Dvořák's Eighth SymphonyArlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- Allegro vivace
- Kirill Gerstein, piano
- Allegro con brio
- Allegretto grazioso
- Allegro ma non troppo
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by principal flutist Jessica Sindell, 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.
Composer: born October 22, 1811, Raiding, (Doborján), Hungary; died July 31, 1886, Bayreuth.
Work composed: In 1850, Liszt wrote a symphonic overture and additional music to accompany a performance of Johann Gottfried von Herder's Prometheus Bound at a Weimar festival honoring Herder's works. Although Liszt wrote all the music, his assistant Joachim Raff orchestrated the work. Prometheus was dedicated to Caroline zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Five years later, Liszt revised the Prometheus overture, turning it into a symphonic poem.
World premiere: Liszt conducted the Prometheus Overture in Weimar, on August 24, 1850; he also conducted the first performance of his Symphonic Poem No. 5, Prometheus, on October 18, 1855, in Brunswick.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.
Estimated duration: 13 minutes
Few composers can claim the creation of an entire musical genre. Other composers before Franz Liszt had written music inspired by extra-musical programming or narrative, but Liszt was the first to name his distinctive style of composition, a one-movement orchestral work, a "symphonic poem."
The Prometheus story is one of the most famous in all Greek mythology. The Titan Prometheus angered Zeus, who retaliated by refusing humanity the gift of fire. Undaunted, Prometheus crept up to Mt. Olympus, home of the gods, stole fire and shared it with the world. Enraged, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock and caused an eagle to eat out his liver, which was magically renewed each day.
Liszt's first five symphonic poems were published with literary introductions. Liszt's comments on Prometheus emphasize the thematic aspects of the story, which were, as he interpreted them, "boldness, suffering, endurance and redemption." These themes are so clearly audible in Liszt's music that a written description seems superfluous. Liszt's orchestration show-cases the colorful diversity of a mid-19th century orchestra; of particular interest is the employment of specific instrument families and soloists to represent the themes of defiant courage, physical agony and spiritual salvation.
Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor
Composer: born April 1, 1873, Oneg, Russia; died March 28, 1943, Beverly Hills, California.
Work composed: 1890-91, rev. 1917. First version completed July 1891. Dedicated to Rachmaninoff's first cousin and piano teacher, Alexander Siloti.
World premiere: Rachmaninoff was the soloist for the premiere of the first movement of the first version of the Piano Concerto No. 1 when it was performed at the Moscow Conservatory on March 17, 1892. Twenty-seven years later, Rachmaninoff again performed the solo part when the Russian Symphony Orchestra premiered the revised version in New York on January 28, 1919.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: March 13, 2006; Stefan Solyom, conductor; Yakov Kasman, piano.
Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, cymbals, triangle and strings.
Estimated duration: 26 minutes
"I have rewritten my first concerto; it is really good now," said Sergei Rachmaninoff to a friend in 1931. "All the youthful freshness is there, and yet it plays itself so much more easily. And nobody pays any attention. When I tell them in America that I will play the First Concerto, they do not protest, but I can see by their faces that they would prefer the Second or the Third." All success exacts a price, as Rachmaninoff had discovered; having written two blockbuster concertos, audiences seemed uninterested in any of his other music.
Rachmaninoff began writing the Piano Concerto No. 1 in 1890, while a student at the Moscow Conservatory, and completed it the following summer. As he did with many of his early compositions, Rachmaninoff eventually became dissatisfied with his youthful concerto and put it aside, intending to revise it at some future date. Twenty-seven years later, as the chaos of the Russian Revolution enveloped him, Rachmaninoff set himself the task of rewriting his Piano Concerto No. 1. As Rachmaninoff explained to a colleague, "There are so many requests for this concerto, and it is so frightful in its present form … it will have to be written afresh, for the orchestration in it is worse than the music." Rachmaninoff took the manuscript of the revised concerto with him when he fled Russia in December 1917.
As a 19-year-old conservatory stu-dent, young Rachmaninoff had little practical knowledge of orchestration. The revised Piano Concerto No. 1 reveals his mastery of orchestral writing during the intervening two-plus decades he spent as both a conductor and composer. One of the most notable changes in the orchestration is Rachmaninoff's employment of in-strumental solos, particularly for horn and oboe. To clarify the concerto's main themes, Rachmaninoff also jettisoned several episodic passages in the first version.
The Piano Concerto No. 1 contains all the signatures of Rachmaninoff's style: polished, elegant melodies, a demanding solo piano part that features both fiery virtuoso passages and graceful interludes, and sumptuous writing for orchestra.
Rachmaninoff's youthful dramatic energy is evident from the opening notes of the Vivace. A bold brass fanfare opens the concerto and releases a firestorm of octaves and chords in the piano. The piano's opening passages recur later in the first movement, an aural signpost for both players and listeners.
A mournful solo horn begins the Andante, a 74-bar interlude with the introspective quality of a nocturne. The piano features most of the thematic material, whose tranquil nature is a marked contrast to the energy of the outer movements. The Allegro vivace launches itself immediately into a headlong gallop. In this movement, piano and orchestra act as partners, first one and then the other taking the melody and dashing away with it; once again, Rachmaninoff showcases his exuberantly flamboyant writing for brasses. This final movement also contains the most drastic revisions from Rachmaninoff's original version, with the replacement of a rather dull opening and the removal of a repeat of the main theme. In the revised version, the brasses return for a last bravura run, and the solo piano joins them in a mad dash to execute the final notes.
Symphony No. 8 in G major
Composer: born September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, near Kralupy (now the Czech Republic); died May 1, 1904, Prague.
Work composed: Dvořák wrote the Symphony No. 8 between August 26 and November 8, 1889, at his country home, Vysoká, in Bohemia. The score was dedicated "To the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Joseph for the Encouragement of Arts and Literature, in thanks for my election [to the Prague Academy]."
World premiere: Dvořák led the National Theatre Orchestra in the premiere in Prague on February 2, 1890.
Most recent Oregon Symphony per-formance: February 5, 2007; Itzhak Perlman, conductor.
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (one doub-ling piccolo), 2 oboes (one doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.
Estimated duration: 36 minutes
From its inception, Antonín Dvořák's Symphony in G major was more than a composition; it signified, in musical terms, all that made Dvořák a proud Bohemian. Dvořák's German publisher, Simrock, wanted to publish the symphony's movement titles and Dvořák's name in German translation. This might seem like an unimportant detail over which to haggle, but for Dvořák it was a matter of cultural life and death. Since the age of 26, Dvořák was a reluctant citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose ruling Hapsburgs reigned over the Czech people; both Czech language and culture were vigorously repressed. Dvořák, an ardent Czech patriot who chafed under the oppressive rule of the Hapsburgs, refused Simrock's request.
For his part, Simrock was not especially enthusiastic about publishing Dvořák's symphonies; the music pub-lisher wanted the Czech composer to produce more Slavonic dances and piano music, which were guaranteed moneymakers. Simrock and Dvořák also haggled over the composer's fee (Simrock had paid 3,000 marks for Dvořák's Symphony No. 7, but inexplicably and insultingly offered only 1,000 for the Eighth Symphony). All these factors contributed to Dvořák's decision to offer his Symphony No. 8 to the London firm Novello, which published it in 1890.
Dvořák broke new ground with the Symphony No. 8, a work, as he explained, meant to be "different from the other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out in a new way." The music is steeped in the flavor and atmosphere of the Czech countryside. Within the music, Dvořák included sounds from nature, particularly hunting horn calls, birdsong and dramatic fanfares that suggest nonmusical images.
The Symphony No. 8 abounds with Czech folk tunes and the sounds of the Czech countryside, most notably utilizing different wind instruments to sound a number of birdcalls. Another unusual feature of this symphony is the oblique manner in which Dvořák approaches harmony. The music begins with cellos, accompanied by horns, bassoons and trombones, intoning a stately chorale in G minor. A solo flute, imitating a bird, then ushers in the symphony's "true" key of G major.
Serenity floats over the Adagio. As in the first movement, Dvořák plays with tonality; E-flat major slides into its darker counterpart, C minor. A hint of melancholy pervades, even when the full orchestra is playing. Dvořák was most at home in rural settings, and the music of this Adagio evokes the tranquil landscapes of Dvořák's homeland, and particularly the garden at Vysoká, Dvořák's country home. In a manner similar to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, the music suggests an idyllic summer's day, interrupted by a cloudburst, after which the sun reappears, setting all the raindrops twinkling.
During a rehearsal of the trumpet fanfare in the last movement, conductor Rafael Kubelik declared, "Gentlemen, in Bohemia the trumpets never call to battle – they always call to the dance!" After this opening summons, cellos play the lyrical main theme, which is based on a folk melody. Quieter variations on the cello melody feature solo flute and strings. The movement ends with an exuberant blast from the brasses.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Bernard Haitink-London Philharmonic Orchestra
4-Decca 1406902 OR
Gianandrea Noseda-BBC Philharmonic Orcherstra
Rachmaninoff-Piano Concerto # 1
Andre Previn-London Symphony Orchestra
2-Decca 444839 OR
Eugene Ormandy-Philadelphia Orchestra
2-RCA Victor Gold Seal 61658
Dvořák-Symphony # 8
Christoph von Dohnanyi-Cleveland Orchestra
2-Decca 452182 OR
Istvan Kertesz-London Symphony Orchestra
These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.