Autumn from “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”

Autumn from “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”

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.

Autumn from “The Four Seasons”

Autumn from “The Four Seasons”

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.

Lieutenant Kije

Lieutenant Kije

This work began as a film score. In 1934 Prokofiev was commissioned to compose a score for Lieutenant Kijé (in Russian, Parootchik Kizhe), a movie satirizing the military and bureaucracy in Czarist Russia.

The plot is based on a mythical tale that hinges on a spelling error. In the film, a clerk misspells a phrase while copying out military orders: the Russian phrase “parootchiki, zheh” (“the lieutenants, however…”) becomes “Parootchik Kizheh (“Lieutenant Kizheh”). The Czar reads the orders and thinks there is a “Lieutenant Kijé” in his guard company!

Not daring to tell the Czar about the copying mistake, the Czar’s aides, courtiers and military officers instead fabricate an entire life for the “Lieutenant.” Besides a military career, they concoct a romance and even a marriage for him.

The fictional lieutenant rises high in the Czar’s esteem and is rewarded with promotions and riches. Finally, the Czar’s aides devise a way to “kill off” the non-existent lieutenant, and he is buried with military honors.  

By 1937 Prokofiev reworked the movie score into a substantial five-movement suite, each depicting a scene from the fictional lieutenant’s life. It begins with the “Birth” of Kijé, featuring a far-off trumpet solo and martial music.

This is followed in succession by a Romance based on a love song (featuring a double bass solo); Kijé ‘s marriage, with a flourish of brass, pomp and ceremony, followed by a lively trumpet tune; the famous Troika, evoking a winter sleigh ride in the snow; and, finally, Kijé ‘s death and burial, in which brief passages from the other movements serve as reminiscences of his fictional “life.”

The suite ends as it began, with a trumpet solo in the distance.

Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra

Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra

Stravinsky orchestrated this suite for small orchestra based on simple tunes he initially composed for the piano between 1914 and 1917.  It is one of many “miniature” works that Stravinsky composed during his life, experimenting with various combinations of instruments, styles and textures.

This short work is in four movements — an opening calm Andante; the rollicking “Napolitana,” evoking an Italian street song and featuring woodwinds; an intense Española, with jagged rhythms, offbeats and contrasts; and the final Balalaȉka, tuneful throughout, with an abrupt ending.

“Karelia” Suite

“Karelia” Suite

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), Finland’s foremost composer, had a major impact on its national identity and musical life. His symphonies are cornerstones of the orchestral repertoire, as are his tone poems based on Finnish myths and national themes.

The Karelia Suite had its origins in 1893, when Sibelius was asked by Helsinki University students to compose incidental music for a gala with historical pageants; these were based on historical events in Karelia province (the southwestern region of Finland next to Russia). His music for three of those pageants became the basis for the Karelia Suite.

      Intermezzo
The first movement, with its spirited march theme, depicts the gathering of taxes by a Lithuanian duke in the 14th century (!).

      Ballade
The second movement Ballade portrays a bard entertaining group of nobles in a medieval castle.

      Alla marcia
The jaunty Alla Marcia depicts the Swedish conquest of a Finnish town in the 16th century.

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major

Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major

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.

Rodeo

Rodeo

In 1942, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo commissioned the choreographer Agnes de Mille to create a ballet for its 1942-43 season. De Mille came up with a concept for a ballet based on a western theme: a gathering of cowboys and ranch hands at a Saturday afternoon rodeo, together with neighbors and a lonely cowgirl.

She chose Aaron Copland, already a recognized master of the American idiom, to write the music.

The ballet was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera that same year and was an instant hit. A few years later Copland fashioned the ballet music into an orchestral suite. The suite is in four movements: Buckaroo Holiday, Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz, and Hoe-Down.

Copland used a number of American folk tunes in Rodeo. These include “If He’d be a Buckaroo” and “Sis Joe” in the opening lively Buckaroo Holiday; “Goodbye, Old Paint” in the Saturday Night Waltz; and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” and “McLeod’s Reel” in the exuberant Hoe-Down.

Pezzo Capriccioso

Pezzo Capriccioso

Tchaikovsky composed this short work in 1887 while tending a seriously ill friend in Germany. This experience affected him emotionally, and is reflected in the melancholy nature of this piece.

The opening is somber and impassioned; it’s then followed by a lyrical singing main theme. There is a sudden change into a virtuosic scherzo, with brilliant ‘cello passage work. After a return to the lyrical theme, the scherzo makes a final appearance.

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Sinfonia Concertante in B flat Major

Sinfonia Concertante in B flat Major

This remarkable work was composed by Haydn while he was on his second visit to London in 1792.

It was initially prompted by a rivalry: Haydn’s former pupil Ignaz Pleyel had composed and performed a “sinfonia concertante” in London in early 1792, featuring a number of solo instruments set off against the orchestra. This musical form was very much in vogue in both Paris and London at the time. In response, the impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, the sponsor of Haydn’s London concerts, asked Haydn to compose a similar work for an upcoming concert in two months.

Haydn set to work and composed this sparkling piece work in short order. It features a solo quartet (violin, ‘cello, oboe and bassoon), as well as a full symphony orchestra, in a combination of concerto and concerto grosso styles.

There are some unusual features: in the first movement the solo quartet enters in the midst of the orchestral theme, engaging the orchestral forces even before their own solo entrance.

      Allegro

The middle movement features chamber music among the soloists, and is almost conversational in style.

      Andante

The last movement starts off as a conventional allegro, but is suddenly interrupted by a number of operatic recitatives played by the solo violin – in the London premiere by Salomon himself.

      Allegro con spirito