Page 1

2016-2017 Subscription Series March 18 and 19, 2017 Program Notes By Dr. Richard E. Rodda The Four Seasons, Op. 8, Nos. 1-4 (ca. 1720) Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) The Gazette d’Amsterdam of December 14, 1725 announced the issuance by the local publisher Michele Carlo Le Cène of a collection of twelve concertos for solo violin and orchestra by Antonio Vivaldi — Il Cimento dell’Armonia e dell’Inventione, or “The Contest between Harmony and Invention,” Op. 8. The works were printed with a flowery dedication typical of the time to the Bohemian Count Wenzel von Morzin, a distant cousin of Haydn’s patron before he came into the employ of the Esterházy family in 1761. On the title page, Vivaldi described himself as the “maestro in Italy” to the Count, though there is no record of his having held a formal position with him. Vivaldi probably met Morzin when he worked in Mantua from 1718 to 1720 for the Habsburg governor of that city, Prince Philipp of Hessen-Darmstadt, and apparently provided the Bohemian Count with an occasional composition on demand. (A bassoon concerto, RV 496, is headed with Morzin’s name.) Vivaldi claimed that Morzin had been enjoying the concertos of the 1725 Op. 8 set “for some years,” implying earlier composition dates and a certain circulation of this music in manuscript copies, and hoped that their appearance in print would please his patron. The first four concertos, those depicting the seasons of the year, seem to have especially excited Morzin’s admiration, so Vivaldi made specific the programmatic implications of the works by heading each of them with an anonymous sonnet, perhaps of his own devising, and then repeating the appropriate verses above the exact measures in the score which they had inspired. The Four Seasons pleased not only Count Morzin, but quickly became one of Vivaldi’s most popular works. A pirated edition appeared in Paris within weeks of the Amsterdam publication, and by 1728, the concertos had become regular items on the programs of the Concert Spirituel in Paris. The Spring Concerto was adapted in 1755 as an unaccompanied flute solo by Jean Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher and dilettante composer who was attracted by the work’s musical portrayal of Nature, and as a motet (!) by Michel Corrette to the text


“Laudate Dominum de coelis” in 1765. Today, The Four Seasons remains Vivaldi’s best-known work, and one of the most beloved compositions in the orchestral repertory. Of Vivaldi’s more than 400 concertos, only 28 have titles, many of them referring to the performer who first played the work or to the occasion for which it was written. Of the few composition titles with true programmatic significance, seven are found in the Op. 8 collection: The Four Seasons plus La Tempesta di Mare (“The Storm at Sea”), La Caccia (“The Hunt”) and Il Piacere (“Pleasure”). Concerning the title of the Op. 8 set — “The Contest between Harmony and Invention” — Amelia Haygood wrote, “ ‘Harmony’ represents the formal structure of the compositions; ‘invention’ the unhampered flow of the composer’s creative imagination; and the ‘contest’ implies a dynamic balance between the two, which allows neither ‘harmony’ nor ‘invention’ to gain the upper hand. The perfect balance which results offers a richness in both areas: the outpouring of melody, the variety of instrumental color, the vivid musical imagery are all to be found within a formal framework which is elegant and solid.” Though specifically programmatic (Lawrence Gilman went so far as to call The Four Seasons “symphonic poems” and harbingers of Romanticism), the fast, outer movements of these works use the ritornello form usually found in Baroque concertos. The opening ritornello theme (Italian for “return”), depicting the general emotional mood of each fast movement, recurs to separate its various descriptive episodes, so that the music fulfills both the demands of creating a logical, abstract form and evoking vivid images from Nature. The slow, middle movements are lyrical, almost aria-like, in style. Though Vivaldi frequently utilized in these pieces the standard concertino, or solo group, of two violins and cello found in the 18th-century concerto grosso, The Four Seasons is truly a work for solo violin and orchestra, and much of the music’s charm comes from the contrasting and interweaving of the soloist, concertino and accompanying orchestra. Of these evergreen concertos, Marc Pincherle, in his classic biography of Vivaldi, wrote, “Their breadth, their clearness of conception, the obvious pleasure with which the composer wrought them, the favorable reception which has been theirs from the first, their reverberations since then — all these unite to make them one of the masterpieces of the descriptive repertory.” For the publication of The Four Seasons in 1725, Vivaldi prefaced each of the concertos with an explanatory sonnet. These poems are given below with a note describing the music relating to the particular verses:


Spring, Op. 8, No. 1 (R. 269) The spring has come, joyfully (the vivacious opening section for full orchestra — the “ritornello” — that returns between episodes and at the end of the movement) The birds welcome it with merry song (trills and shakes, violins) And the streams, in the gentle breezes, flow forth with sweet murmurs. (undulating violin phrases) Now the sky is draped in black, Thunder and lightning announce a storm. (tremolos and fast scales) When the storm has passed, the little birds Return to their harmonious songs. (gently rising phrases and long trills in the violins) And in the lovely meadow full of flowers, To the gentle rustling of leaves and branches, The goatherd sleeps, his faithful dog at his side. (Movement II) To the rustic bagpipe’s merry sound, Nymphs and shepherds dance under the lovely sky When spring appears in all its brilliance. (Movement III) Summer, Op. 8, No. 2 (R. 315) In the heat of the blazing summer sun, Man and beast languish; the pine tree is scorched. (the enervated “ritornello”) The cuckoo raises his voice (wide, fast leaps in the solo violin) Soon the turtledove and goldfinch join in the song. (A solo violin episode with leaps and trills) A gentle breeze blows


(quick triplets, violins) But then the north wind battles with its neighbor (rushing scales, full orchestra) And the shepherd weeps (expressive, chromatic theme for solo violin and continuo) As above him the dreaded storm gathers, controlling his fate. (forceful scales and figurations in the full orchestra) His weary limbs are roused from rest By his fear of the lightning and fierce thunder And by the angry swarms of flies and hornets. (Movement II, alternating bittersweet plaints from the solo violin with quick, repeated note interjections by the full orchestra) Alas, his fears are borne out Thunder and lightning dominate the sky Bending down the tops of trees and flattening the grain. (the tempestuous third movement) Autumn, Op. 8, No. 3 (R. 293) The peasants celebrate with dance and song The joy of a fine harvest (the merry opening “ritornello”) And filled with Bacchus’ liquor (inebriated arpeggios, scales, trills and figurations from the solo violin alternating with the “ritornello” theme) He ends his fun in sleep. (progressively slower notes in the solo violin until the music stops completely before ending with the “ritornello” theme) Everyone is made to leave off dancing and singing The air is gentle and pleasing And the season invites everyone


To enjoy a delightful sleep. (Movement II) At dawn the hunters set out With horns, guns and dogs. (the bounding main theme) The hunted animal flees, the hunters follow its tracks (arpeggiated triplets in the solo violin) Terrified and exhausted by the great noise Of guns and dogs. (violent, shaking figures in the orchestra) Wounded, it tries feebly to escape, But is caught and dies. (flashing scales by the soloist cut short by the violent interjections of the orchestra) Winter, Op. 8, No. 4 (R. 297) Freezing and shivering in the icy darkness (the chordal, almost motionless main theme) In the severe gusts of a terrible wind (rushing scales and chords in the solo violin) Running and stamping one’s feet constantly (a brief, repeated note motive alternating with a leaping figure) So chilled that one’s teeth chatter. (tremolo) Spending quiet and happy days by the fire While outside the rain pours everywhere. (Movement II) Walking on the ice with slow steps (the plaintive main theme, solo violin) Walking carefully for fear of falling (slow, steady chords in the orchestra) Then stepping out boldly, and falling down.


(quick scales and then several brief descending flourishes) Going out once again onto the ice, and running boldly (steady motion up and down the scale in the solo violin) Until the ice cracks and breaks, (snapping, separated figures) Hearing, as they burst forth from their iron gates, the Scirocco, (a smooth melody in close-interval harmony) The North Wind, and all the winds battling. This is winter, but such joy it brings. (rushing figurations close the work)

Symphony No. 101 in D major, “Clock” (1794) Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Haydn left Vienna for his second English visit on January 19, 1794, and arrived in London sixteen days later. Having discovered “a dearth of good copyists” on his earlier sojourn, he took along his valued copyist and servant Johann Elssler, but left at home his wife, Anna Maria, a fearsome shrew who undoubtedly helped inspire her husband’s long absences. (Haydn remained in England for eighteen months on each of his two trips.) The travelers took up lodgings at No. 1 Bury Street, St. James — an attractive address, especially since it was just an easy ten-minute walk along The Mall to the home of Rebecca Schroeter, the cultured widow of the Queen’s former Music Master, John Samuel Schroeter, and Haydn’s dearest friend in London. The two had gotten along so well during Haydn’s first visit, in 1791-1792, that he wrote of her, in his most candid manner, “[She was] an English widow who fell in love with me.... She was a very handsome woman, though over sixty; and, had I been free, I should certainly have married her.” Little is known of their relationship during the 1794-1795 visit. None of their correspondence from that time exists, and Haydn’s notebook covering those months has not been preserved. “Probably,” surmised Karl Geiringer, “she again contributed much to making Haydn’s stay in the British capital a happy one.” After he returned to Vienna in 1795, Haydn dedicated to Mrs. Schroeter his Opus 82 Piano Trios. The concerts that Johann Peter Salomon arranged for Haydn’s English visit during the spring of 1794 were among the season’s most glittering social events. Anticipating a


strong demand for tickets among the nobility, gentry and wealthy society, Salomon set the price for admission to all twelve Monday evening concerts (February 10th through May 12th, with two weeks off for the Easter holiday) at a hefty five guineas; a single ticket was available for one-half a guinea, about the cost of a big meal for four with wine in those days. The concerts were given at the elegant Hanover Square Rooms, the site of many of London’s most important musical events between 1775 and 1874. The orchestra numbered over sixty players (at Esterháza Palace, Haydn seldom had more than twenty), and included the country’s best musicians, with Salomon himself serving as concertmaster. Following the contemporary custom, Haydn sat at the keyboard, playing along when he wished, and indicated the proper tempos to Salomon, who passed them to the full ensemble. For Salomon’s performances of 1794, Haydn created three new Symphonies, Nos. 99-101; his last three works in the genre (Nos. 102-104) were written for the London concerts of the following year. (The Symphony No. 99 and the minuets of Symphonies Nos. 100 and 101 were completed in Vienna before he left; the balance of the music was written in England.) The Symphony No. 101 (“The Clock”) was premiered at the fourth concert of Haydn’s 1794 series, on March 3rd. It was greeted rapturously, according to a report in the Morning Chronicle two days later: “... But as usual the most delicious part of the entertainment was a grand new Overture [i.e., symphony] by HAYDN; the inexhaustible, the wonderful, the sublime HAYDN! The first two movements were encored; and the character that pervaded the whole composition was heartfelt joy. Every new Overture he writes, we fear, till it is heard, he can only repeat himself; and we are every time mistaken.” The Oracle reported that “the connoisseurs admit [it] to be his best work.” The success of the new Symphony is hardly surprising, since Haydn was not only a peerlessly skilled instrumental composer by 1794 but also an astute judge of English musical tastes who planted a sort of musical “hook” in several of his London symphonies to catch the interest of the public. It was the metronomic accompaniment of the second movement — the mechanical tick-tock which spawned the work’s subtitle — that set English tongues wagging about this latest of his creations. (It is noteworthy, however, that Haydn countered the simplicity of this elemental musical device by enfolding it in one of his most intricate and unusual formal structures.) The Symphony deserves its sobriquet on another count, as well, since Haydn borrowed the principal melody of the Menuet from a tiny piece he had written in 1793 for a mechanical clock


(constructed by Pater Joseph Niemecz, librarian of the Esterházy family), which he presented as a gift to Prince Anton Esterházy before leaving for London. Haydn was 61, a considerable age for that era, when he began his second London sojourn, but the six symphonies that he completed during his eighteen months in the British capital testify to his undiminished mastery of the genre — the “Clock” and its companions rest upon the pinnacle of 18th-century symphonic art. The work opens with a slow introduction not in the bright nominal key of D major, but in a portentous minor mode of shadowy emotions and dramatic gestures. These ominous measures are balanced by the movement’s nimble main theme, initiated by a scalar motive which is spun into a melody of unexpected five-measure phrases. Karl Geiringer noted a further peculiarity of this music, observing that “its Presto [tempo] and its 6/8 time are what one would expect in the finale of a symphony rather than in its initial movement.” After a hold and a pause, the melody is reworked to serve as a transition to the complementary theme, a demure ditty begun, after a short silence, by the violins over a sparse accompaniment. The development section dwells at some length on this subsidiary melody, for which the principal theme in inversion (i.e., the scalar motive descends rather than rises) is used as an occasional foil. Expanding the form of the symphonic model that he had himself helped to establish during the preceding three decades, Haydn eschews simple repetition in the recapitulation and subjects his thematic material to some additional elaborations in the closing pages. A bracing coda of full sonority ends the movement. The simplicity of the Andante’s ticking background belies the sophistication and ingenuity of the movement’s formal plan. Its configuration has been likened to a hybrid of variations and rondo, a procedure with 19th-century progeny in the works of Beethoven (the slow movement of the “Choral” Symphony), Dvořák (the G major Symphony’s finale) and others, but Haydn’s particular pattern of repetitions, truncations, episodes and shifting modes make this structure unique. There follows one of the largest minuet movements in 18th-century music, an almost Beethovenian expansion of the ancient dance form that is by far the longest such movement among Haydn’s London symphonies. Its central Trio has been the subject of considerable scholarly debate ever since Salomon (in his piano trio arrangement of the Symphony) and other early publishers “corrected” the passage in which the drone bass of the accompaniment produces an astringent discord with the melody. It is absolutely clear from the composer’s manuscript and from Elssler’s fair copy that the harmonic disagreement is


intentional; the dissonance is eliminated upon the passage’s recurrence later in the Trio. Though some have accused Haydn of simply “forgetting” to indicate the “proper” chord change at this spot, the distinguished Haydn authority H.C. Robbins Landon contended that the matter is simply a “huge joke.... In the Trio of the ‘Clock,’ Haydn has given us a delightful view of a village band in the 1790s — complete with sleepy strings, delayed entrances, wrong entries and hurdy-gurdy effects.” In considering the finale of the Symphony, Robbins Landon suggested that it “has claims to being the greatest final movement Haydn ever wrote, a breathtaking sonata-rondo with everything in it from a virtuoso double fugue (all held down to pianissimo) to D minor interludes of Beethovenian power and panache.” It is such a work as the “Clock” Symphony, with its brilliant technique, endless invention and emotional range subsumed into an endlessly pleasing whole, that inspired Bernard Jacobson to provide these words of counsel: “A lack of appreciation for Haydn is a species of the inability to enjoy the good things in life.” Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”) (1968) Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) The Argentinean tango, like American ragtime and jazz, is music with a shady past. Its deepest roots extend to Africa and the fiery dances of Spain, but it seems to have evolved most directly from a slower Cuban dance, the habanera (whose name honors that nation’s capital), and a faster native Argentinean song form, the milonga, both in duple meter and both sensuously syncopated in rhythm. These influences met at the end of the 19th century in the docklands and seamier neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, where they found fertile ground for gestation as the influx of workers streaming in from Europe to seek their fortunes in the pampas and cities of South America came into contact with the exotic Latin cultures. The tango — its name may have been derived from a word of African origin meaning simply “dance,” or from the old Castilian taño (“to play an instrument”), or from a type of drum used by black slaves, or from none of these — came to embody the longing and hard lives of the lower classes of Buenos Aires, where it was chiefly fostered in bawdy houses and back-alley bars by usually untutored musicians. The texts, where they existed, dealt with such forlorn urban topics as faithless women, social injustice and broken dreams. In the years around World War I, the tango migrated out of the seedier neighborhoods of Argentina, leaped across the Atlantic to be discovered by the French, and then went on to invade the rest of Europe


and North America. International repute elevated its social status, and, spurred by the glamorous images of Rudolph Valentino and Vernon and Irene Castle, the tango became the dance craze of the 1930s. Tango bands, comprising four to six players (usually piano, accordion, guitar and strings) with or without a vocalist, flourished during the years between the Wars, and influenced not just the world’s popular music but also that of serious composers: one of Isaac Albéniz’s most famous works is his Tango in D; William Walton inserted a tango into his “Entertainment with Poems” for speaker and instruments, Façade; and Igor Stravinsky had the Devil in The Soldier’s Tale dance a tango and composed a Tango for Piano, which he also arranged for full orchestra and for winds with guitar and bass. The greatest master of the modern tango was Astor Piazzolla, born in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, a resort town south of Buenos Aires, on March 11, 1921, and raised in New York City, where he lived with his father from 1924 to 1937. Before Astor was ten years old, his musical talents had been discovered by Carlos Gardel, then the most famous of all performers and composers of tangos and a cultural hero in Argentina. At Gardel’s urging, the young Astor moved to Buenos Aires in 1937, and joined the popular tango orchestra of Anibal Troilo as arranger and bandoneón player. Piazzolla studied classical composition with Alberto Ginastera in Buenos Aires, and in 1954, he wrote a symphony for the Buenos Aires Philharmonic that earned him a scholarship to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, the renowned teacher of Copland, Thomson, Carter and many other of the best American composers. Boulanger, as was her method, grounded Piazzolla in the classical European repertory, but then encouraged him to follow his genius for the tango rather than write in the traditional concert genres. When Piazzolla returned to Buenos Aires in 1956, he founded his own performing group, and began to create a modern style for the tango that combined elements of traditional tango, Argentinean folk music and contemporary classical, jazz and popular techniques into a “Nuevo Tango” that was as suitable for the concert hall as for the dance floor. He was sharply criticized at first by government officials and advocates of the traditional tango alike for his pathbreaking creations. “Traditional tango listeners hated me,” he recalled. “I introduced fugues, counterpoint and other irreverences: people thought I was crazy. All the tango critics and radio stations of Buenos Aires called me a clown, they said my music was ‘paranoiac.’ And they made me popular. The young people who had lost interest in the tango started listening to me. It was a war of one against all, but in ten years, the war was won.” In 1974, Piazzolla settled again in Paris, winning innumerable enthusiasts for


both his Nuevo Tango and for the traditional tango with his many appearances, recordings and compositions. By the time that he returned to Buenos Aires in 1985, he was regarded as the musician who had revitalized one of the quintessential genres of Latin music, and he received awards from Down Beat and other international music magazines and from the city of Buenos Aires, as well as a Grammy nomination for his composition Oblivion. Piazzolla continued to tour widely, record frequently and compose incessantly until he suffered a stroke in Paris in August 1990. He died in Buenos Aires on July 5, 1992. Piazzolla realized his electrifying blend of the fire and passion of the traditional tango with the vast expressive resources of modern harmony, texture and sonority in some 750 widely varied works that explore the genre’s remarkable expressive range, from violent to sensual, from witty to melancholy, from intimate to theatrical. Among his most ambitious concert works is Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (“The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”), published originally for piano solo in 1968 and later arranged for his own ensemble (he often used one of the movements to open his concerts) and for strings and piano. The four movements, beginning with Spring, are not specifically pictorial, as are Vivaldi’s well-known precedents, but are instead general evocations of the changing seasons in Piazzolla’s native Argentina.

March 2017 Program Notes  

The Seasons of Vivaldi and Piazzolla March 18-19, 2017

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you