Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra Program Notes , October 10, 2010

Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra
October 10, 2010

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HANDEL Overture from Music for the Royal Fireworks

BRUCH Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26

Prelude: Allegro moderato


Finale: Allegro energico

HINDEMITH Spielmusik for Two Flutes, Two Oboes and Strings,
Op. 43, No. 1

Mässige bewegte Halbe

Langsam schreitende Viertel

Schnelle Halbe

BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93

Allegro vivace e con brio

Allegretto scherzando

Tempo di minuetto

Allegro vivace

Overture from Music for the Royal Fireworks

George Frideric Handel

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Composed in 1749.
Premiered on April 27, 1749 in London

George Fredric HandelWhen Frederick the Great of Prussia set off in 1740 to conquer the Austrian province of Silesia to expand his own political and economic base and diminish the power of the Habsburg ruler, Maria Theresia, he began the eight years of conflict known as the War of the Austrian Succession. Britain was drawn into the fracas by its king, George II, a German, who wanted to make sure that he retained his succession in the house of Hanover. So determined was George to protect his privilege that he even took a contingent into battle, the last British monarch to actively lead troops in conflict. After the war had shifted enough national boundaries to satisfy the participants, the business was brought to an end by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. Though George was pleased personally with the outcome, Britain gained little from the settlement, except for enough economic strength from standing down its troops to institute a 3% bank interest rate that remained in effect for the next century and a half. George thought, however, that a grand celebration was in order, and he allowed that it should be the most magnificent thing of its kind ever seen in England.

As soon as the Aix-la-Chapelle treaty was signed on October 7, 1748, George II appointed the Duke of Montague, Master General of Ordnance, to oversee the celebratory festivities. The famed French architect (of St. Sulpice, Paris) and stage designer (of the Paris Opéra) Jean Nicolas Servan, who had translated his name into the more theatrically fashionable Servandoni, was engaged to provide an ostentatious setting for the highlight of the celebration, a brilliant display of fireworks. So immense was the set the machine Servan devised that work on it had to begin in early November, fully six months before the date of the festivities. Louise Beck described the finished edifice as a Doric temple of huge proportions; a center structure, one hundred feet high, with wings to the right and to the left, which measured more than four hundred feet. A gigantic figure of Peace attended by Neptune and Mars, and a likeness of equal size of good King George delivering peace to Britannia, adorned the pavilion. A monster sun topped the whole, and there was a special gallery for musicians large enough to accommodate a hundred men.

dropcappecial music for the occasion was commissioned from the Composer to the Royal Chapel, a shrewd, thickly accented Saxon immigrant who was also England's most popular musician George Frideric Handel. Handel was put out by the King's insistence that only martial instruments be used no fiddles, declared George since the ensemble and intonation of military bandsmen of the day was something to give any sensitive musician pause. As the April 27, 1749 date for the jubilee drew near, there was still some question whether Handel would provide the music (... if he won't let us have his overture [suite] we must get an other, wrote the Duke of Montague to a fellow organizer on April 9th), but the composer was won over by his strong feelings about patriotism and profit, and the plans were allowed to proceed.

A public rehearsal of the Fireworks Music was announced for the spacious, park-like Vauxhall Gardens in south London for April 21st. A great band of wind instruments by the dozens to play the new piece was advertised, and interest in the event ran so high that 12,000 tickets were sold in advance. The descent of this throng on the main Thames crossing occasioned such a stoppage on London Bridge that no carriage could pass for three hours, reported the Gentlemen's Magazine. Footmen obstructing the passage were so numerous that scuffles broke out and some gentlemen were injured in the fray. Still, the dress rehearsal went as planned and further whetted the town's appetite for the grand spectacle on April 27th.

