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Winter Concert
Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
February 4, 2012

Vivaldi: Four Seasons | Tchaikovsky: Overture-Fantasia from "Romeo and Juliet"
Buxtehude: Chaconne in E minor, BuxWV 160

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
La Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), Op.8, nos.1-4

"La primavera"

Antonio Vivaldi was known variously as the red priest, the teacher of orphan girls in the Venetian Pio Ospedale della Pietà, a renowned violin virtuoso, and an innovator in the composition of concertos of various types. He composed over 500 of them, more than 230 for solo violin. His contributions to this genre include: regular use of ritornello form (tutti theme alternating with solo episodes) in the fast outer movements, new virtuosic standards for soloists, new strong effects, such as orchestral unison. These innovations became part of the expected language of the concerto. Published in 1725 as part of a larger set (Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, Op. 8), Vivaldi's most popular work, The Four Seasons, paints a picture of the passing of a year in Italy's Venetto (not so unlike the changing seasons of Southwest Michigan) with four concertos for solo violin, strings, and basso continuo. The published version was accompanied by sonnets (written by Vivaldi?), repeated in the score where the description applies.

La Primavera (Spring)

I. Allegro

"Spring has come and with it gaiety, the birds salute it with joyous song," The opening tutti in E Major announces the joy of spring, returning between each subsequent picture; soloist and orchestral violins toss various bird trills back and forth. "And the brooks, caressed by Zephyr's breath, flow meanwhile with sweet murmurings:" The soft running notes of the violins depict the gentle brooks. "The sky is covered with dark clouds, announced by lightning and thunder." Repeated 16th notes (dark clouds and thunder), scales rushing upwards (stormy wind), rapid triplets on the solo violin (lightning). "But when they are silenced, the little birds return to fill the air with their song:"

II. Largo e pianissimo sempre

"Then does the meadow, in full flower, ripple with its leafy plants. The goat-herd dozes, guarded by his faithful dog." The solo portrays the sleeping goat-herd, while the violins murmur flowers of the meadow, and the viola provides the gentle woof-woof of the dog.

III. Allegro: Danza pastorale

"Rejoicing in the pastoral bagpipes, Nymphs and Shepherds dance, in love, their faces glowing with springtime's brilliance." The 12/8 meter typical for rustic dances provides a framework for brilliant solos.

L'Estate (Summer)

I. Allegro non molto

"Under the heavy season of a burning sun, man languishes, his herd wilts, the pine is parched" In the breathless heat of August, each measure of the soft tutti gasps without a downbeat. "The cuckoo finds its voice, and chiming in with it the turtle-dove, the goldfinch." The soloists takes off in a blaze of heat, the cuckoo is heard in the bass, the tutti joins the brilliance of the solo; after a return to the stifling heat, the solo sings the turtle-dove and goldfinch. "Zephyr breathes gently but, contested, the North-wind appears nearby and suddenly:" The wind first comes gently with triplet pattern, but grows into a violent storm of 32nd notes. "The shepherd sobs because, uncertain, he fears the wild squall and its effects:" The stifling weather returns briefly and the soloist, accompanied with basso continuo alone sobs with the shepherd. His fears are realized, and the tutti brings back the storm with all its fury.

II. Adagio

"His weary limbs have no repose, goaded by his fear of lightning and wild thunder; while gnats and flies in furious swarms surround him." The soloist represents the exhausted shepherd, while tutti gnats and flies bother him.

III. Presto. Tempo impetuoso d'Estate

"Alas, his fears prove all too grounded, thunder and lightning split the heavens, and hail-stones slice the top of the corn and other grain." Tutti and solo bring back the north wind to wreck destruction over the landscape.

L'Autunno (Autumn)

I. Allegro

"The country-folk celebrate, with dance and song, the joy of gathering a bountiful harvest." A joyful celebration of harvest is in full swing with the violin solo fiddling the dance. "With Bacchus's liquor, quaffed liberally, their joy finishes in slumber." As more and more wine is consumed, the drunks begin falling down, hiccupping, while some try to continue their dance, others fall into slumber. Those still standing finish their dance.

II. Adagio

"Each one renounces dance and song. The mild air is pleasant and the season invites ever increasingly to savor a sweet slumber." Muted strings and Il cembalo arpeggia'--lazy broken chords on the harpsichord--set the drowsy scene.

