more gentle slow waltz forms a middle sections.

Maestro McMahon chose Our Town “to highlight the new sense of community that the new music director has not only with Sheboygan, but the entire country.”

JEAN SIBELIUS

Born Hämeenlinna, Finland, 8 December 1865; died Ainola, Finland, 20 September 1957.

Symphony No. 5

Composed 1915-1919, with the final version performed in Helsinki on 24 November 1919, with the composer conducting the Helsinki City Orchestra.  The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.

Following his extremely “dark” Fourth Symphony, Sibelius’s Fifth may seem a return to sunnier realms, from the glow of the opening French horn theme to the powerful affirmation of the final chords.  But clouds frequently drift over the pastoral landscapes of the Fifth-his famous ominous tympani rolls are especially prominent in this symphony-and the triumphant ending comes only after what feels like considerable struggle.

Sibelius himself struggled with the structure of this symphony, originally conceiving of it in four movements but eventually combining the first two in a seamless manner.  The Finnish composer was becoming ever freer in handling traditional classical structures like sonata form.  Often there is a sense of constant transformation of musical themes, rather than “transitions” or “bridge passages” connecting “major statements.”  The music is always evolving in new, yet seemingly inevitable directions.

Beginning with the “dawn” music of the horns, followed by a pastoral tune for the woodwinds, the first movement offers a succession of other themes-one for unison woodwinds and French horn that is yearning and restless; another, underpinned by trombones, an impassioned outburst followed by a rocking motion in the strings.  And then this whole exposition is repeated, with the trumpet and flute taking up the “dawn” theme.  An eerie passage featuring a ghostly bassoon against whispering strings leads eventually to the “scherzo” half of this movement, which is a constantly accelerating whirl of transformed themes from the opening section.  The movement ends with a breathtaking display of wild exuberance.

As a respite from the drama of the first movement, the second might be called a fantasia on a folk tune of Sibelius’ invention.  The tune is first heard on pizzicato strings, then flutes, against the hymnlike sonorities of the other woodwinds.  The movement features a gorgeous melody for the strings, developed from the opening, tune, but the mood is darkened by many a cloud on the horizon, at times distant but occasionally quite threatening, before the final gentle statement of the tune.

The finale begins with a scurrying theme for the strings.  As it grows in energy, a new three-note theme is heard on the French horns-one that Sibelius connected to his experience of seeing a flock of 16 wild swans flying over his country estate.  He wrote in his dairy, “Lord God, that beauty!  They circled over me for a long time.  Disappeared into the solar haze like a gleaming, silver ribbon…The Fifth Symphony’s finale-theme!”  Above the swan-theme is heard a soaring extended melody for woodwinds.  After the scurrying theme returns, the finale builds toward its conclusions, with the swan-theme and the soaring melody heard as part of what becomes a titanic though extremely compressed conflict, leading ultimately to an ending unlike any in symphonic music: a series of six chords resonating in daringly long silences, until the final two of these chords bring the symphony to its emphatic close.

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