Program Notes By Eric Bromberger
Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Opus 43
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Born December 16, 1770, Bonn
Died March 26, 1827, Vienna
Beethoven had many reasons to accept, in 1800, a commission for a ballet score based on the Prometheus myth: he had long wanted to write a work for the stage, the ballet would be created by the distinguished ballet-master Salvatore Vigano, and frequent performances would mean increased income for the composer. Doubtless the Prometheus story itself, with its tale of a hero bringing enlightenment to mankind, appealed to the young composer. He began work on the score during the second half of 1800, shortly after the première of the First Symphony and at the same time he was writing the “Spring” Sonata.
Prometheus had its first performance at the Burgtheater on March 28, 1801, and–despite some critical carping about the suitability of Beethoven’s music for dancing–the ballet had a reasonable success: it was performed over twenty times during the next two seasons. Beethoven published the overture in 1804, and it quickly became one of his most frequently performed works, but the score to the rest of the ballet, which consists of sixteen separate numbers, was not published until long after his death.
The Prometheus Overture is extremely concise (it lasts barely five minutes) and powerful–it is easy to understand why this music was performed so frequently. Massive chords open the slow introduction, which leads without pause into the Allegro molto con brio. As that marking suggests, this goes at a blistering pace, introduced quietly by a moto perpetuo theme in the first violins. Woodwinds in pairs announce the bubbling second subject, by turns staccato and syncopated. Part of the reason for the conciseness of this overture is the fact that it has no development section: Beethoven simply introduces his ideas, recapitulates them, and the Prometheus Overture hurtles to its close.
Candido Scarecrow (2014)
A note from the composer: Candido Portinari (1903-1962) is an iconic figure in Brazilian painting. Among his major contributions are the two large panels named Guerra e Paz (War and Peace), which were produced between 1952 and 56 and donated by the Brazilian government to the United Nations (ONU). (The restored War and Peace panels were recently exhibited at the Grand Palais in Paris, France.)
Portinari was born in the small town of Brodosqui in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. He lived his childhood in a similar environment to the one I grew up in as my family is also from a small town in the state of São Paulo. During his career Portinari developed a fascination with the image of a scarecrow. Starting at the end of the 1930s and for over 23 years his scarecrow paintings created a thematic series. Scarecrows simulating the human body are built with the purpose of frightening birds that may eat a crop on a farm, but its figure also scares children. Scarecrows seem to have appeared often in the young Portinari’s dreams. Due to this lasting impression, he included scarecrows in over one hundred of his paintings.
When I was a child, it was common to see scarecrows scattered around the cornfields near our home and their strange figures also fascinated me. When I was invited to write a piece for SummerFest, I decided to write a programmatic piece based on Portinari’s Scarecrows. The piece, which I named Candido Scarecrow, is a fictional situation I imagined after reading a statement by the painter in which he reveals that he felt that he was a scarecrow.
To write this piece I created two themes; the first one represents Candido Portinari as a young boy and the second theme is the figure of the Scarecrow. In the early part of the piece, Candido fears the Scarecrow and wants to stay away from it taking refuge in jest and playful games. These games are represented by different styles of music that were very common in the time of Portinari’s childhood. In the course of the piece Candido loses his fear and tries to approach the Scarecrow. Perceiving that in reality there is nothing to fear, Candido’s theme starts to merge with the one of the Scarecrow. Candido ends by happily jumping out transformed into a Scarecrow.
- Sérgio Assad
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Major, K.211
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died December 5, 1791, Vienna
Everyone agrees that Mozart’s piano concertos represent one of the summits of his achievement. Composed across the entire span of his creative life, those 27 concertos redefined the form, making the soloist and orchestra protagonists in a virtually symphonic argument, and along the way they offer some of Mozart’s most expressive and dramatic music. If Mozart was one of Europe’s greatest pianists, he was also one of its finest violinists, and that makes the fact that he wrote only five violin concertos all the more mysterious. Mozart was very young when he composed his violin concertos: he wrote all five while still in his teens (they were composed between his Fifth and Sixth Piano Concertos) and then never returned to the form. His great Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola of 1779 suggests how extraordinary a mature violin concerto from him might have been, but Mozart clearly had no interest in writing another violin concerto. Some have suggested that he so identified the violin with his father that once he rejected his father’s controlling influence and moved to Vienna, he also rejected his father’s instrument.
Mozart wrote his First Violin Concerto in 1773, then composed the remaining four across 1775, when he was 19. The Mozart family was in the employment of Archbishop Colloredo in Salzburg, and so the young composer’s primary duty in these years was to write church music, but he also wrote extensively for friends in Salzburg, composing serenades, symphonies, and other instrumental music. No one knows the occasion for which Mozart wrote his violin concertos. He had been named Konzertmeister at the Salzburg court in 1772, so he may have written them for himself, he may have written them for friends in Salzburg, and he may have written them for the Italian violinist Antonio Brunetti, who would replace him as Konzertmeister in 1776.
Mozart completed his Violin Concerto No. 2 on June 14, 1775. By coincidence, on that exact same day in Philadelphia the Second Continental Congress named George Washington commander of the Continental Army–the world was about to change, though there could be little inkling of that in Salzburg in 1775. Mozart’s final three violin concertos have become part of the repertory and are heard fairly regularly, but the first two remain less familiar. Some have felt that Mozart used the Italian baroque violin concerto as the model for his Second Violin Concerto: the solo and orchestral parts are not so tightly integrated as in the later concertos, the solo part is unusually florid and decorative, and there are six separate opportunities for cadenzas in this concerto–one in the first movement, two in the second, and three in the third.
This agreeable music may be described briefly. The Allegro moderato opens with a brief but vigorous orchestral introduction, full of syncopations and dotted rhythms. The soloist enters with the orchestra’s opening gesture, but quickly the solo violin introduces themes and passagework all its own, and that division will characterize the entire movement. Mozart offers his soloist a cadenza just before the orchestra’s spirited conclusion. The lyric Andante finds soloist and orchestra trading material smoothly; not only are there two cadenzas in this movement, but at other moments Mozart inserts fermatas into the flow of the music, effectively bringing it to brief pauses. The finale is a rondo whose subdued opening quickly gives way to some very energetic writing for the soloist. The three opportunities for cadenzas in this movement mean that the soloist can shape this movement as much as he or she wants–Mozart would have assumed a certain compositional skill from his soloist. The concerto concludes with a quick reprise of the rondo theme.
Five Novelettes, Opus 15 (arr. for orchestra by Leonard Slatkin)
Born August 10, 1865, St. Petersburg
Died March 21, 1936, Paris
In his youth Alexander Glazunov was a famous composer, but today we remember him more readily as a transitional figure. As a boy he knew Tchaikovsky and Borodin, he studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, and he met Liszt on one of his trips to western Europe. But Glazunov lived long enough that he could experience life in Soviet Russia: he served for nearly thirty years as director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and near the end of his tenure he championed an impoverished young student named Shostakovich–Glazunov helped pay some of the young man’s tuition costs out of his own pocket.
The long span of his career meant that Glazunov saw many changes, both musical and political, and he was not comfortable with those changes. Finally alienated by life under the Soviets, he moved to Paris in 1928, but by then the world of music has passed him by, and he spent the last seven years of his life in that great city, almost forgotten. Glazunov’s reputation today rests on his excellent Violin Concerto (1904) and his Chant du ménestrel, for cello and orchestra (1900). While one occasionally hears performances of his ballets Raymonda and The Seasons, Glazunov’s eight symphonies (a ninth was left unfinished) have virtually vanished from the concert hall.
All this makes it a pleasure to discover his Five Novelettes, originally composed for string quartet (they are heard at this concert in an arrangement for orchestra by Leonard Slatkin). Glazunov did not play a stringed instrument, but he wrote for string quartet throughout his life: his First Quartet dates from 1881, when he was sixteen, while his seventh–and last–quartet was composed in Paris in 1930, six years before his death. Glazunov wrote The Five Novelettes in 1886, the year he turned 21. A novelette is a term without precise musical meaning. Schumann was the first to use that title, for a set of short piano pieces in 1838. Does it suggest a novelty? A short novel? No one knows, but the term has generally come to mean a set of short pieces of varying character; Lutoslawski and others have written pieces they called Novelettes.
Glazunov gives a particular character to his Novelettes by assigning each of them a national character, much like the national dances in Tchaikovsky’s ballets. Yet Glazunov’s Novelettes are substantial pieces–these five pieces, many of them in ternary form, span nearly half an hour. The opening Alla spagnola takes its character–as that title suggests–from Spain. The opening section dances along energetic dotted rhythms, while the trio has a melancholy air; the opening material returns, and a brisk coda drives to the firm close. The second movement is called Orientale. To contemporary ears, it does not have a distinctly “oriental” flavor, and we need to remember that that title referred to anything exotic. Again, energetic outer sections surround a slower central episode before Orientale races to the pizzicato chord that brings it to a close. The Interludum in modo antiquo is not so much a national piece as an exploration of an ancient mode, and Glazunov treats it fugally and later mutes the instruments before the quiet close. Cello and viola establish the fundamental rhythm of Valse, and soon the violins are trading the melodic line. The central section of this movement, marked Scherzando, rushes ahead before Glazunov reins in that energy and dances it to the concluding pizzicato chord. The last movement, marked All’ ungharese is in the “Hungarian” or gypsy manner, and the middle section, marked Capriccioso, has a sort of gypsy energy. A Vivo coda leads us to expect a wild ending, but now Glazunov springs a surprise, and after all this color and excitement the music fades into silence.
Variaciones Concertantes, Opus 23
Born April 11, 1916, Buenos Aires
Died June 25, 1983, Geneva
A set of variations on a theme is one of the oldest of musical structures, and it has taken many forms across the last several centuries. As the twentieth century approached, composers became even more imaginative in their approach to variation form. Richard Strauss combined two different forms–the theme-and-variations and the cello concerto–to create his tone poem Don Quixote. In the Enigma Variations, Sir Edward Elgar fashioned each of the fourteen variations as a brief portrait of one of the people in his circle. In 1940 Paul Hindemith composed a set of variations for piano and orchestra that he called The Four Temperaments: each of the its four movements depicts one of the human temperaments.
By mid-twentieth century, two very different composers who lived and worked at virtually the opposite ends of the planet took a different approach: each wrote a set of variations that made the orchestra–and its individual members–the star of the show. In England in 1945 Benjamin Britten wrote his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, a set of variations designed to teach children about the different instruments of the orchestra. In Buenos Aires in 1953 Alberto Ginastera wrote his Variaciones Concertantes, in which each variation or interlude spotlights a different instrument (or combination of instruments) from the orchestra.
The approach may be the same, but there are differences. Britten scores the Young Person’s Guide for a full symphony orchestra, he treats the instruments as sections rather than individuals, and he bases his variations on a theme by one of his favorite English composers, Henry Purcell–the Young Person’s Guide has a grand and sturdy English flavor. Ginastera, on the other hand, writes for a chamber orchestra, he treats the instruments as soloists, and his set of variations has a distinctly Argentinian flavor. When Ginastera wrote this music early in 1953, he was director of the conservatory of the province of Buenos Aires. One of his goals there was to encourage Argentinian composers and Argentinian music, and certain “native” elements appeared in his own music from this period. At the time of the première of the Variaciones Concertantes, Ginastera noted that “These Variations have a subjective Argentine character. Instead of using folkloristic material, the composer achieves an Argentine atmosphere through the employment of his own thematic and rhythmic elements.” The most striking of these is Ginastera’s imitation of the sound of the open strings of a guitar. That sequence of notes (E-A-D-G-B-E) opens the Variaciones Concertantes, and it will return later in the work.
A brief outline of the Variaciones Concertantes:
Tema per Violoncello ed Arpa Only two instruments play in the presentation of the theme, which was Ginastera’s own: the harp sounds the “guitar” figure to open, and the cello sings the long theme, which the composer specifies should range from dolce to esultato.
Interludio per Corde Muted strings sing this brief interlude, with the theme already varied in the violins.
Variazione giocosa per Flauto This “happy” variation, full of bright rips of sound, makes virtuoso demands on the flutist, whose part has a cadenza-like brilliance.
Variazione in modo di Scherzo per Clarinetto This variation has the clarinet dancing wildly along the 6/8 meter, its smooth sound set off by the pounding accompaniment as this variation rushes to its sudden, surprising close.
Variazione drammatica per Viola This slow variation (marked Largo) features a cadenza full of doublestopping for the solo viola.
Variazione canonica per Oboe e Fagotto Oboe and bassoon play in canon at the interval of one measure throughout this variation; the oboe leads in the first half, the bassoon in the second.
Variazione ritmica per Tromba e Trombone The “rhythmic” character of this variation comes from its forceful syncopations, punched out by trumpet and trombone in the first measures and repeated throughout. Without pause this movement rushes directly into
Variazione in modo de Moto perpetuo per Violino This movement puts the spotlight on the solo violin, which has racing triplets throughout. Along the way come such hurdles as quick string-crossings, multiple-stopping, and left-handed pizzicatos.
Variazione pastorale per Corno This variation emphasizes the “pastoral” side of the horn rather than its heroic, forceful side. The solo line, marked dolce, sings above minimal string accompaniment.
Interludio per Fiati This second interlude, a subdued chorale based on the principal theme, is for winds only.
Reprisa dal Tema per Contrabasso Ginastera recalls his theme (now slightly varied) from the very beginning, here played by solo doublebass with harp accompaniment.
Varizione finale in modo de Rondo per Orchestra For the concluding variation, Ginastera employs the entire orchestra. This finale is full of rhythmic energy, and there are some nice surprises here: the steady 6/8 pulse of the opening suddenly gives way to 7/8 in the course of the movement, and listeners may detect more than a whiff of Stravinsky along the way. Some of the instruments used sparingly so far–piccolo and timpani–now come to prominence, and the Variaciones Concertantes drive to a blazing conclusion.
Igor Markevitch led the première performance of the Variaciones Concertantes in Buenos Aires on June 2, 1953. Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra gave the American première six months later, on December 21, 1953, and made the first recording of the piece the following year.