Showcase January-February 2015 - page 32

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MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
Lars-Erik Larsson
Born:
May 15, 1908, Åkarp (near Malmö), Sweden
Died:
December 27, 1986, Helsingborg
A Winter’s Tale, Opus 18
he Winter’s Tale
may be staged less often than certain
other Shakespeare plays, but it has engendered a fair
amount of music, despite the fact that there are but two
musical references in it. Half a dozen operas are based
on it, as are a symphonic poem, a concert overture and
numerous songs. Then there’s that category of works
known as incidental music: bits and pieces composed to
accompany staged productions, whose composers include
the Swede Lars-Erik Larsson.
Larsson ranks as one of Sweden’s most important
composers of the last century. He spent four years at the
Stockholm Conservatory and studied further in Leipzig
with Fritz Reuter and in Vienna with Alban Berg. Back
in Sweden he did a stint as music critic for the
Lunds
Dagblad
during the mid-’30s, conducted frequently
(especially the Swedish Radio Orchestra), taught
composition at the State Academy of Music in Stockholm
and directed the music department at the University of
Uppsala.
Larsson’s early music has a classical spirit, sometimes
referred to as his “divertimento style.” Later he turned
to more complex writing, at times incorporating 12-
tone procedures—and he is thought to have been the
first Swede to write such music. He is probably best
remembered for his
Pastoral Suite
, long one of the most
frequently played Swedish orchestral works, and for the
12 concertinos he wrote during the 1950s, each for a
different solo instrument and string orchestra.
In 1937, while on the staff of Swedish Radio, Larsson
was asked for music to accompany a radio broadcast of
En vintersaga
(the Swedish is commonly translated as
A
Winter’s Tale
, but Shakespeare’s uses the definite article:
The Winter’s Tale
.) He later assembled four numbers,
which he called “vignettes,” into a suite.
blithe and wistful
Each of the short pieces lives up to its title. The first
sways gently to the
siciliana
rhythm, with solo oboe,
flute, clarinet and trumpet taking turns in the spotlight.
The
Intermezzo
moves along blithely and lasts barely
more than a minute. The
Pastoral
features the flute,
instrument of shepherds, and indeed, there are several
scenes with a shepherd in
The Winter’s Tale
. The
Epilogue
is sometimes performed alone, and for good reason: it is
a beautifully simple but potent description of wistfulness,
even sadness, though it is not a comment on the ending
of Shakespeare’s play, which in fact ends joyfully.
Instrumentation:
2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets,
2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone,
harp, timpani and strings
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born:
May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia
Died:
November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg
Concerto in D major for Violin and Orchestra,
Opus 35
he Russian composer Tchaikovsky is surely not an
ordinary talent, but rather an inflated one, with a
genius-obsession without discrimination or taste. Such is
also his latest, long and pretentious Violin Concerto. For
a while it moves soberly, musically and not without spirit.
But soon vulgarity gains the upper hand and asserts itself
to the end of the first movement. The violin is no longer
played; it is pulled, torn, drubbed. The
adagio
is again
on its best behavior, to pacify and to win us. But it soon
breaks off to make way for a finale that transfers us to
the brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian holiday. We
see plainly the savage, vulgar faces, we hear curses, we
smell vodka. Friedrich Vischer once observed, speaking of
obscene pictures, that they stink to the eye. Tchaikovsky’s
Violin Concerto gives us for the first time the hideous
notion that there can be music that stinks to the ear.”
Incredible as it may seem today, this was the response to
the world premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in
Vienna in 1881. The words quoted are by the notorious
critic Eduard Hanslick—and eight of the 10 reviews that
appeared in Vienna voiced much the same sentiment.
The circumstances leading to the concerto’s first
performance were hardly auspicious. Tchaikovsky
composed the work during March and April of 1878
t
t
Program Notes
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5, 6
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