Strauss’ Oboe ConcertoArlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
- Allegro moderato—Andante—Vivace—Allegro
- Allegro spiritoso
- Minuetto: Allegretto
THE CONCERT CONVERSATION, conducted one hour before each performance, will be presented by music director Carlos Kalmar, composer David Schiff, and Robert McBride, host for the stations of All Classical Portland. 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.
JOHN ALDEN CARPENTER
Sea Drift, Symphonic Poem
Composer: Born February 28, 1876, Park Ridge, IL; died April 26, 1951, Chicago.
Work composed: 1933, rev. 1944.
World premiere: Frederick Stock led the Chicago Symphony on November 30, 1933. Artur Rodzinski premiered the revised version with the New York Philharmonic on October 5, 1944.
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: November 1948; Werner Janssen, conductor.
Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 ﬂutes,
2 oboes (one doubling English horn),
2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cylinder bell, cymbals, glockenspiel, gong, vibraphone, celeste, piano, harp, and strings.
Estimated duration: 14 minutes
John Alden Carpenter, like his contemporary Charles Ives, earned his livelihood in the world of business and pursued composition in his off hours. One should not assume, however, that Carpenter (or Ives, for that matter) viewed music as a mere hobby; on the contrary, Carpenter showed great promise as a Harvard undergraduate in the 1890s, where he studied with pioneering American composer John Knowles Paine. Paine encouraged Carpenter to pursue music full time, and Carpenter was drawn to the idea but felt obliged to join his family’s business, Geo. B. Carpenter & Co. Carpenter became the company’s president in 1909 and remained with the ﬁrm for almost 30 years.
During Carpenter’s long tenure in the business world, music remained a primary interest. In 1906, he took a three-month hiatus from work to study in Italy with Edward Elgar; upon his return to Chicago, Carpenter trained with music theorist Bernhard Ziehn. In 1915, Carpenter introduced himself to the musical establishment with his ﬁrst work for orchestra. Adventures in a Perambulator, a whimsical depiction of a day in the life of a baby (inspired by Carpenter’s only child) premiered in Chicago in March 1915.
The tone poem Sea Drift, which Carpenter wrote in 1933, was inspired by a group of poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Other composers—most notably Frederick Delius and Ralph Vaughan Williams—had previously written music inspired by Whitman’s Sea-Drift, but Carpenter’s version owes little, if anything, to these earlier musical essays. “I tried to make a composite orchestral record of the imprint upon me of these poems,” Carpenter explained in a letter. “My hope is that the music makes sense, just as music, with perhaps special meaning for those who love Whitman. My work represents an effort to transcribe my impressions derived from these magniﬁcent poems.”
Biographer Howard Pollack wrote, “Although Carpenter spoke of ‘poems’ in the plural, Sea Drift—a slow, one-movement work—took its inspiration primarily, if not exclusively, from ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.’” This poem, noted Pollack, tends toward nostalgic melancholy, interweaving themes of love, loss, and death. Carpenter’s music clearly represents the two main images of the poem: a rocking cradle and a bird’s song. Critics of the time tended to conﬂate Carpenter’s treatment of Whitman with those of Delius and Vaughan Williams, but Carpenter’s music features distinctly innovative touches, like the inclusion of a vibraphone, an instrument more commonly found in jazz ensembles.
After Sea Drift’s New York premiere in November 1934, a critic wrote, “This music is charged with the sensibility of those dreamers and visionaries who have watched the fading out of the sun from a day that is irrecoverable, and who can tell us of its decrescent loveliness only in music and in words that are charged with a deep nostalgia of the spirit— who with Whitman, listen ‘long and long.’”
Oboe Concerto in D major for Small Orchestra
Composer: Born June 11, 1864, Munich; died Garmisch-Partenkirchen, September 8, 1949.
Work composed: 1945, rev. 1948.
World premiere: Conductor Volkmar Andreae led the Tonhalle Orchester on February 26, 1946, in Zürich, with oboist Marcel Saillet.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: Solo oboe, 2 ﬂutes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings.
Estimated duration: 26 minutes
In April 1945, American soldiers arrived at Richard Strauss’ estate in the Bavarian resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Strauss, two months shy of his 81st birthday, growled at the young men on his doorstep, “I am Richard Strauss, the composer of ‘Rosenkavalier’ and ‘Salome’; leave me alone.” As it happened, several of the soldiers were also musicians and recognized Strauss’ name; they arranged for a lawn sign reading “Off Limits” to be posted at Strauss’ house.
One of the soldiers in Garmisch played oboe with the Pittsburgh Symphony before the war; his name was John de Lancie. (Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will recognize the name as also belonging to the actor who portrayed “Q,” one of the most memorable aliens Gene Roddenberry ever created; he is the son of oboist John de Lancie.) De Lancie recalled, “… I was overcome by shyness and a feeling of great awe in the presence of this man … I summoned up all my courage and began to talk about the beautiful oboe melodies one comes across in so many of his works—in ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘Don Juan,’ the ‘Sinfonia Domestica’ … and … I asked him whether he had ever thought of writing a concerto for oboe. His answer was a plain ‘No!’”
Strauss’ gruff answer notwithstanding, de Lancie had planted an idea. Not long after their meeting, Strauss wrote to a friend, “In the studio of my old age, a concerto for oboe and small orchestra is being ‘concocted.’” As Strauss worked, the American War Commission gave notice that he had been labeled “Class I—Guilty” for his collaboration with the Third Reich. According to biographer Matthew Boyden, this classiﬁcation included the threat of conﬁscated assets, pensions and property, forced labor, and the loss of all civil rights. Strauss was allowed to present a defense to the charges and was eventually allowed to relocate to Switzerland. Before he left Germany, Strauss completed the Oboe Concerto in September 1945 and brought the ﬁnished manuscript with him to his new country.
Strauss remains an enigmatic and controversial ﬁgure in music history. Much has been written about the extent to which he did or did not collaborate with the Nazis; music lovers will have to judge for themselves his guilt or innocence. Throughout his life, Strauss’ main preoccupation was with his work; he seems to have viewed world events primarily as troublesome intrusions on his happiness. In 1924, six years after World War I, while Germany struggled to rebuild itself, Strauss wrote, “I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy. I need it.” Those words, time-shifted forward 21 years, provide a ﬁtting introduction to the Oboe Concerto.
The late musicologist Michael Steinberg wrote, “Oboists tend to go pale when you say the dread words ‘Strauss Concerto.’ Most particularly, this response has to do with the opening, where, after two twitches from the cellos, the oboe has a solo of ﬁftyseven measures in a fairly leisurely tempo and with not so much as a single sixteenthrest. However, having faced this technical obstacle, the oboist ﬁnds a melodic line that is sinuous and lovely, thoroughly vocal in manner.” The melodies call to mind—no doubt Strauss meant them to—arias from Rosenkavalier or Ariadne auf Naxos. Heard outside the context of the time in which it was written, this music is pure delight; only occasional, oblique hints of the real world intrude on Strauss’ exquisitely crafted musical Shangri-La.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Symphony No. 28 in C major, K.
Composer: Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg; died December 5, 1791, Vienna.
Work composed: Either November 1773 or November 1774. The precise date on the original manuscript is blurred.
World premiere: Undocumented.
First Oregon Symphony performance.
Instrumentation: 2 oboes, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, and strings.
Estimated duration: 16 minutes
In July 1773, Leopold Mozart and his 17-year-old son journeyed from their hometown of Salzburg to Vienna. The two Mozarts hoped to convince Empress Maria Theresa that young Wolfgang Amadeus would be the perfect choice to ﬁll the newly vacant position of court music director. Although the Empress had delighted in Mozart’s music precocity at their ﬁrst meeting in 1762, when Mozart was just six, the nearly-grown Mozart failed to make as favorable an impression, and no appointment was forthcoming. Disappointed, Leopold and Wolfgang returned to Salzburg in September.
The visit to Vienna was not a complete failure, however. During the six-week sojourn, Mozart immersed himself in the rich selection of music and composers who ﬁlled the Viennese court. Franz Joseph Haydn’s symphonies, in particular, imprinted on the teenage composer, who lost no time incorporating the new, more sophisticated styles he’d absorbed in Vienna into his own orchestral music. Over the following year, Mozart produced several new symphonies; these mark a clear maturation in his style. They include No. 25 in G minor, No. 29 in A major, and tonight’s selection, No. 28 in C major.
Musicologist Alfred Einstein described Symphony No. 28 as “a milestone in Mozart’s development.” It has four movements, a symphonic innovation common in Vienna, but not yet fashionable in provincial Salzburg, where Italianate three-movement symphonies were still the norm. From the opening bars, Mozart presents the listener with clearly delineated themes, and he takes them through more sophisticated development, both melodically and harmonically, than ever before. The singing lyricism of the slow movement anticipates Mozart’s later innovations, particularly the slow movements of his mature piano concertos. The irrepressible joy of the ﬁnale, coupled with Mozart’s clear mastery of symphonic form, demonstrate both his facility with Classical style and his ability to innovate within it. Music scholars Georges de Saint-Foix and Théodore Wyzewa pronounced the C major Symphony “worthy of Mozart’s grandest creations … We very much doubt if any youth, on completing his eighteenth year, has ever shown an equal effort or produced comparable beauty.”
Les Préludes, Symphonic Poem
Composer: Born October 22, 1811, Raiding, (Doborján); died July 31,
Work composed: 1849–55.
