Showcase March-April 2015 - page 37

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Program Notes
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
March 18, 1844, Tikhvin, Russia
June 21, 1908, Lyubensk
Russian Easter Overture, Opus 36
arly in 1888, Rimsky-Korsakov began to sketch a
short work for orchestra that he called
La Grand
Pâque Russe
—The Great Russian Easter. It was to be a
musical evocation of Easter, the most joyous of Christian
holidays, as it was celebrated in Russia, and Rimsky
built the music on liturgical chants and melodies from
the Orthodox Church. But he identified another element
with such celebrations: a strong streak of the pagan. He
described his intentions: “This legendary and heathen
side of the holiday, this transition from the gloomy and
mysterious evening of Passion Saturday to the unbridled
pagan-religious merry-making on the morning of Easter
Sunday, is what I was eager to reproduce in my Overture.”
For his work, known today as the
Russian Easter Overture
Rimsky reached for the
, a collection of canticles
of the Orthodox Church, drawing the themes of “An Angel
Wailed,” “Christ Is Risen,” “Let God Arise!” and others.
But rather than develop these themes in the traditional
sense, he chose to repeat them constantly at different
speeds and in different instrumental colors and moods,
giving the music its variety.
a brilliantly colored mosaic
The result, which has been called a “mosaic,” is assembled
of the most brilliant bits of color. Though Rimsky writes
for large orchestra, he uses it with discrimination. The
music alternates delicate instrumental cadenzas with the
most rousing
passages, as the old liturgical chants
roar out with an unexpected power. This orchestral
showpiece may have its roots in liturgical music, but it
approaches the pagan in its sensual energy.
Rimsky, who said that a full of appreciation of this music
demanded that a hearer have attended a Russian Easter
service “in a cathedral thronged with people from every
walk of life,” dedicated the music to the memory of his
friends Mussorgsky and Borodin, both of whom had died
unexpectedly in the years just before its composition.
3 flutes (1 doubling piccolo), 2 oboes,
2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones,
tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel,
tam-tam, triangle, harp and strings
Ralph Vaughan Williams
October 12, 1872, Down Ampney
August 26, 1958, London
The Lark Ascending, Romance for Violin
and Orchestra
aughan Williams composed
The Lark Ascending
1914, but World War I delayed the performance for
seven years. After the composer returned from military
service, he revised the score, and it was first performed
on June 14, 1921, by violinist Marie Hall and the British
Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Adrian Boult. From
that moment,
The Lark Ascending
has been one of Vaughan
Williams’ most popular works. It’s also one of the most
disarmingly beautiful pieces ever written for violin.
The music was inspired by a poem by the English novelist
George Meredith, specifically, three excerpts that Vaughan
Williams had printed in the published score. They are
worth quoting in full:
He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.
. . . . .
For singing till his heaven fills,
’Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him when he goes.
. . . . .
Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.
a gentle rhapsody
Lark Ascending
, inspired by the wonder of the bird in
flight, is rhapsodic rather virtuosic, restrained, gentle and lyric.
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