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.

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).

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.

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

“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.

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.

Pelleas et Melisande

Pelleas et Melisande

Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande tells the story of Golaud who encounters the mysterious Mélisande in the forest, and marries her. But very soon, Mélisande finds her true love in the person of Pelléas, Golaud’s half-brother. Golaud becomes suspicious of the lovers, killing Pelléas and wounding Mélisande. Mélisande dies in childbirth, and Golaud continues his descent into madness.

In the twelve years following the play’s 1893 premiere in Paris, four great composers wrote music inspired by Maeterlinck’s masterpiece – Claude Debussy (opera), Gabriel Faure (incidental music), Arnold Schoenberg (symphonic poem) and Jean Sibelius (incidental music).

After Debussy completed an early version of his opera in 1895, British actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell (soon to play the role of Mélisande in London), requested Debussy to excerpt a symphonic suite from the opera to accompany the play’s London production. Debussy refused. Mrs. Campbell then asked Faure to write incidental music to Maeterlinck’s play. Faure agreed. After a one-month collaboration with orchestrator Charles Koechlin, the score of the Incidental Music to Pelléas et Mélisande, Op. 80 was ready. Maeterlinck, present at the 1898 London premiere of the translated play — accompanied by Faure’s incidental music — wrote to Mrs. Campbell, “In a few words, you filled me with an emotion of beauty the most complete, the most harmonious, the sweetest that I have ever felt to this day.”

The orchestral suite consists of four numbers — Prelude (the prelude to Act I in Faure’s complete orchestral score), La Fileuse (Mélisande at the spinning wheel), Sicilienne (the actual prelude to Act II with one of the most famous flute solos in the symphonic repertoire) and La Mort de Mélisande (the Prelude to Act III).

Haydn Variations

Haydn Variations

The third of the “Three B’s” (along with Bach and Beethoven), Brahms adhered to the use of classical forms in his works but dramatically altered the musical landscape in terms of harmony and expressiveness. Included among Brahms’s masterpieces are four symphonies, two orchestral serenades and two overtures, much great chamber music and many pieces for piano, assorted concertos, the Hungarian Dances, the German Requiem and other choral works.

Given the preeminence that Brahms holds today as an orchestral composer, it is somewhat surprising to find that he did not have a single work in the orchestral repertory until he was nearly 40, and it was the brilliantly crafted “Haydn Variations” that helped secure his reputation as a symphonist. Brahms produced two separate versions of the work: the present one for orchestra and a second one for two pianos. Although the pieces are effectively identical, Brahms considered them two independent works rather than viewing one or the other as a transcription. Brahms himself premiered the piano composition in August 1873 with Clara Schumann. The orchestral composition had its premiere in November of the same year.

Notes by GHR

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