Martin Majkut Music Director

Program Notes

Masterworks 3

January 27, 28, 29

Program Notes by Dr. Mark Eliot Jacobs

Marián Lejava

Marián Lejava: Candide Overture (2010). United States premiere.
Scored for two flutes/piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, two percussionists, harp, and strings. Approximate performance time is seven minutes.

Born in Bratislava, Slovakia on September 14, 1976, Marián Lejava is the director and a founding member of the contemporary players group of Bratislava, SOOZVUK. He has collaborated as conductor and/or composer with the Slovak State Philharmonic of Košice, the Slovak Sinfonietta of Žilina, the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava, the Ensemble Modern Frankfurt, and the Ensemble Resonance Freiburg, among others. Keep up to date with Marián Lejava at his web site, www.marianlejava.com.

As noted in the liner notes of the Naxos recording of Tadeáš Salva’s Cello concerto (1967) in which Mr. Lejava conducts the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra,

Marián Lejava is among the most remarkable of younger Slovak musicians, active both as conductor and composer. He has conducted more than eighty contemporary works, and since 2007 he has led the Opera Studio and taught composition and orchestral conducting at the Academy for Music and Drama in Bratislava. As a composer he has won prizes both at home and abroad, and in 2009 was awarded the L’udovít Rajter Prize, followed by a doctorate in composition in 2010.

The Candide Overture (2008/2010, rev. 2016) was composed as the first piece for a new proposed opera. Of it Mr. Lejava writes:

Candide Overture (op. 13) for large orchestra is the first available evidence that the plan for my opera Candide exists. At present, the project is hibernating in the depths of my work desk, where it awaits its resuscitation and realization. The overture was originally composed in the fall of 2008 for the Slovak Philharmonic and subsequently revised in 2010 on the occasion of its first performance. It has been played twice since, the last time with the Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra in Košice under my direction.

Following these performances, I decided to thoroughly revise the piece and to create its definitive version, in which many passages will be completely new. In that sense, today’s performance is a world premiere. I am happy that it is happening under the direction of my longtime friend Martin Majkut and his excellent orchestra.

The musical language is purposely traditional and the (post)neoclassical style fits the overture like a glove. The piece is written in a sonata form of classic design. Still, I decided to introduce five themes/motives in the exposition in place of the traditional three. Four of these themes represent the main characters of Voltaire’s 1759 work of genius, the satiric novella Candide. They are, chronologically, as they appear in the overture, Candide (the trumpet fanfare), Dr. Panglos (the counterpoint in the strings), the Baron (exclamations in the brass), and his daughter Kunigunde (the playful triplet motive in the woodwinds). The fifth theme is a love theme, played by the English horn. Following the dramatic moments and unexpected twists (which symbolize the adventurous and turbulent story of Candide), all “ends well” and the overture concludes with three chords in C Major.

I hope that you, too, will enjoy the splendid adventures of the youngster Candide on his journey to learn the meaning of life, just as I enjoyed it while composing the overture. I wish you a fantastic ride and a pleasant musical experience. The piece is dedicated to Maestro Martin Majkut and the Rogue Valley Symphony Orchestra.

Marián Lejava, August 2016

Béla Bartók in 1927

Béla Bartók: Piano Concerto No. 3 (1945).
Scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, xylophone, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, and strings. Approximate performance time 22 minutes.

The Third Piano Concerto was Béla Bartók’s final composition. It was written in New York City a few months before the composer succumbed to polycythemia, a disease of the blood characterized by an abnormally high proportion of red blood cells. The final seventeen measures of the concerto were completed from the composer’s musical shorthand by Bartók’s student Tibor Serly. Bartók (1881 – 1945) had only placed a few tempo and expression markings in the score before his untimely demise. Only such markings as were deemed necessary for musical meaning and consistency were added by Serly and the conductor Eugene Ormandy, who directed the world premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1946 with the soloist György Sándor.

Bartók emigrated to the United States from his native Hungary in 1940, shortly after the death of his mother. Unfortunately, Bartók arrived in America before his music did. While other composers, notably Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky, found artistic success in the United States after leaving war-torn Europe in the 1940’s, Bartók initially found mostly hardship. Commissions for new works did start to come after a few years, notably the Concerto for Orchestra (1943, commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation), a solo violin sonata for the great Yehudi Menuhin, and an incomplete viola concerto (1944) written for the virtuoso William Primrose. The Third Piano Concerto had no commission; it was to be a birthday surprise for his second wife, the pianist Ditta Pásztory-Bartók (1903 – 1982). She was also the dedicatee of Bartók’s 1926 piano suite, Out of Doors.

The first movement, Allegro molto, starts with an original melody in the solo piano reminiscent of a Hungarian folk verbunkos dance-tune. It undergoes a process of modal shifting, adding and subtracting accidentals to reveal the characteristic sounds of a succession of modal scales, a process the composer called “polymodal chromaticism.” In this instance the modes employed are principally the Dorian and the Mixolydian.

For the second movement, Andante religioso, the recuperating Bartók made a reference to Beethoven’s Heiliger Dankgesang (“Holy Song of Thanksgiving”) from the third movement of his opus 132 String Quartet in A minor. Bartók’s movement, similar in its feeling of praise on recovering from a long illness, is all the more heart-wrenching since, unlike Beethoven, Bartók succumbed to his disease. Bartók did have much to celebrate at this time however – the war in Europe was coming to an end and his friends and family who remained there were safe and well. The Andante movement consists of a chorale in the solo piano interspersed with a fragile setting of bird calls, reminiscent of his other work dedicated to his wife Ditta, Out of Doors. This time the birds are from the New World, including the Baltimore oriole.

The finale, Allegro vivace, is imbued with an upwelling of joy and optimism. In a rondo form, the movement features a recurring melody inspired by Hungarian folk-tunes. Complex yet lucid counterpoint prevails triumphantly.

 

Antonín Dvořák

Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World” (1893).
Scored for 2 flutes/piccolo, 2 oboes/English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, and strings. Approximate performance time 40 minutes.

Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) held the post of head of the newly formed National Conservatory of Music in New York City from 1892 to 1895.  During these years in the United States he never got over his homesickness for his native Bohemia (in the modern Czech Republic). While still in Prague, he made the acquaintance of Joseph J. Kovarik, an American of Bohemian descent studying music there.  Kovarik became Dvořák’s American Secretary, accompanying him while in the USA.  During his tenure at the National Conservatory, Dvořák spent his summers in Kovarik’s home town of Spillville, Iowa, enjoying a little bit of home in that town’s Bohemian community.

Among the works that Dvořák completed while in the United States are his Cello Concerto (1895), the “American” Quartet (1893) and his Ninth Symphony, “From the New World” (1893). The symphony was composed in New York from January 10 to May 24, 1893 under a commission from the New York Philharmonic, and subsequently published while the composer was staying in Spillville.  The New World Symphony certainly is Dvořák’s most popular symphony, and also one of the most popular works in the modern symphonic repertoire.  Anton Seidl conducted the premiere at New York’s Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic.  (Carnegie Hall was the home of the Philharmonic before moving uptown to the new Lincoln Center in 1962.)

Title page of the autograph score of Dvořák's ninth symphony.

The title page of the autograph score of Dvořák’s ninth symphony

In the course of the symphony, you will hear many themes reoccur in various forms during its four movements.  Dvořák applied his interest in the native music of his Bohemian homeland to America.  The themes sound like African-American spirituals and Native American music, but are all original Dvořák compositions.  In an article in Harper’s Monthly magazine, Dvořák wrote, “Many of my impressions [of America] are those of a foreigner who has not been here long enough to overcome the feeling of strangeness and bewildered astonishment which must fill all European visitors upon their first arrival.” The musical lens of Bohemia is clearly focusing the world of the symphony, allowing the listener the unique experience of hearing the familiar in a new light. There is no doubt that the symphony owes its continued popularity to its lyricism and sheer beauty over any other compositional element.

The New World Symphony has always had the power to evoke imagery in its listeners. In her 1915 novel The Song of the Lark (1915), Willa Cather (1873 – 1947) describes the experience of the book’s heroine, Thea Kronborg, attending a performance of the work in Chicago when it was still new:

The first theme had scarcely been given out when her mind became clear; instant composure fell upon her. This was music she could understand, music from the New World, indeed! Strange how, as the first movement went on, it brought back to her that high tableland above Laramie; the grass-grown wagon trails, the far-away specks of the snowy range, the wind and the eagles, that old man and the first telegraph message.

When the first movement ended, Thea’s hands and feet were cold as ice. She was too much excited to know anything except that she wanted something desperately, and when the English horn gave out the theme of the Largo, she knew that what she wanted was exactly that. Here were the sand hills, the grasshoppers and locusts, all the things that wakened and chirped in the early morning; the reaching and reaching of high planes, the immeasurable yearning of all flat lands. There was home in it, too: first memories, first mornings long ago; the amazement of a new soul in a new world; a soul new and yet old, that had dreamed something despairing, something glorious, in the dark before it was born; a soul obsessed by what it did not know, under the cloud of a past it could not recall.

Opening english horn theme from the second movement of the work.

Opening english horn theme from the second movement of the work

The first movement, Allegro, begins with a descending sequence of harmonies in which many listeners hear an expression of Dvořák’s homesickness mingled with anticipation of the unforeseen wonders of a new music world in America. After a stormy interlude, the soaring principal theme is heard in the horns. A gentle contrasting theme is next heard in the winds. A stormy development of all that has been stated ensues. A recapitulation of the principal themes brings us to a decisive conclusion in the key of E minor.

There is evidence that Dvořák composed the second movement of the symphony with the intention of expanding and incorporating it into an opera based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic 1855 poem The Song of Hiawatha, which Dvořák was familiar with in Czech translation. The proposed opera never materialized.

Seven stately chords at the start of the second movement, Largo, steer the tonality away from the E minor of the opening movement to the distant key of D-flat major. The famous “Going Home” melody, introduced by the English horn, was originally sketched in the key of C major and then transposed to D-flat to facilitate the use of the evocative seven-chord bridge.

The third movement begins with an homage to the scherzo movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but the focus soon returns to the new world. This movement, like the second, was also based in part on Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, in this case the feast and dance of Pau-Puk Keewis.

In the finale, musical material from the first three movements is woven together with several brave new themes. At the 1893 premiere in New York, the drama of the movement caused the audience to cheer at great length. The music scholar W. J. Henderson remarked: “It is a great symphony and must take its place among the finest works in the form produced since the death of Beethoven.”