2015-2016 Subscription Series May 14 and 15, 2016 Program Notes By Dr. Richard E. Rodda Overture to Der Freischütz (“The Marksman”) (1820) Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) Soon after Apel and Laun published their collection of tales based on legend and fantasy titled Gespensterbuch (“Ghost Book”) in 1810, Weber acquired a copy and was much taken with a story called Der Freischütz, the account of a huntsman who deals with infernal forces to win a shooting contest and the hand of the woman he loves. Seven years later, in February 1817, when he was director of German opera at Dresden, Weber convinced his friend Friedrich Kind to build a libretto on Der Freischütz. Kind was so fired with the task that he completed the text in less than two weeks. Weber, busy with his conducting and administrative duties, could not begin setting the verses until July, and thereafter found only sporadic opportunities to work on the opera. In August 1819, word reached him that Count Carl von Brühl was opening a new theater in Berlin, and Weber sent him a copy of the libretto and some of the music to see if Brühl would premiere the piece. Brühl, realizing that the scenic possibilities of the new piece would allow him to show off the resources of his house, not only accepted Der Freischütz, but even proposed that it be the first opera staged there. Weber was delighted. The first performance was set, and Weber rushed to finish the remaining music. The Overture, begun on February 22, 1820 and completed on May 13th (“To God alone be the Glory,” inscribed Weber in his diary on that date), was the last part of the score to be written. The Overture was first played publicly on October 8, 1820 in Copenhagen, several months before the entire opera was premiered, in Berlin on June 18, 1821. Weber was on tour in Denmark, and he was invited by the court to give a private concert which would include some of his most recent music. As reward for this program, held four days before the public performance, Weber was presented with a gold snuff-box, an elegant gift, but one that he received with somewhat modified rapture. “It might be supposed,” wrote the composer’s son Max in his biography of his father, “that a more direct pecuniary
recompense would have pleased Weber better.” Carl Maria grumbled in a letter to his wife, Caroline, “It is a fine affair, certainly; but what am I supposed to do with this sort of thing?” The success that Weber enjoyed in Copenhagen was only a prelude to the acclaim that met Der Freischütz at its premiere. Though some critical reservations were dispensed in the days after the performance, the night itself was a triumph, the greatest that Weber ever knew. “This evening Der Freischütz was given to incredible enthusiasm,” Weber recorded in his diary. “The Overture and Bridesmaids’ Chorus were encored; out of seventeen pieces, fourteen were loudly applauded. All went excellently well. I was called for, and went on stage.... Many garlands. Soli Deo gloria.” This superb work, sadly seldom performed outside Germany, with its blending of fantasy, legend and folk customs and music, was the first great German national opera, and one of the most important documents of the early Romantic era. Weber offered the following précis of the plot of Der Freischütz: “An old hunter in the service of a Prince wants to give his loyal assistant, Max, the hand of his daughter, Agathe, and also appoint him his successor. The Prince agrees to this, but there exists an old law which requires the young man to undergo a severe shooting test. Another malicious and dissolute hunter’s assistant, Kaspar, also has his eye on the girl but has sold himself to the Devil. Max, who is otherwise an excellent shot, misses everything during the time immediately preceding the shooting test and, in his despair, is enticed by Kaspar into making so-called ‘free bullets,’ of which six invariably find their way home, but in return for which the seventh belongs to the Devil. This is meant to hit the poor girl and thereby plunge Max into despair and suicide, etc. However, heaven decrees otherwise; at the shooting test Agathe falls but so does Kaspar — the latter as the victim, the former only from fright. The whole action is concluded on a joyous note.” The Overture, which summarizes the story’s dramatic progression, opens with a premonitory unison gesture before the horns, used throughout the opera to symbolize its sylvan setting, play a lovely, hymnal melody. The introduction ends with the spooky strains (“the quintessence of Romanticism in music,” according to Donald Grout in his classic Short History of Opera) that accompany the famous scene in the haunted Wolf’s Glen during which the magic bullets are cast. Max’s despair is painted by the stormy main theme, with the contrasting second theme (given by solo clarinet after a blast on the horns) representing Agathe’s loving innocence, and the impetuous closing theme, the lovers’
eventual victory. An agitated thematic working-out fills the central portion of the Overture before the melodies are returned in the recapitulation. A triumphant coda, grown from the melody of the lovers’ victory, closes this stirring work.
Guitar Concerto, “For Two Christophers” (1999) Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004) Anyone who has seen Thoroughly Modern Millie, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Magnificent Seven or The Man with the Golden Arm already knows the music of Elmer Bernstein. Bernstein, who celebrated fifty years as a Hollywood composer three years before his death in 2004, wrote over 200 major film and television scores, as well as concert works, incidental music and the Tony-nominated Broadway musicals How Now Dow Jones and Merlin. He was born in New York City on April 4, 1922 into a cultured family that encouraged his early interest in music through piano lessons with a teacher at Juilliard, Henriette Michelson. Young Elmer showed prodigal gifts as both pianist and composer, and Ms. Michelson took him to see Aaron Copland, who encouraged him and recommended that he study composition with Israel Citkowitz. Bernstein continued his composition studies with Roger Sessions and Stefan Wolpe before entering the Army Air Corps in 1942. While in service, he arranged American folk music and scored some eighty programs for the Armed Forces Radio Service. He began his career after the war as a concert pianist, but two shows that he scored for United Nations Radio in 1949 brought him to the attention of Sidney Buchman, then a Vice President of Columbia Pictures, who engaged him to write the music for the feature films Saturday’s Hero in 1950 and Boots Malone the following year. The success of his 1952 score for Sudden Fear confirmed the direction of his career, and Bernstein quickly became one of Hollywood’s most in-demand composers. His music for Otto Preminger’s 1955 The Man with the Golden Arm, the first all-jazz score for a Hollywood feature, captured perfectly the world of the film’s tormented hero, a heroin-addicted jazz musician played by Frank Sinatra, and earned Bernstein the first of his fourteen Academy Award nominations. He went on to collaborate with some of Hollywood’s finest directors — de Mille, Minnelli, Sturges, Frankenheimer, Wyler, Scorsese, Coppola — in projects that range from westerns (The Magnificent Seven, True Grit), thrillers (The Great Escape, Cape Fear), adventures (Wild Wild West) and war movies (The Bridge at Remagen) to drama (To Kill a Mockingbird, Birdman of Alcatraz, The Age of Innocence), epics (The Ten Commandments, Hawaii), comedies (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Airplane!, National
Lampoon’s Animal House), mysteries (See No Evil), fantasies (Ghostbusters) and biographies (The Babe). His work was recognized with an Oscar (for Thoroughly Modern Millie ), two Golden Globe Awards (Hawaii  and To Kill a Mockingbird ), an Emmy (The Making of The President ), two Western Heritage Awards (The Magnificent Seven  and The Hallelujah Trail ), and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Circle, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Society for the Preservation of Film Music, USA Film Festival, Foundation for a Creative America and Flanders International Film Festival; in 1996, he was honored with a star on Hollywood Boulevard. In addition to his creative work, Bernstein also served as Vice President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, President of the Composers and Lyricists Guild of America, a founding life member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, President of the Young Musicians Foundation and President of the Film Music Society. In addition, he taught “Scoring for Motion Picture and Television” at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles and conducts for concerts and recordings. Elmer Bernstein died in 2004 at his home in Ojai, California after a lengthy battle with cancer. Though Bernstein largely devoted his creative work to the silver screen, he also composed significantly for the concert hall, with two song cycles, three suites for orchestra, compositions for viola and piano, piano pieces, and concertos for guitar and ondes martenot to his credit. Of his Guitar Concerto, the composer wrote, “The creation of the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra is a story of friends. Sometime in the 1960s, when I was President of the Young Musicians Foundation, we were privileged to encourage the career of a very young Christopher Parkening. [Bernstein introduced Parkening to the world on the old Steve Allen Television Show.] Christopher went on to become an artist of the first rank, and for some years I watched from afar, pleased with the knowledge that I was able to have been of some small help at the beginning. “In the years that followed, I met Patrick Russ, a very gifted musician who came to me interested in orchestrating and arranging music for film. As it turned out, Patrick and Christopher were great friends, and so Christopher and I met again, and Christopher proposed the idea of writing a concerto for guitar and orchestra. “My closest colleague and friend from the 1970s until his untimely death in 1995 was Christopher Palmer, who could arguably be considered one of the greatest orchestrators of
all time. He became a champion of the idea that I write this Concerto. I had misgivings about the project, as I had never played the guitar, but I started to work on the piece with Christopher Palmer urging me on. Following several unsuccessful attempts to find a way into the piece, I gave up as I was inundated at the time by other professional commitments. Nevertheless, over the years Christopher Palmer kept feeding my guilt about a promise not kept, and when Christopher Parkening urged me to try once again at the end of 1998, I decided that this time I would keep a promise made once to both Christophers. [The work was premiered in Honolulu on September 19, 1999.] “The guitar is an instrument that lives happily in the diatonic world, a world in which I am most comfortable. I have made no attempt to force the instrument into what I would consider to be unnatural harmonic territory and have instead elected to let the guitar sing comfortably and joyously where it feels most natural. The entire process of the creation was worked through with Christopher Parkening. “The Concerto is in three movements. The piece is harmonically conservative. The beginning of the first movement is based completely on the notes of the open strings of the guitar: E A D G B E. Eventually an F-sharp is introduced and we’re away. The first movement is energetic in character. The second movement is more reflective. Each of the first two movements has a broad melodic line as its centerpiece. The last movement is the shortest of the three and is basically in rondo form.”
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat major, “Romantic” (1874, revised 1878-1880) Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) Edited by Leopold Nowak “Bruckner’s entire symphonic career was an incredible mass of afterthoughts, of deletions, of additions, of simplifications, amplifications, reorchestrations, revisions and new versions: some reluctantly permitted on the pressing advice of well-meaning conductors and friends, some taken out of discouragement and fear lest his music prove too difficult to perform or to understand, and some spontaneously as the result of later and finer inspiration.” These words of Edward Downes are proven nowhere more true than in the Fourth Symphony, a work that occupied some fourteen years of Anton Bruckner’s life. Bruckner began his Fourth Symphony on January 2, 1874, only two days after he had finished the Symphony No. 3; the completed score was inscribed, “November 22nd 1874 in
Vienna, at 8:30 in the evening.” (Bruckner meticulously dated all of his manuscripts, even his sketches, usually glancing at his watch as he penned the last note.) During the following year, the Vienna Philharmonic read through the piece at a test rehearsal for new works, but deemed only the first movement fit for public performance. “The rest,” Bruckner was told, “is idiotic.” He was hurt by such stinging criticism, of course, but it did not wilt his determination to go on with the Symphony. With his hectic schedule, however, crowded with thirty hours a week of teaching, his duties as Court Organist, the completion of his Fifth Symphony and the revisions of the Symphony No. 3, he was unable to return to the Eflat Symphony until 1878, when he thoroughly revised its orchestration, tightened its structure, reworked extended passages, and fitted it with a completely new Scherzo; two years later he rewrote the Finale. In the process of these alterations, which took over two years and brought the Symphony largely to the form in which it is familiar today, Bruckner added to the score the sobriquet “Romantic” (probably in the sense of the Medieval literary romance) and some sketchy programs for three of the movements. (His tacking-on of extra-musical images may well have been influenced by Wagner, Bruckner’s adulated hero, who did the same for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.) The first movement he described as “A citadel of the Middle Ages. Daybreak. Reveille is sounded from the tower. The gates open. Knights on proud chargers leap forth. The magic of nature surrounds them.” The third movement was dubbed a “Hunting Scherzo,” whose Trio portrayed a “dance tune during the hunters’ meal.” The finale depicted a “folk festival.” Bruckner, however, seems not to have regarded his own program too seriously — later, when he was asked specifically about the story of the last movement, he said, “I’ve forgotten completely what picture I had in mind.” It is not impossible that the program, added only after the music was complete, was simply a device to make this Symphony, still unheard by the public, more easily accessible. The revised Fourth Symphony was finally accepted for performance by conductor Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic in 1881, seven years after its first version was finished. Despite some limited recognition that had come his way in the intervening years, Bruckner was still without a major success as a composer, and he followed the rehearsals of the Fourth Symphony with great hope for its triumph. During a rehearsal, Richter stopped the orchestra at one passage that was unclear in the score and asked the composer, “What note is this?” Bruckner, ever eager to please, answered, “Any note you
choose, Maestro. Quite as you like.” When the rehearsal was done, Bruckner sheepishly approached the conductor, pressed into his palm a thaler, and covered the man with blessings and thanks. “That thaler is the memento of a day when I wept,” Richter recalled. “Bruckner was an old man then. His works were hardly performed anywhere. When the Symphony was over, Bruckner came to me. He was radiant with enthusiasm and happiness. I felt him put something in my hand. ‘Take it, and drink a mug of beer to my health.’” Richter wore the coin on his watch chain for the rest of his life. The premiere of the Fourth Symphony on February 20, 1881, probably the first adequate performance of any of Bruckner’s symphonies, proved to be an immense success; the composer was called to the stage after every movement, and the Scherzo was encored. Anton Bruckner, at the age of 57, was at long last granted the Viennese recognition that had been denied him since he had arrived in that city nearly a quarter of a century before. The music of Bruckner is unique in the history of the art. He has been called the “Wagner of the Symphony,” after the mortal whom he revered above all others, but this appellation implies that his work is more derivative than can be substantiated by the musical scores or by his life. Bruckner, scion of generations of Catholic peasants, passed most of his life in a sort of ceaseless religious ecstasy and fervent humility that held him aloof from the exigencies of everyday life. Even Wagner, as mean and self-serving as any musician who ever lived, could not resist the guileless simplicity and utter sincerity of this extraordinary man. Bruckner’s early works were mostly service music, plainly intended to praise God. When he turned to orchestral music later in life — his First Symphony did not appear until he was 42 — the intent and philosophy of his sacred compositions were transferred into the newly adopted genre. Bruckner feared constantly that his work would not please his Maker, that God would catch him lazing about rather than utilizing his time and talent to their fullest capacity. His unsuccessful race against death to finish the sublime Ninth Symphony, which he dedicated simply and appropriately to God, is one of the most pitiable episodes in 19th-century music: on many days he forced himself to take pen in hand when he hardly had strength enough to lift a spoon. Still, he felt he had not completely disappointed his Deity. Bruckner often said (and probably constantly thought), “I will present to God the score of my Te Deum, and he will judge me mercifully.” The music created by such a visionary as Bruckner needs special care from the listener. His symphonies have often been called “cathedrals in sound,” and the phrase is appropriate
both for the mood that they convey and for their implication of grandeur. Such works by their very nature must be large in sonority and temporal duration if the vision is to be realized — a twenty-minute Bruckner symphony would be as ludicrous as the massive baldachino of St. Peter’s dropped onto the altar of the neighborhood parish church. It is this very striving toward the infinite, toward the transcendent, that raises Bruckner’s best works to a plane achieved by few others in the history of music. Those willing to meet Bruckner on his own terms, to partake of the special hour that he grants the listener in each of his symphonies, find an experience as fulfilling and deeply satisfying as any that the art has to offer. Wrote Lawrence Gilman, “He was and is a seer and prophet — one who knew the secret of a strangely exalted discourse, grazing the sublime, though his speech was both halting and prolix. He stammered, and he knew not when to stop. But sometimes, rapt and transfigured, he saw visions and dreamed dreams as colossal, as grandiose, as aweful in lonely splendor, as those of William Blake. We know that for Bruckner, too, some ineffable beauty flamed and sank and flamed again across the night.” The Fourth Symphony, one of Bruckner’s finest achievements of spirit and craftsmanship, could be (and has been) the subject of extensive analysis. (Robert Simpson’s consideration runs to 22 pages.) Suffice it to say for the technically minded that the first movement is in leisurely sonata form, the Andante is built from three themes which recur in sequence, the galvanic Scherzo is provided with a sharply contrasting Trio reminiscent of an Austrian Ländler, and the Finale draws together themes from all the preceding movements for a cyclical summation of the entire Symphony. The most fruitful approach for those who prefer to listen without labels, however, is to be swept along by the glorious tide of sound, at some times small and intimate and reverential, at others, mighty and heaven-storming. It is from the building of long, controlled climaxes to move from the tiny to the great that the Symphony derives much of its power, as though these rising lines of musical tension were the machines slowly, inexorably opening the cathedral vault to the visionary sky above. Deryck Cooke wrote, “The essence of Bruckner’s symphonies is that they express the most fundamental human impulses, unalloyed by civilized conditioning, with extraordinary purity and grandeur of expression; and that they are on a monumental scale which, despite many internal subtleties and complexities, has a shattering simplicity of outline.” Perhaps Bruckner was right — perhaps his talent did, indeed, come directly from God.