royal fireworksThe principal celebration, centered around Servan's elaborate Temple of Peace, was planned for Green Park, in St. James's. For a week before, the town has been like a country fair, wrote Horace Walpole to his friend Horace Mann. The streets are filled from morning to night, scaffolds building wherever you could see or not see, and coaches arriving from every corner of the kingdom. The immense crowds, the guards, the machine itself, which was very beautiful, were worth seeing. Handel's music was readied, the 101 cannons that would contribute to the deafening roar of the event were wheeled into place, the King had final fittings for his new ceremonial clothes. The morning of April 27th dawned dusty and windy, and afternoon thunder threatened weather problems, which were realized when a chill drizzle began to fall at dusk. King George, touring the machine, promenaded and inspected and commented and rewarded workmen despite the rain, and bade the show begin. Handel's suite served as prelude, the heavy guns roared an armipotent salute, and the fireworks started. Walpole continued his account: The rockets, and whatever was thrown up into the air, succeeded mighty well; but the wheels and all that was to compose the principal part were pitiful and ill-conducted, with no change of colored fire and shapes; the illumination was mean, and lighted so slowly that scarce anybody had patience to wait the finishing, and then, what contributed to the awkwardness of the whole, was the right pavilion catching fire and being burnt down in the middle of the show. Very little mischief was done, and but two persons were killed. Servan was so unhinged by the disaster that he drew his sword on the Duke of Montague and had to be arrested. After appropriate apologies, he was released from jail the following day, but the whole affair was apparently more than the Duke's health could tolerate, since he died the following summer. A sad ending for a glorious undertaking.

Handel's Fireworks Music enjoyed a more thorough success than the event for which it was created. It was acclaimed immediately (though the cannons were given far more reportorial notice than the new music at the celebration), and Handel was obliged to include it on a benefit concert in May for his favorite charity, the Foundling Hospital, which also received the proceeds from his annual presentations of Messiah. For that performance, he reduced the number of extra wind players (though not the number of parts) and added strings and continuo. The piece was published in this version in June by Walsh, and has remained one of Handel's most popular instrumental works.

The Royal Fireworks Music, which combines the pomp of the French courtly style with the rhythmic drive and instrumental inventiveness of the Italian concerto grosso, opens with a majestic Overture comprising alternating slow and fast sections.

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Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor,
Op. 26 Max Bruch (1838-1920)

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Composed in 1865-1866. Premiered on April 24, 1866 in Coblenz, with Otto von Königslöw as soloist and the composer conducting.

Max BruchMax Bruch, widely known and respected in his day as a composer, conductor and teacher, received his earliest music instruction from his mother, a noted singer and pianist. He began composing at eleven, and by fourteen had produced a symphony and a string quartet, the latter garnering a prize that allowed him to study with Karl Reinecke and Ferdinand Hiller in Cologne. His opera Die Loreley (1862) and the choral work Frithjof (1864) brought him his first public acclaim. For the next 25 years, Bruch held various posts as a choral and orchestral conductor in Cologne, Coblenz, Sondershausen, Berlin, Liverpool and Breslau; in 1883, he visited the United States to conduct concerts of his own choral compositions. From 1890 to 1910, he taught composition at the Berlin Academy and received numerous awards for his work, including an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University. Though Bruch is known mainly for three famous compositions for string soloist and orchestra (the G minor Concerto and the Scottish Fantasy for violin, and the Kol Nidrei for cello), he also composed two other violin concertos, three symphonies, a concerto for two pianos, various chamber pieces, songs, three operas and much choral music.

dropcaphe G minor Violin Concerto brought Bruch his earliest and most enduring fame. He began sketching ideas for the piece in 1857, when he was a nineteen-year-old student just finishing his studies with Ferdinand Hiller in Cologne, but they only came to fruition in 1865, at the start of his two-year tenure as director of the Royal Institute for Music at Coblenz. The piece was not only Bruch's first concerto but also his first large work for orchestra, so he sought the advice of Johann Naret-Koning, concertmaster at Mannheim, concerning matters of violin technique and instrumental balance. The Concerto was ready for performance by April 1866 with Naret-Koning slated as soloist, but illness forced him to cancel, and Otto von Königslöw, concertmaster of the Gürzenich Orchestra and violin professor at the Cologne Conservatory, took over at the last minute. This public hearing convinced Bruch that repairs were needed, so he temporarily withdrew the Concerto while he revised and refined it during the next year with the meticulous advice of the eminent violinist and composer Joseph Joachim (who was to provide similar assistance to Johannes Brahms a decade later with his Violin Concerto). Joachim was soloist in the premiere of the definitive version of the Concerto, on January 7, 1868 in Bremen; he received the score's dedication in appreciation from Bruch. The Concerto was an enormous hit, spreading Bruch's reputation across Europe and, following its first performance in New York in 1872 by Pablo de Sarasate, America. Its success, however, hoisted Bruch upon the horns of a dilemma later in his career. He, of course, valued the notoriety that the Concerto brought to him and his music, but he also came to realize that the work's exceptional popularity overshadowed his other pieces for violin and orchestra. "Nothing compares to the laziness, stupidity and dullness of many German violinists," he complained to the publisher Fritz Simrock in a letter from 1887. "Every fortnight another one comes to me wanting to play the First Concerto; I have now become rude, and tell them: I cannot listen to this Concerto any more – did I perhaps write just this one? Go away, and play the other [two] Concertos, which are just as good, if not better." Bruch's vehemence in this matter was exacerbated by the fact that he had sold the rights to the G minor Concerto to the publisher August Cranz for a one-time payment, and he never received another penny from its innumerable performances. In a poignant episode at the end of his life, he tried to recoup some money from the piece by offering his original manuscript for sale in the United States, but he died before receiving any payment for it. The score is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City.

The G minor Violin Concerto is a work of lyrical beauty and emotional sincerity. The first movement, which Bruch called a "Prelude," is in the nature of an extended introduction leading without pause into the slow movement. The Concerto opens with a dialogue between soloist and orchestra followed by a wide-ranging subject played by the violinist over a pizzicato line in the basses. A contrasting theme reaches into the highest register of the violin, and is followed by scintillating passagework of scales and broken chords for the soloist. A stormy section for orchestra alone recalls the opening dialogue, which softens to usher in the lovely Adagio. This slow movement contains three important themes, all languorous and sweet, which are shared by soloist and orchestra. The music builds to a passionate climax before subsiding to a tranquil close.

dropcaphe finale begins with eighteen modulatory bars containing hints of the upcoming theme before the soloist proclaims the vibrant melody itself, enriched with copious multiple stops. A broad melody, played first by the orchestra alone before being taken over by the soloist, serves as the second theme. A brief development, based on the dance-like first theme, leads to the recapitulation. The coda, with some ingenious long-range harmonic deflections, recalls again the first theme to bring the work to a rousing close. Though a true showpiece for the master violinist, the G minor Concerto also possesses a solid musicianship and a memorable lyricism that make it a continuing favorite with both performers and audiences.

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Spielmusik for Two Flutes,
Two Oboes and Strings, Op. 43, No. 1

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Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Composed in 1926-1927. Premiered on March 6, 1927 in Bieberstein, Germany, conducted by Hilmar Höckner.

Paul Hindesmith"Gebrauchsmusik" Hindemith called it, a term dustily rendered in the usual translations as "Music for Use" or "Practical Music." Gebrauchsmusik, was, however, far morethan simply a compositional gimmick or a mere marketing strategy it was a basic tenet of Paul Hindemith's artistic philosophy. Throughout his life, Hindemith was a practical musician: a performer, teacher, administrator and conductor as well as a composer. As a boy he learned to play piano, violin, viola and drums, and he earned his living as a young man performing in dance halls, theaters and cafés. This activity was not simply a dilettantish sideline for him, however he was a performer of virtuoso stature: concertmaster of the Frankfurt Opera Orchestra for eight years, violist and founding member of the celebrated Amar Quartet, and soloist in the 1929 premiere of William Walton's Viola Concerto. To increase his knowledge of the inner workings of the orchestra, he undertook a study of each of the instruments, and eventually became proficient on fourteen of them. His work as a teacher of composition at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik beginning in 1927 and, after he came to the United States in 1940, at Yale University emphasized the practical side of his profession: he wrote a children's opera (Wir bauen eine Stadt We're Building a City), choral pieces with audience participation, sonatas for each of the orchestral instruments, and compositions for pianola, brass band, radio, theater and films; he once taught a course in film music that included giving the students assignments of writing scores for old silent movies. The title of his treatise is indicative of his pragmatic approach to creative activity: The Craft of Musical Composition.

dropcapmong the examples of Gebrauchsmusik that translate most comfortably to the concert hall is the Spielmusik for Two Flutes, Two Oboes and Strings, Op. 43, No. 1. (The title means literally Music To Be Played, though it may also connote manner of performance or even game or sport.) It was composed between October 1926 and January 1927 for the student orchestra of the boarding school at Bieberstein, forty miles east of Cologne; the ensemble's director, Hilmar Höckner, led the premiere on March 6, 1927 with the composer himself playing the solo viola part in the second movement. The score was published later that year by Schott as part of a series of educational pieces intended to enhance the appreciation of contemporary music among both students and listeners that also included the Lieder für Singkreise (Op. 43, No. 2, "Songs for Group Singing"), Schulwerk für Instrumental-Zusammenspiel (Op. 44, "Educational Music for Instrumental Ensembles"), and Sing-und Spielmusik für Liebhaber und Musikfreunde (Op. 45, Music to Sing and Play, for Amateurs and Music-Lovers). The muscular opening movement (Mässige bewegte Halbe – Moderately moving half-notes) follows a three-part form (A-B-A), with the strings in intricate counterpoint in the outer sections framing a central episode featuring the pairs of flutes and oboes. The last two of the Spielmusik's three movements (Langsam schreitende Viertel – "Slow, striding quarter-notes" and Schnelle Halbe "Fast half-notes") use a technique that Hindemith had learned from his extensive study of Baroque music: the alternation of instrumental forces oboe and viola pitted as soloists against the ensemble in the slow second movement and the little band of woodwinds conversing with the strings in the energetic finale.

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Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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Composed in 1811-1812. Premiered on February 27, 1814 in Vienna, conducted by the composer.

Ludwig van BeethovenIn early October 1812, the Linzer Musikzeitung carried the following announcement: We have had the long-wished-for pleasure of having in our metropolis for several days the Orpheus and greatest musical poet of our time .... This "Orpheus" was Beethoven, and he had descended on Linz as the last stop in a summer spent taking the waters at Karlsbad, Franzensbrunn and Töplitz in an attempt to relieve various physical ailments. His interest in Linz, however, extended beyond the mineral baths into the private life of his younger brother, Johann. It seems that Johann had acquired a housekeeper, one Therese Obermeyer, and that her duties extended to, as the composer's biographer Thayer put it, "something more." Perhaps as much from jealousy as from moral indignation, the bachelor Beethoven did not approve of either the situation or this particular female (he later dubbed her Queen of the Night), and he took it upon himself, Thayer continued, "to meddle in the private concerns of his brother, which he had no more right to do than any stranger." He stirred up a terrific row over this matter, and, after taking his concern to the local authorities, actually was awarded a decision to have Therese thrown out of town. Johann had had about enough by this time, and the upshot of all of Ludwig's intrusions was that his younger brother married the housekeeper after all.

(As an interesting aside about the relationship between the brothers Beethoven, Olin Downes recounted the following anecdote: "It was Johann who, having acquired a handsome property, called on his brother leaving a card which was inscribed, 'Johann van Beethoven, Gutsbesitzer [land proprietor],' which card Beethoven quickly returned, after writing on the back, 'Ludwig van Beethoven, Hirnbesitzer [brain proprietor].')

dropcapeethoven had been installed in an attractive room in Johann's house overlooking the Danube and the surrounding countryside upon his arrival, and he worked on "the Eighth Symphony throughout all this unnecessary domestic kerfuffle. Not the slightest hint of the turmoil crept into the music, however. It is actually the most humorous and unbuttoned, in the composer's own description, of all the symphonies. At that time in his life (he was 42), Beethoven was immensely fond of a certain rough fun and practical jokes, and Sir George Grove believed that the Eighth Symphony, perhaps more than any other of the nine, is a portrait of the author in his daily life, in his habit as he lived; the more it is studied and heard, the more will he be found there in his most natural and characteristic personality." Certainly this work presents a different view of Beethoven than do its immediate neighbors, and it is this very contrast that helps to bring the man and his creations more fully into focus.

