Parker Plays MozartArlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- Rondo: Allegro assai
- Jon Kimura Parker, piano
- Non allegro
- Andante con moto (Tempo di valse)
- Lento assai - Allegro vivace
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.
Swedish Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 19, "Midsommarvaka"
Composer: born May 1, 1872, Stockholm; died May 8, 1960, Falun, Sweden
Work composed: summer 1903 in Skagen, Denmark.
World premiere: May 10, 1904. Alfvén led the Hovkapellet (Swedish Royal Opera Orchestra) at the Kungliga Teatern (Royal Theatre) in Stockholm.
First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, orchestra bells, triangle, 2 harps and strings.
Estimated duration: 9 minutes
"I got my first inspiration for the 'Midsummer's Vigil' rhapsody during the years 1892-1895, when I used to spend the summers in the outer Stockholm archipelago, and frequently associated with the people of the islands," declared Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén. "Out there, the light summer nights are strangely attractive … But the most beautiful time of all is when the air is so quiet that the sea and sky seem to have merged … and the horizon is no longer discernible."
Today, Alfvén's best-known works are his Swedish Rhapsodies, and No. 1, Midsommarvaka ("Midsummer Vigil"), is his most performed work for orchestra. Alfvén's affinity for folk music is central to this programmatic work, which depicts the revels of St. John's Eve, a Scandinavian folk festival in which people welcome the summer solstice with an all-night bonfire and barn dance.
Alfvén provided the following narrative to accompany Midsommarvaka: "It is Midsummer's Eve … and the beer and akvavit are already flowing. Then the fiddlers take over, and the dancing begins. But tempers have begun to flare … the quarrel increases in volume … the excitement rises to the boiling point, and the first blow falls … with laughter and noise the trouble-makers are thrown out, and the dancing continues."
A young couple sneak away from the barn to enjoy "the peace and the dense bushes of the forest … soon they hear only the quiet murmuring of the forest. Spellbound, they listen to a melancholy melody, breathed forth by the spirit of the forest with the timbre of a shepherd's reed …
"Now it is growing light. The sun rises. Its rays make the drops of dew on the flowers sparkle, the buzzing of bees fills the air, all nature is waking up … [the young couple] return to the barn … as they arrive, the whirling Jössehärad Polska, is beginning. The boy is dancing … so that his heels hit the back of his neck, and he twirls his girl as easily as if she were a reed … shoes crack against the floor, skirts are flying, there is screaming and crying when the girls are thrown up in the air. A tornado rages over the floor."
WOLFGANG AMADÈ MOZART
Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466
Composer: born Jan. 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria; died Dec. 5, 1791, Vienna
Work composed: Mozart began writing K. 466 during the third week of January 1785, and finished it on Feb. 10, 1785, the day before its premiere.
World premiere: Mozart played the solo part and conducted the premiere of the Piano Concerto No. 20 at the Mehlgrube Casino in Vienna on Feb. 11, 1785. It was part of a series of concerts he had written for the Lenten season.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: September 10, 2000, Norman Leyden conducting.
Instrumentation: Solo piano, flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings
Estimated duration: 28 minutes
In the winter of 1785, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart was preparing music for a six-week series of subscription concerts. Mozart’s father Leopold arrived for a visit the day before the first of these concerts, and wrote to his daughter Nannerl, “[On 11 February] we drove to his first subscription concert ... The concert was magnificent and the orchestra played splendidly … we had a new and very fine concerto by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still copying as we arrived, and the rondo of which your brother did not even have time to play through, as he had to supervise the copying.”
The Piano Concerto No. 20 is the first of only two of Mozart’s piano concertos written in a minor key. The unusual choice of tonality suggests a melancholy and turmoil that pervade all three movements. Several music historians, after extensive research, discovered that Mozart’s use of D minor in his dramatic works, including the famous “Queen of the Night” aria from The Magic Flute, and the combat scenes in Don Giovanni, correspond with themes of death, vengeance and the threat of hell. One historian suggests that Mozart’s D minor compositions reflect Mozart’s attitude towards Leopold, with whom Mozart had a contentious relationship. Whatever the key of D minor meant to Mozart, it was clearly a deliberate choice on the composer’s part. The opening notes of the Allegro seethe with anger, growling out a churning, restless, ominous theme that gathers strength, like an oncoming thunderstorm.
At the end of Milos Forman’s 1984 film Amadeus, composer Antonio Salieri, played by F. Murray Abraham, finishes recounting his story to a hapless priest in an insane asylum. Salieri tells the priest, “I will speak for you. I speak for all mediocrities; I am their champion. I am their patron saint.” As Salieri is pushed in his wheelchair through the halls, he blesses his fellow inmates: “Mediocrities everywhere, I absolve you.” In the background, growing steadily louder, is the sublime opening of the second movement Romance, music so exquisitely perfect that it emphasizes, with knife-like precision, the vast gulf separating Mozart’s genius from Salieri’s mundane competence.
The soothing respite of the Romance is torn to shreds by the piano’s furious introduction to the Allegro assai. This movement, in the form of a rondo (a repeating theme separated by contrasting short sections), simultaneously elevates the soloist’s role with a dizzying series of runs, and reinforces the tempestuous, unsettled nature of the music. The counter-theme, with its flippant nyah-nyah-nyah ornaments, suggests a sardonic, even vindictive, state of mind; these are not emotions we usually associate with Mozart’s music. It is no wonder, then, that 19th century composers, particularly Beethoven, venerated this concerto as a harbinger of the emotional style that came to characterize the Romantic era.
Drip (Originally titled Drip, Blip, Sparkle, Spin, Glint, Glide, Glow, Float, Flop, Chop, Pop, Shatter, Splash)
Composer: born October 31, 1979, Grand Rapids, MI.
Work composed: Commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra for their Young People’s Concert Series in 2005.
World premiere: Bill Schrickel led the Minnesota Orchestra in the premiere on Nov. 2, 2005, in Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, MN.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns,
3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, brake drum, crotales, ratchet, snare drum, slapstick, tambourine, tam-tam, triangle, vibraphone, woodblock, xylophone, piano and string
Estimated duration: 4 minutes
Andrew Norman’s music often takes inspiration from architectural structures and visual cues. His music draws on an eclectic mix of instrumental sounds and notational practices, and it has been cited in the New York Times for its “daring juxtapositions and dazzling colors” and in the L.A. Times for its “Chaplinesque” wit.
Norman is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the 2005
ASCAP Nissim Prize, the 2006 Rome Prize and the 2009 Berlin Prize. Norman’s 30-minute string trio, The Companion Guide to Rome, was recently named a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music. For the next three seasons, Norman will serve as Composer-In-Residence with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Drip, Blip, Sparkle, Spin, Glint, Glide, Glow, Float, Flop, Chop, Pop, Shatter, Splash was conceived as a “get-to-know-you” piece to introduce young listeners to the multifaceted sounds of the orchestra. “The process of writing it was a bit like making a tossed salad,” says Norman. “I chopped up sounds from the orchestra – one sound for each of the thirteen verbs in the original title – and then I tossed them all together and called it a piece.”
The four minute work whizzes by with the breathless energy of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Each word of the title is delightfully and recognizably embodied by myriad, disparate sounds, from a battery of percussion instruments to muted brasses to bows playing col legno (on the wood) and a single woodblock ticking with anticipatory hold-your-breath excitement. Audience members should note that the verbs of the title are not necessarily depicted in order, but don’t let that stop you from trying to identify each one!
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Composer: born April. 1, 1873, Oneg, Russia; died March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills, CA.
Work composed: Summer and Fall 1940. The published score bears the inscription: “Dedicated to Eugene Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra.”
World premiere: Ormandy led the Philadelphia Orchestra in the premiere on January 3, 1941.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: March 12, 2007, James DePriest conducting.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, alto saxophone, timpani, bass drum, chimes, cymbals, drum, orchestra bells, tam-tam, tambourine, triangle, xylophone, piano, harp and strings.
Estimated duration: 35 minutes
Sergei Rachmaninoff had great regard for the Philadelphia Orchestra and its music director, Eugene Ormandy. As a pianist, he had performed with them on several occasions, and as a composer, he appreciated the full rich sound Ormandy and his musicians produced. Sometime during the 1930s, Rachmaninoff remarked that he always had the unique sound of this ensemble in his head while he was composing orchestral music: “[I would] rather perform with the Philadelphia Orchestra than any other of the world.” When Rachmaninoff began working on the Symphonic Dances, he kept Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in mind. Several of Rachmaninoff ’s other orchestral works, including the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the Piano Concerto No. 4, were also either written for or first performed by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The Symphonic Dances ended up being Rachmaninoff ’s final composition; he died two years after completing them. Although not as well known as his piano concertos or the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, both Rachmaninoff himself and many others regard the Symphonic Dances as his greatest orchestral work. “I don’t know how it happened,” he remarked; “it must have been my last spark.”
Nervous pulsing violins open the Allegro, over which the winds mutter a descending minor triad (three-note chord). The strings set the quickstep tempo, while the opening triad becomes both the melodic and harmonic foundation of the movement as it is repeated, reversed and otherwise developed. The introspective middle section of the movement, features the first substantial melody, played by the distinctively melancholy voice of the alto saxophone. The final section of the movement returns to the agitated quickstep and fluttering triad.
The Andante con moto opens with muted trumpets and pizzicato strings executing a rather lopsided waltz rhythm that stutters fitfully, followed by a subsubdued violin solo. The main theme has none of the Viennese lightness of a Strauss waltz; instead its haunting, ghostly quality borders on the macabre and is suggestive of Sibelius' Valse triste or Ravel's eerie La valse. The waltz is periodically interrupted by sinister blasts from the brass section.
In the Lento assai: Allegro vivace, Rachmaninoff returns to the haunting liturgical melody of the Dies irae (Day of Wrath) from the requiem mass. Rachmaninoff had used this iconic melody before, most notably in his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. In this work, the distinctive descending line has even more suggestive power; we can hear it as Rachmaninoff’s final statement about the end of his compositional career. This movement is the most sweeping and symphonic of the three and uses the full force of the orchestra’s array of sounds, moods and colors. In addition to the Dies irae, Rachmaninoff also incorporates other melodies from the Russian Orthodox liturgy, including the song “Blagosloven Yesi, Gospodi,” from Rachmaninoff’s choral masterpiece All-Night Vigil, describing Christ’s resurrection. On the final page of the manuscript of the Symphonic Dances, Rachmaninoff wrote, “I thank Thee, Lord!”
© 2012 Elizabeth Schwartz
Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz
Elizabeth Schwartz is a Portland-based free-lance writer, researcher and musician. In addition annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony and other ensembles, she has also contributed to NPR’s Performance Today (now heard on American Public Media). Schwartz also co-hosts The Portland Yiddish Hour, heard at 10 a.m. Sundays on KBOO 90.7 FM. Email: email@example.com.
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Alfven - Swedish Rhapsody # 1
Petri Sakari-Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Chandos 9313 OR
Neeme Jarvi-Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Brilliant Classics 8974
Mozart - Piano Concerto # 20
Benjamin Britten-English Chamber Orchestra
Decca 468491 OR
Mitsuko Uchida-Piano & Conductor
Norman - Drip, Blip, Sparkle, Glint, Glide,
Glow, Float, Flop, Chop, Pop, Shatter, Splash
no available recording
Rachmaninoff - Symphonic Dances
Vladimir Ashkenazy-Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Decca 430733 OR
Vasily Petrenko-Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.