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Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
Waltzes and Dances from Europe and America

November 4, 2006

Dvorak: Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, no. 1 | Bizet: L'Arlesienne Suite no. 2 |
Dvorak: Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, no. 2 | Brahms: Hungarian Dance no. 1 | Strauss: Emperor Waltzes |
Sibelius: Valse Triste | Copland: Hoe Down


Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, no. 1

It was with the publication of his Slavonic Dances, Op. 46, that Antonin Dvořák’s artistry was finally brought to international attention. Along with their companion set, Op. 76, to this day the pieces remain his most popular. It was fortunate that the quiet, gifted man from Bohemia met the equally quiet and gifted Johannes Brahms of Germany. The latter was generous enough to recommend that his own publisher, Simrock, should take Dvořák’s Moravian Duets and put them to press. Following success with these pieces, and the triumphant reception that the Hungarian Dances of Brahms received, in 1878 Simrock commissioned Dvořák to write a set of Slavonic Dances for piano duet. With burning nationalistic fervor Dvořák immediately set to work, completing a set of eight dances over a two-month period and adapting them for orchestra during the summer . While he took care that these pieces be within the technical reach of amateur pianists, it is in his brilliant orchestrations that they evoke the spirit of life in Bohemia. Having played in the village band as a youth and working as a violist in a Prague dance band and a theater orchestra, Dvořák experienced the folk music of his country as naturally as breathing. While the melodies and harmonies are the composer’s own, the rhythms and styles are those of the traditional dances. The two we hear tonight are set in the form of the brisk furiant (swagger’s dance), a favorite of the composer’s. (This dance form frequently turned up in place of a scherzo in his larger works).

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Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
L'Arlesienne Suite no. 2

Pastorale
Intermezzo
Menuet
Farandole

Bizet’s short life of thirty-six years was largely filled with disappointments. In the end he was not even to know that his opera Carmen would become one of the most popular operas of all time, as he died three months following its disastrous premiere. Following early studies with his parents, he was enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire. There he excelled, winning many prizes including the premiere composition prize, the Prix de Rome, at age 19. Bizet had not done much travel prior to the trip to Rome, therefore the journey through the landscapes of the south of France and Italy made a particularly strong impression on the young man. This experience proved fruitful when in 1872 Bizet was engaged to provide incidental music for the Théâtre Lyrique production of Daudet’s L’arlésienne (The Woman of Arles). The composer provided twenty-seven pieces for stage orchestra to accompany the action, much of it played under spoken dialogue. Daudet was thrilled with the music that so eloquently captured the essence of Provence and its people, but the whole enterprise was not well received by the Parisian audiences and theater critics. A few musicians, including Massenet, understood the quality of the music and encouraged the composer to recast the music for concert use. Bizet quickly arranged four pieces for full orchestra, and that group, Suite No. 1, proved a success in the concert hall from its first hearing in November of that same year. It wasn’t until after the composer’s death that his lifelong friend, Ernest Guiraud, arranged four more pieces (Pastorale, Intermezzo, Menuet, and Farandole) into the Suite No. 2 that we hear tonight. Some will recognize Guiraud’s arrangement of the second movement as being set for solo voice to the liturgical text Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). It is also interesting to note that the Faradole is one of three Provençal folk tunes utilized in the complete incidental music.

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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Hungarian Dance no. 1

The political situation of 1848 caused a number of Hungarian nationalists to pass through or settle in Hamburg, Germany. One of these, a young violinist, Eduard Hoffman (who called himself Remény) caught the attention of the young Brahms with his impassioned playing of Hungarian and gypsy tunes. Following rumors of an impending arrest, Remény embarked upon an American interlude, but, upon his return, he persuaded the shy Brahms to accompany him on tour throughout Europe. Along with standard concert fare, the two presented gypsy music in the “Hungarian” style–the popular music all the rage in the streets and the cafés–Remény pouring out his nationalistic soul, Brahms working out his own accompaniments and all the while absorbing the spirit of the Magyar and gypsy tunes. This exposure to the folk-like melodies and particularly the irregular rhythms of this music turned out to be a gift to the composer, as they aided in the development of his own style. After years of playing “his” Hungarian dances for friends, Brahms decided to write them down and have them published. In 1869 he sent seven of them to a Budapest firm that, to his chagrin, rejected them. A few years later the pieces were sent to his Berlin publisher, Simrock, who immediately recognized their value and accepted them, to their mutual benefit. In their original piano duet form the pieces were an instant hit. Shortly thereafter Brahms made a solo piano arrangement and his lifelong musical collaborator, the Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, supplied a violin and piano set. Brahms transcribed numbers 1, 3, and 10 for orchestra, but left the remaining dances for others to arrange, including Dvořák. As Brahms considered these pieces arrangements rather than original compositions, he requested that they not be given opus numbers, but, in the end, they gave him the means to “eat well” as a free-lance composer and there was plenty of money coming in to keep Simrock happy as well.

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Johann Strauss (1825-1899)
Emperor Waltzes

By 1888 the idolized Waltz King seemed to be weary of the celebrity life, but in honor of the loved and respected Emperor Franz Josef’s 40th Jubilee, Johann Strauss II rose to the occasion to assure that due musical homage came from his pen. While in his youth, Strauss attracted the attention of the police due to some of his revolutionary-leaning compositions, but by the 1888 Jubilee he was full of respect and devotion to his Emperor. Serving up two sets of waltzes for the occasion (the Kaiser-Jubiläum Waltzes, Op. 434 were specifically for the ceremonies), it was with the Kaiserwalzer (Emperor Waltz) that the composer presented his most enduring honors. During the course of his career, Strauss had taken the waltz form from the simple rural dance of the era of his father and Joseph Lanner and transformed it into something truly symphonic. The Kaiserwalzer is perhaps the most symphonic of all with its elaborate introduction, multiple themes flowing effortlessly from one to the next and an extended coda, all utilizing full symphonic forces. The piece begins with a shadowy and graceful march-theme reminiscent of Mozart; next comes a Turkish-inspired theme; followed by a lovely cello solo introducing the calm and genial first waltz tune. Before it’s all over, a traditional Austrian Ländler, cheering crowds, and a military parade remind us that the Emperor, and the set of waltzes written for him, are for all classes of people.

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Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Valse Triste

It was largely due to two works that Finnish composer Jean Sibelius became a household name. The ever enduring Finlandia is the most obvious one, but he could never have guessed that a simple theater piece would become a popular tune heard in café and tea houses all over Europe and played with every imaginable combination of instruments. Sibelius, always short of money must have regretted selling the score of Valse triste (Sad Waltz) to his publisher outright for about $25. Gaining royalties on innumerable performances and arrangements would certainly have kept the cash flowing. Sibelius wrote incidental music for eleven theater productions, including the 1903 play Kuolema by his brother-in-law, Arvid Järnefelt. The Valse triste accompanies an early scene: the central character is at the bedside of his dying mother who tells him of her dream of having gone to a ball. The dark haunting main theme, contrasted with a brighter tune, effectively portrays the stage action, but also comprises a charming miniature tone poem.

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Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Hoe Down

It was wartime and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo was exiled in New York. Looking for a new piece for their repertoire and a new choreographer, in 1942 they engaged Agnes de Mille to submit a proposal, a Western scenario. Aaron Copland was engaged to write the music. Copland was initially reluctant to take on another Western-themed project as he had previously done Billy the Kid, but was persuaded to take it on anyway. As it turns out, along with Appalachian Spring, he ultimately worked on three very different ballet pieces highlighting the American frontier. The music for Rodeo was written during June of 1942, orchestrated in September, and received its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera on October 16. The sold-out audience gave the production twenty curtain calls, with even some of the orchestra members joining in the standing ovation. Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were in attendance, immediately engaged de Mille to choreograph Oklahoma. Copland extracted a suite (Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo) and arranged it for full orchestra. Arthur Fiedler and his Boston Pops Orchestra premiered three of these pieces on May 28, 1943. This suite remains immensely popular with audiences. Copland and de Mille exercised a truly collaborative relationship in the development of the ballet score, with the choreographer requesting specific types of music and Copland heeding all her suggestions. The ballet pictures weekend entertainment at a Western ranch–cowhands showing off their skills and the courtship ritual of a Saturday night barn dance. Copland utilized a number of traditional American folk tunes and used the orchestral instruments to evoke folk instruments. The Hoe-down (the final dance of the ballet and the suite) makes use of several square dance fiddle tunes. The short piece begins with vigorous tuning, then launches into the vital, brash main theme, alternating with vamps for tap dancing. As the head cowhand, Buck, approaches Cowgirl, the vamp slows, highlighted by the chromatic descent of the trombone, to the moment of the kiss. A return to the main theme concludes the piece.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2006.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts