January 12, 13, & 15, 2013
STRAVINSKY: Symphony in C
One of the towering figures of twentieth-century music, Igor Stravinsky was born in Oranienbaum, Russia on June 17, 1882 and died in New York City on April 6, 1971. While his best known works remain the three ballet scores based on Russian themes and scenarios—The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring—composed for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the early 1910s, Stravinsky wrote works that encompass many genres and explore a wide variety of musical styles, all of which bear his own distinctive traits. One of these styles has been designated by music historians as neo-classical, of which the Symphony in C is a fine example. Composed between 1938 and 1940, the Symphony in C was commissioned by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss and Mrs. John Alden Carpenter (among others) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Its premiere took place in Chicago on November 7, 1940 with the composer conducting. The work is scored for 2 flutes (piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani,harp, and strings.
As was the case with many artists, Igor Stravinsky felt compelled to leave Europe at the onset of World War II. This move was all the more difficult for Stravinsky as he was dealing still with the deaths of his family members. Stravinsky’s daughter Ludmilla and his wife Catherine died in November 1938 and March 1939, respectively, followed by the death of his mother, Anna, in June 1939. To make matters worse, Stravinsky himself was recovering from tuberculosis, the same disease that claimed the life of his wife and daughter. Despite these personal circumstances, however, not a trace of them is to be found in the Symphony in C, a work written on commission from Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Mrs. John Alden Carpenter and others to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
After the initial flush of success and the subsequent notoriety he had acquired from his early collaborations with Diaghilev in Paris in the 1910s, Stravinsky was forced by the realities of World War I to retrench into composing works on a smaller scale. Work on the Symphony in C’s first two movements took place in France and Switzerland, while the third and fourth movements were composed, respectively, in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Hollywood. The Symphony in C is a neo-classical exploration of the style of Joseph Haydn and the young Ludwig van Beethoven. This is to say that the composer placed his own inimitable stamp on stylistic gestures inspired by the late 18th- early 19th-century master of the symphonic genre. These gestures include the mildly dissonant modern harmonies, angular melodies, and motoric rhythms that are unmistakably Stravinskian. As the composer said of the work in an interview in Boston:
My new symphony is going to be classical in spirit, more concise in its form than Beethoven. . . . Instead of all the chords gravitating toward one final tonic chord, all notes gravitate toward a single note. Thus this symphony will be neither a symphony in C major nor a symphony in C minor but simply a symphony in C.
MOZART: Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra in B♭ Major, K. 186e
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg. He died on December 5, 1791 in Vienna. His Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra, K. 186e, is dated Salzburg, June 4, 1774. It is the composer’s only authenticated effort in the genre as a purported second Concerto in F Major has been deemed spurious by Mozart scholars. There is evidence that he may have composed at least one other Bassoon Concerto, but it is lost. The only other authentic concerto by Mozart that calls for solo bassoon is the Sinfonia Concertante, K. 297b, for four woodwinds. The “K” number used for Mozart’s works refers to the name Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who first issued the Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart in 1862. The Köchel catalogue has been revised many times. The references used here are to the sixth edition.
The Bassoon Concerto is scored for solo bassoon, 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings.
Mozart’s wind concertos are among the most treasured in the repertory. The Concerto for Bassoon, K. 186e (191 in the first edition of the catalogue) is the earliest of these pieces. Although the autograph score is lost, we know that it was completed on June 4, 1774, when the composer was only 18 years old. There is a theory that it was commissioned by an aristocratic amateur bassoon player Thaddäus Freiherr von Dürnitz, but there is scant evidence to support it.
The work is cast in the traditional three movements for 18th-century concertos. The first movement is filled with youthful exuberance and a remarkable understanding of the instruments virtuosic and lyrical capabilities. The latter trait is even more evident in the second movement, whose principal theme foreshadows the beautiful cavatina, “Porgi amor” from Mozart’s opera, Le nozze di Figaro, of 1785. The finale is a sprightly rondo whose main theme bears all the characteristics of a classical minuet.
MOZART: Symphony No. 39 in E♭ Major, K. 543
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born January 27, 1756 in Salzburg. He died on December 5, 1791 in Vienna. The Symphony no. 39, K. 543, was composed in 1788 and was one of the composer’s last effort in the genre. The “K” number used for Mozart’s works refers to the name Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who first issued the Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart in 1862. The Köchel catalogue has been updated and revised many times. The work is scored for flute, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns,2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Mozart’s last three symphonies (Nos. 39-41) all were composed in the summer of 1788. It has long been suspected that he planned to use them in a concert for his own benefit in Vienna later that year. But, as Stanley Sadie has pointed out, no such concert took place, and in any event, concertos would have better served his purpose than symphonies. Thus we can only speculate as to the true reason why Mozart turned back to the genre of the symphony at this particular moment.
While we may deplore our lack of specific information about the origin of Mozart’s final symphonic trilogy, we are, of course, grateful for the rich musical bounty that they represent. The Symphony in E-flat, dated June 26, 1788 in Mozart’s own catalogue, is unusual in many respects. Its substitution of clarinets for oboes, a feature that lends much to its quality of sound, is rare in music from the period. Its opening Allegro includes an Adagio introduction that gives it the flavor of a late-eighteenth-century overture in the style of the French Baroque period. Interestingly, many 19th-century editions of the score that conductors still use give the wrong meter for the Adagio–common time (4/4) instead of alla breve (2/2)–leading some conductors to adopt a tempo and style of performance that can be too slow and ponderous. The New Mozart Edition (Neue Mozart Ausgabe) of the work restores the proper meter. As is the case with much of Mozart’s mature music, pervasive chromaticism — the liberal use of pitches that lie outside of the tonality of the work — lend an expressive, and sometimes even melancholic, tinge to the melody and harmony of each movement of this symphony. An especially delightful non-chromatic moment comes in the charming (and ever popular) trio of the Menuetto, a duet for clarinets that is based, according to Robert Münster and Neal Zaslaw, on an Austrian-Bavarian Ländler. This charming tune fits in nicely, given the penchant in this work for tunefulness that prefigures The Magic Flute. Indeed this work bears considerable kinship with that opera, just as Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony may be heard profitably in reference to another of his operas, Don Giovanni.
Program Notes by David B. Levy, © 2012.