World premiere: Liszt conducted the premiere in Weimar on February
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: January 14, 1996; Norman Leyden, conductor.
Instrumentation: 3 ﬂutes (one doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, military drum, harp, and strings.
Estimated duration: 16 minutes
It is not often that a composer can claim the invention of an entire genre. Other composers before Franz Liszt had written music inspired by extra-musical programming or narrative, but Liszt was the ﬁrst to name this distinctive style of composition, and the new orchestral format was perfectly suited to his 19th century Romanticism. Franz Liszt’s creation of the symphonic poem perfectly captures the nature of these one-movement programmatic works.
In 1847, Liszt accepted the post of court composer in Weimar; his access to the orchestra there fed his interest in new symphonic forms. As justiﬁcation for his experiments, Liszt wrote, “new wine demands new bottles.” He eventually composed twelve symphonic poems in Weimar, each a musical representation of, or inspired by, literature or art.
Les Préludes is Liszt’s third symphonic poem. In its ﬁrst version, it served as the overture to Liszt’s choral cantata The Four Elements; however, Liszt was dissatisﬁed with the cantata and abandoned it. A few years later, he revived the overture as Les Préludes.
The title Les Préludes refers not to its previous incarnation as an overture, i.e., a prelude to a longer work, but to a poem of the same name by Liszt’s friend, Alphonse de Lamartine. The poem Les Préludes is from a larger collection by Lamartine, Nouvelles méditations poétiques (New Poetic Meditations), which are protracted romantic ruminations on love, fate, war, and nature. When Liszt discovered these poems, he was inspired to incorporate them into his own music. The ﬁnal version of Les Préludes, and the written introduction Liszt included in the score, drew heavily from Lamartine.
Liszt included the following thoughts in the score to Les Préludes:
“What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song of which the ﬁrst solemn note is sounded by Death? Love is the enchanted dawn of all existence; but who is lucky enough not to have his ﬁrst delights of happiness interrupted by some storm, the mortal blast of which dissipates Love’s illusions, the fatal lightning of which consumes its altar; and where is the cruelly wounded soul who, on issuing from one of these storms, does not seek to rest his remembrance in the calm serenity of the life of the ﬁelds? However, man does not resign himself for long to the enjoyment of the beneﬁcent warmth which at ﬁrst charmed him in the bosom of Nature, and when ‘the trumpet sounds the alarm’ he rushes to his dangerous post … in order to ﬁnd in battle the full conscience of himself ...”
Scholars and critics take issue with this statement, claiming it has no inherent connection to the music and that Liszt tacked it on after Les Préludes was ﬁnished in an attempt to link his music with Lamartine’s words. The truth lies somewhere in between. While Les Préludes began as an overture with no reference to Lamartine’s poem, Liszt’s later revisions reveal his attempts to incorporate the poem into his music.
Les Préludes is tightly constructed around a single theme, ﬁrst heard in the strings, which transforms itself into the various descriptive pictures mentioned in Liszt’s statement in the score. This simple theme undergoes a number of metamorphoses: an idyllic love song for horns and violas, a triumphal brass fanfare, the quiet beauty of the countryside, with horn and oboe solos. Other iterations include a gathering storm of swirling strings and winds, complete with thunderclaps of brasses, and a serene cantilena featuring different sections of the orchestra in turn. Les Préludes concludes with Liszt’s grand apotheosis, as the cantilena morphs into a grand march for brasses and percussion, attended by colorful swirls from the strings and winds.
© 2015 Elizabeth Schwartz
Program Notes by Elizabeth Schwartz
Elizabeth Schwartz is a free-lance writer and musician based in Portland. In addition to annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony, The Britt Festival and other ensembles, she has contributed to NPR’s “Performance Today,” (now heard on American Public Media). Schwartz also writes about performing arts and culture for Oregon Jewish Life Magazine and other publications. www.classicalmusicprogramnotes.com
Recommended Recordings by Michael Parsons
Karl Kruger–Philharmonia Orchestra
Bridge Records 9190 OR
Julius Hegyi–Albany Symphony Orchestra
New World Records 80321
Richard Strauss–Oboe Concerto
Heinz Holliger, Oboe
Edo de Waart–New Philharmonia Orchestra
2-Newton Classics 8802066 OR
John de Lancie, Oboe
Max Wilcox–Philadelphia Chamber Society Orchestra
Boston Records 1045
Mozart–Symphony No. 28
Sir Charles Mackerras–Prague Chamber Orchestra
Telarc 80165 OR
George Szell–Cleveland Orchestra
Sony Classical 678765
Bernard Haitink–London Philharmonic Orchestra
4-Decca 001406902 OR
Sir Georg Solti–London Symphony Orchestra
These recordings are available for purchase during intermission in the lobby of the concert hall.