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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
Winter Concert
February 27, 2010

Mahler: Adagietto from Symphony No.5 | Bizet: Jeux d'enfants(Petite Suite), Op.22 |
Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op.35

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Adagietto from Symphony No.5

Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was composed in the summers of 1901 and 1902. According to his disciple, the great conductor Bruno Walter: “Nothing in any of my conversation with Mahler and not a single note point to the influence of extra-musical thoughts or emotions upon the composition of the Fifth. It is music–passionate, wild, pathetic, buoyant, solemn, tender, full of all the sentiments of which the human heart is capable.” But it is also a fact that Mahler and Alma Schindler fell in love and were married during the compositional process of this symphony. While the first two large sections of the work seem to acknowledge the tragedies and storms of life, the brief Adagietto movement provides a serene retreat. Apparently written as a love offering for Alma, this movement for strings and harp also holds an affinity melodically and spiritually to Mahler’s setting of the Rückert poem, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.

O garish world, long since thou has lost me,
whose sweet delights my fond heart once cherished . . .

I live alone in mine own heaven,
I live for love’s sake, whose life is song.

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Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
Jeux d'enfants (Petite Suite), Op.22

As a child Georges Bizet showed early musical promise, entering the prestigious Paris Conservatoire as a teenager. He excelled as a student, winning many prizes including the premiere composition prize, the Prix de Rome, at age 19. Although Bizet, in his short life of thirty-six years, completed many compositions, including over fifteen dramatic musical works, lack of immediate recognition filled him with disappointment. In the end he was not even to know that his Carmen would become one of the most popular operas of all time, as he died three months following its disastrous premiere. The year 1871 was particularly difficult for Bizet, both in his personal life and in the life of his country. The mental instability of his wife and mother-in-law was exacerbated by the Prussian siege of Paris and the ensuing civil unrest provoked by the Communards. Upon the restoration of peace, a renewed patriotic fervor brought about new call for native French music and a number of opportunities for Bizet and others grew out of this environment. During this turbulent time, Bizet created a charming set of twelve miniatures for piano duet, Jeux d’enfants (Children’s Games). The composer selected five of these picturesque vignettes that so charmingly evoke a child’s world to make up a Petite Suite for orchestra.

The suite opens with a miniature Marche featuring trumpets and drums; the Berceuse is a gently rocking lullaby for a doll; the central Impromptu sparkles with a game of spin- the-top; the enchanting Duo between violins and cellos depicts a little husband and little wife playing house. The piece comes to a rousing finale with the favorite 19th century Galop being danced at a ball.

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Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35

I.Allegro moderato
II.Canzonetta: Andante
III.Finale: Allegro vivacissimo

At a particularly troubled time of his life, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, having left Russia for a time, settled in a quiet Swiss village where he strove return to serious composition. March of 1878 found him plodding along on a piano sonata, but was interrupted by a visit from his former student and friend, violinist Yosif Kotek. Kotek brought with him a large quantity of music for them to read through including Lalo’s tone poem for violin and orchestra, Symphonie Espanole. Tchaikovsky was inspired by the work’s “freshness, lightness, piquant rhythms, of beautiful and excellently harmonized melodies.” Within days he was busy at work on his Violin Concerto, taking it from sketches to final orchestration in less than one month. Throughout the process Kotek provided valuable assistance in matters of violin technique and also learned the piece as Tchaikovsky composed it. While grateful to Kotek for his help, the composer chose to dedicate the piece to virtuoso Leopold Auer, the concertmaster in St. Petersburg, who Tchaikovsky hoped would introduce the work to the musical world. Auer demurred, however, and the piece was left to languish until December, 1881 when Adolf Brodsky chose it for his debut with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Hans Richter. Brodsky was prepared to perform this demanding work, but as so often can happen with new pieces, the orchestra was not. The performance created a storm of conflicting opinions in the hall and in the press. Hanslick’s criticism was particularly vitriolic, and Tchaikovsky was able to recite his diatribe, in German, for the rest of his life. Brodsky’s faith in the work led him to play it all over Germany and to give a thoroughly successful Russian premiere. In time, Auer came around and taught it to his students, a whole generation of violin virtuosi including: Heifetz, Elman, Zimbalist, Seidel, Milstein, Dushin, Shumsky, and others. Continued admiration for the concerto by violinists and the public alike has guaranteed its permanent place in the repertory.

Following an elegant orchestral opening, the violin leads off with the first of three wonderfully rich and flowing melodies, gracious, playful and fervent. Throughout the first movement the orchestra serves as a truly collaborative partner. In addition to the short opening it is given only two other tutti passages–an extended introduction to the development section and a short section just prior to the cadenza. The cadenza, Tchaikovsky’s own, explores new themes and provides requisite technical jaunts, then overlaps the solo flute which brings back the main theme. While the first movement exudes unabashed romanticism, the last two seem to underscore the composer’s homesickness for his native land. The winds introduce the second movement, a song form consisting of a Slavonic melody, followed by a tune less melancholic. The violin leaves us on a questioning note, while orchestra finishes the movement leading into the Finale. After the orchestra gives a hint of the rhythms to come and a short violin cadenza, the festivities commence with rustic fiddling, bagpipes, and plenty of fun for everyone.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2010.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts