About the Music by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7 (1933)
Born March 9, 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Died January 23, 1981 in New York City.
In 1928, when he was just eighteen and still a new student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, Barber began the practice of regular travel to Europe for music study and general cultural education. He usually spent the summers with his classmate Gian Carlo Menotti and the Menotti family in the village of Cadegliano on the Italian side of Lake Lugano, which Barber described in a letter to his parents: “Hidden away in mountains of extreme natural beauty, almost unpastured, and overlooking a magnificent valley with parts of three lakes, dividing new mountain-ranges which in turn form a background for the vistas of Switzerland — hidden away here, little known, not caring to be known, is this little settlement of quaint villas, of all styles, of diverse degrees of luxury…. There are exquisite formal gardens, immaculately kept….” It was in that halcyon setting that Barber conceived his Music for a Scene from Shelley. “In the summer of 1933,” he wrote in the preface to the published score, “I was reading Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound. The lines in Act II, Scene 5, where Shelley indicates music, suggested this composition. It is really incidental music to this particular scene, and has nothing at all to do with the figure of Prometheus.” From this scene of Shelley’s poetic drama, set “within a Cloud on the Top of a snowy Mountain,” Barber quoted the lines spoken by Panthea to Asia:
… nor is it I alone,
Thy sister, thy companion, thine own chosen one,
But the whole world which seeks thy sympathy.
Hearst thou not sounds i’ the air which speak the love
Of all articulate things? Feelest thou not
The inanimate winds enamoured of thee? — List! [Music.
Barber wrote that he intended in this work “to describe the ‘voices in the air’ imploring Asia (goddess of love) to bring back sympathy and love to mankind through Prometheus’ release.” (The Titan Prometheus was chained to a mountain by Zeus for stealing fire from the gods to enlighten mankind.) The music is constructed in the form of a large arch, beginning and ending quietly, and reaching its climax in the central portion. Mysterious murmurs from the strings preface the main theme, a slow-moving, descending motive intoned by the horn quartet. This theme is repeated by the strings, becomes more animated and leads to a contrasting violin melody of wide range whose beginning is marked by the work’s only cymbal crash. The music grows inexorably to a climax of vehement intensity. After a breathless silence, the full orchestra hurls forth the main theme, but its force is quickly spent, and the Music for a Scene from Shelley ends, as it began, in a state of hushed mystery.
Piano Concerto in G (1929-1931)
Born March 7, 1875 in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, France. Died December 28, 1937 in Paris.
Ravel’s tour of the United States in 1928 was such a success that he began to plan for a second one as soon as he returned home to France. With a view toward having a vehicle for himself as a pianist on the return visit, he started work on a concerto in 1929, perhaps encouraged by the good fortune that Stravinsky had enjoyed concertizing with his Concerto for Piano and Winds and Piano Capriccio earlier in the decade. However, many other projects pressed upon him, not the least of which was a commission from the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in the First World War, to compose a piano concerto for left hand alone, and the Concerto in G was not completed until 1931.
The sparkling first movement of the Concerto in G opens with a bright melody in the piccolo that may derive from an old folk dance of the Basque region of southern France, where Ravel was born. There are several themes in this exposition: the lively opening group is balanced by another set that is more nostalgic and bluesy in character. The development section is an elaboration of the lively opening themes, ending with a brief cadenza in octaves as a link to the recapitulation. The lively themes are passed over quickly, but the nostalgic melodies are treated at some length. The jaunty vivacity of the beginning returns for a dazzling coda.
When Ravel first showed the manuscript of the Adagio to Marguerite Long, the soloist at the premiere, she commented on the music’s effortless grace. The composer sighed, and told her that he had struggled to write the movement “bar by bar,” that it had cost him more anxiety than any of his other scores. The movement begins with a long-breathed melody for solo piano over a rocking accompaniment. The central section does not differ from the opening as much in melody as it does in texture — a gradual thickening occurs as the music proceeds. The texture then becomes again translucent, and the opening melody is heard on its return in the plaintive tones of the English horn.
The finale is a whirling showpiece for soloist and orchestra that evokes the energetic world of jazz. Trombone slides, muted trumpet interjections, shrieking exclamations from the woodwinds abound. The episodes of the form tumble continuously one after another on their way to the abrupt conclusion of the work.
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 (1953)
Born September 25, 1906 in St. Petersburg. Died August 9, 1975 in Moscow.
The resilience of Dmitri Shostakovich was astounding. Twice during his life he was the subject of the most scathing denunciations that Soviet officialdom could muster, and he not only endured both but found in them a spark to renew his creativity. The first attack, in 1936, condemned him for writing “muddle instead of music,” and stemmed from his admittedly modernistic opera Lady Macbeth of Mzensk. The other censure came after the Second World War, in 1948, and it was part of a general purge of “formalistic” music by Soviet authorities. Through Andrei Zhdanov, head of the Soviet Composers’ Union and the official mouthpiece for the government, it was made known that any experimental or modern or abstract or difficult music was no longer acceptable for consumption by the Russian peoples. Only simplistic music glorifying the state, the land and the people would be performed. In other words, symphonies, operas, chamber music — any forms involving too much mental or emotional stimulation — were out; movie music, folk song settings and patriotic cantatas were in.
Shostakovich saw the iron figure of Joseph Stalin behind the condemnations of both 1936 and 1948. After the 1936 debacle, Shostakovich responded with his Fifth Symphony, and kept composing through the war years, even becoming a world figure representing the courage of the Russian people with the lightning success of his Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”) in 1942. The 1948 censure was, however, almost more than Shostakovich could bear. He determined that he would go along with the Party prerogative for pap, and withhold all of his substantial works until the time when they would be given a fair hearing — when Stalin was dead. About the only music that Shostakovich made public between 1948 and 1953 was that for films, most of which had to do with episodes in Soviet history (The Fall of Berlin, The Memorable Year 1919) and some jingoistic vocal works (The Sun Shines Over Our Motherland).
With the death of Stalin on March 5, 1953 (ironically, Prokofiev died on the same day), Shostakovich and all Russia felt an oppressive burden lift. The thaw came gradually, but there did return to Soviet life a more amenable attitude toward works of art, one that allowed significant compositions again to be produced and performed. Shostakovich, whose genius had been shackled by Stalin’s repressive artistic policies, set to work almost immediately on a large, bold symphony, a composition that was to prove the greatest he had written to that time in the form — the Symphony No. 10.
The Tenth Symphony is among the greatest works of its type written during the twentieth century. It can be favorably compared not only with the music of Sibelius, Prokofiev and Vaughan Williams, but, even more impressively, with that of Brahms and Beethoven. Besides the technical mastery the Symphony displays, it, like all of Shostakovich’s works in this form, also seems to bear some profound underlying message, some implicit struggle between philosophical forces. When the Symphony was new, Shostakovich would give no hint as to the “meaning” of the work. At a conference of Soviet composers in 1954, he stated, “Authors like to say of themselves, ‘I tried, I wanted to, etc.’ But I think I’ll refrain from any such remarks. It would be much more interesting for me to know what the listener thinks and to hear his remarks. One thing I will say: in this composition I wanted to portray human emotions and passions.” Asked sometime later if he would provide a written program for the Tenth Symphony, he laughed and said, “No. Let them listen and guess for themselves.”
The Symphony’s first movement grows through a grand arch form whose central portions carry its greatest emotional intensity. The music is built from three themes, each of which undergoes a certain amount of development upon its initial presentation. The first is a darkly brooding melody that rises from the depths of the low strings immediately at the beginning. As this sinuous theme unwinds in the cellos and basses, the other string instruments enter to provide a surrounding halo of sound. The second theme appears in the clarinet, the first entry by the winds in the movement. The ensuing treatment of this theme generates the movement’s first climax before this section is rounded out by the re-appearance of the solo clarinet. The third theme emerges in the breathy low register of the solo flute as a sort of diabolical waltz. These three elements — low string, clarinet and flute melodies — provide the material for the rest of the movement.
The menacing second movement, a musical portrait of Stalin, is, in the words of Ray Blokker, “a fireball of a movement, filled with malevolent fury.” Its thunderous tread leaves little doubt of Shostakovich’s feeling about the murderous Stalin.
The opening gesture of the third movement, three rising notes, is related in shape to the themes of the first two movements and provides a strong link in the overall unity of the Tenth Symphony. As a tag to this first theme, Shostakovich included his musical “signature” — DSCH, the notes D–E-flat–C–B. (The note D represents his initial. In German transliteration, the composer’s name begins “Sch”: S [ess] in German notation equals E-flat, C is C, and H equals B-natural.) This “signature” and its variants are given prominence, and there is no doubt that Shostakovich saw himself as a direct participant in the program of the Symphony. The movement’s center section is dominated by an unchanging horn call that resembles the awesome riddle of existence posed by the solo trumpet in Ives’ The Unanswered Question. The opening section returns in a heightened presentation. The movement closes with Shostakovich’s musical signature, played haltingly by flute and piccolo, hanging in the air.
The last movement begins with an extended introduction in slow tempo, a perfect psychological buffer between the unsettled nature of the third movement and the exuberance of the finale proper. The finale is both festive and thoughtful. During its course, it recalls thematic material from earlier movements to serve as a summary of the entire work. Concerning the ending of the work, the British writer on music Hugh Ottaway wrote, “The impact is affirmative but provisional: anti-pessimistic rather than optimistic.”
Shostakovich left the final interpretation of the Tenth Symphony up to each listener. It is no doubt heroic, filled with struggle and a deep awareness of life’s pains. But it is also uplifting in its dedication to the human spirit and the continuity of life against the greatest obstacles. In the words of Ray Blokker, in his book on the composer’s symphonies, “Here is the heart of Shostakovich. In this work he opens his soul to the world, revealing its tragedy and profundity, but also its resilience and strength.”
©2017 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Saturday, March 17, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. | Sunday, March 18, 2018 at 4:00 p.m.
Stuart Malina, Conducting
Mark Markham, Piano
Music for a Scene from Shelley, Op. 7
Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Piano Concerto in G
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Andante — Allegro
About the Music by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Three Dance Episodes from On the Town (1944)
Born August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Died October 14, 1990 in New York City.
In April 1944, Bernstein’s ballet Fancy Free was introduced to great acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The plot, according to the composer, concerned three sailors “on leave [in New York] and on the prowl for girls. The tale tells of how they meet first one, then a second girl, and how they fight over them, lose them, and in the end take off with still a third.” The ballet’s setting and characters were the inspiration for him to try a new piece in a form that he had not then broached — musical comedy. Soon after Fancy Free had been launched, he enlisted two old friends, the singer-dancer-lyricist Adolph Green (“old” is relative — Bernstein was not yet 26, but he had known Green since they were teenagers) and Green’s creative collaborator, Betty Comden, to write the book and words for the show, which they titled On the Town. They devised a story, perfectly suited to those war years, about three sailors in New York who are determined to see everything in the city during their 24-hour leave. On the subway, one of the sailors falls in love with the poster picture of Miss Turnstiles and the boys set out to find her. Their efforts take them all over the city until they finally discover Miss Turnstiles in Coney Island, where they learn that she is not the glamorous girl they expected from the poster, but a belly dancer. On the Town had a two-week tryout in Boston before opening at New York’s Adelphi Theater on December 28, 1944 with Comden and Green in leading roles. It was a hit, running for 463 performances on Broadway; Arthur Freed made it into a superb movie starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin five years later. The show has been revived several times for Broadway, most recently in a Tony-nominated production in 2014. The “Three Dance Episodes” include The Great Lover, which captures the vibrant intensity of the bustling metropolis and the high spirits of the young sailors, Lonely Town (Pas de Deux), based on the expressive song of its title, and Times Square — 1944, a joyous fantasia on New York, New York, the show’s hit tune.
Chichester Psalms for Choir, Boy Soloist and Orchestra (1965)
These psalms are a simple and modest affair,
Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square,
Certain to sicken a stout John Cager
With its tonics and triads in E-flat major.
But there it stands — the result of my pondering,
Two long months of avant-garde wandering —
My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet.
And he stands on his own two tonal feet.
