Showcase Sep-Nov 2014 - page 51

oct
18
Program Notes
51
SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 2014 MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
textures are chamber-like, to which winds add their
echoes and affirmations. Two striking episodes compete
for attention, the one a passionate outburst in E minor,
the other a compelling poetic strain. Surprising all,
Mozart dispensed with a minuet movement, proceeding
to a breathtaking
Presto
that conjures up the nervous
excitement of
Figaro
. Though the mood strives to be
cheerful, Mozart’s finale, in the words of Alfred Einstein,
somehow “bares a wound in the soul.”
Instrumentation:
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons,
2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings
Program note by
Mary Ann Feldman
.
Johannes Brahms
Born:
May 7, 1833, Hamburg
Died:
April 3, 1897, Vienna
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 73
uffused with the sunshine and the warm winds
playing on the water”—these are the words
Richard Specht used to describe Brahms’ Second
Symphony. “Bathed in a mellow glow of instrumental
sound of which Brahms alone had the secret” was John
Horton’s response. After the massiveness and severity
of Brahms’ First Symphony, the idyllic, pastoral Second,
with its wealth of singable melodies, had strong popular
appeal. Whereas Brahms had toiled for 20 years over his
First Symphony, the Second was written in the space of a
mere three months. In its pastoral quality, many listeners
find a parallel to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, which, like
Brahms’ Second, followed a serious and heroic symphony
in C minor.
Brahms completed the symphony at Lichtenthal near
Baden-Baden in October. The first performance was
given by the Vienna Philharmonic, led by Hans Richter,
on December 30, 1877. The Viennese liked it, but the
symphony rode a rocky course towards acceptance in other
cities. One smiles in amusement to read that in Leipzig,
for example, where it was introduced in 1880, a critic felt
it was “not distinguished by inventive power.” In Boston
(1882), the
Post
called it “coldblooded,” and the
Traveler
proclaimed that the symphony lacked “a sense of the
beautiful,” while in New York the
Post
(1887) called for a
return of Anton Rubinstein’s
Dramatic
Symphony to replace
Brahms’ “antiquated” music. So much for the perspicacity
of critics!
the music
allegro non troppo.
From the very first notes, the listener
is caught up in the symphony’s gentle, relaxed mood. The
initial two bars also provide the basic motivic germs of the
entire movement, as well as for much of the material in the
subsequent movements. The three-note motto in the cellos
and basses and the following arpeggio in the horns are
heard repeatedly in many guises— slowed down, speeded
up, played upside down, buried in the texture or featured
prominently. All the principal themes of the movement are
derived from these motto-motifs. The second theme is one
of Brahms’ most glorious, sung by violas and cellos as only
these instruments can sing.
adagio non troppo.
The second movement is of darker
hue and more profound sentiment. The form is basically
an A-B-A structure, with a more agitated central section in
the minor mode. Throughout the movement, the listener’s
attention is continually focused as much on the densely
saturated textures as on the themes.
allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino).
The genial,
relaxed character returns in the third movement, not a
scherzo as Beethoven would have written, but a sort of
lyrical intermezzo, harking back to the gracious 18th-
century minuet. The forces are reduced almost to chamber
orchestra levels, and woodwinds are often the featured
sonority. This movement proved so popular at its premiere
that it had to be repeated.
allegro con spirito.
The forthright and optimistic finale
derives heavily from the melodies of the first movement,
though as usual with Brahms, this material is so cleverly
disguised that one scarcely notices. The coda calls for
special comment. Brahms seldom used the trombones and
tuba, yet on occasion he wrote stunning passages for them.
One such moment occurs in the Second Symphony’s coda,
a passage as thrilling for audiences as it is for trombonists,
every one of whom looks forward to a role in bringing this
joyous work to its blazing D-major conclusion.
Instrumentation:
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets,
2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba,
timpani and strings
Program note by
Robert Markow
.
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