September 6, 2013
Three pieces are on the program for opening Classics weekend. Read more to learn about these selections!
BENJAMIN BRITTEN The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
The first performance of "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" took place on October 15, 1946, with Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
"I have a small film to write for the Board of Education," said Benjamin Britten. The educational film, commissioned by the Crown Film Unit, was designed to introduce children to the various instruments of the orchestra.
The premiere of the educational film, entitled Instruments of the Orchestra, took place on November 29, 1946. "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" proved to be a success from its inception. "I'm glad that the Min. of Ed. chaps approve," Britten told a friend. "I never really worried that it was too sophisticated for kids--it is difficult to be that for the little blighters!"
The "Young Person's Guide" remains one of the most popular compositions of its kind. As with any superior educational experience, Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" simultaneously informs, stimulates and entertains students (of all ages).
FRANZ LISZT Piano Concerto No. 2
The first performance of the Piano Concerto No. 2 took place in Weimar, Germany, on January 7, 1857.
The legacy of Franz Liszt, the legendary virtuoso pianist and showman, sometimes overshadows his considerable achievements as a composer. One of the great pioneers of the Romantic movement, Liszt advanced the concept of music as a form of programmatic expression and, in fact, invented the term "sinfonische Dichtung" ("symphonic poem"). He also demonstrated bold and revolutionary possibilities for traditional musical conventions and forms, as in the case of his Piano Concerto No. 2.
Concertos of Liszt's time typically featured three movements, each with clear lines of demarcation. By contrast, the Second Piano Concerto is in a single movement, containing several episodes, all connected by a central theme. That theme (marked dolce soave) is introduced by the clarinet at the very start of the Concerto's opening portion, which functions as a slow introduction (Adagio sostenuto assai). The theme, played by various instruments, accompanies the soloist's entrance, dreamlike at first, then more emphatic. The music once again journeys from a serene to more violent character, capped by the soloist's brilliant octave descent. A moment of silence precedes a stark, quick-tempo episode (Allegro agitato assai). A short, introspective solo cadenza leads to the next principal episode (Allegro moderato), an extended lyrical sequence, featuring gorgeous interplay between the pianist and solo cello. Another cadenza for the pianist yields to a virtuoso quick-tempo episode (Allegro deciso), with rapid-fire exchanges between the soloist and orchestra. Another brilliant, descending passage for the soloist resolves to a transformation of the Concerto's principal theme into a fff march (Marziale, un poco meno Allegro). After a lyrical section capped by the soloist's cadenza, the Concerto ends with a brilliant dash to the finish (Allegro animato), dominated by the pianist's virtuoso fireworks.
GUSTAV HOLST The Planets
The first performance of The Planets took place at Queen's Hall in London on September 29, 1918.
Gustav Holst once observed: "As a rule I only study things that suggest music to me." And it was Holst's lifelong interest in astrology that provided the inspiration for his most popular orchestral work, The Planets.
Holst characterized his orchestral work as "a series of mood pictures" in which the movements--each representing a planet of the solar system--"acted as foils to one another." The various movements were not arranged in accordance with the order of the planets in the solar system, but rather, in such a manner as to achieve optimal musical contrast and effect.
I. Mars, the Bringer of War. Allegro--While many believed that Holst created the opening movement as a memorial to the horrors of World War I, the composer insisted that "I had the whole of Mars fixed in my mind before" the August 4, 1914 Declaration. The movement begins softly, but ominously, with an incessant rhythm introduced by the timpani and col legno ("with the wood"; i.e., the string instruments play with the wood, rather than the horsehair portion of the bows) strings, and interjections by woodwind and brass. The music proceeds to a furious climax. Several brief episodes follow, all maintaining a relentless momentum to the shattering final bars.
II. Venus, the Bringer of Peace. Adagio--Venus offers blissful contrast to the violent opening movement. The solo horn's ascending phrase is answered by a descending woodwind figure. A solo violin introduces the central Andanteepisode. A varied reprise of the opening Adagio concludes Venus.
III. Mercury, the Winged Messenger. Vivace--The third movement is a scherzo that exhibits a charm and grace reminiscent of Felix Mendelssohn's Octet for Strings and Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream. A 6/8 figure is deftly transferred from instrument to instrument. A middle section features lovely solo appearances by the violin, oboe, flute and celeste. The return of the opening section (with a nod to its predecessor) concludes Mercury.
IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity. Allegro giocoso--Jupiter is the movement that most clearly reflects Holst's love of British folk music. It opens with a flurry of activity in the violins and a bold orchestral statement. Several melodies follow, the most notable being an eloquent theme, marked Andante maestoso(Moderately slow, majestic), introduced by the strings and horns. This melody was later used as the basis for a patriotic hymn, "I Vow to Thee, My Country." The bustle of the opening reappears for the jubilant finish.
V. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age. Adagio--The hypnotic opening features the flutes, bass flute and harps. Over the repeated tread of pizzicato cellos and basses, the trombones introduce a somber march. The music builds to a powerful climax, featuring the repeated tolling of the bells. A reprise of the opening finally yields to a serene conclusion.
VI. Uranus, the Magician. Allegro--The trumpets and trombones, followed by the tubas and timpani, intone a four-note motif that returns throughout the movement. The bassoons then offer a puckish staccato figure, soon taken by the remainder of the orchestra. A solo bassoon and pizzicato cellos introduce a new theme, followed by a broader melody in the horns and strings. A prominent recapitulation of the four-note motif leads to a martial passage. A ffff climax is followed by an eerie postlude.
VII. Neptune, the Mystic. Andante--The composer directs that in the finale: "(t)he Orchestra is to play sempre pp throughout." Various repeating figures, couched in orchestration of the utmost delicacy, masterfully evoke a sense of timelessness. A six-part wordless female chorus enters in the latter part ofNeptune. The Planets concludes with the chorus's final measure, repeated "until the sound is lost in the distance."
Program notes by Ken Meltzer.