2015-16 Subscription Series November 14-15, 2015 Program Notes By Dr. Richard E. Rodda SUITE FROM AS YOU LIKE IT (1936) Sir William Walton (1902-1983) Walton first demonstrated his gifts as a movie composer in 1934 with the score for Escape Me Never, directed by Paul Czinner. Two years later Czinner recruited Walton for his screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, featuring Laurence Olivier as Orlando (in his first starring film role) and Elizabeth Bergner (who had been nominated for an Oscar for Escape Me Never) as Rosalind. (Olivier thought so highly of Walton’s contribution to the film that he had him write the music for his classic screen versions of Henry V , Hamlet  and Richard III .) As You Like It was rarely seen thereafter and its music remained virtually unknown until the enterprising New York-born, London-based conductor and composer Carl Davis, a specialist in film music, recorded seven movements from the score for EMI in 1987. Two years later British composer, orchestrator and writer Christopher Palmer arranged the music from Davis’ recording into a five-movement concert suite. In notes for the 1990 Chandos recording of his version of As You Like It by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner, Palmer wrote of the suite’s sections: “I. Prelude. This movement, heard during the opening credits, introduces a melody later set to ‘Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred’ in the form of a short choral dance. “II. Moonlight. Night in the Forest of Arden; rustling leaves and murmuring streams. His newfound love for Rosalind leads Orlando to rush from tree to tree, carving her name in ecstasy: From the east to western Ind[ies], No jewel is like Rosalind, Her worth, being mounted on the wind, Through all the world bears Rosalind. “III. Under the Greenwood Tree. A tribute to Jacobean lutenist composers such as Morley and Dowland.
“IV. The Fountain. Dreamy reminiscences of Moonlight — clarinets, harps, flutes — introduce a tempo di menuetto whose tune becomes a study in changing colors and crescendo. Its goal is the Wedding Procession. “V. Wedding Procession. Orlando and Rosalind, Oliver and Celia are married in a double wedding, and rustics and locals congregate to join in the festivities: Then is there mirth in heaven When earthly things made even Atone together.
SUITE FROM ROMEO AND JULIET (1935) Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) When Prokofiev returned to Russia in 1933 after his long sojourn in the West, he had already acquired a reputation as a composer of ballet. His first balletic effort had been the volcanic Ala and Lolly written for Diaghilev in Paris in 1914, whose music is better known in its concert form as the Scythian Suite. Though Diaghilev did not like the piece and refused to stage it, he remained convinced of Prokofiev’s talent and commissioned Chout (“The Buffoon”) from him in 1921 and produced it with his Ballet Russe. Le Pas d’acier (“The Steel Step”) followed in 1927, and The Prodigal Son in 1928, the last new ballet Diaghilev produced before his death the following year. Sur le Borysthène (“On the Dnieper”) was staged, unsuccessfully, by the Paris Opéra in 1932. The last two of these works showed a move away from the spiky musical language of Prokofiev’s earlier years toward a simpler, more lyrical style, and the Kirov Theater in Leningrad took them as evidence in 1934 that he should be commissioned to compose a full-length, three-act ballet on one of the theater’s classic stories of romance — Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev was immediately taken with the Leningrad Kirov’s proposal for a Romeo and Juliet ballet, and spent much time during the spring of 1935 with the company’s stage director, Sergei Radlov, working out a detailed scenario. Enough of the music was composed during the summer at Prokofiev’s secluded house in Polenovo, near Tarusa, that he could write to a friend in late July, “Juliet is already tripping through the third act.” For reasons never made clear (had the outspoken Prokofiev tread on some sensitive political toe?), the Kirov withdrew its offer to produce the ballet, and a contract with the Moscow Bolshoi was arranged instead. A tryout of the music was
given in the Beethoven Hall of the Bolshoi Theater in October, but failed to ignite enthusiasm for its balletic potential. “Undanceable,” declared some. V.V. Konin, in a dispatch to the Musical Courier, criticized “the awkward incongruity between the realistic idiom of the musical language, which successfully characterizes the individualism of the Shakespearean images, and the blind submission to the worst traditions of the old form.” This last comment referred to the “happy ending” of the original scenario, in which Romeo and Juliet survive to join in the finale. (“Dead people don’t dance,” reasoned Prokofiev.) Whatever its motive, the Bolshoi broke its contract to stage the ballet, so Prokofiev turned to the expedient of extracting music from the complete score for concert performance. Two orchestral suites were assembled and heard in Russia and the United States before the complete ballet was premiered, in Brno, Czechoslovakia in December 1938, a production in which the composer took no part. A third orchestral suite dates from 1944. At about the time of the Brno performance, Prokofiev met the choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky. Lavrovsky, building on the reputation the Romeo and Juliet music had acquired in its concert performances, finally convinced the Leningrad Kirov to stage the work. The production was carefully prepared, with choreography by Lavrovsky, designs by Piotr Williams, and with Galina Ulanova and Konstantin Sergeyev in the title roles. A satisfactory way was found to restore the tragic close of the original play. Prokofiev composed some new music for this and other scenes, and reorchestrated several episodes so that they were more clearly audible to the dancers. At a celebratory supper party following the successful opening of Romeo and Juliet, delayed for a half-decade in its Russian premiere, Ulanova ended her toast with a bit of fractured Shakespeare: “Never was a story of more woe/Than this of Prokofiev’s music for Romeo.” Romeo and Juliet triumphed in its lavish production in 1946 at the Moscow Bolshoi, and has since become one of the most popular of all full-length ballets. Though Romeo and Juliet is now regarded by many as Prokofiev’s greatest work, there was some critical carping when the music was new about its “lack of sufficient feeling and melody” to portray the romantic story. The composer answered, “My own conviction is that there is plenty of all that in it. I have never shunned the expression of feeling and have always been intent on creating melody — but new melody, which perhaps certain listeners do not recognize as such simply because it does not resemble closely enough the kind of melody to which they are accustomed. In Romeo and Juliet I have taken special pains to achieve a simplicity which will, I hope, reach the hearts of all listeners. If people find no melody and no emotion in this work, I shall
be very sorry. But I feel sure that sooner or later they will.” Sooner, rather than later, they did. One New York critic commented, “Prokofiev has written music for the masses and at the same time has attained extraordinary nobility.” To which the composer’s biographer Israel V. Nestyev added, “Never before had Prokofiev achieved such a truthful portrayal of life in all its diversity, such a profound communication of humanist ideas. Here we find no trace of surface inventiveness, grotesquerie, or expressionistic hyperbole.... The music recreates with extraordinary power and compassion the transports, passions, and dramatic conflicts of Shakespeare’s immortal characters.” Montagues and Capulets incorporates, as slow introduction, the music accompanying the Duke as he forbids further fights between the families on pain of death, the heavy-footed Dance of the Capulet Knights from the Act I ballroom scene, and a graceful transformation of the Knights’ theme to portray Juliet. Scene and Morning Dance depict the awakening of city’s streets. Juliet, the Young Girl characterizes the several moods of the heroine, not yet fourteen years old. The swaggering/cautious Masks depicts the arrival in masks and costumes of Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio at the ball in the house of their enemy. The rapturous balcony scene is titled simply Romeo and Juliet. The Death of Tybalt is based on the music accompanying the duel of Tybalt and Mercutio, Tybalt’s death and his funeral procession.
SELECTIONS FROM THE INCIDENTAL MUSIC TO A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Opp. 21 and 61 (1826, 1842) Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Berlin in the 1820s was a populous, densely packed city with few open spaces, “a city without lungs,” wrote the art historian Karl Scheffler. Abraham Mendelssohn, father of Felix and a wealthy banker, was one of those who could afford to live beyond the city gates, where the open country made life more pleasant. The Mendelssohn home was a mansion, a small palace really, set on ten verdant acres. The residence boasted a hall for theatrical productions, while the garden house was arranged so that its large interior could be used for concerts with an audience of several hundred. There were, in fact, regular Sunday afternoon musicales in the Mendelssohn household, with Felix and his older sister, Fanny, being regular participants. (It was for these events that Mendelssohn composed and — a luxury rare among composers — heard his early music performed immediately, including the dozen lovely Symphonies for Strings.) Also on the grounds was a
beautiful garden, a magical place for young Felix, where the warm days of summer were spent reading and dreaming. In later years, he told his friend the English composer William Sterndale Bennett about an evening in July 1826, “It was in that garden one night that I encountered Shakespeare.” Felix and Fanny were enamored in those years of reading the works of Shakespeare, who, next to the arch-Romantic Jean-Paul, was their favorite writer. Shakespeare’s plays had been appearing in excellent German translations by Ludwig Tieck and August Schlegel (father Abraham’s brotherin-law) since the turn of the century, and the young Mendelssohns particularly enjoyed the wondrous fantasy world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The play inspired the already accomplished budding composer, and plans began to stir in his imagination. Early in July, he wrote in a letter, “I have grown accustomed to composing in our garden. Today or tomorrow I am going to dream there [the music to accompany] A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. This is, however, an enormous audacity....” Within a few days, however, he had embarked on his “audacity,” and was writing an Overture to the play. By August 6th, the work was done. On November 19th, Felix and Fanny played the original piano duet version of the score on one of their Sunday musicales, and a private orchestral performance followed before the end of the year. In February, the work was first played publicly in Stettin. It immediately garnered a success that has never waned. By 1842, Mendelssohn was the most famous musician in Europe and in demand everywhere. He was director of the superb Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, a regular visitor to England, and Kapellmeister to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia in Berlin. For Mendelssohn’s Berlin duties, Friedrich required incidental music for several new productions at the Royal Theater, including Sophocles’ Oedipus and Antigone, Racine’s Athalie and Shakespeare’s The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This last would, of course, include the celebrated Overture which Mendelssohn had written when he was seventeen, exactly half his age in 1842. He composed the twelve additional numbers of the incidental music the following spring, creating a perfect match for the inspiration and style of the Overture. The premiere of the new production in November was an enormous triumph. Franz Liszt wrote of the Midsummer Night’s Dream music, “Mendelssohn had a real capacity for depicting these enchanted elves, for interpolating in their caressing, chirping song the bray of the donkey without rubbing us the wrong way.... No musician was so equipped to translate into music the delicate yet, in certain externals, embarrassing sentimentality of the lovers; ... no one could
paint as he did the rainbow dust, the mother-of-pearl shimmering of these sprites, could capture the brilliant ascent of a royal wedding feast.” The Overture is the greatest piece of orchestral music ever composed by one so young, including Mozart and Schubert. Woven into its sonata form are thematic representations of the woodland sprites, the shimmering light through forest leaves, the sweet sighs of the lovers, even the “ee-ah” braying of that memorable Rustic, Bottom, when he is turned into an ass. In matters of formal construction, orchestral color and artistic polish, this Overture is, quite simply, a masterpiece. The Entr’acte/Intermezzo to Act III is a swift and agitated piece that depicts the desperation of Shakespeare’s pairs of lovers caused by a magic spell that has made one of the men fall in love with the wrong woman; the movement concludes with a bumptious country dance to accompany the entry of the Rustics whose style recalls moments from Der Freischütz by Mendelssohn’s friend, Carl Maria von Weber. The Nocturne evokes the magic slumber of the lovers in the moonlit forest in Act III, Scene 2 through the burnished sonorities of horns and bassoons. The Scherzo, the Entr’acte to Act II, is the music that, in the words of Sir George Grove, “brought the fairies into the orchestra and fixed them there.” Its winsome grace and incandescent sonorities defined in large part the idea of delicacy in music, and there has never been another major composer (only Saint-Saëns and Berlioz come close) who was so well able to conjure exactly this mood in his works. The majestic Wedding March, the Entr’acte to Act V, accompanies the festive triple wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta, Demetrius and Helena, and Lysander and Hermia.