PROGRAM NOTES - MAY 2, 1987
Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna Overture
Franz von Suppé's. father hoped his son would study law, and sent him to Paris for that purpose. But exposure to the artistic climate there merely reinforced his musical interests instead. After his father died, Franz and his mother moved from Dalmatia to Vienna., where he enrolled in the Conservatory. It proved to he a wise choice, for Suppe' fashioned a successful, popular and profitable career.
Would he have done as well as a lawyer? Perhaps, but neither his name nor his heritage would have lasted as long had he abandoned music, for he became one of the founders of the Viennese light operetta. Though he composed a few sacred works late in his life, his output is almost entirely for the theater--popuIar entertainment, on a par in its own day with the Broadway musical in ours.
A Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna belongs to a musical genre preceding the operetta--a humorous play, with song. interspersed is one of Suppé's earliest works. The overture to such a production never related to the story line Its function was to get the attention of the audience1 quiet the house and set the scene for the entertainment. Even at the age of twenty-four. Suppé had a "feel" for how to attract the audience with a pleasant, unpretentious bit of fluff. The original stage comedy died the natural death of a mediocre entertainment whose form is no longer in vogue, but its charming overture lives on.
The lighthearted character of the play is apparent from the very beginning, as the dramatic opening statement by brass and winds is answered by a delicate pizzicato response two bars later. Only a composer with a sense of humor--and a secure position as music director of the theater--would take a chance on that kind of opening statement, especially so early in his career.
Though Suppé never intended a specific program for the piece, it doesn't need one. Put aside thoughts of serious drama, bitter struggle, earthshattering consequences. Listen, imagine and invent your own meaning. This music is just plain fun.
Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra. op. 46
Max Bruch is another in a long line of composers who ware child prodigies. He received early musical training from his mother, a moderately successful concert soprano. At age fourteen he composed a symphony that won the Frankfurt Mozart Foundation Prize, and used the proceeds to obtain more formal training from a number of teachers. At age twenty he began to teach music to support himself, and by twenty-seven had risen to Music Director in Koblenz. His proficiency and ability to carefully craft his works served him well, and he became a journeyman composer-respected but not revered, although he eventually was awarded a master class in composition at the Berlin Academy. His career moved smoothly upward, until he was awarded as honorary doctorate by Cambridge and held the prestigious position of Chairman of the Royal Academy of the Arts in Berlin.
Throughout his career, his goal was to write music that was tuneful end inmediately appealing to his audiences. This put him at odds with the progressive 'new German school' of music, and somewhat out of the mainstream. It also 'dated' his style, and when tastes changed, his music gradually declined in popularity. Consequently, his compositions never earned the respect that he himself enjoyed personally. Although he wrote three operas, three symphonies, over a dozen pieces for soloist (violin or cello) and orchestra, as well as considerable choral work, only his violin concerti have survived in the repertoire.
Even though it departs from the traditional structure, the Scottish Fantasy is really a concerto for violin and orchestra. It is only infrequently played nowadays, far less than his first violin concerto. This is a shame, for the Fantasy contains some equally fine writing. The solo part ranges from lyric beauty to fiery technique, and the orchestral accompaniment contains as many moments of both drama and expression as the solo. Many of the melodies are drawn from Scottish folk Songs that Bruch collected during travels throughout Britain in his early career (although he Germanized the rhythms --and thereby lost a bit of the characteristic sound of the original.)
The scoring is for a very full orchestra, and takes full advantage of the range of colors this allows. Often, this requires a 'big' virtuosic approach in the solo part to balance the orchestra. At other times, the soloist sings as if alone in the highlands, with a sofness that dares not disturb the morning. Bruch excels at both styles of writing, producing a piece that transports the listener beyond this world to the Scotland of his imagination-full of beauty, but still raw and untamed.
Symphony no. 9 in E-Minor "From the New World"
Dvořák's "New World Symphony" is one of the best known and best loved pieces of serious music ever written. Its origin is also one of the most controversial. By this stage of his career (it was his last symphony and one of his last major orchestral works of any kind) he was respected as one of the musical world's true giants, As such, he was enticed to spend several years in America as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, to enhance its image. While there he did all he could to experience the land and its culture.
Dvořák was a staunch believer is nationalism and the musical identity of any land. His own earlier works had been based on musical elements drawn from the Czech folk music (the Slavonic Dances for example) and even his mature works still reflected the influence of his musical roots. While teaching at the Conservatory he tried to promote the same consciousness of musical values among his students, -campaigned for "an American music based om American roots" instead of European. He looked to the dance rhythms of the American Indian and the melodic inspiration of the Negro spiritual as two sources of musical material for American, composers to develop.
While here, he wrote a symphony and gave it the subtitle "From the New World." It was widely assumed that he had done in the symphony, exactly what he counseled in his teaching; used American Indian and Negro songs and rhythms as the source of his musical materials. He denied this and said the subtitle referred to himself, as if writing "from the New World" back to his public in Europe. Furthermore, musicologists point out that he had already used all the harmonic and rhythmic devices of the ninth symphony in his earlier works, long before he became familiar with new world folk music.
Nevertheless, it is herd to deny the influence of the American musical heritage on this essentially European work. The famous largo (played by, English horn in the second movement) could easily have been sung in the cotton fields of the pre-Civil War South. The. melody and rhythms of the Scherzo ware probably drawn from Indian dance scenes he had sketched for a (never completed) opera project based on the story of Hiawatha. And the spirit of the piece as a whole reflects the vitality he felt in the still-young culture of the new world. It hardly matters whether the music has authentic Americam roots or not-like the grape, it takes on the character of the soil from which it grew, and mellows into its own classical vintage. The work is a favorite for musicians to play (nearly every section has solos to sing or important musical statements to make) and still more for audiences to hear.
Program Notes by C. Michael Kelly