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Andrews University Sinfonietta
Winter Concert
February 7, 2009

Barber: Adagio for Strings | Handel: Water Music Suite | Beethoven: Symphony No.1 in C Major,op. 21

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings

Winning prizes such as the Pulitzer Traveling Scholarship and an American Prix de Rome enabled young Samuel Barber to spend extended periods in Europe studying, performing, and composing. It was in Rome, 1936, that he wrote his String Quartet, Op. 11. He subsequently made a 5-part arrangement of the slow movement for string orchestra, the Adagio for Strings . The composer submitted this work, along with his first Essay for Orchestra , to Arturo Toscanini in response to the conductor's search for the work of an American composer.The Italian conductor had fled Europe's growing fascism and had taken a new post as conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra, therefore he was seeking American music to include in the 1938 concert season. From its first hearing on a radio broadcast, November 5, 1938, the piece was an instant success and continues to be Barber's most performed and enduring work. In 1967 the composer explored the vocal qualities of the piece by making a choral setting employing the Agnus Dei text.

To the composer's chagrin, the piece became a kind of unofficial funeral piece, having been played either following radio announcements of deaths or being played at the funerals of such prominent persons as: Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Princess Grace of Monaco, Senator Robert A. Taft, and John F. Kennedy. This writer heard it performed by the Utah Symphony Orchestra on the night of the composer's own death, January 23, 1981. More recently the piece was played for commemoration events held at the site of the World Trade Center and other such occasions following the attacks of 9/11.The Adagio's elegiac tranquility and spirit of introspection has been effectively exploited in a number of films including the1986 Academy Award-winning film Platoon , Elephant Man, El Norte, Amélie and others.

In response to a BBC interviewer's asking notable musicians to speak to the issue as to why Barber's Adagio for Strings is such a “perfect piece of music,” Aaron Copland responded:

"It's really well felt, it's believable...not phoney....It comes straight from the heart, to use old-fashioned terms. The sense of continuity, the steadiness of the flow, the satisfaction of the arch that it creates from beginning to end. They're all very gratifying, satisfying, and it makes you believe in the sincerity which he obviously put into it."



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George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Water Music Suite


Allegro deciso

Returning from a sojourn in Italy, to his homeland the young Georg Friedrich Händel, took up the position of court musician at the provincial German court of Hanover. This appointment made a generous allowance for travel, of which he took full advantage. First spending time in Düsseldorf, then at the age of 25 on to London, where he proceeded to establish his musical career with court and public alike. By the time of his second visit to London, Handel was awarded a yearly stipend £200 from Queen Ann, and although he was still officially employed by the Hanover Court, it is unclear whether Handel ever planned to return to Germany. In the end, it was a mute point. The Queen died and the Elector of Hanover succeeded to the English throne as George I. While we have no record of what Handel's thoughts and fears regarding this turn of events might have been, Handel's first biographer, Mainwaring, has related a story explaining how a reconciliation between monarch and composer took place through the writing and performing of Handel's Water Music . While most scholars discount the likelihood of the events actually taking place as related by Mainwaring, there are some aspects of which we can be certain.

While Handel composed relatively little, purely orchestral music, Water Music is certainly some of his finest and it seems clear that he must have enjoyed writing it. It is colorful, vibrant, and full of melodic invention. The twenty-five individual movements that were eventually published (1740) in three suites are of various types, but without question, their instrumentation and character are wonderfully suited for outdoor performance. Indeed water parties on the Thames were common and it is possible that these pieces were written for various occasions and later gathered into suites for publication. We have records of at least three, August 22, 1715, July 17, 1717, and also for the meeting of the royal bride to be Princess of Wales in 1736. The 1717 event was described in the London newspaper the Daily Courant :

". . . On Wednesday Evening, at about 8, the King took water at Whitehall in an open Barge ... and went up the river towards Chelsea. Many other barges with persons of quality attended, and so a great a number of boats, that the whole river in a manner was cover'd; a city company's barge was employ'd for the musick . . ."

Further details were supplied by Prussian diplomat Frédéric Bonnet:

"... Next to the King's barge was that of the musicians, about 50 in number, who played on all kinds of instruments, to wit trumpets, horns, hautboys, bassoons, German flutes, French flutes, violins and basses; but there were no singers. The music had been composed specially by the famous Handel, native of Halle, and His Majesty's principal Court composer. His Majesty approved of it so greatly that he caused it to be repeated three times in all, although each performance lasted an hour .... The weather in the evening was all that could be desired for the festivity.... In order to make this entertainment the more exquisite, Mad. De Kilmanseck had arranged a choice supper in the Late Lord Ranelagh's villa at Chelsea on the river, where the King went at one in the morning. He left at three o'clock and returned to St. James's about half past four."

Handel's Water Music is certainly the composer's best known orchestral music in our time and we owe its introduction to modern audiences, to English conductor Sir Hamilton Harty's arrangement of six of the movements that we hear tonight. While this arrangement does not follow the original instrumentation, it does follow the spirit of Handel's use of a large, full, colorful ensemble.


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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C Major, op. 21

Adagio molto ~ Allegro con brio
Andante cantabile con motto

Menuetto ~ Allegro molto e vivace

Adagio ~ Allegro molto e vivace

In 1792 the gifted 22-year old Beethoven took a leave of absence from his court orchestral duties in Bonn to travel to Vienna to study with Haydn. The young Beethoven's considerable connections with nobility meant that the drawing rooms of Vienna were available for him to establish himself as a virtuoso pianist and chamber musician. He brought with him a number of unfinished compositions, and continued to polish these as well as develop new ideas while he studied with Haydn and others. By the late 18 th century, the symphony had been firmly established as the most important public musical genre by C.P.E. Bach, Stamitz, Mozart, Haydn and others. While Beethoven seems to have toyed with this form as early as 1795, he held back from publically putting forth his mark in this area, honing his ideas and skills with piano trios, sonatas and other chamber works instead, trying out his orchestral capabilities in his first two piano concertos. With the approach the new century, the composer turned seriously to the genre of the symphony, completing the Symphony No. 1 in C Major , Op. 21 early in 1800 thus launching a monumental landmark in the history of western music– the nine symphonies. The work was first heard in a benefit concert on April 2, 1800 at the Hofburgtheater in Vienna. The concert began with a Mozart symphony, followed by two pieces from Haydn's Creation . The remainder of the concert was all-Beethoven: chamber music, an improvisation by the composer, a piano concerto, and concluding what must have been a very long concert, the “New Grand Symphony with complete orchestra, composed by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven.” While some were puzzled by, and even hostile to Beethoven's approach, the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported that ... “He then improvised in a masterly manner, and at the end there was performed a Symphony of his composition which contained much artistry, novelty, and richness of ideas.”

While in this first symphony, Beethoven seems to come to the genre wearing an 18th century wig, speaking in the instrumental language and with a rather retrained approach to the forms established by Mozart and Haydn, the composer pushes the drama. He inexorably expands tonalities and surprises us at every turn with new harmonic dimensions–from the very first chords of the first movement. Who would guess in what key the cheerful first theme will end up as we are greeted at the door with a variety of seemingly random cadences. The bold use of winds surely provoked that first critic (again from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung ) to complain, “the only objection was that the wind instruments were employed excessively, so that it was more military band than orchestral music.” The second and third movements show themselves to be transitional. The lyrical second movement is framed in the spirit of an 18th century dance, while the third is a classical “menuet” in name only. This movement blazes the way for the orchestral scherzo. The finale begins like a group of beginning violinists trying to play a scale, but in the end launch a delightful main theme. Musicologists and others continually strive to find words to describe what these nine symphonies bestowed on the history of music, Tovey calls the First Symphony Beethoven's “fitting farewell to the 18 th century” while conductor Roger Norrington said “Beethoven wrote ten operas, nine of them happen to be symphonies.”


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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2009.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts