Concert No. 1
September 11, 2016, 4pm
Jackson Auditorium, TLU, Seguin
David Mairs: Taps and America the Beautiful
Francis Scott Key (1779-1843): Star-Spangled Banner
David Mairs: Lacrimosa et Benedictus (for the Victims)
George Gershwin (1898-1937): Concerto in F (Piano and Orchestra)
Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904): Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, From the New World
Patriotic Songs of America
“Taps” is the familiar bugle call played at U.S. Military bases across the country at day's end, signaling lights out. It is also used as a final farewell at military funerals and more generally as a farewell to victims of a community or national tragedy, such as the events of 9/11.
The bugle call is sometimes referred to as “Butterfield's Lullaby,” but more commonly as “Taps.” It is believed that during the time preceding the American Civil War the playing of “Taps” indicating lights out was followed by three drum taps. Thus our usage of “Taps” as the name of the call. Regarding “Butterfield's Lullaby,” there was an earlier version of the call in use around 1835 which was then altered slightly by the Union General Daniel Butterfield. This is the way we know the melody today.
The custom of using “Taps” to honor the dead began in July, 1862, when a corporal in Captain John C. Tidball's Battery A was killed in action. Tidball described him as “a most excellent man.” Despite that, higher authorities refused permission to bury the soldier with full military honors, including the firing of three guns over the grave. Thus, Captain Tidball opted to have his Battery A bugler sound “Taps” to honor the fallen corporal. This moving gesture soon caught on throughout the military, both on the Union and Confederate sides. The sounding of “Taps” brings today a great sense of history as well as emotion.
Although there are no official words to “Taps,” these lyrics by Horace Lorenzo Trim certainly sum up both the “lights out” and “honor the dead” intentions of the call:
Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
About songs, we often hear the hypothetical question: “Which came first, the melody or the words?” In the case of American the Beautiful it was the melody, written and harmonized by Samuel A. Ward. It was first written in 1882 for the hymn O Mother dear, Jerusalem, but was not published until 1892. The words had their beginning as a poem, called Pikes Peak, by Katharine Lee Bates, published in 1895. It was not until 1910 that the words and music were wedded into the popular American patriotic song we know today as American the Beautiful.
Sadly, Ward died before America the Beautiful was published, never knowing the full power of his music. However, Bates lived on until 1929. By then, American the Beautiful had achieved immense popularity, a standing it still holds today. In fact, beginning about the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, there have been countless proposals that America the Beautiful be given official status as our national hymn. Some have even suggested, and continue to do so, that American the Beautiful should replace The Star-Spangled Banner as the National Anthem of the United States of America.
The Star-Spangled Banner had the opposite beginning of America the Beautiful in that the melody came first, then the words. By September 13, 1814, there already existed a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith called To Anacreon in Heaven. It was, essentially, a drinking song. The significance of 9/13/1814 is that the date marks the early morning upon which the amateur poet Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British naval vehicles. The poem opens with the question known by all Americans: “Oh Say, can you see, by the dawn's early light . . .” The question continues: “What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?” His question refers to the large American flag which flew over the fort. As we all know, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”
The Star-Spangled Banner, coupled with Smith's music, immediately became a popular patriotic song despite its challenging range of an octave plus a fifth. Note that America the Beautiful has a much more manageable range of only a little over an octave. However, The Star-Spangled Banner had the jump on America the Beautiful, gaining a degree of official status in 1889 when it was used by the United Stated Navy. Woodrow Wilson endorsed a wider use of the song as our national hymn in 1916, but it was not until 1931 that a congressional resolution passed making The Star-Spangled Banner the official National Anthem.
All of this history of national songs prefaces today's memory of the tragic day 9/11/2001. Long may we remember the events of the fateful day which have changed the world in dramatic ways. Those changes are still evolving. Is there hope that one day we will be able to look back and see the events in New York City, rural Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. as the tragedy they were without the need to rattle more sabres? Today's music will perhaps aid the healing which is years overdue.
David Mairs: Lacrimosa et Benedictus (for the Victims)
David Mairs had not only the profound sadness of 9/11 on his mind but also a deep desire for the healing to begin when he composed Lacrimosa et Benedictus (Weeping and Blessing). His concern was not just for those who died in the direct path of the tragedies of that day, 9/11, but for the fire fighters and other first responders who exhibited such heroism in the days which followed. However, to say that this music grieves only for those victims is to miss the broader meaning of David's composition. It also mourns the innocent victims who got in the way of the retaliation; in a more general sense, Lacrimosa et Benedictus recalls victims of other national and international tragedies. In an interview with John Clare in August, 2011, David refers to those who lost lives and livelihood during Hurricane Katrina. He is clear that this is much more than just a memorial to 9/11, that it is more universal in its intentions.
“I took an eight bar passage from the final movement of Mahler's Third Symphony, called What Love Tells Me,” said Mairs, “and used that as a transition to a benediction I wrote back when I was a pastor in Michigan. It is an expression of both sadness and hope.”
George Gershwin: Concerto in F
George Gershwin, with his brother Ira writing the lyrics, was one of America's greatest composers of memorable songs. But his ambition ranged much further than Broadway. He sought to break down the walls which separated music and musicians into genres. Musical theater was not Grand Opera. An overture for a show at the Schubert Theater was not a Schubert Overture. Gershwin believed they should stand on equal footing and thanks to his perseverance the walls did begin to crumble. Beginning in 1924 with the one-act opera Blue Monday and the following year with Rhapsody in Blue, the opening salvo had been fired. Still there were plenty of naysayers. Classical conductor Walter Damrosch was not one of them. The day after he heard Gershwin play the Rhapsody with the Paul Whiteman Band at Aeolian Hall, Damrosch offered Gershwin a commission to write a piano concerto. Gershwin immediately negotiated a contract guaranteeing not only a concerto in 8 months’ time, but also agreeing to give seven performances of the concerto with Damrosch and the New York Symphony.
One might assume that with such confidence on the surface that Gershwin already had a plan. But he did not. In fact, he already had a rather full plate of prior commitments, shows to complete, and performances, not to even mention his busy social schedule. Nevertheless, the proposed concerto, with a working title of “New York Concerto,” began to take shape in Gershwin's mind. After some months he began to tinker with various themes and a vague idea about the eventual form of the piece. He jotted down on a piece of paper his overall plan:
- Melody [Blues]
- More Rhythm
By mid-summer, he was happy to accept an offer from Ernest Hutchenson to come to Chautauqua, in northwestern New York State, where he could work in relative isolation. The work began to come together, including some notations regarding orchestration. This was projected to be a full-fledged concerto for piano and a Tchaikovsky sized orchestra. Gershwin was an able pianist and composer, but he was learning how to write for the orchestra on the fly.
In the end, it seems to have evolved as Gershwin had at first so vaguely described: rhythm-melody-more rhythm. He summed up the final product thus:
- The first movement employs the Charleston rhythm. It is quick and pulsating, representing the young enthusiastic spirit of American life.
- The second movement has a poetic nocturnal atmosphere which has come to be referred to as the American blues.
- The final movement reverts to the style of the first. It is an orgy of rhythms.
Gershwin's Concerto in F, the title he finally gave the work, was a mixed success at first, but its reputation grew with more performances. However, where Rhapsody in Blue had been an immediate sensation, it took several years for the Concerto to finally take its place in the repertoire of pianists and orchestras. Another wall had fallen in Gershwin's quest to become a classical as well as popular composer.
Antonin Dvorák: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, op. 95, From the New World
George Gershwin's Concerto in F might have been a bit jarring for Antonin Dvorák. But we have no way of knowing, since Gershwin's Concerto was not written until 1924 and Dvorák had died in 1904. On the other hand, Dvorák might have eventually been moved to admire Gershwin's classical efforts. After all, they reflected what Dvorák had told American composers on numerous occasions, that they needed to write their own music, an American music which echoed the sounds around them. Dvorák even spent time in America, preaching to the skeptical Americans who continued to believe that in order to be accepted as serious, their music had to sound European.
When Dvorák came to New York City in 1892, with instructions to found a National Conservatory of Music, he divided his time between the city and the small Bohemian-settled community of Spillville, Iowa. As he began to absorb sounds of the American countryside, the birdcalls, the indigenous chants of the American Indians, and the soulful songs of Black Americans, he became more and more convinced that “America can have her own music, a fine music growing up from her own soul and having its own special character – the natural voice of a free and great nation.”
After several years in America, Dvorák succumbed to homesickness and returned to the Bohemian countryside to live his final years. But not before writing what became almost immediately the most popular of Dvorák's nine symphonies. Here he pulled out all the stops, showing the American composers exactly what he had been preaching to them for years. The new symphony, called From the New World, included dance rhythms which might have come from Native Americans and a form of soulful song, inspired by Negro spirituals, which might be called “the blues.” Hmm . . . Rhythm-melody-more rhythm. Does that sound familiar? Perhaps the Americans did not really learn Dvorák's lessons until Gershwin came along.
One final bookend to today's program. When Dvorák came to America in 1892, he would often hear the song My Country, 'Tis of Thee, to the melody of God Save the Queen, performed as the de facto National Anthem of the United States. He approved of the words, but thought it strange that the Americans did not have an original American melody to go with them. In December, 1892, he sketched a melody which he believed could become the American national anthem. In fact, he declared as much: “This is going to be the next American national anthem,” even going so far as to state that “it will be arranged for baritone, choir, and orchestra.” So what was this melody for Dvorák's American National Anthem? The curious can seek it out, embedded in the slow movement of the composer's String Quintet in E-flat major, op. 97, a work which was composed in Spillville, immediately after his American Quartet! You can find the mystery melody in the “Larghetto with variations” movement.
Concert No. 2
October 16, 2016, 4pm
Performing Arts Center, Canyon High School, New Braunfels
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884): The Bartered Bride: Overture
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983): Estancia: Ballet Suite
Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904): Cello Concerto in B Minor
We live in tumultuous times. The Middle East is fragmented along religious and ethnic lines, defying political borders. Much the same can be found in Europe where we have watched over the past half-century shuffling of borders, especially in Eastern Europe, but then the great experiment in unification which is still only an experiment, and an imperfect experiment at that. Will the European Union meet the same fate as Humpty Dumpty? Will it fracture again into many different pieces? Time will tell. Meanwhile, the music on today's program shows a different side, not one of unification, but rather of fracture along lines of nationalism and language.
The layout of Smetana – Ginastera – Dvorák is striking first for its symmetry, for both Smetana and Dvorák were Bohemian. (There was yet no Czechoslovakia, and of course there was no Czech Republic as the country of Smetana and Dvorák is today described.) In the middle of this shelf of music, with the bookends of Smetana and Dvorák, is the Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. There is great variety here, because each of these composers wrote music in a nationalist style.
But nationalism was not always so apparent in music. Yes, there were always indigenous folk traditions which showed through song and dance, and even in Bach's time these folk elements were sometimes formalized into music. But for the most part, when we look at classical music, or perhaps better said, Classical music (as in that specific period of music, roughly 1750-1827), there is something more Universal than Nationalistic. It was not until the early nineteenth century that composers began to break away from the idea that everything conform to a universal format. Experiments began. Weber, in Germany, wrote the opera Der Freischutz, and it took off, charming audiences with its many folk elements. Other composers took note. But was the Nationalism which began to emerge bound by political borders? Was it somehow geographic in nature, or ethnic? And if it were ethnic, did it get into the messy area of religious preferences? The answer is pretty much a mix of all of the above, though political borders likely had the least to do with it. Maybe, just maybe, it was more to do with language than anything else.
Bedřich Smetana: The Bartered Bride: Overture
Bedřich Smetana was born in Litomyšl, east of Prague, on March 2, 1824. At that time, this region was considered part of the Habsburg Monarchy, later formalized as the Austrian Empire. The reach of the Austrian Empire enveloped many different ethnic groups, many of them with their own language. However, German was the official language of the Austrian Empire. Other languages were not only discouraged, but often forbidden. Such was the case with Bohemian, later known as Czech. Smetana, and later Dvorák, emerged as zealous proponents of nationalism, particularly as it pertained to their language. Smetana, especially, railed so loudly against the ban on using the Bohemian language that his friends often urged him to flee the area, lest he be jailed.
In the end, Smetana won, but not before self-imposed exile in both Sweden and later the countryside outside of Prague. Musical recognition was hard-won. Smetana was often a poor student, plus he had a reputation for being hard headed about the need for a true Bohemian voice in the music of Prague and the surrounding territory. He petitioned several times for posts in Prague, both with the Prague Conservatory and the National Provisional Theatre, conceived as a home for Czech opera. Ironically, Smetana found himself caught in a linguistic trap. He had been educated in German, as had most in his generation, so this eventual champion of all things Bohemian, including the language, had a rather rough concept of the tongue. He did not yet possess the fluency to achieve his goal of writing the first great Czech opera.
By the time Smetana finally found his footing as a bonifide master of Bohemian culture and language, other nationalist schools of music were already thriving. It is something of a contradiction that today we regard Czech music as among the first and most distinctive nationalist music to emerge, yet it was not until 1866 that Smetana's acknowledged operatic masterpiece, The Bartered Bride, was given its first performance. It failed, not of its own shortcomings but because the evening of the premiere was one of the hottest evenings of the year. To make matters worse, Prussian troops were staging for the beginning of the Austro-Prussian War, just on the footsteps of Prague. It would not be until 1870 that The Bartered Bride finally made its mark. Its success is thought today to mark the beginning of Czech Nationalism in music and Smetana is correctly identified as the Father of Czech Music.
Sadly, Bedřich Smetana suffered greatly in the years following the success of The Bartered Bride. As he worked on his most famous composition, the symphonic cycle called Má vlast (My Fatherland), Smetana became aware of encroaching deafness. Unlike Beethoven, who continued to be productive as he grew deaf, Smetana's debilitation led first to depression, insomnia, and hallucinations, then to serious deterioration of his mental state. He died on May 12, 1884, his official cause of death listed as senile dementia. What a sad end to one whose music brings us so much joy through it expression of Bohemian song and dance.
Alberto Ginastera: Estancia: Ballet Suite
Alberto Ginastera, born in Buenos Aires in 1916, emerged as one of the most important music voices of Latin America. Though you might think that by the second decade of the twentieth century all “classical” music would be cast in a nationalist mold, such was not the case. There were still certain conventions which attempted to steer composers in terms of formal structure and design. Gershwin, in New York, was struggling with this as he composed his Concerto in F and Villa-Lobos, in Brazil was also handcuffed to some extent by those who believed music had to conform to certain formats. A piano concerto should be modeled after Mozart or Beethoven, a symphony after Haydn. Thus the conundrum facing composers in the New World was little different than the barriers Smetana and later, Dvorák, had to face in finding their own voices.
In the case of Alberto Ginastera, we find a composer whose career passed through several distinctive phases, ranging from bold, outright nationalism to a very modern style at the end which spoke a much more contemporary, less nationalistic musical language. The ballet Estancia definitely falls into the early period. The music echoes the songs, dances and rhythms of the gaucho, the landless native horsemen of the Argentine plains, making this some of the most energetic music ever written by Ginastera.
The ballet was commissioned in 1941 by Lincoln Kirstein. He was the leader of the performance troupe American Ballet Caravan. Unfortunately, the dance company disbanded in 1942, before it was able to perform the piece. Rather than sit and wait for the next opportunity for Estancia as dance music, Ginastera extracted four dances from the score, producing a concert suite for orchestra.
- “Los trabajadores agricolas (The Land Workers)”
- “Danza del trigo (Wheat Dance)”
- “Los peones de hacienda (The Cattlemen)”
- “Danza final (Malambo)”
That final dance is so popular, it often stands apart from the rest of the suite. It is a highly energetic depiction of a dance-off between a young man from the city and the sleep-under-the-stars gauchos. In the end, it is love which triumphs, for the youngster from the city outdances the gauchos to win the heart of the rancher's daughter. In truth, it is the music which triumphs. See if you agree.
Antonin Dvorák: Cello Concerto in B Minor
Meanwhile, let's jump back in time about half a century for the germination of Antonin Dvorák's Cello Concerto in B Minor. But if you think this requires us to go back to the Old World, think again, for Dvorák wrote his now famous concerto during his time supervising the establishment of an American music conservatory, in New York City. This was not his first attempt at writing a concerto for cello. He had actually begun such a work in 1865, but lost interest when he concluded that the cello was unfit as a solo instrument! He loved the middle register, but felt the lower notes rumbled rather than sang and that the upper notes were shrill.
His attitude changed dramatically in 1894 when Dvorák heard Victor Herbert's Cello Concerto No. 2 when it was premiered in New York with Herbert as the soloist. Dvorák was so impressed that he went backstage, embraced the composer/cellist and immediately went away to begin his own cello concerto. Not only did Herbert's work inspire Dvorak to reconsider the possibilities, but Dvorák also came away with the key of b-minor, the tonality of the slow movement of Herbert's concerto, in his mind.
Though the Cello Concerto in B Minor was written during Dvorák's final year in America, by now he was so homesick that the work overflows with Bohemian passion. Dvorák wasted little time in the writing of this, his final concerto. He began the score on November 8, 1894 and finished on February 9, 1895. When he returned to Prague in April, 1895, he showed the score to his friend, the cellist Hanuš Wihan. Wihan liked the concerto, but suggested several alterations. Dvorák stood by his score as he had written it and refused almost all the suggested changes. In fact, when he sent the score away for publication, he explicitly instructed the publisher Simrock: “I give you my work only if you will promise me that no one – not even my friend Wihan – shall make any alteration in it without my knowledge and permission.”
Dvorák's Cello Concerto is typical of all his music in that melody after melody flow from the page and into the ears of the appreciative listener. This is music which speaks to the heart in the dual languages of Bohemian and Music. Coded within those flowing melodies are the sight and sound of Nature, but also a heartfelt expression of love and sadness. As Dvorák wrote the concerto he got a note from back home in Bohemia. His sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, who had been the first love of his life, wrote that she was gravely ill. On hearing of this, Dvorák inserted into the final movement a quiet but passionate quote of his song “Leave Me Alone,” one of Josefina's favorites.
Leave me alone with my dreams
Where my heart can no longer trouble me.
Leave me the delights, the pains I feel since I first saw him.
Leave me in peace: do not drive joy from my heart
With the harsh words I hear around me.
Leave me the glowing image of his face.
Don’t think I am bewitched.
You cannot know the thrill of his priceless love.
Today we see the profound influence of nationalism in music. As the world seeks to become a smaller place, music can, and should continue to speak a thousand different languages.
Concert No. 3
December 11, 2016, 4pm
Jackson Auditorium, TLU, Seguin
Antonio Vivaldi (1675-1741): Gloria in D, RV 589
Georges Bizet (1838-1875): Farandole, from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2
David Mairs: Carols from Near and Far
Leroy Anderson (1908-1975): Sleigh Ride
There is a very interesting and informative book about classical music called Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1000 Greatest Works. It was written by Phil G. Goulding, a former journalist, one-time Assistant Secretary of Defense, and a petroleum industry executive. No, there is not a word about his having studied music formally, but it is evident once you read his book that he has listened to a lot of music in his lifetime and has also gathered a lot of entertaining vignettes about those 50 greatest composers and their music.
I mention Mr. Goulding because his book is a bit of a go to resource when you do not need to plunge headlong into more formal resources. There is a time and place for those, but I rather enjoy Mr. Goulding's amusement at Stravinsky's comment that “Vivaldi wrote the same concerto a hundred times.” There is something funny about Stravinsky's remark, and some element of truth there as well. Another tidbit from Goulding you are not likely to encounter just anywhere is that Georges Bizet is not really Georges Bizet. His father, a singing teacher, and his mother, a professional piano player, named their son Alexandre César Léopold Bizet. Thank goodness for the godfather who decided Georges was a better fit.
Also of interest when I look through Goulding's list of The 50 Greatest Composers is that he ranks Vivaldi number 37 and Bizet is number 38. Surely this is not why we have on today's program Vivaldi's Gloria in the lead-off position, with Bizet second in the lineup, but it still strikes me as an amusing coincidence.
Antonio Vivaldi: Gloria in D, RV 589
If we step back 100 years or so, we might not even find Vivaldi on a top 50 list. Interest in his music did not really return to a boil until some 200 years after his death in 1741. Look him up in an older music text book. An Introduction to Music, by Martin Bernstein and Martin Picker, published first in 1937, with revisions in 1951 and 1966, was a book used at the University of Texas at Austin when I studied there in the late 1960s through the early 70s. Today, I pick up the book and check the index for Vivaldi. There is one page, and that one page only mentions that most of J.S. Bach's concertos “adhere to Vivaldi's standardized sequence of three movements, etc., etc.” There's never a mention that Antonio Vivaldi practically invented the instrumental concerto – he wrote 450 of them. Nor is there mention that Vivaldi composed 49 operas and countless cantatas, motets and oratorios.
And what about that other oversight? There is not a whisper about Vivaldi's most famous composition, at least in terms of popularity: The Four Seasons. Hmm. Something fishy here. Or is there? Once music historians began to dig into the history of Vivaldi, they found that he was often taken for granted during his lifetime. Not everyone ignored him. They discovered that J.S. Bach had great respect for Vivaldi, owned scores of some of Vivaldi's music, and Bach studied them. In fact, Bach reworked some of Vivaldi's music into keyboard concertos.
Could it be that Vivaldi was taken for granted because he essentially worked for the same employer for the better part of 40 years? In fact, it was not until his final years that Vivaldi began to look at other opportunities. Unfortunately, that did not quite work out for him, but more about that in a moment. What about that lifetime working for the same employer? He lived most of his life in Venice, a city which eventually had legitimate claim to being home to four music conservatories. A traveler from France wrote of what he found in Venice on a visit there in 1739:
"The Ospedali [the term used for the orpanages] have the best music here. There are four of them, all for illegitimate or orphaned girls whose parents cannot support them. These are brought up at the State's expense and trained exclusively in music. Indeed, they sing like angels, play the violin, flute, organ, oboe, cello, bassoon... The performances are entirely their own and each concert is composed of about forty girls."
Vivaldi was employed most of his lifetime at Ospedale della Pietà, generally regarded as the best of the four Ospedali in Venice. There he was charged with the musical education of as many as 40 girls at a time. He instructed them in the playing of stringed and other instruments as well, while also writing studies and etudes, plus hundreds of concertos for his young students. They were also given vocal training, such that in the end, Vivaldi had both a first rank chorus and a fine orchestra. As long as Vivaldi maintained the excellent training and kept the musicians well supplied with music, everyone was happy, and they were happy for many years.
Vivaldi wrote several different settings of Gloria, but the most famous is from around 1715. The work was lost after Vivaldi's death in 1741 and did not resurface again until the late 1920s. It had to wait yet another decade before it got a post-Vivaldi revival, and then languished a while longer, until 1957, when a reliable full score and parts was published. It is hard to believe, but true, that we are still less than 75 years into a full appreciation and revival of the massive body of work written by Vivaldi.
The life of Vivaldi had a sad ending. He had done alright financially during his lifetime, despite being taken for granted, but he also spent somewhat lavishly. Toward the end, as interest in his music waned in Italy, he found a patron based in Vienna. Unfortunately, no sooner had Vivaldi pulled up stakes and moved to Vienna, his patron, Charles VI, died. This left Vivaldi stranded and destitute. He died soon afterward and was laid to rest in a pauper's grave.
Georges Bizet: Farandole, from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2
Mention the name Alexandre César Léopold Bizet and most will shrug their shoulders, not knowing that this is, in fact, Georges Bizet. Mention the opera The Pearl Fishers and most will respond with a blank stare, not knowing that this is the “other” opera by Georges Bizet. Similar responses might meet other of Bizet's compositions, such as Jeux d'enfants (Children’s Games) and L'Arlésienne. Many might consider Georges Bizet a one hit wonder, testament to the impact of his masterpiece, Carmen. It is a great opera, and in its various orchestral suites, it is wonderful concert music. Who does not love “March of the Toreadors” and the “Bohemian Dance”?
But to focus upon Carmen as the only music of significance written by Bizet is to deny him as a composer of strictly instrumental music. A good example is the youthful Symphony in C, but another would be the 27 miniatures he wrote as incidental music for L'Arlésienne, a collection of short stories by Alphonse Daudet. The stories caught the public's imagination and called out for dramatization. But Daudet's theatrical setting of L'Arlésienne turned out to be a flop, even with Bizet's music played from the pit by a small group of 26 musicians. Before the show was even officially shut down, Bizet had taken the best of the music and rearranged it for a standard orchestra. He published four selections as the L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1. After Bizet's untimely death, he had not yet reached his 37th birthday, his friend and colleague, Ernest Guiraud, published a second suite. It is this suite which ends with Bizet's skillful recasting of a traditional folk tune from Provence in counterpoint with the Marche des Rois (Kings' March). It is this, the march of the three kings as part of the Christmas Story, which is heard on this afternoon's program.
David Mairs' skill as a composer/arranger is well displayed in his various settings of music for the Christmas Season. Every Holiday Concert by the Mid-Texas Symphony since David's arrival over 20 years ago has featured his arrangements, always greeted with delight from the orchestra, the chorus, and the eager young musicians who are featured annually on the December concert. But the truest delight comes from the audience, many with children and grandchildren onstage with the orchestra. Today is no exception.
And what Christmas concert would be complete without something by Leroy Anderson? Flip a coin. Will it be Anderson's medley of familiar carols, or his other staple of the season, Sleigh Ride? The jaunty opening immediately suggests a sleigh ride. Anderson wrote the piece in 1948 as the nation continued to transition from the dark days of World War II to the eventual optimism of the 1950s. It was surely music which helped heal the wounds of the war and provide at least a brief respite from the reality of post-war global politics. Though we rarely hear Sleigh Ride with the Mid-Texas Symphony's excellent chorus, there are words familiar to many which were penned in 1950 by lyricist Mitchell Parish. The references to Farmer Gray and Currier and Ives lend the perfect all-American touch to Leroy Anderson's score. Chorus or not, let the words ring in your mind to this wonderful musical icon of the season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!
