Program Notes - October 24, 1998 Concert
("Art Creates Artists")
Art Creates Artists
Art Creates Artists was commissioned by the Florida Youth Orchestra. The title refers to a quote by Georges Braque that when people interact with art, they become inspired to create. In essence, they become artists in whatever capacity, and at whatever level.This piece is celebratory in mood. The primary musical idea is a syncopated energetic fanfare grounded by vigorous rhythms. Lyrical passages interweave but do not linger long in this splashy, brightly-hued opening for our season.
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) composed this concerto in 1878, while taking refuge in Switzerland. The refuge was dictated by the end of a disastrous marriage followed by a nervous breakdown. It is generally accepted that his marriage was an avenue of escape from his personal struggle with homosexuality and its social consequences. Nevertheless, Tchaikovsky found spiritual rejuvenation during this time and composed the Violin Concerto in a short time.
Tchaikovsky often wrote his compositions with the heavy imprint from his biographical sources. The Fourth Symphony indeed chronicles his struggles leading up to the decision to marry a near stranger in 1877, Antonina Miyukova, and his thirst for freedom and happiness. It is quite extraordinary, then, to imagine that not one year earlier before his violin concerto, Tchaikovsky was in the throws of unbearable depression. Extraordinary because to listen to it evokes a freshness of soul and beauty that is anything but depressing.
The opening to the Allegro Moderato is a peaceful and lyrical prologue in the strings that builds and generates an energetic introduction of the first theme, played by the solo violin, which is again delightfully lyrical. This is followed by another, yet more poetic theme, again introduced by the violin. The development section weaves these two themes in playful fashion, with punctuations of orchestral power and virtuosic splendor. A written cadenza opens the door to the coda, which is as memorable as any Tchaikovsky wrote -- immensely exciting and syncopated.
Though somewhat somber, and with a hint of longing, the Canzonetta (Andante) is a truly reclining moment, as if breathing in fresh air. Tchaikovsky's works are extremely autobiographical -- not because he tells the details of his life, but rather because he exposes his inside self with all of his joys and tragedies to the listener. There is much play in the woodwinds and the music here is expressively song-like. One pictures perhaps, Tchaikovsky taking refuge in the notion that there is a purely beautiful aspect to the world, and it is very gentle and comforting. The oepning wind chorale creates the scenery for some beautifully reflective song-making.
Without a break, a magnificent squall of uninhibited life arrives in the finale, Allegro Vivacissimo. There is something so attractively sprited about this movement, that it is difficult to imagine Tchaikovsky's recent nervous breakdown had ever occurred. One might picture here an animated gypsy telling a wonderful story with an audience captivated by him, and a jug of whatever beverage offers the most sting close by. The story teller delivers his tale with robustness and cleverness, narrating with humor, and punctuating with dance throughout. The listener is intoxicated by his very presence and the cadence of his voice, and is whipped up into the story that is good natured and well paced wth vigor. It is breathlessly tipsy with spirit, and gradually becomes more and more exciting, until the ending bursts into a rousing chorus of cheers and laughter.
An interesting note to this concerto is that upon its completion, Tchaikovsky dedicated it to the great Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer. Auer declined the dedication saying that it was ``unviolinistic''. Today, many consider it to be a superb example of a ``violinist's'' concerto, where the soloist is never battling with the orchestra, and is called upon to be tirelessly expressive and lyrical.
Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90 ``Italian''
Of the many excellent accomplishments of the German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), perhaps the most cherished is his reintroduction of Johann Sebastian Bach into the concert hall. This essay is begun in homage to this fact, because to the rest of the muscial world, in 1829, were it not for the genius and foresight of Felix Mendelssohn, Bach may have not been heard again for quite a long time, and with that, endless amounts of knowledge about Bach and his music lost. When the brilliant young Mendelssohn was only 20 years old, the larger masterpieces of Bach had never been heard. It was the St. Matthew Passion, the manuscript of which came into the hands of Mendelssohn and his friends, that was considered to be unperformable de to its length and difficulty. Mendelssohn, however, changed all that. You might say that Mendelssohn rescued the music of Bach at the eleventh hour. Beyond this, Mendelssohn's influence is still felt in the structure and style of concerts of the symphony orchestra (from his work with the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig), and in the teaching and structure of the modern conservatory (from his founding and directorship of the Leipzig Conservatory). And lastly, we would not have A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Scottish Symphony, or Songs Without Words, among many other of Mendelssohns's compositions.
The Italian symphony is Mendelssohn's most classically styled piece; that is, most written in the style of Haydn and Mozart. The inspiration for the work grew out of his travels in that land in 1830. It was a ``study'' tour for him -- a way for Mendelssohn to study the world remarked upon by two of his mentors, Goethe and Zelter, who's influence had such great bearing on his life. By way of Venice, then Rome, through Naples, Pompeii, Genoa, and to Milan. The choice of these sites can take their belonging to Goethe's ``Italienische Reise''. In a way, it was a literary triptych.
Goethe's influence on Mendelssohn began in 1821 with their first meeting, and it can be said that Goethe's advice to the young Mendelssohn became a building philosophy for his compositions to come. Goethe's philosophy was translated by Mendelssohn into music of clarity, but with a hand towards the senses. Mendelssohn's affinity for Bach, Haydn, and Mozart matched this philosophy well. But this was also the Goethe that inspired the great Beethoven, and in Mendelssohn's day, it was virtually impossible to even think music without some affect of Beethoven influencing the result. The Italian symphony, then, becomes a wonderful piece that virtually captures the essence of Mendelssohn in sound. Written with the clarity of Mozart, and with the atmosphere, color, and development of Beethoven, and loosely based on a literary premise by Goethe.
The first movement, Allegro Vivace, in the classical sonata form, is followed by an Andante con moto, in song form. Con moto moderato, the minuet third movement follows, and the symphony ends with Saltarello, Presto which is in a sonata rondo. The saltarello is one of the oldest forms of dance from Italy, which underwent many changes over more than 400 years. By Mendelssohn's time, the folk dance was lively with `violent' arm movements and accelerated hopping. The Italian symphony is often thought to be Mendelssohn's most popular symphony, and surely takes its place as one of the great pieces of Western Music.