Schenectady Symphony Orchestra 2017-2018 Season
Charles Schneider, Music Director
Diane Wittry, Guest Conductor
Russian Easter Overture op.36……………………………………………………………………………………… Rimsky-Korsakov
Piano Concerto No. 5, E Flat Major, op.73, “Emperor”………………………………………………… Ludwig van Beethoven
Adagio un poco mosso
Young Kim, soloist (photo)
Symphony No. 2, B minor……………………………………………….. Alexander Borodin
Russian Easter Overture, op. 36………………………………… Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov
This overture was introduced to St. Petersburg in 1888. The principal melodic material is derived from the Obikhod, a collection of canticles of the Russian Orthodox Church. The slow introduction to the overture presents two of these melodies, Let God Arise, in the woodwind, and An Angel Cried Out in the solo cello. To the composer, this slow section represented the “Holy Sepulcher that had shone with ineffable light at the moment of Resurrection.” A cadenza for solo violin leads to the main body of the overture, in which these themes are repeated and developed. Trumpet and Horn calls introduce a subsidiary theme, but the two main melodies are soon recalled, the second preceding the first, separated by a trombone recitative. A development of both melodies rises to a brilliant coda, and the overture ends with a final recollection of the second theme in trombone and strings.
Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor”……………………………………………………………………. Beethoven
This concerto is truly a work of superlatives. It was the last concerto Beethoven composed, and is seen by some as the end of his “heroic” period. The title “The Emperor,” although in common use now, is not Beethoven’s; it became attached to the concerto after Beethoven’s death in 1827, probably due to the nobility and expansiveness of its themes.
Beethoven composed this work in 1809 during the siege and bombardment of Vienna by the French under Napoleon. Due to his growing deafness, it was the first of his piano concertos where the premiere was played by a pianist other than himself (by Friedrich Schneider in Leipzig in 1811, and by his pupil Carl Czerny at the Vienna premiere in 1812). It was also the first concerto in which a composer integrated his cadenzas into the score itself; indeed, it is notable that the piece actually starts with a piano cadenza!
After the opening cadenza, the orchestra states the familiar first martial theme, which includes a turn, descending arpeggio quarter notes, and a dotted eighth-sixteenth-half note motif, all of which make their appearance as subthemes later in the first movement. The second theme also makes its appearance in the opening orchestral tutti, in E-flat minor — a soft step-wise slow “march” immediately reprised in E-flat major as a beautiful melody played by two horns. This basic thematic material is used by Beethoven throughout the first movement, interspersed by richly ornamented piano passages and cadenzas.
The key relationships are also notable. Besides the usual familiar keys (E-flat, B-flat, A-flat), Beethoven repeatedly moves into more distant keys, particularly C-flat major/B minor (with a “third” relationship to the concerto’s overall key of E-flat). Also notable are a tendency for themes to move step-wise by a half-tone into different keys.
The following adagio is in B Major (again that “third” relationship). Its opening theme is actually based upon a tune which Beethoven originally intended for a military band (!) and then magically transposed into an ethereal “pilgrim’s song.” After the opening, the theme is repeated twice, once by the piano alone, then by a flute-clarinet-bassoon choir against the piano’s accompaniment. At the end of the adagio, a step-wise downward movement from the bassoons to the horns brings the tonality back from B major to B-flat (the fifth of E-flat). After a tentative prelude, the pianist launches full throttle into the robust last movement, a classic joyous rondo with hunting theme overtones. The rondo theme is repeated four times, and interspersed with variations by soloist and orchestra. In the coda the piano plays part of the rondo theme accompanied by the timpani. A last dash by the piano and orchestra leads to the concerto’s grand conclusion. (May 5, 2002)
Symphony No. 2…………………………………………………………………………………. Alexander Borodin
Symphony No. 2 in B minor by Alexander Borodin was composed intermittently between 1869 and 1876. It consists of four movements and is considered the most important large-scale work completed by the composer himself. It has many melodic resemblances to both Prince Igor and Mlada, two theatre works that diverted Borodin’s attention on and off during the six years of composition.
Although he had a keen interest in music, Borodin’s scientific research and teaching duties as an adjunct professor of Chemistry in the Medical-Surgical Academy at St. Petersburg since 1874 interrupted his composition of the Second Symphony. As a result, this symphony took several years to complete.
