Martin Majkut Music Director

Program Notes

Masterworks 1

October 21, 22, 23

Program Notes by Dr. Mark Eliot Jacobs

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Einojuhani Rautavaara

Einojuhani Rautavaara: Anadyomene – Adoration of Aphrodite (1968). Scored for 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, and strings. Approximate performance time 13 minutes.

Born in 1928, Einojuhani Rautavaara is the best known Finnish composer after Jean Sibelius. He graduated with a degree in musicology from the University of Helsinki in 1952. He went on to study composition at Finland’s Sibelius Academy from 1951 to 1953, earning a diploma in 1957. In 1955 Jean Sibelius, then 90 years old, recommended Rautavaara for a Koussevitzky Foundation scholarship to study composition in the United States. Under that scholarship he studied composition at the Julliard School of Music with Vincent Persichetti, and at the Tanglewood Music Center with Aaron Copland and Roger Sessions. From 1957 to 1958 Rautavaara studied composition in Ascona, Switzerland and Cologne, West Germany. He taught composition at the Sibelius Academy from 1966 to 1991.

Rautavaara’s early compositions demonstrate a neo-classical ethos, comparable to that of Igor Stravinsky. In the mid-1950’s he began a period of constructivist 12-tone works. The largest work in this second style period is the opera Kaivos (“The Mine”, 1957 – 1963) which was inspired by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.  The Finnish composer Mikko Heiniö (b. 1948) made a stylistic comparison between the dodecaphonic Kaivos and Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck. He also noted that the style of Kaivos moderated toward a more tonal aesthetic in the course of its three acts. This palpable change of style ultimately led to the current Neo-Romantic style period of the composer.

Rautavaara’s Neo-Romantic period began with four new works: Itsenäisyyskantaatti (“Independence Cantata”, 1967), the Cello Concerto (1968), Anadyomene (1968) for orchestra, and the first Piano Concerto (1969). The new sound was characterized by sonorous triadic harmonies often blended into beds of shifting soundscapes. These were often created with musical aleatory (a term derived from the Latin word alea meaning “dice”.) Also in evidence was extensive use of the octatonic scale, Oliver Messiaen’s “second mode of limited transposition.” Also known as the diminished scale, it consists of eight tones to the octave created by alternating half-steps and whole-steps. Compare this to the diatonic scale consisting of seven tones per octave.

In his Surprised by Beauty: A Listener’s Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music (2016 Ignatius Press), Roger Reilly describes Rautavaara’s Anadyomene as the piece in which the composer “broke free of serialism, almost against his own will.” Reilly goes on to say that Anadyomene launched Rautavaara into his “future development as a romantic.” Finally, Reilly quotes Rautavaara on Anadyomene, “This music wrenched itself free (and liberated me) from the serial straightjacket and quasi-scientific thinking toward organic music-making.”

The orchestration of Anadyomene is of an expressionist character reminiscent of Arnold Schoenberg’s 1909 Farben (“colors”) or Summer Morning by a Lake also for large orchestra. The work ebbs and flows organically in texture from stark simplicity through a hierarchy of rich and sonorous climaxes. Its melodic material consists in large part of chromatic scale fragments of varying length in contrary motion. The ultimate climax is created in part with a subtle accelerando of tempo. The piece ends much as it began with its primordial scale fragments. The rich musical structure of this Adoration of Aphrodite, cinematic in it its approachability, is a delight for the imaginative listener.

In his book, Inventing Finnish Music, Kimmo Korhonen characterizes Rautavaara’s music as an “almost textbook case of Post-Modernism.” He notes the composer’s wide range of musical styles, including Neo-Classical, Twelve-tone, Aleatoric, Neo-Romantic, and more. The author notes Rautavaara’s inclusion of music from Orthodox liturgical music and Finnish fiddlers. Like the Franco-American composer Edgard Varèse (1883 – 1965), Rautavaara composes in a musical space which is “open rather than bounded.”

 

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D major (1878). Scored for solo violin, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. Approximate performance time thirty-three minutes.

An 1878 vacation to Clarens, a resort on Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, was the backdrop for the creation of Tchaikovsky’s only violin concerto. The composer traveled there with the young violinist Yosif Yosifovich Kotek (1855 – 1885). Kotek and Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893) benefited from the financial aid of the wealthy patron Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck. Tchaikovsky and Kotek spent much of their time in Switzerland playing through music for violin and piano. One piece that became a particular favorite was Édouard Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole in D minor (1874). The Lalo work, itself a violin concerto in all but name, became the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s own violin concerto.

Tchaikovsky wrote the concerto quickly: starting in late March 1878 and finishing early in April of that year. The composition of the work flowed in an ecstasy of inspiration, with the composer consulting Kotek about technical issues of writing the virtuosic solo violin part. The composer replaced the original slow movement for the concerto before it was made public. The rejected movement lives on as a stand-alone piece for violin and orchestra under the title Souvenir d’un lieu cher (“Memory of a Dear Place”).

Tchaikovsky sent the score to his patron von Meck who expressed dislike for it. The soloist that the composer enlisted to premiere the work, Leopold Auer, declared the piece to be unplayable. Without a soloist, the concerto languished unperformed for two years. Fortunately, a young and largely unknown violinist, Adolf Brodsky, had been working on the piece all that time, and the honor of premiering it would go to him. Brodsky made his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic with the premiere of the concerto on December 4, 1881 with Hans Richter conducting. This was to be the only Tchaikovsky work to be premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic. Brodsky was made the official dedicatee of the work.

Auer would later take a great liking to the concerto, performing it widely and teaching it to his students who themselves would become leading interpreters of the piece. Among them were Jascha Heifetz and Efrem Zimbalist.

The concerto is more lyrical and lightly scored than much of his other symphonic works. Tchaikovsky creates contrast in the first movement by alternating lightly scored passages for solo violin and orchestral accompaniment with more dramatic ones for orchestra alone.

Woodwinds and horns introduce the thoughtfully elegant second movement.   The soloist plays with a mute, producing a subdued and subtle tone quality appropriate to the expression of the movement.

Dramatic dance-like rhythms in the full orchestra herald the beginning of the finale. After a cadenza, the solo violin further develops the lively opening theme with orchestral accompaniment. Two contrasting themes are presented in sparkling variations. The solo violin brings the concerto to a brilliant close after leading the orchestra on a merry chase.  

 

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Dmitri Shostakovich

Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9 in E-flat, Op. 70 (1945). Scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tambourine, triangle), and strings. Approximate performance time 27 minutes.

In the spring of 1945 Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975) told the press that his much anticipated Ninth symphony was going to be “a symphony of victory with a song of praise.” Comparisons with Beethoven’s Ninth symphony were widespread. The symphony was expected to be the third in a cycle of grand “war symphonies” which began with Symphony No. 7, Leningrad (1941) and continued with No.8, Stalingrad (1943).

At the same time, the Soviet army was starting its push into Germany: the Second World War was nearing its end. Shostakovich completed his Ninth in August of that year. The work that emerged that month was a surprise to all. It was small in scale: there are movements in his previous symphonies that are longer that the entire Ninth. There was no “song of praise” in it, no chorus. Humor rather than heroism was its basis. The Ninth is an engaging piece of music without the showy grandeur of the expected paean to the USSR and its leader, Joseph Stalin.

Shostakovich’s compositional career got off to a big start with the premiere of his first symphony in 1926. The work began as an assignment for his composition lessons at the Petrograd Conservatory with Maximilian Steinberg, himself a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Glazunov, and Anatoly Liadov. Shortly after the symphony’s premiere in Leningrad, the conductor Bruno Walter performed the work in Berlin, creating international appeal for the music of this 19-year old composer. Sadly, conditions did not remain so cordial for Shostakovich.

It would be an understatement to say that the composer’s working environment became toxic. On January 26, 1936 Joseph Stalin attended a performance of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. It had been in production at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow for two years by this time. Two days after the performance an unsigned editorial appeared in Pravda titled “Muddle Instead of Music.” The article attacked the opera and its composer for a list of perceived deficiencies including intellectual elitism and immorality. Among the terms used against the work were “formalist,” “bourgeois”, “coarse” and “vulgar.” Although it is unlikely that Stalin himself wrote the editorial, it is clear that he agreed with it. Perhaps the most ominous passage in the editorial for the future of Shostakovich was its call for “good music for the future of Soviet progress.”

The Pravda editorial resulted in immediate and total disgrace for Shostakovich. His performance income came to a complete halt. Commissions ceased to come to him. Friends and acquaintances were coerced to come out against him in the public press. Another article came out 10 days later, this time about his ballet The Limpid Stream. The article, entitled “Ballet Falsehood”, unleashed more criticism, accusing the composer of being a musical charlatan purveying “aesthetic formalism”. The librettist of the ballet was arrested and shot the following year. Shostakovich was compelled by the Union of Soviet Composers to withdraw his recently completed Fourth Symphony that year before its scheduled premiere. In the following year, his Fifth Symphony subtitled “A Soviet artist’s creative response to just criticism” rehabilitated his career somewhat, but the composer remained ever vigilant about politics.

The Soviet government had relaxed its tight rein on the arts during the Second World War, but in 1948 again began to crack down. Many of Shostakovich’s works were banned for a time. His Tenth symphony did not come out until after the death of Stalin in 1953. Some sketches for the Tenth date back to 1946, and the work was probably completed sometime in 1951.

The Ninth symphony is often compared to Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony” due to its scaled-down musical dimensions and close adherence to classical forms. The first movement, Allegro, is a text-book example of 18th century sonata form, complete with a secondary theme in the traditional key of the dominant. It is the only Shostakovich symphony with a repeated exposition.  Much of the humor in the movement comes from the trombone’s repeated two-note fanfare motive that supports and at the same time interrupts the secondary theme presented first in the piccolo and then in the violin. Eventually the trumpets chime in as if to tell the trombone to cool it.

The mood of the second movement, Moderato, is largely up to the conductor’s designs: It will lie somewhere in the dark spectrum from mere melancholy to dire tragedy. What begins in solo clarinet as a slow waltz is frequently interrupted with extra beats, creating an environment of hesitation and doubt.

The remaining three movements of the symphony are played without break. The Scherzo, marked Presto, a mercurial engine in the spirit of Beethoven, becomes menacing with the brass asserting macabre Verdiesque motives at full volume, only to die away prior to the entrance of the trombones and tuba in a Largo third movement that may remind many listeners of Mussorgsky’s Catacombs from Pictures at an Exhibition. The movement consists of two of these pronouncements, each followed by a mournful bassoon solo. The final bassoon solo transforms into the more cheerful main theme of the finale, marked Allegretto. Sometimes a dance, sometimes a march, the movement brings the symphony to a rambunctious, bright, and cheerful conclusion.