Showcase January-February 2015 - page 45

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JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2015 MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA
feb
19, 20, 21
Program Notes
large-scale score, music full of beauty, imagination and
dramatic power. And almost no one knows it.
The inspiration came from an unexpected source. The
Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen proposed that
Sibelius write incidental music for its production (in
Danish) of Shakespeare’s The
Tempest
. Sibelius was
attracted. He had previously written incidental music
for performances of Maurice Maeterlinck’s
Pelléas et
Mélisande
and several other plays, and now he was
glad to return to the theater and compose outside the
realm of concert music, where ideological battles were
raging. His score for
The Tempest
, composed in the fall
of 1925, was first heard as part of the production of
that play in Copenhagen on March 16, 1926. The music
was performed again the following year as part of a
production by the Finnish National Theatre, this time in a
Finnish translation.
music and text intertwined
Sibelius’ music for
The Tempest
, which consists of a
prelude and 34 numbers, is quite unlike his earlier
incidental music. For
Pelléas et Mélisande
, for example,
his music consisted largely of preludes and entr’actes
performed between the play’s acts and scenes. For
The
Tempest
, however, Sibelius integrated his music much
more completely into the play. Since he set many of
Shakespeare’s lines to music, particularly those of
Stephano, Caliban and Antonio, much of this production
was sung as well as acted. Sibelius’ boldest decision was
to cast Ariel as a mezzo-soprano and to write music for a
number of her speeches, including “Full fathom five, there
thy father lies” and “Where the bee sucks, there suck I.”
Not wanting this music to disappear, Sibelius made
several arrangements for concert performance. He
published the
Prelude
as a separate work and drew
two suites of movements from the score, editing them
somewhat in the process and replacing vocal parts with
instruments. These suites offer an effective experience in
the concert hall, but they also pose a problem: they were
assembled with no regard to the sequence of events in
the play, with no movements in chronological order, so
they don’t provide a satisfying sense of the composer’s
response to Shakespeare’s work.
Vänskä: back to the original
For these concerts Osmo Vänskä has gone back to
Sibelius’ original incidental music, selected 25 of the 34
movements and arranged them in their correct dramatic
order. This version includes all five of Ariel’s songs, sung
by the solo mezzo, and a selection of passages from the
play, which will be read at these performances by Joe
Dowling of the Guthrie Theater. Not included in Vänskä’s
new version—already slated for future performances with
the London Symphony—are the parts Sibelius wrote for
Prospero, Caliban, Stephano, Trinculo and Iris, as well as
the movements for chorus.
music of beauty, imagination and power
These excerpts offer much of the substance of
The
Tempest
, and they are easy to follow. A general outline:
the
Overture
depicts the storm, full of surging and falling
waves, that batters Prospero’s ship; it subsides into silence
as the ship slips beneath the waves. Ariel appears and
sings her first two songs, and the noble first
Interlude
(No. 8) depicts Prospero. In
The Oak Tree
Ariel fashions
a flute from an oak branch and plays on it. Two
Interludes
follow: one in which we see Caliban, and one in which
Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love. The next three
movements bring the magical “shapes,” boisterous
spirits in league with Ariel, while the solemn
Intermezzo
accompanies Alonso’s grieving for his son Ferdinand,
whom he believes to have drowned.
The Rainbow
accompanied a rainbow in the Copenhagen production
(Iris is the goddess of rainbows). Next come dances of the
nymphs and of the harvesters, as well as the appearance
of the dogs that rout the plotters against Prospero.
The
Cortège
accompanies the gathering of the entire
company at the end of the final act, and the
Epilogue
is
Prospero’s farewell as all depart.
Instrumentation:
mezzo solo with orchestra comprising
3 flutes (2 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes,
2 clarinets (1 doubling E-flat clarinet),
bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets,
3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, castanets,
cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, suspended cymbal,
tambourine, triangle, harp, piano and strings
Program note by
Eric Bromberger
.
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