Petrushka

Program Notes

Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 103 in E-flat Major, Hob.I:103, “Drumroll”
William Walton: Johannesburg Festival Overture
Arthur Honegger: Pastorale d’été
Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka

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Joseph Haydn
1732–1809

Symphony No. 103 in E-flat Major, Hob.I:103, “Drumroll” 

Composed: 1794–95, rev. 1795
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: October 17, 1989; James DePreist, conductor
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
Estimated duration: 30 minutes

In 1761, Joseph Haydn began his 29-year tenure as Prince Esterházy’s court composer at the Prince’s palace outside Vienna and at Esterház, the Prince’s country estate in Hungary. Always the loyal servant, Haydn had sworn to remain with his lord until one of them died, regardless of what fame and fortune he might receive elsewhere. By the 1780s, however, Haydn began to chafe under his master’s generous but narrow patronage, and yearned to broaden his horizons. Haydn’s published music was well known throughout Europe, but he himself was not free to travel, even to nearby Vienna. In 1789 he wrote to a friend there, “Well, here I sit in my wilderness – forsaken – like a poor waif – almost without any human society …”

When Nikolaus Esterházy died in the autumn of 1790, Haydn was freed from service and could finally travel abroad. Soon after Haydn left Esterház, Johann Peter Salomon, a German-born violinist living in England, invited him to London. Haydn accepted with alacrity and wrote his Viennese friend, “My arrival caused a great sensation throughout the whole city and I went the rounds of all the newspapers for three successive days. Everyone wants to know me.” Over the next several years, Haydn composed twelve new symphonies for English audiences. These “London” symphonies are some of the finest examples of symphonic writing from the Classical period.

The “Drumroll” Symphony, so called for its famous opening solo timpani, is Haydn’s penultimate symphony, and perfectly epitomizes Haydn’s style. Composed in 1794–95, it contains several puzzles, such as how the timpanist should play the drumroll (Haydn’s original orchestral score contains neither tempo nor dynamic markings, and the original timpani part has not survived). And what are we to make of the slow introduction’s opening notes, which eerily conjure up the Dies irae (Day of Wrath) from the Latin requiem mass? To counterbalance this ominous opening, much of the music, like the opening theme of the Allegro con spirito, sparkles with Haydn’s signature wit. The finale’s primary theme, a Croatian folk melody, flashes like quicksilver against the call of the horns, while the stately minuet and trio evoke the pomp and ceremony of a royal celebration. The Andante features a set of double variations, in C minor and its parallel, C major.

Haydn conducted the first performance on March 2, 1795, at the King’s Theatre in London, where audiences and critics alike responded to the “Drumroll” with overwhelming enthusiasm. London’s Morning Chronicle, referring to the new symphony as an overture (the terms were synonymous in Haydn’s time), wrote, “Another new Overture, by the fertile and enchanting Haydn, was performed; which, as usual, had continual strokes of genius, both in air and harmony. The Introduction excited deepest attention, the Allegro charmed, the Andante was encored, the Minuets, especially the trio, were playful and sweet, and the last movement was equal, if not superior to the preceding.” The Sun added, “Haydn’s new Overture was much applauded. It is a fine mixture of grandeur and fancy ... the second movement was encored.”

 

William Walton
1902–83

Johannesburg Festival Overture

Composed: 1956
First Oregon Symphony Performance
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (1 doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, castanets, claves, cymbals, maracas, side drum, snare drum, tambourine, tenor drum, triangle, xylophone, glockenspiel, harp, and strings
Estimated duration: 7 minutes

Early in 1956, the Johannesburg Festival’s music director, Ernest Fleischmann, asked William Walton to write a short orchestral piece to mark the occasion of the South African city’s 70th anniversary. Walton agreed, and turned out this up-tempo, joyous paean to “Jo’burg,” as its residents call it, in short order. Later that year, Sir Malcolm Sargent led the South African Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra in the premiere at Johannesburg’s City Hall on September 25, 1956.

Walton wanted to incorporate African musical styles into his work; while he wrote, Walton listened to recordings of African music, so he could immerse himself in the complex polyrhythms and indigenous percussion instruments of native African people. Walton also quoted the primary melody from the renowned African guitarist Jean Bosco Mwenda’s 1954 hit song, “Masanga,” into the overture, a tune the South African audience would easily recognize. In a short, 16-bar section, Walton also featured a number of percussion instruments such as claves, maracas, and castanets, which, while not authentically African, added a layer of exoticism to the orchestra’s overall sound. (Walton described the overture to his publisher as “a non-stop gallop … slightly crazy, hilarious, and vulgar.”)

Reviews were favorable; the Rand Daily Mail wrote, “Good tunes made the strings sing, vivid scoring gave scope to the orchestra to use its forces in deployment and in close formation; vigorous rhythms (based on a 2/4 beat) made the air gay … an attractive, animated piece of festive intent.” “It was, by the way, a ‘wow’ in Jo’burg, not [that] that means much (except for 400 smackers ‘tax free’) & Malcolm S[argent] cabled ‘Overture a complete triumph, repeating by request next concert, & in Pretoria,’” Walton wrote to a friend in the fall of 1956, after the premiere.

 

Arthur Honegger
1892–1955

Pastorale d’été (Summer Pastorale) 

Composed: 1920
First Oregon Symphony Performance
Instrumentation: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and strings
Estimated duration: 8 minutes

In the early days of 1920, Darius Milhaud asked five other composers to a musical gathering in his Paris flat, and each composer shared one of their own works. Milhaud also invited additional friends and colleagues to serve as the audience, including an enthusiastic journalist, Henri Collet, who subsequently published an article, “Les cinq Russes, les six Français, et M. Satie” (The Five Russians, The Six French, and Monsieur [Erik] Satie) in the journal Comœdia. Thus were born “Les Six.”

Arthur Honegger, like the other composers of Les Six, benefitted professionally and financially from his association with the group. Collet’s publicity gave him some much-needed exposure; he may also have received a creative boost from time spent with his colleagues. Interest in music by Les Six exploded, and Honegger fled the hubbub of Paris to spend August of 1920 in Wengen, a resort town situated in the central Swiss Alps, near the Jungfrau. The beautiful, relaxed surroundings inspired the idyllic Pastorale d’été, to which Honegger added the somewhat superfluous subtitle, “Poème symphonique.”

Honegger also appended a quote from French poet Arthur Rimbaud at the beginning of the score: “J’ai embrassé l’aube d’été” (I embraced the summer dawn). Honegger’s music does likewise. Steeped in both impressionistic and late 19th-century German Romantic aesthetics, this straightforward, lighthearted work, in A-B-A form, evokes the warmth, languor, and tranquility of a summer day. A solo horn plays a slow, calming line, punctuated by flute and clarinet bird calls and accompanied by flowing strings. The B section’s two primary melodies pay homage to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, while themes from both the A and B sections return and comingle in the closing A section.

Vladimir Golschmann led the Golschmann Orchestra in the premiere at the Salle Gaveau in Paris on February 17, 1921; after the concert, the audience voted for their favorite piece and awarded Pastorale d’été the Prix Verley, worth 1500 francs.

 

Igor Stravinsky
1882–1971

Petrushka: A Burlesque in Four Scenes (1947 version)
Composed: 1910–11, rev. 1946
Most Recent Oregon Symphony Performance: April 15, 2013; Carlos Kalmar, conductor
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (1 doubling bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, side drum, 2 snare drums, tam tam, tambourine, triangle, xylophone, celeste, piano, harp, and strings
Estimated duration: 34 minutes

“[Petrushka] is such a work of genius that I cannot contemplate anything beyond it.” – Serge Diaghilev

With the premiere of The Firebird in 1910, Igor Stravinsky became an instant household name. After The Firebird’s stunning success, Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes, lost no time in commissioning a second ballet from Stravinsky. Stravinsky was writing a piano concerto at the time, but when Diaghilev heard it, he immediately realized its potential as a theatrical piece, and encouraged Stravinsky to rework it into a ballet.

The character of Petrushka (also known as Punch, Pulcinella or Polichinelle) dates from the 16th-century Italian Commedia dell’arte. In Stravinsky’s version, Petrushka is a figure of pathos and pity, the eternal outsider whose vain attempts to gain acceptance arouse both compassion and contempt. The primitive edginess of Stravinsky’s music captures the elemental nature of the story and its characters, who represent human emotions in their most raw form: Petrushka, the despised pariah yearning for love; the Ballerina, an unattainable emblem of beauty and desirability; and the ill-mannered Moor, who epitomizes all the base, loutish aspects of the human psyche.

The first of Petrushka’s four scenes opens with the hectic bustle of the Shrovetide Fair, a pre-Lenten carnival in 1830s St. Petersburg. A flute summons people to the colorful street party. Two buskers vie for the crowd’s attention (flutes and clarinets, accompanied by triangle). A drum signals the entrance of the Magician, who introduces the three characters of his puppet theatre: Petrushka (a pathetic clown), the Ballerina, and the Moor. The Magician, who has imbued the three with quasi-human emotions, makes them perform a lively Russian dance.

In the second scene, the Magician kicks Petrushka into a cramped cell after the show. The room contains a portrait of the Magician, an ever-present reminder of Petrushka’s oppression. Petrushka sobs (bassoon) and rages (full orchestra led by piercing trumpet). The Ballerina joins him (duet for woodwinds and piano), and Petrushka expresses his love for her; she is disgusted by his piteousness and departs. Furious at the Magician, Petrushka kicks a hole in the wall. This scene also features the first appearance of the famous “Petrushka chord,” which sounds periodically throughout. A combination of two highly dissonant keys, we hear it first played by pairs of clarinets, which sound like the raucous, unmelodic blaring of a car horn.

In the third scene we find the Moor, a splendid brute, in his own cell. Blaring low brasses and grumbled piano arpeggios accompany his banal ditty (clarinet, bass clarinet, and English horn). The Moor’s animalistic vulgarity attracts the Ballerina (trumpet), and the two dance an odd, uneven Viennese waltz (cornet, flutes, and harps). Petrushka enters, objecting (muted trombone), and all three puppets quarrel. In the melee, the Ballerina faints and the Moor shoves Petrushka out.

The final scene returns to the commotion of the fair at evening. Like a film director, Stravinsky uses his music to zoom in on specific points of action within the larger hubbub. Two nursemaids dance to a cheerful folksong (oboe, followed by horn and flutes). A peasant (clarinet) leads a chained bear (tuba) into the crowd. The lumbering dance of the bear and its owner fade into the distance as two Gypsy girls cavort with a drunken vendor. Several grooms and coachmen enter with a foot-stomping dance, which mingles with the nursemaids’ music. The frenzy increases as mummers in devilish animal masks weave in and out amongst the crowd. Suddenly Petrushka cries out, pursued by the Moor, who slays him with a scimitar (dropped tambourine). Flute and piccolo sound Petrushka’s dying whimpers, while a policeman summons the Magician, who arrives, picks up Petrushka’s corpse, and shakes it at the crowd to show he was merely a sawdust puppet. The crowd disappears, but Petrushka’s defiant voice (trumpets) rises once more. In the ballet, Petrushka’s ghost appears onstage, thumbing his nose at the frightened Magician, who flees in terror.

Petrushka premiered on June 13, 1911, at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. Pierre Monteux conducted, and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes danced to choreography by Michel Fokine, set and costume design by Alexandre Benois, and Vaclav Nijinsky dancing the title role. A friend of Stravinsky’s, Nikolai Myaskovsky, opened his review of the work by posing the question, “Is Stravinsky’s Petrushka a work of art?” He continued, “I don’t know. Can one call life a work of art? That very life that roars all around us, that calls forth our wrath and our joy, that weeps, that rages, that flows in a swift, broad current? For Petrushka is life itself. All the music in it is full of such energy, such freshness and wit, such healthy, incorruptible merriment, such reckless abandon, that all its deliberate banalities and trivialities, its constant background of accordions not only fail to repel but, quite the contrary, carry us away all the more…The music of this extraordinary ballet has such integrity, energy, and such inexhaustible humor, that one positively loses all desire to attempt a more detailed analysis – it would be like a vivisection.”

 

© 2018 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