Concert No. 5
March 26, 2017, 4pm
Jackson Auditorium, TLU, Seguin
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Sinfonia No. 3 in G
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Concerto for Violin No. 5 in A, Turkish
Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809): Symphony No. 104 in D, London
For the most part, when you think of orchestra concerts you will have expectations of hearing music from one of four musical periods, or epochs. These are:
Modern (1900 and onward)
What confuses many is that all of this music, spread over 5 plus centuries, and even more if we consider the Renaissance and Medieval Periods, is referred to rather generically as “classical music.” But to insist that “classical” only refers to a span of 75 years or so is only nit-picking and, for the more casual listener, confusing. In certain circles there are people pacing about, trying to come up with descriptors for this music we all love so dearly. They recently coined the term “serious music,” but that just does not do it for me. There is a lot of music created and performed “seriously” outside the boundaries of a symphony orchestra and a concert hall. To claim this for OUR music and not allow it for THEIRS is shortsighted. So, agree or not, it is much less confusing to just leave it alone and agree that there are two meanings to classical, one referring to the specific period of 1750 to 1827 (roughly from the death of Bach to the death of Beethoven) and then more broadly as the umbrella which welcomes a wide range of music and composers, from Vivaldi to Haydn to Mozart and even including Berg, Stravinsky, Copland and beyond.
That said, there's a good bit of wiggle room in describing today's concert program. On the surface, it appears to include one composer of the Baroque and two composers of the Classical Period. And that is a fine way to look at it. But some may recall the program notes for the last concert by the Mid-Texas Symphony in which I wrote of the innovative nature of Antonio Vivaldi's music. His instrumental music was groundbreaking. Some consider him the inventor of the concerto, for instance, a piece of music for one or more soloists, accompanied by an ensemble, or orchestra. Could Mozart, a prolific composer of concertos for piano, violin, horn, oboe, flute, even glass harmonica (!) have accomplished what he did without the blueprint passed to him from Vivaldi?
And what about Franz Josef Haydn, affectionately referred to as “Papa” Haydn? A strong argument can be made that even if he was not technically the inventor of the symphony, he was certainly its strongest and most inventive proponent. But could he have done what he did, composing 104 numbered symphonies during his lifetime, without the model provided by Antonio Vivaldi?
Let's look at that relationship. Vivaldi died in 1741, alone and destitute in Vienna. Although his fame had waned considerably during his final years, Vivaldi was still known within the inner circles of music. Thus, he was shown the respect of having music performed at his funeral. Among the musicians performing at his graveside was a young boy chorister named Josef Haydn. Yes, it was that Haydn, born in Rohrau, Austria in 1732, who was one of the six boys who sang at Vivaldi's funeral. Even if most in Vienna did not know who Vivaldi was, nine-year old Haydn did. And he continued to know and admire Vivaldi through The Four Seasons and also through Vivaldi's numerous instrumental works called Sinfonias, precursors of the symphony, a form which took off during the classical period and has been with us ever since.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Sinfonia No. 3 in G
The title, Sinfonia, translates to symphony. But these were hardly symphonies in the same sense as the late symphonies by Mozart, or Haydn's important works and they are further still from the symphonies by Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms. Nevertheless, there are some common elements, enough to conclude that Vivaldi's “symphonies” were an important step toward the half-hour and longer works which came later and are now the foundation of most orchestral concerts. Vivaldi's Sinfonia in G is typical of the early symphonies from the late Baroque era. They are short by modern standards, and they generally do not come to a screeching halt at the end of each movement. However, they are made up of contrasting movements, generally in a fast-slow-fast arrangement, often with a slow introduction at the very beginning.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791): Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major
This same arrangement of contrasting materials and speeds is found in the more extended symphonies and concertos of the Classical Period. Melodies are longer, more involved, and allow themselves to be developed within the context of new rules for form and structure. We hear this in the Violin Concerto No. 5 by Mozart. He excelled at writing melody and if a second, contrasting melody was necessary, all the better for the precocious young man of 19. Once the themes were presented came the next level of craftsmanship, the development of those ideas. Here Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven excelled. They could play around with the development with infinite originality, leaving the listener wondering if the music had lost its way. But then, as if by miracle, the opening theme would return to carry the movement to its end. Needless to say, this is far advanced from the 2 or 3 minute fast sections of a Baroque Sinfonia such as the one we heard by Vivaldi. It is a different world.
As in Vivaldi's Sinfonia, Mozart or any of the other Classical Masters would then almost always write a slow movement between the livelier first and final movements. This is where the music is most allowed to sing, and in a sense this is where Mozart was in his element. Just as Vivaldi was best known for his concertos, Mozart was famous for his many operas. But he also had such great skill at creating memorable melodies, or arias, that he was somehow able to transcend the limitations of purely instrumental music and write songlike melodies which seem to work for any voice, real or instrumental. The slow movement of the Violin Concerto No. 5 allows the solo violin center stage, as though a soprano singing a love song.
This concerto, the fifth of five by Mozart, is sometimes referred to as the Turkish Concerto. This reflects a growing fascination with the exotic music of Turkey which was beginning to filter into the musical capitals of Europe. At first, it was by using the distinctive percussion instruments of Turkey, such as the triangle and cymbals, that composers created a Turkish sound in their music. But then the more adventurous, such as Mozart, began writing scales and intervals which mimicked the foreign sounds of Turkey. In the final movement of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 we find a bit of Constantinople in the writing for the solo violin and also in the underlying accompaniment from the orchestra. This must certainly have delighted audiences of the day, just as it brings smiles to our faces in these more modern times.
Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809): Symphony No. 104 in D Major, London
As mentioned earlier, there are three composers who are standouts of the Classical Period. They are Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. The fact that Beethoven came later than the other two, sets him apart. He observed with a certain degree of respect the somewhat genteel ways of Haydn and Mozart. But then he could contain himself no longer. Almost from the beginning of his work as the creator of symphonies, Beethoven was looking into a world no one had yet imagined. He spent his lifetime marking the trail to the Romantic era. In contrast, Mozart and Haydn chose a less radical path. This is not to say they were not innovators, for they were, especially Haydn. It is somewhat surprising since Mozart considered Haydn old fashioned. This seemed to not bother the old man and he likely never brought up the fact that he was often the adventurer of the Classical era.
Haydn wrote 104 numbered symphonies. An overview of these will immediately reveal the daring of Haydn. He wrote 11 of those symphonies in minor keys, something that composers of the Classical Period often avoided. By contrast, Mozart only wrote two minor key symphonies. But there are other areas of originality too. For example, Haydn would sometimes challenge that old Baroque idea of fast-slow-fast, in other words a construction of three movements. Haydn would often insert another movement, usually some sort of dance, into his symphonies, giving them four movements. That is the case with the Symphony No. 104, the last of Haydn's symphonies, and one often called by the nickname London.
To confuse matters slightly, the entire group of Haydn's final twelve symphonies are known as his “London” symphonies. Most, but not all, were actually written in London. However, even the several of those final 12 which were written in Vienna, were all intended for performance in London, where Haydn was very well known, revered even. As a result, he was well paid for his efforts. Writing of the reception of his Symphony No. 104, Haydn said: "The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made 4000 gulden on this evening: such a thing is possible only in England." For the curious, 4000 gulden, in 1795, would have an equivalent dollar value today of about $70,000. Not bad for a night's work!
Concert No. 7
May 7, 2017, 4pm
Jackson Auditorium, TLU, Seguin
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868): Overture to La Gazza Ladra
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901): La Traviata: Prelude to Act I
Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod
Richard Strauss (1864-1949): Der Rosenkavalier Suite
Look at today's program and what do you see? Igor Stravinsky might see it as a “Jeu de Cartes (Game of Cards)” and I sort of look at it that way too. Follow me. Four composers. Two Italians. Two Germans. One pair, Rossini and Verdi, can rightfully claim shares of both the Classical and Romantic eras of music. The other pair, Wagner and Strauss, likewise claim two musical eras, Romantic and Modern. In this pretend game of cards, which pair is the stronger? I looked it up in According to Hoyle and there was no mention of classical composers. But rather than give up the card game analogy, perhaps it is better to look at today's program as a potent four of a kind, for each of these composers made his reputation in the world of opera.
I suppose that makes today's vocal soloist the wild card even though as these program notes go to press we do not yet know who the Competition Winner will be. That is perfect, for our hand of cards becomes either a full house, or five-of-a-kind, whichever way you choose to look at it. It is a very strong hand, indeed. And this should insure an entertaining afternoon of music from your Mid-Texas Symphony!
Rossini: Overture to La Gazza Ladra
Gioachino Rossini was born February 29, 1792 and died November 13, 1868, living to the ripe old age, for that time, of 76. Yet, in 1829, after having written 39 operas, he declared he would never write another. Why he chose to close the tap of his creativity at the young age of 37 is a question for debate. Some speculate it was failing health while others cite the death of his mother as the reason. Without question, however, he could afford it, for during the prime of his creativity he made a tremendous amount of money. Just as an example, for a five-month residency in London in 1823 he received the modern equivalent of over half a million dollars. But perhaps the clincher in understanding how Rossini could afford to turn away from opera was the lifetime pension promised him by King Charles X of France. Mammas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Let them be composers instead.
Although we think today of Rossini as the composer of comic operas, surely none more entertaining to the funny bone than Barber of Seville, he wrote serious and semi-serious operas as well. La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie) is an example of the latter. Nevertheless, there is great humor in the Overture, said to have been the last pages Rossini wrote for that particular score. This theory of the overture as a last minute toss-off would seem to be underscored by a story repeated by Norman Lebrecht. When Rossini was asked about what seemed to be careless mistakes in his scores, he replied:
“I should not have so many faults to reproach myself with if I had leisure to read my manuscript twice over; but you know very well that scarcely six weeks are allowed me to compose an opera. I take my pleasure during the first month . . . would you have me wait till I am grown old and full of spleen? At length the two last weeks arrive; I compose every morning a duo or air, which is to be rehearsed that very evening. How then would you have me detect little faults of grammar in the accompaniments?”
Thus it is believable that the Overture to La Gazza Ladra was one of those things put to the last minute. It is said that in order to get the overture out of him, he was locked into a room and forced to pass the score to the overture, page by page, out the window to the musicians waiting below.
Verdi: La Traviata: Prelude Act I
Despite Giuseppe Verdi's being born into the world of Rossini, Rossini was 20 when Verdi was born, there seems on the surface little similarity between the two of them. Rossini today is recognized mostly for his comedies, while Verdi is better known for his dramatic operas, often informed by history and even politics. Of course, it is always dangerous to deal in generalities. After all, Rossini wrote a number of historical operas and Verdi wrote the hilarious Falstaff as a comedic swan song.
Verdi was not the direct successor to Rossini. That responsibility fell to Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti. They filled the gap between Rossini's early retirement and the death of Donizetti in 1848. Meanwhile, Verdi grew up, pursued a life as a musician, despite failing the examination for entrance into the conservatory in Milan, and made his plans to become the next important Italian operatic composer. He demonstrated that determination throughout his life, such that it came to define him. This sense of single-minded purpose also helped pull him through an early personal tragedy when his son, daughter, and wife all died within the year 1840. He declared he would never compose again, despite being under contract from La Scala to write three operas. He begged to be released from the contract, but Bartolomeo Merelli, the director at La Scala, would not allow it. His insistence that Verdi write another opera paid off finally with Nabucco and its famous “Hebrew Slave Chorus.”
It was now non-stop activity as Verdi wrote 13 operas over the next 8 years. This flurry was followed by Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata. There was no doubt who had taken control of Italian opera. Yet few realized he would maintain that grip until it passed to Puccini in 1893 with the premiere of Manon Lescaut.
The Prelude to Act I of La Traviata is unlike Rossini's overture heard earlier, where the music was a sampler of melodies to come within the opera. Instead, Verdi saw the prelude's function as an introduction to what was to follow. In this case, it does exactly that with long melodic lines, underscored with dramatic orchestral colors, all so characteristic of the genius of Giuseppe Verdi.
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod
There seems a certain irony in the fact Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi were born in the same year, that both went on to revolutionize opera in the second half of the 19th Century, and yet there is no evidence the two ever crossed paths. It is probably just as well, for they spoke different musical languages. Further, Wagner's most important work was derived from philosophy and mythology while Verdi wrote from the perspective of historical fact and politics.
It is entertaining to note that Wagner did sit with Rossini on one occasion. Can you think of two more disparate personalities, the easy-going Rossini and the gruff Wagner who by all reports was just about impossible to love? We have only Rossini's side of the story. He reportedly said of Wagner that “Mr. Wagner has beautiful moments, but bad quarters of an hour.”
Both Wagner and Verdi guided opera to a more continuous flow of music and drama. But Wagner was the more progressive in terms of harmony and nowhere is this more apparent than with Tristan und Isolde. The complexity of Tristan’s harmonic structure is amazing enough when we consider the work premiered in 1865. But when you consider that he pretty much put all other projects on hold in 1857, in favor of Tristan, his highly chromatic vision of harmony and melody is truly astonishing. Many credit Wagner, and specifically Tristan, with giving other composers permission to revise their views on harmony. It is amazing that if took another 30 years before the harmonic revolution finally took off in the hands of Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and Anton Webern!
Worry not that the harmonies of the Prelude and Liebestod will distract from the beauty of the music. Bruno Walter wrote of his first hearing of Tristan und Isolde:
“So there I sat in the topmost gallery of the Berlin Opera House, and from the first sound of the cellos my heart contracted spasmodically. . . . never had my heart been consumed by such yearning and sublime bliss, never had I been transported from reality by such heavenly glory.”
Richard Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier Suite
The Wagnerian revolution divided the music world into two camps – those who subscribed to Wagner's way and those who did not. There was rarely any room for compromise. Thus there must have been some tense times in the household of one Franz Strauss when his young son, Richard, began to study the scores of Wagner. The elder Strauss, a virtuosic horn player, had little good to say about Wagner. Despite that, Wagner so admired Strauss' abilities as an orchestral musician that he always requested that Franz be hired as the first horn for all the important Wagner performances.
Thankfully, Franz's conservative ways did not influence the course of Richard Strauss' illustrious, but controversial, career. Richard honored his father with a horn concerto, written in a solid Romantic style, but then went on to write increasingly challenging orchestral scores, following the example of Franz Liszt, another controversial figure. Yes, these were purely orchestral works. Strauss did not immediately step into the all-consuming world of opera until Guntram in 1893, choosing his way carefully into the future. Come the turn of the century and Strauss was beginning to test the waters of modernity but not yet ready to leap into the deep end. He wrote Ein Heldenleben in 1898, then Symphonia Domestica in 1903. None of this prepared the world for the one-two punch of Salome and Elektra.
But then an amazing transformation took place. A year after the scandal of Elektra came Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss' homage to Mozart. Strauss described the music of Rosenkavalier as being “like oil and melted butter.” The opera, a collaboration between Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal, is filled with charm and light humor, chased with enough dance music that there is a suite from Rosenkavalier made entirely of waltzes. The several more extended orchestral suites, one from Strauss himself and another from San Antonio Symphony founder Max Reiter, are rich with the romance and good humor of Der Rosenkavalier. This is music full of challenges for the orchestra, but from start to finish filled with grand melodies which will touch even the coldest of hearts.