Sunday, December 18, 3:00 pm
Purchase Performing Arts Center
Kazem Abdullah, conducting
Anthony McGill, piano
(click the artists’ names above to read their bios)
Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture
Weber: Clarinet Concerto No. 1
II. Adagio ma non troppo
III. Rondo. Allegretto
Bizet: Symphony in C
The Westchester Philharmonic’s programs are made possible, in part, by support from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.
The Westchester Philharmonic’s programs are made possible, in part, by ArtsWestchester with support from County Executive George Latimer and the Westchester County government.
By Laurie Shulman
Overture The Hebrides ("Fingal's Cave"), Op. 26
Born 3 February, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany
Died 4 November, 1847 in Leipzig, Germany
Mendelssohn’s overture celebrates Scotland’s wild coastal beauty
The subtitle ‘Fingal’s Cave’ comes from a structural seacoast hollow on the island of Staffa
Listen for the swirling power of the sea
Johannes Brahms once observed, "I would gladly give all I have written, to have composed something like the Hebrides Overture." While it is very much to our advantage that no such sacrifice was necessary, Brahms's assessment of this youthful Mendelssohn overture is certainly deserved. This paean to Scotland's rugged northern beauty is a masterpiece on a level with Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony and Violin Concerto. Mendelssohn's biographer Heinrich Jacob wrote that the overture "brings the perils of nature straight into the concert hall, and the audience is forced to respond on the sheer physical level."
Mendelssohn traveled to the British Isles for the first time in 1829, accompanied by his friend Karl Klingemann. Their journey included an August visit to the Hebrides Islands off the northwest coast of Scotland. The rocky beaches and dramatic seas made an enormous impression on the young composer. He sent his family a letter with a few measures of sketched music, declaring that this would help them to understand how deeply the Hebrides had affected him.
Mendelssohn is said to have jotted down that music -- the opening B-minor theme -- upon first seeing Fingal's Cave, a remarkable structure hollowed out by the sea on the isle of Staffa. The grotto has a series of columns balanced symmetrically almost as if an architect had designed them. Discovered in 1772, Fingal's Cave was still a relatively new wonder of the world when Mendelssohn and Klingemann visited it more than a half-century later. The cave lent its name as the overture's alternate title; in fact, Mendelssohn changed the work's name on two intervening occasions, as he revised it between 1829 and 1835.
The overture is full of surprises, beginning with the swirling power of the opening theme. As music evocative of the sea, The Hebrides was a powerfully influential work whose impact stretched from Wagner (The Flying Dutchman) and Smetana (The Moldau) on to Debussy (La Mer); indeed, Wilfred Blunt goes so far as to call Mendelssohn's overture an anticipation of impressionism. The composer's customary gift for orchestration is superbly in evidence, for example in the rich sound of the cellos to announce the glorious second theme, and the delicate snippets from the winds in the development section. Mendelssohn reserves a final surprise for the closing measures, where a quiet postscript from clarinet and flute reminds us, through an allusion to the opening theme,
that the sea is eternal.
The score calls for woodwinds, horns, and trumpets in pairs; timpani, and strings.
Concerto No. 1 in F minor, Op. 73 for clarinet and orchestra
Carl Maria von Weber
Born 18 or 19 November, 1786 in Eutin, near Lübeck, Germany
Died 5 June, 1826 in London, England
Weber was a central figure in the development of German romantic opera
A brilliant pianist, he also wrote exceptionally well for orchestra
He composed concertos and several chamber works for the clarinetist Heinrich Baermann
Virtuoso clarinet writing reflects new developments in the early 19th-century instrument
Carl Maria von Weber is one of the most underrated composers in all music. He was a superb pianist who wrote a wealth of solo and concerted keyboard music, the most famous of which is Invitation to the Dance, Op.260 (1819). Among German romantic composers, no one had a greater impact on the development of an independent German style of opera. Weber was a master of the orchestra, composing with assurance, formal control and the enthusiasm of an imagination that bubbles over with delightful themes.
With good reason, Weber is also remembered as a prolific composer for the clarinet. He composed several major works for clarinet, including the Concertino, Op.26, two solo Concertos (all from 1811), and a later clarinet quintet, in addition to some pieces for clarinet and piano. It was his favorite wind instrument. Like Mozart before him (with Anton Stadler) and Brahms after (with Richard Mühlfeld), Weber was inspired by a gifted performer who was also a good friend. All his major clarinet pieces were composed for Heinrich Baermann (1784-1847), first clarinetist in the court orchestra in Munich.
Weber and Baermann met in Darmstadt in January 1811.The two immediately struck up a warm friendship. Two months later, they re-encountered each other in Munich, and Weber composed his Concertino, Op. 26 for Baermann in an astonishing six days. In early April, they performed the new piece at the Bavarian Court of King Maximilian I. The monarch was so impressed that he immediately commissioned two clarinet concertos from the young composer. Responding with alacrity, Weber completed the first concerto on 17 May; the second followed by mid-July.
While Weber doubtless sought to conform to royal expectations of a traditional virtuoso concerto, his imagination was also fired by Baermann’s prodigious talent and technique. He also took advantage of new developments in the clarinet, which had been expanded from six keys to ten, allowing the skilled player to execute rapid passages and chromatic scales with remarkable agility.
The F minor concerto opens quietly and mysteriously, before an outburst to full symphonic power in strong triple meter. The clarinet line is lyrical, with abundant brilliant flourishes that include scale passages, rapid repeated notes, triplets, and arpeggios. Weber understood when to scale back his orchestra to allow the clarinet’s creamy sound to shine through without being overpowered. The cadenza, which has been attributed to Baermann, occurs at the end of the exposition, rather than in its customary position at the end of the movement.
Weber’s Adagio ma non troppo, now in C major, is an astonishing movement. It opens with an elegant cantilena for the soloist that seems borrowed straight out of opera. A middle section in C minor is more agitated, then we reach an oasis: a trio of horns takes the foreground, then cedes the spotlight to the clarinet in an exquisite interlude. It is the only time in the concerto that Weber uses his third horn. Following a reprise of the opening cantilena, the horn trio and soloist reprise their cameo, now in C major for the coda.
The sprightly concluding Rondo is the concerto’s most familiar movement, but even those who are hearing it for the first time will be captivated by its rhythmic energy and sly wit. Weber’s dialogue between clarinet and orchestra sounds a bit like a Czech dance. It is all rendered with a light touch and more than a dash of humor. One restatement of the rondo theme includes solo oboe in a countermelody to the principal clarinet theme. Once again, the orchestra remains subdued when the clarinet is playing. And play it does, in a dazzling array of pyrotechnics that bring the concerto to a brilliant close.
The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, three horns, two trumpets, timpani, solo clarinet, and strings.
Symphony No. 1 in C
Born 25 October, 1838 in Paris, France
Died 3 June, 1875 in Bougival, France
No one knew this symphony existed until the 1930s
Bizet was a teenager when he composed this masterpiece
We know Bizet as an opera composer; the symphony shows him as a natural for orchestra
One truism of classical music is that France has no strong symphonic tradition. An occasional work, however, defies that perception. Georges Bizet's sole surviving symphony certainly leads any list of such exceptions, despite the fact that it dates from his eighteenth year.
Bizet began to compose his symphony four days after his seventeenth birthday in October 1854, and finished it the following month. He had recently completed a one-piano, four-hands arrangement of Charles Gounod's Symphony No.1 in D, also written in 1855. A comparison of the two symphonies reveals that Gounod's work was clearly the model for Bizet's. Yet critics universally agree that Bizet's is the superior effort.
Oddly, this fresh and spirited symphony was unknown until the 1930s. After Bizet's death, it fell into oblivion from which it was not rescued for some 80 years. The composer's widow, Geneviève Bizet, gave the unpublished manuscript to the French critic Reynaldo Hahn, who presented it to the Paris Conservatoire in 1933. D.C. Parker, a Scottish musicologist, drew the autograph manuscript to the attention of the conductor Felix Weingartner. Weingartner prepared the premiere performance, which took place in Basel on 26 February, 1935. The Symphony in C was published in Vienna later the same year, and has remained in the repertoire ever since.
For many years prior to the rediscovery of this Symphony, critics had adjudged Bizet to be a late developer whose talent was cut short by early death before the full flower of his genius could blossom. The Symphony in C occasioned a complete re-evaluation of his gifts. Most musicians consider that this work evinces a precocity equal to Mendelssohn's in the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Octet, Op.20, and superior to that demonstrated by Mozart at the same age. Bizet's astonishing deftness of orchestration compares favorably to both earlier composers.
Charm and youthful exuberance
To those who do not know it well, the Symphony in C may come as a surprise. On a first hearing, it is more reminiscent of Franz Schubert than of Bizet's own compositions, whether the stage works L'arlésienne, Carmen, and Les pêcheurs de perles, or the instrumental Jeux d'enfants. Yet subtle hints of Bizet's mature style are readily perceptible. The oboe solo of the slow movement foreshadows Carmen's most lyrical moments (such as Don José's "Flower Song"); its sultry exoticism is startling in one so young. Listeners may also note a similarity in the finale's opening string figure to the festive strains that open Carmen's last act. The Symphony in C is not profound. Yet its exuberance and youthful confidence imbue it with a charm that makes one wish Bizet had composed more instrumental music.
The score calls for woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.
Program Notes by Laurie Shulman ©2022
First North American Serial Rights Only
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