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Program Notes for Fall 2019 Concert

Magic Spells!
Sunday, October 6, 2019, 3 p.m.
First Presbyterian Church, 256 Mahoning Avenue, NW, Warren
By Steven Ledbetter, program annotator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1979-1998.

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1714-1788)
Orchestral Symphony No. 1 in D major (Wotquenne 183/1; Helm 663)

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach

  Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was born in Weimar, Germany, on March 8, 1714, and died in Hamburg on December 14, 1788. The Symphony in D was published in 1780, the first item in his set Orchestral Symphonies for Twelve Obbligato Parts. The date of the premiere is unknown. The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, bassoon, two horns, continuo and strings.

    Emanuel, as he was known to the family, was the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was, after his father, the most prolific and the most significant member of the Bach family. He spent nearly 30 years of his life in the service of the music‑loving king Frederick the Great, who was a rather good flute player and a not inconsiderable composer himself. There were both advantages and disadvantages in this position. Chief among the latter was the occasional lengthy interruptions in the musical life of the court during Frederick's military involvements, especially during the Seven Years War, 1756‑1763, during which nearly all music other than the smallest and most private kind of playing was curtailed in Berlin. A second disadvantage was Frederick's very conservative musical taste. The story of how he welcomed Emanuel's father, Johann Sebastian Bach, when he visited his son at the court, and how much he enjoyed the elder Bach's playing and recent compositions, is a heartwarming incident in the last years of "old Bach," who was regarded by most observers as simply out of date. But to the son, a composer of far more modern vintage, the king's conservatism was perhaps an irksome restraint on his imagination.

    For nearly three decades Emmanuel had served at the court of Frederick the Great in Potsdam, a solid and lucrative position, but more and more he chafed under his patron's conservative tastes. When Emmanuel's godfather Telemann died in 1767, freeing one of the most sought-after of musical positions — as music director in wealthy, cosmopolitan Hamburg — Emmanuel obtained leave from an unwilling monarch to seek the position, which he won.

    From this point on, Emmanuel Bach's symphonies are suddenly fresher and more modern in their viewpoint. Ten written late in his life are the best known and have always been highly regarded. Six of these are for strings alone, and even they have a far more "modern" feel, despite being limited to the standard ensemble of the earlier period. The last four symphonies, published in 1780, were identified as Orchestral Symphonies to highlight the fact that they called for winds as well, though they still employ only three movements, lacking the Menuetto dance movement that Viennese composers were already inserting as a matter of course. Bach was proud of these pieces, writing, "Last year I wrote four grand symphonies for orchestra with twelve obbligato parts. It is the greatest thing I have done in this genre. Modesty prevents me from making further comment."

    The Symphony in D is a thrilling roller coaster ride. The first movement (Allegro di molto) opens with a defiant single note from the first violins that keeps doubling in speed as the rest of the strings attack with a jaunty jagging figure from below. That pattern repeats two more times until the whole orchestra joins in. Agitated, strong dynamic contrasts and unpredictable shifts follow until the movement melts with unexpected harmonic tenderness into a gracious Largo. The middle movement is in effect a quintet for two flutes, viola, cello and double bass. The violins are restricted to plucking a few discreet pizzicatos. The final Presto is jubilatory and humorous — strange "gusts" of soft strings appear and interrupt the action, and at two points the violins even seem to "get stuck" in swirling arpeggios before righting themselves to proceed. The whole adventure of this symphony takes place in 10 minutes.

Paul Dukas (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer's Apprentice (based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

  It is hard to listen to the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (composed and first performed in 1897) without thinking of Mickey Mouse and the animated sequence attached to this music in Disney's Fantasia. But there is no harm in that, since the Disney sequence closely follows the events of a satirical ballad by Goethe from which the music derives, a tale in which the impatient apprentice to a powerful magician learns the hard way that he is not yet the full master of his craft. Dukas's music, however, shows an extraordinary mastery in developing the theme of his scherzo, which grows progressively more animated yet remains taut in its construction and dazzling in its orchestral color.

Paul Dukas

  The story is a simple one: A powerful magician must go out for a time, and he leaves his young apprentice in charge, with the particular order that he take a couple of buckets to the well and carry water back into the house. The apprentice finds this tedious work, and he decides to try what he has learned so far. He knows an enchantment that will bring the old broom to life and make it carry the buckets of water for him. His idea works brilliantly until the cistern is full and he realizes, to his horror, that he has never learned the command to stop the magic broom. In desperation he takes an axe and chops it into tiny pieces. But the magic causes each little chip to grow into a full-sized broom carrying buckets. The poor apprentice is on the verge of drowning because of his own spell when the master returns and quickly puts everything right again — with the water in the cistern at its original level. Then he hands the apprentice the buckets and orders him to get back to work.

​    Because of the way the story depicts the constant return of the bucket-bearing broom, Dukas cleverly shapes his symphonic poem in rondo form, which brings the same music back again and again, giving us a musical image of that crazy broom!

Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Abu Hassan, overture

    Carl Maria von Weber was born in Eutin, Germany (near the Danish border), probably on November 18, 1786, and died in London on June 5, 1826. He composed Abu Hassan, to a libretto by Franz Karl Hiemer, based on a tale in the Thousand and One Nights, between August 1810 and January 1811, completing the overture and the full opera on January 12, 1811 (barring two other numbers later added, one a year later and the other 10 years later). It was premiered in the theater of the Residenz in Munich on June 4, 1811. The overture is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, timpani, percussion and strings. Duration is about three minutes.

    Weber was marked for the theater almost from birth. His father was a professional actor who managed a small professional theater company, and much of Carl's all‑too‑brief career was spent as a conductor in opera houses all over Germany. He himself began composing for the theater at the age of 12 (the work was never performed and is now lost); his earliest operatic work to reach the stage was produced when he was just 14. Weber eventually came to cherish the goal of creating a true German opera, a goal he substantially accomplished in his last three works, Der Freischütz (1821), Euryanthe (1823), and Oberon (1826); he barely finished the latter before dying at age 39.


Abu Hassan was the last opera he composed before his masterpiece Der Freischütz, and it came a full decade earlier, at the end of a series of smaller works. But Abu Hassan was a lively, short (just one act) step on the way to the mastery of his last operas.

    The exceptionally lively overture leaves no question in the mind of the listener that the story to follow will be a comic one.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Witches Excerpts from Act 1 and Act 3 of Macbeth (1847)


     Giuseppe Verdi was born in Italy in Roncole, near Busseto, on October 9th or 10th, 1813, and died on January 27, 1901, in Milan. Following the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, Verdi dominated the Italian opera scene, and already when he was in his thirties had become one of the preeminent opera composers in history. Macbeth, premiered in 1847 at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, was his 10th opera and marked something very different in his writing. He had long been obsessed and fascinated by Shakespeare. "He is one of my favorite poets. I have had him in my hands [in Italian translations] from my earliest youth."

  As he began working on Macbeth, he wrote to his librettist, "This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of man... If we can't make something great out of it, let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary." Verdi certainly was inspired to write an opera that is as gripping as it is original and, in many ways, independent of tradition. He was fiercely invested in its performance. We know from the singers that he rehearsed them endlessly -- even between acts during its premiere. The work had success, but almost 20 years later Verdi returned to it and revised and expanded it for a French version given in Paris on April 19, 1865.

For our special witches Halloween concoction, we link two excerpts from the Italian version of the opera. We start with Act 1, Scene 1 in a forest when the three witches first appear amidst thunder and lightning. They exchange greetings and cackle over their doings until a snare drum interrupts, alerting them to the arrival of Macbeth, who has come to consult them and divine what he can from their strange predictions. Our music then segues to Act 3 where we find the witches in a dark cave stirring a large cauldron of a bubbling brew. After each witch describes hearing a mysterious call — signaling that the time is right for them to make their ghastly stew — they gleefully dance around the pot. Verdi's music is spirited and strange. In minor keys, it makes his figures spritely and fey rather than terrifying. Here is a "tidbit" from their verses:
           Witch 1. Three times the cat has mewed
           Witch 2. Three times the hoopoe has mourned and wailed.
           Witch 3. Three times the porcupine has yelped to the wind.
           ALL: This is the hour!
           Come, let us dance quickly round the cauldron
           and mix powerful brews. Sisters, to work! The water is steaming,
           crackling and bubbling.
    Our three soloists, Erika Walker Duderstadt, Sierra McCorvey and Rebecca Enlow, will be portraying the witches in Opera Western Reserve's upcoming production of Macbeth at Stambaugh Auditorium on November 15, 2019.

​(Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner)

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (b.1939)
Upbeat! for Orchestra (1998)

    Born in Miami, Florida, on April 30, 1939, Ellen Taafe Zwilich is the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in composition (for her Symphony No. 1, composed in 1982.) Her music is widely performed and ranges from pieces for small ensembles to large forces. She began composing as a child and performed as a violinist in the American Symphony Orchestra (1965–72) under conductor Leopold Stokowski at a time when there were few women musicians in the major orchestras. In 1975 she became the first woman to receive a doctorate in composition from the Juilliard School. After the death of her husband in 1979 she said her music changed and she wanted to write in a way that spoke more directly and warmly to the audience. Her pieces are marked by vigor and assertiveness and clarity, and she describes her compositional process as often being generated from initial motives or themes, even in large scale works.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

    We hear that in Upbeat! which she wrote in 1998 for the National Symphony Orchestra. Here she takes her musical material from Johann Sebastian Bach, the first movement of his vibrant E major Partita written for solo violin — BWV 1006. The whole piece is built on three opening Bach morsels or "riffs" which chase and dance and scatter through all the instruments of the orchestra, including the percussion. Her treatment, which is witty and surprising and non-stop tricky, is meant to be fun for both the musicians (all violinists and violists have cut their eye-teeth on this Bach Partita) and the audience.

  Zwilich is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received six honorary doctorates to date. From 1995-99 she was the first to hold the Composer's Chair at Carnegie Hall, where she created the Making Music concert series, which focuses on performances and lectures by living composers, a series which is still in existence. She was designated Composer of the Year by Musical America magazine in 1999 and currently serves as the Francis Eppes Distinguished Professor at Florida State University.

​(Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner)

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)
Night on Bald Mountain (arrangement by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)

  Like so much of the music billed as Mussorgsky's that we hear in concerts or on records, the famous Night on Bald Mountain is actually by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who adapted music that Mussorgsky had composed for his opera Sorochintsky Fair into a concert piece, bowdlerizing out what he regarded as "roughness" and "barbarism." In the case of Night on Bald Mountain, the situation is particularly complicated. Mussorgsky drafted it in several versions (some of which are now lost). He may have conceived some of the music — describing witches and deviltry — for an unfinished opera project in the early 1860s. But in 1866, after he had heard Liszt's Danse macabre, Mussorgsky began to work in earnest on an orchestral score whose full title was St. John's Night on the Bare Mountain. In April he wrote to Balakirev, "I am stuck with the devils. Satan's cortege doesn't satisfy me yet." To find the right mood for the piece, the composer read a recently published book on Witchcraft and Mysterious Phenomena of Modern Times. Finally, in the middle of June 1867, he sat down and wrote out the full score without further sketching. He wrote to Rimsky‑Korsakov to describe the piece, outlining its program: "1. The gathering of the witches. 2. Satan's cortege. 3. The depraved glorification of Satan 4. The [witches'] Sabbath."


    After completing this first version, Mussorgsky reworked it in an opera‑ballet called Mlada, never finished and now lost, and then wrote yet another version as an entr'acte to another unfinished opera Sorochintsky Fair. It is that version that Rimsky used, after Mussorgsky's death, as the basis of his own version, which is by far the best-known today. Still, even here the energy and power, the air of deviltry, and the brimstone smell of the tritones filling Mussorgsky's score remain. Many of us know and love this music because of its inclusion in Disney's Fantasia!

© Steven Ledbette. Used with the author's permission.
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