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St. Joseph Pro Musica
May 31, 1992

Barber: Adagio for Strings | Copland: Appalachian Spring | Haydn: Maria Theresia Symphony | Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings

Undoubtedly American composer Samuel Barber's best-known work, the Adagio for Strings began as a movement of his String Quartet, Op. 11, written in 1936 while the composer was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome.  The quartet was first performed by the Pro Arte Quartet in the Italian capital that same year, and the Adagio received its first performance for string orchestra two years later when conductor Arturo Toscanini chose it for an NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast. Since that time it has been performed by virtually every American orchestra, and is one American composition certain to be in active orchestral repertory internationally.

The full tempo marking is Molto adagio, expressivo cantando, or Very slowly, in an expressive singing style. The piece is based on a single melody, first introduced by the violins, then taken up and expanded by the violas. Following the cellos' turn at the theme, a fortissimo climax is reached through a labyrinth of contrapuntal development. The quiet mood in which it began returns to conclude the work.

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Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Appalachian Spring Suite

Appalachian Spring, subtitled Ballet for Martha, was composed in 1943-44 for Martha Graham on a commission from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation. The first performance was a given in 1944 by Graham and company with a 13-piece instrumental ensemble at the Coolidge Festival in the library of Congress. The success of the score encouraged Copland to create a suite for full orchestra, omitting only a few passages that he felt were of interest when choreographed. The version heard tonight is the suite, but scored for the original chamber ensemble of thirteen instruments (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, 9 strings -- authorized by the composer to expand up to 26 strings at the conductor's discretion).

The action of the ballet and the music evokes the spirit of the American experience -- optimism, courage, energy, vigor. According to explanatory notes given in the score, the ballet is "a pioneer celebration in spring around a newly-built farmhouse in the Pennsylvania hills in the early part of the last century. The bride-to-be and the young farmer-husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggest now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end, the couple are left quiet and strong in their new house."

Copland has described the various sections of the suite:

  1. Very slowly: Introduction of the characters, one by one, in a suffused light.
  2. Fast: Sudden burst of unison strings in A major arpeggios starts the action.  A sentiment both elated and religious gives the keynote to this scene.
  3. Moderate. Duo for the Bride and her Intended -- scene of tenderness and passion.
  4. Quite fast: The Revivalist and his flock.  Folksy feeling -- suggestions of square dances and country fiddlers.
  5. Still faster: Solo dance of the Bride -- presentiment of motherhood.  Extremes of joy and fear and wonder.
  6. Very slowly (as at first): Transition scene to music reminiscent of the introduction.
  7. Calm and flowing: Scenes of daily activity for the Bride and her Farmer husband. There are five variations on a Shaker theme. The theme, sung by a solo clarinet, was taken from a collection of Shaker melodies compiled by Edward D. Andrews, and published under the title The Gift to Be Simple. The melody I borrowed and used almost literally, is called Simply Gifts.
  8. Moderate -- Coda:  The Bride takes her place among her neighbors. At the end the couple are left "quiet and strong in their new house." Muted strings intone a hushed prayerlike passage. The close is reminiscent of the opening music.

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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 48 in C (Maria Theresia)

Menuet:  Allegretto-Trio-MenuetFinale:  Allegro

Since their 18th century origins, symphonies have been performed for a wide variety of events, formal and informal, social and liturgical.  Haydn's contribution to and development of the genre is seen through his 106 symphonies.  Although some of these were written for formal concerts in major cities such London and Paris, most of his symphonies were written for the rural setting of the Esterházy court where he was employed for much of his life.

The festive Symphony No. 48 in C (Maria Theresia)  is said to have been composed and performed for the 1773 visit of the empress to the Eszterháza Castle.  The visit was a successful one for Haydn -- the empress greatly admired the performance of his opera L'infedeltà delusa and the marionette opera Philemon und Baucis.  Haydn also conducted his orchestra in symphony (perhaps the 48th)  performed in the Chinese pavilion newly constructed in the eh castle garden -- with the players dressed in Chinese costumes.  Recent scholarship has shown that the symphony was probably initially composed in 1768, but that doesn't take away from the joyous brilliance of the work, truly fit for a gala performance for an empress.

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J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in f, BWV 1047

Ohne Satzbezeichnung
Allegro assai

Bach's years as court musician at Cöthen gave him opportunity and incentive to perfect the art of instrumental music, particularly the Italian Concerto form.  Unlike concertos of later periods, the Baroque concerto was not necessarily meant to be a vehicle for a soloist' virtuosity, but was rather used by the composer to display interplay between various parties -- tutti versus one or more solo instruments.  Technical brilliance is certainly an element of Bach's concerti, but the emphasis is more on the conversation between soloists and orchestra.

The six Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046-51, dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, are not solo concerti, but works for evenly divided instrumental choirs (Nos. 1, 3, 6) or are concerti grossi (Nos. 2, 4, 5).

The second concerto, probably written in 1719, follows the typical concerto grosso form of string ensemble (ripieno) versus the solo group of instruments (concertino).  The unique concertino group of this concerto groups three winds -- trumpet, recorder, and oboe, with a single violin.  The trumpet is heard along with the other soloists in various combinations in the first movement (without tempo marking, but the alla breve indicates a fast tempo), while the recorder, oboe, and violin take a musical stroll in the Andante movement.  The trumpet joins the other soloists as well as accompanying strings in a joyful dance to conclude the work.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1992.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts