In the Key of Love
By Endicott Reindl
Paul Dukas (1865-1935)
Overture to La Péri
Composed in 1911 (3 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, tuba)
Fanfare is defined as a short musical flourish that is typically played by trumpets, French horns, or other brass instruments. A “brief improvised introduction to an instrument performance.”
Dukas certainly embraced this often-overlooked genre of musical composition. Written to open his one-act opera La Péri, the opera is the story of a young Magi looking for meaning and tranquility. The opera loosely follows biblical tradition with the lead character Iskender, following a star to a new place to promote peace and goodwill.
While his work is not widely known aside from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (cue the video of the famous mouse), Dukas’ music is without a doubt French and a masterful blend of Romantic harmony. Especially note the lush, full chords Dukas created for the listener to marvel in. Audiences may also hear this work at graduation ceremonies when the fanfare is typically interwoven with Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance for the processional of the school’s administration and dignitaries.
Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in G
Composed between 1929 to 1931 (piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn,
E B -A clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpets, trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, piano)
Widely considered the preeminent composer of France during the 1920s and 1930s, Ravel wrote music to entertain and delight.
Celebrated as one of the best orchestrators/arrangers, his music has a unique quality that actively draws in the listener with irresistible and catchy musical ideas that often stay with the audience long after the concert ends. Ravel himself even remarked, “My piano concerto was not aiming to be profound but to entertain.” This piece is considered his penultimate composition or second to last.
Ravel had been toying with composing a piano concerto since 1906 but gave up. He returned to work on the concerto in 1913 before deciding against it in 1914. Not until 1929, well after World War I, did he reconsider sketching out the work. During an interview, Ravel revealed some of the motivation for writing the piece:
“My only wish…was to write a genuine concerto, that is, a brilliant work, clearly highlighting the soloist’s virtuosity, without seeking to show profundity.”
The work was a success and after the premiere was played during a European tour in more than sixteen cities.
The concerto was orchestrated to not overpower the solo piano, while prominently featuring percussion accents and complex rhythms. Written in three movements, the piece opens with every sleigh rider’s favorite instrument—the whip. The piece evolves from several musical styles including jazz, which was king during the composition period, yet it still maintains 20th-century classical hallmarks including more complex musical chords and driving tempos.
César Franck (1822-1890)
Symphony in d minor
Composed in 1888 (pairs of flutes, oboes+ cor anglaise, soprano clarinets + bass clarinet, bassoons, 4 horns, 2 cornets, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp)
As a naturalized citizen of France, originally born in Belgium, Franck’s work is considered uniquely French even though he was of German-Belgian ancestry. After a childhood as a piano virtuoso, Franck didn’t reach the height of his artistic prowess until after age 55 and while many counterparts were 20 to 30 years younger, Franck proved that some things are worth the wait.
His only symphony premiered in Paris in 1889, just one year before his death. (Notably the same year of the historic Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania.)
His symphony employs only three movements and develops repeating themes in all three movements. His symphonic composing evolved after he had mastered the piano quintet and violin sonata. He drew heavily on his Germanic roots through Wagnerian themes/influences. The work features an unusually rich blend of lower string prioritization, highlighting his love affair with the organ and its continuo (long-held bass notes through a piece of music).
This nuanced way of composing leads the listener through a symphony full of searching and seeking. As an example, the symphony opens in ambiguity then moves to a climax, hiding and seeking in the listener’s ears as the organist slowly pulls out all the stops on his console. Yes, that’s where we get the cliché—“Pulling Out All the Stops.”
The work has gone in and out of vogue through the years. Last performed by your WSO in 2004-2005 season, this symphony certainly evokes a musical message that is not to be missed.