III. Allegro: La caccia

"The hunters at dawn go the hunt," Set in the key of F, the natural key of the horn, the orchestra, and later, the solo violin sound signal the hunt. "With horns and guns and dogs they sally forth, the beasts flee, their trail is followed:" The animals try to escape through the triplets in the solo violin, dogs bay with wildly repeated thirds. "Already dismay'd and exhausted, from the great noise of guns and dogs, Threaten'd with wounds, they flee, languishing, and die, cowering." Interspersed between tutti statements of the hunt theme, the solo depicts the exhausted animals, the fleeing, the fear, the dying.

L'Inverno (Winter)

I. Allegro non molto

"Frozen and trembling among the chilly snow," Entering, one part at a time, the strings paint a picture of the frozen landscape. Trembling is heard with trills on the violins. "Our breathing hampered by horrid winds, as we run, we stamp our feet continuously," Our teeth chatter with the frightful cold:" Running passages in the solo bring in the horrid winds; repeated notes, the feet stamping; soloist double stops, the teeth chattering.

II. Largo

"We move to the fire and contented peace, While the rain outside pours in sheets." The most beautiful of movements, the violin melody represents contentment in front of the fire, while the pizzicato strings depict the rain outside.

III. Allegro

"Now we walk on the ice, with slow steps, attentive how we walk, for fear of falling;" The solo slithers along on thin ice with no supporting harmonies; tutti enters tentatively, afraid of falling. "If we move quickly, we slip and fall to earth, again walking heavily on the ice, until the ice breaks and dissolves;" Solo and tutti keep trying to stay upright, but keep falling with descending passages. "We hear from the closed doors Boreas and all the winds at war - This winter, but such as brings joy." A brief lento settles us in again cozily by the fire, and even though we hear the north winds roaring outside, we are joyful in the comforts of hearth and home.

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

Considered by many to be one of the composer's greatest and most beloved orchestral works, Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet: Overture-Fantasy after Shakespeare did not come easily or quickly to the form we hear this afternoon. In 1869, fellow Russian composer Balakirev suggested to the young Tchaikovsky the idea of creating a concert piece based on Shakespeare's tragedy. Balakirev even went so far as to give Tchaikovsky a possible theme, keys he should use, and many other details–in essence attempting to dictate the shaping of the work. Balakirev, however, 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, finally publishing it the following summer. Ten years later Tchaikovsky revised it again and finally published the piece in its final form.

Rather than a programmatic tone-poem attempting to outline the plot of Romeo and Juliet, the Overture-Fantasy 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 lovers' passionate theme enters, followed by another bout of feuding between the families. The love theme returns with heightened intensity, at which point the coda is presented as a funeral march marked by the timpani, along with Friar Lawrence's theme representing the character whose attempts to help have turned into 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.

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Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707) / Carlos Chavez, arr. (1899-1978)
Chaconne in E minor, BuxWV 160

Illustrious composer, conductor, educator, and writer on music, Carlos Chávez, came of age at the time of the establishment of his native Mexico's independence in 1921. His career spanned more than 50 years in which he composed more than 200 works, established and conducted national orchestras, guest conducted and lectured in Europe, the United States, and throughout Latin America. Much of his nationalist music combined pre-Conquest and modern elements, often utilizing native instruments and music of indigenous Indian cultures. In 1928, Chávez helped establish Mexico's first permanent orchestra, Orquesta sinfónica de México and was its principal conductor for the next 21 years. During his tenure the group performed 487 works including 82 premières of Mexican works. In 1937 Chávez looked to the Baroque for inspiration and arranged and orchestrated the Chaconne, BuxWV 160, and organ work by the great North German composer and leading organist, Dietrich Buxtehude. He made two arrangements of this transcription, one for chamber orchestra and the one we hear tonight for full orchestra–full complements of strings, winds, and timpani. Chávez conducted the first performed on September 14, 1937 in the Theater of Fine Arts in Mexico City.

The Chaconne is a slow ostinato variation form with roots in the dance of Spanish popular culture. Throughout the thirty-one variations, Chávez is faithful to the stately rich structure that Buxtehude has laid out. The resourceful use of the instruments of the orchestra is reminiscent of the varied colors and infinitely varied tonal combinations and contrasts of the glorious North German organs and the magnificent acoustical environments in which they live.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2012.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts