Some Enchanted Evening

Symphony No. 5, B-flat, D. 485

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

April 8, 9 & 10, 2016
Program Notes by Dr. Joella Utley

Franz Schubert was brought up in a musical family. He played viola, his two brothers played the violin and his father, the cello. This family quartet, combined with other local musicians, eventually grew into a chamber orchestra. So it was that many of the works composed by Schubert were first played in his home.

Schubert wrote six symphonies between the ages of 16 and 21.  His Symphony No.5, composed in 1816 when the composer was 19 years old, is perhaps his best known. It was called “the symphony without trumpets or drums,” although it also omits clarinets and tympani. This reduced size of the ensemble was Schubert’s way of paying homage to Mozart. Young Franz wrote, “As from afar the magic notes of Mozart’s music still gently haunt me … Oh Mozart, immortal Mozart,  … how endlessly many such comforting perceptions of a brighter and better life has thou brought into our souls!” Schubert was also inspired by the music of Beethoven and Haydn, which influenced his writings.

Schubert completed the Symphony in B-flat major on October 3, 1816. Family and friends first performed this work in the house of a friend, Otto Hatwig, but the public did not hear it for another 50 years. The first public performance was given on October 17, 1841 in Vienna.

In this three-movement symphony the slow introduction is modeled from Haydn, with woodwinds and violins. The opening theme of the Allegro was probably influenced by the opening theme of Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 18, No. 4. The slow middle movement seems related to Mozart. The third movement, Minueto, is more like a happy scherzo to which the finale brings a happy conclusion.

The Tango (from the movie, Scent of a Woman)
Carlos Gardel (1890-1935)
Arranged by John Williams (b. 1932)

The song, Por una Cabeza (“by a head”) is a tango composed in 1935 by Carlos Gardel to lyrics by Alfredo le Pera. That same year both the composer and lyricist died in an airplane crash in Medellin, Colombia. The song speaks of a horse racing term, winning by the length of a head. This music has been used in multiple films, including the familiar films, Schindler’s List and Scent of a Woman.

John Williams is one of America’s most popular orchestral composers, winner of five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys, three Golden Globes, two Emmys and five BAFTA Awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He is best known for his film scores and ceremonial music, but Williams is also a noted composer of concert works and is a renowned conductor.

Williams arranged Gardel’s “The Tango” for the 1992 movie Scent of a Woman. Later he created an arrangement of this music for concert violinist Itzhak Perlman. The New York Philharmonic premiered this concert version on April 12, 2005, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, with Itzhak Perlman as soloist. The music represents Al Pacino dancing the tango with Gabrielle Anwar in the movie, Scent of a Woman.

Estrellita (Star of Love)
Manuel Ponce (1882-1948)

Mexican composer Manuel Ponce was a music educator and scholar of Mexican music. A child prodigy, at age four Manuel was able to sit at a keyboard and re-play melodies he had just heard. Following his musical studies at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City, the School of Bologna in Italy and the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, he returned to Mexico in 1909 as professor of piano and music history at the National Conservatory.

One of Ponce’s contributions to the music of his country was to promote national pride in Mexico’s musical heritage. Drawing from his international musical education he sought to bring to the public his country’s folk songs. He wrote music, mostly for piano and guitar, and also for chamber ensembles and orchestra. He composed Estrellita in 1912 as one in a series of pieces for piano called Canciones Mexicanas. It is one of his most famous works, performed by many orchestras around the world, played by many guitarists and sung by countless singers.

As a result of his promotion of the music of Mexico, Ponce was given the title “Creator of the Modern Mexican Song.” He received the National Science and Arts Prize in 1945. This gentle, romantic and nostalgic work is recognized the world over.

Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

Child prodigy, Camille Saint-Saëns, wrote his first piano compositions at age three. He went on to have a long and productive career as a French composer, pianist, organist and one of his country’s leading music journalists.

When Saint-Saëns was twenty-four he met another child prodigy, Spanish-born Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908), who at that time was only fifteen years old and already recognized as a famous virtuoso. Sarasate had become disappointed by the trivial nature of much of the virtuoso music available and therefore asked Saint-Saëns to compose a challenging work that he could perform. This resulted in Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso in A minor written in 1863 for violin and orchestra. This brief work was tailor-made to show off Sarasate’s famed technique. It remains one of Saint-Saëns’ most popular solo works for violin.

Saint-Saëns had a fascination for Spanish music and paid tribute to Sarasate’s homeland by giving this work a distinctly Spanish flavor. The slow introduction Andante malinconia (“melancholy”) gradually becomes more animated and then, after a brief cadenza, turns into a Rondo. The Rondo form contains a theme, or a refrain that repeats throughout the movement. In between the repeated theme are “episodes” of music which alter the pace, the mood or the character of the piece. Some of these episodes provide flashy passages that allow the performer to demonstrate technical skill. Near the end there is a sudden quickening of the tempo and the violin brings a fiery coda, culminating in a short cadenza and a wild conclusion.  The major theme is heard last and brings the work to a close.

Slavonic Dances:
Op. 46, No. 8 and No. 1; Op. 72, No. 2
Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

In his early years of composing Antonin Dvorak was relatively unknown and making very little money. He applied for the Austrian State Prize Fellowship (German “Stipendium”) to fund his work as a composer. One of the judges on the awards committee was famed composer Johannes Brahms, who saw in Dvorak great potential. Brahms went to his own publisher, Fritz Simrock, and requested that he publish some of the young composer’s works. They were well received by the public, brought great acclaim to the composer and much money to Simrock.

Simrock asked Dvorak if he would write some folk-like dances, requesting that they be written as a four-hand piano version. Dvorak also wrote them for orchestra and both versions were published at the same time. Sixteen Slavonic Dances were published in two sets of eight (Opus 46 and Opus 72) in 1878 and 1886. Dvorak made use of the characteristic rhythms of Slavic folk music. However the works were all original; he did not directly quote music from existing folk melodies as Brahms had done with his own Hungarian Dances.

Not only did Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances fulfill a commission, they also made a political statement. It gave him an opportunity to celebrate the music of the Slavic cultures of Central Europe, which was then under the repressive control of the Austrian Empire.

The three dances this evening include No 8 and No. 1 from Opus 46, and No. 2 from Opus 72. Both No. 8 in G minor and No. 1 in C major are typical of a Czech dance, the furiant. The rhythms switch between two- and three-beats. A more relaxed middle section has characteristics drawn from the Polish mazurka. The second dance of Op. 72 in E minor represents an elegant and sentimental Eastern European style.