Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique"Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- Alborada – Variazioni – Alborada – Scena e canto gitano – Fandango asturiano
- Freely – Interlude – Quick – Interlude – Slow – Interlude – Grand & Animated
- Yossif Ivanov, violin
- Adagio – Allegro non troppo – Andante – Allegro vivo – Andante
- Allegro con grazia
- Allegro molto vivace
- Finale: Adagio lamentoso – Andante
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by concertmaster Peter Frajola 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.
Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34
Composer: born March 18, 1844, Tikvhin, Russia; died June 21, 1908, Luga, Russia.
Work composed: In 1887, for Russian Symphony Concerts produced by the patron Mitrofan Belyayev.
World premiere: October 31, 1887, St. Petersburg, Russia, with the composer conducting.
Most recent performance by the Oregon Symphony: December 5, 2010, Carlos Kalmar conducting.
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov is a composer who most of us take for granted. We know him largely for three of his major works: Sheherazade, the Russian Easter Overture and Capriccio espagnol, heard in tonight's concert. Based upon these three works – each of them brilliantly orchestrated masterpieces –
it would be hard to conceive of the fact that he was regarded by Anton Rubinstein as a composer who "might amount to something," and as a "Herr Professor who has put on his glasses and is about to write Eine grosse Symphonie in C" by Alexander Borodin. In other words, he was not, at the start of his career, writing music that instilled awe and admiration in his fellow composers.
His path to becoming a composer of wonderful tunes and spectacular orchestrations was begun by two principal projects. First, on the suggestion of Balakirev, he began to transcribe a large collection of approximately 150 folk songs, which introduced him to a vast number of melodies which he could either appropriate for his own compositions or learn from in the writing of his own original melodies. Second, he was asked to edit the complete orchestral scores of Mikhail Glinka, along with his fellow composers Balakirev and Lyadov. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote of this experience "Even before this I had known and worshipped [Glinka's] operas; but as editor of the scores in print, I had to go through Glinka's style and instrumentation to their last little note...And this was a beneficent discipline for me, leading me as it did to the path of modern music, after my vicissitudes with counterpoint and strict style." And thus, with a bit of his own latent genius, Rimsky-Korsakov found his way to becoming the brilliant colorist and melodist we adore today.
As to the Capriccio espagnol, it is one of those curiously and quintessentially Spanish compositions which was not, in fact, written by a Spanish composer. Later on, French composers such as Maurice Ravel and Eduard Lalo would take on the Spanish musical idioms as their own as well, producing pieces that one would be hard-pressed to describe as "French," instead of "Spanish." Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio espagnole, like Scheherazade, makes extensive use of various solo instruments, starting with the clarinet just after the opening of the first Alborada, followed by the violin at the movement's close. The Variazioni movement opens with richly scored french horns accompanied by the violas, with the cor anglais and solo horn making their contributions in the dark middle section accompanied by tremolo strings. The full strings then return to the fore, singing the theme with full-throated voices.
The final section features the solo flute, floating mellifluously over the strings. The Alborada returns, this time beginning straightaway with the violin solo, echoed by the trumpets, flutes, and the ever virtuosic clarinet. The Scene and Gypsy Song opens with a horn and trumpet fanfare over the snare drum, ushering in the solo cadenza for the violin. What follows is an example of Rimsky-Korsakov's novel and virtuoso orchestration: timpani, snare drum and cymbals, along with strummed pizzicato strings, provide the accompaniment to the melody, giving way to cadenzas for solo flute and solo clarinet, and then ushering in the solo oboe. Accompanied by the triangle, the harp has its own cadenza to contribute, ending with grand flourishes. Prompted by barking brass, the violins – playing high on their lowest string transition into the main tune once again – with a plaintive tune heard in the solo cello. The full ensemble returns, varying the material with ingenious touches of orchestration all along the way, leading up to a triumphant conclusion to this most original and virtuosic of gypsy songs. The Fandango asturiano follows without pause, again featuring solo turns by the violin, flute and clarinet. This movement features additional virtuoso orchestration touches, including artificial harmonics in the solo violin and ricochet bowings in the entire string section. The movement concludes with one of those headlong rushes that pulls orchestra and audience alike through to the thrilling conclusion.
