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Mozart Masterworks

Program Listing

Salem

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022, 7:30 PM

Portland

SATURDAY, MAY 21, 2022, 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, MAY 22, 2022, 2 PM
MONDAY, MAY 23, 2022, 7:30 PM

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SPONSORED BY: Gil & Peggy Miller

David Danzmayr, Conductor
Stefan Jackiw, Violin
Michael Roberts, Marimba

Gabriella Smith

Riprap
Michael Roberts

Robert Schumann

Concerto, Violin In D Minor
In a vigorous, not too fast tempo
Slow
Lively but not fast
Stefan Jackiw
INTERMISSION

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Overture to The Marriage of Figaro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 40, G Minor

 

CONCERT CONVERSATION

Conducted one hour before each performance, the Concert Conversation will feature Violinist Stefan Jackiw, Principal Percussionist Michael Roberts, and Brandi Parisi, host of All Classical Portland. Visit orsymphony.org/conversations to watch the video on demand.

The May 23 performance is also available as a livestreamLearn more about Oregon Symphony livestreamed concerts.

 

Program Notes

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Robert Schumann
1810-1856

Violin Concerto in D Minor, WoO 23

Work composed: September 11, 1853–October 3, 1853. Written for violinist Joseph Joachim
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
Estimated duration: 31 minutes

“This concerto is the missing link of the violin literature; it is the bridge between the Beethoven and the Brahms concertos, though leaning more towards Brahms. Indeed, one finds in both the same human warmth, caressing softness, bold manly rhythms, the same lovely arabesque treatment of the violin, the same rich and noble themes and harmonies.” —violinist Yehudi Menuhin

“The concerto should never be brought into the open.” —Clara Schumann

The circumstances of Robert Schumann’s short life and tragic death have, for many decades, overshadowed most attempts to evaluate his music on its own terms.

When Schumann was in his early 20s, he began to experience periods of paralyzing depression. Over the next 20 years, these episodes increased in frequency, and often prevented him from working. Toward the end of his life, Schumann also suffered from persistent auditory hallucinations and manic episodes. Schumann’s struggles with mental health were widely known, and as a result, many 19th and 20th century biographers and critics claimed to “hear” a corresponding instability in Schumann’s music, particularly his later works.

In 1853, 22-year-old virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim asked Robert Schumann for a violin concerto. Schumann, impressed with the young man’s musicality and skill, immediately agreed. In less than a month, the composer presented Joachim with not one but two works: a Violin Phantasie, Op. 131, and the D Minor Violin Concerto.

Everyone in Schumann’s inner circle – his wife Clara, his close friend Johannes Brahms, and Joachim himself – thought the Phantasie excellent, and the violinist made it a regular part of his concert repertoire. The Concerto, however, proved disappointing. Joachim never performed it himself, and refused to loan the manuscript to any other violinist, because he believed “it is not equal in rank with so many of [Schumann’s] glorious creations.” When Schumann died in 1856, both Clara and Brahms agreed to suppress the concerto. Clara particularly disliked the work, claiming it “showed definite traces of [Schumann’s] last illness.” In accordance with Clara’s wishes, Brahms omitted the concerto when he edited Schumann’s complete works for publishers Breitkopf & Härtel in the 1880s.

The D Minor Violin Concerto ended up in the Prussian State Library, its existence unknown to all but a handful of people. In 1933, Joachim’s grandniece Jelly d’Aranyi, also a virtuoso violinist, claimed the spirits of Schumann and Joachim told her to find the lost Concerto during a séance. Whether d’Aranyi knew of the concerto’s existence before this revelation is unclear. Eventually the Concerto came to light and premiered in 1937 in Nazi Germany. D’Aranyi gave the London premiere the following year, while Yehudi Menuhin, barred by the Nazis from performing in Germany because of his Jewish ancestry, presented the Concerto in the United States in 1938.

If a listener unfamiliar with Schumann’s backstory heard this concerto for the first time, what would they hear? For Schumann’s contemporaries, the concerto’s content did not conform to the style they knew as Schumann’s, so they made an understandable, if erroneous, assumption to explain its “anomalies.” The elements of this concerto – the melancholy quality of the first two movements; the exquisitely beautiful sadness of the second movement’s solo violin melody; the seamless transition from second movement to third (and the shift from D Minor to D Major) – could be the result of Schumann’s creative evolution rather than proof of mental disintegration.

In a 2013 article in The Spectator, Damian Thompson wrote, “For too long, Schumann’s notorious ‘softening of the brain’ has tarnished the violin concerto and therefore deprived listeners of a triumph of the human spirit – and one of the loveliest and saddest pieces of music ever written.”

 

Gabriella Smith
b. 1991

Riprap

Work composed: 2013
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: First Oregon Symphony performance
Instrumentation: solo marimba and string orchestra (or string quartet)
Estimated duration: 10 minutes

Composer/environmentalist Gabriella Smith has made an international name for herself with music hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “high-voltage and wildly imaginative.” Clive Paget, writing for Musical America, declares Smith possesses “the coolest, most exciting, most inventive new voice I’ve heard in ages.”

Smith grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area playing and writing music, hiking, backpacking, and volunteering on a songbird research project. Her music grows out of a love of play, exploring new sounds on instruments, and connecting listeners with the natural world. Recent highlights include the 2022 premiere of her organ concerto, Breathing Forests, written for James McVinnie and the la Philharmonic; and the 2021 premiere of Smith’s first symphony, One, by the Eugene and Santa Rosa Symphonies. In June 2021, Smith released her first full-length album, Lost Coast, with cellist Gabriel Cabezas, which was named one of npr Music’s “26 Favorite Albums Of 2021 (So Far)” and a “Classical Album to Hear Right Now” by the New York Times.

In Riprap, Smith explores the technique of string glissando, an expressive sliding between notes. The title refers to the massive boulders used to prevent erosion along shorelines, and can be heard as a metaphor for an artificial barrier that gives shape to the music and prevents it from dissolving completely. Glissandos are usually executed by sliding a finger along the fretboard; Smith expands that concept to include plucked as well as bowed notes. The solo marimba begins by interweaving a minimalist line amongst the strings, with the effect of blurring the timbres between them. The marimba uses different mallets and other implements, including wooden dowels, to produce a wide variety of sounds: rolled chords, repeating melodic fragments, and sharply metallic rhythms. Towards the end of Riprap, all instruments converge into unison, like strands gathered into a single braid.

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1756-1791

Overture from Le nozze di Figaro, K. 492

Work composed: in the spring of 1786
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: James DePreist led the Oregon Symphony on February 5-7, 2000
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
Estimated duration: 4 minutes

The best way to generate interest in something is to ban it. This holds as true today as it did in 1782, when King Louis XIV, after attending a private reading of a French comedy of manners written by Pierre Beaumarchais, declared it “detestable.” Beaumarchais’ play contained revolutionary ideas too dangerous for commoners to hear, as far as the established aristocracy of Europe was concerned. Austria’s Emperor Joseph II agreed, and banned Beaumarchais’ play within Austria’s borders.

When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart encountered Beaumarchais’ subversive play, he saw in it the perfect basis for an opera. With librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart relocated the story of Figaro, Susanna, Count Almaviva and Countess Rosina, and all their circle to Italy, and toned down the more obvious revolutionary elements.

The dizzyingly intricate plot of Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart’s most popular and frequently staged opera, is rife with twists, turns, reversals, misunderstandings, rumors, gossip, and deceptions. Such narrative complexity is mirrored in the Overture’s series of running notes, which generate the nonstop high energy needed to keep the story going over four acts. As was common at the time, none of the actual music in the opera appears in the Overture, which Mozart completed two days before the opera’s premiere, on May 1, 1786 at Vienna’s Burgtheater, but the anticipatory excitement of the music readies the audience for all the shenanigans to come.

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
1756-1791

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550

Work composed: 1788. Mozart entered the date July 25 in his catalogue of completed works. The original manuscript has no clarinets; Mozart later made a revised version that includes two clarinets and modified oboe parts
Most recent Oregon Symphony performance: Carlos Kalmar led the Oregon Symphony on January 31-February 2, 2009
Instrumentation: flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings
Estimated duration: 35 minutes

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.

Nothing is definitively known about why Mozart composed these three symphonies, although it is likely Mozart wrote them for a series of concerts he planned to present in Vienna in the summer of 1788, or for a trip to London (which he never made), or perhaps both. There are no surviving records to prove these concerts in fact took place, but the amazing speed with which Mozart composed these symphonies suggests he was facing an imminent deadline.

Classical period composers like Mozart and Joseph Haydn rarely conveyed personal emotional feelings in their music; that convention did not become common until the early 19th century. However, the Symphony No. 40 can be heard as a reflection of Mozart’s state of mind in the summer of 1788. He was in dire straits, financially and personally. Desperate for money, Mozart wrote a series of anguished letters to his friend and fellow Mason Michael Puchberg, pleading for loans. More devastating still was the death of Mozart’s six-month-old daughter Theresa, on June 29. One day after he completed Symphony No. 39, Mozart wrote to Puchberg, “I have done more work in ten days … than in two months … and were I not visited so frequently by black thoughts (which I must forcibly banish), I should do still better.”

Many listeners discern a distinctly personal voice in this music. There are a number of unexpected harmonic shifts, achieved by means of chromatic transitions wholly outside the bounds of standard Classical harmonic conventions. Mozart’s “black thoughts” are most clearly linked with the G minor key of Symphony No. 40. Minor-key symphonies were not usual for him; additionally, Classical symphonic convention dictates that when a work begins in a minor key, it modulates to a related major key by the final movement. The opening movement remains firmly in G minor throughout, as do the Menuetto (its accompanying Trio is in major) and the Finale. The mood of the Andante, in E-flat major, is calmer and more reflective, offsetting the agitation of the other three movements, but its development section also ranges far afield from the usual spectrum of Classical harmonies. In places, the Andante explores heart-rending dissonances that suggest great anguish and outpourings of grief. The gentle descending hiccups in the winds and upper strings could be interpreted as sobs, while the agitation of the outer movements hints at inner turmoil.

 

© 2021 Elizabeth Schwartz

Elizabeth Schwartz is a freelance writer, musician, and music historian based in Portland. In addition to annotating programs for the Oregon Symphony, Chamber Music Northwest, and other arts organizations around the country, she has contributed to the nationally syndicated radio program “Performance Today,” produced by American Public Media. www.classicalmusicprogramnotes.com