L’Italiana in Algeri, Overture
Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
February 26, 27 & 28, 2016
Program Notes by Dr. Joella Utley
Gioacchino Rossini’s rise to stardom was rapid. Despite little formal training, he was writing songs and opera arias by age twelve. At age 21 he became an instant success with the comic opera, L’Italiana in Algeri, (The Italian Girl in Algiers). He wrote this two-act work in twenty-seven days, although he told a reporter he had finished it in a mere eighteen days. He proved to be a master of comic opera in which he included elements of burlesque, memorable melodies, touches of sentiment and always a spark of gaiety.
The overture of L’Italiana shows Rossini’s ability with lyric themes and his frequent use of increasing loudness. For this he was dubbed “Signor Crescendo.” He loved the piccolo for its piercing tone, which could be heard above the entire orchestra. Today modern orchestras often substitute the flute for the penetrating sound of the piccolo. In the Allegro section of the Overture, there are two lively tunes played by the winds. The opening comes to a dramatic conclusion with a final crescendo. This high-spirited music speaks of the fun that will come once the curtain rises.
By age thirty-seven Rossini had completed thirty-eighty operas and was the most celebrated and widely performed opera composer of his day. However at this point he suddenly retired. He lived for another thirty-nine years but produced no further operas. Rossini spent the second half of his life as a wealthy man in Paris society. His health failed and he died on November 13, 1868. He was buried in Paris, but later his body was moved to Florence at the request of the Italian government.
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
French composer Francis Poulenc loved music as a child, and as early as age 14 he knew he wanted to be a composer. However, his father would not allow him to enroll at a music college, expecting his son to follow a business career instead. Thus Poulenc had a somewhat unorthodox musical education. He was taught piano by his mother and later had formal piano lessons with Ricardo Vines. He became friends with the eccentric French composer, Eric Satie, and through him became a member of the Paris-based group called Les Six. These six composers headed a neo-classical movement, rejecting the heavily emotional, romantic style of that period. Their writings were clear, light-hearted and entertaining.
In 1947 Poulenc received a commission from the BBC to compose a work for orchestra, which resulted in Sinfonietta. This four-movement piece, full of charm and wit, premiered in London on October 24, 1948, to celebrate the opening the Third Programme (now Radio 3).
The opening Allegro con fuoco brings a succession of lyrical themes, somewhat sentimental, while the Molto vivace is a light-hearted scherzo. The slow Andante cantabile carries a more serious, lyrical theme, followed by the Tres vite et tres gai (“very fast and very gay”), bringing the work to a vivacious conclusion.
Flute Concerto, Op. 37
Jacques Ibert (1890-1062)
French composer Jacques Ibert was a multi-talented man who set his own style. His wide range of compositional genres includes music for ballets, opera, film scores, symphonies, chamber ensembles and solo works. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, winning the Prix de Rome on his first attempt (something Maurice Ravel did not accomplish despite five tries). Ibert actually started his career studying dramatic art before turning to music, an element that influenced his eclectic style.
As well as his creative musical works, Ibert was director of the French Academy in Rome and, after World War II, was in charge of the Paris Opera and Opera-Comique.
In 1932 Ibert was asked to write a flute concerto by the legendary flutist, Marcel Moyse, then a professor at the Paris Conservatory. Marcel Moyse gave the premiere performance in 1934 to widespread acclaim.
This artistic piece has remained one of the most popular works in the flute literature. It is recognized as a masterpiece of the genre, exploring the full technical range of the instrument. In fact the piece was so popular and technically challenging that the Paris Conservatoire began using the final movement as a test piece for student auditions.
The opening movement, Allegro, is high-spirited and fast, with brilliant jumps and runs. The slow middle movement, Andante, is gentle and romantic while the finale, Allegro scherzando, is cheeky and even jazzy, alternating between four beats and three beats per measure, ending in an explosive manner.
Suite Symphonique “Paris”
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)
Based on his interest in the theater, Jacques Ibert wrote music for a play in which he describes six venues in the city of Paris. This work, written in 1928, was first performed in 1930.
In the opening movement, Le metro (“The Metro”), we hear bells announcing the arrival of the train, while a trumpet represents the anticipation of the anxious crowd seeking to get on board. The rumble of the train fills the background.
Faubourgs (“The Suburbs”) depicts the city getting busy for the day. An organ grinder (violin) plays a nostalgic tune and the brass and percussion lend to the bustle.
We now go to La Mosquee de Paris (“the Mosque of Paris”) where a serpentine wind melody and drum beat suggest North African influences.
The sounds of jazz and rhythms of a post-World War I dance hall in Restaurant au Bois de Boulogne (“The Restaurant at the bois de Boulogne”) are heard.
In the fifth movement, Ile Paquebot “Ile-de France” (“The Ocean Liner Ile de France”), we can envision a young couple looking through the window of the Transatlantic Shipping Company at a scale model of the ocean liner and dreaming of a fabulous voyage. Sounds of the ship’s motor and horn fill the air.
In closing we visit the Parade foraine (“Fairground Parade”) where we hear a parade, with bandleader’s whistle and a trumpet accompanying the marchers.