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Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Romanian Folk Dances
Composed in 1915; Re-Arranged for Chamber Orchestra 1917

It’s hard sometimes to not want to tap your toes to a polka with its lively rhythm and melodies. Traditional folk music has a way of harkening back to a simpler time, a time of traditions and communal pride. Transylvania (in Romania) had a rich, rural agrarian culture that inspired many art forms, from music to literature, including their most notable fictional resident Dracula. Bartók honors the heritage of Transylvania by basing Romanian Folk Dances on seven folk tunes that would have originally been played on a fiddle or shepherd’s flute. Bartók composed this set of dances as six piano pieces, eventually leading to a Romanian Polka and Fast Dance.

The first movement came from the present day village of Voiniceni that is part of Ceuașu de Câmpie. He heard the tune after listening to two gypsy violinists. The second and third dances are darker in theme and melody recreating instruments from the Middle East, such as early flutes. The fourth, fifth, and six dances get progressively quicker in tempo and the mode is brighter. To facilitate the movement between the two, the dances are performed attacca, without a break between movements.

Bartók based his folk dances primarily off of phonograph cylinders he recorded during his ethnomusicological (study of ethnic music from a particular place) fieldwork in Transylvania in 1910 and 1912.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto
Composed in 1878

Vacations and holidays can help to invigorate the soul and give a needed break. Tchaikovsky was on a holiday at Lake Geneva in Switzerland after his divorce from wife Antonina Miliukova, when he received the inspiration for Violin Concerto. Accompanied by his pupil, violinist Iosif Kotek, the duo played together, brightening the mood for all. At the time Tchaikovsky was also working on a piano concerto that had been slow going. In these dark times following his failed marriage, it was noted that Tchaikovsky, “Might almost have been writing the prescription for the violin concerto he himself was about to compose,” said famed biographer, Dr. David Brown.

Composed over the course of a month, the violin concerto is written in three movements and is filled with lyric melody suggestive of Slavic and Russian folksongs, similar to his ballet compositions. The concerto focuses the solo violin on decorating the theme (melody) rather than on presenting it in technical form. As a whole, the work is one of the most creative and least pretentious works that Tchaikovsky penned. Making fast and steady progress, the work came together in a month. Tchaikovsky wanted to dedicate the work to his pupil—the muse of the piece, but Tchaikovsky was afraid of how that might look to the public. He instead dedicated the work to Leopold Auer, a noted violinist, with continued controversy.

About Chee-Yun’s Violin:

Chee-Yun’s Francesco Ruggieri 1669 violin has an incredible history. It is believed that the violin was buried with its previous owner. This would explain the unusually pristine condition of the 300-year-old violin. While it seems to be a strange practice now, at the time burying a prized instrument with the deceased was not uncommon. Luckily for us, the resurrected violin has wowed audiences all over the world with its incredible sound. A story about the violin was published in the New York Post click here to read the article.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 4
Composed in 1806

Today, we think that multitasking was invented in the last decade. Beethoven wrote Symphony No. 4 in just a month while also writing Piano Concerto No. 4 and revising the opera Fidelio.

He was, to say the least, a very busy guy. Beethoven wrote the piece at the request of Count Franz von Oppersdorff, a relative of his patron Prince Lichnowsky. The piece premiered at a private concert for the Count to little press but was well received by contemporary composers.

Although usually overshadowed by both the preceding and following symphonies, Beethoven’s fourth is impressive in how the work is cheerful, relatable, and engaging. He employs a slow introduction that draws the listener in, yet there is not a clear path of movement with jabbing dissonances (i.e. jazz chords tend to be dissonant) finally reaching a rousing faster tempo with rich melodies. Renowned composer Leonard Bernstein described his opening, “As a mysterious introduction which hovers around minor modes, tip-toeing its tenuous weight through ambiguous unrelated keys and so reluctant to settle down into its final B-flat major.”

Many have noted that Beethoven made many direct references to his beloved teacher Joseph Haydn in the work. Beethoven was grateful to have received the direction and tutelage from Haydn that left a lasting mark on him. Much later musicologist Robert Greenberg, writing in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is quoted saying, “If any of Beethoven’s contemporaries had written this symphony [4th symphony], it would be considered that composer’s masterwork and that composer would be forever remembered for this symphony, and this symphony would be played [often] as an example of that composer’s great work. As it is, for Beethoven, it is a work in search of an audience. It’s the least known and least appreciated of the nine.”

2024-2025 Season

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