Maestro Klein's Program Notes May 2019 - Eternal Love Songs

PSO Program Notes for May, 2019
Eternal Love Songs

It's not surprising that a program with this title focuses on the Romantic Era in music, but we begin this evening with a sparkling 2001 work by prolific composer Gwyneth Walker, a graduate of Brown University and the Hartt School of Music. She holds B.A., M.M. and D.M.A. degrees in Music Composition. A former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory, she resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer. For nearly 30 years, she lived on a dairy farm in Braintree, Vermont. She now divides her time between her childhood hometown of New Canaan, Connecticut and the musical community of Randolph, Vermont.

Here is her note for Overture of Diamonds.

This music is inspired by images of diamonds. There are four sections, each with a central image:

1. Cutting Diamonds
angular, constructing chords of fourths
a "splitting" motive of a semi-tone
repeated "hammering" accents on the downbeats
glistening D Major triads at the cadences

2. Transparent Diamonds
a sparse texture, allowing the light to shine through
cascading patterns in the winds
tremoli and trills in the strings
waves of sound

3. Dancing Diamonds
Clarinet and Percussion
the joy and sparkle of diamonds
"dots of energy" from the Viola and Piccolo
everyone joins in the dance, which grows into --

4. Jubilant Diamonds
the return of the opening materials (4ths) now generating a melody in the brass
rapid figures in the strings and winds create a flurry of celebration and excitement
the "Transparent Diamonds" theme returns, forcefully, leading to the final statement of the "splitting" motive (semitones, accented)

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 1878 Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 is at the pinnacle of what we love and expect from a Romantic violin concerto - sublime lyricism, heroic displays of virtuosity and power, and profound exploration of human emotion. It's all here in this, the most revered and most performed violin concerto ever written. And, typically for Tchaikovsky, its creation and premiere were thorny events in the composer's life.

He wrote it during his emotional recovery from the disastrous failure of his marriage, and was inspired by a healing visit from the young violinist Iosef Kotek. But Tchaikovsky decided not to dedicate the work to Kotek, fearing gossip about the nature of their relationship, so he proposed to dedicate it to the great Leopold Auer (the founder of the school of violin playing that produced most of the great violinists of the early 20th Century). Making a great presentation of the score to Auer (as retold later by the violinist), Tchaikovsky was devastated to have the dedicatee reject the work as unplayable and unworthy. (Auer later regretted his decision and edited the concerto into the format that we hear today.) When the work was finally premiered by Adolf Brodsky in 1881 (with the great Hans Richter conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, apparently woefully under-rehearsed) it was met with a largely negative reception. The influential critic Eduard Hanslick called it "long and pretentious" - the concerto "brought us face to face with the revolting thought that music can exist which stinks to the ear. The violin was not played, but beaten black and blue."

The first movement, marked Allegro moderato, is in a quite traditional sonata-allegro form. The curtain is raised with an expressive orchestral introduction, leading to a gorgeously lyrical violin theme, the first of several sumptuous and haunting melodies that define the structure of the movement. The amplification of these themes takes the violin to the greatest heights of technical display and soaring instrumental singing, culminating in a brilliant cadenza.

The second movement (Tchaikovsky's second attempt - he later reworked the first one into his Meditation) is titled Canzonetta (Andante). Here we find the composer in a reflective and serene mood, leading to the electrifying fireworks of the Finale (Allegro vivacissimo), replete with stunning flashes of virtuosity and folk-like melody. It's a thrilling and uplifting ride!

Gustav Mahler's Rückert Lieder are in a way the glowing opposite of the two robust Tchaikovsky works on tonight's program. These five songs embody Romanticism every bit as much as Tchaikovsky's two masterpieces, but come from a completely different emotional source. Mahler is in his most intimate and heartfelt mood here, far from the opulent glory of his symphonies. "Sturm und Drang" are often in the foreground for Mahler in his life and in his music, but this is a moment of refuge from that. These are highly personal songs, expressing love, inner peace, and a tranquil self-knowledge. The last of these was specifically written as a gift for his wife, the legendary Alma, struggling at a difficult passage in her life. But you can sense that they all are intended for the ears of loved ones (happily including us, a century later).

Friedrich Rückert's (1788-1866) poems were inspirations to the greatest song-writers of all time, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Strauss as well as Mahler. These five express messages that are tender, personal and surprisingly sunny in tone. Below are my paraphrases (the complete texts appear elsewhere in this book):

1. Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder! Don't look over my shoulder as I write my songs! Just as bees keep their honeycombs secret until they are ready for nibbling, you must wait - when they are ready you can be the first to savor them! [Notice the buzzing of the bees in the orchestral setting.]

2. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft.  The gentle fragrance of the sprig of linden tree that your dear hand delivered to me wafts gloriously through my senses. [Undulating legato eighth-notes waft gently through the instrumental accompaniment.]

3. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. I have abandoned the turmoil of the world. I live in my own heaven, my love, and my song. [Here we revel in one of Mahler's greatest achievements - similar in melody and mood to the slow movement of his Fifth Symphony. Time stops and we reflect calmly on the profound joys of an inner life of love and peace and song.]

4. Um Mitternacht. At midnight I search the heavens for insight, but no star smiles at me; no thought brings me comfort; as I listen to my heartbeat, I get only one single pulse of agony; I have fought for the well-being of Mankind, but have been defeated. In the end, I surrender my strength to you, Lord - you keep watch over us all! [Overtly religious, and different in tone from the other four songs, this is an earnest and reassuring statement of faith. Note how the emergence of the glowing brass instruments brings his message to life.]

5. Liebst du um Schönheit. Do not love me for beauty - love the sun for its golden hair; Do not love me for youth, love the eternal newness of spring; Do no love me for riches, love the mermaid with her luminous pearls; but if you love for love's sake, love me forever, as I will love you forever! [Dedicated to Alma.]

Like the Violin Concerto and so much of his music, Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy had a troubled roll-out. First written at age 28, while he was teaching at the Moscow Conservatory, its premiere was a failure, partly blemished by a personal scandal involving his friend Nicolai Rubenstein and a female student. A second version with major revisions appeared two years later, in 1870. (I have conducted this version, and find it almost as effective as the final version.) It took the composer ten more years to rework it again, with a more definitive ending and a new (and unique) title - Overture-Fantasy.

Tchaikovsky brings a thorough knowledge of the theatrical structure of classical drama and plays it out within the musical structure of a large movement in sonata-allegro form. This is the innovative conceit that animates this powerful piece, motivated by his deep admiration for the works of Shakespeare (he also wrote music based on The Tempest and Hamlet.) He assigns different melodies and fragments to each element of the story (not unlike Wagner's leitmotifs), and plays them off against one another to tell the tragic story of the young lovers. He begins with an introductory church-like chorale, suggesting Friar Laurence and a sense of peace and proper order. Tensions build into the beginning of the exposition section, as the violence of the warring Capulets and Montagues escalates into a clash of agitated short notes, punctuated by the "swordplay" of the cymbals. The exposition's second theme brings us to the famous rhapsodic love theme of Romeo and Juliet, introduced by English Horn and violas, playing out in breathtakingly long and sensuous phrases. The development section pits each of these elements against one another in an increasingly clattering display of compositional craft, fragmenting each element until the trumpets sound a shrill plea for peace and order, juxtaposed against ever more violent collisions in the rest of the orchestra. In the recapitulation, the love theme appears one final, desperate time in a robust, full-orchestra version before violence escalates even further, culminating in a fatal timpani roll (with cellos, basses and bassoons). A coda in the form of a funeral march ensues (marked by the slow triplets of the timpani), then a reprise of the opening woodwind chorale representing the hope of reconciliation following the shocking deaths of the young lovers, then one last melancholy reminiscence of the fragmented love theme, and finally, a series of angry chords, marking the end of the tragedy.

-Mitchell Sardou Klein

Chelsea Chambers