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Colorful Journeys! October 22, 2023

By Steven Ledbetter and Susan Davenny Wyner
(Mr. Ledbetter was Program annotator for the Boston Symphony from 1979-1998)
Additional content by Susan Davenny Wyner

Sunday, October 22, 2023 at 3PM - Colorful Journeys
First Presbyterian Church, 256 Mahoning Avenue, NW, Warren 44483​
Susan Davenny Wyner, Music Director & Conductor

Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride

Smetana composed The Bartered Bride, his second opera, between 1863 and 1866, and revised it several times until it reached its definitive version in 1870. That version had its premiere in Prague on September 25, 1870, and quickly became established as almost a symbol of the Czech people, a position it still holds.

Strictly speaking the opera should be called The Sold Bride. It tells a simple and amusing tale of a young woman’s love emerging triumphant over the obstacles of circumstance, parents, and an energetic marriage-broker. The crafty hero assembles the townspeople to witness what they think is an act of treachery—he will “sell” his claim to marry his sweetheart for 300 gulden on one condition: That she marry only the son of a particular wealthy farmer. Since this very man is trying to get the girl engaged to his doltish son, no one objects to the stipulation. Only at the end of the opera does everyone learn that the true lover is also a son of that farmer, from an earlier marriage, who had left home years before and not been heard of since. His cleverness wins him both the money and the girl.

The opera is filled with strains of folk song and characteristic Czech dance forms. In the third and last act, a traveling circus comes to town. To attract villagers to attend their show, a group of Comedians puts on a performance in a lively dance filled with rhythmic verve and high spirits. Their dance in 2/4 meter is called a skocná, (pronounced scotch-nah) and Smetana gives all the instruments-- strings, brass (especially the trumpet, who gets special solos), woodwinds, and percussion-- a chance to run, jump, stop, start, surprise, and show off their virtuosity.
FRANZ SCHUBERT  (1797-1828)
Symphony in B minor, D.759, Unfinished

Franz Peter Schubert was born in Liechtental, a suburb of Vienna, on January 31, 1797, and died in Vienna on November 19, 1828. The score of the two movements of his unfinished B minor symphony is dated October 30, 1822. A scherzo exists in fairly complete piano sketch, and the first nine measures of the scherzo, fully scored, are on the reverse of the last page of the second movement. An additional page of score, containing eleven measures, recently turned up in Vienna. The first performance of the Unfinished was given under the direction of Johann von Herbeck in Vienna on December 17, 1865, with the last movement of Schubert’s Symphony No. 3 in D, D.200, appended as an incongruous finale.

Schubert's most popular work is also the most mysterious. We know that he wrote the first two movements in 1822 and sketched the beginning of a third, even to the point of orchestrating its first bars. Though he lived another six years, he never completed a piece that began with such remarkably expressive music. Even after he died in 1828, the score remained concealed for more than thirty‑five years; its first performance in 1865 was a revelation.

Actually the mystery is perhaps less deep if we consider that during the early 1820s Schubert left a large number of works incomplete, the bulk of them in minor keys. Among these are several attempts at symphonies that never grew beyond sketches or unperformable fragments. Evidently after composing six symphonies in the first flush of his natural and buoyant genius, Schubert completely changed his notions of what constitutes a proper symphony.  Encounters with the music of Beethoven were no doubt decisive in this change.  In this light, his failure to finish even the Scherzo—much less the more demanding finale—may have been a kind of despair. Unable to conceive an appropriate ending for the structure he had started, he simply dropped the work totally.

The two movements that Schubert left, though, are rich in his characteristic expressiveness and bold in harmonic adventure. The first movement contained a harmonic idea of such pungency that no less a musician than Johannes Brahms, who edited Schubert's symphonies for the complete edition of his works at the end of the 19th century, couldn't believe that Schubert intended it; he edited it out of existence!

The work begins with a mysterious whisper in the low strings, followed by a soft tremolo in the violins and a keening, lonely melody in oboe and clarinets.  The listener might easily take this for a slow, minor‑key introduction to a symphony, but it soon becomes apparent that this is the very body of the work, an entirely new kind of symphonic mood. The opening ideas build to an emphatic climax and drop out, leaving bassoons and horns holding a single note, which suddenly melts into a chord that brings in the ineffable yearning of the second theme. The color and the ardent expression of this movement end in somber darkness.

The second movement opens strikingly in a bright E major. Here the wonderful flexibility of Schubert's harmony leads us on a poignant musical journey that ends in mystery, with a sudden final skewing to a distant harmonic horizon left unexplained (though if Schubert had found a way to complete the score, the harmonic adventure would certainly have been clarified before the end).

At Schubert's premature death, the poet Grillparzer noted, "Music has here entombed a rich treasure, but still fairer hopes.” Schubert never achieved his fairer hopes with the B‑minor symphony, but the treasure at hand is immensely rich. [Notes by Steven Ledbetter]
Sizzle (2000)

​The award-winning composer Margaret Brouwer has earned critical accolades for her music's musical imagery and emotional power. The Dallas Morning News praised her for having "one of the most inventive imaginations among contemporary American composers.”  Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, February 8, 1940, she has received notable commissions from the Dallas Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Rochester Philharmonic, the American Composer's Orchestra, the American Pianists Association, CityMusic Cleveland Chamber Orchestra among many others. Her music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music, the Kennedy Center, the Concoran Gallery, and the Philips Gallery, and by major organizations throughout the US, Germany, and Taiwan.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has created a special Margaret Brouwer Collection which makes her scores, manuscripts, papers, and recordings available for research by scholars, composers and performers. From 1996-2008 Brouwer served as head of the composition department at the Cleveland Institute of Music where she is now Professor Emeritus. She is founder of Blue Streak, a contemporary chamber music ensemble, which records on Naxos CD, and tours the country performing innovative and eclectic programs. Brouwer devoted 2016 to 2018 to composing her 80-minute oratorio, Voice of the Lake, meant to encourage interest and concern for Lake Erie and other threatened bodies of water.  More than 30 of Brouwer's works have been recorded on such labels as Naxos and New World Records.

About Sizzle, she writes:
"The initial idea for Sizzle was inspired by the booming rhythms of rap music that emanated from a vibrating car waiting at a stoplight.  The words were not audible, but I was intrigued by the mesmerizing rhythmic interplay between the motoric rhythm of the voice and the punctuated, more predictable rhythm of the accompanying instruments.  SIZZLE grows and evolves from this germinal rhythmic idea.  Various instruments represent the rhythmic current of the rapper:  first the bassoons, then violas, then the violins, and later the woodwinds and eventually the entire orchestra.

James Gleick describes the alarming pace and frenetic life-style of the 21st century in his book, Faster.  In Sizzle, the instruments that play the rhythmic currents described above could be said to represent this part of 21st-century life – fast-paced, energized, and filled with emphatic and mesmerizing rhythms.  Three trombones and one horn explore a deeper current – a psychic cultural connection with the earth, with the ground of being, with a universal flow, with deep space, with the collective unconscious – yearning for that which isinfinite, measureless, vast, spiritual." [Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner]

Epilogue; in memory of Jacob Druckman (1996)

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Yehudi Wyner, b 1929, has composed well over 100 works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, solo voice, piano, chorus, and music for the theater, as well as liturgical services for worship. He has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Boston Symphony, The BBC, Library of Congress, Ford Foundation, Koussevitzky Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts. He won a Grammy Award for his recording “The Mirror” and was nominated for a second Grammy for his Pulitzer prize-winning Piano Concerto, “Chiavi in Mano.”

In addition to composing and teaching, Yehudi Wyner’s active and eclectic musical career has included performing as a pianist, directing two opera companies, and conducting numerous ensembles in a wide range of repertory. He has taught at Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Brandeis, State University of New York, Purchase, and the Tanglewood Music Center. He has served as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters which awarded him its Gold Medal for Music in 2020, and recordings of his music can be found on Naxos, Bridge, New World, Albany, Pro Arte, Columbia Records, iTunes and Amazon. 
In 2005, Yehudi Wyner performed Gershwin’s Piano Concerto with the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 2014 and in 2017 the Philharmonic gave the world premieres of MAZE I and MAZE II, which he composed specifically for the Warren Orchestra and the young solo string players of the Philharmonic’s visionary “Strings of Joy” program, founded by Frank R. Bodor.

About Epilogue he writes: 

"Epilogue was commissioned for the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival—The Yale Summer School of Music —by the Leshowitz Family Foundation and Meet-the-Composer, in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the 'Music Shed' in Norfolk, Connecticut, where summer festival concerts take place. Epilogue was given its first performance on August 10th, 1996, by the Norfolk Chamber Orchestra, Sidney Harth conducting. 

My original intention in planning this piece for the anniversary of the shed was to fashion a celebratory, festive composition, suitable to the place and occasion.  Such plans crumbled at the death of composer Jacob Druckman, an esteemed colleague, teacher at Yale, and lifelong friend. Epilogue is in his memory. The mood is somber and elegiac; the style simple and tonal; duration, about nine minutes." [Notes by Susan Davenny Wyner]

Georges Bizet (1838-1875)
Suite No. 1 from the opera Carmen

Georges Alexandre César Léopold Bizet was born in Paris on 25 October 1838 and died in Bougival, near Paris, on 3 June 1875. His most successful work, the opera Carmen, was the last piece he composed; it was premiered in Paris on 3 March 1875, just three months before his death, which occurred in his thirty‑seventh year. The two traditional suites present selections from the score of the opera in an order that differs from the original dramatic version, based as it is only on considerations of musical variety. The score calls for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes (second doubling English horn), two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle, bass drum, cymbals, tambourine, snare drum, harp, and strings.

Bizet’s Carmen, justifiably one of the most popular operas ever composed, aroused shivers of concern from the director of the Opéra-Comique, where it was first produced. The Opéra-Comique was, after all, a family theater, a place of long and unchanging traditions. The works presented there—lighter operas that were largely sung, but contained spoken dialogue—had certain conventions that the audience expected: a heroine of spotless purity, who might suffer at the hands of Fate (and of Man) but would eventually win out; a hero of bold courage and unchanging rectitude who usually comes across as a prude, but he naturally wins the girl in the end; a villain, usually a baritone or bass, of unadulterated evil intentions; and a happy ending.

Bizet happily tossed each of these conventions out the window in selecting Prosper Mérimée’s novel Carmen as the basis for an opera and then browbeating his librettists to give him the realistic situations he wanted—even to the extent of writing some of the libretto himself when they wanted to tone down the harsh and realistic story of the moral decline of a simple country boy (with a slight penchant for violence) to a deserter, smuggler, and eventually tormented murderer. Although the librettists Meilhac and Halévy created a pure heroine, Micaela, as a foil to the seductive Carmen, Bizet gave her music in the spirit of Gounod that made her come across as vapid; he was interested in the gypsy girl, Carmen, who was the opposite of everything the Opéra-Comique stood for in family entertainment. Other operas (notably Traviata) had depicted women whose morals were less than impeccable, but Bizet actually showed Carmen seducing José right on stage during the course of the first act—the first step in his moral decline. Carmen’s love is capricious and intense; it led men to vie for her favors. In the end, it led to her murder—and on stage to boot! One of the directors of the company is said to have resigned because he could not persuade Bizet to give Carmen a happy ending!

Nobody knew quite what to make of it. The librettists had worked for years with Offenbach, and audiences expected something light and frothy. As each of the four acts went on, the audience became quieter and quieter, until there was nearly dead silence at the end. Though the work was performed forty‑three times that season, it never filled the house, and the management was reduced to virtually giving tickets away. By the time the run had ended, the composer was dead, an apparent failure.

But soon thereafter—in October of the same year—a production in Vienna began the opera’s worldwide march of success. Yet it was not the same opera that Bizet had written for Paris. In between musical numbers, the plot at the Opéra-Comique had been told in spoken dialogue, which had revealed many things about the backgrounds and relationships of the characters and about their motivations. For the Vienna Opera the work had to be sung throughout, so the manager commissioned Ernest Guiraud to create recitative to replace the dialogue. Guiraud went about his task seriously; he quoted many of Bizet’s musical ideas, and he attempted to imitate his style. But inevitably he had to cut so much from the dialogue that many of the sharp points of the drama got blunted. Yet this is how Carmen became known to the world at large. Recently there has been a welcome trend to return to Bizet’s original form, which remains one of the most effective operas ever written, equally successful in musical and theatrical terms.

The orchestral suites include a wealth of music from Bizet’s score and point out one of his greatest strengths as an opera composer: the variety and effectiveness of his orchestration, which reveals character at the same time that it underlines mood. The Prelude to Act I presents the ominous musical idea often described as “Fate,” the one factor over which Carmen has no control. The “Aragonaise” is a lively dance number that introduces the final act with its colorful setting just outside the bullring. The “Intermezzo” that precedes Act III is of a chaste simplicity that suggests José’s home‑town sweetheart Micaela, who in the act to come will make one last vain attempt to get him to return home to his dying mother. “Les Dragons d’Alcala” is the marching song of Don José’s regiment, which opens the second act. The final selection, “Les Toréadors,” brings the suite to an appropriately colorful close. It is actually the introduction to Act I of the opera, which presents the bustling music of the toreadors and especially the famous song of the bull-fighter Escamillo, who is perfectly aware that no bull is a match for him‑‑and no woman either. [Notes by Steven Ledbetter]

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