program Notes

Please take a moment to read through these notes to familiarize yourself with the works.

— please no photos or videos during the concert —

Please hold your applause until the end of the final movement of each work.
This allows us to hold the mood and tell a compelling story with the music.

Cello Concerto in E minor

Morag Northey, Cellist

Composed by Edward Elgar

BORN: June 2, 1857, at Broadheath, Worcestershire, England

DIED: February 23, 1934, in Worcester 

WORK COMPOSED: March 23, 1918–August 3, 1919; dedicated to the composer’s friends Sydney and Frances Colvin 

WORLD PREMIERE: October 26, 1919, at Queen’s Hall, London, with the composer conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, Felix Salmond, soloist 


Notes

This work is in 4 movements, totalling 32 minutes in duration.

  1. Adagio – Moderato (approx. 8:00)
    moves seamlessly to 2nd movement

  2. Lento – Allegro molto (approx. 4:30)

  3. Adagio (approx. 4:50)

  4. Allegro – Moderato – Allegro, ma non-troppo – Poco più lento – Adagio (approx. 11:30)

Don’t forget the powerful opening chords in the cello. They will appear near the very end of the work, tying the piece together.  Being mindful of the historic D-Day events at Juno Beach 75 years ago, remember these opening chords as the name of a young soldier who might never return home.

Following this bold opening statement, Elgar writes a lyrical cello melody and improvisatory section, followed by a melancholic lilting melody in the lower strings of the orchestra. Of this section, Elgar remarked to his friend, “if, when walking the moors, you hear this melody in the wind, think of me”.  

Drawing from Elgar’s “Sea Symphony”, this lilting melody evokes the feeling of a gently rocking ship, taking our young men and women overseas where many of them would remain forever. 

The first movement moves seamlessly into the second movement, which features quick repeated notes in the cello; these rapid-fire notes interspersed with reflective moments certainly remind one of exuberance of youth and the veiled sounds of battle, foreshadowing the events to come.

The third movement is one of most beautiful pieces of music ever written – a brief respite during battle. I imagine our young soldier taking a few moments to look at a treasured, faded photo of his mother, and, for a moment, forgetting the absolute horrors of his reality, and the certain risk of death that lay ahead.

The Orchestra opens the final movement with a quick march-like feel, punctuated by a plaintive cello melody. A recurring motive emerges, plodding in the lower winds and strings, rising in pitch and intensity at it progresses. Here we imagine our hero waiting in anticipation, then rushing the beach. As the intensity builds, and the horrors of the battle appear all around our hero, we are given ample time to consider the many ways this story could end. 

As the action dies down, a most sublime celestial melody occurs, paying homage to the finale of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony (aptly titled “The Resurrection Symphony”). With leaps of a 9th in the cello and the orchestra, we feel anguish and release in the upward trajectory – each time the motif recurs, the music slows, giving up its breath, until finally, Elgar writes molto tranquillo (very tranquil) and asks the orchestra to extremely quietly (ppp). Here, time stands still, and one can imagine angels with tear-stained faces tenderly welcoming the hundreds of thousands to the eternities decades too early.  Finally, we hear the opening chords again – followed by a triumphant sprint to the end. Whether it is our young protagonist returning home, an Allied victory, or simply a tragic, yet beautiful memory for his family, we leave that decision to you, the listener.

Notes by Carlos Foggin, RMSO Music Director

Intermission

~ 20 minutes ~

Symphony #2 in D Major (1877)

JOHANNES BRAHMS

BORN: May 7, 1833. Hamburg 

DIED: April 3, 1897. Vienna 

WORK COMPOSED: Summer of 1877

WORLD PREMIERE: December 30, 1877. Hans Richter and the Vienna Philharmonic 


Notes

This work is in 4 movements, totalling 42 minutes in duration

  1. Allegro non troppo

  2. Adagio non troppo

  3. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino)

  4. Allegro con spirito

Listen to the first three notes in the low strings. From those basic building blocks—that grouping of notes and the gesture they form—Brahms generates an opening movement that sounds miraculously varied, one tune leading to another, but somehow always tied to home base. This symphony is almost invariably described as “sunny,” and that is often how it’s approached. But there are clouds in this sky. Even the theme that resembles Brahms’s famous Lullaby turns poignant. And the coda is a wistful evocation of regret—tempered by the jaunty little tune that sounds almost tacked on as an afterthought. Such a rapid mood-change is another hallmark of this symphony: the alternation of light and dark. Helen Schlegel in E.M. Forster’s Howards End said that Beethoven can be trusted because, even when his music is at its most resplendent, the goblins return. The dramatis personae of the Brahms Second may not include goblins, but in their place we find characters who know that good times can reverse quickly. 

Two such characters are the main players in the second movement, whose stern opening changes almost immediately into a glorious melody of enormous length and breadth. Throughout this movement, one voice is pensive and searching, the other full of optimism. This is densely argued, concentrated music, music that can seem—but only seem—to wander as it grows increasingly meditative, and which repays close attention.

The Allegretto grazioso that follows is Brahms at his most lighthearted. It offers a welcome break after the Adagio; and, when considered as a pair with that movement, it reinforces the Adagio’s two voices: the concurrence of pensive and joyful. Its slow 3/4 time juxtaposes with the extremely quick Presto sections with it’s Beethoven-esque offbeat humour and accents. It ends in a lovely golden glow.

The finale proved such a hit at the symphony’s first performance that it was encored. The opening hush erupts suddenly in a shout—another quick cut from one character to its opposite. At the end, the orchestra embraces a heroic transformation of the movement’s poignant second subject, that sweetly killing reminder that every silver lining masks a cloud. Finally it spins itself into a glorious ever-moving frenzy. These are punctuated by unexpected “emergency braking” in the orchestra that cause the listener to nearly fall out of their seat. This picks up again whipping the orchestra into a glorious red-hot glow. Finally, the trombones interject, almost spoiling the party with their sombre announcement of impending sunset and, with it, curfew…

Not ones to typically spoil a good party, the trombones are coaxed into one final dance before the party ends - and they brought their dancing shoes. Listen for descending scales in each of the three trombones as the colours of the sunset intensify. Finally, the work builds to a thundering crescendo as the full brass rises in glory fittingly crowned by a final chord that can only be described as “the Train Chord”. You’ll know it when you hear it, and you’ll never think of trombones the same way again, ever!

Notes by Larry Rothe ©