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Andrews University Sinfionetta
Schubert and Brahms

January 27, 2007

Schubert: Overture to "Die Zauberharfe" | Schubert: Symphony No. 8 "Unfinished" | Brahms: Concerto for Violin Cello and Orchestra (Double Concerto)

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Overture to "Die Zauberharfe"

There is no doubt that Schubert had a passion for the theater. The large amount of music in various theatrical genres found in his collected works attest to that fact. It is also a fact that what is known of these works today is primarily limited to his charming incidental music for the play Rosamunde and a handful of other pieces. In 1823, when Schubert accepted the commission to provide music for Rosamunde, he was given only days rather than weeks to provide the music in time for the opening night of December 20th. This time constraint therefore required some recycling and borrowing to meet the deadline. He did not write an overture, but used instead one written the previous year for the opera Alfonso und Estrella. While the play Rosamunde survived only two performances, Schubert’s music has endured. It was finally published in 1891 prefaced with yet another overture, the piece heard on tonight’s concert. This overture was originally written in 1820 for the melodrama Die Zauberharfe, another short lived theatrical work whose existence is mainly remembered because of Schubert’s music.

The introduction begins with the full orchestra intoning slow solemn chords. It continues with a gentle lyrical theme in 3/4 time featuring interplay of various winds and followed by strings, building back to tutti orchestra. The main body of the overture is constructed in the classical sonata-allegro form but without a development section. The spirited first theme is introduced by strings alone, the second theme by clarinet and bassoon in unison. Both the exposition and the recapitulation of these themes are followed by a stretta section–a faster, more energetic theme common in Italian opera overtures of the time. The piece serves well as a curtain raiser, whether at the theater or in the concert hall.

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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 8 in b minor "Unfinished"

Allegro moderato
Andante con moto

Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in b minor (Unfinished) holds a place of honor in the development of music, and is also his most popular symphonic work. While the composer's unique lyrical genius was first manifest in his songs, as he matured, this lyricism was also displayed in his orchestral and chamber works, bringing a truly romantic feeling to these classical forms. In 1823, Schubert sent the manuscript of two completed movements and a few bars of sketches for a third of a b minor symphony to Josef Hüttenbrenner to be given to his brother Anselm as a gift. After being hidden away for thirty-seven years, this manuscript finally came to light, and was handed over to the conductor of the orchestra of the Musikverein in Vienna. Music critic Eduard Hanslick reported the Viennese reception of the first performance of the two completed movements on December 17, 1865, "When, after the introductory bars, the oboe and clarinet give out their suave tune in unison over the quiet murmur of the violins, any child could have recognized the authorship, and a stifled exclamation, almost a whisper, ran through the hall: Schubert! Before he has scarcely entered, they know him by his step; by the way he lifts the latch.” Many theories abound as to why, or even if, the symphony was left unfinished.

Today we enjoy the piece as it stands, although some have attempted to expand it to a four-movement work by “completing” the scherzo sketches and using the b minor Entr’acte from the composer’s incidental music to Rosamunde for a finale. As generations of music lovers have confirmed, these two most perfect movements are quite self-sufficient. In this work, which explores the heights and depths of human emotion through orchestral colors and varied musical structures and devices, Schubert helped usher in the age of the romantic symphony.

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra (Double Concerto)

Vivace non troppo

“I must tell you that I have had the strange notion of writing a concerto for violin and cello!” Brahms wrote the conductor Franz Wüller in 1887. A few days later the idea had become “a happy notion” in a letter to Clara Schumann. By the time of its completion, The Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, commonly known as the “Double Concerto” had become a vehicle of reconciliation between the composer and his estranged friend, eminent violinist Joseph Joachim. (The break stemmed from Joachim’s perception that Brahms had conspired against him at the violinist’s bitter divorce proceedings.) During the course of preparing the concerto’s first performances in the resort town of Baden-Baden, and the official premiere October 18, 1887, in Cologne, Clara Schumann wrote in her diary “Joachim and Brahms have spoken to one another again after years of silence.” The soloists for the premiere were Joachim and cellist Robert Hausmann, with Brahms conducting. The composer continued to hold out the olive branch in publishing the work the following year with the dedication: “To him for whom it was written: Joseph Joachim.”

The last of Brahms’ orchestral works, the concerto follows the composer’s propensity to utilize classical forms rather than to break new ground. Inspiration for the instrumentation of this work stems from the Baroque concerto grosso, setting a small group of instruments against the body of the orchestra. While the form is classic, the substance is certainly a product of the romantic ethos. The soloists are called upon to display their virtuosity–but together. Listen for the generous use of double stops—the resulting sound sometimes gives the effect of a solo string quartet. Following the dramatic opening movement, Brahms gives the soloists a melody of blossoming beauty one writer describes as a ”great ballade, steeped in the rich mysterious tone of a northern evening atmosphere.” The concluding rondo displays four contrasting themes featuring the zestyness of the Hungarian dances the composer loved so well.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2007.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts