Brandenburg Concerto No. 6

Brandenburg Concerto No. 6

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.

Orchestral Suite No. 4, “Mozartiana”

Orchestral Suite No. 4, “Mozartiana”

Tchaikovsky doesn’t sound much like Mozart. The Russian composer wallowed in Romantic angst, unlike his self-confident musical predecessor from the Classical period a century earlier. Nonetheless, Peter idolized Wolfgang. The Mozartiana is Tchaikovsky’s homage to the Master on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni. Exposure to that opera as a child sparked Tchaikovsky’s entire musical career.

By serendipity, Tchaikovsky had a chance to view the original score of his favorite opera, owned by an acquaintance in Paris, the year before he composed Mozartiana. He used religious terminology when he wrote about handling the manuscript in a letter to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck: “I cannot describe the feeling which came over me when I looked through this musical holy of holies.”

Tchaikovsky didn’t just admire Mozart’s music, but revered Mozart, the person, as a genius and an ideal human being. In another letter to his patroness, who did not share his enthusiasm for Mozart, he described his hero as having “a wonderful, irreproachable, infinitely kind, and angelically pure nature… He was the incarnation of the ideal of a great artist who creates because of an unconscious stirring of his genius. He wrote music as the nightingales sing, i.e. without pausing to think, without doing violence to himself…Everyone loved him; he had the most marvelous, cheerful, and equable temperament. There was not a whit of pride in him… The purity of his soul was absolute. He knew neither envy nor vengefulness nor spite, and I think that all this can be heard in his music, which has reconciling, clarifying, and caressing properties.” In other words, Mozart’s putative flawless character was everything that the self-tortured Tchaikovsky’s was not, but that he yearned for.

For his Mozartiana Tchaikovsky didn’t dare borrow themes from the opera that occasioned the tribute or any of Mozart’s most important works. Instead, he decided to borrow lesser themes, hoping to avoid the charge of hubris for rewriting masterpieces in a contemporary idiom. Instead, he hoped people would see him as drawing attention to overlooked gems. Or something like that. Tchaikovsky is known for brooding emotion rather than cold logic.

The piece was written during a stay with his younger brother Anatoly in Tiflis, now known as Tbilisi, in Georgia. Originally, Tchaikovsky had intended to translate the libretto of Don Giovanni and collaborate on an essay on the composer he so venerated as well, but only the Mozartiana was completed.

Tchaikovsky viewed it as merely an orchestration or arrangement of the original Mozart pieces. “In the course of the orchestration I made minute enhancements and modifications to the harmony,” the composer wrote to his publisher. The original Mozart pieces were for piano, excerpt for the basis of the third movement, which was originally a motet (sacred choral piece for several voices). But the great Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Liszt had transcribed the motet for piano, and Tchaikovsky worked from the secondary source. And for the fourth movement, a Theme and Variations for piano, Mozart had borrowed a theme from a very silly comic opera by Gluck, The Pilgrimage to Mecca.

You might forgive a listener unable to recognize the Mozart in Tchaikovsky’s rendition. It sounds more like The Nutcracker than like Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. While most of the scoring is consistent with an orchestra from Mozart’s day, Mozartiana sounds richer and lusher than anything Mozart might have been familiar with. Tchaikovsky expands the percussion section (listen for the Glockenspiel in the final movement) and adds a heavenly harp to the third movement, Pregheira (Prayer). Yet some of the classical purity shines through, especially in the first two movements.

The first movement is a jig [Gigue], marked Allegro (fast and happy), from Mozart’s Eine kleine Gigue for piano (KV 574).

The second movement is a court dance, Minuet [Menuet], marked Moderato, from Mozart’s Menuett for piano (KV 355).

      Preghiera-andante non tanto
The third movement, Prayer [Pregheira], is marked Andante non tanto (slower but not too much—walking tempo), after Mozart’s motet Ave Verum Corpus (KV 618) in a transcription for piano solo by Franz Liszt.

      Theme and variations
The final movement showcases solo talent from throughout the orchestra, especially the principal violin. It is a Theme and Variations [Thème et variations] with the tempo marking Allegro giusto (truly fast and happy, with energy) from Mozart’s Ten Piano Variations on a Theme by Gluck, K. 455.

All four movements together add up to about 25 minutes of playing time, with more than half of that of that devoted to the last movement. Ballet lovers may find Mozartiana familiar, as George Balanchine choreographed it in 1981, although he reshuffled the order of the movements.

Notes by Emily S. Plishner

Symphony No. 35 in D Major

Symphony No. 35 in D Major

Mozart, arguably the greatest of all classical composers, wrote the ever-popular Haffner Symphony in a big hurry, like almost everything else he composed in his brief life. You’ll probably recognize the themes. It epitomizes the Classical period style—light, transparent, exhibiting controlled passion briskly. Like most Mozart, it is easy to play the notes, but difficult music to play because the transparency leaves nowhere to hide flaws.

Mozart hadn’t been living in Vienna all that long when a commission came from the Haffner family, in Salzburg, where his dad lived. It was the second commission from them. Dad Leopold wrote to his son in July, 1782, conveying a request for background music for a ceremony making the late mayor’s son, Sigmund Haffner, a nobleman. Despite being very busy at the time revising his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio—serving as his own impresario and staging it at the Vienna Burgtheater, moving to new, fancier, quarters, quarreling with his wife-to-be and reconciling, and generally living it up after his first flush of financial success on his own, Wolfgang wrote his father that he’d stay up all night until he got it done. He sent a score for an orchestral suite back to Salzburg in pieces as he finished each movement, but there is no record of whether or not it was performed. A month or two later, needing a symphony, Wolfgang asked his father for the score back,. Dad took his time sending it. By the time the score arrived in Vienna, Mozart had lived in the fast lane so much that he’d completely forgotten what he’d written and expressed delight at how good it was.

After that, he revised the score into the now-familiar symphony. The manuscript now resides at the Pierpont Morgan Library on 36th and Madison, along with a turquoise velvet and repoussé silver presentation case made for it when it was conveyed to King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1865.

      Allegro con spirito


      Menuetto - trio


The final form, in four movements, debuted March 23, 1783. The movements are Allegro con Spirito, Andante, Menuetto and Presto. The entire piece usually runs about twenty minutes. In the final movement, you may recognize some “Turkish” thematic material inspired by cross-pollination with the opera he was reworking at the same time.

Notes by Emily S. Plishner

Concerto “in the Old Style” for Three Solo Violins and Orchestra

Concerto “in the Old Style” for Three Solo Violins and Orchestra

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

“New World” Symphony

“New World” Symphony

Czech composer Antonin Dvořák was born in a village near Prague. Despite his father’s wishes for him to continue in the family business and become a butcher, Dvořák pursued his career in music and by the age of 18 was working as a fulltime musician. During his childhood he developed a deep passion for his heritage and fell in love with the native folk tunes and bohemian melodies associated with his village. It was these early influences that shaped Dvořák’s style. Much of his repertoire is based on Bohemian folk songs and melodies.

Dvořák moved to New York in 1892, after he was named the Director of the National Conservatory of Music. He lived not far from there, at 327 E. 17th Street, just down the street from where the Conservatory used to be (there is a high school there now). It was there that the “New World” Symphony and the Cello Concerto in B Minor were written. The “New World” was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and premiered in December of 1893 at Carnegie Hall. Because of his love for folk music, Dvořák was very interested in Native American and spiritual melodies and themes, and said upon his arrival here, “I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”

Dvořák said of the “New World” the day before its premiere, “I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral color.”

Throughout this piece, the listener can pick out the influence of these themes on the symphony. The main theme in the second movement is perhaps the most famous melody that Dvořák wrote and has been used widely in TV and Film scores. It was played during the coverage of the landing on the moon and subsequent celebrations of that event.

“Tragic” Overture

“Tragic” Overture

Johannes Brahms composed The Tragic Overture, Op 81 in the fall of 1880 as a companion to the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 written a few months earlier. In a letter to Karl Reinecke, Brahms wrote: “one [overture] weeps while the other laughs”.

According to the writer and music critic Max Kalbeck, the Tragic Overture was inspired by Goethe’s Faust for which Brahms is said to have intended to write incidental music (a claim denied by the composer). The dramatic and contrasting character of the two main themes of the overture is more than evident and the themes’ very individual and character-like qualities support Kalbeck’s claim.

      Tragic Overture

The formal organization of the overture also seems to support Kalbeck’s theory. The two main themes are both “square” with their 8-measure structure and both have their preliminary development in the exposition. The development section is designed as a separate section with its own austere (Molto Piu Moderato) character. It borrows material from the first theme of the exposition, but is reshaped in a completely different manner. Another interesting moment in the overture is the beginning of the recapitulation where the first theme is omitted in favor of a differently orchestrated second theme.

The overture ends in a manner similar to the ending of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony – a deceptive retreat, followed by sudden intensity.

Symphony No. 4 in Bb Major

Symphony No. 4 in Bb Major

Beethoven composed his Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60 in the summer and the fall of 1806. 1806 was one of the most productive years of Beethoven’s entire life. During this year, he completed his Piano Concerto No. 4, the Violin Concerto, Leonore Overture No. 3, Coriolan Overture, the Three Rasumovsky String Quartets, the Piano Sonata No. 23 “Apassionata” and the 32 Variations on a Original Theme in C minor.

Beethoven conducted the first private performance of the symphony at the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz in Vienna in 1807, and the first public performance in April 1808, in Vienna’s Burgtheater.

Although not as popular and not as frequently performed as the Third and the Fifth, the Fourth Symphony has a unique place in Beethoven’s catalogue. Today’s audiences, perhaps swept away by the works’ tragic and heroic power, tend to prefer the odd-numbered symphonies. However, Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies show equally profound and beautiful aspects of his genius. In a critical study of Beethoven’s symphonies, Berlioz said of the Fourth Symphony: “The general character of this score is either lively, alert and gay or of a celestial sweetness.” Robert Schumann compared the work to “a slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants,” having in mind the sequence of the Third, Fourth and the Fifth symphonies.

The first movement of the Fourth Symphony opens with a slow introduction (Adagio) in which we have the feeling that the time is standing still. The cold and motionless music from the introduction is “detonated” by the flamboyant chords of the sonata allegro (Allegro vivace) giving energy to a joyous and Haydnesque movement almost entirely based on the opening staccato notes of the first theme.

The second movement (Adagio) brought Berlioz to exaltation — “Its form is so pure and the expression of its melody so angelic and of such irresistible tenderness that the prodigious art by which this perfection is attained disappears completely.”

The third movement (another Allegro vivace) is based on the constant juxtaposition between duple and triple pulse. The entire movement is repeated twice, thus becoming a model for Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh symphonies.

The fourth movement (Allegro ma non troppo) returns to the sparkling and playful mood of the first movement. Here sudden dynamic contrasts and furious passages in sixteenths become the moving forces. At the end of the movement, Beethoven again pays homage to his teacher Haydn by lulling the listener to repose before the final outburst.