Stories and Surprises! Sunday, November 19, 2017, 3 p.m. Christ Episcopal Church, 2627 Atlantic Street, NE, Warren By Steven Ledbetter, program annotator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979-1998.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Hebrides Overture (Fingal's Cave), Opus 26
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg on February 3, 1809, and died in Leipzig on November 4, 1847.
A great letter writer, Felix Mendelssohn sent his family regular reports of his impressions and activities, embellished with charming and skillful drawings. Thus, while visiting Scotland, he wrote of the impression made on him of a visit to Fingal's Cave, a celebrated sea cave in the basalt lava on the southwestern shore of Staffa, in the island group known as the Inner Hebrides. The roar of the waves, the clear air, the cries of sea birds, and the impressive rock formations were a powerful stimulant. "In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me," he wrote on August 7, 1829, "the following came into my mind there," and he wrote out 21 measures of music that correspond to the beginning of his overture. Though it took another 16 months to complete, he perfectly captured the uncanny effect of the Hebridean landscape. Once he had finished the work, Mendelssohn had to decide what to call it. The term "tone poem," which we might find most appropriate, had not yet been invented, and it was certainly not a symphony. So instead he called it an overture, because it was a single movement for orchestra cast in sonata form, like the overtures of Mozart or Beethoven, though it does not actually precede and introduce a larger work, as the term "overture" implies. It was thus the very first example of the "concert overture," a genre that became quite popular in the romantic era.
The wonder of Mendelssohn's score is the constant freshness and flexibility of his invention. The opening figure of his first theme recurs many times--but almost every time its appearance differs after a single measure. The freedom that he takes in the working out of this idea and its sequels is not the freedom that comes with "rule-breaking" for its own sake, but freedom derived from a firm vision of the end, from attention concentrated on the goal of a specific kind of expression, here of landscape painting via music. And it is thus that the young composer (just 21 when he finished the score in Rome) created one of his most original and compelling works.
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart (1756-1791) Concerto in C major for flute and harp, K.299 (297c)
Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, who began to call himself Wolfgang Amadeo about 1770 and Wolfgang Amadè in 1777, was born in Salzburg, Austria, on January 27, 1756, and died in Vienna on December 5, 1791. He composed the concerto for flute and harp in Paris almost immediately after his arrival there on March 23, 1778. The date of its first performance is unknown, though it was most likely a private one in the household of the aristocrat Duc de Guines who commissioned the work.
Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp is one of his most Parisian compositions, not surprising, since it is a product of his 1778 visit to Paris with his mother (whose death there embittered the end of the journey). Mozart had hoped to become the center of attention of all fashionable Paris, but he quickly discovered that the great nobles and aristocrats might enjoy music, but they did their best to avoid paying for it. One of his greatest frustrations came in his dealings with the Count de Guines, who played the flute "extremely well" and whose daughter's playing of the harp was "magnifique." The father hired Mozart to teach the girl composition, though this proved impossible. "She has no ideas whatever — nothing comes. I have tried her in every possible way," he wrote to his father. The lessons ended soon with the girl's marriage. Mozart noted that the Duc de Guines had not paid him for several months of lessons and "a concerto of mine for flute and harp." De Guines evidently commissioned the concerto from Mozart as soon as he arrived in Paris. The work is truly a concertante symphony rather than a concerto, as is evident particularly when the solo instruments intertwine with other members of the orchestra, such as the oboes and horns in the last movement. The taste of Mozart's Parisian patron (and of the Paris audiences) is reflected in the lighthearted galanterie, richly decorative, filled with charming tunes, and carefully avoiding any profound emotional depths, which would have been wasted in Paris.
Structurally the work follows the pattern of Mozart's concertos, rich in prodigal melody designed to highlight the soloists against the orchestra. The first movement has an extended exposition with a brief orchestral ritornello and a varied solo passage that takes off from it, first echoing the orchestra then moving on to a plethora of new tunes. The development is necessarily brief after this expansive opening, and the recapitulation, too, keeps tighter rein on the soloists, while varying the details of thematic treatment. The slow movement completely drops the orchestral winds and divides the violas into two parts, producing a mellow backdrop against which the flute and harp can sing their dreamy song. The finale, a rondo based on a dance melody in the style of a gavotte, brings back the horns and oboes in a role that grows more and more prominent as the movement continues, ultimately to become concertante instruments themselves. It may be true that this concerto plumbs no great emotional depths, nor does it rise to any heroic heights. Because of this, the flute and harp concerto has occasionally earned the opprobrium of those who complain that it is not something quite different. But in its own charming way it reveals one aspect of Mozart's musical personality — the powdered-wig Mozart writing to the tastes of society — as clearly as any score he ever turned out.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Sleeping Beauty & Laideronette, Empress of the PagodasfromMother Goose Suite
Joseph Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure near Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Basses Pyrénées, France, on March 7, 1875, and died in Paris on December 28, 1937.
The Mother Goose Suite began life as a set of five duets for piano four-hands, composed between 1908 and 1910. Inspired by a beautifully illustrated volume of 17th and 18th century fairy tales, Ravel wrote it for Mimi and Jean Godebski, aged 10 and 8, children of Ravel's friends, who were patrons of the arts and whose home was a gathering place for the creative minds of the time, including Jean Cocteau, André Gide, Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky. In 1911 Ravel delicately orchestrated the suite. In these orchestral jewels, Ravel said, he wanted "to evoke the poetry of childhood," and listeners will hear how beautifully they reflect the world of a child's imagination.
The tiny Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty is only 20 measures long. It depicts the Good Fairy, who watches over the Princess during her 100-year-long sleep. Courtiers are dancing the pavane, a slow 16th century dance of Spanish origin, and the music consists of a single motif, soft and delicate, repeated by various instruments of the orchestra.
Laideronette, Empress of the Pagodas is based on a 17th century story by Countess d'Aulnoy (also the author of "Goldilocks") about a beautiful princess who was made ugly by a wicked witch. She meets a Green Serpent who takes her to sea in a small boat. They are shipwrecked on an island which is inhabited by pagodins and pagodas—tiny, miniature creatures whose bodies are made of crystal, diamonds, rubies, sapphire, gold, silver and wood.
Ravel's music starts when all the little pagodas begin to dance and play for the princess on their tiny instruments. The music sounds oriental, with a lively pentatonic melody (playable on the black keys of the piano), played by woodwinds and plucking strings, wood block, glockenspiel and xylophone. Suddenly, a big gong announces the Green Serpent (who will turn out to be Prince Charming, also disguised by an evil spell). His music is a slow mysterious duet between the low clarinet and high flute. The first dance of the pagodas returns and comes to an excited end. The spell is broken! The prince and princess marry, become Emperor and Empress of the Pagodas, and of course live happily ever after!
Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) Flight of the Bumblebee from The Tale of Tsar Saltan
Nikolay Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov was born in Tikhvin, Novgorod, on March 18, 1844, and died in Lyubensk, St. Petersburg, on June 21, 1908.
Rimsky-Korsakov was a masterful orchestrator and his orchestral compositions along with excerpts from his 15 operas are well known in the West — think of Scheherazade, Capriccio Espagnol, Russian Easter Festival Overture and The Flight of the Bumblebee. A member of a group of composers known as The Five, Rimsky was deeply committed to developing a nationalistic style, in contrast to the élite western status and court connections of Conservatory composers such as Tchaikovsky. In his works, he made frequent use of fairy tale and folk subjects which, as Harold C. Schonberg wrote, "open up a delightful new world, the world of the Russian East, the world of supernaturalism and the exotic, the world of Slavic pantheism and vanished races. Genuine poetry suffuses them, and they are scored with brilliance and resource."
Flight of the Bumblebee is an orchestral interlude from his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, which is based on a fairy tale by Russia's greatest poet, Aleksandr Pushkin. Rimsky-Korsakov composed his opera in 1899–1900 to coincide with Pushkin's centenary, and it was first performed in Moscow in 1900. The short Flight excerpt closes Act III, Tableau 1 in the opera, and — talk about a disguise — here is the story.
