Symphonic Movements (World premiere)
THE VITAL STATS
COMPOSER: Born June 10, 1960, Corringham, Essex, England
WORK COMPOSED: 2017. Dedicated to the memory of English composer and pianist Richard Rodney Bennett
WORLD PREMIERE INSTRUMENTATION: Piccolo, 2 alto flutes, 2 English horns, clarinet, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, soprano saxophone (doubling tenor saxophone), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, bass drum, 2 bongo drums, castanets, crotales (bowed), djembe, kalimba, lion’s roar harp, marimba, snare drum, tambourine, tam-tam, tubular bells, vibraphone, 2 wood blocks, celeste, and strings
ESTIMATED DURATION: 18 minutes
“There’s a visceral quality in the music I like … something almost physical that you can touch.”
– Mark-Anthony Turnage
Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music resists easy categorization. A restless composer, Turnage readily admits he is “obsessed” by his work, which pushes him to experiment with new styles or sounds, especially those outside his comfort zone. At age 57, Turnage has produced an impressive range of works across many genres: more than 50 orchestral works, chamber music, choral and solo vocal music, and three full-length operas. Many of Turnage’s pieces incorporate his lifelong affinity for jazz, along with elements of pop music, particularly soul and funk.
“Turnage’s orchestral and operatic music is often forthright and confrontational, unafraid to mirror the realities of modern life, yet its energy is exhilarating,” notes publisher Boosey & Hawkes’ official bio. “With his flair for vivid titles, and his complete absorption of jazz elements into a contemporary classical style, Turnage produces work with a strong appeal to an enquiring, often young audience. At the same time his music is capable of expressing deep tenderness, especially emotions associated with loss.”
Symphonic Movements, like several of Turnage’s other works, is an elegy. In this music, which Turnage describes as more of a celebration, the composer pays homage to his close friendship with British composer and pianist Richard Rodney Bennett, who died in 2012. “Richard Rodney Bennett was a close friend and I wanted to make a memorial, although the piece isn’t generally somber in tone. He was a man of great wit and charm,” says Turnage. The fourth of Symphonic Movements’ five sections was originally written as part of Turnage’s 2011–12 Speranza (Hope). “I always liked it, but it didn’t fit into that piece, as there was too much slow music,” Turnage explains. “So I wanted to write another orchestral piece with it as its heart.”
THE VITAL STATS
COMPOSER: Born March 9, 1910, West Chester, PA; died January 23, 1981, New York City, NY
WORK COMPOSED: Barber finished writing the concerto on September 9, 1962
WORLD PREMIERE: September 24, 1962, with soloist John Browning and Erich Leinsdorf conducting the Boston Symphony at the newly opened Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center
MOST RECENT OREGON SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE: May 16, 2005; Carlos Kalmar, conductor; Peter Donohoe, piano
INSTRUMENTATION: Solo piano, 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, antique cymbals, bass drum, cymbals, low tom tom, snare drum, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, triangle, xylophone, whip, harp, and strings
ESTIMATED DURATION: 26 minutes
In 1959, music publisher G. Schirmer commissioned a work from Samuel Barber, the firm’s most popular composer, to commemorate their 100th anniversary. One indication of Barber’s stature at this time is the decision to premiere his Schirmer commission in September 1962, during the inaugural week of performances at the newly opened Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.
It is interesting to note that although Barber was himself a gifted pianist, he did not complete his first piano concerto until the age of 50 (although he made earlier attempts during his student days at the Curtis Institute). Still, Barber’s familiarity and comfort with the range and dynamic qualities of the piano allowed him to approach the genre with assurance. Barber was also inspired by 26-year- old pianist John Browning. “To have an artist who can change the way Browning can with his musicianship and technical equipment is just wonderful,” Barber wrote of Browning’s playing and flexibility. In writing the concerto, Barber tailored it to suit Browning’s strengths, particularly his ability to interpret a wide variety of styles. Indeed, Barber was so confident of Browning’s abilities that he gave the pianist barely two weeks to learn and memorize the music before its opening performance. Browning later recalled that he worked an average of 15 hours a day to learn the music.
Both the Piano Concerto and Browning’s playing were enthusiastically received. Critics hailed Browning as “one of the more expert technicians around” who had “stormed the work, surmounted the peaks and proved himself to be a virtuoso with a fine sense of line.” The concerto itself was described as “the birth of an American classic,” and one reviewer praised Barber’s musical integrity: “[Barber] has not been afraid to be himself in the midst of the whirlpool of musical currents surrounding him. The concerto is of this century but also of the mainstream of traditional music.” In 1963, Barber’s Piano Concerto won the Pulitzer Prize.
FRANZ SCHUBERT (ARR. GÜLKE)
Andante from Symphony No. 10
THE VITAL STATS
COMPOSER: Born January 31, 1797, Vienna; died November 19, 1828, Vienna, Austria
WORK COMPOSED: Schubert began writing his last symphony in the autumn of 1828, and died before he could finish it. The incomplete manuscript survives as a series of piano sketches, with occasional notes on orchestration.
WORLD PREMIERE: The first realization of Schubert’s D. 936a fragments was published in 1978 by German conductor and musicologist Peter Gülke, who recorded it with the Staatskapelle Dresden in 1980. English conductor, composer, and musicologist Brian Newbould completed a second realization in 1985; it was first performed on September 11, 1985, by Alan George leading the York University Chamber Orchestra at Lyons Concert Hall in York, England.
FIRST OREGON SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE
INSTRUMENTATION: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings
ESTIMATED DURATION: 11 minutes
By 1828, Franz Schubert knew that his health was declining, although he may not have realized he was dying. When he was 21, Schubert had contracted syphilis. Today, syphilis can be cured with a dose of antibiotics, but in Schubert’s time, no such options existed. In the Vienna of 1828, the most common “treatment” for late-stage syphilis involved covering the patient’s body with mercury and confining him to a closed room. By September 1828, Schubert began experiencing the final stages of his untreated disease, and sought out this radical, dangerous course of treatment in the vain hope of a cure. Given mercury’s toxicity to the body, we cannot know for certain whether Schubert ultimately died of his disease or its “cure.” Either way, his final days were physically unpleasant in the extreme.
In the final weeks of his life, Schubert worked on a new symphony, which he did not live to complete. The surviving fragments of what is now known as Symphony No. 10, D. 936a, reveal three movements; the Andante on tonight’s program is the second. Biographer Elizabeth Norman McKay speculates that Schubert was composing the Andante “at the moment when he became to ill to write any more,” sometime in late October or early November 1828, two weeks before his death. McKay describes the Andante as “haunting,” and links its B Minor tonality to Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, which shares the same key. Schubert scholar Brian Newbould, who created his own realization of Schubert’s 10th Symphony in 1985, agrees: “The slow movement combines the poetic vision of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony with the desolation of Winterreise (1827), but its textures and atmosphere also prophesy Mahler.”
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, “Jupiter”
THE VITAL STATS
COMPOSER:Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria; died December 5, 1791, Vienna, Austria
WORK COMPOSED: Mozart finished his final symphony on August 10, 1788
WORLD PREMIERE: Undocumented
MOST RECENT OREGON SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE: November 7, 2011; Carlos Kalmar, conductor
INSTRUMENTATION: Flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings
ESTIMATED DURATION: 26 minutes
“The ‘Jupiter’ Symphony is one of Mozart’s greatest creations. The finale has all these ideas superimposed, bursting out, one after the other, like fireworks. There’s a pile-up of musical lines, a proliferation of colors. The ingenuity is almost unimaginable, limitless.”
– conductor Claudio Abbado
By 1787, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s fortunes were spiraling downward. The 31-year-old composer faced several crises: illness, mounting debts, and the discouraging realization that the Viennese had, five years after Mozart’s arrival in that city, tired of him. In the summer of 1788, the poverty-stricken composer wrote a series of desperate letters to his friend Michael Puchberg, pleading for loans. Mozart also pawned several valuables, tried to get advances from his publisher, and attempted to sell his manuscripts; these humiliating efforts yielded little.
Mozart’s final three symphonies – Nos. 39, 40, and 41 – were composed in nine weeks during the summer of 1788. Even for Mozart this rate of output is remarkable, especially given the high quality of all three works. Mozart probably wrote them for a series of concerts he planned to present in Vienna later that summer, or for a trip to London (which he never made), or perhaps both. There is no surviving documentation regarding the premieres for these symphonies, but the speed at which Mozart composed them suggests an urgent need for new music that would entice audiences back to the concert hall.
Mozart did not title his final symphony “Jupiter.” It is believed, according to comments attributed to Mozart’s son Franz Xavier in 1829, that musician Johann Peter Salomon first bestowed the nickname “Jupiter” on the C major symphony. However “Jupiter” became attached to this music, it captures perfectly the noble character of the Roman god Jupiter, particularly in its outer movements. In the Andante, Mozart departs from the buoyant C major of the opening with a series of yearning sequences in the strings that morph into distant, exotic harmonies. In the glorious finale (for which music lovers, scholars, and critics have been searching in vain for the proper adjectives to describe its perfection for almost two centuries), Mozart combines fugue-style Baroque counterpoint, which he learned studying the music of J.S. Bach, with balanced classical phrases. The late scholar Michael Steinberg aptly called this movement “one of the most splendid manifestations of that rich gathering-in we call the Classical style.” The “Jupiter” Symphony stands as Mozart’s greatest symphonic achievement, and has achieved the immortality of the god whose name it bears.
© 2017 Elizabeth Schwartz
Elizabeth Schwartz is a free-lance writer, musician, and music historian based in Portland. In addition to annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony, the Oregon Bach Festival, Chamber Music Northwest, and other organizations, she has contributed to the nationally syndicated radio program “Performance Today,” produced by American Public Media. Schwartz also writes about performing arts and culture for Oregon Jewish Life Magazine. www.classicalmusicprogramnotes.com
Barber: Piano Concerto
John Browning – Piano
George Szell – The Cleveland Orchestra
Sony smk 60004
Note: The Barber Piano Concerto was written for John Browning, who gave its premiere performance in 1962.
Schubert: Andante from Symphony No. 10, D. 936 (arranged Gülke)
Peter Gulke – Dresden Staatskapelle
Berlin Classics 183762
Mozart: Symphony No. 41, Jupiter
Karl Bohm – Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
2 – Deutsche Grammophon Originals
Leonard Bernstein – Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 445548
Bruno Walter – Columbia Symphony Orchestra
6 – Sony Classical 7906832