Arnaldo Cohen Plays TchaikovskyArlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- Dawn: Lento e tranquillo
- Sunday morning: Allegro spiritoso
- Moonlight: Andante comodo e rubato
- Storm: Presto con fuoco
- Adagio – Un pochettino meno adagio – Vivacissimo – Adagio – Allegro molto moderato – Vivace – Presto – Adagio
- Allegro non troppo e molto maestoso – Allegro con spiritu
- Andantino semplice – Prestissimo – Tempo I
- Allegro con fuoco
- Arnaldo Cohen, piano
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by Music Director Carlos Kalmar and Christa Wessel, 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.
"Four Sea Interludes" and "Passacaglia" from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a and 33b
Composer: born November 22, 1913, Lowestoft, England; died December
4, 1976, Aldeburgh, England.
Works composed: Britten composed the opera Peter Grimes, from which tonight's selections are taken, in 1944 and 1945.
World premiere: Reginald Goodall conducted the premiere of Peter Grimes at the Sadler's Wells Theatre in London on June 7, 1945. Less than a week later, Britten premiered the Four Sea Interludes with the London Philharmonic in Cheltenham, on June 13, 1945. Sir Adrian Boult led the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of "Passacaglia" on August 29, 1945.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: "Four Sea Interludes": September, 1993; James DePreist, conductor. "Passacaglia": First Ore-gon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (both doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, bells, cymbals, gong, snare drum, tam tam, tambourine, tenor drum, xylophone, celeste, harp and strings.
Estimated duration: "Four Sea Inter-ludes" is 16 minutes; "Passacaglia" is 7 minutes.
"I wanted to express my awareness of the perpetual struggle of men and women whose livelihood depends on the sea," wrote Benjamin Britten for the premiere of his first opera, Peter Grimes. Britten further conceived of the sea as a character in its own right, represented by the music rather than portrayed onstage. With the ocean as a backdrop, Britten tells the story of the misanthropic fisherman Peter Grimes, "an individual against the crowd," as Britten described him, who is ostracized by his neighbors on suspicion of killing his apprentices.
The Four Sea Interludes capture the ocean in various moods, and convey the drama of life in the Borough, the seaside town where Peter Grimes takes place. "Dawn," which precedes Act I, features an eerily simple theme for violins and flute that suggests the keening of seagulls, answered by a shimmering wave-like response, while the brasses intone a solemn chorale. "Sunday Morning" opens Act II with ringing church bells (first played by horns, later by orchestra bells). The townspeople bustle about as they make their way to church. In "Moonlight," strings and horns play a murmuring theme of a calm night sea, with flickers of phosphorescence (flute, piccolo, harp and percussion). The violence of the "Storm" sets the mood for Act I, Scene ii. It is hair-raisingly frightening, conjuring not only a furious tempest but also every childhood nightmare and phantasm. The menacing brasses and the swelling strings build to an almost unbearable climax, with a shrieking piccolo cutting through it like a knife.
In the "Passacaglia," which bridges the first and second scenes of Act II, the anguished solo viola suggests Grimes' alienation from the townspeople, or perhaps the mute appeals of his doomed apprentice, and the softly pounding timpani compound the tension like a migraine, building in force and intensity. Nine different variations on the viola theme spin themselves out over a repeating bass line, a musical portrayal of Grimes' mind slowly unraveling.
Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 105
Composer: born December 8, 1865, Hämeenlinna, Finland; died September 20, 1957, Järvenpää, Finland.
Work composed: According to biographer Karl Ekman, Sibelius said, "On March 2, at night … I completed Fantasia sinfonica – that is what I first thought of calling my symphony in one movement."
World premiere: Sibelius conducted the premiere of his only one-movement symphony, which still bore the title Fantasia sinfonica, in Stockholm on March 24, 1924, three weeks after he completed it.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: June, 2003; James DePreist, conductor.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (both doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.
