2015-16 Subscription Notes January 16-17, 2016 Program Notes By Richard E. Rodda
Canzona Septimi Toni No. 2 for Brass (1597) Giovanni Gabrieli (ca. 1555-1612) Giovanni Gabrieli, one of the greatest composers of the era in which the contrapuntal complexities of the Renaissance were giving way to the florid drama of the Baroque, was long associated with the glorious musical establishment of St. Mark’s in Venice. Eschewing the involved polyphony of earlier composers, he wrote in a chordal, often dance-like style that not only took full advantage of the acoustical properties of the ancient basilica, but also embodied a grandeur of religious and civic pageantry that has never been surpassed. His music included much writing for instruments, either alone or in combination with voices, which were typically divided into multiple choirs to create spacious antiphonal effects. Some of these pieces were among the earliest music to indicate specific dynamic levels in the score (piano for “soft,” forte for strong or loud). The works for instruments alone were mostly for brasses, the noble sound of trombones and trumpets being especially well suited to filling the large spaces in the huge church and the famous square that forms its entrance. In 1597, Gabrieli published a large collection of his own music in two volumes titled Sacrae Symphoniae (“Sacred Symphonies”), which contained motets for one to four choirs of voices and instruments, sonatas and instrumental canzoni, whose sectional construction, chordal textures and dance-like rhythms were derived from the French vocal chanson. Among the important innovations in the Sacrae Symphoniae was the specification of exact instruments for some of the canzoni, one of the earliest occurrences of precise orchestration in music history. The canzoni were written for four to fifteen players disposed variously into
choirs, and were designated simply by the church mode in which they were written (i.e., septimi toni — “seventh tone” — denotes the Mixolydian mode, based on the note G).
Suite No. 2 in D major from Water Music (1717) George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) Good stories die hard, the truth not withstanding. One begun in 1760, the year after Handel’s death, by the composer’s first biographer, Reverend Mainwaring, is no exception. Louis Biancolli recounted the tale: “According to the long-accepted story, Handel planned the Water Music in 1715 as a gesture of appeasement to King George I. Handel had been George’s Kapellmeister when he was still Elector of Hanover in 1712. Handel obtained permission from his ruler to visit England. The visit proved highly lucrative and Handel failed to return to the Hanoverian post. Finally Mahomet went to the mountain. Queen Anne died in 1714, and Handel’s former employer found himself proclaimed King George I of England. The King was supposedly incensed over Handel’s playing truant. Lord Burlington and Baron Kielmansegg, the Master of the King’s Horse, thought up a plan of reconciliation, which was carried out. During a ‘royal water party’ on the Thames, the King’s barge was followed by another bearing Handel and a group of musicians. The King was enchanted by the music and naturally asked its composer’s name. When told it was Handel, the two were promptly reconciled.” Biancolli went on to note, however, that neither the dates nor the relationship between composer and King bears out this story. Concerning the royal disposition, King George apparently never sought to ostracize Handel after his elevation to the throne. Indeed, music was one of the few things that George liked about English life, and he had no intention of throwing up barriers between himself and the country’s greatest composer. He appeared at a performance of Handel’s new Te Deum in St. James’s Palace within a week of his arrival in London. He attended the revival of Rinaldo a few months later, and did so incognito. He continued the annual stipend of £200 awarded to Handel by his predecessor, Queen Anne, and added another £200 to it. When the King visited Hanover in 1716, Handel went along to see after the music. These signs indicate that the rift between the two was never very serious, if it existed at all.
The dates of the various events also conflict with the old story. The “reconciliation,” it seems, was supposed to have taken place in 1715, but most of the Water Music was not composed until 1717. (A handful of movements may be of an earlier date, but their provenance is uncertain.) On July 19, 1717, two days after the event, the Daily Courant carried the following report: “On Wednesday Evening, the King took Water at Whitehall ... and went up the River towards Chelsea. Many other Barges with Persons of Quality attended, and so great a Number of Boats, that the whole River in a manner was cover’d; a City Company’s Barge was employ’d for the Musick, wherein were 50 Instruments of all sorts, who play’d all the Way from Lambeth ... the finest Symphonies, compos’d express for the Occasion, by Mr. Hendel [sic]; which his Majesty liked so well, that he caus’d it to be plaid over three times going and returning.” Another account noting the same July 1717 date came from Frederic Bonnet, a Prussian envoy at court. “Next to the King’s barge,” he wrote, “was that of the musicians, about 50 in number, who played all kinds of instruments, to wit trumpets, horns, hautboys [oboes], bassoons, German [transverse] flutes, French flutes [recorders, probably equivalent to the modern piccolo], violins and basses; but there were no singers. The music had been composed specially by the famous Handel, a native of Halle, and His Majesty’s principal Court Composer.” Though the Water Music was not directly responsible for Handel achieving a secure position with King George, there can be no doubt that the delight it engendered in the royal breast accounted in no small part for the favor he enjoyed. Handel modeled his Water Music on the festive, outdoor compositions written by such French masters as Lalande and Mouret to accompany the al fresco suppers, parties and barge excursions at Versailles. (The theme for television’s Masterpiece Theater derives from just such a work by Mouret.) The Water Music, like these French works, is simple in texture, dance-like in rhythm and majestic in spirit, and relies on the bracing sonorities of the wind instruments that made outside performance viable. In Handel’s score, many of the individual movements recall the dance forms that are the basis of all Baroque suites. (The manuscript of the Water Music is lost, and there is no way to know exactly the order or even the precise instrumentation in which the various movements were intended to be played. The compilation of the music into suites was the job of later editors, and it is from these that present-day interpreters choose the specific movements to be performed. The actual music heard, therefore, may differ from one concert to another.) The dances include the minuet, a
stately court dance in triple meter that became a regular fixture in the Classical symphony; the leaping, triple-meter gigue, derived from an English folk dance, and the model for many instrumental finales by French and Italian musicians when it migrated to the Continent in the 17th century; the bourrée, a spirited duple-meter dance of French origin; the English hornpipe, whose nautical associations are particularly appropriate for the Water Music; and the rigaudon, a Provençal dance especially popular in the French opera-ballet. The other quick movements, though untitled, are related to these types. The slow sections derive either from the limpid, flowing operatic aria of which Handel was undisputed master or from such dances as the saraband. A majestic ouverture in the French style rounds out the complete set. Of this wonderful suite, Martin Bookspan wrote, “Let it merely be said that for sheer entertainment and joy, the music that Handel composed for the King’s pleasure on that summer’s evening has few rivals in the whole literature.”
Machpelah: Dialogue for Violin, Cello and Orchestra (2015) Cristian Carrara (born in 1977) WORLD PREMIERE
Cristian Carrara, born in 1977 in Pordenone, fifty miles north of Venice, is one of Italy’s gifted and accomplished young composers. He received his professional training at the Conservatory of Udine, where he was a composition student of Renato Miani. In addition to composing many works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, choir, musical theater and television, Carrara has served as Superintendent of Teatro Lirico di Trieste, Chairman of the Culture Committee of the Regione Lazio, founder and President of the National Youth Forum, Chairman of the Center for Youth Policy, director of a series of recordings jointly promoted by the Italian publishers Curci, Feltrinelli and Ricordi, and frequent broadcaster on musical topics. His works, which have been performed throughout Italy and much of Europe, often contain spiritual or religious elements — his Song of Songs for choir and orchestra, set to a Hebrew text, was presented in Rome in 2004 and chosen two years later by the city of Lublin to observe the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, a graduate of the city’s Catholic university; his EastWest Romance (2009) for violin and orchestra was premiered in Jerusalem at the Concert for Reconciliation during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to
the Holy Land. Recordings of his music have been issued on the Tactus, Amadeus Art, Arts/Tosca, Incipit, New Stradivarius and Curci labels. Italian critic Elena Formica wrote, “Carrara’s music is close to the heart, it is clear but not simple, straightforward but speaks a language full of mystery: that of poetry.” “Machpelah,” Carrara wrote of his Dialogue for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, “is the Hebrew name of the Cave of the Patriarchs, the place in the heart of the old city of Hebron in Israel’s West Bank where there are the double tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah, considered to be the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people. I decided to write a double concerto inspired by this place because my Machpelah is a hymn about love between men and women, between Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. In this work, the solo violin and cello discuss love. I wanted to celebrate the eternity of love. Such love can be dance, can be heartache, can be a smile or a tear. It’s never just joy. But the eternity of love can grow only from all these feelings. This double concerto is a journey into our secret love.”
Concerto for Orchestra (1943) Béla Bartók (1881-1945) Béla Bartók came to America in October 1940, sick of body and afflicted of spirit. He had been frail all of his life, and the leukemia that was to cause his death five years later had already begun to erode his health. Adding to the trial of his medical condition was the war raging in Europe, a painful source of torment to one of Bartók’s ardent Hungarian patriotism. Upon leaving his homeland, he not only relinquished the native country so dear to him, but also forfeited the secure financial and professional positions he had earned in Budapest. Compromise in the face of Hitler’s brutal inhumanity, however, was never a possibility for a man of Bartók’s adamantine convictions. “He who stays on when he could leave may be said to acquiesce tacitly in everything that is happening here,” he wrote on the eve of his departure. “This journey [to America] is like plunging into the unknown from what is known, but unbearable.” Filled with apprehension, he made the difficult overland trip to Lisbon, then sailed on to New York. Sad to say, Bartók’s misgivings were justified. His financial support from Hungary was, of course, cut off, and money worries aggravated his delicate physical condition. He held a
modest post as a folk music researcher at Columbia University for a number of months, but that ended when funding from a grant ran out. His health declined enough to make public appearances impossible after 1943. His chief disappointment, however, was the almost total neglect of his compositions by the musical community. At the end of 1942 he lamented, “The quasi boycott of my works by the leading orchestras continues; no performances either of old works or new ones. It is a shame — not for me, of course.” It is to the credit of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) that the organization provided money for the hospital care that enabled Bartók to continue composing to the very end of his life. It was at this nadir in his fortunes that the commission for the Concerto for Orchestra was presented to Bartók. Phillip Ramey related the circumstances: “By early 1943, things had gotten so bad that two old friends of Bartók, [violinist] Joseph Szigeti and [conductor] Fritz Reiner, suggested to Sergei Koussevitzky [music director of the Boston Symphony] that he commission an orchestral work in memory of his wife, Natalie. Koussevitzky agreed and, one spring day, while Bartók was in a New York hospital undergoing tests, he appeared unexpectedly and startled the composer by offering him a commission for $1,000 on behalf of the Koussevitzky Foundation. Bartók, as fastidious as ever, would initially only accept half of that amount because he feared that his precarious health might prevent him from fulfilling Koussevitzky’s request.” The commission and an ASCAP-sponsored stay at a sanatorium in Saranac Lake in upstate New York fortified Bartók’s strength enough so that he could work on this new orchestral piece “practically night and day,” as he wrote to Szigeti. Upon its premiere, the Concerto for Orchestra was an instant success. It was accepted immediately into the standard repertory and led to a surge of interest in Bartók’s other works. He died less than a year after this work, the last he completed for orchestra, was first heard, not realizing that he would soon be acclaimed as one of the greatest composers of the century. “The title of this symphony-like work is explained by its tendency to treat single instruments or instrument groups in a ‘concertant’ or soloistic manner,” wrote the composer to clarify the appellation of the score. Concerning the overall structure of the Concerto’s five movements, he noted, “The general mood of the work represents, apart from the jesting second movement, a gradual transition from the sternness of the first
movement and the lugubrious death-song of the third, to the life-assertion of the last one.” The first and last movements, Bartók continued, “are in more or less regular sonata form,” while “the second consists of a chain of independent short sections by wind instruments introduced in five pairs (bassoons, oboes, clarinets, flutes and muted trumpets). A kind of ‘trio’ — a short chorale for brass instruments and snare drum — follows, after which the five sections are recapitulated in a more elaborate instrumentation.... The form of the fourth movement — ‘Interrupted Intermezzo’ — could be rendered by the symbols ‘A B A — interruption — B A.’” The interruption to which Bartók referred is a parody of the German march theme from the first movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad,” which was in turn a mocking phrase based on a song from Lehár’s The Merry Widow.
©2016 Dr. Richard E. Rodda