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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
April 24, 2004

Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb | Hindemith: Trauermusik | Glinka: Russlan and Ludmilla | Poulenc: Concerto in D minor for two pianos | Mozart: Symphony in G minor No. 40, KV 550

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Rejoice in the Lamb

It was in 1943 that Benjamin Britten was commissioned to write a choral piece for the 50th anniversary of St. Matthew’s Church in Northampton, England. The ensuing “festival cantata,” Rejoice in the Lamb for four soloists, choir, and organ, was a true musical marriage of the voices of the poet, Christopher Smart, and the composer. Britten took the text from the poem Jubilate Agno and organized it into ten contrasting sections in a manner reminiscent of a Purcell verse anthem. Considering the poem “his magnificat,” Smart wrote Jubilate Agno primarily while confined in an insane asylum. The poem is a celebration of praise through all creation, from old testament heroes and beasts to the joyful sounds and rhythms of various musical instruments, concluding with God himself making music on the harp. Britten uses simple melodies and exact rhythms to illuminate the spirit of the poem. The organ accompaniment exudes litheness and charm in describing cat Jeoffry’s unique praises and portrays the animation of a cat and mouse game. Dark choral colors underline the poet’s misery and condemnation that he shares with Christ his Saviour. In the end, the hand of the Master harpist returns the mood to peace and serenity as the chorus intones the final “Hallelujahs.”

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)
Trauermusik (Music of Mourning)

The 1933 election that brought the National Socialists to power spelled the approaching end of leading German composer, performer, and teacher Paul Hindemith’s life in his native land. His associations with Jewish colleagues led to boycotted performances. His music was denounced and banned because it had been branded “cultural Bolshevism.” For awhile, he attempted to make the best of things, describing himself “as the mouse who recklessly danced in front of the trap and even ventured inside; quite by chance, when it happened to be outside, the trap closed!” His compositions (many of which were not published until after his death) began to become the voice of mourning through melancholy themes or settings of despondent texts. As he began to seriously consider leaving the country, Hindemith also composed several large works reflecting German themes including the opera and symphony Mathis der Maler and his viola concerto based on German folk songs, Der Schwanendreher. In January,1936, Hindemith was invited to play this concerto in London. The day after he arrived, King George V died, making the performance of the rambunctious piece inappropriate. The conductor Sir Adrian Boult was determined that Hindemith still play, so he was invited to compose something appropriate for the situation. He was given a studio, and in six hours the Trauermusik (mourning music) for viola and strings was created for a broadcast concert on the BBC . More like a baroque church sonata than a concerto, the piece served the occasion well. Cast in four short movements, the piece concludes with a harmonization of the Bach chorale Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit, O Gott (Before Thy throne, O God, I stand) a tune similar to “Old Hundredth,” which was well-known to the British.

Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857)
Russlan and Ludmilla

It was through the voice of Mikhail Glinka’s operas and other works that Russian music began to be heard and respected in the west. He had the good fortune to be introduced to Russian folk and church music at an early age, as well as western music and Russian literary works. Traveling to Italy and Germany for health reasons, and to study and perform, Glinka met Bellini, Donizetti, Mendelssohn, and Berlioz. Although he benefitted from his studies abroad, he felt drawn to work in a Russian idiom rather than continue as an “Italian.” The second of his two operas, Russlan and Ludmilla is based on a Pushkin verse tale set in 10th century pagan Russia. The plot, a mixture of fantastic, romantic, and satirical motifs, gives plenty of opportunity for sparkling, colorful tunes. The overture, which has become established as a favorite showpiece in the concert repertoire, provides a fine sampling of the themes of the opera. Listen for racing violins, and, during the middle section, solos for nearly everyone else, including the timpani.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)
Concerto in d minor for two pianos

Francis Poulenc is perhaps best known for his vocal music, having written hundreds of songs, choral works and three operas. 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, Princesse 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. It was an immediate success, full of life, verve, and merriment The first movement opens with plenty 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. The finale returns to the exuberant mood of the beginning, even faster and brimfull of more tunes.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphony in g minor No. 40, K. 550

Complete books, hundreds of book chapters and articles, and thousands of program notes have been written about Mozart’s last three symphonies that were composed three years before his death. Because we lack direct documentation of first performances of these great works, conjecture abounds that these pieces may not have been heard during the composer’s lifetime. We do know that he completed these three symphonies during the summer of 1788 (No. 39 on June 26; No. 40 on July 25; No. 41 (Jupiter), on August 10). Chronically short of money, we also know that Mozart often composed to pay the rent, providing small works for domestic use and large ones for public spaces. It is possible that he planned them for potential Viennese subscription concerts, to take them on tour to Germany, or even to publish them as a group. At any rate, there is evidence that Symphonies 39-41 were well-known by the time of Mozart’s death. The Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K.550 has long been considered a manifestation of Mozart’s most personal voice. In addition to chronic financial problems, he was suffering from the feeling that the Viennese musical scene had passed him by–he was no longer the Wunderkind pianist/composer. The symphony, scored without trumpets and drums, is one of passion and seriousness with few smiles. Its gravity and richness was enhanced further in a second edition with the addition of clarinets and the rewriting of the oboe parts. The restless first theme begins immediately with no formal introduction. Throughout the symphony, the strings generally lead the way with winds providing appropriate interjections. As many commentators have noted, this work is without peer in its clarity and balance. It is emotionally charged but never stormy. The relentless rhythm propels but does not force the flow. Daring harmonies make an appearance, but within the classical framework Mozart gently leads the way to the overt musical emotional expressions to come in the next century. Words fail to explain what makes this work great. The voice of the composer has spoken to us through music alone.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2004.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Pieces Chronological Index of Concerts