Estimated duration: 22 minutes
"The VIIth symphony. Joy of life and vitality, with appassionato passages. In 3 movements – the last a 'Hellenic rondo'," wrote Jean Sibelius in 1918, referring to his Symphony No. 7. It is ironic that he thought of this symphony as epitomizing joy, since by 1924 Sibelius could barely function without a bottle of liquor at his side, and his alcoholism exacerbated his tendency to depression. As the composer himself noted, in the winter of 1924, "Alcohol to calm my nerves and state of mind. How eternally tragic is the lot of an aging composer! It [work] doesn't proceed with the same pace as it used to, and one's self-criticism grows to impossible levels." Sibelius also described alcohol as "my most faithful companion," in his diary, adding, "Everything and everyone else has largely failed me."
While the idea of a one-movement symphony is not unusual today, in 1924 it was a pioneering innovation, one that Sibelius had been gravitating towards in his earlier symphonies (the last two movements of his second symphony are linked with the tempo marking attacca, and all the movements of the fourth symphony are seamlessly joined by a unison note ending one movement and beginning the next). Sibelius likened symphonies to rivers: "The movement of the river water is the flow of the musical ideas and the river-bed that they form is the symphonic structure." There are a number of tempo changes throughout the single movement, as well as long gradual accelerandos, some of which serve as structural signposts.
The Seventh Symphony encapsulates Sibelius' style of composition, in which all themes evolve out of one musical kernel, in this case a triumphal C major theme for trombone, which opens and closes the work. Sibelius' final symphony also established the concept of a one-movement symphony, which many 20th century composers later adopted. It is both elegiac and heroic, and the trombone theme suggests Wagner in both the opening and the finale.
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23
Composer: born May 7, 1840, Kamsko-Votinsk, Viatka province, Russia; died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg.
Work composed: Tchaikovsky began composing his first piano concerto in November 1874 and finished it in February, 1875. He revised it in the summer of 1879 and again in December 1888; this final revision is the one usually performed. Tchaikovsky originally dedicated the concerto to his mentor Nikolai Rubenstein, but after Rubenstein excoriated the work as unplayable, Tchaikovsky scratched Rubenstein's name off the manuscript and dedicated it to pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow.
World premiere: Hans von Bülow premiered the work at Boston's Music Hall on October 25, 1875.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: September, 2007; Carlos Kalmar, conductor.
Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.
Estimated duration: 33 minutes
The first measures of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 have assumed an identity all their own, distinct from the remainder of the concerto. Many people recognize the four-note descending horn theme and the iconic crashing chords of the pianist's first entrance without knowing the work as a whole. Interestingly, this signature introduction is just that, an introduction; after approximately 100 measures it disappears and never returns. These opening bars have also become part of popular culture, as the theme to Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre radio programs, in the 1971 cult film Harold and Maude, in a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, and as a favorite of the flamboyant pianist Liberace.
Although the rest of the concerto's music is equally compelling, that was not the initial opinion of Tchaikovsky's friend and mentor, Nikolai Rubenstein. Rubenstein, the director of the Moscow Conservatory, had premiered many of Tchaikovsky's works, including Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky considered Rubenstein "the greatest pianist in Moscow," and wanted Rubenstein's help regarding the technical aspects of the solo piano part. In a letter to his patron Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky described his now-infamous meeting with Rubenstein on Christmas Eve, 1874: "I played the first movement. Not a single word, not a single comment!" After Tchaikovsky finished, as he explained to Mme. von Meck, "A torrent poured from Nikolai Gregorievich's mouth … My concerto, it turned out, was worthless and unplayable – passages so fragmented, so clumsy, so badly written as to be beyond rescue – the music itself was bad, vulgar – only two or three pages were worth preserving – the rest must be thrown out or completely rewritten …" Pianist Arnaldo Cohen notes that Rubenstein also stated, "This is a piece that had to be played by the devil." Cohen continues, "Probably he thought it was too difficult for him, and … he wanted Tchaikovsky to change a few things so he could play it."
In a condescending attempt at reconciliation, Rubenstein offered to play the premiere if Tchaikovsky made a number of revisions. Tchaikovsky replied, "I shall not alter a single note. I shall publish the work exactly as it stands!" When Tchaikovsky completed the orchestration, he sent the finished concerto to conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow, who performed the premiere.
It is true that this piano concerto contains some abrupt musical transitions, and the solo part is often exceedingly difficult, as Cohen acknowledges. However, Rubenstein's excessively nega-tive reaction is nonetheless puzzling. After the majestic introduction, which anticipates the harmonic language of the following movements, Tchaikovsky features a theme borrowed from a Ukrainian folk tune. The movement ends with a monumental cadenza, which poses a challenge for Cohen: "At the end of the first movement, it's forte – the orchestra is behind you and you have to achieve a climax, and you have a written crescendo, but there's a limit to how much you can crescendo; if you crescendo too early you don't have a climax," he explains. "There are moments in the crescendo you have to come down so you can go up again, like in waves, but in such a way that when you perceive the whole thing you have the impression of one big crescendo building to a climax."
"The middle of the second move-ment is, for me, almost a prophecy by Tchaikovsky of more dissonant music that emerged in the middle of the 20th century," says Cohen. "The central part of the second movement is almost like a dream or a fantasy."
The galloping theme of the Allegro suggests a troika of horses racing over the steppes. The melody for this movement is also borrowed, again from a Ukrainian folk song. The following rhapsodic theme in the strings recalls the lush texture of the introduction. The two melodies alternate and overlap, dancing toward a monumental coda and a brilliant conclusion. Cohen observes, "There are so many ways of approaching a theme. I'll be playing three concerts, and it'll be different each time because I'm not the same each time."
Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66
Composer: born September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, near Kralupy (now the Czech Republic); died May 1, 1904, Prague.
Work composed: Dvořák began writing the Scherzo capriccioso on April 4, 1883 and completed it a month later, on May 2.
World premiere: Adolph ˇCech led the premiere at a concert of the Society of Czech Journalists in Prague on May 16, 1883.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: October, 1992; Norman Leyden, conductor.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, harp and strings.
Estimated duration: 12 minutes
Antonín Dvořák's long and produc-tive relationship with English audiences began as the result of a personal tragedy. In 1877, all three of Dvořák's children died within a few months of one another. Dvořák poured his grief into a Stabat mater, which was performed for the first time in London in 1883, where it was enthusiastically received. This led to an invitation from the London Philharmonic Society for Dvořák to visit England the following year, which he accepted. Around the same time, Dvořák also received an invitation from the Vienna Court Opera to compose an opera in German. The Hapsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire sought to impose Germanic norms on all its subjects, including the Czech people. As a result, Czech language and culture were vigorously repressed. Dvořák, an ardent Czech patriot who chafed under the oppressive rule of the Hapsburgs, ultimately decided not to accept the Court Opera's commission, and focused instead on cultivating ties with England.
Dvořák's Scherzo ca-priccioso is one of the composer's most popular orchestral works; its dis-tinctive hunting horn calls and the sumptuous in-toxicated quality of the waltz for strings poke gentle fun at the scherzo genre, while living up to the work's title, "Capricious joke." Some have heard a hint of defiance in this music, perhaps an assertion of Dvořák's staunch allegiance to his Czech heritage. A wistful and languid middle section features a lyrical solo for English horn. But more than anything else, the Scherzo capriccioso, with its festive cymbal crashes and ebullience, is buoyantly joyous, and can be heard as Dvořák's delight in his the birth of second son, who arrived on Mar. 7, 1883, and was also named Antonín.
© 2012 Elizabeth Schwartz
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Britten - "Four Sea Interludes" and "Passacaglia" from Peter Grimes
Andrew Davis-BBC Symphony Orchestra
Teldec Apex Series 3890822 OR
Steuart Bedford-London Symphony Orchestra
Sibelius - Symphony No. 7
Leonard Bernstein-Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 218302 OR
Herbert von Karajan-Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 457748 OR
James DePreist-Oregon Symphony Orchestra
Tchaikovsky - Piano Concerto No. 1
Kiril Kondrashin-Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Philips 446673 OR
Kiril Kondrashin-RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
RCA Victor Living Stereo 61392
Dvořák - Scherzo capriccioso
Christoph von Dohnanyi-Cleveland Orchestra
Decca 452182 OR
Sir Charles Mackerras-Czech Philharmonic
These selected recordings are available at Classical Millennium, located at 3144 E. Burnside in Portland.