Young Prince Gvidon has been stranded on an island and separated from his father, the Tsar, who thinks he is dead. The prince rescues a magic Swan-Bird who changes him into a Bumblebee so he can fly across the ocean to find his father. The music portrays the Bumblebee as it happily circles around and whizzes off to sea. We hear two of the Prince's motives (leitmotifs) amidst all the buzzing which let us know that the insect is still a Prince. You might enjoy knowing that in the next scene of the opera this same music returns when the Bumblebee appears; it stings the two evil sisters on the brow, blinds the wicked Babarikha who had tricked Tsar Saltan into sending his wife away, and in general wreaks havoc—a son's perfect revenge on the enemies of hisfFather.
In the century since its composition the piece has adorned itself in all kinds of "costumes" — becoming a showcase for solo virtuosity on almost any instrument imaginable.
Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner
Yehudi Wyner (b.1929) MAZE II for Orchestra and Strings of Joy Composed for the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra and young soloists from the WPO's 'Strings of Joy' Program
In addition to composing and teaching, Yehudi Wyner’s active and eclectic musical career has included performing as a pianist, directing two opera companies and conducting numerous ensembles in a wide range of repertory. "A comprehensive musician, Mr. Wyner is an elegant pianist, a fine conductor, a prolific composer and a revered teacher." (Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times). He has taught at Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Brandeis, SUNY Purchase, and the Tanglewood Music Center. He is president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2005, Yehudi Wyner performed Gershwin's Piano Concerto with the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 2014 the Philharmonic gave the world premier of MAZE, which he composed specifically for the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra and the young violinists of the Philharmonic’s Strings of Joy program.
Yehudi Wyner writes, "The Strings of Joy project, conceived by Frank Bodor, was begun four or five years ago. The idea was to put string instruments into the hands of young students and to provide free instruction on how to play them. The project began modestly with just a few youngsters undertaking to learn the basics.
"To provide them with a goal, it seemed like an interesting idea to present the players at a public concert. With this in mind Music Director Susan Davenny Wyner asked me to write a short piece for orchestra which would feature these young players demonstrating what they had learned, even if what they could play was very simple. And so MAZE came into being, and the young players took pride in their success as they were featured on a regular concert of the Warren Philharmonic.
"Meantime a new evolution of the Strings of Joy program was taking place. More students wanted to participate, and the instruments now included a 'cello! These new players were learning new skills and even seemed to enjoy playing together. Susan now proposed the creation of a piece to accommodate the larger group and persuaded me to write a new piece. And so MAZE II came into being, in which material from MAZE I is extended and elaborated and in which the Strings of Joy are given more to do.
"I hope the players will experience the joy of playing with an orchestra, surrounded by a forest of instrumental sound from the various instruments, embraced by the loving warmth of a sonic community.”
Special note: In creating MAZE II, Yehudi met with the students to hear them play, to interact, engage and collaborate with them. The musical gestures they make in this piece are specially crafted for them. As a performer himself, Yehudi is exquisitely sensitive to a performing musician — and the process of creating music for particular performers has always intrigued and inspired him. Now to give the young Strings of Joy students an opportunity to engage with an artist/musician of his wisdom of years but sense of fun, liveliness, creativity, feels special indeed.
These young players have been taking free violin and cello lessons given to them by members of the Warren Philharmonic. Their string instruments have been donated for their use by the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra as a special project funded with help from Trumbull 100 and generous donors from all across the country.
Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner
Justin Timberlake(b.1981) Can't Stop the Feeling! arranged for orchestra by L. Moore We will finish our concert together with a version of a hit song Timberlake wrote along with Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster for the film Trolls (2016). He said he was inspired to write it for his little baby Silas, and that the simple tune and upbeat words were meant to capture the feeling of Happiness. I got that sunshine in my pocket, Got that good soul in my feet ... I can't stop the feeling, So just dance, dance, dance, come on