THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 (“Elvira Madigan”)

On April 10, conductor Leonard Slatkin and pianist Jon Kimura Parker will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their twelfth concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 (Elvira Madigan)

Title: Piano Concerto No.21, K.467, C major (Elvira Madigan)

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: Last performed February 21, 2015 with Larry Rachleff conducting and soloist Joyce Yang. This piece is scored for solo piano, flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.

The Story: 

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On Thursday, 10 March 1785, Kapellmeister Mozart will have the honor of giving at the I[mperial] & R[oyal] National Court Theater a Grand Musical Concert for his benefit, at which not only a new, just finished Forte piano Concerto will be played by him, but also. . .

So began the handbill announcing the premiere of the C Major Concerto. Concert life as we know it was only in its infancy then, and we have such events to thank for several of Mozart’s symphonies, concert arias, piano sonatas and, notably, the last 17 piano concertos.

In the C Major Piano Concerto, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart marks the first movement Allegro maestoso. Yet it is a comic opera-style maestoso, with a dominating main theme that foreshadows Don Giovanni’s Leporello character. Two graceful themes follow and are interwoven with the first. After a brief introduction by the piano, the main theme returns. Here the piano blends with the orchestra to set forth a whole new set of themes. The main theme is not forgotten but generally appears as support for the piano’s decorative filigree. The piano’s entrance in the central section announces an entirely new theme, pathetic in character but rhythmically derived from the main theme. Following this is a lengthy section of passagework, the harmony of which Alfred Einstein described as “modulations through darkness into light.” The light finally bursts out in a reprise that combines both rosters of themes. Like a character from the commedia dell’arte, the ubiquitous main theme keeps popping up, both before and after the solo piano cadenza.

The Andante contains a magical quality that only muted strings will allow. Over an accompaniment of “quivering triplets” (Einstein), the leisurely cantilena unfolds, first in the strings and then in the piano. (This theme became popular through the soundtrack to the 1967 Swedish film, Elvira Madigan.) The middle section of the movement is based loosely on fragments of this “ideal aria.” When the full theme returns, it is in a somewhat distant key, but Mozart deftly returns to the home key in the final pages of the movement.

In the finale, Mozart returns to the spirit of opera buffa, but this time the scene is a peasant round dance. The piano first joins in with a short solo cadenza and a brief statement of the rollicking rondo theme. Soon, however, the soloist takes a more commanding role, while contrasting episodes playfully alternate with the main theme. Mozart has saved most of his virtuosic writing for this movement, which calls for a full solo cadenza just before the final wrap-up.


Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 4 virtual livestreamed concerts between April 10 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event in-person or livestream options starting at $35, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

THE STORY BEHIND: Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll”

On April 10, conductor Leonard Slatkin and pianist Jon Kimura Parker will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their twelfth concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll

Title: Siegfried Idyll, WWV 103

Composer: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: Last performed March 26, 1966 with Francis Madeira conducting. This piece is scored for flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet and strings.

The Story: 

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“Triebschen Idyll, with Fidi’s Bird Song and Orange Sunrise, presented as a Symphonic Birthday Greeting to his Cosima by her Richard, 1870.” Thus read the original dedication of the chamber orchestra work that later would be known as the Siegfried Idyll.

In 1870, Richard Wagner had married Cosima von Blow, and she had born him their son (and third child), Siegfried, at their Swiss villa named Triebschen. Fidi was their nickname for the baby, and on the morning of his birth, the sunrise had shown brightly on the orange wallpaper by the bedroom door. Cosima’s 33rd birthday was Christmas Day of 1870, and Wagner had arranged secretly for the rehearsals and performance of the new music. That morning the musicians gathered on the staircase to serenade Cosima, who wrote in her diary: “As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller. . . . Music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears, but so was the rest of the household.”

Eight years later, under severe financial duress, Wagner was forced to sell the composition to a publisher, providing its present title and a completely synthetic program. Although the Siegfried Idyll does use themes from Wagner’s opera, Siegfried, the music’s personal significance for Richard and Cosima goes much deeper. It originated as a quartet movement that Wagner sketched in 1864 in his first blush of love for Cosima (then still the wife of conductor Hans von Blow).The first theme, originally from the quartet, found its way into Siegfried as Brunhilde’s yielding to Siegfried (“Ewig war ich Immortal”/ “I shall always be immortal”) in the last act. Other music from Siegfried and the Idyll also originated in the quartet sketches. Thus, the opera and the orchestral poem are related, but, in Donald Tovey’s words, “only by a private undercurrent of poetic allusion.”

The bucolic middle section of the Idyll stems from an old German cradle song, which Wagner had put down in his sketchbook when their first child was born. The oboe underlines the melody’s pastoral quality, and allusions in the song to sheep appear as the baa-ing mutter of horns.

Only as the Idyll readies for its culmination do we hear Fidi’s bird song in dialogue between flute and clarinet. In sum, this is a familial idyll, originally meant only for the ears of the Wagner family and a few close friends. Writing of its intimacy, Ernest Newman calls it “a series of domestic confidences centering in happy Triebschen as a whole. . . .”


Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 4 virtual livestreamed concerts between April 10 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event in-person or livestream options starting at $35, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

THE STORY BEHIND: Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances”

On April 10, conductor Leonard Slatkin and pianist Jon Kimura Parker will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their twelfth concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances

Title: Romanian Folk Dances, BB 76

Composer: Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: Last performed April 20, 1954 with Francis Madeira conducting. This piece is scored for flute, piccolo, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings.

The Story: 

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During the first two decades of the 20th century, Béla Bartók was active as a folk music collector. Partly in collaboration with compatriot Zoltán Kodály, Bartók went about the countryside recording and transcribing the peasant music of his native country, Hungary. After 1911, Bartók became increasingly interested in the music of cultures peripheral to Hungary, notably Slovakia and Romania. As was his habit, he made piano arrangements of a considerable amount of the raw material he collected. These adaptations would usually feature a generous helping of Bartók’s personal, pungent harmonies and dissonant treatments. Such was the case with the Romanian Folk Dances, all based on Romanian fiddle tunes. The collection was completed in 1915. Two years later, the composer transcribed the piano pieces for small orchestra.

The set opens with a Stick Dance, a spirited game from Transylvania. The brief, quick Sash Dance originated in a district now located in Yugoslavia. In One Spot is the third, slower dance with a bagpipe-like accompaniment. The Hornpipe Dance from Transylvania has a delicate, minuet-like tempo and phrase pattern. In contrast, the bright Romanian Polka has an almost ceaseless melody cast in an asymmetrical beat pattern of 3 + 3 + 2. The set concludes with two brisk movements, each marked simply Fast Dance. This dance type comes from a district on the borders of Hungary and Transylvania.


Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 4 virtual livestreamed concerts between April 10 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event in-person or livestream options starting at $35, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

MEET THE SOLOIST: Jon Kimura Parker, piano MOZART with Jon Kimura Parker, April 10, 2021, 5pm & 8pm

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Jon Kimura Parker, piano

Performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 (Elvira Madigan)

April 10, 2021 at 5PM & 8PM

Background: Pianist Jon Kimura Parker is known for his charisma, infectious enthusiasm and dynamic performances. A veteran of the international concert stage, he has performed regularly in the Berlin Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall, London’s South Bank, the Sydney Opera House and the Beijing Concert Hall. He was recently named Creative Partner for the Minnesota Orchestra’s Summer at Orchestra Hall, serves as the Artistic Director for the Honens International Piano Competition and Artistic Advisor for the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, and is on the faculty of the Shepherd School of  Music at Rice University.

Highlights:

  • Studied with Edward Parker and Keiko Parker, Lee Kum Sing at the Vancouver Academy of Music and the University of British Columbia, Marek Jablonski at the Banff Centre, and Adele Marcus at The Juilliard School. After winning the Gold Medal at the 1984 Leeds International Piano Competition, Parker has gone on to become an Officer of The Order of Canada and to receive honorary doctorates from the University of British Columbia and the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto.
  • Parker’s discography of a dozen albums features music ranging from Mozart and Chopin to Barber and Stravinsky. His most recent recording, Fantasy, built around Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, was described by Musical Toronto as giving “a big, clear picture window of a rich soul and great artistic depth.” His YouTube channel features a series of Concerto Chat videos, which explore the piano concerto repertoire.
  • A collaborator in a wide variety of styles, Jon Kimura Parker has performed with Doc Severinsen, Audra McDonald, Bobby McFerrin, Pablo Ziegler and Sanjaya Malakar. As a founding member of Off the Score, he also performed with Stewart Copeland – the legendary drummer of The Police – for the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival’s 20th Anniversary Season, featuring his own arrangements of music by Prokofiev, Ravel and Stravinsky.

Critical Praise:

  • “The improvisatory freedom he brought to the cadenza and the famous main theme could not have been truer to the Gershwin spirit. . . Parker continued in the same high-energy, jazz piano vein with his solo encore, the bouncy Blues Etude by his late, great fellow Canadian, Oscar Peterson.” The Chicago Tribune

  • “When Rachmaninoff, in what is essentially a set of variations, demanded pure, unbridled virtuosity, as in the work’s double-fisted, octave-laden passages, Parker relished the opportunity. And when the Russian composer asked for something more lyrical in the work’s most rhapsodic moments, Parker savored the chance to bring a relaxed, spontaneous, more intimate feeling to the music.” The San Diego Union-Tribune

  • “The final work was the magnificent Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58. Jon Kimura Parker was the soloist. This is his first year on the faculty here, and judging from his playing and the audience’s scream of approval, he will be welcomed back anytime. This is Beethoven at his most musically impressive. The long opening movement is graced with flowing passages that melt into each other. As Parker wound his way through, one became aware of how beautifully he was connected to this masterpiece. In the cadenza, he contrasted the powerful with the gentle passages, letting the music breathe as it built to its end.” The Sarasota Herald-Tribune


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 4 virtual livestreamed concerts between April 10 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event in-person or livestream options starting at $35, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

MEET THE CONDUCTOR: Leonard Slatkin, MOZART with Jon Kimura Parker, April 10, 2021

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Leonard Slatkin, conductor

MOZART with Jon Kimura Parker

April 10, 2021 at 5PM & 8PM

Background: Internationally acclaimed conductor Leonard Slatkin is Music Director Laureate of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Directeur Musical Honoraire of the Orchestre National de Lyon, and Conductor Laureate of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. He maintains a rigorous schedule of guest conducting throughout the world and is active as a composer, author and educator.

Slatkin has received six Grammy awards and 35 nominations. His latest recording is the world premiere of Alexander Kastalsky’s Requiem for Fallen Brothers commemorating the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. Other recent Naxos releases include works by Saint-Saëns, Ravel and Berlioz, and music by Copland, Rachmaninov, Borzova, McTee and John Williams. In addition, he has recorded the complete Brahms, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky symphonies with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (available online as digital downloads).

A recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, Slatkin also holds the rank of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor. He has received the Prix Charbonnier from the Federation of Alliances Françaises, Austria’s Decoration of Honor in Silver, the League of American Orchestras’ Gold Baton Award, and the 2013 ASCAP Deems Taylor Special Recognition Award for his debut book, Conducting Business. His second book, Leading Tones: Reflections on Music, Musicians, and the Music Industry, was published by Amadeus Press in 2017. He is working on a third volume, Classical Crossroads: The Path Forward for Music in the 21st Century. 

Slatkin has held posts as Music Director of the New Orleans, St. Louis and National symphony orchestras, and he was Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He has served as Principal Guest Conductor of London’s Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl and the Minnesota Orchestra.

He has conducted virtually all the leading orchestras in the world, including: New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, all five London orchestras, Berlin Philharmonic, Munich’s Bayerischer Rundfunk, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Slatkin’s opera conducting has taken him to the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Washington National Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Santa Fe Opera, Vienna State Opera, Stuttgart Opera and Opéra Bastille in Paris.

Born in Los Angeles to a distinguished musical family, he began his musical training on the violin and first studied conducting with his father, followed by Walter Susskind at Aspen and Jean Morel at Juilliard. He makes his home in St. Louis with his wife, composer Cindy McTee.

You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 4 virtual livestreamed concerts between April 10 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event in-person or livestream options starting at $35, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

THE STORY BEHIND: Grainger’s “Irish Tune from County Derry” (“Londonderry Air”)

On March 20, conductor Leonard Slatkin and violinist Jennifer Frautschi will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their eleventh virtual concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry (Londonderry Air)

Title: Irish Tune from County Derry (Londonderry Air)

Composer: Percy Grainger (1882-1961)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: This piece is scored for two horns and strings.

The Story: 

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Percy Grainger was a brilliant musician from the beginning. Following studies in his native Melbourne, Australia, and the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Grainger settled in London in 1901.

At the ripe old age of 19, he embarked on a career as concert pianist, composer and folksong collector-arranger. It was in the last category that he drew much attention in his early years. In that connection, he arranged Irish Tune from County Derry for wordless mixed chorus in 1902.

Although he did not discover the song himself, the collection from which he drew it showed only the peerless melody. In a later version, someone would add lyrics to the song, making it enormously famous as “Danny Boy.”

In 1904, Edvard Grieg heard and was shown Irish Tune from County Derry by a mutual friend of Grainger, and the aging composer was so impressed by it that when he visited London two years later, the only composer he wished to meet was Grainger. The young composer idolized Grieg, who was even more impressed with Grainger after hearing him play some Grieg piano settings of Norwegian folk songs and dances.

Irish Tune from County Derry became what we might call a “hit.” In 1911, Grainger adapted his early choral arrangement for piano. Two years later, he orchestrated that arrangement, making it a standard in the popular orchestral repertoire.


Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 5 virtual livestreamed concerts between March 20 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event livestream tickets also available for $40, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

THE STORY BEHIND: Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo capriccioso”

On March 20, conductor Leonard Slatkin and violinist Jennifer Frautschi will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their eleventh virtual concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso

Title: Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, op.28

Composer: Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: Last performed March 6, 2015 with Larry Rachleff conducting and soloist Joshua Bell. This piece is an arrangement of the original and is scored for solo violin, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn and strings.

The Story: 

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The 19th century was an age of virtuosos, and on the violin Pablo Sarasate reached the pinnacle of virtuosity. Camille Saint-Saëns became acquainted with Sarasate in Paris, where the young violinist attended the Conservatoire. For Sarasate, Saint-Saëns composed his A Major Violin Concerto as well as the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso. The latter, written in 1863 and revised in 1870, was tailor-made for Sarasate. Not only does it have a “Spanish” aura, but the techniques required were just what Sarasate did best: rapid runs and figurations as well as melodies and flourishes on the instrument’s lowest string.

This work typifies the sort of miniature concerto that audiences of the 1800s loved to hear: the “concert piece.” It is brief and light-weight, which pleased Parisian audiences, and it has enough brilliance to arouse even the most sophisticated listener. (Claude Debussy thought enough of it to make an arrangement for piano, four hands.) Even in the Introduction, Andante melanconico, the flashy violin part captures the attention. Then, the lilting main theme of the Rondo seems to ski down a two-and-one-half octave slope in a single phrase. Digressions from the theme put the soloist through some paces that explore the instrument in a virtual thesaurus of violinistic effects. Finally, a solo cadenza of violin “chords” leads to a quicksilver finale that has the violin flying through the sound atmosphere in a dazzling display, rounding off only at the top of its range just before a big but brief orchestral windup.


Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 5 virtual livestreamed concerts between March 20 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event livestream tickets also available for $40, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

THE STORY BEHIND: McTee’s “Adagio for String Orchestra”

On March 20, conductor Leonard Slatkin and violinist Jennifer Frautschi will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their eleventh virtual concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: McTee’s Adagio for String Orchestra

Title: Adagio for String Orchestra

Composer: Cindy McTee (1953- )

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: This is a RI Philharmonic Orchestra premiere. This piece is scored for strings.

The Story: 

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Cindy McTee has become one of the leading composers of her generation. Born in Tacoma, Washington, she studied first at Pacific Lutheran University in her hometown, going on to earn a master’s degree at Yale University and a doctorate at the University of Iowa. While at Yale, one of her teachers was Krzysztof Penderecki. Later, McTee spent a year in Cracow studying with Penderecki and his associates, and her music was part of Penderecki’s 60th birthday celebration in 1993. She taught at the University of North Texas 1964-2010, where she retired having chaired the of the Division of Composition Studies for five years.

McTee has garnered several prestigious awards, including a composer’s fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Senior Fulbright Scholar Lecturing Award, and a composer fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1994). Many of her symphonic commissions have also entailed prestigious personal titles.

Adagio for String Orchestra was composed in 2002 as a commission from the National Symphony Orchestra. The composer has offered the following remarks regarding this work:

Adapted from my Agnus Dei for organ in the wake of events following the horror of September 11, 2001, the Adagio became the second movement of my Symphony No.1: Ballet for Orchestra. It was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra – music director Leonard Slatkin – and made possible by the John and June Hechinger Fund for New Orchestra Works.

The Adagio gradually exposes a hauntingly beautiful melody from Krzysztof Penderecki’s Polish Requiem (A-flat, G, F, C, D-flat, E-flat, D-flat, C). A falling half-step and subsequent whole-step emphasize the interval of the minor third. With occasional references to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, the work’s harmonic language reflects my interest in using both atonal and tonal materials within the same piece of music.


Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 5 virtual livestreamed concerts between March 20 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event livestream tickets also available for $40, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

THE STORY BEHIND: Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”

On March 20, conductor Leonard Slatkin and violinist Jennifer Frautschi will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their eleventh virtual concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending

Title: The Lark Ascending

Composer: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: Last performed April 8, 2000 with Kenneth Jean conducting and soloist Stephanie Chase. This piece is scored for solo violin, two flutes, oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, percussion and strings.

The Story: 

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When Ralph Vaughan Williams returned to English civilian life at the end of World War I, he resumed work on several pieces that he had left near-finished in 1914. One of these was the romance for violin and orchestra, The Lark Ascending. Revising the 14-minute work, the composer brought it to final form by 1920, when it premiered before the British Music Society.

The Lark Ascending, aside from its intrinsic appeal, displays two of the main influences in the early music of Vaughan Williams: folk-song style and literature. From the outset, the modal scales in which the bird sings, flutters, and flies are derived from those found in English folk songs, which Vaughan Williams collected and which became deeply ingrained in his personal style. The melodic themes with which Vaughan Williams works in each section of the piece are original but bear the firm stamp of English folk music.

As a devotee of literature, Vaughan Williams had based several early works on prominent English-language texts (two by the American Walt Williams: Toward the Unknown Region and A Sea Symphony). Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending contains no text, but its musical thought was based on the poem of that title by British novelist-poet George Meredith.

According to biographer Ursula Vaughan Williams, the composer’s approach was to make the violin “become both the bird’s song and its flight, being, rather than illustrating, the poem from which the title was taken.” The following is Meredith’s verse:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
For singing till his heaven fills,
'Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes
Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

(Copyright, Oxford University Press)

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 6 virtual livestreamed concerts between March 12 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event livestream tickets also available for $40, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!

THE STORY BEHIND: Saint-Georges’ Symphony No.1

On March 20, conductor Leonard Slatkin and violinist Jennifer Frautschi will join the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for their eleventh virtual concert of the 2020/2021 Season.

THE STORY BEHIND: Symphony No.1 in G major

Title: Symphony No.1, op.11, G major

Composer: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: This is a RI Philharmonic Orchestra premiere. This piece is scored for two oboes, two horns and strings.

The Story: 

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Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges was born on Guadalupe Island (West Indies) to a wealthy plantation owner and his Black mistress. He went on to become the first composer of African ancestry in Western history. His father took him to France in 1747. There, he absorbed French culture, eventually distinguishing himself in music (violinist-composer) and fencing. He dedicated several works to François Gossec, and we may assume a student-teacher relationship in composition. We know nothing about his violin training, but he became a virtuoso violinist as well as a conductor. He led the Paris Concert de Amateurs, and in 1781 he initiated the Concert de la Loge Olympique for which Haydn composed his Paris Symphonies. In his youth, Saint-Georges was elevated to the minor aristocracy under the title Gentilhomme ordinaire de la chambre du roi.

Saint-Georges composed only two symphonies (Op. 11, nos. 1 and 2), both in the standard three-movement scheme of the Pre-Classical Period. The first thing we notice about the opening Allegro movement is its delicate propulsion, along the lines of Scarlatti or C.P.E. Bach. Buoyed up by this, three delicate theme ideas are presented and repeated. A contrasting central section leads back to a recap of the original themes.

Melodic “drawing-room music” might describe the Andante second movement of the symphony. Remarkable is the way Saint-Georges presents vocal-style melodies, which are at the same time remarkably apt for string instruments. It is no wonder that he was nicknamed “The Black Mozart.”

Remarkably, the finale begins by alternating smooth phrases with quick, spirited ones. The spirited, dancelike impulse wins out, propelling the music through two repeated blocks of music in a very fast tempo. Here is a bubbly symphonic ending that reminds us of the musical connection between Saint-Georges and Haydn, whose “Paris” symphonies were written for the orchestra of Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges.


Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2021 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


You’ve Seen the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra in THEIR home. Now see It in YOURS! Subscribe to the Spring 2021 Virtual Season for $150 – that’s less than $30 per concert! Enjoy 6 virtual livestreamed concerts between March 12 and May 22, plus access to our archived concerts! Single event livestream tickets also available for $40, click HERE  or call 401-248-7000 to purchase today!