January 28, 2017
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 101 in D Major
Composed in 1794
In addition to composing 104 symphonies, numerous operas, oratorios and concertos, Haydn “fathered” the string quartet by adding viola to the established string trio. He composed 69 string quartets, creating a new medium that is still popular today. Haydn acquired the endearing nickname “Papa Haydn” from admiring colleagues and students.
Working under the patronage system of the time, Haydn was engaged as court composer for Prince Esterházy, where he served as staff musician, along with the other servants. When Haydn retired, Johannes Salomon, a famous impresario from London, invited him to London to compose and perform his music. While in London, Haydn was able to make use of the largest orchestra he had ever encountered. All of his later symphonies, from No. 93 on, were composed in London, where, contrary to his previous position as servant, he was treated like a royalty. Humble by birth and position, in the end he was greatly revered.
Composed in 1794 at the age of 62, Haydn’s Symphony 101 is a delightful work of high energy and sparkling creativity. A solemn introduction alternates between the minor and major tonalities, eventually settling on the major. The first theme is a dance-like melody in 6/8 time, followed by a second theme that is much quieter but similar in rhythm. The development section uses fragments of both themes, sometime using a question/answer format in the upper and lower forces.
This symphony is nicknamed “The Clock,” because of the tick-tock writing in the pizzicato strings and bassoons, which opens the second movement. Flutes later join in the tick-tock writing. A middle section in a minor key is heard with full orchestral forces. The delightful first theme is restated for the closing section, but watch out for the ever-playful Haydn as he throws in a silence to keep the audience guessing.
The third movement is a stately minuet and trio. In the trio, drone-like sounds in the strings accompany the sweet flute solo, with commentary from the brass and tympani. The last movement, composed in rondo form, begins softly and sweetly, soon to be followed by a response from the full orchestra.
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Composed in 1918-19
From Henry Purcell’s death in 1695 until Edward Elgar premiered his Enigma Variations in 1899, the English music scene lay dormant – a musical drought of more than 200 years. Only then did England re-establish itself as a major force in classical music composition. Perhaps that is why English composers felt compelled to compose a number of symphonies– Elgar, three; Vaughan Williams, nine – to make up for the lost representation during the 18th and 19th centuries, even though by the 20th century the symphony format was passé.
Composed in 1918-19, Elgar’s Cello Concerto is written in four movements, more like a symphony rather than the customary three-movement concerto. He was living part of the time at his cottage in Sussex. He was ill during this time, and, like much of Europe, the ravages of the World War depressed him, so his piece is contemplative with elegiac, autumnal qualities. He seems to be longing nostalgically for a world that has gone by, yet in the fourth movement, some optimism is heard. The work did not become popular among cellists and the public until Jacqueline du Pre performed the concerto in the 1960s.
The first movement opens with a recitative for the solo cello, immediately followed by a short answer from the clarinets, bassoons and horn. Soon the full orchestra speaks broadly in the minor mode. The solo cello and individual members of the orchestra seem to be carrying on a conversation. The slower first movement moves directly into the second movement, which the solo cello opens with pizzicato chords. Then, the solo cello plays the main motive of the Allegro molto section and scherzo-like music, with resting points, dominate the rest of the movement.
The slow third movement starts and ends with a lyrical melody, which runs through the entire movement, flowing directly into the finale with no pause. The fourth movement begins with a noble fanfare-like statement from the orchestra, followed by commentary from the solo cello, which then plays the fanfare as the first theme. The orchestra echoes the cello’s music. In this movement the mood of the piece is brighter, more optimistic. Fast sections of music alternate with solo cello reflection. At one point the music from the third movement returns, as if to remind the listener that all is not well. Near the end of the piece, the first movement’s recitative is heard again. This flows into the return fourth movement’s main theme, which closes the piece.
Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016)
An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise
Composed in 1985
Davies composed An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise for the Boston Symphony Orchestra on commission; John Williams conducted the premiere on May 10, 1985. Established as one of Davies’ most enduringly popular pieces, the work is notable as one of the few pieces in classical repertoire to feature the solo appearance of a bagpiper.
This approximately 12-minute work vividly depicts the riotous celebrations after a wedding on the Orkney Islands, located on the northern edge of Great Britain. The piece closes with the entry of the bagpipes, which Davies describes as symbolic of the rising sun over coastal land just below the Orkney Islands called Caithness. In concert performance, the piper, dressed in traditional Scottish regalia, is required to enter from the back of the concert hall, parading to the stage and taking the soloist’s position only as the piece concludes.
The piece begins with fast 16th notes, so as to suggest much flurry and excitement. This is followed by commentary from individual woodwinds, which eventually morphs into an American hoedown. The material gets passed throughout the orchestra in soloist fashion for a while, but eventually, things quiet down in order to feature a solo violinist playing various segments of the main theme. To make sure that everyone knows this is a Scottish and not an American wedding, toward the end of the piece a bagpiper appears, playing the hoedown theme, bringing the wedding to a close.