March 17, 2018
Program Notes by Endicott Reindl
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Appalachian Spring Suite
Composed in 1944
Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham commissioned Aaron Copland to create this now iconic American musical masterpiece as a ballet for a thirteen-member chamber orchestra. Enduring long after her death as an orchestral suite, the suite is one of Copland’s most beloved works. Written around “an American theme,” Copland identified uniquely American ideas encompassing what many musically understand as western expansion.
The suite tells of a celebration of American pioneers of the 1800s, after building a new Pennsylvania farmhouse. The piece chronicles their lives together, showing that their shared resources will see them through. This is expressed by the woodwinds passing along a melody and variations on that melody throughout the suite. Divided into eight sections, the suite begins slowly as the characters develop, moving ever more quickly until moving so fast that the music evokes both fear and wonder.
While Copland’s other works, such as Billy the Kid or Rodeo, made more explicit reference to American myth and incorporated actual folk songs, Appalachian Spring was far subtler. Ironically though, the obscure but catchy Shaker dance tune, Simple Gifts, has emerged as almost more popular than the work itself. Graham’s company toured with Appalachian Spring for almost three years, receiving great critical acclaim.
Simple Gifts, originally penned in 1848 by Shaker Joseph Brackett, extols the virtues of a simple life. The piece has become synonymous with American growth and expansion. The music inspires visions of pioneers crossing the heartland and growing the American footprint. Copland felt the song lent itself to the American ideal that we are always looking to grow as people, as a community and a nation.
Reinhold Glière (1875-1956)
Composed in 1951
Sometimes in life a chance encounter can have a profound impact. Reinhold Glière had such an encounter with Valery Polekh, a very accomplished horn player of the day. During a rehearsal break of Glière’s ballet, The Bronze Horseman, they chatted about the possibility of Glière writing a horn concerto. He agreed and said that he would write it in his spare time. Agreeing to write this new work in his “spare time” almost bordered on insanity, as Glière was working on another opera, another ballet, and numerous vocal and orchestra works. In all that he produced, he would never publish a piece that he felt unfinished or uncomplimentary towards his homeland – the Soviet Union.
Glière’s horn concerto has become the best known of his acclaimed works. Thanks to the addition of valves to the French horn in the early 19th century, the horn was able to take on a larger role as a solo instrument. Before then, horn players could modify the pitch by changing how they blew into the instrument or by adjusting the cranks of the instrument. Because of this change in the physical structure of the horn, it was propelled to be the “rock star” of the orchestra for its large range and tonal qualities.
Written at a time when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union had become “icy” again, Glière was a bright spot in Soviet arts and culture. At the time, any public artwork or musical contributions were required to focus on the glory of the whole. The individual was supposed to fulfill his/her duties being the best worker possible to support that whole. Glière was awarded more than 15 honors for his compositions, ranging from the Glinka awards, the Orders of Lenin and the Stalin Prize. Despite his success and awards, his horn concerto was never recognized or awarded by the Soviet Union.
The horn concerto, or dialogue, starts out with the horn leading the theme, eventually passing it back and forth with the symphony. Each time this occurs the passages swell and become even fuller. The horn is depicting the inner-spirit of the dedicated individual and the beauty contained within. Oddly, Glière chose to write his concerto in an older classical style that encompasses only three movements. Eventually, at the end of the third movement, the orchestra showcases the virtuosity of the soloist, incorporating difficult technique and long cadence.
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
Music from Má Vlast (My Homeland): Vyšehard, Šárka, & The Moldau
Composed between 1874 and 1879
The WSO will present three of the six symphonic poems, composed by Bedřich Smetana, pioneered by fellow composer Franz Liszt. Each poem contains ideals of nationalist music, painting an image in the listener’s mind of the beauty of the country, its origins, and legends. The symphonic poem evokes the content of a non-musical source, generally literature or pastoral landscapes, through the orchestral setting. In these poems, Smetana writes of his beloved Bohemian homeland, the Czech Republic.
The first poem translated means “The High Castle,” details the Vyšehard castle in Prague, which was the seat of the earliest Czech kings. The poem starts out with the harp of the mystical singer Lumir, eventually crossing over into the tones of the castle’s arsenal. The score calls for two harps to accomplish the opening arpeggios (chords), which create a serene scene that eventually gets passed around the orchestra, moving towards the climax. Once the climax is reached, it is cut short depicting the fall of the castle and all falls almost silent. The harp opening is heard again, reminding us of the beauty of the castle (now destroyed) as the listener is slowly transported down the river next to the castle.
The third poem in the series is about the female warrior Šárka – a legend in the tale of The Maidens’ War. She tied herself to a tree to bait the princely knight into believing she was a captive of the rebelling women. Once released from her perch she agrees to serve her new male suitor and his companions. Unbeknownst to her suitor, she serves them all drugged wine and quickly signals their slumber to her waiting accomplices. Once asleep, the warrior maidens take their vengeance on the sleeping men and murder them. This movement contains a sense of urgency of the hunt.
The Moldau, or Die Moldau, as it is known in German, is Smetana’s answer to describing the beauty of Bohemia’s great rivers. In the second poem, Smetana best described this work himself, saying, “…Starting from the two small springs, the cold and warm Moldau, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Moldau through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer’s wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night’s moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft.” The last poem contains the composer’s most famous tune, an adaptation of the melody of La Mantovana, which is the basis for the current Israeli national anthem.