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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
November 15, 2002

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 in D Major, op. 107, "Reformation" |
Dvorák: Cello Concerto in b minor, op. 104

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 5 in D Major, op.107, "Reformation"

Andante-Allegro con fuoco
Allegro vivace
Chorale: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott

There is no question that music played an important part in the Protestant Reformation in Germany.  Today, celebrations of the Reformation are frequently accompanied by Luther's hymn Ein' fest Burg ist unser Gott (often called the battle hymn of the Reformation).

The idea to compose a symphony in honor of the tercentenary celebration of Augsburg Confession (1530), one of the most important documents of the Reformation, came to Mendelssohn while he was in England during the fall of 1829.  The symphony was completed during that winter; its first performance, which the composer conducted, in Berlin, November 15, 1832.  It was first entitled Symphony for the Celebration of a Religious Revolution; the title Reformation became associated with the piece later.  The symphony received few performances during the composer's lifetime and was evidently laid aside, as it wasn't published until 1868, posthumously.

Of the compositions four movements, only the first and last allude to Lutheran themes.  The work opens with a slow solemn introduction closing with pianissimo strings intoning the Dresden Amen (taken from the 18th century Lutheran liturgy used in Saxony).  The ensuing allegro con fuoco is dominated by a bold powerful theme.  Following the development section, the recapitulation is signaled by the reappearance of the Dresden Amen.

The second movement engages in turns the woodwinds, strings, then full orchestra in a tuneful, playful scherzo.  The trio features a lilting oboe line.

The short contemplative andante, a song without words for strings, serves as a prelude for the finale -- a fantasia on Luther's hymn Ein' feste Burg (A Mighty Fortress is Our God).  Simply introduced by a single flute, then woodwind chorus, the chorale leads into new material in sonata form.  Phrases of the chorale reappear in the development, growing in strength in the recapitulation. The work concludes with a majestic statement of the hymn for full orchestra.  

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Antonin Dvorák
Cello Concerto in b minor, op. 104

Adagio ma non troppo
Allegro moderato

While Czech composer Antonin Dvorák devoted his creative efforts to symphonic writing throughout his career, he only completed three complete concertos: one for piano, one for violin, and the greatest of them, and perhaps the greatest for that instrument, the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in b minor, Op. 47. Dvorák's colleague and fellow countryman, cellist Hanu Wihan had for some time been urging the composer for a concerto, but Dvorák had resisted, saying "the cello is a beautiful instrument, but ... as a solo instrument it isn't much good." As with all composers that consider writing for cello and other instruments that lie in the mid and lower register, there are always balance considerations to overcome when those instruments must face a full symphony orchestra. It was at the New York premiere of Victor Herbert's (yes, the very one of musical stage fame) second cello concerto that Dvorák seems to have received inspiration on how the cello could be balanced in a sea of strings and winds. He commenced work on the piece November 18, 1894 and recorded its completion: "Thanks be to God! Completed in New York, 9 February 1895 on the birthday of our little Otto." The final movement was revised after the family had returned to Prague. Living in New York for his second sojourn in America when he began the work, Dvorák was suffering from a great deal of homesickness, a situation exacerbated upon receiving a disturbing letter from his beloved sister-in-law, Josefina, who was critically ill. In response, Dvorák worked a quotation of her favorite song, his Lasst mich allein, into the second movement. The later Prague revisions of the last movement were done after her death and involved coming back to this melody along with a brooding return of the opening theme no doubt reminiscences of Josefina.

While a great symphonic work, the cello concerto does not shirk as a virtuoso piece for the instrument. Rather than displaying virtuosity alone in dramatic cadenzas and other such tools invariably present in violin and piano concertos, this piece unites the demanding, yet lyrical solo part with symphonic features. Particularly admirable are the innumerable occasions where the solo is paired with winds in chamber-like ensemblesnotably clarinets and bassoons. This frees the full tutti, complete with trombones and tuba, for dramatic outbursts complementing rather than competing with the cello solo.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2002.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts