Written by the young Strauss for his father, a virtuoso horn player, this concerto is one of the best-known and beloved in the French Horn solo repertoire. While not as musically complex as other Strauss compositions, it contains unmistakable harmonic and musical elements which instantly mark it as Strauss’ work.
Although formally divided into three movements, it is played as a continuous work with no interruption between movements. The first and last movements’ themes are based on a heroic horn arpeggio, picked up in each instance by the orchestra and leading to a quieter, more subdued horn melody. The orchestral texture is varied, ranging from a Germanic “full orchestra” sound to chamber music-like effects (e.g., solo horn accompanied by upper woodwinds and solo ‘celli). The middle Andante is harmonically the most interesting, with unusual key shifts between A-flat minor and E major supporting dramatic expositions of lyrical horn melody.
Although compact, this concerto explores the full horn range, is challenging for the orchestra, and enjoys a large popular following.
Here’s Barry Tuckwell in a performance with the NHK Symphony Orchestra in 1987. Movement 1:
The violin concerto was Barber’s first significant commissioned work. Barber began composing the concerto in 1939 while on a trip to Switzerland. Upon the outbreak of World War II, he returned to the United States and completed the concerto later that year. The concerto was premiered by Albert Spalding with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1941. Ever since then, it has been a staple of the violin concerto repertoire.
Barber provided these program notes for the premiere performance:
The first movement — allegro molto moderato — begins with a lyrical first subject announced at once by the solo violin, without any orchestral introduction. This movement as a whole has perhaps more the character of a sonata than concerto form. The second movement — andante sostenuto — is introduced by an extended oboe solo. The violin enters with a contrasting and rhapsodic theme, after which it repeats the oboe melody of the beginning. The last movement, a perpetuum mobile, exploits the more brilliant and virtuosic character of the violin.
Béla Bartók (1881-1945) completed the sketches for his viola concerto shortly before his death in New York from leukemia in 1945. He had been commissioned to write the concerto by William Primrose, the great Scottish violist. Bartók wrote to Primrose shortly before his death that the concerto had been fully sketched out and only required a few weeks to be orchestrated, but he died before this work could be completed. At the request of the Bartók family, it fell to Tibor Serly, Bartók’s close friend and colleague, to write the orchestrations and finalize the concerto for publication. It took four years for Serly to finish this task, owing largely to the fragmentary nature of Bartók’s sketches, which were written on 13 unordered pieces of paper. The concerto was premiered by Primrose in 1949. While a number of subsequent revisions have been done (including one by Peter Bartók, the composer’s son), the original Serly version has remained a beloved staple of the viola literature ever since.
The concerto has three movements, played without a break. The opening Moderato begins with a lyrical four-bar theme in the solo viola, accompanied by ‘cello and bass. The theme is taken up by the winds in turn, and appears several times in the course of the movement. A contrasting triplet-based theme appears twice, accompanied by syncopations in the orchestra.
A short declamatory section (lento parlando) and a bassoon solo serve as a bridge to the short second movement. Titled adagio religioso, it is a quiet sustained slow movement, with a short agitated middle section featuring woodwind trills. A sudden solo viola accelerando brings us to a lively allegretto, punctuated by horns and timpani.
The rollicking last movement is based on a Rumanian Scottish-influenced melody appearing in contrast. Brilliant viola bring this work to a satisfying conclusion.
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) was one of Argentina’s most gifted and prolific composers. He started out as a self-taught composer and accomplished player on the bandoneon, an Argentine variant of the concertina/accordion. After formal composition study in Paris he returned to Argentina and revived tango in a modern “nuevo tango” form.
He wrote the four movements of the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) between 1965 and 1970 for his tango instrumental quintet (violin, piano, electric guitar, bass and bandoneon). They were conceived as separate pieces, although Piazzolla occasionally performed them together.
In the 1990s, violinist Gidon Kremer commissioned the Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov to arrange these four compositions for solo violin and string orchestra. Otoño Porteño is the third of these. It is characterized by brilliant passages for the solo violin, strong pulsing rhythms/syncopation, and wistful slow interludes for solo ‘cello and solo violin.
Vivaldi composed “Le Quattro Staggioni” (the Four Seasons) in 1725. The “Seasons” consist of four programmatic concerti for solo violin and orchestra, of which L’Autunno (Autumn) is the third.
Vivaldi wrote descriptive Sonnets for each of the concerti, with indications of how they should be performed.
L’Autunno opens with peasants celebrating the harvest with song and dance. They start drinking wine, become progressively more tipsy, and finally fall asleep. In the hushed second movement, the pleasant temperature causes everyone to abandon singing and dancing, and invites many to enjoy the sweetness of sleep. The last movement describes a hunt, complete with mounted hunters, hunting horns, guns, hounds, and their quarry.
This happy, exuberant piece was composed by Shostakovich in 1957 for his son Maxim’s 19th birthday. It was premiered that year by the Moscow State Philharmonic, with Maxim as the piano soloist after his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory.
The work is in three movements. The woodwinds start the sprightly allegro, quickly joined by the piano in the opening four-note theme, with bursts of hammering percussive passages.An introspective lyrical second theme follows, with the piano accompanied by soft strings. A development section and return to the initial theme bring the movement to a close.
The middle movement is by turns wistful, poignant and lyrical, with singing piano themes that evoke late 19th-century romanticism. The piano opens the final sparkling allegro with octave-based flourishes and scales. Following that, a rollicking second theme (in 7/8 time) is heralded by the winds, in turn picked up by the piano and the strings.
On a pedagogical note, Shostakovich included many scale and arpeggio passages ‑ based on piano exercises by Louis Hanon ‑ to make sure that Maxim would learn them! Those passages are in turn echoed by the strings. A recap of the main theme, strong brass-led chords, and a timpani flourish bring this sparkling concerto to its close.
Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos were dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg, and bear a dedication date of 1721.
The instrumentation of the sixth concerto is most unusual, consisting only of violas, violas da gamba, ‘cellos, basses and continuo. This “lower string” instrumentation give the work a harmonious and mellow sonority. We are performing this work in “concerto grosso” style, with viola and ‘cello soloists.
The work is in three movements. The opening Allegro features the main theme in close canon, with the 2 viola parts entering right on the heels of each other, and the other instruments following suit, The following Adagio is a trio sonata in fugal form; the 2 viola soloists alternatively present the theme in various keys. The solo ‘cello and bass pick up the fugal theme towards the end of the movement. The last movement is a joyous ritornello. The string orchestra is juxtaposed against florid passages by the two solo violas and solo ‘cello, with the main theme returning four times.
My CONCERTO in the old style FOR THREE SOLO VIOLINS AND STRING ORCHESTRA was commissioned in 1994 by Marc Mostovoy for a group he founded, directed and conducted called the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia (now called the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, resident at the Kimmel Center). I completed the work in 1994 and dedicated it to Marc Mostovoy and his Concerto Soloists, who successfully premiered the work on January 8, 1995, at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. The solo violinists were Elizabeth Kaderabek, Richard Amoroso and Jennifer Haas. Tonight’s performance, with solo violinists Muneyoshi Takahashi, Kinga Augustyn, and Tzu-En Lee, will be the second performance of the work and a New York premiere.
For several years before the Philadelphia commission, I had been contemplating writing a concerto “in the old style.” Such a work by a contemporary composer is not as unusual as one might think. Many other composers have written works in the style of a previous era. This list would include such composers as Schoenberg, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Brahms, Stravinksy, Resphighi, and even Haydn. Since I had done a great deal of research into the music of the 18th and 19th centuries, I thought I would like to write a concerto grosso in the baroque style. I was delighted when the opportunity presented itself with the 1994 Mostovoy commission.
When I had completed my three-movement concerto, it turned out to be wholly original, albeit with obvious shades of Bach, Vivaldi and Townsend. The Bach and Vivaldi influences are clearly evident in the first and second movements, while Townsend predominates in the third (final) movement.
Structurally, the FIRST MOVEMENT is in a large three-part form with the first section being a statement of themes, the second section being a contrasting section (a kind of development section), and with the third section being a recapitulation of the themes of the first section.
The SECOND MOVEMENT is a Siciliana, which was a type of slow dance favored by Baroque composers for the slow movements of their concertos. This movement is in a kind of two-part form, where each part is repeated, yielding four sections (ABAB-Coda). The first section is the Siciliana theme itself, followed by a repeat of that theme by the piano. The second section is a contrasting section, played largely by the three solo violins. The third section is a repeat of the Siciliana theme in the first section. This is followed by a fourth section which is a repeat of the second section (which repeat also serves as a coda to the movement).
The THIRD MOVEMENT is in the classical rondo form, very much favored by Baroque and Classical composers. A (theme), B (contrasting section), A (theme), C (contrasting section), A (theme and coda). A large part of the C section has two of the three solo violins playing fast notes, while the first violin plays a more sustained lyrical melody. This style was favored by Bach and Vivaldi in the last movement of their concertos. Technically, in some places, the C section has the three solo violins playing in three different keys and three different rhythms all at the same time. This is strictly Townsend, and was not influenced by Bach or Vivaldi. Notes by Douglas Townsend, NYC
Rimsky-Korsakov is best known for large-scale works – operas and symphonies, as well as chamber works, which are staples of Russian romantic music. Less-well known, however, is that he initially embarked on a career with the Russian navy.
After retiring from the service, he was appointed Inspector of Music Bands of the Navy in 1873 and held that post until 1884. During that time he familiarized himself extensively with wind and brass instruments, and composed a number of concert pieces to elevate the musical level of navy band performances. One of the pieces he wrote was the concerto for trombone and military band, a 3-movement work first performed in 1878.
The concerto shows off both the lyrical and technical aspects of the trombone. It opens right away with a heroic solo theme; moves to an introspective and lyrical middle movement; and ends in a rousing last movement heralded by trumpets and snare drum.
The Carmen Suites are two suites of orchestral music drawn from the music of Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen and compiled posthumously by his friend Ernest Guiraud. They adhere very closely to Bizet’s orchestration.