Showcase March-April 2014 - page 29

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MARCH / APRIL 2014 MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
mar 27, 28, 29
Program Notes
where horns sound sweetly against a forest-murmurs
accompaniment. The music is violently interrupted by the
sudden appearance of the first bars of the main theme, a
jarring effect because of the abrupt change of tone colors
and because this phrase arrives in a totally unrelated,
much slower tempo. After more sudden tempo and mood
changes, the first theme sings out over the tumult. Then
the movement comes to a quiet close.
dramatic contrasts
The
Scherzo
is a vigorous foot-stomping affair, full
of sharp cross-accents. The tempo is much slower,
the harmonies are enigmatic, the forward motion is
all spasms and disruptions, and the atmosphere is
uncanny and altogether unsettling.
The
Finale
opens with the clarinet melody we heard
when the symphony began, but what was melancholic
and hesitant before is now boldly impassioned, though
no less dark. All the violins, violas and cellos play it in a
sonorous
forte
. But we hear no more than half of it before
it is interrupted, tentatively resumed by woodwinds, then
pushed aside by an anguished and fierce quick movement.
In due course this in turn gives way to a grandly lush
theme to be played on the violins’ G-string.
This magnificent melody, too, is interrupted by the
agitated
Allegro molto
; then the grand tune returns,
now intoned softly by a clarinet. Striding across the
harmonic landscape, the melody crests to a great climax
with a romantic harp accompaniment of a kind we will
not hear from Sibelius again.
Then—and this is another glimpse of the Sibelius of the
years to come (and also of Beethoven nearly a hundred
years before)—the music seems to break apart. It stays
forte
and
fortissimo
, but the sequence of gestures is
strangely disjunct. Swirling strings surround the tonic
chord of E minor. More E-minor chords follow, with a
fortissimo
timpani roll underneath. Then, as in the first
movement, the drums back off, and now we hear two
more chords of E minor, in gray pizzicato,
mezzo-forte
and
piano
. It is a strange and haunting close.
Instrumentation:
2 flutes (each doubling piccolo), 2 oboes,
2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba,
timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, harp and strings
Program note excerpted from the late
Michael Steinberg
’s
The Symphony: A Listener’s Guide
(Oxford University
Press, 1995), used with permission.
Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Opus 39
Sibelius began his Symphony No. 1 in April 1898,
completed it early the following year and conducted
the Helsinki Philharmonic in the first performance
on April 26, 1899. In March 1900 he revised the
orchestration somewhat, and this new and final version
was first played on July 4, 1900, in Stockholm at the
start of a Helsinki Philharmonic tour. This time Robert
Kajanus conducted.
At his most characteristic and most eloquent, Sibelius
invented symphonies that are an entirely individual
and wonderful synthesis of classical economy and
Romantic, passionate gestures. The Symphony No. 1 is
nourished by Sibelius’ love of such gestures;
it is music
in which we encounter, again and again, personality
traits and techniques we recognize as Sibelian.
the music: a magical beginning
The beginning is magical. Across a soft drumroll, a
clarinet sings a long melody, dark in mood, and in slow
descent. Shimmering violins catch it at its cadence. We
have now arrived in the main tempo,
Allegro energico
.
With it comes a new theme, a strong declamatory
phrase pronounced by the first violins and imitated in
simpler form by the violas and cellos. A new, chattering
theme for woodwinds appears, but this soon withdraws
into the background to become the accompaniment
of an eloquent melody, yet another offspring of the
clarinet introduction. Meanwhile the strings anchor
everything to a single, rapidly reiterated chord.
Sibelius speeds up the pulse, an exciting buildup that
is abruptly cut off. A turbulent development begins;
strings intervene with a passionate new idea, and we
are quickly swept into the recapitulation. Forceful
chords for trombones and timpani initiate the terse and
intensely dramatic coda.
soft new sonorities
Now Sibelius takes us into a different world. This
Andante
is warm-hearted Romanticism, or at least as close to that
as Sibelius can bring himself to come. Muted violins
and cellos sing a quiet melody to which woodwinds
assent from time to time. A bassoon begins the first
of these as a kind of fugato, and this leads, by way of
some reminiscences of the main theme, to a passage
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