Zachary Bush, MusicaNova Composition Fellow: Trepidation (World Premiere)
Trepidation is a piece about the emotions of fear and agitation. The beginning gives a sense of foreboding horror which manifests itself at the end of the first section. The second section aims to provide relief from the intensity of the first section, but it is eventually overcome by the fear still residing in the ethos of the piece.
When I was planning to write Trepidation, I wanted to explore extended techniques of the orchestra. I have used extended techniques in previous compositions, but not to the extent of Trepidation. One technique to listen for is the “jet whistle” from the flute section during the middle and ending of the piece. As I was creating the soundscape for the piece, I chose the title based on the emotions of the piece and the trembling rhythms. Overall, the piece should take the audience through a fearful journey and leave them wondering the final outcome of this fearful event. (Notes by Zachary Bush)
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Suite from Les Indes Galantes
Arranged by Paul Dukas
- Entree des Quatre Nations (Entrance of the four nations)
- Danse des Sauvages (Dance of the savages – North America)
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764) was born in Dijon, in the Burgundy region of France, into a family of lesser nobility. His father was an organist, but his parents did not wish him to become a musician. As such, he was largely self-taught in music, but his lack of training did not stop him from becoming the most important musical theorist of his time. His two treatises on harmony, published in the 1720s are the basis of what we call “Common Practice” music theory. (That is, music theory that describes the rules that composers followed in works composed between about 1650 and 1900).
But Rameau had always wanted to compose operas. It was not until 1733, at the age of fifty, that he was able to compose his first opera. Les Indes Galantes, an “opera-ballet” written in 1735, was his second opera and his first successful one. Over the next thirty years he produced a series of works that have guaranteed him a place as one of the greatest composers of his time. What is also remarkable is that for all of his work in music theory, Rameau’s music is the most wildly experimental music of its time. Having written all the rules to follow when composing music, Rameau was the first to break those rules with extraordinary skill – and with impunity.
What to listen for
Les Indes Galantes is an example of the 18th century style known as “Chinoserie,” or European interpretation of Chinese and East Asian music. Rameau uses exotic locations (in this case Turkey, Persia, and both South and North America) and the music has teasing references to exotic musical sounds. Rameau had heard Native North American music at a fair in Paris in 1726, and was deeply impressed; it was the inspiration for the opera and the music he composed for it.
The suite we will hear introduces themes from the opera. It was arranged in 1895 by the composer Paul Dukas (1865–1935), removing all the vocal parts to make a tasty orchestral appetizer to the full-length opera. (Dukas is best known for the “Sorcerers Apprentice” – think Mickey Mouse and the Disney film Fantasia).
W. A. Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23, K.488
Vitlaus von Horn, soloist
- Rondo: Allegro assai e alla breve / Presto
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A-major was the middle of a group of three concertos that he wrote for a concert series in the spring of 1786, five years before his death. This groups of three – in E flat, A, and C minor – are arguably his finest works for piano and orchestra. They were written in great haste, and the manuscript copies are sloppy and full of errors. Mozart used some shorthand devices in the piano solo part so that he did not have to write out every note – easy for him to do since he was playing the solo himself! However, because he never published his concertos, when they were finally published after his death these shorthand passages were printed out in the score as he wrote them, and in some performances you hear some very strange breaks in the music where the pianist seems to drop out of the music intermittently. In our performance, Vitlaus von Horn will generously fill out these sections.
The film “The Death of Stalin” recounts the true story of the dictator hearing a performance of the concerto on the radio one night in 1944, with famed Russian pianist Maria Yudina as soloist. When Stalin demanded a recording, his lackeys were afraid to tell him there was none – he’d heard a live broadcast! In fear for their lives, they woke Yudina in the middle of the night, assembled an orchestra and conductor, made a one-take recording, pressed an LP record album, and delivered the only copy to Stalin. The dictator didn’t die until 1953, but the story that the recording was on his turntable when he suffered his fatal stroke is supposedly also true.
What to listen for
Despite its “killer” reputation, the concerto actually is one of Mozart’s most successful and charming works, a composition of unsurpassed beauty – with a totally incongruous bit reminding one of “Dixie” – balance, and perfection. The concerto begins and ends with light-hearted and pretty movements, but the middle movement, is one of his darkest and most tragic utterances. It is in F sharp minor – the only movement in his entire oeuvre of more than 600 pieces of music that used that key. Outside of Haydn, who used F sharp minor frequently and extremely effectively, it was a key that was rarely explored at the time. This movement has a great deal of the shorthand notation mentioned above, and when properly ornamented, is truly operatic in mood. (“Ornamented” in music means the performer embellishes or improvises on, or riffs on, the written score.) Another unusual feature of the piece is that there are no oboes in the orchestra, but that he uses two clarinets, an instrument that had only recently been invented. It was such an unusual choice that he indicated that if necessary oboes could be substituted if no clarinets could be found!
Carl Nielsen: Clarinet Concerto, Op. 57
Alex Dergal, soloist
This is considered one of the most difficult works in the clarinet repertoire. Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) wrote it in 1928 for Aage Oxenvad, the clarinettist in the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. When Nielsen first heard this group perform in 1921 he was so impressed that he wrote a wind quintet for them and promised each of the players a concerto for their instrument. He only managed to write concertos for the flute and clarinet, but they have entered the repertoire and are among Nielsen’s most commonly performed works.
What to listen for
The Clarinet Concerto is in Nielsen’s quirky late style.one continuous movement in distinct sections. Nielsen starts with a firm Allegretto un poco, marked by “much stormy strife between the soloist and the orchestra,” followed by a Poco adagio section, interrupted by faster and fitful tempi. The final section begins in an energetic Allegrovivace, finally ending with a slower Adagio brings the work to an end described as “calm severity.”
The orchestration is odd, with strings, two bassoons, two (French) horns, and a snare drum.I t alternates lyrical and melodic phrases with complex and intricate passagework, and the feeling of agitation that accompanies a lot of the piece is made more intense by the prominent role given to the snare drum in the work. The snare acts as a kind of provocateur – goading the clarinet into ever more elaborate passagework, disturbing the progress of the orchestra and generally “getting in the way.” Nielsen used the instrument similarly in his great 5th Symphony, but whereas there are tragic overtones to his use of the snare in that work, in the Clarinet Concerto there is something humorous about the relationship of the snare to the soloist.
Jacques Ibert: Ports of Call (Escales)
- Rome – Palerme
- Tunis – Nefta
Jacques Ibert (1890–1962) is a composer who might be called a “three hit wonder.” Despite a large catalogue of excellent music, there are only three pieces of his that are heard with any frequency: the charming and witty Divertimento for Strings, the Flute Concerto and, somewhat less frequently in recent years, the symphonic poem Ports of Call. Ports of Call was inspired by Ibert’s years as a naval officer in World War I, and the places he saw when sailing the Mediterranean.
What to listen for
The first movement, Rome-Palermo, presents a rather calm portrayal of these centers with Italianate melody, almost as though it is a travel portrayal of going from one center to the other through the Italian countryside. Ibert, incidentally, lived in Rome for many years as the director of the Academie de France at the Villa Medici. The second movement, Tunis, is a typical late romantic portrayal on the exotic features of North Africa, from the port of Tunis to the inland city of Nefta, the spiritual home of Sufism. The “snake-charmer” oboe melody is evocative, and the orchestral colors give an impressionistic sheen to the proceedings. The work ends with an evocation of the Spanish Mediterranean port city of Valencia, complete with vivid melodies, lush harmonies and orchestral fireworks.