Leonard Bernstein, that Renaissance man among late-20th-century musicians, penned these verses about his Chichester Psalms for The New York Times as part of a poetic evaluation of the fifteen months of his sabbatical from conducting in 1964-1965. Bernstein considered several compositional projects during his year away from the rigorous duties as music director of the New York Philharmonic, including a theater piece based on Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, but it was this set of Psalms for choir and orchestra that was the principal musical offspring of that hiatus in his public career. The work was commissioned by the Very Rev. Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival, in which the musicians of Chichester have participated with those of the neighboring cathedrals of Salisbury and Winchester since 1959. The musical traditions of these great cathedrals extend far back into history, to at least the time when the eminent early-17th-century keyboard artist and composer Thomas Weelkes occupied the organ bench at Chichester.
The first movement opens with a broad chorale (“Awake, psaltery and harp!”) that serves as the structural buttress for the entire composition. It is transformed, in quick tempo, to open and close the dance-like main body of this movement (in 7/4 meter), and it reappears at the beginning and end of the finale in majestic settings. The bounding, sprung rhythms and exuberant energy of the fast music of the first movement are a perfect embodiment of the text, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands.”
The touching simplicity of the second movement recalls the pastoral song of David, the young shepherd. The sopranos take over the melody from the boy soloist, and carry it forward in gentle but strict imitation. Suddenly, threatening music is hurled forth by the men’s voices punctuated by slashing chords from the orchestra. They challenge the serene strains of peace with the harsh question, “Why do the nations rage?” The quiet song, temporarily banished, reappears in the high voices, like calming oil on troubled waters. The hard tones subside, and once again the boy shepherd sings and strums upon his harp. As a coda, the mechanistic sounds of conflict, soft but worrisome, enter once again, as if blown on an ill wind from some distant land.
The finale begins with an instrumental prelude based on the stern chorale that opened the work. The muted solo trumpet and the harp recall a phrase from the shepherd’s song to mark the central point of this introductory strain. The chorus intones a gently swaying theme on the text, “Lord, Lord, My heart is not haughty.” The Chichester Psalms concludes with yet another adaptation of the recurring chorale, here given new words and a deeper meaning. This closing sentiment is not only the central message of the work, and the linchpin of its composer’s philosophy of life, but is also a thought that all must hold dear in troubled times:
Behold how good,
And how pleasant it is,
For brethren to dwell
Together in unity.
Avodath Hakodesh (“Sacred Service”) for Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra (1930-1933)
Born July 24, 1880 in Geneva, Switzerland. Died July 15, 1959 in Portland, Oregon.
“It is the Jewish soul that interests me, the complex, glowing, agitated soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible,” wrote Ernest Bloch in 1917, soon after he had finished Schelomo, his “Hebraic Rhapsody” for Cello and Orchestra portraying King Solomon. “The freshness and naïveté of the Patriarchs; the violence that is evident in the prophetic books; the Jew’s savage love of justice; the despair of the Preacher in Jerusalem; the sorrow and immensity of the Book of Job; the sensuality of the Song of Songs — all this is in us; all this is in me, and it is the better part of me. It is all this that I endeavor to hear in myself and to transcribe in my music.” Bloch found deep creative inspiration in his Judaism throughout his life, and composed many works grown from Jewish subjects, thought and music. His masterpiece in this vein is Avodath Hakodesh, the first large-scale setting of the Hebrew Sacred Service for Sabbath Morning by a composer of international stature.
In 1929, while serving as director of the San Francisco Conservatory (he had earlier been director of the Cleveland Institute of Music, from its founding in 1920 to 1925), Bloch received a commission from philanthropist Gerald Warburg to make a setting for voices and orchestra of the Sabbath Morning Service for the Temple Emanuel in San Francisco. The commission had been arranged by the Temple’s Cantor, Reuben R. Rinder, one of Bloch’s earliest friends in San Francisco, who had been enriching the Jewish service by bringing about the commissioning and performance of new liturgical works since taking up his position twenty years earlier. Though Bloch always observed his patriarchal faith, he had not been trained religiously and did not know Hebrew, so be began a thorough study of the language and the Jewish liturgy under Cantor Rinder’s supervision. Bloch devoted a full year to immersing himself in the Sabbath Morning Service as represented in the Union Prayer Book, dissecting every word, studying its etymology and meaning, and translating the text into both French and English. Further progress on the Sacred Service, however, and in Bloch’s creative life generally, was restricted by the press of his duties at the Conservatory, so it was with eager gratitude that he learned in 1930 of a trust fund in the magnanimous amount of $100,000 that had been established by San Francisco arts patrons Rose and Jacob Stern to allow him to leave his job and devote himself entirely to composition. Bloch, free at last from financial and administrative worries, first considered retreating to a South Sea island, but finally decided to return to his native Switzerland. In the summer of 1930, after finishing the school term in San Francisco, he settled in the secluded village of Roveredo Capriasco, in the Italian section of Switzerland north of Lugano, and devoted the next three years to writing the Sacred Service. The work was premiered, with excellent success, at Turin on January 12, 1934 — “Bloch at his best,” assessed one critic — and then given in Naples before Bloch conducted its first American performance, at Carnegie Hall in New York on April 12th. The Sacred Service was not heard at Temple Emanuel in San Francisco until March 1938, five years after its completion.
Though the Sacred Service began as the expression of a specific liturgical text, Bloch, through the passion of his creative response and the breadth of his vision, made this into a work that can touch listeners of any (or even no) creed, a worthy modern companion to the settings of sacred texts by Beethoven, Berlioz, Verdi, Handel and other earlier masters. “It far surpasses a Hebrew Service,” Bloch said in a lecture given soon after the work was completed. “The Sacred Service [grew] from a whole lifetime of experience, thought, living, contacts with men, and the suffering all around the world which I have absorbed. Had I been born on a desert island, I could not have written it. It contains life with its joys, sufferings around me and within me, the plants, rocks, clouds, the birds, the animals; all of Nature have contributed to it…. It has become a cosmic poem, a glorification of the Laws of the Universe … a dream of stars, of forces … the Primordial Element … before worlds existed…. It contains the old Jewish message of faith and hope in life.”
The Sacred Service, “a vast epic” according to the eminent French composer and critic Florent Schmitt, is divided into five parts, following the structure of the liturgy. A thematic motive announced quietly at the outset by the low strings and winds — the notes G–A–C–B–A–G — is used as a unifying device throughout; Bloch also incorporated quotations from his Schelomo and Three Jewish Poems, as well as a traditional chant, Tsur Yisroel (“Rock of Israel”), supplied to him by Cantor Rinder. Part I consists of an opening Meditation for orchestra followed by the proclamation of faith. “There is the unity of Nature here,” Bloch wrote, “the unity of man, a beautiful human element; through it all you feel the cosmic element.” Bloch compared Part II (Sanctification), with its text of “Holy, holy, holy/is the Lord of Hosts,/the whole earth is full of his glory,” to the Sanctus portion of the Roman Catholic Mass. “We are in another world, more earthly,” he explained. “This is the sanctification, a dialogue between God and Man, the chorus discovering the law of the atom, the stars, the whole universe, the One, He, Our God.” Bloch noted that in Part III (Silent Devotion [for the orchestra] and Response), “woven around the discipline and symbolism of the Torah and the Laws of Moses, man has to put himself into a state of humility, and within his limitations accept the order of the whole…. The Fourth Part (Returning the Scroll to the Ark) says to put away the Law now that you have understood it. It must be a living thing, the rejoicing, happiness, the exaltation of all mankind, ending with the Tree of Life…. Part V (Adoration) is the realization of humanity, the love of God, when all men will recognize that they are brothers, a fellowship in spirit. A Cantor or Priest speaks to you, giving a personal message, in English, Italian, Hebrew, in all languages … bringing the whole philosophical message of humanity, brotherhood, the lamentations of mankind, asking what this is all about. Then in the distance, you hear the chorus, as a solution of the laws of the universe and eternity, the smallness of this space, of life and death, and in what spirit you are to accept it. The work ends with a Benediction.”
©2018 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Saturday, April 14, 2018 at 8:00 p.m. | Sunday, April 15, 2018 at 3:00 p.m.
Stuart Malina, Conducting
Grant Youngblood, Baritone
Messiah College Concert Choir
Choral Arts Society
Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
The Great Lover: Allegro pesante
Lonely Town (Pas de Deux): Andante sostenuto
Times Square — 1944: Allegro
Chichester Psalms, for Choir, Boy Soloist and Orchestra
Psalm 108, vs. 2 (Maestoso ma energico) — Psalm 100 (Allegro molto)
Psalm 23 (Andante con moto, ma tranquillo) —
Psalm 2, vs. 1-4 (Allegro feroce) — Meno come prima
Prelude (Sostenuto molto) — Psalm 131 (Peacefully flowing) —
Psalm 133, vs. 1 (Lento possibile)
Avodath Hakodesh (“Sacred Service”) for Baritone, Chorus and Orchestra
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Part I: Meditation
Part II: Sanctification
Part III: Silent Devotion and Response
Part IV: Returning the Scroll to the Ark
Part V: Adoration
About the Music by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
“Dawn” and “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” from Götterdämmerung (1869-1876)
Born May 22, 1813 in Leipzig. Died February 13, 1883 in Venice.
Wagner’s cycle of “music-dramas,” The Ring of the Nibelungen, is unique in the history of art: an ancient mythological tale spread over four interdependent operas; the capstone of Romantic orchestration, harmony and expression; a nodal point in the history of music; and an integral part, for both better and worse, of the German psyche. Wagner’s grand conception left no thinking person untouched in the late 19th-century. Almost all were seduced by the overwhelming power and emotion of the operas, though some (notably the French) eventually rebelled against Wagner’s musical style and aesthetic ideals. His impact on modern thought and art has been enormous — one German scholar at the beginning of the century estimated that of all the figures in Western history until that time, only Jesus Christ had been more written about than Richard Wagner.
Wagner was a fascinating if essentially despicable person: political dissident, rabid anti-Semite, financial deadbeat, flagrant adulterer — not the sort you would want to date your daughter or move in next door. Yet when his music was played, all that was not only forgotten but forgiven. A century after his death, it is now possible to relate or dissociate the works from the man as much as is desired. It is best to enjoy them, in the opera house or the concert hall, as magnificent expressions of grand emotions spread across a vast fresco. Whether heard as abstract pieces or specifically dramatic ones, excerpts from the Ring are stirring music that rivet the attention and remain indelibly in the mind.
Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey are the excerpts surrounding the scene of Siegfried and Brünnhilde in the Prologue of Götterdämmerung. Dawn breaks after the preceding nighttime scene during which the three Norns (the Fates of northern mythology) have foretold the inevitable cataclysm and the downfall of the gods. Morning finds Siegfried and Brünnhilde emerging from the cave in which they spent their bridal night. Reluctantly, Brünnhilde urges her lover to set out on further deeds of valor. They exchange pledges of undying love and give precious gifts — Brünnhilde receives the fated Ring made from the gold of the Rhine, the possession of which endows the wearer with the power to rule the world; Siegfried gets the noble steed Grane. With ecstatic protestations of love, Siegfried departs. The curtain falls and the orchestra plays the majestic music accompanying his journey to the Rhine.
Dawn is not only an evocation of sunrise, but also an expertly crafted transition from the somber, foreboding music of the Norns’ scene to the bright, love-filled scene of Siegfried and Brünnhilde. It begins with the ominous tones of cellos and low horns, punctuated twice by soft horn fanfares depicting both the first glint of sunlight and Siegfried’s fearless heroism. Accompanying the second fanfare is a touching melody with a prominent turn figure (introduced by the clarinet) representing Brünnhilde’s love. The ardor of the music grows as the morning sun burns away the mist and the lovers appear.
A great climax of charging rhythms dominated by the brasses begins the Rhine Journey. With shining optimism and unquenchable love, Siegfried sets off. His horn call is heard from a distant glen. After a triple-meter passage brimming with youthful vigor, Siegfried reaches the great river, which is represented by a surging theme and the shimmering song of the Rhine maidens. The music softens, and leads, in the opera house, directly into the first act. For the concert hall, Wagner provided a brilliant ending that resounds through the full orchestra.
Harp Concerto (2017)
Born December 31, 1962 in Brooklyn, New York
Jennifer Higdon, born in Brooklyn, New York on New Year’s Eve 1962 and raised in Atlanta and Tennessee, is one of America’s foremost composers. She took her undergraduate training in flute performance at Bowling Green State University, and received her master’s and doctoral degrees in composition from the University of Pennsylvania; she also holds an Artist Diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Her teachers have included George Crumb, Marilyn Shrude, David Loeb, James Primosch, Jay Reise and Ned Rorem in composition, Judith Bentley and Jan Vinci in flute, and Robert Spano in conducting. Higdon joined the composition faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1994 after having served as conductor of the University of Pennsylvania Orchestra and Wind Ensemble and Visiting Assistant Professor in music composition at Bard College; she now holds the Milton L. Rock Chair in Composition Studies at Curtis. She also served as Karel Husa Visiting Professor at Ithaca College in 2006-2007 and Composer-in-Residence at the Mannes College The New School for Music (2007-2008).
Jennifer Higdon’s works have been performed across the country and internationally, and she has received grants, awards and commissions from the orchestras of Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Baltimore, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Delaware and Dallas, The President’s Own Marine Band, Tokyo String Quartet, Guggenheim Foundation, American Academy of Arts and Letters, International League of Women Composers, ASCAP, National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, Pew Charitable Trusts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and other leading organizations and ensembles; her orchestral work Shine was chosen by USA Today as Best New Contemporary Classical Work of 1996. In 2010, Higdon received a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for her Percussion Concerto (recorded by soloist Colin Currie with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop), as well as the Pulitzer Prize in Music for her Violin Concerto, composed for Hilary Hahn, which the citation described as “a deeply engaging piece that combines flowing lyricism with dazzling virtuosity”; she previously received Grammy Awards for the Concerto for Orchestra and City Scape (Atlanta Symphony, conducted by Robert Spano) and Zaka (featured on eighth blackbird’s Strange Imaginary Animals).
Higdon has served as Composer-in-Residence with the Green Bay Symphony, Fort Worth Symphony, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, Institute at Deer Valley, Music From Angel Fire Festival, Bard College Conductors’ Institute, Philadelphia Singers, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, University of Wyoming and other prominent ensembles and institutions. In 2003, she became the first American female composer featured at the prestigious Festival of Contemporary Music at Tanglewood; during the 2005-2006 season, she was the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Composer of the Year. Among Higdon’s recent projects is the opera with a libretto by Gene Scheer based on Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel Cold Mountain, premiered at Santa Fe Opera in August 2015; it received the International Opera Award for Best World Premiere and was nominated for Grammy Awards as Best Opera Recording and Best Contemporary Classical Composition. She was also recently presented with the Distinguished Arts Award by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 (1877-1878)
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk. Died November 6, 1893 in St. Petersburg.
The Fourth Symphony was a product of the most crucial and turbulent time of Tchaikovsky’s life — 1877, when he met two women who forced him to evaluate himself as he never had before. The first was the sensitive, music-loving widow of a wealthy Russian railroad baron, Nadezhda von Meck. Mme. von Meck had been enthralled by Tchaikovsky’s music, and she first contacted him at the end of 1876 to commission a work. She paid him extravagantly, and soon an almost constant stream of notes and letters passed between them: hers contained money and effusive praise; his, thanks and an increasingly greater revelation of his thoughts and feelings. She became not only the financial backer who allowed him to quit his irksome teaching job at the Moscow Conservatory to devote himself to composition, but also the sympathetic sounding-board for reports on the whole range of his activities — emotional, musical, personal. Though they never met, her place in Tchaikovsky’s life was enormous and beneficial.
The second woman to enter Tchaikovsky’s life in 1877 was Antonina Miliukov, an unnoticed student in one of his large lecture classes at the Conservatory who had worked herself into a passion over her young professor. Tchaikovsky paid her no special attention, and he had quite forgotten her when he received an ardent love letter professing her flaming and unquenchable desire to meet him. Tchaikovsky (age 37), who should have burned the thing, answered the letter of the 28-year-old Antonina in a polite, cool fashion, but did not include an outright rejection of her advances. He had been considering marriage for almost a year in the hope that it would give him both the stable home life that he had not enjoyed in the twenty years since his mother died, as well as to help dispel the all-too-true rumors of his homosexuality. He believed he might achieve both these goals with Antonina. He could not see the situation clearly enough to realize that what he hoped for was impossible — a pure, platonic marriage without its physical and emotional realities. Further letters from Antonina implored Tchaikovsky to meet her, and threatened suicide out of desperation if he refused. What a welter of emotions must have gripped his heart when, just a few weeks later, he proposed marriage to her! Inevitably, the marriage crumbled within days of the wedding amid Tchaikovsky’s searing self-deprecation.
It was during May and June that Tchaikovsky sketched the Fourth Symphony, finishing the first three movements before Antonina began her siege. The finale was completed by the time he proposed. Because of this chronology, the program of the Symphony was not a direct result of his marital disaster. All that — the July wedding, the mere eighteen days of bitter conjugal farce, the two separations — postdated the actual composition of the Symphony by a few months, though the orchestration took place during the painful time from September to January when the composer was seeking respite in a half dozen European cities from St. Petersburg to San Remo. What Tchaikovsky found in his relationship with this woman (who by 1877 already showed signs of approaching the door of the mental ward in which, still legally married to him, she died in 1917) was a confirmation of his belief in the inexorable workings of Fate in human destiny. He later wrote to Mme. von Meck, “We cannot escape our Fate, and there was something fatalistic about my meeting with this girl.” The relationships with the two women of 1877, Mme. von Meck and Antonina, occupy important places in the composition of this Symphony: one made it possible, the other made it inevitable, but the vision and its fulfillment were Tchaikovsky’s alone.
After the premiere, Tchaikovsky wrote to Mme. von Meck, with great trepidation, explaining the emotional content of the Fourth Symphony:
“The introduction [blaring brasses heard immediately in a motto theme that recurs several times throughout the Symphony] is the kernel, the chief thought of the whole Symphony. This is Fate, the fatal power that hinders one in the pursuit of happiness from gaining the goal, which jealously provides that peace and comfort do not prevail, that the sky is not free from clouds — a might that swings, like the sword of Damocles, constantly over the head, that poisons continuously the soul. This might is overpowering and invincible. There is nothing to do but to submit and vainly complain [the melancholy, syncopated shadow-waltz of the main theme, heard in the strings]. The feeling of desperation and loneliness grows stronger and stronger. Would it not be better to turn away from reality and lull one’s self in dreams? [The second theme is begun by the clarinet, with trailing sighs from the rest of the woodwinds.] Deeper and deeper the soul is sunk in dreams. All that was dark and joyless is forgotten….
“No — these are but dreams: roughly we are awakened by Fate. [The blaring brass fanfare over a wave of timpani begins the development section.] Thus we see that life is only an everlasting alternation of somber reality and fugitive dreams of happiness. Something like this is the program of the first movement.
“The second movement shows another phase of sadness. How sad it is that so much has already been and gone! And yet it is a pleasure to think of the early years. One mourns the past and has neither the courage nor the will to begin a new life. One is rather tired of life. One would fain rest awhile, recalling happy hours when young blood pulsed warm through our veins and life brought satisfaction. We remember irreparable loss. But these things are far away. It is sad, yet sweet, to lose one’s self in the past.
“There is no determined feeling, no exact expression in the third movement. Here are capricious arabesques, vague figures which slip into the imagination when one has taken wine and is slightly intoxicated. Suddenly there rushes into the imagination the picture of a drunken peasant and a gutter song. Military music is heard passing in the distance. There are disconnected pictures which come and go in the brain of the sleeper. They have nothing to do with reality; they are unintelligible, bizarre.
“As to the finale, if you find no pleasure in yourself, look about you. Go to the people. See how they can enjoy life and give themselves up entirely to festivity. The picture of a folk holiday. [The finale employs the folk song A Birch Stood in the Meadow, presented simply by the woodwinds after the noisy flourish of the opening.] Hardly have we had time to forget ourselves in the happiness of others when indefatigable Fate reminds us once more of its presence. The other children of men are not concerned with us. How merry and glad they all are. All their feelings are so inconsequential, so simple. And do you still say that all the world is immersed in sorrow? There still is happiness, simple, naive happiness. Rejoice in the happiness of others — and you can still live.
“There is not a single line in this Symphony that I have not felt in my whole being and that has not been a true echo of the soul.”
©2017 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
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