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Andrews University Sinfonietta
November 5, 2005

Corelli: Three Dances from Op.5 | Casadesus: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra |
Liadov, Glazunov, Sokolov: Les Vendredis: Polka | Mendelssohn: Sinfonia VIII in D for Strings

Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713)
Three Dances from Op. 5

Upon hearing the term “chamber orchestra concert,” one might conjure up the image of a small group of strings (perhaps joined by a harpsichord or a handful of winds) playing 18th century music– if not on historical instruments, at least in “historical” style. Tonight’s concert, the debut of the Andrews University Sinfonietta, is not that kind of concert. While some of the music has its roots (or is purported to be) in the repertoire of the 18th century, what we will hear is unabashedly 19th century romantic music, a veritable meal of delectable musical appetizers offered through the sumptuous sounds of the string orchestra.

While Italian violinist and composer Archangelo Corelli’s published output of music was relatively small, (particularly for chamber orchestra), those works have been respected and loved by musicians and audiences alike, either in their original form, through transcriptions, or by inspiring other completely different works (such as Rachmaninoff’s piano work, Variations on a Theme of Corelli ). Corelli’s Twelve Sonatas, Opus 5, were written for violin and basso continuo (bass instrument and keyboard or lute). This opus was presented in two sections: Nos. 1-6: Sonate da chiesa (church sonatas beginning with a slow moment) and Nos. 7-12: Sonate da camera (chamber sonatas made up primarily of stylized dances). The practice of arranging Corelli’s works for other performing mediums, particularly Opus 5, was begun by his own student. Violin virtuoso Francesco Geminiani, having moved to England, found his master’s works all the rage so he reworked all of Opus 5 as Concerti grossi (published in 1726-29). Others who have arranged portions of Opus 5 for string orchestra include 20th century conductors Sir John Barbirolli and Leopold Stokowski.

The suite of movements, Three Dances, heard tonight appears to have been assembled and arranged for string orchestra by the Spanish composer Enrique Fernandez Arbos. All three movements were taken from the dance movements of Corelli’s Opus 5 Sonate da camera: the Sarabanda from No. 7 and the Giga from No. 9. The thematic material of the final movement was originally a Gavotta from No. 11, but the reworking, including such features as dramatic increase in tempo to vivace and use of most un-Corelli like pizzicattos required a name change–Badinerie–indicating the playful bantering mood to which the piece has been transformed.

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Henri Casadesus (1879-1947)- attr. J. C. Bach
Concerto for Viola and Orchestra

The origin of a number of “18th century” works performed by the Société des Instruments Anciens Casadesus and published by various members of the Casadesus family has kept performers and musicologists guessing ever since these pieces appeared in the first half of the 20th century. The Société was established by Henri Casadesus and Camille Saint-Saëns in 1901 to revive 17th and 18th century instruments and then unknown musical works. The group made up of members of the Casadesus family played instruments such as viola da gamba, quinton, and harpsichord, with Henri playing the viola d’amore. The group traveled extensively between 1901 and 1939 performing as far east as Russia and crossing the Atlantic to the U.S. Much of the collection of rare and historic instruments that Henri assembled is now in the collection of the Boston Symphony Museum.

Much of the music that the group “discovered” and performed may have been composed by Henri Casadesus. Like some of his famous contemporaries (such as violinist Fritz Kreisler), Casadesus most likely attributed his own works to those of others such as C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, Handel, and Johann Christian Bach. The absence of original manuscripts for the works, stylistic disparity with other works of those composers, and the fact that his family (who remains active musically) does not deny that Henri composed these works lead most scholars and performers to believe that many of these works, including the viola concerto heard tonight, are Henri’s compositions and not that of J.C. Bach and others. The Viola Concerto in c minor is in three movements with the first and last propelled by rhythmic motives. The central movement is characterized by lyricism and the final movement’s main theme is reminiscent of a gigue. Underlying the whole piece is a rich harmonic texture, more characteristic of the romantic era than of the galant style of J. C. Bach, but enjoyable all the same.

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Aleksandr N. Sokolov (1859-1922), Alexandr K. Glazunov (1865-1939),
Anatolli K.Liadov (1855-1914)

Les Vendredis: Polka

In late 19th century St. Petersburg there lived a rich music publisher, philanthropist, amateur musician, and above all, promoter of Russian music–Mitrofan Petrovich Belyayev. In 1885 he established a music publishing house (registered as M.P. Belaïeff in Leipzig) whose output was limited to works of Russian nationals or those who had become naturalized. He also established the “Russian Symphonic Concerts” series, a venue which facilitated the premieres of many works. Belyayev’s passion for chamber music inspired him to hold “Russian Quartet Evenings:” Les Vendredis (the Fridays). Held weekly from 1886 to his death (1903/4), musicians were invited to systematically play through the standard chamber music repertoire. Among the guests who participated were a number of composers (many, students of Rimsky-Korsakov) who not only played the music of the classical masters but also offered compositions of their own–generally lighter fare.

The Polka heard tonight , from one of several sets of Les Vendredis that came from these soirees, seems to have been written by three composers. The score bears the name of N. Sokolow on the first section, A Glazounow for the second section, and A. Liadow for the Trio. All-in-all, the end result of the collaboration proves to be a delightful confection for strings.

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Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Sinfonia VIII in D for Strings

Sinfonia No. 8 in D for Strings is one of a group of “student” pieces written by Mendelssohn between 1821 and 1823. Indeed, the composer was only thirteen when he completed No. 8 in November, 1822. Mendelssohn brought to these, his maiden compositions in the symphonic mode, a thorough preparation from his studies with his teacher Zelter of the masters–Bach (J.S. & C.P.E.), Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Indeed, the young man could play all of Beethoven’s symphonies by memory by the age of eight. The thirteen youthful symphonies were performed in house concerts at the Mendelssohn residence in Berlin with the young composer providing piano “continuo” in the Baroque style. Remaining unpublished during his lifetime, the sinfonias were fortunately preserved in the Berlin State Library where they safely survived the ravages of National Socialism against Mendelssohn’s works. Three of these string works were reintroduced to the musical world in 1959 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth and all have now been published.

Sinfonia 8 was first written for strings alone (the version we hear tonight), then re-scored with winds a few days later. The piece sports a youthful exuberance, but also a respect for the past through wonderful employment of contrapuntal techniques and a classical formal organization. The second movement, Adagio, employs a dark, unusual color by leaving the violins to rest and giving the upper parts to violas. The main theme of the Minuet is organized very much in the classical style, but the Trio gallops off in a most unusual 13-year-old way. The final Allegro molto returns to and expands the exuberant mood of the first movement with a potpourri of themes treated classically and contrapuntally. Listen for the surprise ending.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2005.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts