Page 1

2016-2017 Season November 19 and 20, 2016 Program Notes By Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Symphonic Impressions for Piano and Orchestra (1909-1915) Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) “I spent seven unforgettable years [1907-1914] in Paris,” recalled Falla late in his life. “Debussy, Ravel, Schmitt and Dukas were my best friends there ... especially Dukas, who motivated me to compose, and made my works known in the city. There I wrote my Nights in the Gardens of Spain. I was so far from Spain that perhaps I painted the nights more beautiful than they really are.” The lure of sun-baked Spain was particularly strong in France during the early years of the century, not just for a native son like Falla, but for other musicians, as well — Ravel wrote his Rhapsodie espagnole in 1907; Debussy’s Ibéria came one year later. Falla first conceived Nights in the Gardens of Spain as a set of solo piano pieces tentatively titled “Nocturnes,” and began sketching them in 1909. However, when he showed them to his compatriot composer, Isaac Albéniz, and to the pianist Ricardo Viñes, perhaps the most important early performer of the keyboard works of the French Impressionists, they urged him to expand his piano miniatures to full symphonic form, but he was unable to complete the work before being forced to leave Paris and return to Madrid in 1914 because of the outbreak of war. After living in near poverty for most of his years in Paris, Falla became a celebrity upon his return home with the first Spanish performance of his opera, La Vida Brève, in November 1914, and he received a commission from the conductor Fernandez Arbós (also remembered today for his colorful orchestration of Albéniz’s Ibéria) to continue with the Nights in the Gardens of Spain. The piece was completed the next year in Madrid and in the picturesque coastal village of Sitges, which was also home to the painter Santiago Rusiñol, in whose house Falla put the finishing touches on the score. This, “the first work in which Falla gave the true measure of his power as a composer,” according to his biographer J.B. Trend, was premiered by Arbós, pianist José Cubiles and the Orquesta Sinfonica of Madrid on April 9, 1916. In speaking of the nature of Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Falla noted, “If these ‘symphonic impressions’ have achieved their object, the mere enumeration of their titles should be a sufficient guide to the hearer. Although in this work — as in all which have a legitimate claim to be considered as music — the composer has followed a definite design, regarding tonal, rhythmic and thematic material... the end for which it was written is no other than to evoke places, sensations and sentiments. The themes employed are based on rhythms, modes,


cadences and ornamental figures peculiar to Andalusia, although they are seldom employed here in their original forms; and the orchestration frequently employs in a conventional manner certain effects which are peculiar to the instruments popular in those parts of Spain. The music does not pretend to be descriptive; but something more than the sounds of festivals and dances has inspired these ‘evocations in sound,’ for melancholy and mystery play their parts also.” The opening movement was inspired by the famous gardens of the Generalife, a 13thcentury Moorish villa on a hillside overlooking the Alhambra in Granada. (In 1922 Falla settled within sight of this garden.) The clipped hedges, grottoes, fountains and avenues of cypress caused the 19th-century French writer Théophile Gautier to call the Generalife “a dream garden without parallel.” Dumas pére wrote, “Nowhere were so many orange trees, so many roses, so many jasmines gathered together in so small a place.... Nowhere will you see so many springs, so many leaping waterfalls, so many rushing torrents.” The villa’s name is said to have been of Moorish origin, Jennatu-l’arif meaning “gardens of the architect.” To portray these luxurious gardens, Falla created one of his most Impressionistic movements, sumptuously scored, richly harmonized and, as Abraham Veinus wrote, filled with “a strange fusion of tranquillity and mystery.” The movement is not in traditional concerto form, but is built rather from variations and extensions of a melody of tiny, winding intervals presented at the beginning by violas playing tremolo and sul ponticello (“at the bridge”). Falla did not specify a precise site for the second movement, called simply “Distant Dance,” though it is obviously the scene of a spirited fiesta. The rhythms, sometimes heard only vaguely, sometimes brought closer by a warm breeze, are vibrant and enticing. The theme is redolent of the sinuous leadings of Oriental melody. “The second and third movements,” wrote the composer, “are joined without interruption by means of a bridge upon which, beneath a tremolo of the violins in the highest register, are sprinkled, like distant echoes, the notes which began the fundamental theme of ‘Distant Dance.’ The bridge ends with an ascending passage for the piano, in octaves, which is resolved in a tutti with which the third and last movement begins.” The finale, “In the Gardens of the Mountains of Córdoba,” according to J.B. Trend, portrays “an evening when a party is in progress, with a zambra of gypsy musicians.... The word sâmira was used by the Moors in Spain for a revelry by night, or even for a quiet nocturnal meeting at which a number of people passed the night together telling stories, like those of the Thousand and One Nights. But as no real sâmira was complete without music and dancing, the word also came to be used for a band of musicians.... As the persecution of the Moors increased during the 16th century, their sâmira were prohibited by Philip II. But he had forgotten to reckon with the gypsies, who began to arrive in Granada about the time the Moors were driven out, and preserved something of their manner of performing music.” Falla’s fiery music is built in the


form of a copla with a refrain-like estribillo, which resembles the classical rondo. A quiet ending suggests welcome sleep at sunrise after a night of revels.

Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat major, K. 365 (K. 316a) (1779 or 1780) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) In September 1777, Mozart set out on what proved to be a seventeen-month tour to Munich, Mannheim and Paris that he hoped would secure him a position in one of those great capitals of music. Despite numerous commissions, the composition of several fine works, and the forging of many new friendships, the trip proved to be both a disappointment and a sorrow: he not only failed to land a suitable job, but his mother, his chaperon on the journey, died in Paris on July 3rd. It is with understandable relief that Mozart returned to his family in Salzburg in January 1779. It was probably his sister, Maria Anna — “Nannerl” — he was most glad to see on his homecoming. His relationship with her was one of love, playfulness, candor and genuine respect for her musical abilities. Mozart likely composed his Concerto for Two Pianos (K. 365) to perform with his sister, a sort of musical celebration of the resumption of his family ties after a difficult trip abroad. The exact occasion for which the work was written is uncertain, though Wolfgang and Nannerl may have played it together at an archiepiscopal concert in Salzburg on September 3, 1780. Mozart took the piece with him when he moved to Vienna the following March. He scheduled it on a private concert on November 23, 1781, and enlisted as his partner Josephine Auernhammer, the only daughter of the socially prominent Economic Councilor Johann Michael Auernhammer and one of the piano students he had taken on after settling in Vienna “to make ends meet,” as he reported to his father in Salzburg. The rest of his letter home painted a most unflattering picture of Fräulein Auernhammer. He labeled her “ein Scheusel” — “a horror” — and continued, “If an artist wished to paint the Devil in a lifelike way, he would be obliged to resort to her face as a model. She is as fat as a peasant girl…. To see her is enough to make one blind; a single look is a whole day’s punishment…. She is the biggest bore I know.” The lady herself harbored no false vanity about her looks, though she was proud of her keyboard skills. “I am not pretty; on the contrary, I am plain,” she reportedly told Mozart. “I don’t want to marry some clerk with three or four hundred florins, and I have no choice of anyone better. So I prefer to remain as I am and make a livelihood by my talents.” She underestimated herself. In 1796, she wedded a prosperous merchant named Boesenkoenig, and was reportedly still giving annual Viennese recitals as late as 1813. Perhaps Mozart’s protests to his puritanical father about Josephine were more subterfuge than substance, after all. It seems that he was visiting the young lady’s apartment three or four times a week in 1781, which, to his father’s prudish


eye, might appear to have been a more rigorous schedule of attention than strictly tutorial duties would demand. “This Concerto is a work of happiness, gaiety, overflowing richness of invention, and joy in itself,” Alfred Einstein wrote in his classic study of the composer. The fullness of sonority created by its tandem soloists, enhanced by the dark patina of orchestral oboes, bassoons and horns (Mozart added clarinets, trumpets and drums for the Viennese performance, though the work is usually heard in its original instrumentation), has much to do with the ebullient emotional mood of the piece. The scoring was probably influenced by Mozart’s 1779 visit to Paris, where there was a vogue for the “sinfonia concertante,” a concerto for more than one soloist. In this regard, it is not coincidental that the great Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola (K. 364) is exactly contemporary with the Two Piano Concerto (K. 365). The piano soloists are treated here as equal partners, exchanging and echoing phrases to create a carefully calculated musical balance. The orchestra, except for its occasional interludes, is accompanimental, taking little part in the musical development and lacking the full integration with the soloists that came to mark Mozart’s later masterpieces in the genre. A bold, unison octave and a tiny mock fanfare for the full orchestra establish a martial mood for the Concerto’s opening measures, which, in the best Classical practice, is immediately balanced by a contrasting, tender strain for the strings. The orchestral introduction continues, presenting little thematic gems mined from Mozart’s inexhaustible supply of melodies. The soloists enter, and weave their delicious embroideries around the themes repeated from the introduction. The development section, dominated by the pianists, achieves a pleasing blend of free figuration and true thematic development. In the recapitulation, the main theme, which was so sunny and optimistic in the exposition, takes on a more somber cast through determined allusions to the minor mode, shedding a new emotional light on the movement. (Mozart had an aversion in his significant works to doing anything exactly the same way twice.) The expected, bright E-flat major tonality is achieved with the second theme and carried through the cadenza to the movement’s end. The graceful second movement is a simple song decorated with elaborate rococo ornamentation. The bewigged world of fashionable French and British society hovers above this music, filled with tantalizing melodic arabesques and orchestral felicities which do not ruffle the emotions too strongly. The rondo-finale is one of Mozart’s most elaborate essays in the form — the opening theme pops up more than a dozen times as the movement struts along its course. This is music overflowing with characteristic Mozartian touches: charm, taste, wit, beauty and the sense that it is, somehow, exactly right.


Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23 (1874-1875) Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) These days, when the music of Tchaikovsky is among the most popular in the repertory, it is difficult to imagine the composer as a young man, known only to a limited public and trying valiantly to solve that most pressing of all problems for the budding artist — making a living. In 1874, he was teaching at the Moscow Conservatory and writing music criticism for a local journal. These duties provided a modest income, but Tchaikovsky’s real interest lay in composition, and he was frustrated with the time they took from his creative work. He had already stolen enough hours to produce a sizeable body of music, but only Romeo and Juliet and the Symphony No. 2 had raised much enthusiasm. At the end of the year, he began a piano concerto with the hope of having a success great enough to allow him to leave his irksome post at the Conservatory. By late December, he had largely sketched out the work, and, having only a limited technique as a pianist, he sought the advice of Nikolai Rubinstein, Director of the Moscow Conservatory and an excellent player. Tchaikovsky reported on the interview in a letter: “On Christmas Eve 1874 ... Nikolai asked me ... to play the Concerto in a classroom of the Conservatory. We agreed to it.... I played through the first movement. Not a criticism, not a word. Rubinstein said nothing.... I did not need any judgment on the artistic form of my work; there was question only about its mechanical details. This silence of Rubinstein said much. It said to me at once: ‘Dear friend, how can I talk about details when I dislike your composition as a whole?’ But I kept my temper and played the Concerto through. Again, silence. “‘Well?’ I said, and stood up. There burst forth from Rubinstein’s mouth a mighty torrent of words. He spoke quietly at first; then he waxed hot, and at last he resembled Zeus hurling thunderbolts. It appeared that my Concerto was utterly worthless, absolutely unplayable; passages were so commonplace and awkward that they could not be improved; the piece as a whole was bad, trivial, vulgar. I had stolen this from that one and that from this one; so only two or three pages were good for anything, while the others should be wiped out or radically rewritten. I cannot produce for you the main thing: the tone in which he said all this. An impartial bystander would necessarily have believed that I was a stupid, ignorant, conceited notescratcher, who was so impudent as to show his scribble to a celebrated man.” Tchaikovsky was furious, and he stormed out of the classroom. He made only one change in the score: he obliterated the name of the original dedicatee — Nikolai Rubinstein — and substituted that of the virtuoso pianist Hans von Bülow, who was performing Tchaikovsky’s piano pieces across Europe. Bülow gladly accepted the dedication and wrote a letter of praise to Tchaikovsky as soon as he received the score: “The ideas are so original, so powerful; the details are so interesting, and though there are many of them they do not impair the clarity and


unity of the work. The form is so mature, so ripe and distinguished in style; intention and labor are everywhere concealed. I would weary you if I were to enumerate all the characteristics of your work, characteristics which compel me to congratulate equally the composer and those who are destined to enjoy it.” After the scathing criticism from Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky was delighted to receive such a response, and he was further gratified when Bülow asked to program the premiere on his upcoming American tour. The Concerto created such a sensation when it was first heard, in Boston on October 25, 1875, that Bülow played it on 139 of his 172 concerts that season. (Remarkably, Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto was also premiered in this country, by Madeleine Schiller and the New York Philharmonic Society conducted by Theodore Thomas on November 12, 1881.) Such a success must at first have puzzled Rubinstein, but eventually he and Tchaikovsky reconciled their differences over the work. Tchaikovsky incorporated some of his suggestions in the 1889 revision, and Rubinstein not only accepted the Concerto, but eventually made it one of the staples of his performing repertory. During the next four years, when Tchaikovsky wrote Swan Lake, the Rococo Variations, the Third and Fourth Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, and, in 1877, met his benefactress Nadezhda von Meck, he was not only successful enough to leave his teaching job to devote himself entirely to composition, but he also became recognized as one of the greatest composers of his day. Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto opens with the familiar theme of the introduction, a sweeping melody nobly sung by violins and cellos above thunderous chords from the piano. After a brief cadenza for the soloist, the theme — which is not heard again anywhere in the Concerto — is presented a second time in an even grander setting. Following a decrescendo and a pause, the piano presents the snapping main theme. (Tchaikovsky said that this curious first theme was inspired by a tune he heard sung by a blind beggar at a street fair.) Following a skillful discussion of the opening theme by piano and woodwinds, the clarinet announces the lyrical, bittersweet second theme. A smooth, complementary phrase is played by the violins. This complementary phrase and the snapping motive from the main theme are combined in the movement’s impassioned development section. The recapitulation returns the themes of the exposition in altered settings. (The oboe is awarded the second theme here.) An energetic cadenza and a coda derived from the second theme bring this splendid movement to a rousing close. The simplicity of the second movement’s three-part structure (A–B–A) is augured by the purity of its opening — a languid melody wrapped in the silvery tones of the solo flute, accompanied by quiet, plucked chords from the strings. The piano takes over the theme, provides it with rippling decorations, and passes it on to the cellos. The center of the movement is of very different character, with a quick tempo and a swift, balletic melody. The languid theme and moonlit mood of the first section return to round out the movement.


The crisp rhythmic motive presented immediately at the beginning of the finale and then spun into a complete theme by the soloist dominates much of the last movement. In the theme’s vigorous full-orchestra guise, it has much of the spirit of a robust Cossack dance. To balance the impetuous vigor of this music, Tchaikovsky introduced a contrasting theme, a romantic melody first entrusted to the violins. The dancing Cossacks repeatedly advance upon this bit of tenderness, which shows a hardy determination to dominate the movement. The two themes contend, but it is the flying Cossacks who have the last word to bring this Concerto to an exhilarating finish.

November 2016 Program Notes  

Favorite Piano Masterpieces November 19-20, 2016

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you