Sunday, October 18, 2015
Academic Festival Overture ~ Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Allegro, Maestoso, Animato, Maestoso
Cello Concerto, B minor, op. 104 ~ Antonin Dvorak (1841- 1904)
Finale: Allegro moderato – Andante – Allegro vivo
Lucas Button, soloist
Lucas Button is a 21-year-old cellist in his fourth year at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. A native of Syracuse, New York, Lucas began playing the cello at the age of 7 and was a member of the Syracuse Symphony Youth Orchestras from age 10 to age 15, after which he attended Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, Michigan for his last two years of high school. Lucas’ concerto experience includes performances with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra. This past summer, he was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. In previous summers, Lucas has attended the Aspen Music Festival and School, Interlochen Arts Camp as a teaching assistant, the Orford Arts Center, Greenwood Music Camp, the New York Summer School of the Arts, and New York Summer Music Festival. Lucas has studied cello with Norman Fischer, Crispin Campbell, Gregory Wood, and Maureen Macero.
Firebird Suite (1945) ~ Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971)
Introduction, Dance of the Firebird and variations
Pas de deux
Scherzo (Dance of the Princesses)
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80 Johannes Brahms
Academic Festival Overture Op. 80, by Johannes Brahms, was one of a pair of contrasting concert overtures—the other being the Tragic Overture, Op. 81. Brahms composed the work during the summer of 1880 as a musical “thank you” to the University of Breslau, which had awarded him an honorary doctorate the previous year.
Initially, Brahms had contented himself with sending a simple handwritten note of acknowledgment to the University, since he loathed the public fanfare of celebrity. However, the conductor Bernard Scholz, who had nominated him for the degree, convinced him that protocol required him to make a grander gesture of gratitude. The University expected nothing less than a musical offering from the composer. “Compose a fine symphony for us!” he wrote to Brahms. “But well orchestrated old boy, not too uniformly thick!”
Brahms, who was known to be a curmudgeonly joker, filled his quota by creating a “very boisterous potpourri of student drinking songs à la Suppé” in an intricately designed structure made to appear loose and episodic, thus drawing on the “academic” for both his sources and their treatment.
Although Brahms drew upon popular songs for the piece, he also employed the “serious” skills of orchestration and thematic development that ostensibly earned him the honorary degree. The principal theme, a snippet from the melody of the Rakóczy March (a favorite of Brahmsʼ own youth), segues into a statement of the first of the well-known student songs. The work sparkles with some of the finest virtues of Brahms’ orchestral technique, sometimes applied for comic effect, such as the bassoons that inflate the light subject of “Fuchslied” (Was kommt dort von der Höh? What comes from afar?)). The inventive treatment includes tunes appropriated from the student ditties “Fuchslied,” “Wir hatten gebauet ein stattliches Haus, (We have built a stately house)” “Hört, ich sing das Lied der Lieder,” and most memorably, the broad, triumphant finale on “Gaudeamus igitur,” (Therefore, let us be merry) which succinctly engages Brahms’s sophisticated mastery of counterpoint, further fulfilling the “Academic” aspect of his program, cheekily applied to the well-worn melody. Brahms manages to evoke ravishing euphoria without sacrificing his commitment to classical balance.
The blend of orchestral colors is carefully planned and highlighted in the piece, which, in spite of Scholz’s request, calls for one of the largest ensembles for any of his compositions: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets (both doubling on B-flat and C clarinets), two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns (two in C and two in E), three C trumpets, three trombones, one tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings.
The composer himself conducted the premiere at a special convocation held by the University on January 4, 1881, to the chagrin (and mischievous delight) of many of the academics in the audience. Due to its easily grasped structure, its lyrical warmth, as well as its excitement and humor, the work has remained a staple of today’s concert-hall repertoire.
Cello Concerto Antonin Dvorak
The Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, is the last solo concerto by Antonín Dvořák. It was written in 1894–1895 for his friend, the cellist Hanuš Wihan, but was premiered by the English cellist Leo Stern.
The piece is scored for a full orchestra (with the exception of a 4th horn), containing two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, three horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle (last movement only), and strings, and is in the standard three-movement concerto format: Allegro (B minor then B major); Adagio, ma non troppo (G major); Finale: Allegro moderato – Andante – Allegro vivo (B minor then B major).
In 1865, early in his career, Dvořák started a Cello Concerto in A major. The piece was written for Ludevít Peer, whom he knew well from the Provisional Theatre Orchestra in which they both played. He handed the cello score (with piano accompaniment) over to Peer for review but neither bothered to finish the piece. It was recovered from his estate in 1925.
Hanuš Wihan, among others, had asked for a cello concerto for quite some time, but Dvořák always refused, stating that the cello was a fine orchestral instrument but totally insufficient for a solo concerto. According to Josef Michl, Dvořák was fond of the middle register, but complained about a nasal high register and a mumbling bass. In a letter to a friend, Dvořák wrote that he himself was probably most surprised by his decision to write a cello concerto despite these long held reservations.
Dvořák wrote the concerto while in New York for his third term as the Director of the National Conservatory. In 1894 one of the teachers at the Conservatory, Victor Herbert, also a composer, finished his Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30, and premiered it in a series of concerts, beginning on March 9. Dvořák heard at least two performances of the piece and was inspired to fulfill Wihan’s request in composing a cello concerto of his own. Herbert had been principal cellist in the orchestra that premiered Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony on December 16, 1893, and wrote his concerto in the same key, E minor. Herbert’s middle movement was in B minor, which may have inspired Dvořák to write his concerto in the same key. It was started on November 8, 894 and completed on February 9, 1895.
After seeing the score, Hanuš Wihan made various suggestions for improvement, including two cadenzas, one at the end of the third movement. But Dvořák accepted only a few minor changes and neither of the cadenzas. The third movement was a tribute to the memory of his recently deceased sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, née Čermakova. Specifically, the slow, wistful section, before the triumphant ending, quotes his series of songs “The Cypresses,” Čermakova’s favorite piece. Dvořák wrote to his publishers:
I give you my work only if you will promise me that no one – not even my friend Wihan – shall make any alteration in it without my knowledge and permission, also that there be no cadenza such as Wihan has made in the last movement; and that its form shall be as I have felt it and thought it out.
The finale, he insisted, should close gradually with a diminuendo… “like a breath … then there is a crescendo, and the last measures are taken up by the orchestra, ending stormily. That was my idea, and from it I cannot recede.”
Hanuš Wihan first privately performed the concerto with the composer in Lužany in September 1895. Although he had rejected most of Wihan’s suggested changes, Dvořák still very much wanted Wihan to premiere the work publicly and had promised him that role. An account of the sequence of events whereby it did not happen is given by Clapham. Francesco Berger, Secretary of the London Philharmonic Society, wrote to Dvořák in November 1895 to invite him to conduct a concert of some of his works in London. Dvořák agreed and proposed to conduct the premiere of his Cello Concerto with Wihan as soloist. Berger proposed the date March 19, 1896, but that date was not convenient for Wihan (it may have clashed with concert dates for the Bohemian Quartet, to which Wihan was already contracted). The Philharmonic Society insisted on the date and hired the English cellist Leo Stern without consulting Dvořák. The composer then at first refused to come for the concert. “Berger was horrified and greatly embarrassed,” as the concert had already been advertised. Clapham conjectures that Wihan released Dvořák from his promise. Stern traveled to Prague to prepare his performance under Dvořák’s supervision. By early March, all was agreed, and the premiere took place on March 19 in Queen’s Hall, London, with Dvořák conducting.
The first movement starts softly. The first theme is played throughout the movement and during the last part of the third movement, giving the concerto a cyclic structure. The solo cello begins with a quasi improvisando section stating the theme in B major followed by triple-stopped chords. The cello then plays the theme again in E major. This concerto requires a lot of technical ability, especially in the coda, where the cello plays octaves and many double stops. The solo cello ends with trills then a high B octave. The movement ends tutti with the restatement of the first theme marked grandioso and fortissimo.
Following this opening essay is the lengthy Adagio, a lyrical movement which features a cadenza-like section which is accompanied mainly by flutes. The cello plays double stops accompanied by left-hand pizzicato on open strings. The movement ends with the cello playing harmonics very quietly.
The final movement is formally a Rondo. It opens with the horn playing the main theme quietly. A gradual crescendo leads into a dramatic woodwinds and strings section. The solo cello enters by playing the modified main theme loudly which is marked risoluto. The orchestra plays the new modified theme again. Then the cello enters with a melody played on the A string played with thirty-second notes on the D string. This fast section leads into a section marked poco meno mosso, dolce, and piano. A crescendo and accelerando leads into a fast arpeggio played in sixteenth-note triplets. A fast scale leads into a loud tutti section presenting new material. The cello enters and a gradual decrescendo to another restatement of the theme marked piano. This is followed by a contrasting, loud restatement of the theme played by woodwinds accompanied by strings and brass. This is followed by a moderato section in C major and eventually meno mosso which slowly modulates from A major to C-sharp major to B-flat major and finally goes to the original tempo in B major. This is followed by another quiet and slow section which uses material from the first movement and second movement. The concerto ends allegro vivo presented by full orchestra.
Dvořák’s friend and mentor Johannes Brahms had written a double concerto for violin and cello in 1887, eight years before Dvořák’s cello concerto. He corrected the proofs of Dvořák’s concerto for the composer and hence he knew the work intimately from the score. In 1896, Robert Hausmann had played it at his home with Brahms’ piano accompaniment, and Brahms is reported as saying: “If I had known that it was possible to compose such a concerto for the cello, I would have tried it myself!” On March 7, 1897, Brahms heard Hugo Becker’s performance of the piece in a concert of the Vienna Philharmonic, and he said to his friend Gänsbacher before the concert: “Today you will hear a real piece, a male piece!”
Dvořák’s original score, before he accepted a few of the numerous changes suggested by Hanuš Wihan, has been described as “much more musical,” and this version has been performed from time to time. Some of Dvořák’s music written in America, such as the American String Quartet, written in Spillville, Iowa, and the New World Symphony, was notably influenced by the American environment, specifically pentatonic scales used in African-American and Native American Music. For the Cello Concerto such influence is less clear. One author suggests that there was little American influence on the concerto. Another author tells a story that one day when Dvořák was in New York but not at the Conservatory, said to be ill, a visitor to his home found him there composing. “His only illness was a fever of composition … The remains of many past meals were strewn around the room, where he had been barricaded, probably for several days.” Although the time is not specified, it might be understandable that in the later part of his sojourn at the Conservatory, when his salary had been cut and still not paid regularly, Dvořák could have felt less obligation to his duties.
Firebird Suite (1945) Igor Stravinsky
The Firebird is a ballet by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, written for the 1910 Paris season of Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes, with choreography by Michel Fokine. The scenario by Alexandre Benois and Michel Fokine is based on Russian fairy tales of the magical glowing bird that can be both a blessing and a curse to its owner. At the premiere on June 25, 1910 in Paris, the work was an instant success with both audience and critics.
The ballet has historic significance not only as Stravinsky’s breakthrough piece, but also as the beginning of the collaboration between Diaghilev and Stravinsky that would also produce Petrushka, The Rite of Spring, Pulcinella and others.Igor Stravinsky was the son of Fyodor Stravinsky, the principal bass at the Imperial Opera, St Petersburg, and Anna, née Kholodovskaya, a competent amateur singer and pianist from an old-established Russian family. Fyodor’s association with many of the leading figures in Russian music, including Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodinand Mussorgsky, meant that Igor grew up in an intensely musical home. In 1901 Stravinsky began to study law at St Petersburg University, while taking private lessons in harmony and counterpoint. Having impressed Rimsky-Korsakov with some of his early compositional efforts, Stravinsky worked under the guidance of the older composer. By the time of his mentor’s death in 1908, Stravinsky had produced several works, among them a Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor (1903–04), a Symphony in E-flat major (1907), which he catalogued as “Opus 1,” and in 1908 a short orchestral piece, Feu d’artifice (“Fireworks”).
