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Andrews University Chamber Players
October 26-27, 2002
The Four Seasons

Strauss: Introduction to Capriccio, Op.85 | Telemann: Viola Concerto in G Major |
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G Major, BWV 1048 |
Vivaldi: La Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), Op.8, nos.1-4

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Introduction to Capriccio, Op. 85

Musical conversations. This concert features pieces of musical conversations, primarily various types of Baroque concertos, but begins with a conversation of a different type, a different age, and from a different genrethe musical stage. The Introduction to Capriccio for string sextet serves not only as an overture to Richard Strauss's final opera, but also as the subject of the first scene. Capriccio: Conversation Piece for Music in One Act, Opus 85 is Strauss's opera about opera, taking the theme: words versus music. As the curtain rises, the string sextet continues to be heard (as if from another room) as its "composer," Flamand (representing music) and the poet Olivier (representing words) observe the Countess' reaction to the piece. The music, so typical of Strauss, is wonderfully elegant, unabashedly romantic, and takes up the topic of conversation in a most imaginative way, enabling the piece to serve the drama or to be performed independently. Listen for the various dialogues and contrasting emotions exhibited among the six instruments.

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Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767)
Viola Concerto in G Major


The publication of Antonio Vivaldi's concertos early in the 18th century took Germany by storm. Georg Philipp Telemann, one of Germany's most popular and prolific of the time began to follow in Vivaldi's footsteps. Although Telemann had said in his 1718 autobiography, "I must own that since the concerto form was never close to my heart it was indifferent to me whether I wrote a great many or not," he ultimately produced more than 100 concerti for solo instruments as well other combinations. Perhaps his work in organizing amateur musical societies (collegia musica), promoting public concerts, and improving the status of professional musicians helped to drive the creation of so many concerted solo works.

Throughout the history of virtuosic literature, the viola (not unlike the contralto in opera) has suffered from a lack of inclusion. The instrument's sonic location in the midrange of string sound has been seen as a disadvantage to compete with orchestra, as the lower instrument lacks the brilliance of the violin or the depth and power of the cello. Until recently, solo works with orchestra have seldom been written for viola. Joining only three other concertos of the Baroque, the Telemann concerto is seen as the beginning of the history of viola concertos. Probably written shortly before 1740, it is cast in the Sonata da Chiesa form, four alternating slow-fast movements, scored for strings and basso continuo.

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G Major, BWV 1048


Johann Sebastian Bach's years as court musician at C÷then gave him opportunity and incentive to perfect the art of instrumental music, particularly the Italian concerto form. Although the six so-called Brandenburg Concertos were dedicated to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg in Berlin, 1721, the set seems to have been compiled of works composed earlier in the composer's tenure at the court of C÷then. The instrumentation required fits precisely that of the court orchestra. By 1721, Bach was looking around for a new position, and remembering an earlier request made by the Margrave for pieces for his orchestra, Bach sent him these concertos. This not only fulfilled the Margrave's earlier request, but may also have served as an exploration of the possibility of a position in Berlin. Bach did not receive an offer of employment in Berlin, but the Brandenburg Concertos arguably have become his most loved orchestral works. Audiences warm not only to their exuberance but also to the variety of instrumental colors used in each concerto. Technical brilliance is certainly an important element of Bach's concerti, but the emphasis is weighted toward conversation between soloist(s) and orchestra rather than sheer virtuosic display. The six Brandenburg Concertos, BWV 1046-51, are not solo concerti, but of two distinct types of ensemble concerto. While Nos. 2, 4, and 5 are more typical concerti grossi (works for a small group of soloists in dialog with full orchestra), this concert's work, No. 3, belongs to the group that follows the structure of evenly balanced instrumental choirs in conversation.

The work is scored for three each of violins, violas, cellos, plus basso continuo (bass and harpsichord). The opening movement is organized around an eight-measure ritournello sporting stunning unisons and interspersed with a number of episodes. Listen for the variety of ways that the material is treated: groups calling back and forth with the same motiv, groups playing with different motives, sometimes a single instrument breaking away with a solo. The conversation always comes back to the unifying ritornello. The second movement of the work is unusual in that Bach only provides two chords of the type he ordinarily uses to end a second movement. Performers have worked with this situation in a variety of ways, including: playing only the two chords, improvising a cadenza around these chords by either a solo string instrument or the harpsichord, or substituting another of Bach's slow works (a not uncommon practice of his time). On this concert you will hear the solution devised by Emil Platen, that of a thirteen bar cadenza for the group based on these chords. Although common in Italian concertos of the period, the final Allegro is also an uncharacteristic movement for a Bach concerto. It is a two-part dance in the style of a gigue. This movement demands considerable virtuosity on the part of the players.

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
La Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), Op.8, nos.1-4

La Primavera

Antonio Vivaldi was known variously as the red priest, the teacher of orphan girls in the Venetian Pio Ospedale della PietÓ, a renowned violin virtuoso, and an innovator in the composition of concertos of various types. He composed over 500 of them, more than 230 for solo violin. His contributions to this genre include: regular use of ritornello form (tutti theme alternating with solo episodes) in the fast outer movements, new virtuosic standards for soloists, new strong effects, such as orchestral unison. These innovations became part of the expected language of the concerto. Published in 1725 as part of a larger set (Il cimento dell'armonia e dell'inventione, Op. 8), Vivaldi's most popular work, The Four Seasons, paints a picture of the passing of a year in Italy's Venetto (not so unlike the changing seasons of Southwest Michigan) with four concertos for solo violin, strings, and basso continuo. The published version was accompanied by sonnets (written by Vivaldi?), repeated in the score where the description applies.

