THE STORY BEHIND: Copland’s Appalachian Spring

On February 14 & 15, cellist Johannes Moser will join Tania Miller, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for a romantic Valentine’s Weekend program.

THE STORY BEHIND: Copland’s Appalachian Spring

Title: Appalachian Spring: Orchestral Suite

Composer: Aaron Copland (1900-1990)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: February 25, 2012

Orchestration: The piece is scored for piccolo, two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and trombones, harp, piano, timpani, percussion and strings.

The Story: 

By 1943, Aaron Copland had attained a considerable reputation as a ballet composer with Billy the Kid and Rodeo to his credit. Those works had also helped to establish him as an accessible composer of what many people considered to be the sound of American music, which evokes the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. It was natural, then, that choreographer Martha Graham should come to Copland that year with a commission from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation and a scenario set in rural Pennsylvania of the early 19th century. Copland accepted the commission and completed the ballet the following spring.

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Aaron Copland (with Benny Goodman in background) CREDIT GEORGE BRICH / AP PHOTO

The original version of Appalachian Spring (title from a poem by Hart Crane) was scored for only 13 instruments and premiered in Washington, D.C., alongside works by Hindemith and Milhaud in October 1944. Copland’s music was an immediate success, and the following May, Graham’s company danced it in New York. In 1945, Appalachian Spring won for Copland not only the New York Music Critics Circle Award for dramatic music that season, but also the Pulitzer Prize in music.

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Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins and the Martha Graham Dance Company in Graham’s “Appalachian Spring.” Courtesy the Library of Congress.

 

Copland arranged the ballet as a continuous suite for full orchestra, which the New York Philharmonic premiered in October 1945. That version, which preserves most of the music of the original ballet, is the form in which we usually hear Appalachian Spring today. According to notes by Copland himself, there are eight distinct sections:

1. Very slowly. Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.

2. Fast. Sudden burst of unison strings . . . starts the action.

3. Moderate. Duo for the Bride and her Intended—scene of tenderness and passion.

4. Quite fast. The revivalist and his flock. Folksy feelings—suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.

5. Still faster. Solo dance of the Bride—presentiment of motherhood. Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.

6. Very slowly (as at first). Transition scenes reminiscent of the introduction.

7. Calm and flowing. Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer- husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, is called “Simple Gifts.”

8. Moderate. Coda. The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. . . . Muted strings intone a hushed, prayer-like passage. . . . The close is reminiscent of the opening music.

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To purchase tickets visit tickets.riphil.org or call 401.248.7000

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THE STORY BEHIND: Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No.1

On February 14 & 15, cellist Johannes Moser will join Tania Miller, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for a romantic Valentine’s Weekend program.

THE STORY BEHIND: Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No.1

Title: Cello Concerto No.1 in A Minor, Op.33

Composer: Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: April 11, 2015 with soloist Alban Gerhardt

Orchestration: In addition to a solo cello, the work is scored for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings.

The Story: 

At age 37, Camille Saint-Saëns was a productive, crusading composer. He was determined to resuscitate the true spirit of French music, which he viewed as having become stagnant and sterile under the heavy influence of Wagner. Not that Saint-Saëns was entirely anti-German. In fact, that year (1872) under the pen name of Phémius, he began writing music criticism favoring Germanic composers Handel and Liszt alongside his particular French favorites, Rameau and Gounod. His own music also showed strong traces of the German symphonic school, since there was no real French symphonic tradition at the time.

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One of Saint-Saëns’s most concise yet most important contributions to the symphonic idiom is his Cello Concerto in A Minor, written the same year he took up the pen as Phémius. It is a work that makes effective, occasionally showy, use of the solo cello without ever degrading the part with empty virtuosity. It is a tightly knit work as well, written in three compact movements that connect without pause. The music has a thematic economy: The first movement’s main theme returns prominently in the finale and then is transformed into a new theme. Continuous form, thematic recursion and transformation—these are Lisztian techniques that Saint-Saëns adapts expertly.

The first movement immediately introduces the main theme, a melody of flaring arabesques that shows off the cello well. A second, sustained theme contrasts sharply, and both themes play important roles in the movement’s working-out.

The middle movement is an Allegretto in minuet rhythms. Scored chiefly for muted strings, the movement allows the solo cello to outline the dance in delicate gestures. In place of a Trio section, the composer gives the cello a short, restrained solo cadenza (the only one in the concerto). A reprise of the minuet follows, but more vividly colored and more romantic.

Creeping in quietly, the original main theme announces the opening of the finale. A gradual dynamic build leads to the cello’s entrance on the theme, which is rhapsodically spun out, leading soon to a second theme. This, however, is a subtle transformation of elements from the minuet theme and the main theme. The rise and fall shape of the minuet theme joins the twisting motion and triplet rhythms of the main theme to generate a new idea. Later in the movement, just before the restatement, the cello plays a particularly effective high scale. A full, quick-tempo coda in a major key gives the cello some brilliant scale passages and rounds out the work. Musicologist/conductor Donald Tovey summed up this concerto with the remark that it is “pure and brilliant without putting on chastity as a garment, and without calling attention to its jewelry at a banquet of poor relations.”

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To purchase tickets visit tickets.riphil.org or call 401.248.7000

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THE STORY BEHIND: Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde: Prelude & Libestod

On February 14 & 15, cellist Johannes Moser will join Tania Miller, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for a romantic Valentine’s Weekend program.

THE STORY BEHIND: Wagner’s Tristan & Isolde: Prelude & Libestod

 

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Tristan and Isolde. Mural in the bedroom, August Spiess, 1881

 

Title: Tristan and Isolde: Prelude & Liebestod

Composer: Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: October 18, 2008

Orchestration: This piece is scored for piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, harp, timpani and strings.

The Story: 

The eternal story of lovers who can never be united—except in death. That is the theme of the two greatest love tragedies of the Western world: Romeo and Juliet, and Tristan and Isolde. Richard Wagner conceived the idea of an operatic Tristan and Isolde in 1854 under the influence of readings from Arthur Schopenhauer and his own love for a woman, Mathilde Wesendonk. Wagner had completed Die Walküre for The Ring cycle in 1856, and by the end of that year he was working on the libretto to Tristan. The following August, the composer broke off work on The Ring entirely to devote himself to composing Tristan. Exactly three years later, work was completed on what may be the most consummate realization of Wagner’s ideal “music drama” and possibly the greatest of his operas.

Richard-Wagner

Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

The famous opening of the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde interlocks two of the opera’s most important melodies. This leads to a long build in the music that drives relentlessly to the Prelude’s sensuous climactic moment.

In a program note written in 1860, Wagner writes of the: “. . . longing, longing, insatiable longing, forever springing up anew, pining and thirsting. . . . In one extended succession of linked phrases . . . that insatiable longing swells from the first, timid avowal . . . through anxious sighs, hopes and fears, bliss and torment . . . into the seas of lovers’ endless delight. But in vain!

In the final scene of the opera, Tristan dies in Isolde’s arms. Now in a shocked trance, she sings her final soliloquy. Though filled with emotion, the orchestral music in this scene projects a strange, consoling sweetness rather than dark tragedy. At last, Isolde joins Tristan in the only way possible, as Wagner wrote:

Death, which means passing away, perishing, never awakening, their only deliverance. . . . Shall we call this realm Death? Or is it not rather the wonder- world of Night, from which, as legend tells, the ivy and the vine grew from the graves of Tristan and Isolde to entwine in inseparable embrace?

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To purchase tickets visit tickets.riphil.org or call 401.248.7000

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THE STORY BEHIND: Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet

On February 14 & 15, cellist Johannes Moser will join Tania Miller, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra for a romantic Valentine’s Weekend program.

THE STORY BEHIND: Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet

Title: Romeo and Juliet: Overture-Fantasy

Composer: Peter I. Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

Last time performed by the Rhode Island Philharmonic: December 7, 1991, with Marin Alsop conducting

Orchestration: The piece is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, four bassoons, two horns, three trumpets, tuba, harp, timpani, percussion and strings.

The Story: 

Tchaikovsky

Peter I. Tchaikovsky

 

During the Romantic era, Shakespearean plays captured the imagination of several major composers. This tendency was felt not only in the opera house, but also in the concert hall. In the late 1830s, Berlioz had composed a “dramatic symphony” based on Romeo and Juliet, and in 1869, Peter I. Tchaikovsky turned his hand masterfully to a programmatic orchestral piece based on that famous tragedy.

The subject was suggested to Tchaikovsky by his friend and sometime mentor, Mily

Milij_Aleksejevič_Balakirev_(Милий_Алексеевич_Бала́кирев)

Mily Balakirev

Balakirev, who had composed an overture to King Lear some years earlier. After the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet overture in March 1870, the composer revised the work, incorporating some further advice from Balakirev. He replaced the original rather dull “Friar Lawrence” theme with a hymn-like passage “having an ancient Catholic character.” In 1880, the composer again made some revisions, notably a complete replacement of the ending.

Tchaikovsky’s music does not depict the events of the play. Rather, the main themes represent the principal characters and ideas. In order of appearance, these are Friar Lawrence, the feud of the Capulets and the Montagues, and the love of Romeo and Juliet.

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Friar Lawrence at Capulet by James Northcote

After a lengthy introduction based on the Friar Lawrence theme, the main Allegro giusto introduces the fiery, rhythmic thematic complex symbolizing the feud. Ultimately, this gives way to the long-breathed love theme, sensuously presented by English horn and muted violas. A second love theme, carved out of even notes, is then heard in the strings. Out of this theme derives a steady, panting motive with which the horn accompanies the second presentation of the main love theme.

An extensive development section, dominated by the feud motives, incorporates also snippets of the Lawrence and love themes. In the recapitulation, the main love theme receives an extensive treatment, finally reaching heights of exaltation, only to be broken off by the feud theme. Fragments of the Lawrence theme and the panting motive struggle against this intrusion until at last they are overpowered.

The quiet coda is an elegiac cortège. A transformed fragment of the lovers’ theme is sounded above the timpani’s dirge rhythm. Just before the full orchestra’s final somber fanfare, an upward-reaching motive from the love theme plays repeatedly, perhaps implying that though Romeo and Juliet are gone, theirs was a love that transcends death.

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To purchase tickets visit tickets.riphil.org or call 401.248.7000

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THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Symphony No.41 (Jupiter)

On January 25, violinist Karen Gomyo will join Bramwell Tovey, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra to perform a special program featuring music composed by Wolfgang A. Mozart.

werk_00a_symphonien_gross_c3692b26_f220THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Symphony No.41 (Jupiter)

Title: Symphony No.41 in C Major, K.551 (Jupiter)

Composer: Wolfgang A. Mozart (1756–1791)

When was the last time the Rhode Island Philharmonic played this piece: November 10, 2001

Orchestration: This piece is scored for on flute, two each of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings.

The Story: 

During the summer of 1788, life was not going well for Mozart. Despite the successes of The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna (1786) and Don Giovanni in Prague (1787), Mozart’s lack of income had reduced him to begging money from his friend, a textile merchant named Michael von Puchberg. During June and July, he wrote four letters to Puchberg continually asking for loans and making blue-sky promises of repayment as soon as his music started making money again.

Unfortunately, Mozart’s sincerity was much greater than his prospects. Through the summer, he composed diligently. In the remarkably short period of about two months, he composed three symphonies (the last in C major), which would prove to be his “final great trilogy.” These have become a Mozartian mystery. What occasion did he have in mind for performing these sublime works?

p17mozartALAMYDynamic contrast is the rhetoric of the Jupiter symphony’s opening two-motive theme, which Donald Tovey describes as “energetic gestures alternating with gentle pleadings.” The first movement’s second and concluding themes are lighter and more rococo. However, lightness is not long lived, as the latter becomes the theme of the development’s dramatic first half. In the second half, Mozart concentrates on the “energetic” first motive of the movement, leading naturally to a solid recapitulation.

In the Andante cantabile, also a sonata form, Mozart creates a mood by calling for muted strings. The idea of dynamic contrast recurs in this movement through sudden forte chords that punctuate the opening theme. The serenity of the opening soon gives way to a mood of agitation and unrest that dominates much of the remainder of the movement. Only towards the end does the placid opening theme return.

Some lighthearted relief comes in the form of the Menuetto. The main section’s grace and charm are suitably complemented by the dry wit of the trio section.

After Mozart’s death, the C Major Symphony was nicknamed Jupiter. Another sobriquet was “symphony with a fugue-finale.” The finale is not actually a fugue but a sonata form containing fugato (fugue-like) sections built on the five themes of the exposition: (1) the opening four-note theme; (2) the fanfare-like theme that immediately follows it; (3) the rising transition motive leading to (4) the sonata form’s “second theme” in a related key; and (5) a short, spiky countertheme to (4). Mozart’s method in the exposition is to present a fugato passage on a theme soon after it is first introduced. The development section concentrates almost exclusively on theme (2) in both the original form and inverted. The main body of the recapitulation is abbreviated and non-fugal, no doubt to allow for the full impact of the coda, the famous grand fugato that combines all five themes at once. Each is heard in every register—a heady kaleidoscope of “quintuple counterpoint.” This final passage is the crowning glory of this work—and perhaps of all Mozart’s symphonic works.

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To purchase tickets visit tickets.riphil.org or call 401.248.7000

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THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3

On January 25, violinist Karen Gomyo will join Bramwell Tovey, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra to perform a special program featuring music composed by Wolfgang A. Mozart.

KG_016 (1)THE STORY BEHIND: Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3

Title: Violin Concerto No.3 in G Major, K.216

Composer: Wolfgang A. Mozart (1756–1791)

When was the last time the Rhode Island Philharmonic played this piece: March 19, 2011

Orchestration: In addition to solo violin, the piece is scored for two each of flutes, oboes, horns, and strings

The Story: 

During the year 1775, Mozart was concertmaster of the Salzburg Prince-Archbishop’s orchestra. This meant that he played violin, led the orchestra, and no doubt was expected to perform occasionally as a soloist. Reflecting his position, the 19-year-old composer’s greatest accomplishments that year were his five concertos for violin and orchestra (K.207, 211, 216, 218, and 219). Oddly, he never again wrote a major work for violin solo.

The last three concerti came as a group between September and December 1775. Since their keys are G major, D major and A major, respectively, it is tempting to theorize that Mozart might have also intended a fourth concerto in E major, cleverly symbolizing the four strings of the violin (G-D-A-E).

The G Major Concerto’s first movement is freshness personified. Mozart offers his captivating themes in a compact orchestral segment before bringing in the soloist. The dramatic working out of the themes is appropriately completed by a segment in the style of an opera recitative.

“. . . Instead of an Andante there is an Adagio that seems to have fallen straight from heaven. . . .” Alfred Einstein’s statement about the second movement speaks for all of us who become breathless at the eloquence and depth of this teenager’s music. Part of the magic of the movement is the result of instrumentation: flutes (instead of the more usual oboes) and muted violins.

The finale is full of peasant-dance merriment and surprises. The central section has unexpected tinges of Gypsy spirit. Soon, completely unrelated, slower music seems again to have “fallen straight from heaven.” These may have been humorous musical quotations in the spirit of jolly Salzburg serenades. The concerto’s surprise ending is for oboes and horns only.

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To purchase tickets visit tickets.riphil.org or call 401.248.7000

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THE STORY BEHIND: The Magic Flute: Overture

On January 25, Karen Gomyo will join Bramwell Tovey, the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra & the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra to perform a special program featuring music composed by Wolfgang A. Mozart.

 

wolfgang-mozart-9417115-2-402THE STORY BEHIND: The Magic Flute: Overture

Title: The Magic Flute: Overture, K.620

Composer: Wolfgang A. Mozart (1756–1791)

When was the last time the Rhode Island Philharmonic played this piece: February 22, 2014

Orchestration: The piece is scored for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings.

Special Note: This piece will be performed by a combined orchestra including the Rhode Island Philharmonic and members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestra.  This marks the first time students have played on a Saturday Classical Concert with the RI Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Story: 

Scarcely more than two months before the death of Wolfgang A. Mozart, his last opera, The Magic Flute, was produced in a small theater in Vienna. The work was a collaboration between Mozart and his fellow Mason, Emmanuel Schikaneder. At the time, the Freemasons included artists, intellectuals and other “free thinkers.” Gatherings were outlawed in Catholic countries, but there was a limited tolerance around Vienna at the time.

Much has been made of the Masonic content of The Magic Flute, particularly about the ritualistic use of the number three. Mozart makes his “Masonic key” of E-flat (a signature
of three flats) the main key of the opera and of its overture.

The overture opens with a grand, three-fold fanfare. Following that, a mysterious introduction leads quietly into the Allegro. Listen now to the comic theme in the violins. Listen to it come back again and again. Mozart is building a fugue on this brilliant, comic main theme. After a while, Mozart brings back the three-fold fanfare of the opening, but in the rhythms of a Masonic initiation. Then he plunges his comic fugue theme into a “journey” that finally leads back to the home key, a re-affirmation of the main theme,
and an ending on three big unison notes.

Program Notes by Dr. Michael Fink © 2019 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

To purchase tickets visit tickets.riphil.org or call 401.248.7000

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