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The glories of Rome, past and present; sunny Spain, the mysterious northland of Finland–through the music of tonight's program we're invited by the music to travel. Each of the composers represented have taken their own musical pilgrimages–Respighi to Russia and Berlin, Rodrigo to Paris, Sibelius to Berlin and Vienna. Each returned home the richer and through their creations we may visit their own countries.
One critic has called the music of Italian composer Ottorino Respighi "new old music." Throughout his relatively short life the composer exhibited a passion for music of the past, editing performing editions, orchestrating music of earlier times, as well as paying homage to the past by incorporating musical idioms (such as Gregorian chant and old dance forms) into his larger works.
Respighi is known as a master of orchestration, in fact Rachmaninoff entrusted his five Etudes-tableau for piano to Respighi to be set for orchestra. An accomplished violinist/violist, the composer won positions in the great theater orchestras of St. Petersburg and Moscow, and while there spent very profitable time with Rimsky-Korsakov–perhaps the greated orchestrator of all time.
Perhaps most famous for his large tone poems, Respighi's works have been championed by many great conductors including Toscanini, Koussevitsky and Fritz Reiner. The critics may be a bit snide when they say "new old music" but audiences everywhere have taken to the radiant renditions of the composer's creativity.
Pini di Roma (1926)
The Pines of Rome is the second of Respighi's trilogy of symphonic poems devoted to his impressions of the Eternal City, his adopted home. For several years the ideas for this work, inspired by visual sensations of the Roman landscape, past and present, had been accumulating in the composer's mind. By 1923 the four scenes had reached the definitive stage which for Respighi always preceded the routine work of actually scoring a piece for orchestra.
At the first performance of the work in Rome, December 14, 1924, the opening section was greeted with boos and hisses. However, the sudden pianissimo of the mysterious second part, the lush beauty of the third, and the grandeur of the final section awakened an enthusiasm for the piece that continues unabated. It received its American premiere by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Arturo Toscanini, Janualry 14, 1926. Lawrence Gilman, program annotator for this concert wrote: "In The Pines of Rome [Respighi] uses nature as a point of departure, in order to recall memories and visions. The century-old trees which dominate so characteristically the Roman landscape become testimony for the principal events in Roman life."
Pini di Roma falls in four distinct but connected parts. Following is the composer's description as printed in the score:
Children are at play in the pine groves of Villa Borghese; they dance round in circles. They play at soldiers, marching and fighting, they are wrought up by their own cries like swallows at evening, and they come and go in swarms. Suddenly the scene changes and–II. The Pine-trees Near a Catacomb (Lento, 4/4; muted horns, p)
–we see the shades of the pine-trees fringing the entrance to a catacomb. From the depth rises the sound of a mournful chant, floating through the air like a solemn hymn, and gradually and mysteriously dispersing.III. The Pine-trees of the Janiculum (Lento, 4/4; piano cadenza; clarinet solo)
There is a thrill in the air: the pine-trees of the Janiculum stand distinctly outlined in the clear light of the full moon. A nightingale is singing.IV. The Pine-trees of the Appian Way (Tempo di marcia)
Misty dawn on the Appian Way: solitary pine-trees guarding the magic landscape; the muffled, ceaseless rhythm of unending footsteps. The poet has a fantastic vision of bygone glories: trumpets sound and, in the brilliance of the newly-risen sun, a consular army bursts forth towards the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph to the Capitol.
Concierto de Aranjuez (1939)
Respected as a composer before the 1940 premiere of Concierto de Aranjuez, this work made Rodrigo an overnight success. The title refers to the ancient royal summer resort of Aranjuez near Madrid of which only the gardens remain. The composer has said that the concerto "is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the treetops in the parks; it should only be as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty as a veronica; a suggestion of times past."
The delicacy of the orchestration not only helps convey the mood that the composer desired, but also solves the problem of balancing the solo guitar with the weight of the full symphony orchestra. The guitar is often accompanied by another solo instrument--notice particularly the cello in the first movement and the English horn, oboe, and bassoon in the second. When accompanying, the strings provide either pianissimo harmonies or rhythmic pizzicato.
The first and last movements recall the dance, both utilizing shifting rhythms. The guitar alternately uses rasgueados (strums), punteado (picking), or flights of brilliant scale passages. The first movement is in the style of the fandango, the last a courtly dance of earlier times–the shifting rhythms daring us to try to dance it. Separating the two dances is the most extensive of the movements. This outpouring of emotion evokes the saeta– a centuries old Andalusian song heard in processions held during Holy Week. At the passing of a religious statue, out of the crowds a gypsy singer pours out an improvised song of ecstasy and despair. The English Horn and guitar share the role of the gypsy; after an extensive solo cadenza, the orchestra majestically states the theme taking the role of the crowds. Together they share the soul of Spanish music.
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The provincial garrison town of Hämeenlinna where Sibelius was born and spent his early years might not seem a likely place for a budding composer to be exposed to great music, but the mixed population of Finns, Swedes, and Russians supported a rather ambitious concert season. The composer also received a good grounding in piano and violin and he had the good fortune to be sent to a Finnish-speaking school (uncommon for the times–the language of the middle class was Swedish) where his imagination was stirred by the wonderfully rich Finnish folk legends. Sibelius's early performing and compositional efforts were devoted primarily to chamber music. He was unfortunately barred from experiencing the early symphonic efforts being launched in the Finnish capital because of a feud between his teacher Wegelius and the conductor Kajanus (the former's students were forbidden to attend concerts conducted by Kajanus). However, after three productive years of study with Wegelius, Sibelius's genius was recognized with a government stipend and scholarship to study in Berlin and Vienna. It was in the concert life of these great musical centers that Sibelius discovered his real voice–that of the symphony orchestra.
Although the composer's output included an enormous quantity of music in a variety of forms, his international reputation rests primarily on his large symphonic works–primarily the seven symphonies and various tone poems. His orchestration is characterized by dark colors and lower registers of the instruments (notice the prominent role of the tuba in tonight's performance), punctuated by moments of brilliance.
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 43 (1901-1902)
The closing years of the 19th century saw Czarist Russia tightening its grip on Finland and growing resistance to this oppression. Although Sibelius kept aloof from overt political activities, he subtly enganged in patriotic activities by nurturing nationalism through his art. On more than one occasion, Sibelius denied that his symphonies were intended to be programmatic or descriptive. However, it is not reasonable to believe that his works were divorced from the times and environment in which he composed them. Although not as obviously political as the tone poem Finlandia of 1899, the second symphony impresses one as the most nationalistic of the seven. The first movement evokes images of the Finnish landscape–the trees, lakes, mountains, the traditional life. A musical saga, the second movement offers folk-like melodies intertwined with the tentative pizzicato of the strings giving the sense of the small country surrounded by its powerful neighbors. The agitated scherzo of the third movement strikes one as a call to arms, the awakening of the national spirit. The dramatic change of mood of the middle section returns at the end of the movement to create a bridge to a song of triumph.
Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 1998.
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