Showcase January-February 2015 - page 44

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MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA SHOWCASE
Program Notes
feb
19, 20, 21
Hector Berlioz
Born:
December 1, 1803, Côte-Saint-André, France
Died:
March 8, 1869, Paris
Les nuits d’été (Summer Nights), Opus 7
erlioz, like Schumann, Wolf and Debussy, was an
astute music critic, and the most brilliant stylist of
them all. French indifference towards his innovative
music had forced him to the task in order to support a trio
of dependents—wife, son and mistress. But he despised
the profession, and a deadline was like a pistol aimed at
his brow, its threat providing the only incentive to put
pen to paper. “To write nothings about nothings!” he
lamented. “To bestow lukewarm praises on insupportable
insipidities” was a loathsome task.
Not only composers, but other artists and writers of
the Romantic age were doubly endowed as creators
and critics; prominent on the list are Blake, Hugo and
Delacroix. Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), author of the
poems that inspired the loosely connected
Les nuits d’été
(Summer Nights), was a poet, painter and balletomane.
In addition to producing more than 300 volumes of
collected essays, poetry and fiction, he created the
scenarios of two enduring ballets,
Giselle
and
La Peri
.
Breaking new ground, Berlioz abandoned the
conventional genres to develop hew hybrids, especially
for voice and orchestra. Opera and symphony merged in
such works as
Romeo and Juliet
, and in the Gautier song
settings of 1840-41 he foreshadowed the orchestral song
cycles that would loom so importantly in composers yet to
come. A decade later he took a second look at the Gautier
songs and recast their images for a small orchestra, and
the result was strikingly prophetic of the impressionist
destiny of French music. Never intending these casually-
produced works as a set for a single singer, he conceived
them for different voices: mezzo, contralto, tenor,
baritone. Each is dedicated to a singer he encountered
during an encouraging sojourn at Weimar.
the music: delicate, poignant, radiant
A country song of folklike simplicity, set to a steady pulse,
the delicately scored
Villanelle
is tinted with bright strokes
of orchestral color, the bassoon prominent toward the
close. Garlands of 16th-notes unfolding in the strings
entwine the haunting declamation of
La spectre de la rose
,
the phantom souvenir of a ball; here the wide vocal line
veers towards a descending chromatic path.
Starting in the gloomy mists of F minor,
Sur les lagunes
(In the Lagoons) is intensified by a striking motif of the
minor second, which echoes even in the last fragment of
the vocal line. At its midpoint, Berlioz accentuates the
emotional curve of the poetry in the reiterated outbursts
of
Ah! sans amour
(Oh! without love), each outcry spread
across the gradual descent of an octave and a half, and
the last shred of grief culminating in a short pause.
Upon a sudden shift up a half-step to F-sharp major,
Absence
begins to unfold its lament for the lost lover; a
solo clarinet is entwined with the voice. The poignancy
of
Au cimetière
(In the Graveyard) depends partly upon
its dynamic nuances: a range of soft tones, dwindling to
quadruple
pianissimo
. The most radiant song is left for the
closing
L’île inconnue
(The Unknown Island), whose high
spirits are affirmed by rhythmic momentum and the fresh
woodwind scoring typical of Berlioz.
Instrumentation:
mezzo solo with orchestra comprising
2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons,
3 horns, harp and strings
Excerpted from a program note by
Mary Ann Feldman
.
Jean Sibelius
Born:
December 8, 1865, Hämeenlinna, Finland
Died:
September 20, 1957, Järvenpää, Finland
Selections from The Tempest, Opus 109
n 1925, just as he turned 60, Jean Sibelius reached
a point of crisis. The previous year had seen the
successful premiere of his Seventh Symphony, but now,
in a world where Stravinsky, Schoenberg and others
were undercutting all of his assumptions about music,
he found himself almost unable to compose. He would
write only one more major work, the tone poem
Tapiola
,
and then would spend the final 30 years of his life
locked in silence. Between the Seventh Symphony and
Tapiola
, though, Sibelius was able to compose one more
b
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