Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts

Andrews University Symphony Orchestra
Music from the Old and from the New World
November 21, 2009

Vivaldi: Concerto in B-flat Major for Violin, Cello and Strings, RV.547 |
Dvorak: Symphony No.9 in E minor, op. 95 | Marquez: Danzon, No.2

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Concerto in B-flat Major for Violin, Cello and Strings, RV.547

Allegro molto

Throughout history Antonio Vivaldi has been known as the red priest (because of his red hair), a teacher, a conductor, a renowned violin virtuoso, and an innovator in the composition of many musical forms and styles, particularly the concerto. In Vivaldi’s time Venice boasted a lively musical scene, from the streets, opera houses, homes of the nobility, to the churches, with the Basilica di San Marco leading the way. Antonio’s father was a violinist there, and the young man sometimes took his father’s place in the orchestra. One of the great musical attractions for locals and visitors alike was the concerts put on by the Seminario musicale dell’ Pio Ospetale della Pietŕ. La Pietá was one of four Venetian institutions where foundling and otherwise orphaned young girls were cared for and educated by the state. Vivaldi spent some 35 years employed off and on by the Pietŕ in various capacities, such as master of the chorus and orchestra, director of concerts, violin master, and composer. With constant need of new material for performance and pedagogy, as well as its youthful, enthusiastic inhabitants, the music school of the Pietá provided Vivaldi with a veritable musical laboratory for which he wrote many of his works.

Although half of Vivaldi’s 700 instrumental works featured solo violin, he also provided concertos and sonatas for other instruments and about 50 for pairs of instruments in various combinations. His innovations in the concerto genre include: regular use of ritornello form (tutti theme alternating with solo episodes) in the fast outer movements, sensitive, passionate slow movements, virtuosic demands for soloists, new and strong effects such as orchestral unison. The Concerto in B-flat Major for Violin, Cello, and Strings, RV 547 demonstrates all of these characteristics. As with the composer’s other concertos for multiple soloists, this one presents the violin and cello soloists as both colleagues and rivals for the spotlight. While some have unfairly opined that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 500 times, this one demonstrates the magnificence of that “one concerto” and the lasting mark his works have made on the history of the genre.

Back to Top

Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)
Symphony No.9 in E minor, op. 95

Adagio~Allegro molto
Scherzo~Molto vivace~Poco sostenuto
Allegro con fuoco

Czech composer Antonin Dvorák's Symphony No. 5 in E minor (renamed his 9th upon the discovery of his first four), remains one of the most popular symphonies in the concert repertoire. Completed midway through the composer's tenure as director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, the piece was premiered by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, December 15, 1893. After the second movement and again at the conclusion, the audience gave wildly enthusiastic ovations. The work received a similar reception in subsequent performances in Boston and Vienna.

The meaning of the subtitle From the New World and the origin of the themes that Dvorák used in the symphony have been a matter of discussion since its premiere. The subtitle, added hastily at the last moment, seems to connote a letter from a homesick ex patriot telling of his impressions and experiences in a new land, the bustle and excitement of New York (where he composed the piece), the broad expanse of the landscape, the generosity and openness of the people. An ardent nationalist himself, Dvorák often encouraged his American students to draw inspiration from indigenous American music and literature to cultivate a distinctive national music. He was an enthusiastic student of the spirituals and plantation songs of the African Americans (one of the students in the conservatory, H. T. Burleigh, introduced him to many of these songs). He also was quite taken with Longfellow’s epic poem The Song of Hiawatha in which the author wove together old Native American legends to create an American literary classic. The two middle movements were particularly inspired by Longfellow's poem: the Largo by the funeral of Minnehaha, “deep in a snow bound forest,” and the Scherzo by the dance of Pau Puk Keewis at the wedding feast. Rather than quoting American folk melodies in the symphony, the composer said, “I merely tried to write in the spirit of those national melodies." (Although the composer denies quoting specific tunes, don’t be surprised if you hear something that sounds like Swing Low, Sweet Chariot or Three Blind Mice.) All in all, the piece remains a fusion of Dvorák’s American experience, and who he was, a homesick Czech composer.

This symphony abounds in thematic relationships between the movements. The first movement begins with a slow introduction anticipating the main theme. Following solemn chords on the winds, the English horn, accompanied by muted strings introduces the lovely largo theme of the second movement, later used for the text “Going Home” by a later writer. The first theme of the opening movement reappears dramatically in the middle section and two further appearances in the scherzo movement. The finale begins with an assertive march theme derived from the middle section of the largo. Listen for the reappearance of the largo theme—first on flutes and clarinets, then stated with various instrumentations, rhythms, and also in minor— as well as the main motive of the scherzo. The solemn chords of the largo’s introduction take a final bow in the coda of this popular fusion of musical themes and emotions.

Back to Top

Arturo Marquez (1950-)
Danzon, No. 2

Born in the Mexican state of Sonora in 1950, Arturo Márquez studied piano, violin and trombone as a youth in California, and returned to Mexico for conservatory training. Following composition studies with Jacques Castésčde in Paris, he received a Fulbright fellowship to study at the California Institute of the Arts, receiving his MA in 1990. Throughout his compositional life he has explored new means and languages of expression, evident in his various interdisciplinary works involving theater, dance, cinema and photography. His series of Danzones combine a popular idiom of café music and classical elements. A Danzón is a formal ballroom dance of Cuban origin still danced by couples in Cuba and Mexico of an older generation.

Márquez’s most famous composition is the Danzón No. 2. He was inspired to write it following a trip to Malinalco with friends, experts in salon dances, with a particular passion for the danzón. He later took trips to Veracruz and a famous salon, “Colonia” in Mexico city and listened to classic recordings, further helping him to internalize the rhythms, form and melodic outline of the danzón. The composer states: “Danzón 2 is a tribute to the environment that nourishes the genre. It endeavors to get as close as possible to the dance, to its nostalgic melodies, to its wild rhythms ... its form and its harmonic language, it is a very personal way of paying my respects and expressing my emotions towards truly popular music.” The piece was commissioned by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico in 1994 and was dedicated to the composer’s daughter, Lily. It begins as if in a café with clarinet, piano, claves, and pizzicato strings. The oboe is drawn into the conversation punctuated by brass, and as the pace picks up, more and more of the orchestra is drawn in. A serene middle section is followed by a return to the main theme bringing the piece to a rousing conclusion.

Back to Top

Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2009.
Send me e-mail

Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts