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mar 22, 23, 24

Varga, Haydn and Schumann

Minnesota Orchestra Gilbert Varga, conductor

Thursday, March 22, 2012, 11 am Friday, March 23, 2012, 8 pm Saturday, March 24, 2012, 8 pm

Felix Mendelssohn Franz Joseph Haydn

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Robert Schumann

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Orchestra Hall Orchestra Hall Orchestra Hall

Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opus 21

ca. 11’

Symphony No. 52 in C minor Allegro assai con brio Andante Menuetto: Allegretto Presto

ca. 22’

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Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 97, Rhenish Lebhaft Scherzo: Sehr mässig Nicht schnell Feierlich Lebhaft

ca. 20’

ca. 32’

Minnesota Orchestra concerts are broadcast live Friday evenings on stations of Minnesota Public Radio. The concerts are also featured in American Public Media’s national programs, SymphonyCast and Performance Today. Regional broadcasts are supported by the Minnesota Orchestra and by Patterson, Thuente, Skaar and Christensen.

FEBRUARY / MARCH 2012

All materials copyright © 2012 by the Minnesota Orchestra.

MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA

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Minnesota Orchestra


mar 22, 23, 24

Artist Gilbert Varga,

conductor

London-born Gilbert Varga has an international reputation as conductor of both symphony and chamber orchestras. He has conducted the Minnesota Orchestra in eight of the past ten seasons, most recently leading Dvoˇrák’s Eighth Symphony and the Walton Cello Concerto in October 2010. Recent, upcoming: His calendar includes engagements with such ensembles as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Atlanta Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Prior posts: In 2008 Varga concluded a ten-year tenure as music director of the Basque National Orchestra. Earlier he held positions with the Hof Symphony, Hungarian Philharmonic, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and Malmö Symphony. Recordings: His newest release features Ravel and Prokofiev concertos with pianist Anna Vinnitskaya and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. Background: He initially focused on chamber orchestras, including the Tibor Varga Chamber Orchestra, founded by his late father. More: intermusica.co.uk.

Concert Preview with Courtney Lewis 3/22 at 10:30 am 3/23 at 7 pm 3/24 at 7 pm Orchestra Hall Auditorium

Post-concert Q&A 3/24, post-concert Stay after the Saturday night concert for a Q&A with conductor Gilbert Varga.

one-minute notes

at the same time...

Mendelssohn: Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream Mendelssohn’s delightful overture captures the essence of Shakespeare’s comedy—magic, mishaps and humor come vividly to life.

Haydn: Symphony No. 52 Emotional intensity rules in this work from Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period, dramatic in its use of minor keys, alternations of loud and soft, wide melodic range and rich textures. The eminent Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon called it “the grandfather of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony,” which would not appear for more than 30 years.

Schumann: Symphony No. 3, Rhenish This five-movement symphony also brings Beethoven to mind: it opens with rhythmic energy in the manner of the Eroica, full of syncopations and rhythmic displacements. The charming second and third movements function as interludes. The solemn fourth brings polyphony to a theme in the trombones, and the finale is a joyful return to sunlight.

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In 1827, when Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream is first performed: • Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper owned and published by AfricanAmericans, is founded in New York City • Englishman James Simpson constructs a sand filter for purifying London’s water supply • The Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad is incorporated to offer a shipping route faster than the Erie Canal Schumann conducts the premiere of his Rhenish Symphony in 1851, the year: • In London, Queen Victoria opens the first world’s fair—the Great Exhibition • The New York Times begins publication, offering issues daily except Sunday • The University of Minnesota is founded, becoming the first collegiate institution in the Minnesota territory

SHOWCASE

All materials copyright © 2012 by the Minnesota Orchestra.

Minnesota Orchestra


Program Notes

mar 22, 23, 24

set when, over heavy stamping, the orchestra shouts out a vigorous tune that ends with a great hee-haw. This is the braying of Bottom, the rustic actor who is transformed into an ass. A cascade of shining chords leads to a surprise—a false ending—and after returning to the flickering “fairyland” of the beginning, the Overture vanishes on the same four chords with which it began.

Felix Mendelssohn Born: February 3, 1809, Hamburg Died: November 4, 1847, Leipzig

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Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opus 21

elix Mendelssohn grew up in the most cultivated household in Berlin, and it is a measure of the Mendelssohn family’s sophistication that one of their recreations was reading Shakespeare’s plays together in the Schlegel-Tieck German translation. Fanny Mendelssohn later remembered the impact of one play in particular: “We were saying yesterday what an important part the Midsummer Night’s Dream has always played in our home ….We were really brought up on the Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Felix especially made it his own…”

‘the finest music ever inspired by shakespeare’

Felix indeed “made it his own” during the summer of 1826, when the 17-year-old composer wrote an overture to that play that remains today the finest music ever inspired by Shakespeare. Years later, in 1843, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia asked Mendelssohn to write incidental music for a production of the same play to be given in Potsdam that fall. Mendelssohn, now 34, reached back across the span of 17 years to recapture the magic he had created as a teenager and wrote a suite of 12 more numbers to accompany the play. In the Overture, our focus for these concerts, young Mendelssohn captured the spirit of Shakespeare’s play perfectly. The instant this music begins, we feel ourselves transported to the woods outside Athens, where Puck flits mischievously through the forest, the “rude mechanicals” rehearse their play and lovers are mysteriously transformed. The beginning is magic. Four soft chords lift us into the land of make-believe, and a glistening rush in the violins suggests the gossamer flickering of tiny wings. All seems

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, tuba, timpani and strings

Program note by Eric Bromberger.

Franz Joseph Haydn Born: March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria Died: May 31, 1809, Vienna

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Symphony No. 52 in C minor he well-worn epithet that proclaims Haydn to be the “Father of the Symphony” has by now been pretty much laid to rest. That honor, if it can be said to apply to any one individual, would go to Johann Stamitz, who died the year Haydn wrote his first symphony in 1757. But next to Haydn, no other composer in history has been the parent of so many great symphonies, and no one did more to bring the form from its fledgling state as a successor to the Italian operatic overture (the sinfonia, consisting of two fast movements framing a central slow one) to a full-fledged maturity that would make the symphony the dominant instrumental genre of the 19th century. Haydn’s career as a symphonist spanned nearly four decades and produced more than 100 works in the genre. One might imagine them being produced on an assembly line—but that was not Haydn’s way. Close investigation of his vast symphonic output reveals that there is no such thing as a “typical” Haydn symphony, no matter how modest a work it may be. Nearly every one features something unusual, new, different, original or distinctive.

FEBRUARY / MARCH 2012

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MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA

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mar 22, 23, 24

Program Notes

a work of the sturm und drang

What sets Symphony No. 52 apart from the crowd is an exceptional intensity. Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon calls it “the grandfather of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, also created with mathematical precision and in extreme conciseness.” It even shares the same key, C minor. Symphony No. 52 was composed in 1771 or 1772, which puts it with the dozen or so symphonies Haydn wrote in the late 1760s and early 1770s that are commonly referred to as his Sturm and Drang (Storm and Stress) symphonies; this applies especially to Nos. 44 to 48. The Sturm und Drang movement takes its name from literature of the period, which emphasized emotional intensity, dark pathos, stormy moods, restless anxiety and a general avoidance of the elegant and superficial language common to the age. In music, this form of expression manifested itself in the frequent use of minor keys, persistent and dramatic alternations of loud and soft, rich textures, a large harmonic palette, frequent and dramatic wide leaps between notes, unusual formal designs, much use of syncopation, and wide tessitura (melodic range).

allegro assai con brio. Most of these qualities can be observed in the symphony’s opening moments alone. The overall design of the first movement is traditional, but it does incorporate one strange feature, namely the twofold presentation of the second theme—a buoyant, cheerful idea in E-flat major.

adagio. The second movement is by contrast far more relaxed, even genial, and though the basic keynote remains C, the tonality is now C major, not C minor. Violins are muted throughout, conferring a further air of genteel repose. A little fillip—four quick notes on two pitches— initially seems innocuous enough, but gradually works its way into the very fabric of the music, becoming almost an obsession.

menuetto: allegretto; presto. The Menuetto returns to C minor and a mood of sobriety, while the finale, Presto, hurtles on with grim determination and all the force Haydn can muster into one of his most powerful Sturm und Drang symphonies. Instrumentation: 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns and strings

Program note by Robert Markow.

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Robert Schumann Born: June 8, 1810, Zwickau Died: July 29, 1856, Endenich

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 97, Rhenish

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n the evening of September 2, 1850, Schumann and his family arrived in Düsseldorf, where he had agreed to take up the position of music director.

a fresh start

Schumann had spent the previous six years in Dresden, in various stages of depression, and now he was delighted to escape a city he associated with creative blockage and make a fresh start. In Düsseldorf he and Clara were feted with a flurry of concerts, dinners and dances, and four weeks later they traveled 30 miles up the Rhine for the enthronement of Archbishop Geissel of Cologne as a Cardinal. Though the Schumanns were not Catholic, this solemn ceremony in the still-unfinished cathedral made a deep impression on the composer. His spirits revived, Schumann plunged into work, quickly composing his Cello Concerto and beginning to conduct the Düsseldorf orchestra. In the midst of this, he set to work on a new symphony. This would be listed as his Third, even though it was the last of the four he composed: he sketched the first movement between November 2 and 9, made another quick visit to Cologne, and had the entire work complete on December 9. The composer led the successful premiere of the Third Symphony in Düsseldorf on February 6, 1851. Things happened faster in those days: from the time Schumann sat down before a blank sheet of manuscript paper until he led the premiere, only 96 days had passed. Schumann himself contributed the nickname Rhenish for the new symphony, but that name needs to be understood carefully. This music paints no scenes and tells no story; it does not set out to translate the fabled Rhine into sound. Rather, it is music inspired by a return to the river on which Schumann had spent happy student days 20 years earlier and which was now the

SHOWCASE

All materials copyright © 2012 by the Minnesota Orchestra.

Minnesota Orchestra


Program Notes

setting for his new job and, he hoped, a return to health. Several movements originally had descriptive titles, but Schumann excluded these from the completed score: he wanted this symphony understood purely as music. To his publisher, Schumann explained simply that the symphony “perhaps mirrors here and there something of Rhenish life.”

energy, charm, grandeur

lebhaft. The structure of the symphony is unusual: it opens with a huge and dramatic sonata-form movement, which is then followed by four relatively short movements. The opening Lebhaft (lively) has no introduction—Schumann plunges directly into this music with a theme that swings and thrusts its way forward. The Rhine has become a slow flatland river by the time it reaches Düsseldorf, and one inevitably feels that the Rhine of Schumann’s first movement is the river upstream as it rolls through the deep gorges and past the fabled castles of the mountains of western Germany. The opening is full of a resounding energy that carries all before it, but this music is also remarkable for its syncopations and rhythmic displacements: the effort to beat the downbeats will quickly end in confusion, so skillfully has Schumann written against the expected pattern of the measures. The second subject is a delicate, waltz-like tune introduced by the woodwinds, but it is the opening material that dominates this movement, and— pushed on by some terrific horn calls—this theme drives the movement to a splendid close.

scherzo: sehr mäs schnell. The next two movements, melodic and charming, function as interludes. The Scherzo, “very moderate,” is like a comfortable country dance that flows along the easy swing of its main theme; the trio section turns a little darker, and Schumann ingeniously combines these themes in the reprise. The third movement, marked simply Nicht schnell (not quickly), alternates the clarinets’ delicate opening idea with the violas’ expressive second subject.

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this music was inspired by the ceremonial enthronement of Cardinal Geissel in the vast Cologne Cathedral. This solemn movement drives to a grand close on a series of ringing chords.

from darkness into light

lebhaft. Out of their echoes, the finale bursts to life. Commentators have universally been unable to resist comparing this moment to stepping from out of a dark cathedral into the sunlight—and they may well be right. This music leaps to life, but it is worth noting that Schumann marks this beginning dolce: “gentle, sweet.” Like the first movement, also marked Lebhaft, the finale overflows with energy, and Schumann drives it to a climax that recalls the solemn trombone theme from the fourth movement, now played so loudly that it should shake the hall, and a quick reference to the grand swing of the opening of the first movement. A brisk coda drives this wonderful music to a close fully worthy of its nickname. Despite Schumann’s enthusiastic return to the Rhineland, things did not go well in Düsseldorf. He proved an indifferent conductor, soon there were intrigues against him, and periods of black depression inevitably returned. In a sad irony, Schumann attempted suicide by throwing himself into the Rhine in Düsseldorf in 1854; he was rescued by fishermen but placed in an asylum from which he never emerged. Many critics feel that the music of Schumann’s final years shows a decline, yet everyone who hears the Rhenish Symphony knows that this is an exception to that bleak rule—its power and happiness and assured technique make this the finest work of Schumann’s final period. How sad it is that a work written at age 40 should have to be from a composer’s “final period.” Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and strings

E.B.

feierlich. The atmosphere changes completely in the fourth movement, marked Feierlich (solemn). Silent until now, three trombones darkly intone the somber main idea in E-flat minor, which Schumann treats to some impressive polyphonic extension, developing this idea in tight canon. In his manuscript Schumann had originally headed this movement “In the character of the accompaniment to a solemn ceremony,” and surely FEBRUARY / MARCH 2012

All materials copyright © 2012 by the Minnesota Orchestra.

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