The lighthearted quality of the music is reinforced by another bit of biographical miscellany that attaches to the second movement of the Eighth Symphony. Beethoven had befriended Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, best known as the inventor of the metronome, but famous in his own day as a creator of all sorts of mechanical curiosities. (It was for Mälzel's clangorous Panharmonicon that Beethoven wrote the meretricious Wellington's Victory.) Mälzel and Beethoven had appeared at the same dinner party in Vienna some time before the composition of the Eighth Symphony, and Beethoven had scratched out a little vocal canon that evening to parody the tick-tock of the inventor's immortal creation. All the guests joined in a rendition of the round during that soirée using the silly text: Ta, ta, ta [referring to the tick of the metronome], my dear Mälzel, fare thee well, very well.... The Gemütlichkeit of that evening carried over into the Eighth Symphony, and lies at the heart of the spirit of the second movement, the shortest in all of Beethoven's symphonies.

Beethoven referred to this work as his "little Symphony" in F major. As regards the elapsed time, he was right only the First Symphony is of comparable brevity in his symphonic output. In effect, however, the work is rather more concentrated than simply short, and it has a greater impact than its duration would seem to allow. Part of the effectual size of the Symphony is achieved by the multiplicity of musical events that it contains, and John N. Burk observed that the quick changes from one idea to another carry with them the underlying current of humor that characterizes the work. "Moods in music," Burk wrote, "are never to be matched by moods outside of it, and humor is no exception. It seems to consist in this Symphony of sudden turns in the course of an even and lyrical flow, breaking in upon formal, almost archaic periods. It is a sudden irregularity showing its head where all is regular – an altered rhythm, an explosion of fortissimo, a foreign note or an unrelated tonality.... Each incongruity becomes right and logical with use; indeed here lies the true individuality and charm of the Symphony." Pitts Sanborn saw a more universal quality in Beethoven's style in the Eighth Symphony: "It is the laughter of a man who has lived and suffered and, scaling the heights, achieved the summit .... Only here and there does a note of rebellion momentarily intrude itself; and here and there, in brief lyrical repose we have ... an intimation of Divinity more than the ear discovers."

dropcaphe compact sonata form of the opening movement begins without preamble. The opening theme (F major), dance-like if a bit heavy-footed, appears immediately in a vigorous triple meter. The second theme, built on short sequentially rising figures, enters in the surprising tonality of D major, but quickly rights itself into the expected key of C major. The closing group consists of a strong two-beat figure alternating with a swaying, legato line for the woodwinds. The development is concerned with a quick, octave-skip motive and a rather stormy treatment of the main theme. This central section ends with one of the longest passages of sustained fortissimo in the entire Classical literature to herald the recapitulation with a great wave of sound. The long coda comes close to being a second development section in its mood and thematic manipulation.

The second movement is a sonatina a sonata form without a development section. The woodwinds are given music that imitates the recently invented metronome, and the violins present an impeccable music-box melody that has as much charm as it does humor. Charles Rosen, the pianist and an excellent commentator on the music of Beethoven's time, observed the passing of an era with this music. "The civilized gaiety of the classical period," he wrote in The Classical Style, "perhaps already somewhat coarsened, makes its last appearances here and in some of the last quartets. After that, wit was swamped by sentiment."

The third movement abandons the scherzo of Beethoven's other symphonies and returns to the archaic dance form of the minuet. Its central trio features horns and clarinets over an arpeggiated accompaniment in the cellos to produce a sonority much admired by Stravinsky for its clear texture and adventurous timbre. One of Beethoven's most gigantic creations, is Sir Donald Tovey's estimation of the finale. Its length is almost equal to that of the preceding three movements combined, and it does carry a great relative importance in the work's total structure because of the diminutive size of the internal movements. In mood it is joyous, almost boisterous; in form, it is sonata-allegro, with enough repetitions of the main theme thrown in to bring it close to a rondo. The extensive coda occupies more time than the development, and maintains the Symphony's bustling energy and high spirits to the end.

©2010 Dr. Richard E. Rodda Feb. 11, 2007

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