PROGRAM “Neo-Classical Journey”

Program Notes

OLYMPIE OVERTURE:  Joseph Martin Kraus (1756 – 1792), was born in the same year as Mozart, in Miltenberg am Main, Germany. His father’s family had roots in Augsburg as did Mozart’s father and he only outlived Mozart by one year.

Kraus showed his musical talent at an early age. When he was 12, he was enrolled in the Jesuit Gymnasium and Music Seminar at Mannheim, where he studied German and Latin literature as well as music. There he received a rigorous musical education, especially in violin technique.

Kraus's parents wanted him to matriculate as a student of law at the University of Mainz in 1773. However, he was not satisfied with the situation at that university, and even published a satire about it. After only one year, he applied to the University of Erfurt, where he could add music to his curriculum.

In Erfurt and later in Göttingen Kraus found himself very much attracted to the ideas of a group of young poets who were involved with the pre-Romantic Sturm und Drang movement (a movement in literature including rousing action and high emotionalism). After a move to continue his law studies in Göttingen Kraus became friendly with a Swedish fellow student, Carl Stridsberg, who persuaded him to accompany him to Stockholm to apply for a position at the court of King Gustav III.

King Gustav's love for the fine arts had quickly become known in the rest of Europe and attracted musicians from many countries. Kraus moved to Stockholm in 1778, when he was not yet twenty-two. His first years there were not easy. It took Kraus three bitter years before the king noticed him. Finally Kraus was appointed vice-Kapellmeister of the Royal Swedish Opera and director of the Royal Academy of Music.

One of Kraus’s Swedish partners was Johan Henric Kellgren, a poet who produced an adaptation of Voltaire’s tragedy Olympie, for which Kraus composed an overture, a march, four interludes and an epilogue. The tragedy is set in ancient Ephesus and tells of the ill-fated love between Olympie, daughter of Alexander the Great, and Cassandre, the king of Macedon.

The overture begins in the manner of a French Baroque overture with a slow introduction featuring dramatic motifs and dotted rhythms. Olympie was premiered at the Dramaten Theatre in Stockholm in January 1792, just over two months before King Gustav III was assassinated. Shortly before, Kraus had produced a setting of Bellman’s poem Öfver Mozarts död (On Mozart’s Death), and his own days were by then sorely numbered. Kraus died of tuberculosis in December of that year.

CHAMBER CONCERTO: Jonathan Leshnoff was born on September 8, 1973 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He attended Johns Hopkins University and the Peabody Conservatory concurrently, earning bachelor's degrees in anthropology and music. He went on to receive Master of Music and Doctor of Music degrees from the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Maryland, respectively.

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The Baltimore-based composer’s works have been performed by more than 60 orchestras worldwide in hundreds of orchestral concerts. He has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville, and Pittsburgh. Leshnoff is a professor of music at Towson University.

Leshnoff writes music that is emotionally powerful and musically accessible. He has written regularly in the big genres of classical music including symphonies, concertos, oratorios, and string quartets. “My aesthetic is to breathe new, invigorating life into time-honored traditions and forms,” he says. His Chamber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was commissioned by Shriver Hall Concerts for violinist Gil Shaham and the Knights.

“When I write a concerto,” says Leshnoff, “I have to become the instrument. It’s a double refraction: it has to go through me and then through the solo instrument. I have to become a violin and produce what it sounds like, what it likes to do.” Leshnoff has the advantage of being a violinist himself.

The orchestra for this chamber concerto is roughly the same as Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto: pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets in addition to strings.

Leshnoff has written: “The first movement is associated with the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet ה, or ‘Hey,’ which refers to the attribute ‘Malchus,’ meaning ‘summation.’ The writing is very sparse and simple: it has nothing of its own, yet it receives everything. It is really written for the soul of the violin and allows the player to dig deep. It is predicated on line and lets Gil (soloist at the premiere) hold onto a note and let the tone bloom. Slow chords unfold underneath in the orchestra as Gil soars above. The silences between the notes are very important.”

“The second movement is fast, busy, fun, and highly rhythmic. It’s all about action, but at the end, everything comes together.”

SYMPHONY 82: By 1761, Haydn’s fame as a composer and performer attracted the attention of one of Vienna’s greatest patrons, Prince Eszterházy, who engaged him as first-Kapellmeister. He remained with the Eszterházy family for some 30 years.

During this time, Haydn invented the string quartet (he wrote at least 83), evolved the form of the symphony (he wrote at least 107), and experimented with the tonal colors created by various combinations of instruments. By the mid-1780s Haydn’s fame had spread throughout Western Europe, and especially to Paris, where his symphonies were much in vogue.

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Haydn's career exemplifies the status of musicians in the eighteenth century. He was born into a musical family and began musical training at the age of five. At eight he was chosen to be a choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and at twenty-seven became a court musician, a position with little more stature than that of a household servant. Haydn's life was spent in this situation in which his primary duty was to lead the musicians and to compose music for the prince’s household in Vienna and at his estate in Eisenstadt. Until the eighteenth century serious music had been supported primarily by the church and royalty. However, during Haydn's lifetime the emerging middle class was creating a demand for public concerts.

In 1785 just four years before the French Revolution, a group named "Le Concert de la Loge Olympique" commissioned six symphonies from Haydn. This was the first important international commission for him and it was to be followed by others. The group, a private society of Masonic musicians, had an orchestra of sixty-five musicians, an orchestra much larger than Haydn had written for previously. The society was quite new, having been formed in 1782, and their first public concerts were only given in 1785. This symphony was premiered in Paris in 1786.

Haydn himself never appended nicknames to any of his symphonies. This symphony’s nickname “The Bear” derives from a recurring feature in the finale, in which Haydn suggests the sound of the bagpipe or Dudelsack – a low sustained drone, accentuated by a grace-note on the downbeat. It was this novelty which prompted an 1829 piano arrangement of the symphony, entitled Danse de l’Ours (Dance of the Bear). This earliest known printed appearance of this nickname is a reference to the type of music used to accompany dancing bears – a popular form of street entertainment.

PROGRAM “Bee is for Bach”

Program Notes

CONCERTO: It was during Johann Sebastian Bach’s six years as Court Kapellmeister in Köthen (1717–1723) that he produced a significant amount of secular music. Köthen’s Prince Leopold was a connoisseur of music and he asked for instrumental repertoire for solo performance as well as for his 13-member orchestra, and since he was a Calvinist, the Prince did not require very much music for church services.

The original score for the concerto BWV 1060 was lost after Bach’s death and the version we perform these days is a reconstruction from a transcription that Bach made for two harpsichords.

Differences between the extant harpsichord scores for this concerto indicate that the composer was writing for contrasting solo instruments. The solo parts strongly suggested his initial choice of violin and oboe.

BWV 1060 follows the standard Italian baroque concerto structure: three movements: fast-slow-fast. The first movement (Allegro) alternates between soloists (concertino) and orchestra (ripieno) clearly defining the separation of forces.

Similar to Vivaldi’s concerto design, the second movement (Adagio) resembles an operatic aria and the flashy last movement pops up with a crisp main theme which will also reappear within the central and closing sections of the movement (a ritornello).

BEEKEEPER: Since 2011 Arvo Pärt has been among the most performed living composers in the world. Pärt possesses one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary classical music, the product of eclectic influences from the “official” Soviet aesthetic to Renaissance polyphony. Born near Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, Pärt began his formal musical education in 1954 at the Tallinn Music Secondary School entering the Tallinn Conservatory in 1957.

Immediately preceding World War II, Estonia was bloodlessly annexed by the Soviet Union, leaving the young Pärt with only limited access to the musical developments in the West. His early compositions, including his first two symphonies, employed serial techniques, but he soon tired of the rigid rules of twelve-tone composition. After studying French and Flemish choral music from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, Pärt began incorporating the style and spirit of early European polyphony into his own compositions, beginning in 1971with his Third Symphony.

If Bach had been a beekeeper, completed in 1976, is one of the works performed at a legendary concert by the early music ensemble Hortus Musicus on 27 October of the same year. This marked the beginning of Pärt’s new creative style. Intensive creative collaboration with the early music ensemble offered the composer an opportunity to use instruments played by the ensemble and experiment with their sounds.

The key to understanding the sound of this composition is provided by an ironic title Pärt initially gave it: Portrait of a Musicologist Against the Background of a Wasp Nest.

The basic form of the piece is Toccata (showpiece), Ricercare (fugal music) and Chorale (quote from Bach). In the Toccata Pärt embedded Bach’s name, (b–a–c–h: in German b=b flat and h=b natural) on several levels: melodic, sustained chords and tremolo. Then he surrounded Bach with string parts reminiscent of the buzzing of bees. The rhythmic pulse of the accompanying piano part consists of chords in B flat, A, C and B natural.

The work resolves in a coda featuring music from Bach's prelude in B minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1.The first half of Bach’s slowly paced prelude is played at half the speed, offering a relief from the previously tense music. Heavenly lightness begins to glow as the final chord is not played in the original minor, but in the bright major of the same tonality.

SUITE: An opportunity arose for Bach when in 1729 the Collegium Musicum of Leipzig found itself in need of a new director. This organization, which was one of the earliest ensembles to produce and perform public concerts in the modern sense, had been founded in 1701 by Bach’s friend (and godfather to his second son) Georg Philipp Telemann.

 Led by Bach the Collegium Musicum performed a weekly two-hour concert at the largest and most prestigious coffee-house in Leipzig, owned and operated by Gottfried Zimmermann

 Bach held the directorship of this Collegium through 1737, and again from 1739 through 1741.

For these concerts he had to compose or obtain, and rehearse and perform, a vast quantity of music. His 10-year tenure as director of the Collegium meant producing an estimated 500 concerts.

 A major orchestral genre of the time was the overture with appended suite of dances (Telemann is reckoned to have composed many hundreds). There are four which survive from Bach’s hand. Three of them, the one in C major, and both of those in D major, were probably composed in the 1710’s and revived for the Collegium concerts. The overture in B minor for flute and strings is more likely to have been composed anew for the Collegium and the only surviving parts date from the late 1730’s. As in other examples of this genre, the opening movement is the largest in scale, alternating between a slower section of majestic character and a quicker, fugal section. It is then followed by a series of dance-movements: a Gavotte (even though it is labeled “Rondeau”), a Sarabande, a pair of Bourrées, a Polonaise with a variation, and a Menuet. To round it off a movement that superficially resembles a fast Gavotte, but which Bach calls “Badinerie.”

 SYMPHONY: On August 4, 1782 in Vienna, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart married Constanze Weber without the blessing of his father. Papa Leopold thought that the humble, uneducated girl was not worthy of his brilliantly talented son, and he made no secret of it. In an attempt to heal the family rift, the new Herr and Frau Mozart went to Salzburg the following summer for an extended stay. The visit changed little. Leopold spent the rest of his life telling his son what a poor choice of a wife he had made. Wolfgang tried to put a good face on the situation, but he was bitterly disappointed at the results of the Salzburg visit. He left the town of his birth on October 27, 1783, and never returned.

 The Mozarts returned to Vienna by way of Linz, where they found a warm welcome. “When we arrived at the gates of Linz,” Mozart reported to his father on October 31st, “a servant was waiting there to conduct us to the palace of old Count Thun where we are now staying. I can’t tell you how they overwhelm us with kindness in this house. On Thursday, November 4th, I am going to give a concert in the theater, and since I haven’t a single symphony with me, I am up to my ears writing a new one which must be finished by then.”

 The piece was completed on time, in the astonishing space of just five days. Such speed characterized the creation of many of Mozart’s works, and is an important indication of his compositional process: formulating a work completely in his head before committing it to paper.

 The Symphony begins with an introduction in slow tempo with chromatic inflections before the tempo quickens for the arrival of the energetic main theme. In the Andante, Mozart supplied the necessary pathos to balance the exuberance of the surrounding movements. The third movement is a cheerful Minuet, whose trio is reminiscent of an Austrian Ländlerm and the finale is filled with dashing vitality and irresistible joy.