In 1909 Feu d’artifice was performed at a concert in St Petersburg. Among those in the audience was the impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who at that time was planning to introduce Russian music and art to western audiences. Like Stravinsky, Diaghilev had initially studied law, but had gravitated via journalism into the theatrical world. In 1907 he began his theatrical career by presenting five concerts in Paris; in the following year he introduced Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov. In 1909, still in Paris, he launched the Ballets Russes, initially with Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. To present these works Diaghilev recruited the choreographer Michel Fokine, the designer Léon Bakst and the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Diaghilev’s intention, however, was to produce new works in a distinctively 20th-century style, and he was looking for fresh compositional talent.
The ballet was the first of Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes productions to have an all-original score composed for it. Alexandre Benois wrote in 1910 that he had two years earlier suggested to Diaghilev the production of a Russian nationalist ballet, an idea all the more attractive given both the newly awakened French passion for Russian dance and also the ruinously expensive costs of staging opera. The inspiration of mixing the mythical Firebird with the unrelated Russian tale of Koschei the Deathless possibly came from a popular child’s verse by Yakov Polonsky, “A Winter’s Journey” which includes the lines:
And in my dreams I see myself on a wolf’s back Riding along a forest path To do battle with a sorcerer-tsar (Koschei) In that land where a princess sits under lock and key, Pining behind massive walls. There gardens surround a palace all of glass; There Firebirds sing by night And peck at golden fruit.
Benois collaborated with the choreographer Michel Fokine, drawing from several books of Russian fairy tales including the collection of Alexander Afanasyev, to concoct a story involving the Firebird and the evil magician Koschei.
Diaghilev approached the Russian composer Anatoly Lyadov (1855–1914) to write the music. There is no evidence, however, despite the much-repeated story that Lyadov was slow to start composing the work, that he ever accepted the commission to begin with. There is evidence to suggest that Nikolai Tcherepnin had previously started composing music for the ballet—music which became The Enchanted Kingdom—but that Tcherepnin, for reasons unexplained, withdrew from the project after completing only one scene. Diaghilev eventually transferred the commission to the 28-year-old Stravinsky.
The ballet was premiered by the Ballets Russes in Paris on June 25, 1910, conducted by Gabriel Pierné. Even before the first performance, the company sensed a huge success in the making, and every performance of the ballet in that first production, as Karsavina recalled, met a “crescendo” of success. The critics were ecstatic, praising the ballet for what they saw as an ideal symbiosis between decor, choreography and music: “The old-gold vermiculatino of the fantastic back-cloth seems to have been invented to a formula identical with that of the shimmering web of the orchestra” enthused Henri Ghéon in Nouvelle revue française (1910). The scenery was designed by Alexander Golovine and the costumes by Léon Bakst.
For Stravinsky, it was a major breakthrough both with the public and with the critics, Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi in particular hailing Stravinsky as the legitimate heir to The Mighty Handful. The Firebird’s success also secured Stravinsky’s position as Diaghilev’s star composer, and there were immediate talks of a sequel, leading to the composition of Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. “Mark him well—said Sergei Diaghilev to Tamara Karsavina, who was dancing the title role—he is a man on the eve of celebrity…”
Stravinsky used several ideas from works by Rimsky-Korsakov in his score. Koschei’s “Infernal Dance” borrows the highly chromatic scale Rimsky-Korsakov created for the character Chernobog in his opera Mlada. The Khorovod, meanwhile, uses the same folk tune Rimsky-Korsakov presented in his Sinfonietta, Op. 31.