L'arbre des songes "The Tree of Dreams" (Violin Concerto) 1985
Composer: born January 22, 1916, in Angers, Main-et-Loire, France.
Work composed: 1983–1985.
World premiere: November 5, 1985, Paris, Théâtre des Champs Élysées, Isaac Stern, violin, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Orchestre National de France.
First performance by the Oregon Symphony.
My first encounter with the music of (and the man) Henri Dutilleux came when I was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. It was the summer of 1995 and he was composer in residence at the festival that year. Two of his works, the Trois strophes sur le nom Sacher for solo cello and Tout un monde lointain, his 1970 cello concerto, were featured on programs that summer. I was struck by his extraordinary command of orchestral sonority. He seemed able to create sounds that immediately struck the ear as both exotic and familiar, both comforting and slyly subversive. So, when I found out that we were to perform his violin concerto during the 2012-2013 season, I was very excited to be immersed yet again in his immeasurably deep sonic world.
Henri Dutilleux was commissioned to write L'arbre des songes (essentially a violin concerto in all but name) by the great violinist and impresario Isaac Stern in the early 1980's. Dutilleux was inspired, in part, by his admiration for the paintings of Dutch master painter Vincent van Gogh:
"…it has seemed to me that the intense pulsation that is the life of van Gogh's canvases, the sense of space that dominates them, the trembling quality of the material, and, above all, the effect of quasi-cosmic swirling the paintings give off, could indeed have their counterparts in sound."
The work is in four movements, with an interlude transitioning between each one, played without pause over about 25 minutes duration. Dutilleux was concerned that the traditional interruptions between movements destroyed the organic and magical transformations that could take place in a larger and uninterrupted compositional processes. With this in mind, he created interludes (earlier, in his great quartet Ainsi la nuit (1976), he called them "parentheses") which both introduced new ideas that would be explored in the subsequent movement and meditations that mulled over those ideas that unfolded in the previous movement. As Dutilleux himself wrote:
"All in all the piece grows somewhat like a tree, for the constant multiplication and renewal of its branches is the lyrical essence of the tree. The symbolic image, as well as the notion of a seasonal cycle, inspired my choice of L'arbre des songes as the title of the piece.
As to form, the present work has similarities to its predecessors; its four structural parts are linked to one another by three orchestral interludes of differing characters and styles: the first is pointillist, the next monodic, and the last has a very still beginning. As for the solo part, it is not at all passive during these stretches; at the end of the second interlude it grafts itself onto the orchestra in parallel. Indeed, this parallel role becomes very obvious in the central episode of the work (the slow movement), where the oboe d'amore and the solo violin reflect one another in a play of mirror images. The same applies to the cembalom's entries, which are more discrete yet important for the touches of color they lend to the work."
The harmonic language of the piece is atonal in the manner of Schoenberg or Berg. Don't let this put you off, however! There is much in the way of ravishing orchestral sonority that is distinctly French in character and also very evocative. I like to take the 'dreams' portion of the title to heart in listening to this work, as dreams are often distorted and unfamiliar versions of waking life, much as this work will seem to be, on first hearing, a traditional concerto seen through the lens of a vast and colorful dream – a dream that is the product of a most fecund and curious subconscious mind.
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique"
Composer: born May 7, 1840, Votk-insk, Russia; died Nov. 6, 1893, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Work composed: February–August, 1893, St. Petersburg, Russia.
World premiere: October 28, 1893, St. Petersburg, Russia, with the composer conducting.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: April 2, 2007, Carlos Kalmar conducting.
Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony Pathétique is one of the standard repertoire pieces that I pretty much never tire of. This is even true in the context of the fact that Tchaikovsky can make life pretty difficult for us violists. In the Fifth Symphony, for example, the violas play almost the entire piece without musical rest (or literal, physical rest either) and almost entirely on the lower two strings, which is much more physically taxing due to the reaches for the left hand and the heightened resistance of the string to the bow. But the Sixth holds many treasured moments – as well as those of terror – for the viola section. After the Adagio introduction, which starts at the very bottom of the orchestra with the double basses and bassoons, the violas begin the body of the movement proper with a nervous and striving first theme. It's a nerve-wracking moment for all viola sections and very exposed. For this reason, it is often used as one of the excerpts at orchestral auditions. Any variances of rhythm or intonation by any one of the players can make for a very disagreeable experience for players and audience members alike!
After the intricacies – and the gorg-eous and flowing second theme – of the first movement, we're then transported to the world of the grand courtly waltz and Tchaikovsky's strongest genre: the ballet. But this waltz is quite unlike any that we've heard up to this time. Whereas the waltz had always been in a 3/4 time signature (three quarter notes to a bar), this one is singular because it is in the uneven time signature of 5/4. But it feels utterly relaxed and poised – in spite of, or perhaps even because of – the unevenness of meter. The cellos are the lucky section to begin this movement in their most lush and plaintive register. And while the movement begins and ends with an air of optimism and luxury, the central trio section lays bare those exotic trappings and becomes more emotionally expressive, with regret and angst taking over for the relaxed lilt of the main waltz sections.
The third movement is a march that begins softly, starting with scampering triplets in all of the strings – one can almost imagine the busily skittering mice of the Nutcracker ballet. This movement is great fun to play, not only for the winds and strings, but for the brass as well, especially as the movement builds to its thundering climax. It must have been tempting for Tchaikovsky to end with this movement – it is such a tremendous example of carefully planned orchestral excess – and guarantee a standing ovation at the close of the symphony. Indeed, I cannot recall ever playing the third movement without enthusiastic applause coming immediately after. It is so hard to resist – but it is not the end of the symphony, only the end of optimism and exuberance.
The finale of the Pathétique is a miracle. No matter what one thinks about Tchaikovsky and his place in the pantheon of great symphonists, this movement stands amongst the very best. The atmosphere of despair and doom pervades its open and close. If the symphony has been a journey through the aspects of Fate in human life, then this movement concerns itself solely with the end of life – the transition from life to the hereafter. But unlike Mahler in his Ninth Symphony, Tchaikovsky finds no transcendence, only a bleak wasteland of exhaustion arrived at only after multiple struggles against the inevitability of death. A grim chorale in the brass ends the main body of the movement after the last surge of protest from the full string section. The shuddering heartbeat of the double basses takes over from the pregnant silence that ensues, and the atmosphere of doom that has hung over the entire movement from the beginning now completely takes over, swallowing all hope and light as the movement draws to a close.
Tchaikovsky had a difficult time initially gestating the Pathétique. He wrote to the work's dedicatee-to-be Vladimir Davydov:
"You know I destroyed a symphony I had been composing and just partly orchestrated in the autumn...During my journey I had the idea for another symphony, this time with a programme, but with a programme that will be an enigma to all—let them guess; the symphony will be entitled A Programme Symphony (No. 6)...The programme itself will be suffused with subjectivity, and not infrequently during my travels, while composing it in my head, I wept a great deal. Upon my return I sat down to write the sketches, and the work went so furiously and quickly that in less than four days the first movement was completely ready, and the remaining movements already clearly outlined in my head. The third movement is already half-done. The form of this symphony will have much that is new, and by the way, the finale will not be a noisy allegro, but on the contrary, a long drawn-out adagio."
While audiences and musicologists alike have looked for portents of Tchaikovsky's tragic death in this work (he died in a cholera epidemic in St. Petersburg at the age of 53), it is instead more likely to be a work concerned with aspects of Fate rather than an autobiographical statement. By most accounts, this was a happy time in Tchaikovsky's life, not at all full of foreboding. However, a long-standing rumor, promulgated by the 1980 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, is that the cholera death was a cover-up of his suicide stemming from the discovery of Tchaikovsky's homosexuality. The truth is that we will never know the precise circumstances of Tchaikovsky's untimely death. We are, however, fortunate that we have this last, great symphony with which to both celebrate and mourn his life and passing.
© 2012 Charles Noble, Assistant Principal Viola
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Rimsky – Korsakov: Capriccio espagnol
Kiril Kondrashin – RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
RCA Victor Living Stereo 63302 OR
George Szell – Cleveland Orchestra
Sony Classical 93019
Dutilleux – The Tree of Dreams
Yossif Ivanov – Violin
Kazushi Ono – L'Opera National de Lyon
Tchaikovsky – Symphony # 6
Yevgeny Mravinsky – Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 419745 OR
Herbert von Karajan – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 453088
These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.