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Andrews University Sinfonietta
Winter Concert
February 6, 2010

Fauré: Suite from Pelléas et Mélisande, Op.80 | Debussy: Prelude l'apres midi d'un faune | Strauss: Serenade for Winds, Op.7 |
Haydn: Concerto for Cello in D Major,Op 101

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)
Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, Op.80

French composer, organist, administrator, and sometime music critic, Gabriel Fauré, is today known primarily for his contribution to song repertory and his Requiem. While his orchestral efforts consist mainly of music for the theater, his symphonic masterpiece is a suite based on incidental music for the London production of Maurice Maeterlink's symbolist drama. Although Debussy's operatic version of this drama later eclipsed Fauré's musical rendering, this suite is an orchestral gem and is popular with concert audiences. Famed actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell (who played the London Mélisande) commissioned Fauré to write the incidental music, and it was she who decided where the music would be placed in the production. Fauré, perpetually over committed with professional duties, was unable to write and orchestrate the music in the space of the six weeks allotted, so he enlisted the help of a student, Charles Koechlin, to help with the orchestration. For the June, 1893 premiere, Fauré conducted the theater orchestra at the Prince of Wales' Theatre, Piccadilly. While the anonymous Times critic did not care for the music (or a lot of other things about the production), other critics were pleased with it, as well as other attendees, including Maeterlink. Fauré later pared down the original collection of 19 numbers to four, forming the suite that we hear tonight.

I. Prélude sets the stage creating a moody atmosphere as Mélisande wanders in the shadowy forest. The music is dominated by soaring string melodies. II. Fileuse or Spinning Song (introducing Act III) depicts Mélisande at her spinning wheel in her tower, blissful in the presence of Pelléas. The solo oboe sings over delicate flowing triplets. III. Sicilienne (prelude to Act II), a piece written originally for cello and piano, is used to depict contentment–a sunny duet for flute and harp. IV. The Death of Mélisande, somber music preceding the final act, takes its melody from a song sung by Mélisande in Act III. Low winds and trumpet set a funereal tone. The piece ends poignantly with tender weeping given to the strings.

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Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Prelude l'apres midi d'un faune

The 1894 introduction of Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) to the musical world announced not only what was to be a dramatic change in orchestral composition in the 20th century, but marked that all approaches to music post 19th century would be forever altered. Debussy wrote in 1913, “Let us purify music! Let us try to relieve it of its congestion, to find a less cluttered kind of music. And let us be careful that we do not stifle all feeling underneath a mass of superimposed designs.” Throwing out conventional chord function and formal structure that he called “silly obsession with over precise forms and tonality” with Faune, he gently leads us on a new path, setting his themes free to follow a will of their own. Debussy originally intended the work to be a triptych (only the Prelude was completed) of incidental music to accompany the reading or dramatic presentation of Stéphane Mallarmé's pastoral eclogue, L'Après-midi d'un faune. As with the Impressionist painters, Mallarmé’s symbolist poem was written to evoke or suggest rather than describe. As the poet chose words for syllabic harmony, rhythmic value, accents, and the power of suggestion, it was Debussy’s challenge to give the orchestral instruments the means to carry the text without words.

Debussy’s vision opens with the flute arabesque of the faun. A magical forest unfolds where music communes with nature in a sunny landscape. We sense the caresses of breezes as the faun dreams through the hot afternoon, a dream within a dream. Mallarmé, for his part, was delighted with the musical expression of his poem. He told Debussy: “I had not expected anything like that. The music extends the emotion of the poem and sets its scene more vividly than color.” On the composer’s copy of the score the poet inscribed:

O forest god of breathing air,
If you have made your flute aright,
Now hear the way that Debussy
Breathes into it the broad daylight.

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Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Serenade for Winds, Op.7

The son of the principal horn player in the Munich court orchestra, Richard Strauss grew up in a household surrounded by music and was provided with fine teaching in the classical tradition. Beginning to compose in childhood, the teenaged Richard’s career was truly initiated with the composition and premiere of his Serenade for Winds, Op. 7. Bored by traditional education, in 1882 the young man tried a brief sojourn in academia at the University of Munich where he read philosophy, aesthetics, art history, and literature. His real life–music– commenced with a notable performance of his Serenade by the Dresden Court Orchestra that November. It was well received and immediately accepted for publication. The publisher in turn brought the work to the attention of the famous conductor, Hans von Bülow, who was so impressed with the work that he not only took the piece into his repertoire, but requested Strauss to write another, a more extended work for winds. Bülow also introduced the young composer into the musical circles of the time, enabling his musical career in conducting and composition to flourish.

While Strauss later considered the Serenade to be little more than a “respectable work of a music student,” concert audiences and wind players alike enjoy the charm of the short work. It is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, four horns and bass instrument (contrabassoon, tuba, or string bass). Loosely cast in sonata form, the five-part piece begins with an exposition of two themes, the principal theme in E-Flat stated by the reed instruments. As the second theme comes to a conclusion, it is the task of the oboe to guide us through a series of ingenious modulations to the very remote key of b minor and a quicker section–not quite a development, but contrasting nonetheless. The full ensemble brings the proceedings triumphantly back to the recapitulation now stated by the horns. The coda features some fine solos for clarinets, horn/bassoon and flute.

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Franz J. Haydn (1732-1809)
Concerto for Cello in D Major, Op.101

I. Allegro moderato
II. Adagio

Concertos, the grand showpieces for virtuosos versus orchestra, came into their own as a genre in the classical era, but the preponderance of them of that epoch were generally written by composers for themselves to play. There is no mystery that Haydn, developer of symphonic form, string quartet, and master of nearly every other genre of his time, added relatively few concertos to his oeuvre. He was not a virtuoso performer. In 1761, Haydn entered the employ of the most powerful family of the late 18th century Hapsburg domain, the Esterházys. His initial contract specified that he was responsible for all musical activities (except chapel), for composing music exclusively for the use of the prince, the care for the royal instruments, and providing vocal instruction. He had charge of an orchestra of some 16 players including flute, oboes, bassoons, horns and strings. It was in this setting that he composed a number of concertos in order to feature outstanding members of the Esterházy orchestra. In his 22nd year of employ at the court, Haydn composed the Concerto in D Major for Cello for the virtuoso principal cellist, Anton Kraft. For over one hundred years there was some dispute as to whether Kraft or Haydn had written the work, but the discovery of the autograph manuscript signed and dated by Haydn (1783), in the basement of Austrian National Library in the 1950s, settled the matter once and for all. The uncharacteristic (for Haydn) virtuosity of the piece leads one to suspect that Kraft did contribute practical advice on technique and bravura passage work in the cello part.

The opening Allegro moderato commences at a leisurely pace but with surprising virtuosic requirements from the soloist: showy passage work, fast runs and arpeggios, frequent use of the cello’s perilous high range, and enormous leaps from register to register. The soloist directly introduces the central Adagio movement, a lyrical interlude in five parts. The concluding Allegro is a lighthearted, rollicking rondo filled with high-spirited fun, until a minor section briefly interjects a bit of dark gypsy drama. In the end, good humor returns to conclude this delightful, fluidly-written concerto.

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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2010.
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Program notes home Alphabetical Index of Composers Chronological Index of Concerts