Oregon Symphony


Concert Information

Sibelius' Fifth Symphony

Martin Helmchen, piano
Sunday, November 18 at 7:30 p.m.
Monday, November 19 at 8 p.m.

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

Hugh Wolff, conductor
Martin Helmchen, piano

Symphony No. 82 in C major, "The Bear"
  • Vivace assai
  • Allegretto
  • Menuetto Trio
  • Finale: Vivace
Concerto in G minor for Piano and Orchestra
  • Allegro agitato
  • Andante sostenuto
  • Finale: Allegro con fuoco


Symphony No. 5 in E-Flat major
  • Tempo molto moderato – Allegro moderato – Presto
  • Andante mosso, quasi allegretto
  • Allegro molto – Misterioso – un pochettino largamente

THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by conductor Hugh Wolff and John Pitman, 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.


Symphony No. 82 in C major, "The Bear"

Vital Stats

Composer: born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Lower Austria; died May 31,
1809, Vienna.

Work   composed:  1786. Symphony No. 82, nicknamed “The Bear,” is one of  six  symphonies  commissioned  by and composed for the Concert de la Loge Olympique in Paris. These six symphonies have since become known as the “Paris” symphonies.

World premiere: 1787 (exact dates unknown) in Paris by the Concert de la Loge Olympique, directed by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges.

First complete Oregon Symphony performance.

Instrumentation: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, timpani and strings.

Estimated duration: 26 minutes

At the age of 29, Franz Joseph Haydn secured an appointment to the court of Prince Esterházy as Kapellmeister. As Esterházy’s court composer, Haydn enjoyed several perks, most notably secure employment and the freedom to experiment with new musical styles. By the 1780s, however, after more than 20 years with the Esterházy family, Haydn was bored.

Haydn’s music had been known and admired in Paris since the 1760s, when some of his string quartets were first published there. In the early 1780s, a new ensemble, the Concerts de la Loge Olympique, was formed. In 1785, one of its leaders, Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, the Comte d’Ogny, commissioned six symphonies from Haydn, and offered what was described as “un prix colossal,” 25 louis d’or for each symphony with an added five for the publication rights. (Musicologist James Keller notes this fee was well above what the organization usually paid for this type of commission and adds, “in today’s currency, 25 louis d’or would translate in the neighborhood of $60,000.”)

Haydn’s Paris Symphonies were an instant success. A contemporary reviewer wrote, “Each hearing increases our appreciation and admiration of the works of the great genius, who, in all his pieces, understands so well how to draw the richest and most varied developments from every theme.”

In the late Classical period, the key of C major came to signify celebration; many C major symphonies were written for specific festivals or notable events. Haydn wrote several symphonies in this key, including No. 82, the first of his Paris Symphonies. The celebratory character of the symphony is evident throughout, with its sparkling effervescence and elegantly crafted themes.

The nickname, “The Bear,” did not come from Haydn; in fact, it did not become associated with Symphony No. 82 until after his death. The finale begins with a drone in the low strings, which is meant to suggest the sound of a bagpipe. Bagpipes were often used to accompany dancing bears, a staple entertainment at country fairs. Some listeners have also suggested the rumbling nature of the drone mimics a bear’s growl.

Piano Concerto in G minor, Op. 33

Vital Stats

Composer: born September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, near Kralupy (now the Czech Republic); died May 1, 1904, Prague.

Work composed: late August through September 14, 1876

World premiere: March 24, 1878, in Prague with the orchestra of Prague’s Provisional Theatre led by Adolf Čech with soloist Karel Slavkovský.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: May 1, 1990; Catherine Comet conducting; Garrick Ohlsson, piano.

Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.

Estimated duration: 36 minutes

When we hear the name Antonín Dvořák we may think of his monumental cello concerto or the ever-popular Ninth Symphony, but many fans of Dvořák’s music are not as well acquainted with his piano concerto. However, this lesser-known gem of the concerto repertoire reflects the personality of its composer: upon first hearing it appears modest, almost self-effacing, but upon closer acquaintance it reveals itself as full of profound insight and great beauty.

Unlike other composers of piano concertos like Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms, Dvořák was not a concert pianist, although he did play piano well enough to perform publicly. His primary instrument, viola, gave him a chamber musician’s appreciation for the inner workings of music and the perspective of a collaborative player, rather than a virtuoso soloist. Dvořák’s chamber music persona pervades his piano concerto. Like Brahms’ D minor concerto, to which Dvořák’s concerto has been compared, the orchestra, in large part, shares the spotlight equally with the piano. The orchestra and soloist collaborate together in the manner of a piano quartet, and only occasionally does the piano assume a traditional soloist’s role.

Dvořák had concerns about his ability to write the solo part pianistically, in a manner that pianists could comfortably perform. Many pianists did indeed find the solo part awkward and uncoordinated; one often-heard complaint was that it had been written “for two right hands.” The clumsiness of the solo part made this concerto unattractive to pianists, and it was seldom performed. Some years after Dvořák’s death, a Czech piano pedagogue, Vilém Kurz, revised the solo part so it would sit in the hands more easily. Kurz’ version allowed the concerto to establish itself in the repertory, but in recent times, pianists have returned to Dvořák’s original concept, which we will hear this evening.

The G minor tonality of the concerto, with its brooding restlessness, may reflect Dvořák’s continuing grief over the death of his first daughter, Josefa, in 1875. Dvořák was a devoted family man and took her death hard; at the beginning of 1876 he composed a piano trio, also in G minor, which expresses his anguish and loss. In the concerto’s opening movement, we hear the agitation and yearning indicated in the tempo marking Allegro agitato. The Andante sostenuto opens with a solo horn, whose melody forms the basis for the entire movement. Dvořák’s trademark lyricism pervades this music, and the pianist’s delicate variations on the horn melody convey a sense of peace and acceptance. The Allegro con fuoco features lively danceable tunes, some based on actual Czech folk songs. The triumphal final minutes might reflect Dvořák’s anticipatory joy over his second daughter, Růžena, who was born four days after he completed the piano concerto.

Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 82

Vital Stats

Composer: born December 8, 1865, Hämeenlinna, Finland; died September
20, 1957, Järvenpää, Finland.

Work composed: 1914-15, rev. 1916 and 1919

World premiere: Sibelius completed the first version of his Fifth Symphony just in time to conduct it on his 50th birthday (celebrated as a Finnish national holiday) with the Helsinki Municipal Orchestra on December 8, 1915. A year later Sibelius revised and again conducted it with the same ensemble. The final version was completed in 1919; Sibelius conducted it on October 21, 1921.

Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: December 5, 2005, Hannu Lintu conducting.

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trum- pets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings.

Estimated duration: 31 minutes

These symphonies of mine are more confessions of faith than are my other works,” wrote Jean Sibelius in 1918, while working on his third revision of his Symphony No. 5. Always his own harshest critic, Sibelius struggled to give voice to his original musical conception of this strong, complex work over a period of six difficult years.

Sibelius’ attempts to write a version of the Fifth Symphony that withstood his implacable self-criticism were hampered by personal problems and global upheaval. In the years 1910-14, Sibelius struggled with the desire to be perceived by the world as a “modern” composer, but at the same time he rejected the prevailing styles established by Debussy, Mahler and Strauss. Composing, frequently difficult for Sibelius even under the best of circumstances, was made even harder by his ill health (he was misdiagnosed with throat cancer in 1916).

From 1914-18, the chaos and brutality of WWI engulfed Europe. In
1917 Finland also found itself at war with Russia after its declaration of independence from that country. An invasion of Russian soldiers into his town forced Sibelius and his family to flee to Helsinki in 1918. Later that year Sibelius returned home and resumed his life and work, including his third revision of the Fifth Symphony, which he described as “practically composed anew.”

The reworked symphony condenses the original four movements into three (Sibelius combined the first and second movements) and features a new finale. The Tempo molto moderato is textbook Sibelius, featuring brief, fragmentary ideas that surface somewhat enigmatically from the depths of the orchestra. A short, fragmentary melody in the horns later coalesces into a fully developed theme. At times the instruments seem to murmur to themselves; as the music progresses, the strings and brasses declaim bold proclamations.

In the Andante mosso, pizzicato strings and staccato flutes state the primary melody, while a group of woodwinds and horns sound a counter-theme of long sustained notes. These shimmering notes become a backdrop for several variations on the staccato main theme.

On April 21, 1915, Sibelius wrote in his diary, “Today at ten to eleven I saw 16 swans. One of my greatest experiences. Lord God, that beauty!” The opening of the finale captures this rustle of wings with tremolo strings accompanying an expansive melody, also in the strings. Sibelius juxtaposed this breathless music with a majestic “swan theme” sounded first by the horns. As the symphony concludes, the swan theme grows into an exultant shout of triumph, perhaps a reflection of Sibelius’ mood upon completion of this epic work.

© 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: schwartzelizabeth@yahoo.com.

Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons

Haydn–Symphony # 82
Hugh Wolff–St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
Apex 48746   OR
Thomas Fey–Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra
Hanssler 98391

Dvorřák–Piano Concerto
Martin Helmchen–Piano
Marc Albrecht–Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra
Pentatone 5186333

Sibelius–Symphony # 5
Leonard Bernstein–Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
3-Deutsche Grammophon 218302   OR
Herbert von Karajan-Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
2-Deutsche Grammophon
Originals 457748

These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.