Cindy McTee (b. 1953)
Composed in 2007
Program Notes are written by the composer Cindy McTee:
Adapted from my Agnus Dei for organ in the wake of events following the horror of September 11, 2001, the Adagio became the second movement of my Symphony No. 1: Ballet for Orchestra. It was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra – music director, Leonard Slatkin – and made possible by the John and June Hechinger Fund for New Orchestra Works.
The Adagio gradually exposes a hauntingly beautiful melody (Ab, G, F, C, Db, Eb, Db, C) from Krzysztof Penderecki’s Polish Requiem which appears in its entirety at about three-quarters of the way through my work. Most of the material in my piece consists of two or three-note fragments taken from this melody, especially a falling half-step and subsequent whole-step emphasizing the interval of the minor third. Reflecting my interest in using both atonal and tonal materials within the same piece of music, the work begins with some tension and anguish, then moves through several sections which are introspective and peaceful. Optimism and joy finally give way at the end to a sense of uncertainty and a reference to the opening.
All night have the roses heard
The flute, violin, bassoon;
All night has the casement jessamine stirr’d
To the dancers dancing in tune;
Till a silence fell with the waking bird,
And a hush with the setting moon.
~ Alfred Lord Tennyson, Maud, and Other Poems
Efrain Amaya (b.1959)
Composed in 2000
Program Notes are written by the composer Efrain Amaya:
Angelica came about a year after I had written Malagigi the Sorcerer (for flute and piano). It is a little bit of a sequel. Malagigi the Sorcerer was written for flutist Alberto Almarza with the intention of exploring the colors and traditions of the flute, and it was based on a short story from the legends of Charlemagne. Angelica was written later and motivated by an enthusiastic request from violinist Sarah O’Boyle, Alberto’s wife at the time, who was to lead the premiere as concertmaster of the Sewickley BACHfest, who commissioned the work in 2000. It made sense to dwell on and be inspired by a continuation of the same theme.
The story is about love displaced in time. Angelica and Rinaldo (nephew and appointed knight of Charlemagne) meet amidst a celebration and a jousting tournament. She arrives with her brother and without good intentions. Her extraordinary beauty captivates everyone. Rinaldo falls in love but she pays no attention. There is then a chase through the Arden forest where their affections get reversed.
“Now in this forest there were two fountains, the one constructed by the sage Merlin, who designed it for Tristram and the fair Isoude;* for such was the virtue of this fountain, that a draught of its waters produced an oblivion of the love which the drinker might feel, and even produced aversion for the object formerly beloved. The other fountain was endowed with exactly opposite qualities, and a draught of it inspired love for the first living object that was seen after tasting it.”(1)
Exhausted from the chase, Rinaldo drinks from the first-mentioned fountain and falls asleep. Angelica comes across the other fountain and drinks from it. She then encounters the sleeping Rinaldo and falls instantly in love. So the story goes and of course, the chase is now reversed. Angelica will try anything to win the affection of Rinaldo who keeps running away from her.
Angelica has four main sections: A-B-C-A’. The A section depicts the jousting and the festivities through the syncopations and hemiolas of Latin American music, and the characteristic rhythms of dance forms such as salsa. The B section is a fugato, inspired by the use of counterpoint in Venezuelan folk music. It describes the chase for love through the forest. The C section is a slow and more introverted passage. A simple melody presented in the violins is then repeated with the cellos playing it canonically. The violins and cellos represent Angelica and Rinaldo in their out-of-sync love for each other. The last section is very much like the first one, but every time it repeats, a layer of complexity is added to it. As in love, it completes a cycle and expands into higher levels of intricacy.
The Four Seasons
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Composed in 1938
Celebrations can come in all shapes and forms. Sibelius was asked to compose a piece of music in 1922 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Säynätsalo, Finland sawmills. Originally asked to compose a cantata (not dissimilar to the style of J.S. Bach), he settled on a string quartet for the instrumentation. As an avid radio listener, Sibelius was aware of the intricacies of the technology and the low initial quality of their speakers. When he was asked to conduct a piece of music to represent his native home of Finland, during a radio broadcast from the New York World Exhibition, he decided to adapt his earlier string quartet. He worked diligently to ensure that work was overtly smooth and flowed with melodic phrases.
Premiering on New Year’s Day 1939 via radio, it is the only known time the composer conducted his own work. He ensured the ensemble kept a slow, singing tempo, which allowed the strings to soar during their higher passages. Unfortunately, it would prove to be the last time the famed composer would conduct. Little is known why Sibelius added timpani in rearrangement, perhaps to add more presence to the final cords, as there is precious little work for strings and solo timpani. The work was played during his funeral.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Divertimento for Strings in D Major, K. 136
Composed in 1772
Written before his sixteenth birthday, Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major has risen above a lot of his other incidental instrumental works in continued popularity. Containing a fully mature structure, this work is full of elegance and delightful melodies. As a common piece of repertoire for string quartets, the first violins take the solo voice through the first movement. And in lockstep with the compositional form of the day the piece retains elements of the sonata-allegro form (A, B, A).
When thinking of Mozart many think of his masterworks like his Requiem, Opera’s The Magic Flute or Don Giovanni, or popular symphonies like his Symphony No. 40. Smaller works like his serenades, sinfonias, notturno, or divertimentos can get lost in the shuffle. These works generally were written to help Mozart secure funds while working on larger more complex ideas/compositions. Likewise, even today, we do not know if Mozart had a system to differentiate each one from another.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons
Composed in 1716-1717
To say that The Four Seasons is one of the most popular or most listened to pieces of classical music would be an understatement. Four concerti (plural for concertos) comprise our illustrious seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter in Vivaldi’s magnum opus. The works were a first in musical composition, in that the composer used the musical version of onomatopoeia or the use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
To illustrate the seasons within each concerto the composer is evoking ideas like a fox hunt and gunshots or chattering teeth in Winter. Vivaldi took the novel step to publish accompanying sonnets (or poems) that depicted the spirit of each season. In essence, the concerti are early versions of program music. Each work is scored in three movements. To the present day, the music itself can be found in any matter of media. From car commercials to the Weather Channel, to movies like The Secret Life of Pets, or cartoon mainstays like The Simpsons, Vivaldi’s work has permeated all corners of culture some three hundred years later.
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
String Sonata No. 3
Composed in 1804
When you think back to being 12 years old, I am sure many memories might involve spending time with friends, riding a bike, etc. I am also sure that at age 12 you were not writing Six String Sonatas. It is hard to imagine writing such spirited sonatas at such a young age. Written originally and presented today in the composer’s instrumentation of choice, his 3rd String Sonata calls for two violins, violoncello, and double bass, no viola. They were composed in the summer of 1804 while residing at the home of double bass aficionado Agostini Triossi.
Despite being documented, the six works were thought to have been destroyed before they were found in the Library of Congress -how they made it there is still a mystery to this day. The works show a decent understanding of the music of Haydn and Mozart. It is surprising to most that despite the composer writing the six works at a young age that technically they can be difficult for musicians to play and yet, they show an astonishing amount of emotional depth. Rossini most definitely, should not be labeled only as an operatic composer, but as a versatile composer.
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1956)
Composed in 1920
Arranged by James Brown for String Orchestra
Vaughan Williams Charterhouse Suite or Six Short Pieces began life written only for the piano. Musicologist James Brown took the original work, originally published in 1923, and arranged it for string orchestra. The suite is composed of six short pieces each based on English dances. The arranged work has become more popular than the original, eclipsing Williams’ piano compositions as many note his style of composing is more suited for the orchestra. In comparison to other Vaughan Williams works, this piece is less serious and allowed him to explore broad brush strokes on his musical canvas.
The suite opens with the prelude, which is rather tranquil and has been compared to Thomas Tallis’s Fantasia on a Theme. From there the music progresses through a slow-to-quick dance highlighting vibrant dance rhythms of the day. After slowing to take a breath during the slow air, it progresses ultimately into the Pezzo ostinato, a spritely, yet fitting way to end our turn on the dance floor.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Andante Cantabile in B flat Major for Cello & Strings
Composed in 1888
Tchaikovsky’s Andante Cantabile undoubtedly is one of the most famous cello works in all the classical repertoire. The main theme for the movement, taken from his first string quartet, was inspired by a folk melody Tchaikovsky was said to have heard a gardener whistling at his sister’s home in Ukraine. One never knows when inspiration will hit you! The music moves between the folk tune from the gardener to that of Tchaikovsky’s own, clearly recognizable to most as his own indomitable style.
This arrangement for solo cello and strings was created by Tchaikovsky for a performance by cellist Anatoly Brandukov in Paris. The premiere was small and uncomplicated at a home in Paris, but it certainly was unmistakably Tchaikovsky. Likewise, this piece was years ahead of the composer’s large symphonies but written only eight years after his Fourth of July favorite 1812 Overture.
Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805)
Cello Concerto No. 2
Composed Approximately In 1785
Growing up in a small town in Italy, Boccherini began studying music at the young age of five. His father was a professional bass player, and gave his son lessons and inspired a life-long love for the musical arts Boccherini would eventually blossom into one of the foremost cello virtuosos and composers writing more than 12 cello concertos and 32 cello sonatas in addition to a large body of other compositions. It is unfortunate that many are not familiar with his works today.
His cello works require the soloist to exhibit a high degree of advanced technique, a feature that at the time allowed the composer, and generally the soloist, to show off their own abilities. According to James Reel, of allmusic.com, “Boccherini backs his soloist with only a string orchestra and minor harpsichord continuo to concentrate the accompaniment materials in the violins to create a great contrast to the solo cello.” The result leaves lush, full passages by the soloist as a show of their own virtuosity.
Written by Endicott Reindl
Back to Bach
George Walker (1922-2018)
Lyric for Strings
Composed in 1946
George Walker’s long life was full of firsts. He was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the first to perform at Manhattan’s Town Hall, he was also the first African American soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra (performing the granddaddy of all piano concertos, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3.)
He was the first African American man to graduate with a doctoral degree from Eastman School of Music, and the first to earn a master’s degree at the esteemed Curtis Institute.
This is just the short list of his countless accomplishments that began at the early age of five when he started studying the piano and continued until his passing at age 96.
Lyric for Strings is the second movement of his String Quartet No. 1 and was originally composed under the title Lament. Many parallels have been drawn between Walker’s piece and Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings considering the two composers were classmates at the Curtis Institute.
Walker’s composition is full of evocative imagery and charged with emotion. Walker wrote much of the music after the passing of his grandmother, an important figure in his life.
We are incredibly pleased to bring this crucial diverse composer’s work to the podium this evening. We know that just like our symphony orchestra, our region is made up of people from many different walks of life. Our goal is to encapsulate their message and allow their music to provide a moment of reflection for us all.
CPE Bach (1714-1788)
Flute Concerto n D minor
The three sons of Johann Sebastian Bach and Maria Barbara Bach were all accomplished musicians, composers and some would say geniuses. However, Carl Phillip Emmanuel (CPE) is the most accomplished and well-regarded. As a composer, CPE was very involved in the transition from Baroque to the newer classical style. He is noted for his compositional style of empfindsamer Sill (or sensitive style) full of long melodic lines and sometimes turbulent converging lines. CPE was sometimes referred to as “Berlin Bach” during his time in the city as his half-brother Johann Christian, from his father’s second marriage, was known as “London Bach,” due to his position as music master to Queen Charlotte of England.
His flute concerto was originally written for Princess Anna-Amalie of Prussia and sisters Zippora Wulff and Sara Levy. Bach was in the princess’s favor while in Berlin. His flute concertos are rumored to have begun as harpsichord concertos but were transcribed most likely by flutist Johann Quantz. Quantz is well known for his decorative and virtuosic playing with a well-defined solo flute part. These concertos have many of CPE’s hallmarks including the furious drive and shock contrasts in the finale of his D minor concerto.
This hallmark is best known as Sturm und Drang (storm and passion) movement.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Composed in 1884
Many composers have historically looked to previous generations for creative inspiration. Grieg also looks to the past and shakes off the Romantic confines of the day and models ideals more aligned with the Classical era.
The piece was written in honor of the playwright Ludvig Holberg, noted for his plays The Politician, Witchcraft, and Masquerade among many others. The piece is set in the style of country dances appropriate to the playwright’s time.
The work was originally composed for piano but was reworked for string orchestra in honor of Holberg’s 200th birthday. Despite normally having strong Norwegian ties in his music, Grieg wrote this piece exclusively based on French and Italian dances.
Many have noted that this five-movement work seems to be an attempt at “concealing his own personality” or that he was trying to slip back on a “wig” from the olden days. Perhaps it was a nod to the simpler times of the earlier period.
The work opens in a joyous fashion creating an almost galloping feel. This “trot” gives way to an intricate dance of different rhythms and beats. From there the work embraces a Gavotte, a popular dance from France. Following the form and the day, the fourth movement is full of long phrases and great melodic lines albeit in a minor key. The work ends sprightly in a concerto grosso style with violin and viola solos paired against the whole orchestra.