La Primavera (Spring)

I. Allegro

"Spring has come and with it gaiety, the birds salute it with joyous song," The opening tutti in E Major announces the joy of spring, returning between each subsequent picture; soloist and orchestral violins toss various bird trills back and forth. "And the brooks, caressed by Zephyr's breath, flow meanwhile with sweet murmurings:" The soft running notes of the violins depict the gentle brooks. "The sky is covered with dark clouds, announced by lightning and thunder." Repeated 16th notes (dark clouds and thunder), scales rushing upwards (stormy wind), rapid triplets on the solo violin (lightning). "But when they are silenced, the little birds return to fill the air with their song:"

II. Largo e pianissimo sempre

"Then does the meadow, in full flower, ripple with its leafy plants. The goat-herd dozes, guarded by his faithful dog." The solo portrays the sleeping goat-herd, while the violins murmur flowers of the meadow, and the viola provides the gentle woof-woof of the dog.

III. Allegro: Danza pastorale

"Rejoicing in the pastoral bagpipes, Nymphs and Shepherds dance, in love, their faces glowing with pringtime's brilliance." The 12/8 meter typical for rustic dances provides a framework for brilliant solos.

L'Estate (Summer)

I. Allegro non molto

"Under the heavy season of a burning sun, man languishes, his herd wilts, the pine is parched" In the breathless heat of August, each measure of the soft tutti gasps without a downbeat. "The cuckoo finds its voice, and chiming in with it the turtle-dove, the goldfinch." The soloists takes off in a blaze of heat, the cuckoo is heard in the bass, the tutti joins the brilliance of the solo; after a return to the stifling heat, the solo sings the turtle-dove and goldfinch. "Zephyr breathes gently but, contested, the North-wind appears nearby and suddenly:" The wind first comes gently with triplet pattern, but grows into a violent storm of 32nd notes. "The shepherd sobs because, uncertain, he fears the wild squall and its effects:" The stifling weather returns briefly and the soloist, accompanied with basso continuo alone sobs with the shepherd. His fears are realized, and the tutti brings back the storm with all its fury.

II. Adagio

"His weary limbs have no repose, goaded by his fear of lightning and wild thunder; while gnats and flies in furious swarms surround him." The soloist represents the exhausted shepherd, while tutti gnats and flies bother him.

III. Presto. Tempo impetuoso d'Estate

"Alas, his fears prove all too grounded, thunder and lightning split the heavens, and hail-stones slice the top of the corn and other grain." Tutti and solo bring back the north wind to wreck destruction over the landscape.

L'Autunno (Autumn)

I. Allegro

"The country-folk celebrate, with dance and song, the joy of gathering a bountiful harvest." A joyful celebration of harvest is in full swing with the violin solo fiddling the dance. "With Bacchus's liquor, quaffed liberally, their joy finishes in slumber." As more and more wine is consumed, the drunks begin falling down, hiccupping, while some try to continue their dance, others fall into slumber. Those still standing finish their dance.

II. Adagio

"Each one renounces dance and song. The mild air is pleasant and the season invites ever increasingly to savor a sweet slumber." Muted strings and Il cembalo arpeggia'--lazy broken chords on the harpsichord--set the drowsy scene.

III. Allegro: La caccia

"The hunters at dawn go the hunt," Set in the key of F, the natural key of the horn, the orchestra, and later, the solo violin sound signal the hunt. "With horns and guns and dogs they sally forth, the beasts flee, their trail is followed:" The animals try to escape through the triplets in the solo violin, dogs bay with wildly repeated thirds. "Already dismay'd and exhausted, from the great noise of guns and dogs, Threaten'd with wounds, they flee, languishing, and die, cowering." Interspersed between tutti statements of the hunt theme, the solo depicts the exhausted animals, the fleeing, the fear, the dying.

L'Inverno (Winter)

I. Allegro non molto

"Frozen and trembling among the chilly snow," Entering, one part at a time, the strings paint a picture of the frozen landscape. Trembling is heard with trills on the violins. "Our breathing hampered by horrid winds, as we run, we stamp our feet continuously," Our teeth chatter with the frightful cold:" Running passages in the solo bring in the horrid winds; repeated notes, the feet stamping; soloist double stops, the teeth chattering.

II. Largo

"We move to the fire and contented peace, While the rain outside pours in sheets." The most beautiful of movements, the violin melody represents contentment in front of the fire, while the pizzicato strings depict the rain outside.

III. Allegro

"Now we walk on the ice, with slow steps, attentive how we walk, for fear of falling;" The solo slithers along on thin ice with no supporting harmonies; tutti enters tentatively, afraid of falling. "If we move quickly, we slip and fall to earth, again walking heavily on the ice, until the ice breaks and dissolves;" Solo and tutti keep trying to stay upright, but keep falling with descending passages. "We hear from the closed doors Boreas and all the winds at war - This winter, but such as brings joy." A brief lento settles us in again cozily by the fire, and even though we hear the north winds roaring outside, we are joyful in the comforts of hearth and home.

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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