Logo

Kevin Mcmahon | music director and conductor

Home   /   Concerts   /   Program Notes   /   November 2012 Progra...
November 1, 2012

November 2012 Program Notes

PAUL DUKAS

Born Paris, 1 October 1865; died Paris, 17 May 1935.

Fanfare to Precede “La Péri”

The ballet La Péri was composed in 1911, with its opening Fanfare added the next year; the premiere was in Paris 22 April 1912. The Fanfare calls for 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba, and lasts approximately 2½  minutes. The SSO brass performed it 10 October 1992 with Guy Victor Bordo conducting.

Fourteen years after The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, his most famous work, Paul Dukas wrote the one-act ballet La Péri for dancer Natalia Trouhanova. She was to perform it with Serge Diaghilev’s famed Ballets Russes, but when Diaghilev deemed her inadequate for the role, she took herself and the score to another company. The story features a fairytale prince seeking a flower of immortality guarded by a Peri, a Persian supernatural being.

The opening Fanfare, dominated by the bright sound of trumpets but with powerful underpinning of the lower brass, is rich in exotic harmonies that evoke the legendary Persian world of the ballet to follow. A somber middle section leads back to the glittering opening.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART

Born Salzburg, Austria, 27 January 1756; died Vienna, 5 December 1791.

Serenade for Winds in Bb, K.361: Adagio

Though the Serenade in Bb is thought to have been composed in 1781, the first performance on record is 23 March 1784. Its Adagio, the 3rd movement, was originally scored for 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 basset horns, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and string bass, and lasts about 5½ minutes.

Serenades for wind ensemble were often written to be performed as dinner music, as in the final scene of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. But Mozart’s Serenade in Bb, on a grand scale in regard to length (50 minutes) and scoring (13 players), is hardly background music. The manuscript, found after Mozart’s death, has a subtitle, “Gran Partita,” but not in his handwriting; the work is sometimes labeled “Serenade for 13 Winds,” though the thirteenth instrument was originally a string bass, now often replaced or augmented, as in tonight’s performance, by a contrabassoon. The overall sonority is rich and mellow, thanks to the presence of four horns (two in the Adagio) and pairs of basset horns as well as clarinets but no flutes. (The basset horn is a lower-pitched member of the clarinet family, their parts frequently transposed for standard clarinets, as in tonight’s performance.) The first known performance—at least of four of its movements—was at Vienna’s Imperial Burgtheater, advertised as “a great wind piece of a very special kind composed by Herr Mozart,” and featuring Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart later wrote his Clarinet Concerto and Quintet.

The Serenade’s Adagio has long been considered one of Mozart’s most sublime accomplishments.  It is essentially a trio for oboe, clarinet and basset horn, with several other instruments providing a syncopated pulse and the rest laying a warm harmonic base. In the film version of Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus Mozart’s rival Salieri describes the Adagio thus: “On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse—bassoons, basset horns—like a rusty squeezebox. And then suddenly—high above it—an oboe--a single note, hanging there unwavering--until a clarinet took it over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! …This was a music I’d never heard, filled with such unfulfillable longing--it seemed to me I was hearing the voice of God!

RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS

Born 12 October 1872, Down Ampney, the Cotswolds, England; died 26 August 1958, London.

Five Variants on “Dives and Lazarus”

Premiered by the New York Philharmonic under Sir Adrian Boult, Carnegie Hall, 10 June, 1939. The score, about 13 minutes long, is for harp and strings. The SSO strings performed the work on 1 October 2005, Andrews Sill conducting.   

Ralph Vaughan Williams collected English folk songs, and used a good many in his own compositions. “Dives and Lazarus” is an old English ballad retelling the parable from the Gospel of Luke about a rich man (the literal meaning of “Dives”) and his brutal treatment of his servant Lazarus, until Lazarus found himself in the Bosom of Abraham after death, and Dives in Hell. There are many variants of the tune, with different lyrics as well, including a Christmas carol, “Come all ye faithful Christians,” and the Irish “The Star of County Down.”

In 1939 Vaughan Williams, commissioned to write a piece for the New York World’s Fair, created a work for strings and harp that was not a traditional “theme-and-variations” but a set of “variants” of the tune, rich in harmony and color, with subdivided parts and passages for solo violin and cello as well as massed string choir. Vaughan Williams was 67 when he composed it, almost 30 years after his most famous work for strings, the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis; but he would go on to write a number of his greatest compositions, including the last five of his nine symphonies.

MICHAEL PATTERSON

24 June 1947.

Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra

First performed 23 January 2010, with Rick VanMatre and the Middletown (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra, Carmon De Leone conducting. The score calls for 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (2nd doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets (one doubling flugelhorn), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, tom-toms, suspended cymbal, side cymbal, gong, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, piano, harp, strings, and solo tenor saxophone (soprano sax during one passage). Performance time is about 26 minutes.

Grammy-and-Emmy-winning composer Michael Patterson has effortlessly moved back and forth between the worlds of classical and jazz music and film scoring—it would be more accurate to say he has merged these worlds than merely bridged them. Trained at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, he is a member of the Film Scoring Faculty at New York University. He has written orchestral and chamber music for a wide variety of ensembles, and scored films and television programs (The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones; JAG). As an arranger he has worked with many jazz greats on award-winning albums.

Saxophonist Rick VanMatre, to whom the Concerto for Saxophone is dedicated, premiered it with the Middletown Symphony and has performed it with the New York Repertory Orchestra and in Chengdu, China. The composer writes: “The concerto was a musical thank you in some ways to my musical coming of age days in Cincinnati. As I was composing I kept a notebook on the piano of the names and important memories of musicians who helped me along the way. Jazz musicians, professors, composers, conductors, composition teachers.”

The Concerto is in three movements. “Prelude” is slow and dreamy but bright in orchestral colors, the jazz-inflected sax prominent at almost all times. A cadenza for the soloist leads to the second movement, “Ballad,” with a noir-city blues flavor. The finale, “Dance,” has a more Latin sound and perhaps the greatest range of moods. A passage near the beginning is marked Duende, a Spanish term traditionally referring to a goblin or sprite but now (thanks to a famous lecture by the poet Federico García Lorca) used as a musical term for the “dark soul” of a performance, or in rock musician Nick Cave’s words, “the eerie and inexplicable sadness that lives within the heart of certain works of art,” whether it’s flamenco, the legendary “demonic” violin-playing of Niccolò Paganini, or modern jazz and blues.

MANNING SHERWIN (arr. MICHAEL PATTERSON)

Born Philadelphia, 4 January 1902; died Los Angeles, 26 July 1974.

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

This arrangement was made for clarinetist Eddie Daniels to perform with the London Symphony Orchestra, Kristjan Järvi conducting, 9 February 2012. Calling for harp and strings plus soloist, it lasts about 8 minutes.

Manning Sherwin and his lyricist Eric Maschwitz first performed their song “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” in a Riviera bar with Sherman at the piano and a local saxophonist joining them. The larger public heard it in the 1940 West End review New Faces, and the song became indelibly associated with London’s endurance of the Blitz of World War II. For a 2012 concert with the London Symphony, jazz clarinetist Eddie Daniels asked Michael Patterson for an encore to follow his performances of Copland and Bernstein, and Patterson thought of the British standard. Tonight’s performance is the world premiere of the saxophone version.

In Patterson’s words, “It is a rather sentimental song but in addition to being a popular ‘hit’ it had been used in the 1941 film Man Hunt [the Fritz Lang anti-Nazi thriller with Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett]. For some reason I always remembered the score by Alfred Newman, and what interesting things he did with the melody of ‘Nightingale.’ And how the melody was used to represent both the place and the relationship between the main character and his love interest.” Patterson visited Berkeley Square to take “the opportunity to give my musical impression of the song, the film and the place.”

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

Born Bonn, 17 December 1770; died Vienna, 26 March 1827.

Wellington’s Victory, Op.91

Composed 1813 and first performed in Vienna, 8 December of that year, conducted by the composer. The score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 6 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, 3 bass drums (two representing cannons), 2 side drums, cymbals, triangle, ratchets, and the usual strings. Duration about 15 minutes.

The “battle symphony,” in which a band of musicians attempts to recreate the drama of military combat, has a venerable history, from early baroque reenactments to film scores of today. The genre was quite popular in Beethoven’s day, and his own contribution to it was occasioned by the British victory over Napoleonic troops near the Basque town of Vitoria on 21 June 1813—a major setback for the French in the war for the Iberian Peninsula (1807-14), and a triumph for General Arthur Wellesley, soon to be honored with the title of Duke of Wellington.  

Beethoven’s original plan was to write the piece for a “panharmonicon”: a bellows-driven mechanical contraption invented by his friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, that could imitate wind and percussion instruments. While working on an arrangement suitable for the device, Beethoven also scored the work for conventional orchestra, and this version was played at a veterans’ benefit concert in December 1813, the finale of a program that included the premiere of his 7th Symphony—and also a couple of other composers’ marches for another Maelzel invention, a mechanical trumpet. It remains unclear how much Maelzel contributed to the initial plan for WELLINGTONS-SIEG, oder Die Schlacht bey Vittoria (as the original 1815 publication listed it), but it is quite clear that he and Beethoven had a huge falling out over the performance rights, with Maelzel bitter that he wasn’t remunerated by a later benefit concert for Beethoven himself, and Beethoven furious that Maelzel absconded with a copy of the score for Munich, where the inventor premiered the panharmonicon version for his own profit.

Wellington’s Victory begins with a snare drum crescendo, culminating in a trumpet fanfare, to announce the arrival of the British forces, at which point the orchestra, led by woodwinds and horns, plays “Rule Britannia.” Next we hear the drums and trumpets of the French, followed by the 6/8 march which the score labels “Marlborough” (better known to English speakers as “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”). After the French sound the battle trumpet, answered by the English, the battle music begins; Beethoven actually wrote in notes for “cannon” and ratchets (representing gunfire) in the score. A “Storm March” follows—the final onslaught of the British, ending with the sound of the French pathetically limping away to the tune of “Marlborough.” The last part of the work is the “Victory Symphony,” in which very Beethovenian triumph music is followed by a gentle statement of “God Save the King.” Variations on this tune, including bars of alternating piano and fortissimo, lead to the final celebration.

PETER ILYCH TCHAIKOVSKY

Born Votkinsk, Russia, 7 May, 1840; died St. Petersburg, Russia, 6 November, 1893.

“1812”: Solemn Overture, Op. 49

Composed in 1880, the 1812 Overture wasn’t performed until 8 October 1882, at the Moscow Arts and Industrial Exhibition Hall, Ippolit Altani conducting. The score calls for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, tambourine, cymbals, side drum, bass drum(s), chimes or bells, and strings, plus cannons and extra brass band if available. Duration about 15 minutes.

Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write the 1812 Overture for the opening of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, built to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon’s army in its attempt to conquer Russia in 1812. Many years in the planning and even more in the construction, the church was projected to be completed in 1880 but was not finally ready until 1883—by which time the 1812 Overture had already been premiered in the adjoining Moscow Arts and Industrial Exhibition Hall. The original plan had been to perform it outdoors in front of the cathedral, with ancient Russian tradition and modern technology conjoining at the climax: solemn bells from the cathedral towers plus cannon volleys triggered via electrical wiring to detonate precisely as marked in the score.

Like Beethoven in Wellingon’s Victory, Tchaikovsky uses a number of tunes that would have been well known to his audience. The opening hymn, so tenderly arranged for two violas and four cellos, was the Russian national anthem, “God Save the Tsar,” while Napoleon’s forces are represented by La Marseillaise. (In reality, the hymn had not been written in 1812 and the French Revolutionary anthem had been rejected by Napoleon, but what music lover would demand more historic accuracy?) During a respite from the battle, we hear a noble theme that Tchaikovsky borrowed from his own early opera The Voyevoda, followed by an actual Russian folk tune. With the defeat of the French and a tremendous orchestral buildup, “God Save the Tsar” is heard triumphantly, accompanied by Russian church bells, and then the rousing military tune we first heard after the overture’s initial statement of the hymn, with cannon volleys to add to the celebration. 

Share this on: