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PROGRAM NOTES 2009-2010

Series 4: Apr 14 – Apr 18

Program:


SIBELIUS Rakastava (The Lover), Op.14

The Lover

The Path of His Beloved

Good Evening!…Farewell!

MOZART Flute Concerto No.1 in G, K313

Allegro maestoso

Adagio ma non troppo

Rondo (Tempo di menuetto)

INTERMISSION:


BEETHOVEN Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93

Allegro vivace e con brio

Allegretto scherzando

Tempo di menuetto

Allegro vivace

Children’s Program:


FAMILY CONCERT

Overture to the opera Tancredi

by Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)

Peter and the Wolf

A Musical Tale for Children

words and music by Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953)

Steve Moretti narrator

View Program Notes

HEARTSTRINGS
Rakastava (The Lover)

They say no one ever remembers the runners up, only the champions, and that might be true in sport, but in music posterity often takes a different view. Sibelius’s Rakastava was originally composed as a short choral work and entered in a competition organized by the YL Male Voice Choir of Helsinki University in 1894. It came second. Nowadays, and especially in its later form, revised for chamber orchestra, it’s regarded as a minor masterpiece – fresh, unique and lovely.

The text of the original choral version came from a collection of Finnish lyric poems, Kanteletar, and fell into three sections: “Where is my fair one?”, “Here my darling has walked” and an evening song and farewell. The poetry set the mood: yearning optimism, gentle vigor, and a mournful atmosphere to finish. You can hear a performance of the choral version on YouTube. Listen for the tenor solo, which begins around 4:13.

Nearly 20 years later – about the time of his Fourth Symphony – Sibelius dramatically revised the music to create a new, instrumental work. He expanded on the musical themes of the original, but in ways that are wholly determined by the sounds and techniques of a string orchestra. This is no longer music that you could sing, even though it has lost none of its lyrical character.

The first movement (The Lover) has floating ethereal quality, with subtle harmonies. There are fleeting interruptions (delicate “outbursts”) in which the timpani is given long, soft drum rolls to play. The Path of His Beloved has the feeling of perpetual motion, with relentless rhythms – rapid notes in the hushed melody and a plucked accompaniment. Just before the end the triangle is given its only notes to play: six bell-like taps. The third movement (Good Evening!…Farewell!) reveals a trace of the original: what would have been the tenor solo in the choral version emerges as poignant solo for violin. The timpani returns for an ominous, faster-moving section in the middle of this melancholy and mysteriously atmospheric music.

LOVE-ALL
Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G

Never let Mozart kid you into thinking that he didn’t like the flute. His father almost certainly wasn’t fooled, nor should we be. The music itself – the symphonies, the operas, the concertos and the chamber music – tells a different story: Mozart’s flute parts are always imaginative and beautifully written for the instrument.

Mozart’s supposed dislike for the flute emerged just at the time when he was meant to be finishing his first real composing commission but seems to have been, like any normal 22 year old, more interested in his first serious love interest. Mozart was in Munich with his mother, and his father was nagging from afar, writing to ask why he hadn’t finished the commission (for two or three ‘short and easy’ flute concertos, as well as some quartets for flute and string trio) and collected the promised 200 florins (good money) from the wealthy amateur flutist, De Jean. Mozart’s reply packs on the excuses.

In the end he did finish the Flute Concerto in G (he assembled a second one, in D major, from an oboe concerto), and it suits the flute perfectly, asking the instrument to do all the things it’s good at: wide leaps, fast runs, chirpy trills and sustained, singing melodies. The result is sublimely beautiful, right from the flute’s brilliant entry in the first movement (“fast, majestically”).

But Mozart didn’t pay much attention to the requirement that the concerto be short and easy, and the virtuosity of the music must have challenged De Jean’s technique and musicianship – the solo part is elaborately embellished in parts, requires a great deal of breath control, and in the poetic second movement (“slow, but not too much”) an extraordinary emotional range.

The finale returns to a lighter mood with a fashionable rondo in which the recurring theme has the character of an elegantly dancing minuet. The aspirated opening of the theme gives the impression that the finale begins with a sneeze (ha – ha – ha – choo…), and has led one flutist to suggest that the movement is “all about snuff”, that popular means of tobacco consumption in the 18th century. But even in this cheerful movement there’s a shift towards a darker mood in the middle – a hint that Mozart took the commission and his composing very seriously, even as he dallied over it.

LITTLE BUT VAST
Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony

Beethoven wastes no time in his Eighth Symphony: there’s no introduction, no suspenseful meandering of harmony – instead the conductor’s baton comes down on the first notes of the main theme. It’s fast (Allegro), it’s lively (vivace) and Beethoven asks that it be played with vigour (con brio) as well. The symphony as a whole is concentrated, as if Beethoven has taken the power and content of a longer symphony and compressed it to a work of smaller proportions but even greater intensity – “little, but vast” was how Sir George Grove described it.

The result is only slightly longer than his first symphony, completed 12 years before, and it gives the impression that Beethoven had heeded the advice of his more reactionary critics and returned to classical principles of balance, clarity and wit. But even so, this isn’t the kind of symphony that Mozart would have written.

That beginning is a bold stroke, setting off uncharacteristically with a straightforward tune. The mood verges on recklessness, and Beethoven keeps it up with a rich variety of musical ideas all presented within a very short space of time.

There’s more that his audiences wouldn’t have been expecting. The symphony doesn’t have a slow movement, nor does it have a scherzo, the wildly playful movement that Beethoven had made a “standard” element of his symphonies. The place of the slow movement is taken by the Allegretto scherzando (a lively tempo, playfully). This is supposedly a joking tribute to Maelzel, inventor of the metronome – if you want to go along with the story, you can hear the ticking of Maelzel’s timekeeping device in the wind section’s spiky repeated chords, which underpin the beginning of the movement and return whenever the sudden changes in volume and whimsical melodies threaten to lead the music from its main idea.

The scherzo is replaced by something positively old-fashioned: a movement in the tempo of a minuet (Tempo di menuetto), the dance form that Mozart or Haydn would have used at this point in their symphonies. It comes across as conservative and comfortable – and cheerful in every way. In the middle of the movement the horns, clarinet and a busy solo cello are given the spotlight.

The finale returns to the impetuous character of the first movement (once more “fast and lively”). It sets off in a rush, but discreetly, then about 15 seconds into the movement Beethoven throws in a foreign note, a very loud C sharp that definitely doesn’t belong in the symphony’s key of F major. Somehow he manages to continue as if nothing untoward had happened – just as you do when recovering from a stumble – and with good reason: he has plenty of other musical surprises in store, setting up expectations and then misleading his listeners. When the C sharp intrudes again, it’s a cue for the music to drag us off on excursions to remote and unexplored harmonies. This in turn means that it takes longer for Beethoven to bring the music home to F major – the result is a grand, extended coda (‘tail’) to bring this spirited symphony to its jubilant end.

Program notes by Yvonne Frindle © 2010
Composer portraits by Charles Krenner © 2010

Jean Sibelius
Finnish composer
(1865–1957)

Jean Sibelius was the great Finnish composer who stirred the hearts of his countrymen with Finlandia (1899). Much of his music was closely tied to his country’s nationalist cause, especially through his use of Finnish mythology and poetry, but he also composed highly original symphonies. Rakastava was originally composed for a choral music competition in 1894, then substantially revised for chamber orchestra in 1911–12.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Austrian composer,
(1756–1791)

JMozart’s childhood was spent touring Europe as a prodigy, entertaining and astonishing the courts of Europe with his amazing musical gifts. When he was a little older it was his hope – and his father’s – that he could escape the servitude of Salzburg and secure a prestigious position in some other city. And so began a fresh round of touring, including a stay in Munich in 1777–78. Here he fell in love and took on the commission of his flute concertos.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven
German composer
(1770–1827)

JWhen he was just 32 years old and at the beginning of a brilliant career, Beethoven had to come to terms with a dreadful truth: he, a composer and piano virtuoso, faced a future without hearing. It’s a testament to his personal courage that he dismissed thoughts of suicide, finished his second symphony, and would write seven more, including the Eighth, completed in 1812, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. The Eighth Symphony created less of a furor than the popular Seventh. ‘That’s because it’s so much better,’ Beethoven is reported to have said.

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