Immediately after the successful premiere of his first symphony in E-flat conducted by Mily Balakirev at the Imperial Russian Music concert in 1869, Borodin began writing the Second Symphony in B minor. That summer, he left off work on the piece in order to work on Prince Igor (Knyaz Igor), an opera based on a 12th-century epic “the Story of Igor’s Army,” suggested by his friend and first biographer Vladimir Stasov. Borodin suddenly decided to abandon Prince Igor in March 1870, criticizing his own inability to write a libretto that would satisfy both musical and scenic requirement. He told his wife, “There is scarcely any drama or scenic movement… Anyhow, opera seems to me an unnatural thing… besides I am by nature a lyricist and symphonist; I am attracted by the symphonic forms
Soon after setting Prince Igor aside, Borodin returned to the B minor Symphony, assuring Stasov that the “materials” created for the opera would be used in the newly revived symphony. According to Stasov in an article contributed to the Vestnik Evropi in 1883, Borodin told him more than once that in the first movement he wished to depict a gathering of Russian warrior-heroes, in the slow movement the figure of a bayan—a type of Russian accordion, and in the finale a scene of heroes feasting to the sound of guslis—an ancient plucked instrument.
He composed most of the first movement in April 1870, and he wrote it out onto a piano score a year later, in spring 1871. In that same year he sketched the Scherzo and Andante. That summer he orchestrated the first movement, and in October he drafted the finale.
Borodin’s work on the symphony was again interrupted when the Director of the Imperial Theatres, Stephan Gedenov, asked him to collaborate on an extravagant opera-ballet Mlada with other members of Vladimir Stasov‘s “mighty little heap,” namely César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In his usual fashion of composing, Borodin borrowed heavily from earlier works, in this case Prince Igor. The show was ultimately cancelled because of production costs, and Borodin once again returned to the B minor Symphony.
A new interest took his attention away from the composition once again in the fall of 1872 as the Tsar Alexander II‘s government passed legislation allowing women to take advanced medical courses. As an advocate of the new campaign, Borodin became the founder of a School of Medicine for women, where he taught several courses. Despite these distractions, Borodin finished the piano score in May 1873.
The following academic year (1873–74), more and more aggravated that he was not receiving support or recognition for his scientific work, he published his last paper on aldehydes and turned to teaching; it was at this time that he became director of the Medical-Surgical Academy’s laboratory facilities. Meanwhile, he also took up Prince Igor again and worked on orchestrating the final three movements of the symphony, although this work was not ultimately completed until 1875.
When the Soviet government finally got around to erecting a monument to Alexander Borodin, it was not to honor his contributions to music but rather those that he made to science and medicine. During his lifetime, Borodin was known less as a musician than as an eminent chemist who invented the nitrometer and as the distinguished physician who helped to found the School of Medicine for Women in St. Petersburg. His busy schedule left him little time for writing music, and he dubbed himself a “Sunday composer.” Other than vacations and an occasional weekend, Borodin could only compose when he was too ill to leave home. Given the often frail state of his constitution, those days were quite frequent and not unwelcome, and his musical friends actually wished him sickness rather than health so that could devote himself to his creative work. The Second Symphony was completed while Borodin was confined to bed with an inflamed leg.
Borodin had taken up the cudgel of forging a national musical identity for his native land in 1862, when he became associated with his friend Modeste Mussorgsky and three others in the group of Russian composers known as “The Five.” In 1869, Borodin told Vladimir Stasov, a musicologist and the chief journalistic champion of The Five, that he was interested in composing an opera on a Russian historical topic, and the writer drew up a scenario based on the ancient tales about Prince Igor. Some of the early sketches for Prince Igor, to which Borodin returned throughout his life but never completed, were borrowed for the Second Symphony. Indeed, so much of the mood and matter of the opera found their way into the Symphony that Stasov wrote, “Borodin was haunted when he wrote this Symphony by the picture of feudal Russia, and he tried to paint it in his music.” Stasov reported that Borodin had specific images in mind when composing this work: the first movement was purportedly inspired by a vision of a gathering of 11th-century warriors; the third by a legendary Slavic minstrel; the finale, featuring approximations of the sounds of ancient instruments, by a hero’s banquet.
The first movement of the Symphony creates a characteristically Russian quality through several techniques: its melodic and harmonic modalism, which evokes a certain oriental or even primitive mood; the vivid brilliance of its scoring, often dominated by the brasses (Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov had undertaken extensive studies of the military band, and believed that the brass instruments were capable of more virtuosity than had hitherto been required of them); and the elemental rhythmic energy that accumulates around the many repetitions of its craggy opening motive. There are several lyrical episodes in this sonata-form movement, but the music’s dominant impression is one of ferocious and enduring strength. The second movement is a winged Scherzo that, according to Gerald Abraham, “suggests the gleam of sunlight upon the helmets of Slavic warriors.” The limpid central trio employs an arched melody that resembles an Italian barcarolle in its warm lyricism. The slow third movement recalls an ancient bardic strain, perhaps an epic about fearsome struggles against sinister enemies. The finale is a festival of blazing orchestral color that combines vigorous dance themes, striding melodies and forceful dramatic gestures.
( Excerpts of notes from Wikipedia)