41st SEASON OPENING CONCERT
Sunday, October 15, 3:00 pm
Purchase Performing Arts Center
Danail Rachev, conducting
II. Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso
III. Allegretto vivace
Rossini: La scala di seta
I. Allegro vivace
II. Andante con moto
III. Con moto moderato
IV. Saltarello. Presto
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
Lyric [Lament] for Strings (1941/6; rev. 1990)
Born 27 June 1922 in Washington D.C.
Died 23 August, 2018 in Montclair NJ
George Walker was the first Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize in music
Like many Americans of his generation, he studied with Nadia Boulanger in France
Lyric is adapted from the slow movement of his String Quartet No.1
It has been compared to Samuel Barber’s beloved Adagio for strings
The music is lush, tender, and expressive
It is difficult to imagine a musical pedigree more pristine than George Walker’s. After graduating from high school at age 14, he attended Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio, then Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, then Rochester’s Eastman School – three of America’s most prestigious schools of music. At Curtis, he studied piano with Rudolf Serkin, chamber music with violist William Primrose and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, and composition with Rosario Scalero (whose former students included Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti).
Walker later refined his keyboard skills working with several internationally renowned pianists, notably the Frenchman Robert Casadesus and Britain’s Clifford Curzon. He had an active career as a concert pianist in the 1940s, including appearances with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra and Reginald Stewart and the Baltimore Symphony. Increasingly, however, he focused on composition. There, too, his achievements were impressive. He earned, in succession, fellowships from the Fulbright (1957) and Whitney (1958) foundations. The Whitney award allowed him to take composition lessons with the legendary Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau, outside Paris, for two years.
Eleven years later another pair of back-to-back awards came his way: a Guggenheim fellowship in 1969 and a Rockefeller Foundation grant (1970). During the 1960s he was a MacDowell Colony Fellow. He later received a second Guggenheim, a second Rockefeller Foundation grant, and a slew of other awards.
These accomplishments are the more remarkable because Walker is African-American. He established his reputation before Brown v. Board of Education, and sustained it through the civil rights turmoil of the 1960s. Along the way he composed some wonderful music. In 1996, he became the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize in music, for his song cycle Lilacs for voice and orchestra, which was premiered by the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa. At Eastman, Walker had earned a doctorate in 1955; is all, he received six honorary doctorates, most recently from Spelman College in 2001. Walker taught for years at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory and Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Originally written in 1941, Lyric predates all of Walker’s major compositions. Also known as Lament, it was a memorial to his grandmother. Walker incorporated the movement into his First String Quartet, subtitled “Lyric.” Both the quartet and the string orchestra movement were published in 1946. Walker revised Lyric in 1990. It remains his most frequently performed composition.
Lyric is often compared to Samuel Barber’s beloved Adagio for Strings (which was, coincidentally, drawn from Barber’s first string quartet). Tonal, warm, and direct, it speaks to us directly from the heart, with gentle waves of sound lapping gently ashore. Each section has its turn at the principal melodic gesture, eventually building to an emotional climax. Simple and deeply felt, Lyric is a minor masterpiece that deserves to be heard more.
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54
Born 8 June, 1810 in Zwickau, Saxony [Germany]
Died 29 July, 1856 in Endenich, near Bonn
The opening flourish establishes the pianist as virtuoso
Schumann’s main theme (in minor) and second theme (in major) are virtually identical in contour
Listen for the clarinet in the second theme
The slow movement is a poetic dialogue between piano and orchestra
A seamless transition leads to the joy and sparkle of the finale
We tend to think of Robert Schumann as the quintessential romantic composer. In support of this association, The New Grove cites Schumann's emphasis on self-expression and his strong vein of lyricism as two dominant characteristics. Both traits shine forth in his piano music, the realm in which he was most comfortable. Solo keyboard works dominate his early output, and the piano figured prominently in his other music throughout his career. While most of the early solo compositions predate his marriage to the pianist Clara Wieck, the Piano Concerto was specifically written with Clara in mind. She was the concerto's first interpreter and remained its great champion throughout the balance of her lengthy and stellar performing career. If Schumann was the prototypic romantic, his piano concerto is the apotheosis of the romantic concerto. That it grew out of Robert and Clara's legendary love affair only adds to its cachet.
Bursts of creativity
The mental illness that eventually caused Schumann's death gave rise to intense, exhaustive bouts of work. Schumann was a manic-depressive. His pattern was to focus obsessively on one genre for a period, then move with equal absorption to another. Just as he concentrated on piano music in the 1830s to the virtual exclusion of all other genres, in 1840 he poured forth an astonishing number of songs and song cycles. The following year, 1841, he shifted his attention to the orchestra, drafting his first two symphonies, the Overture, Scherzo and Finale, Op.52, and a Phantasie for piano and orchestra in A minor. This last became the first movement of the Piano Concerto.
Breakdown and recovery: a masterpiece completed
Clara and Robert were married in September 1840 in Leipzig. Following the several ensuing years of intense work and high productivity, Robert suffered a serious mental breakdown in 1844. The couple visited Dresden in October 1844, where Robert's health and spirits seemed to improve. Shortly thereafter they decided to move to Dresden. There, in spring 1845, Robert added an Intermezzo and Finale to the existing Phantasie. The two movements were the only substantive composing he accomplished during that first troubled year in Dresden, but they gave music one of its undisputed masterpieces. As Wilfrid Mellers has noted:
Schumann's concerto is unfailingly pianistic, for example in the sympathetic arpeggio figuration that underlies the clarinet's C-major statement of the second theme (really the main theme transposed). Schumann's cadenza at the end of the first movement is less a flashy showpiece than a test of musicianship, poetry and passion. Its tense chordal passages and trills are a thrilling springboard for the galloping coda that closes the movement.
The slow movement, called Intermezzo, is a delightful dialogue between soloist and orchestra, and one of his happiest scoring efforts. An allusion to the first movement theme provides a smooth and delicious transition to the sparkling finale, whose pianistic brilliance and rhythmic exuberance are well-nigh irresistible. Schumann thought of this concerto as "something between symphony, concerto, and grand sonata." He made the whole add up to something greater than any one of those three, bequeathing to us a golden war horse whose gleam does not tarnish.
Schumann scored his concerto for woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani, solo piano and strings.
Overture to La scala di seta (The Silken Ladder)
Born 29 February, 1792 in Pesaro, Italy
Died 13 November, 1868 in Passy, near Paris, France
Rossini was the most important Italian opera composer of the early 19th century
At least a dozen of his sparkling opera overtures have become orchestral staples
La scala di seta was early, composed when Rossini was only 20
Listen for a sparkling introduction, then a dignified dialogue in the woodwinds
The Allegro section sparkles with vigor, propulsive melodies and wit
Rossini overtures have become a sub-genre unto themselves. No other opera composer prances so proudly on the concert stage as Rossini. Few other composers have enjoyed the historical prestige of having an orchestral technique (the ‘Rossini crescendo’) virtually ascribed to them.
What makes the instrumental preludes to Rossini’s operas so irresistible, even independent of the stage works they originally preceded? To begin with, they are brimful of melodies. If Rossini understood anything about composition, it was the importance of the singable tune. Second, his overtures — even those for most of his serious operas — exude vigor, energy and contagious good humor that make the listener eager for more. Third, their scoring is expert. Rossini composed with a light tough and a genius for the woodwind section that was rarely equaled during the nineteenth century.
La scala di seta (“The Silken Ladder”) is quite early among Rossini’s operas. It was produced at Venice’s Teatro San Moisè in May 1812, when the composer was all of 20. The overture is clearly the best that this one-act farsa had to offer. Outside Italy, La scala di seta had few performances until historical curiosity excavated it in the mid-twentieth century. Its overture, however, is a classic jewel: Concise, well-constructed, and beautifully orchestrated. As Rossini’s biographer Francis Toye has noted, it provides an excellent early example of the signature crescendo. Today we associate that exciting expanse of sound with Rossini, but only months after the première of this opera, critics charged Rossini with having filched the idea from another composer!
His masculine opening flourish in unison strings is answered by winds in near rhapsodic relaxation. The contrast is superbly rendered by Rossini’s delicate and intimate scoring for a chamber-size orchestra. Following the woodwind introduction, strings and winds combine in lively dialogue for Rossini’s sprightly allegro.
The score calls for flute, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, and strings.
Symphony No. 4 in A, Op.90 ("Italian")
Born 3 February, 1809 in Hamburg, Germany
Died 4 November, 1847 in Leipzig, Germany
Infectious gaiety and irresistible themes overflow in this symphony
Listen for distinct changes of mood and atmosphere in each movement
The Andante con moto has been likened to a pilgrims’ procession
Mendelssohn captures Italy’s physical beauty, spirituality, sunny climate, and folk heritage
Writing to his sisters from Italy in 1831, 22 year-old Felix Mendelssohn described his new symphony as "the liveliest thing I have yet done, especially the last movement." Ironically, the last movement that so pleased him in the "Italian" symphony's early stages proved to be a stumbling block. Mendelssohn was never entirely satisfied with the finale, and withheld the A major symphony from publication during his lifetime. How difficult for 21st-century listeners to understand, as perfect a jewel as this beloved symphony seems! From its first measures, the "Italian" symphony sweeps us willingly along in its joyous burble, a mountain brook with gleaming sunlight dappling in endless variety upon its surface.
Italian culture delivered with German technique
Brilliantly orchestrated, the "Italian" symphony is the work of a master. It hardly seems possible that a young man in his early twenties could have composed it. The 19th-century composer and conductor Julius Benedict described the entire symphony as “warmed with the balmy air of a southern clime.” So closely knit are its four movements that it almost seems unjust to single any of them out. But Mendelssohn, the classicist who also successfully embraced the romantic concept of program music, captured several aspects of Italian culture with consummate skill.
In the Allegro vivace, he plunges us into the Italian landscape with brisk woodwind chirping. The winds provide a steady, upbeat pulse beneath the lilting string theme, in a delicious example of Mendelssohn’s gift for orchestral color. His second theme echoes the dotted rhythm of the violin melody while altering its character: now more relaxed and graceful. This first movement honors Germanic tradition with its disciplined sonata form. Mendelssohn also salutes Germany’s reverence for counterpoint by interpolating a fugato in the development section, introducing a new theme as its subject.
A procession of priests, a gorgeous melody, and a brisk Italian dance
The remaining three movements reflect Mendelssohn’s impressions of his Italian sojourn more overtly. Because of its walking bass, the Andante con moto has been variously likened to a procession of pilgrims such as young Felix might have seen on the roads around Naples, or perhaps a group of monks methodically going about their tasks on foot. If less explicitly pictorial, the third movement is surely one of the most melodious creations in all the romantic repertoire. Here again, it is scored with exquisite delicacy. The trio section, with its hunting motif for horns and bassoons, recalls the magical world of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The finale that so frustrated Mendelssohn is a saltarello. This energetic and lively Italian dance originated in medieval times, but remained popular well into the nineteenth century. Mendelssohn vividly captures the dance's energy; his genius lies in setting it in minor mode. That imaginative stroke is one of the traits that sets this beloved symphony among the masterworks.
The "Italian" Symphony is scored for woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs; timpani, and strings.
Program Notes by Laurie Shulman ©2023
First North American Serial Rights Only
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The Piano Concerto is largely a monothematic, even a mono-rhythmic, piece, yet its vitality flows and sings. It compels us, rather than forcibly compelling itself; even its orchestration glows, shedding inhibition as it follows and enriches the soloist's fantasy. Virtuosity for Schumann was never exhibitionism, nor was it nervous excitement…It was an emotional liberation; and it is no accident that the Concerto…should have been so closely associated with Clara.
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