Ohlsson Plays MozartArlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
HAYDN WOLFGANG AMADEUS
- Rondo: Presto – Minuetto: Cantabile – Presto
- Garrick Ohlsson, piano
- Allegro non troppo
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Robert McBride, host for the stations of All Classical FM. You can also enjoy the Concert Conversation in the comfort of your own home. Visit the web site allclassical.org to watch the video on demand.
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
Overture to L'Anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice
(The Philosopher's Soul, or Orfeo and Euridice)
Composer: Born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Lower Austria; died May 31, 1809, Vienna.
Work composed: 1791. Haydn's librettist, Carlo Francesco Badini, originally titled the opera L'Anima del filosofo; fragments of the music were later published as Orfeo ed Euridice.
World premiere: The completed opera was first staged in Florence, Italy, on June 9, 1951. The cast, directed by Erich Kleiber, included a young Greek soprano named Maria Callas.
First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.
Estimated duration: 4 minutes
Haydn's last opera, L'Anima del filosofo, written in 1791, while the composer was in London, was based on the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. Haydn's version differs greatly from that of his colleague, Christoph Gluck, whose wildly successful Orfeo recalls Orpheus' passionate love for Euridice. Haydn's version de-emphasized the love story and instead focused on the moral lessons drawn from Orpheus' tragic downfall. A typical example of the preachy libretto can be found in the Polonius-like pronouncement of King Creonte: "He who loses his well-beloved loses himself!"
A royal squabble between the rival theatres of King George III and the Prince of Wales resulted in a refusal to grant a license to stage L'Anima del filosofo. It remained unknown for more than 150 years, until a group of musicologists, led by H.C. Robbins Landon, discovered missing parts of the score in several cities across Europe.
Haydn's overture to L'Anima del filosofo brims with energy, capturing the lively tension and dramatic plot twists of the Orpheus legend, from its slow minor-key introduction to Orpheus' harrowing journey into the bowels of Hades to rescue his beloved Euridice.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271, "Jenamy"
(formerly known as "Jeunehomme")
Composer: Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria; died December 5, 1791, Vienna.
Work composed: January 1777. For over a century, this concerto was thought to have been written for a young French pianist, Mlle. Jeunehomme. "Mlle. Jeunehomme" was actually an invention of two of Mozart's biographers who mistakenly thought Mozart misspelled her name in his letters. In 2005, music scholars identified the actual pianist for whom Mozart composed K. 271, a young Frenchwoman, Louise Victoire Jenamy.
World premiere: undocumented
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: January 11, 1994; Norman Leyden, conductor; Emanuel Ax, piano
Instrumentation: Solo piano, 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings
Estimated duration: 31 minutes
"The first unqualified masterpiece in any genre."
– Charles Rosen, writing about Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9
It's one thing to begin writing music at the age of 5, as Mozart did. It's another thing to compose a full-length piano concerto the month you turn 21, and in so doing create a bona fide masterpiece that is still performed more than 200 years after your death, as Mozart also did, with his Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271.
In addition to pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen's observation, the Piano Concerto No. 9 boasts other "firsts": it is most likely Mozart's first published concerto, and also the first to feature a minor-key slow movement. Second movements in minor keys are a hallmark of Mozart's later concertos, but this is the first time Mozart experimented with a minor key central movement. As he soon discovered, the minor keys lent an added emotional dimension to the concerto genre, formerly a vehicle for displaying virtuoso technique and little more.
K. 271 is classified as an "early" concerto, but the Piano Concerto No. 9 marks a clear break from the earlier piano concertos. The maturity of the writing, the technical demands of the solo part, and the emotional depth of the music all combine to affirm this as the work of a young man, not an amazingly gifted child.
K. 271 is also, surprisingly, Mozart's longest piano concerto, but one hardly notices the time passing. The music is full of quintessentially Mozartean invention and sparkle, leavened with forays into realms of profound feeling. Mozart clearly thought well of it, as he continued to program it on his subscription concerts into the 1780s. He also composed a number of cadenzas for it, as well as several eingänge (lead-ins written in the style of a cadenza, with plenty of flourishes) as late as February 1783.
Biographer Alfred Einstein called K. 271 Mozart's "Eroica," a nod to its innovative nature, which is evident in the opening bars. Instead of the usual orchestral introduction of theme followed by a demure entrance by the piano, the soloist, tongue firmly in cheek, barges in with an impudent comment, whereupon the orchestra continues, possibly a bit perplexed at the interruption. This one-upmanship between piano and orchestra continues throughout the movement.
The minor key Andantino, itself another innovation, departs from purely instrumental writing. Mozart, as he often did in later works, borrows recitative style from opera to create an intimate, moving declaration of sadness, which the piano emphasizes with a series of downwards appoggiaturas, or "sighs," that suggest weeping.
While little is known of Louise Victoire Jenamy, the young French pianist for whom Mozart composed K. 271, the technical virtuosity of the third movement suggests she was an accomplished pianist, particularly in playing the trills with which the Rondeau abounds. Here we find all the shimmering brilliance and buoyancy we expect in a Mozart piano concerto, as the solo passages fly up and down the keyboard, lissome as glistening fishes in a sunlit stream.
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47
Composer: Born September 25, 1906, St, Petersburg, Russia; died August 9, 1975, Moscow, U.S.S.R.
Work composed: Shostakovich began writing his fifth symphony on Apr. 18, 1937 and finished it on July 20 of that year.
World premiere: Yevgeny Mravinsky led the Leningrad Philharmonic on November 21, 1937 in Leningrad, as part of a concert commemorating the Bolshevik Revolution.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: January 31, 2005; Yakov Kreizberg, conductor
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (two doubl-ing piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, tambourine, tam tam, triangle, xylophone and strings.
Estimated duration: 46 minutes
Everyone in the concert hall in Leningrad on that chilly night in November 1937 knew that Dmitri Shostakovich's artistic reputation, and very possibly his life, were on the line. They were there to hear the premiere of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony. Before the night was over, they also witnessed the dramatic rehabilitation of Shostakovich as the Soviet Union's preeminent composer.
Earlier in the decade, Shostakovich had been fêted as the darling of Soviet cultural critics, but in 1936 the Soviet newspaper Pravda published a vicious denunciation of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Shostakovich's response to the Pravda review was to immediately withdraw his Fourth Symphony, which he was then rehearsing. (He did not perform it in public until 1961, eight years after Joseph Stalin's death.) This was not an overreaction; Shostakovich had many friends and associates who were "disappeared" or executed for reasons far less public. Any response Shostakovich made to his critics had to be meticulously planned, lest he suffer the same fate. With his Fifth Symphony, which a reviewer famously called "A Soviet artist's response to just criticism," Shostakovich both mollified government critics and simultaneously reasserted his artistic integrity.
Although the Fifth Symphony is an "absolute" piece of music (i.e., there is no extra-musical story or narrative attached to it), Shostakovich did include a brief description of "a lengthy spiritual battle, crowned by victory" in the program notes. The Moderato sets the tone for that "spiritual battle," beginning with the strings' menacing theme. Its dotted rhythms suggest a bitter march toward an implacable foe. Later, the violins introduce a lyrical second theme, in contrast to the angular rhythmic quality of the first.
The playful Allegretto juxtaposes frisky winds with stentorian brasses. In the trio section a solo violin teases and flirts, before being interrupted by the full orchestra, which transforms the violin's merry tune into a pompous, galumphing parody of itself. A whiff of something grotesque permeates this movement.
The Largo is the emotional core of the Fifth Symphony, and its power lies in its poignant melodies. Shostakovich gives the brass section a rest and showcases other instruments: first strings, then a solo flute and finally the full orchestra, sans brasses. Wistful cries from the oboe, a sobbing upwelling of notes from the clarinet and a brief comment from the flute follow before the whole orchestra comes together, amidst quivering string tremolos, in heart-wrenching sadness.
The Allegro non troppo opens with a firestorm, announced by pounding timpani and a blazing brass fanfare. Shostakovich returns to this theme again and again, and unleashes his seemingly endless power of invention with defiant abandon. In a quiet interlude that directly precedes the coda, Shostakovich quotes a song in the violins (later in the harp) that he set to words of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin: "And the waverings pass away/From my tormented soul/As a new and brighter day/Brings visions of pure gold." Despite this quotation and the blast of brassy triumph that ends the Fifth Symphony, Shostakovich, perhaps enigmatically, called its conclusion an "irreparable tragedy."
At the end of the premiere, a member of the audience remembered: "The whole audience leapt to their feet and erupted into wild applause – a demonstration of their outrage at all the hounding poor Mitya had been through. Everyone kept saying the same thing: 'That was his answer, and it was a good one.' [Shostakovich] came out white as a sheet, biting his lips. I think he was close to tears."
The Fifth Symphony also succeeded as a musical work, despite negative responses from some critics who saw it as a musical capitulation to the restrictions placed on artists' works, or a shameful compromise by a world-class composer with the dictatorial political system in which he worked. Pravda termed it "a farrago of chaotic nonsensical sounds." Despite the mixed critical reaction, audiences both within and outside the Soviet Union hailed the Fifth Symphony as a masterpiece, and it has become Shostakovich's most popular and most performed symphony.
© 2012 Elizabeth Schwartz
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Haydn - Overture in C
Manfred Huss-Haydn Sinfonietta of Vienna
Mozart - Piano Concerto # 9
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Nonesuch 79454 OR
Mantova Chamber Orchestra
Shostakovich - Symphony # 5
Leonard Bernstein-New York Philharmonic
Sony Classical 61841 OR
Vasily Petrenko-Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
These selected recordings are available at Classical Millennium, located at 3144 E. Burnside in Portland.