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Andrews University
February 05, 2011

Meyerbeer: Coronation March from "Le prophéte"Poulenc: Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos and OrchestraSchumann: Symphony No.3 in E-flat major, Op.97, "Rhenish"

Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864)
Coronation March from "Le prophéte"

Born to a wealthy Berlin family, Jakob Liebmann Beer began his musical career as a piano prodigy. He conflated his name to Meyerbeer upon receiving a large legacy from a relative, Meyer. He was encouraged in his composition by Salieri (whom he met in Vienna) and to travel to Italy to study writing vocal works. Meyerbeer was impressed by, and even began to be considered a rival of, Rossini, but alas, upon returning to Berlin, the German's newly acquired Italianate style was castigated by the critics. Having enjoyed a successful premiere in Venice of his opera Il crociato in Egitto (The Crusade in Egypt), and subsequently an invitation to produce it in Paris, the die was cast that Giacomo Meyerbeer would work professionally in the French capital for most of the rest of his life. He was one of the most important composers of French opera in the 19 th century, producing the great spectacles that are grand opera.

The Coronation March that opens tonight's concert marks one of the dramatic high points of his 1849 drama La Prophète. The story involves a historical figure, John of Leyden who was promoted by Anabaptists as a “prophet.” The grand, ceremonial march, resplendent with pomp and circumstance, serves to move an enormous number of people to the stage as John “The Prophet” is to be crowned Emperor of Germany in the Münster Cathedral.

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Francisco Poulenc (1899-1963)
Concerto in d minor for Two Pianos and Orchestra

Francis Poulenc is perhaps best known for his vocal music, having written hundreds of songs, three operas and choral works. However, the voice we hear tonight is the voice of instrumental music, exuding fun and celebrating music making in the company of friends. Poulenc was a pianist; he composed at the piano, and he enjoyed playing four hand piano music, as well as orchestral reductions at the piano for concertos. In 1932, patroness of music and friend of Poulenc, Princess Edmond de Polignac commissioned the composer to write a double concerto to present, with his childhood friend pianist Jacques Février, at the Venice International Festival that fall. The Concerto in d minor for 2 Pianos and Orchestra, completed in less than three months, was premiered in Venice on September 5, accompanied by the La Scala orchestra. The work was an immediate success, full of life, verve, and merriment.

The first movement opens with an abundance of excitement provided by the pianos, followed by a pastiche of café tunes and mysterious interludes.The movement ends with Poulenc’s exotic impression of Balinese gamelan music–a new sound that had intrigued him the previous year at an exhibition. The Larghetto movement begins with homage to the composer’s favorite predecessor, Mozart. The entrance of the second piano quickly returns the listener to the 20th century. The Mozartian theme returns after a more agitated section, including another short appearance of the gamelan impression. The finale returns to the exuberant mood of the first movement, even faster and full of more tunes.

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Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Symphony No.3 in E-flat Major, Op.97, "Rhenish"

Prior to his marriage in 1840, Robert Schumann had composed primarily for the piano. With enthusiastic encouragement from his wife, Clara, in 1841 he threw much of his creative energy into orchestral works. In 1839 she had written in her diary, “I believe it were best if he composed for the orchestra: his imagination cannot expand sufficiently on the keyboard ... My highest wish is that he compose for orchestra.” Although pianists may disagree with her assessment of his piano music, concert goers certainly appreciate the symphonies and other orchestral works that came from his pen. The Schumann family’s 1850 move to Düsseldorf, where Robert took the conductorship of the Düsseldorf orchestra, inspired a burst of orchestral composition, so that by the end of the year he had completed a cello concerto and the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat. Having spent most of his life previously in Saxony, Schumann spent those first months relishing their new environment, including a memorable trip down the Rhine to Cologne where the massive gothic cathedral made a tremendous impression on him.

The symphony, nicknamed “Rhenish” exudes Schumann’s exuberance in his new position and new environment. Without an introduction, the full orchestra launches immediately into a soaring theme which dominates the entire movement. Skillful syncopations in the opening serve to propel a sense of restlessness throughout, relieved by a lyrical contrasting theme. Both themes are intertwined in the development section. A memorable moment is the four horns restating the theme in unison in the recapitulation. While Beethoven had established a scherzo as the dance movement of symphonic structure, Schumann takes us to a gentler world, more of a folk dance, perhaps a Ländler for the second movement. Rather than the typical slow movement, the third also has a folk quality, a graceful miniature intermezzo. With the fourth, added movement, we have the slow movement. Originally inscribed: “In the manner of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony,” this movement is a tone poem describing the ceremony of Archbishop Geissel of Cologne’s elevation to cardinal, an event at which the Schumanns were present. Trombones enter the orchestral palate and polyphony is utilized to conjure religiosity and the grandeur of the gothic cathedral. The lively finale is like a step outside the dark cathedral to the bright sunlight. Themes from the previous movements are heard as the symphony comes to a triumphant close.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2011.
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