Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, in 1806.
Ludwig van Beethoven composed his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61, in 1806.
Brahms wrote this magnificent concerto in the four years leading up to 1881, at the height of his career. It is a massive work, symphonic in its proportions. It has four movements in all, adding a scherzo to the usual three movements, making it one of the longest Romantic piano concertos ever written. The relationship between the solo piano and orchestra is unique and varied. While the pianist often has towering solos, fiendishly difficult passages and cadenzas, in many places there are chamber-music like interactions between the pianist and the orchestra.
The concerto opens with a sunny, sonorous horn solo, echoed by the piano and winds; the piano breaks into a dramatic cadenza (akin to the opening of Beethoven’s “Emperor” piano concerto), after which the main theme is resoundingly taken up by the orchestra. A lyrical second theme is introduced by the orchestra, and then dramatically amplified by the piano. The main theme reappears in the horn in a minor key, and also heralds the sonorous recapitulation which eventually brings the movement to a close.
The second movement scherzo is anything but light-hearted. It has a tragic feel to it, punctuated by offbeats first in the lower strings and later on in the piano. A vigorous trio in the middle leads to passages of symphonic grandeur, before finding its way back to the opening theme.
After such a thunderous movement, the third movement, with its lyrical opening ‘cello solo, is a welcome respite of calm and serenity. The piano weaves delicate melodic wisps around a soft orchestral accompaniment, wandering into ever more-foreign sonorities, before the solo ‘cello solo gently guides everyone back to the main theme and key.
After the romantic fireworks and deep emotions of the first three movements, the last movement Allegretto grazioso presents a total contrast. It is lightly scored, with a delicate grace worthy of Mozart and Haydn. The main theme is almost childlike in its simplicity, tossed back and forth between soloist and orchestra. Three themes in the middle have a Hungarian or gypsy air about them. A sudden restatement of the main theme by the piano in fast 6/8 time ushers in the coda and triumphant conclusion of this superlative concerto.
Antonio Rosetti was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart who, in his day, was highly regarded as a composer. He was born Anton Rösner in Bohemia, later changing his name to Antonio Rosetti. In 1773 he was hired as a servant and double-bass player in the well-regarded court orchestra of Kraft Ernst, Prince of Öttingen-Wallerstein in southern Germany. Rosetti’s compositional talents were quickly recognized, particularly for his expressive and sensitive woodwind writing. He soon became the Prince’s court composer, writing many symphonies, concertos, vocal and choral works. In 1789 Rosetti took on the post of Kapellmeister to the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in northeast Germany. He died three years later in 1792, just six months after Mozart’s death.
In 1781 Rosetti received permission from Prince Kraft Ernst to travel to Paris, where his music had become well-known. Many of his works became regular program pieces played by the Concert Spirituel, the same orchestra that had premiered Mozart’s “Paris” Symphony (No. 31) a few years earlier. Rosetti was very impressed by the orchestra, and composed his symphony “La Chasse” (“The Hunt”) specifically for it.
It features a full set of woodwinds and makes good use of them in this work. As a matter of musical taste, Parisian audiences favored lively and dramatic passages and scales; Rosetti uses those to great effect in this symphony. The first movement starts out with a whisper, with a dramatic crescendo to a first theme of leaps and scale-like passages. An expressive second theme in the strings is reminiscent of a Mozart or Haydn symphony.
The unusual second movement adagio is built around an expressive wind choir of clarinets and bassoons, punctuated by pizzicato string accompaniment. The third movement is a majestic minuet, with a lilting trio featuring solo winds. Rosetti pulls out all of his musical stops in the last “hunt” movement, including motifs of galloping horses, horn calls, and even barking hunting dogs, to bring this piece to a rousing conclusion.
Georg Philipp Telemann was one of the most prominent composers of the baroque era. Widely respected and well-known throughout Europe, he was a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach and corresponded with Handel. A self-taught musician, Telemann early on became adept at playing many instruments, including organ, violin, recorder, viola da gamba, double bass, flute, oboe and bass trombone.
Initially setting out to study law in Leipzig, his musical talents were quickly discovered. After holding a number of posts in Leipzig, Sorau, Eisenach and Frankfurt, in 1721 Telemann became music director in Hamburg of five churches as well as its opera, and remained in Hamburg for the rest of life. Telemann traveled widely throughout Europe, and was familiar with many different styles and schools of musical composition. He was a prolific composer, writing thousands of compositions, many of which survive. His output included operas, cantatas, orchestral suites, concertos, and chamber music.
The concerto grosso we’re playing today was composed by Telemann in 1716 to celebrate the birth of Prince Leopold, heir to Emperor Charles VI in Frankfurt. As befitting the occasion, Telemann scored it for an impressive array of instruments, including three trumpets and two oboes, highlighting them effectively throughout this piece.
The concerto opens with a stately intrada in “French Overture” style, with dotted rhythms. The second movement is a fugal allegro, first introduced by the violins and oboes, and taken up by the other instruments in turn. The aria-like third movement features a lyrical oboe solo set against a background of soft strings and continuo. The dance-like last movement closes out the concerto in joyous fashion, befitting the occasion for which it was written.
This Suite is taken from the ballet Billy the Kid written for the American Ballet Caravan at the suggestion of its director Lincoln Kirstein and based on a story by Eugene Loring. The following is a quotation from an article by Aaron Copland, Notes on a Cowboy Ballet.
The ballet begins and ends on the open prairie. The first scene is a street in a frontier town. Cowboys saunter into town, some on horseback, others on foot with their lassos; some Mexican women do a jarabe, which is interrupted by a fight between two drunks. Attracted by the gathering crowd, Billy is seen for the first time, a boy of twelve, with his mother. The brawl turns ugly, guns are drawn, and in some unaccountable way, Billy’s mother is killed. Without an instant’s hesitation, in cold fury, Billy draws a knife from a cowhand’s sheath and stabs his mother’s slayers. His short but famous career has begun. In swift succession we see episodes in Billy’s later life—at night, under the stars, in a quiet card game with his outlaw friends, hunted by a posse led by his former friend Pat Garrett, in a gun battle. A drunken celebration takes place when he is captured. Billy makes one of his legendary escapes from prison. Tired and worn out in the desert, Billy rests with his girl. Finally the posse catches up with him.
John Cheever (1912-1982) was one of the most important American short fiction writers of the 20th century. Sometimes called “the Chekhov of the suburbs,” his stories are mostly set in the Upper East side and the New York suburbs. His themes focus on the duality of human nature, often expressed as the disparity between a character’s decorous social persona and inner corruption. A compilation of his short stories, The Stories Of John Cheever, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and its first paperback edition won a 1981 National Book Award. —from Wikipedia
In 1979 Jonathan Tunick was engaged by WNET to compose the music for a series of television dramas based on Cheever’s short stories. The composer has adapted some of his music from the series into a suite for full orchestra entitled “Cheever Country“, in three movements:
I. The Five Forty-Eight: A commuter train en route from Grand Central Station to the suburbs.
II. Amy’s Theme: Amy, an eight-year-old girl, attempts to discourage her parents’ excessive drinking by pouring their liquor down the drain. A succession of housekeepers are blamed for this and fired, until Amy is revealed as the culprit. Realizing the pain they are causing their daughter, Amy’s parents resolve to seek treatment.
III. Shady Hill Sequence: A theme and variations describing a suburban town, superficially idyllic but with an undertone of decadence.
“Thinking like a mountain” is a term coined by Aldo Leopold in his influential book A Sand County Almanac. In the section entitled “Sketches Here and There” Leopold discusses the thought process as a holistic view on where one stands in the entire ecosystem.
The essay “Thinking Like A Mountain” crystallizes Aldo Leopold’s philosophy about the balance of nature and our ethical relationship towards its preservation. It is the personal confession of one who momentarily upset that balance and whose remorse became the catalyst which prompted him to become a leader in the environmental movement.
In setting this powerful essay, I wanted to paint a portrait of the mountain. I was fascinated by the overlapping life cycles of the many elements which shared the mountain’s space, from the slow progression of the rocks to the flickering instant of the insects. They simultaneously inhabited the same world and I saw a parallel in the music, where multiple tempos and melodic lines can co-exist. Rather than illustrating the literal sound effects of nature, this music seeks to give voice to an inner natural order built on the primary elements of acoustics as described by Pythagoras. At this level, mathematics and the natural order have much in common with the structure of mountains. This composition was commissioned by a consortium including Explore Park in Virginia, The Billings Symphony in Montana, The Elgin Symphony in Illinois and the Shanghai Symphony in China.
A Little Night Music, suggested by Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night, is a romantic and sophisticated musical comedy, one of Stephen Sondheim’s most popular works. Swimming in a giddy atmosphere of romance, mystery and the waltz, there is no better example of its author’s penchant for an erudite, whimsical and knowing chuckle at the human condition.
In 2015 Jonathan Tunick created an orchestral suite from the score for a Sondheim Celebration concert at the Grant Park Music Festival in Chicago. This performance marks the work’s New York premiere.
The songs included are: Night Waltz; Now/Later/Soon; You Must Meet my Wife; In Praise of Women; A Weekend in the Country; Send in the Clowns; Night Waltz (reprise).
The “Reformation” is one of Mendelssohn’s most programmatic works. As befits its title, the symphony’s first and last movements each contain elements of religious struggle and triumph. Though catalogued as Mendelssohn’s fifth symphony, it is actually his second “full” symphony, written in 1829-30, just three years after Beethoven’s death.
He originally composed his “church symphony” to be played at the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 (which defined the doctrines of the Lutheran Church). For various reasons, however, his new symphony was not chosen for that occasion. Mendelssohn then sought out other venues for it to be performed, and it was eventually performed in Berlin and played at a rehearsal in Paris. Unfortunately, it was not favorably received by critics or musicians, even after Mendelssohn made revisions to it in 1832. He finally “shelved” the symphony for the remainder of his life, refusing to let others see it, and even contemplated destroying it. The symphony was finally published in 1868, over 20 years after his untimely death. Since four other Mendelssohn symphonies had already been published, this one was presented as his “Fifth” Symphony. Since then, it has made its way into the standard symphonic repertoire, albeit in Mendelssohn’s “revised” 1832 version. The version we’re performing today is the original 1829 version, which notably includes a rarely-performed Recitative movement before the Finale.
While written in Mendelssohn’s unique style, the “Reformation” contains references to other composers, including Mozart (opening theme based on four-note “Jupiter Symphony” theme); Bach (fugal and counterpoint sections in the fourth movement); and most interestingly, Beethoven – in the choice of key (D minor/Major), the use of a recitative before the last movement, and a last movement based on a hymn or song (all possibly hearkening back to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony).
The first movement opens in an “antique” polyphonic style reminiscent of Catholic Church ceremony, interrupted increasingly by strident brasses and woodwinds (possibly showing the Catholic order being challenged by the new Protestant movement). At the end of the opening Andante, Mendelssohn has the strings softly playing the “Dresden Amen” — a rising six-note theme. The fiery Allegro which follows is full of musical struggle and combat, with violent string passages met with wind outbursts based on a two-note theme (also derived from the “Dresden Amen”).
Andante – Allegro con fuoco
The second movement is a carefree scherzo, with a singing trio section featuring oboes and strings.
The intense third movement is an orchestral “song without words” featuring strings, oboes and bassoons, in turns introspective and impassioned.
The Recitative, prominently featuring a solo flute and wind choirs, follows without a break. It leads directly into the choral finale based on the Lutheran hymn “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott” (A mighty fortress is our God). The opening chorale is introduced by solo flute and woodwind choir. Mendelssohn develops the movement into increasingly faster variations, complete with Bachian counterpoint in the strings. He overlays passages from the chorale in the middle of the movement, and uses it again in the coda as an exclamation point to end the symphony in dramatic fashion.
Andante con moto – Allegro vivace – Allegro maestoso
A prominent Soviet and Armenian composer, Alexander Arutiunian fused Russian and Armenian musical traditions to form his own unique style. His compositions range from his “Motherland Cantata” (for which he won the Stalin prize in 1948) to his violin concerto (Armenia-88) in homage to a devastating earthquake.
He also wrote a series of well-regarded brass and woodwind concertos. Of these, the trumpet concerto, composed in 1950, is one of his best-known works and a staple of the trumpet solo literature. It is composed in seven sections played without a break. A dramatic improvisatory prelude transitions to a spritely allegro energico; slower introspective sections are interspersed with a periodic return to the “energico” theme. A brilliant cadenza and coda end the concerto with a flourish.