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PROGRAM NOTES 2018-2019

Series 2: Dec 12 – Dec 16

Conductor:

Stefan Willich

Soloist:

Frank Rosenwein, Oboe

Program:


Mozart Magic Flute Overture K620
Strauss Oboe Concerto in D Major
Mozart Symphony No. 39 in E Major K543

Frank Rosenwein joined The Cleveland Orchestra as principal oboe at the beginning of the 2005-06 season. He made his solo debut with the Orchestra in February 2007, in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. Mr Rosenwein is making his debut with CityMusic Cleveland in the beautiful Strauss Oboe Concerto

 

Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Overture to L’Italiana in Algeri (“The Italian Girl in Algiers”)

Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)

Composed in 1813.

Premiered on May 22, 1813 in Venice, conducted by the composer.

“Napoleon is dead; but a new conqueror has already shown himself to the world; and from Moscow to Naples, from London to Vienna, from Paris to Calcutta, his name is constantly on every tongue.” So begins Stendhal’s Life of Rossini, completed in 1823, two years after the Napoleonic demise. Rossini’s conquest of the musical world began a decade earlier, when, in 1813 in Venice, at the age of 21, he unveiled the opera seria Tancredi in February and the opera buffa L’Italiana in Algeri three months later. So popular was Tancredi that a Venetian court edict strictly forbade the humming, whistling or singing of its hit tune (Di tanti palpiti) in any of the city’s legal chambers. A similar success followed L’Italiana in Algeri, which was produced, Stendhal reported, in five Italian cities within months of its premiere. “No composer in the first half of the 19th century,” wrote Philip Gossett in the New Grove Dictionary, “enjoyed the measure of prestige, wealth, popular acclaim or artistic influence that belonged to Rossini. His contemporaries recognized him as the greatest Italian composer of his time.” In his two whirlwind decades as a full-time composer, Rossini completed some 35 operas — almost every one a resounding success.

L’Italiana in Algeri and Tancredi of 1813 were Rossini’s first full-length operas, his talent having been previously confined to such one-act farces as La Scala di Seta and Il Signor Bruschino. His fabled compositional celerity is exampled by L’Italiana: a report in the Venetian press after the opera’s premiere held that he devoted all of 27 days to preparing the score. (The composer himself, however, told a German correspondent that he had polished it off in a mere eighteen.) The zany plot of the opera presents Isabella, an Italian lady of respectable lineage, who sails to Algeria to rescue her lover, a captive of the Bey of Algeria. Isabella bedevils the Bey with her machinations, including one to persuade him to join the Pappatacci, a secret society dedicated to absolute luxury and complete indifference to the activities of spouses or lovers. Rossini calculated that this silly story would prove irresistible to the opera lovers of Venice. He was right. Amid Stendhal’s lavish praise for L’Italiana, he noted that “never has a public enjoyed a spectacle more harmonious with its character, and, of all the operas that ever existed, this is the one destined to please the Venetians most.”

The Overture reflects the opera’s high spirits. It begins with a slow introduction incorporating a languid melody sung by the solo oboe above a background of pizzicato strings. The main body of the Overture commences with a lively tune strutted out by the woodwinds and punctuated by chords from the full orchestra. The oboe gives the lyrical second theme before one of Rossini’s characteristic crescendi is unleashed to close the exposition. Rather than working up any more serious feelings in a development section, the music plunges directly into the reprise of the opening themes, using the crescendo to build to the brilliant closing pages.

 

Oboe Concerto in D major

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Composed in 1945; revised in 1948.

Premiered on February 26, 1946 in Zurich, conducted by Volkmar Andreae with Marcel Saillet as soloist.

Strauss, having established an international reputation as a composer and conductor, largely withdrew from public life after 1935 to his villa at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the Bavarian Alps. He lived there throughout World War II, spared the physical ravages of the conflict but deeply wounded by the loss of many friends and the bombing of Dresden, Munich and Vienna. In October 1945, under the threat of being called before the Denazification Board, he moved to Switzerland, where he lived for the next four years. He and his wife, Pauline, stayed in various hotels in several towns and cities (her shrewish tantrums and complaints led to frequent management requests for them to seek lodgings elsewhere) before settling into the Palace Hotel in Montreux. Strauss was cleared by the Denazification Board in June 1948, but he chose to stay in Switzerland for medical treatment that winter, returning to Garmisch in May 1949, just four months before his death. Though increasingly feeble during his Swiss sojourn, his mind was clear, and he continued to compose.

Strauss undertook the Oboe Concerto in September 1945, shortly before he left Garmisch for Switzerland, at the request of John de Lancie, a young performer stationed with the American occupation troops in Bavaria. De Lancie, who was one of several American musicians the venerable composer welcomed to his lovely villa in Garmisch, returned home to become principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and, later, director of the renowned Curtis Institute in that city. When Strauss and Pauline left for Switzerland in October, he took along his sketches for the new Concerto, and finished the score at the village of Baden-bei-Zürich soon after he arrived.

In his study of the composer’s life and works, Ernst Krause noted that the Oboe Concerto creates “an Arcadian atmosphere of shimmering transparency” and that it exhibits “a masterly command of form, and a predominance of spiritual elements over those of strong animation.” The Concerto’s three movements are played without pause, as though Strauss was loath to halt the flow of sweet lyricism that constantly unwinds from the oboe’s opening phrases. The first movement follows the traditional sonata pattern, though here the form’s structural junctures are smoothly elided rather than sharply demarcated. The Andante is a three-part song: a wistful aria for oboe surrounds a more animated middle section, incorporating the main theme of the previous movement. A mellow cadenza for the soloist leads without pause to the Finale, an animated, rondo-like chapter with several subsidiary episodes, some of which recall motives from the opening movement. This lovely Concerto is brought to an end by gossamer fillips and charming filigree.

 

Symphony No. 39 in E-flat major, K. 543

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Composed in 1788.

Premiere uncertain; first documented performance given in Hamburg in March 1792.

The city of Prague fell in love with Mozart in January 1787. The Marriage of Figaro met with a resounding success when he conducted it there on January 17, and so great was the acclaim awarded to his Symphony in D major (K. 504) when it was heard only two days later that it has since borne the name of the Bohemian capital. He returned to Vienna in early February with a signed contract to provide Prague with a new opera for its next season. The opera was Don Giovanni, and Mozart returned to Prague on October 1 to oversee its production. Again, he triumphed. He was invited to take up residence in the city, and he was tempted to abandon Vienna, where his career seemed stymied and the bill-collectors harassed him incessantly, but, after six weeks away, he returned home for pressing reasons both personal and professional. Personally, his wife, Constanze, was due to deliver their fourth child in December, and she wished to be close to her family for the birth. (A girl, Theresa, was born on December 27.) Professionally, the venerable Christoph Willibald Gluck was reported near death, and Mozart, who had been lobbying to obtain a position at the Habsburg court such as Gluck held, wanted to be at hand when the job, as seemed imminent, came open.

Mozart arrived back in Vienna on November 15, one day after Gluck died. Three weeks later he was named Court Chamber Music Composer by Emperor Joseph II, though he was disappointed with both the salary and the duties. He was to receive only 800 florins a year, less than half the 2,000 florins Gluck had been paid, and rather than requiring him to compose operas, a form in which he had proven his eminence and to which he longed to fully devote himself, the contract specified he would write only dances for the imperial balls. Still, the income from the court position, the generous amount he had been paid for Don Giovanni and his fees for various free-lance jobs should have been enough to adequately support his family. However, his desire to put up a good front with elegant clothes, expensive entertaining, and even loans to needy (or conniving) musicians drained his resources.

Despite the disappointments inflicted upon him, his precarious pecuniary position, and an alarming decline in his health and that of his wife, Mozart was still working miracles in his music. On June 26, he finished the E-flat Symphony (K. 543), the first of the incomparable trilogy he produced within two months during that unsettling summer of 1788. The reason he wrote the E-flat, G minor and C major (“Jupiter”) Symphonies has never come to light. It has been speculated that they might have been composed for a series of concerts he planned originally for June, but which was several times postponed for lack of subscribers and eventually cancelled completely. A second possibility is that the symphonies were written on speculation to be published as a set. A third consideration might have been a trip that Mozart was trying to arrange to London. Should the tour materialize, he reasoned, these symphonies would make a fine introduction to the British public. None of those situations came about, however, and the genesis of Mozart’s last three symphonies will probably always remain a mystery.

The E-flat Symphony opens with a large introduction of surprising emotional weight. The remainder of the movement, however, uses its sonata form as the basis of a lovely extended song rather than as an intense drama. The halcyon mood carries into the Andante, a sonatina in form (sonata without development section) and a sunbeam in spirit. The Minuet, with its sweet central trio, is a dance of grace, elegance and prescient Romantic vigor. The finale combines wit and verve with suavity of style and harmonic felicity.

©2018 Dr. Richard E. Rodda

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