2016-2017 Season February 11 and 12, 2017 Program Notes By Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, “Unfinished” (1822) Franz Schubert (1797-1828) The mystery surrounding the composition of the “Unfinished” Symphony is one of the most intriguing puzzles in the entire realm of music. It is known that Schubert composed the first two movements of this “Grand Symphony,” as he referred to it, in autumn 1822, and then abruptly stopped work. He sent the manuscript to his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who was supposed to pass it on to the Styrian Music Society of Graz in appreciation of an honorary membership that organization had conferred upon Schubert the previous spring. Anselm, described by Schubert’s biographer Hans Gal as a “peevish recluse,” never sent the score. Instead, he squirreled it away in his desk, where it gathered dust for forty years. It was not until 1865 that he presented it for performance to Johann Herbeck, director of Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. Lacking conclusive evidence, writers on Schubert have advanced a fascinating variety of explanations as to why the young composer never completed the last two planned movements of this Symphony. Among others: he was too ill with syphilis; he could not be bothered with the labor of writing down the last two movements; his friends believed he was basically a song composer rather than an instrumental composer, and their arguments caused him to lose faith in this large work; the last two movements were lost; he despaired of ever having a work of this scale performed; a new commission intervened; Hüttenbrenner’s servant used the manuscript to start a fire. All of these have been proven false. The truth is that, despite exhaustive research, there is no conclusive evidence to support any single theory. The explanation currently given the greatest credence is that Schubert thought he could not match the wonderful inspiration of the first two movements in what was to follow, so he abandoned this Symphony for work on another project and simply never returned to complete it. The first movement is a sonata form that begins without introduction. The first theme, in the dark tonality of B minor, is made up of three components: a brooding,
eight-measure phrase heard immediately in unison cellos and basses; a restless figure for violins; and a broad melody played by oboe and clarinet. The music grows in intensity as it approaches the second theme, played in a brighter key by the cellos over a gently syncopated accompaniment. A series of decisive chords and a tossing-about of fragments of the second theme bring the exposition to a close. The development, based entirely on the movement’s opening phrase, begins softly in unison cellos and basses. This lengthy central section rises to great peaks of emotional tension before the recapitulation begins with the restless violin figure of the first theme. The oboeclarinet theme is heard again, as is the second theme, before the movement ends with restatements of the cello-bass phrase that began the exposition and the development. The second movement is in the form of a large sonatina (sonata form without a development section) and flows like a calm river, filled with rich sonorities and lovely melodies. Clarinet Concerto (2015) Jonathan Leshnoff (born in 1973) The following information has been provided by Leshnoff Publishing. Named by the Baltimore Symphony as one of the top-ten most-performed living composers in the most recent orchestral season, Jonathan Leshnoff is a leader of contemporary American lyricism. His compositions have earned international acclaim for their striking harmonies, structural complexity and powerful themes. The Baltimore-based composer’s works have been performed by more than fifty orchestras worldwide in hundreds of orchestral concerts. He has received commissions from Carnegie Hall and ensembles including the orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville and Philadelphia. Leshnoff’s compositions have been performed by classical music’s most celebrated stars, including Gil Shaham, Manuel Barrueco and esteemed music directors such as Marin Alsop, Yannick NézetSéguin and Michael Stern. In 2016-2017, Leshnoff’s works will be performed by the Atlanta, Baltimore, Kalamazoo, Nashville, Reading and Santa Barbara Symphonies, National Philharmonic, Baltimore Choral Arts Society and United States Marine and Navy Bands. Leshnoff has released three albums to date, all on the Naxos American Classics label. His fourth album, a recording of Robert Spano and the Atlanta
Symphony performing his Symphony No. 2 and oratorio Zohar, was released in November 2016. Leshnoff’s catalog is vast, including several symphonies and oratorios in addition to numerous concertos, solo and chamber works. Leshnoff is a Professor of Music at Towson University. LESHNOFF EXPLAINS: This concerto is subtitled “Nekudim,” which translates roughly from Hebrew as “points.” Though Nekudim has a deeper connotation, in a grammatical context, “nekudos” refer to the vowels in the Hebrew language, notated by lines and dots underneath each letter. The majority of Hebrew letters are consonants, such as “vav” which, when pronounced without any vowel, sounds “v.” It is only the vowels that give the “v” vocal direction, such as “vee” or “voo,” etc. In a metaphysical context, the letters are lifeless “bodies” that are animated with the “soul” of a vowel. To me, a woodwind instrument — and the clarinet in particular — is a musical illustration of this concept. A string instrument or piano resides outside of the player’s physical body; the musician uses his/her exterior limbs (hands) to make the instrument sound. But the clarinet is attached to the player’s mouth — the clarinetist literally breathes life into the notes on the page. So much nuance and tenacity of line in the first and last movements of my concerto is dependent upon the clarinetist’s interpretation, their own inner essence, that the player must delve deep to unearth the inner meaning of the lines in his or her own way. This is the meaning of “Nekudim.” The Clarinet Concerto was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and cocommissioned by the Santa Barbara Symphony. It was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra in April of 2016 with Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor, and Ricardo Morales, clarinet. These performances are the West Coast premiere. Third Symphony (1944-1946) Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
The Third Symphony of 1944-1946 brings together the two dominant strains of Copland’s musical personality: the abstract style of his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1924) and Short Symphony (1933) is particularly evident in the first and third movements, while the influence of folk song and New England and Quaker hymnody familiar from Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Lincoln Portrait and other works of the early 1940s is strongest in the second and fourth. The opening movement, in moderate tempo, eschews traditional symphonic sonata form in favor of a structure in two large musical paragraphs with a benedictory coda. The first section presents the movement’s three themes, each introduced with the simplicity and economy that mark Copland’s best music: a smooth melody in wide-spread octaves for violins, clarinets and flute; a theme in similar style initiated by oboes and clarinets; and a broad phrase of unsettled tonality intoned by the trombones. The trombone phrase is worked out at some length, and rises to a mighty climax before a sudden quiet ushers in the briefer second section, in which the first two themes are ingeniously combined to lead to an even more violent outburst based on the trombone motive. Another abrupt hush begins the coda, which is built from variants of the first and second themes exquisitely suspended in a musical setting of unaffected beauty and sweet melancholy. The Scherzo begins with a boisterous brass preview of the movement’s principal theme. The theme is presented in full by horn, clarinets and violas in a more deliberate tempo, and recurs twice (unison low strings and, in augmentation, in the low brass) with intervening episodes. The trio is given over to a folksy little waltz melody that would not be out of place in Rodeo or Billy the Kid. After a truncated return of the first section, a grandiloquent presentation of the waltz theme and a striding transformation of the Scherzo theme close the movement. The main part of the Andantino is occupied by what Copland called a “close-knit series of variations” on a graceful theme presented by the solo flute. The melody, he continued, “supplies thematic substance for the sectional metamorphoses that follow: at first with quiet singing nostalgia; then faster and heavier — almost dance-like; then more child-like and naive; and finally vigorous and forthright.” Framing these variations as introduction and postlude are austere, almost mysterious transformations of the trombone theme from the first movement hung high in the violins. The Finale follows without pause. The Fanfare for the Common Man, written in 1942 at the invitation of Eugene Goossens for a series of wartime fanfares introduced under his direction with the Cincinnati Symphony, provides the thematic material for the
introduction. The well-known strains are first heard, softly, in the high woodwinds and then given in their familiar stentorian guise by the brass and percussion. The main portion of the movement begins with the presentation of an animated, syncopated theme by the oboe. A broad restatement of the Fanfare motive by the trombones opens the development section, which is unusual in that the structural second theme, a lyrical strain of swaying metric configuration, is embedded within it. The development builds to a galvanic climax. The recapitulation weaves together the finaleâ€™s principal theme, fragments of the Fanfare and the opening motive of the first movement. A magnificent peroration capped by another return of the theme that began the entire work closes this great American Symphony.