Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts

Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
 October 13, 2001
Autumn Romances

"Autumn Romances" the season conjures up images of moods as varied as jollity of harvest festivals and fall gatherings of all sorts to introspection inspired by the falling leaves, the coming of winter, the death of another year. The music of the "romantic" style heard on this concert runs the gamut of autumn moods, supported by memorable melodies, rich harmonies, and lush orchestral textures.

Gioachino Rossini: Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Barber of Seville) |
Jean Sibelius: Violin concerto in d minor, Op. 47 | Gerald Finzi: Clarinet concerto |
Peter IIich Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet-Fantasy Overture

Gioachino Rossini(1792-1868)
Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Barber of Seville)

Gioachino Rossini's reputation as the leading figure in Italian opera (a place he held until the time of Verdi) was established at a breakneck pace during the years 1813-1826. He sometimes composed and supervised the music for four or five productions in one year. That the composer recycled some of his best material in succeeding compositions comes as no surprise when one considers the amount of material that his contracts required. The overture that became attached to his most popular opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) was also used to raise the curtain for 2 or 3 of his earlier operas. Needless to say, this overture is not thematically connected to the music of Il barbiere but it does energetically introduce the comic thrust of this opera buffa.

This piece follows the structure of the typical Rossini overtureslow introduction; quick main section with two themes repeated; concluding cadences. Following each statement of the lyrical second theme listen for the famous "Rossini crescendo." Not just an increase in volume, this crescendo includes a build-up of orchestral forces, upward movement of pitch, increase in articulation, and increasingly rapid rhythmic patterns.

Back to top

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Violin concerto in d minor, Op. 47

Allegro moderato
Adagio di molto
Allegro, ma non tanto

Chiefly remembered as a master symphonist, Finnish composer Jean Sibelius wrote only one concerto, the Violin Concerto in d minor. Whereas many of the great piano concertos have been written for the composers themselves, most of the great violin concertos were written for others, with technical assistance required from violinists. Sibelius did not require any such assistance having once aspired to becoming a virtuoso violinist himself. He began work on the concerto in 1902, and conducted the first performance in Helsinki in February, 1904 with a soloist not really up to the task. Following the unsuccessful premier, the composer thoroughly revised the work. The new version was presented in Berlin, October 1905 with concertmaster Karl Halir as soloist and Richard Strauss conducting. The piece gradually made its way into the standard concert fare, greatly assisted by a highly regarded 1935 recording made by the young Jascha Heifetz.

Today the concerto is a favorite of violinists due to the passionate melodies and stunning virtuosic challenges that they love to conquer. The brilliant solo lines are set against the dark nostalgic orchestral colors that we expect from Sibelius. The ingenious opening gives the soloist an almost immediate entry with a hauntingly exquisite melody against muted strings. Notice that this movement sports a mini-cadenza, then later the major cadenza. Complex rhythmic juxtapositions between soloist and orchestra bring the movement to a close. The second movement is a lovely cavatina introduced by gentle woodwind duets. The relentless drive of the final movement once moved Sibelius to describe it as a "Dance macabre." Noted British music analyst Sir Donald Tovey was more benign, declaring it "evidently a polonaise for polar bears."

Back to top

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Clarinet Concerto

Adagio ma senza rigore

Gerald Finzi, whose centennial we celebrate, liked to compare the creative artist to a "coral reef insect, building his reef out of the transitory world around him and making a solid structure to last long after his own fragile and uncertain life." Fragility and uncertainty were with the composer from an early age: he had lost his father, three brothers, and his teacher before he reached the age of 18. By the age of 50 he knew that he himself had at most 10 years to live. In addition to composing music, Finzi's contributions to something lasting included championing the works of young neglected composers, producing editions of John Stanley's concertos, and collecting a large library of English poetry, philosophy, and literature. After moving to the countryside to live and work, he established an apple orchard where he cultivated rare apples, saving several varieties from extinction.

Following in the musical traditions of Elgar, Parry, and Vaughan Williams, about two-thirds of Finzi's music was vocal, much of it settings of the texts of his beloved English writers such as Hardy, Shakespeare, Drummond, and Milton. His orchestral music includes a colorful suite of Incidental Music for Shakespeare's play Loves Labour's Lost, a Cello Concerto, and the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings, Op 31. The clarinet was a favorite instrument of the composer; he also wrote an attractive set of Five Bagatelles, Op. 23 for clarinet and piano. Composed in 1949, the concerto was first performed on September 9 of that year at the Hereford Three Choirs Festival with Frederick Thurston as soloist. The elegiac Adagio that we hear tonight is tucked between two energetic outer movements. Listen for the richly varied string textures, sharing with the clarinet themes of introspection, somber and hopeful.

Back to top

Peter IIich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy-overture)

Considered by many to be one of the composer's greatest orchestral works, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet (Fantasy-overture after Shakespeare did not come easily or quickly to the form we hear tonight. In 1869, fellow Russian composer Balakirev suggested to Tchaikovsky the idea of creating a concert piece based on Romeo and Juliet. He even went so far as to give him a possible theme, keys he should use, essentially trying to dictate the creative process. Balakirev was not happy with the first drafts that Tchaikovsky sent him. By the time the piece received its first performance in 1870, the composer wasn't satisfied either and withdrew it for major revisions and finally published it the following summer. Ten years later the composer revised it again, and published the piece in its final form.

Rather than a programmatic tone-poem attempting to tell the whole story of the play, the Fantasy-overture is a piece in sonata form highlighting three easy to follow themes of the play. The introduction, stating a chorale-like tune on the clarinets and bassoons, represents Friar Lawrence. The first main theme, complete with scurrying scales, brass and percussion, brings the deadly feud of the Montague's and Capulet's to the musical stage. The passionate theme of the lovers enters, followed by another bout of the feuding families. The love theme returns with heightened intensity and the coda brings us to the funeral march, marked by the timpani, and Friar Lawrence, the character whose attempt to help turned to disaster. What Shakespeare achieves in the play, Tchaikovsky also accomplishes in the music: balance between the hatred of the clans and the passion of the young lovers.

Back to top

Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2001.
Send me e-mail.

Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts