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 —

Celebration of Spring

March 22-23

Carlos Foggin, Conductor
Magdalena von Eccher, Piano
Nansee Hughes, Coloratura Soprano

Piano Concerto No 20 K. 466 (1785)

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
1756-1791

Mozart finished the composition of his twentieth piano concerto on February 10, 1785. He performed it the following evening for the first of a series of subscription concerts at Vienna’s Mehlgrube Casino. If completing a concerto and premiering it himself at the keyboard the next day didn’t make him busy enough, Mozart also had to supervise the music copyist, attend to business with the Vienna Composers Society, and prepare for the arrival that afternoon of his father, who would stay with Wolfgang and his wife for the next two and a half months.

In fact, as the audience arrived at 6PM, the parts were still being prepared. His father later spoke of the performance in a letter to Mozart’s sister: “Then came a new superb piano concerto by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still writing out when we arrived, and your brother had not even found time to play through the Rondeau because he had to supervise the copying.” The concert that evening prevented Mozart from attending the ceremony at which his friend and mentor Joseph Haydn was sworn in as a freemason on Mozart’s recommendation. 

Notable as one of only two piano concertos that Mozart wrote in a minor key, this intense and impassioned work was admired by Romantic-era composers, including Beethoven, Brahms, and Clara Schumann, all of whom composed cadenzas for it, and it is thought to be forward-looking towards this next major era in Western music. The opening Allegro is dark and restless, followed by a tender and melodic Romanze in B-flat Major. The third movement is stormy and agitated and begins with a piano technique known as the ‘Mannheim Rocket’: a quick ascending arpeggiated melodic line with a crescendo. Instead of closing the work in D Minor, Mozart chose to follow the custom of the day and finished in the parallel key of D Major to give it the ‘happy ending’ his audience would have expected.

REINHOLD GLIÈRE
1875-1956

Concerto in F Minor for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra, Op. 82 (1943)

In our series of unsung concertos, here comes a composition that is actually sung but the words are not articulated! As we all know, the human voice has long been considered the quintessential musical instrument. Capable of producing an intricate array of sounds over an extended vocal range, the tone of the voice may be modulated to suggest a wide variety of emotions. Beginning in the 17th century, the French composers Jean-Baptiste Lully and Jean-Philippe Rameau wrote vocal exercises without words, which could be sung on one or more vowel sounds. And if you ever walked through a vocal studio or listened to an opera singer warming up, you know exactly what I mean! Primarily a pedagogical tool to improve vocal technique, these short wordless songs gradually became known as “Vocalise.”

Following in the footsteps of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Nikolai Medtner and Igor Stravinsky, the Soviet composer Reinhold Glière (1875-1956) wrote his “Vocalise” in 1943. However, Glière’s composition is crucially different from those of his predecessors. Rather than relying on a simple piano accompaniment, Glière utilizes a symphony orchestra and ultimately turns his Vocalise into a full-scale concerto. Dedicated to the Russian cellist Sviatoslav Knushevitsky, the Concerto in F Minor for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra is cast in two movements. Surprisingly, Glière gives no instruction about the type of vocal sounds required, and there are no provisions in the score for actually taking a breath. In the absence of text, musical expression is left entirely up to the soprano. In fact, the whole composition is conceived as though the voice was an instrument of almost limitless possibilities. From the highly melancholy and lyrical “Andante” to the good-natured and humorous vocal brilliance of the “Allegro,” Glière fashioned a highly unusual composition full of ornamented arabesques and delicate vocal gymnastics. The work is reasonably popular, with every aspiring high-school soprano around the world taking a vocal stab! I hope, I will be forgiven for including this sung concerto under the “unsung concerto” heading!

Intermission

Symphony #1 “Spring” (1840)

ROBERT SCHUMANN
1810-1856

In the fall of 1839, about a year before her marriage to Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck noted in her diary that "it would be best if he composed for orchestra; his imagination cannot find sufficient scope on the piano…His compositions are all orchestral in feeling... My highest wish is that he should compose for orchestra—that is his field! May I succeed in bringing him to it!" 

And apparently she did. Schumann had composed two movements of a Symphony in G minor as early as 1832. He managed to orchestrate the first movement, which was performed in Zwickau on November 18 of that year, and a revised version was performed in Schneeberg three months later. Neither performance made much of an impression, though, and Schumann neither completed that early effort nor made another attempt at writing for orchestra until after he married Clara. Their wedding took place on September 12, 1840, and his creative efforts in the following year were devoted in large part to orchestral works. 

It was Schumann's custom in those years to focus on a single area of composition at a time. In 1840 he concentrated on songs, and 1842 was taken up with chamber music; 1841 was a year for symphonies. In that year he produced his Overture, Scherzo and Finale(a sort of three-movement symphony which he originally called "Symphonette") and the first version of what was eventually to be labeled his Symphony No. 4, as well as the First Symphony, which he sketched in full in just four days, January 23-26. Less than a month later, on February 20, the orchestration was finished, and less than six weeks after that, on March 31, Mendelssohn conducted the work's premiere in Leipzig. 

The symphony was undertaken in response to a ballad by Adolph Böttger, to whom Schumann dedicated the work, with "Spring Symphony" as its original title. (Schumann did not set any of Böttger's poems to music, but later in 1841 he called upon him for help in adapting Thomas Moore's text for use in his choral work Das Paradies und die Peri.) 

In a letter to his friend Wolfgang Robert Griepenkerl, a respected writer on music, Schumann described this symphony as having been "born in a fiery hour." In another letter, to his fellow composer Louis Spohr, who was also active as a conductor, he elaborated: "I wrote the symphony in that rush of spring which carries a man away even in his old age, and comes over him anew every year. Description and painting were not a part of my intention, but I believe that the time in which it came into existence may have influenced its shape and made it what it is. You will not find it too easy, but neither will you find it too difficult." 

Still later, on January 10, 1843, Schumann sent a letter to the conductor Wilhelm Taubert, in Berlin, with some technical advice on the proper performance of the work and a further explication of his impetus in composing it: "If only you could breathe into your orchestra, when it plays, that longing for spring! It was my main source of inspiration when I wrote the work in February 1841. I should like the very first trumpet call to sound as though proceeding from on high and like a summons to awaken. In the following section of the introduction, let me say, it might be possible to feel the world turning green; perhaps . . . a butterfly fluttering; and in the Allegro the gradual assemblage of everything that belongs to spring. However, it was only after I had completed the composition that these ideas came to my mind." 

In addition to giving the Symphony its title, Schumann originally intended that each of the individual movements should also bear a descriptive heading. Although he discarded these headings before the score was published, they are worth recalling, for they indicate what the composer had in mind for the descriptive content and general mood of the respective movements. The first was to be headed "Spring's Awakening," and the opening trumpet call mentioned in the letter to Taubert was written to fit these lines from the ballad by Böttger that had that had provided the impetus for the work: 

O wende, wende deinen Lauf—
Im Thale blüht der Frühling auf! 

O turn, O turn and change your course—
In the valley spring blooms forth!
 

The second movement, originally titled "Evening," is a mellow and typically Schumannesque reverie, not without devotional undertones. It leads without pause into the scherzo, whose rather gruff energy suggested the title "Merry Playfellows." Like several of Schumann's other scherzos, this one has two contrasting trio sections instead of a single one: the first has a somewhat mystical character, while the second, based on a folk tune, is in the nature of an especially vigorous Ländler

Not another trumpet call, but the equivalent of a fanfare from the strings introduces the final movement, which Schumann called "Spring's Farewell." It is a jolly leave-taking, dancing almost all the way to its jubilant conclusion. Perhaps because the theme itself might seem to border on giddiness, Schumann felt he had to caution Taubert about the interpretation of this finale: "I want to tell you that I would like to describe a farewell to spring, and therefore do not want it to be taken too frivolously."

“Frühlingsstimmen” (“Voices of Spring”) 1883 

JOHANN STRAUSS II
1825 — 1899


Johann Strauss II was the son of Johann Strauss I, himself a composer, as were brothers Josef and Eduard. As the most famous of the family, Johann II was known as “The Waltz King,” having brought the form from peasant dance to sparkling entertainment for the royal Habsburg court. When the elder Strauss passed away, the business-oriented Johann II merged his and his father’s orchestras and engaged The Strauss Orchestra (including his brothers) in commission writing and tours across the continent. It was the choral waltz The Blue Danube that earned his place in the annals of music history.

In “Fruhlingsstimmen,” (“Voices of Spring”) the composer regarded the soprano voice as another solo instrument, providing the same kind of long, soaring, wide-range melodic lines that appear in the orchestra. The treatment of the voice results in the sounding of a single syllable with a long stream of notes creating a glorious sound but the song’s lyrics are not overly conducive to audio comprehension.

This well-known waltz tune begins with loud chords in waltz tempo and quickly moves into a gentle, swirling melody. Section two embodies the joys of spring with flute imitating birdsongs and sounds of pastoral awakening. A plaintive and dramatic third section is suggestive of spring showers and the fourth section breaks out of a pensive mood into a cheerful tune. The first waltz melody makes another grand entrance before strong chords, a timpani drumroll and a warm brass flourish end the work.