From Symphony Hall
Sunday, May 1, 2011, 2:30 PM
Los Gatos High School Theater
Dr. Edward C. Harris, conductor
Avguste Antonov, piano
Festmusik der Stadt Wien
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)
Richard Strauss enjoyed early success as a conductor and composer and was influenced by the work of Wagner. He developed the tone poem to an unrivaled level of expressiveness and achieved great success with a series of operas. His relationship with the government in Germany was ambiguous, a fact that protected him but led to post-war difficulties and self-imposed exile in Switzerland.
Festmusik der Stadt Wien (Festival Music for the City of Vienna) is dedicated to the Vienna City Council, in gratitude for Strauss having been awarded its Beethoven Prize the previous year. Written for the Vienna Trumpet Corps, Strauss himself conducted the work’s premiere in the Festival Hall of the Vienna Rathaus in 1943.
Trauersinfonie – Funeral Music on Themes from Euryanthe by Carl Maria von Weber
Richard Wagner (1813–1883), revised for symphonic band by Erik Leidzen
Richard Wagner was one of the world’s greatest composers, as well as an intellectual and a philosopher. He became obsessed with music as a teenager after hearing works by Beethoven in Leipzig, Germany, and he used his musical inspiration and knowledge of the theater to compose operas. Wagner raised German opera to new heights by uniting music and drama.
Trauersinfonie was composed in 1844 as the patriotic funeral march to accompany the return of composer Carl Maria von Weber’s remains to Germany 18 years after his death and burial in London. The march accompanied the torch-lit procession through the town. In honor of von Weber, Wagner based this piece on themes from von Weber’s opera Euryanthe.
William Byrd Suite
Gordon Jacob (1895–1984)
Gordon Jacob was born in London and received his education from Dulwich College and the Royal College of Music, earning a Doctor of Music degree in 1935. He became a member of the faculty at the RCM in 1926 and taught counterpoint, orchestration and composition. Many of his composition students went on to successful careers, including Malcolm Arnold. Jacob’s works include a ballet, a concert overture, two symphonies, numerous concertos for wind and string instruments, many pedagogic works for piano and for chorus, and a variety of chamber works, songs and film music.
English renaissance composer William Byrd (1542–1623) was a pupil of Thomas Tallis and was known for his polyphonic choral and keyboard music. The 300th anniversary of Byrd’s death was celebrated in 1923 with performances of his music. Gordon Jacob selected six of Byrd’s pieces for inclusion in this commemorative suite. The opening movement, “The Earle of Oxford’s Marche,” was Byrd’s initial movement to The Battell, a 16th century program work of 15 movements depicting the participants and events of a battle. The music flows to a steady, stately beat adding dignity to the event. Characteristic of this and all the movements is the harmonic chord conclusion. The “Pavana” has the slow duple rhythm of the stately court dance. “Jhon Come Kisse Me Now” has the flirtatious sense often found in English madrigals. It possesses seven variations of an eight-bar tune. Beginning simply in the brass, “The Mayden’s Song” develops with counterpoint and embellished figures while retaining the style of the original. Instrumental texture provides variation to the simple melody of “Wolsey’s Wilde.” A simple rising two-note figure provides the background for the final movement, “The Bells.” Variations of a simple rhythmic figure of the bells unfold as the music gains momentum.
Funeral March to the Memory of Norwegian Composer Rikard Nordraak
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907), transcribed by Jan Eriksen, edited by Frederick Fennell
Edvard Grieg was a Norwegian composer and pianist of the Romantic period. He was raised in a musical family and his mother taught him to play the piano at the age of six. He studied in several schools, including Tank’s School, and often brought examples of his own compositions to class. Family friend and Norwegian violinist Ole Bull persuaded his parents to send Grieg to the Leipzig Conservatory. In 1863, Grieg went to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he met fellow Norwegian composer Rikard Nordraak, composer of the Norwegian national anthem. Grieg later became music director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1866 to 1874, Grieg resided in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, where he worked as a teacher and conductor and served as a co-founder of the Academy of Music.
Grieg and Nordraak championed nationalism in their musical activities. The two young composers worked closely together until Nordraak’s health began to fail. Grieg was in Rome when he heard of Nordraak’s death in 1866. He wrote the Funeral March to the memory of his dear friend on the very same day he heard the news.
March Op. 99
Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953), arranged by Sam Daniels
Born in Russia, Sergei Prokofiev exhibited exceptional musical talent as a child. Tutored at the piano by his mother, he wrote a number of piano pieces, including six marches, when he was five. At age nine, he wrote the piano score to the opera Giant. He entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 13, where he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov and Tcherepnin. After graduation he traveled to the United States, but he found the political and cultural climate of Paris in 1920 to be more sympathetic to his compositions. He retained his Russian citizenship and returned there in 1936, where he lived until his death in Moscow. His death was overshadowed by that of Joseph Stalin, who died on the same day. Prokofiev’s works include symphonies, band works, concertos, piano sonatas and chamber music. His better-known works include the opera The Love of Three Oranges, the ballet Romeo and Juliet, and the symphonic works Lieutenant Kije Suite and Peter and the Wolf.
Prokofiev wrote March, Opus 99 for concert presentation. It was written in 1943, when he was a dominant force in Soviet music, after recovering from being branded “an enemy of the people” and Stalin’s characterization of his music as being “degenerate.” Opening with a strong pulse that carries the composition, the main theme is introduced by the solo trumpet. Woodwind runs add to the excitement, before a mellow French horn and euphonium phrase is introduced. The clarinets and brass re-enter, and their themes intertwine to the rousing finale.
Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921), arranged by Paul Erwin
Paris-born Charles Camille Saint-Saëns was a child prodigy, composing his first piece for piano at the age of three. He was a student of Gounod and entered the Paris Conservatory in 1848. Saint-Saëns had total recall; any book he read or tune he heard was forever committed to his memory. He held the coveted post of organist at the Church of the Madeleine from 1857 to 1875. He was also an accomplished pianist, conductor, score reader, and astronomer. As a composer, his works include operas, symphonies, concertos, sacred and secular choral music, concertos, and chamber music. His most popular works, including Danse Macabre and Samson and Delilah, were written during a short and tragic marriage that included the loss of his two young sons within a period of six weeks. The Carnival of the Animals is a favorite of children of all ages, but it had only two performances during Saint-Saëns’ lifetime, possibly because he had written it as a parody of some of the popular music of the time.
In the spring of 1868, conductor and pianist Anton Rubenstein asked Saint-Saëns to arrange a concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, with Saint-Saëns as piano soloist and Rubenstein conducting. Upon discovering that the hall was booked yet for three weeks, Saint-Saëns proposed that he spend the time writing a new piano concerto that he could premiere, along with a performance of his first piano concerto and his Tarantelle. Saint-Saëns quickly composed the work in about two weeks, but that was barely enough time to rehearse, and the piece suffered from the lack of polish at the premiere. The audience was not very receptive, and pianist Zygmunt Stojowski famously joked that its musical styles were all over the map: “it begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach.”
Franz Liszt, however, to whom Saint-Saëns had sent a copy of the score, knew a crowd-pleaser when he saw one. He wrote: “I want to thank you again for your Second Concerto, which I greatly applaud. ... you take into just account the role of the pianist without sacrificing anything of the ideas of the composer, which is an essential rule in this class of work... The totality of the work pleases me singularly. It ought to meet with success in every country.” And indeed, the concerto soon began pleasing both soloists and audiences, who admired its musical showmanship.
The concerto breaks from the traditional form by placing the slow movement first, rather than second. The Andante Sostenuto begins with a Bach-like improvisation (hence Stojowksi’s quip) that soon segues to dramatic arpeggios, which are typical for Saint-Saëns, who began his career as a child keyboard prodigy. The main theme was based on a Tantum Ergo motet that Fauré had shown to his teacher Saint-Saëns, who is said to have exclaimed, “Give this to me. I can make something of it!” And so he did, pairing the melancholy tune with a second motif of his own, embellished in thirds. The movement closes with a huge cadenza for the soloist, and the reprise of the Bach motif. From the G minor of the opening, we move to E-flat major in the Allegro Scherzando. Marked Leggieramente, “light and brisk,” the movement is a witty conversation between the soloist and orchestra. The finale, Presto, returns to G minor in a tarantella, a fast and furious Italian form during which the soloist exchanges dialog with the full orchestra. The Rondo ends with a coda that gives the soloist the chance to end the piece in brilliance.
Finlandia, Op. 26, No. 7
Jean Sibelius (1865 1957), arranged for symphonic band by Lucien Cailliet
Jean Sibelius was born in 1865 into a Finnish and Swedish family in the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland. His family decided to send him to a Finnish language school, during the rise of a nationalistic movement which was to shape Sibelius’ artistry and politics. Sibelius’ music is strongly associated with Finnish national identity. He composed a violin concerto, seven numbered symphonies, more than one hundred songs for voice and piano, incidental music for 13 separate plays, an opera, chamber music, piano music, choral music and Masonic ritual music.
Finlandia is the symphonic poem most closely associated with Sibelius, composed in 1899 and revised in 1900. It was composed for the Press Celebrations of 1899, a covert protest against increasing censorship from the Russian Empire. What is now known as Finlandia was the last of seven pieces, each performed as an accompaniment to a tableau depicting episodes from Finnish history. A recurrent joke within Finland at this time was the renaming of Finlandia at various musical concerts, in order to avoid Russian censorship. Titles under which the piece masqueraded were numerous, including Vaterland, Finale, and the famous Happy Feelings at the Awakening of Finnish Spring. Most of the piece involves rousing and turbulent music, evoking the national struggle of the Finnish people. Towards the end, calm comes over the orchestra, and the serenely melodic Finlandia Hymn is heard. Often incorrectly cited as a traditional folk melody, the hymn section is Sibelius’ own creation.
SJWS program notes are edited by Karen Berry from the composers’ notes, Band Notes by Norm Smith, The Pepper Music Catalog and: