Carson City Symphony
PROGRAM NOTES for October 26, 2008, by Andrew M. Spieker
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was the youngest of five children in a family of Russian immigrants. Despite his tremendous talent, he received no formal musical education until the age of 21, when he was accepted by Nadia Boulanger as her first American student.
Copland became one of several American composers of his generation (George Gershwin was another) who successfully blended the popular American musical idiom with the more formal classical style.
The ballet Rodeo was commissioned by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942. The music has a "southwestern American" flavor, incorporating several folk songs. An orchestral suite was extracted form the ballet music. The suite’s finale, the famous, foot stompin’ "Hoe-Down," conveys an atmosphere of fun, characterized by brilliant brass and percussion effects.
The "Haffner" Symphony of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was commissioned by the family of Sigmund Haffner, a friend and benefactor of Mozart. The original version was composed and performed in the summer of 1782. A revised version, the one we know today, was first performed at the Vienna Burgtheater on March 23, 1783.
The symphony is in four movements. The first, Allegro con spirito, begins with a powerful statement of the first subject, with all instruments playing in unison. The second subject is similar in melody and rhythm to the first. Contrary to the tradition of the time, no repeat of the exposition is indicated. The development is characterized by a rapid succession of key changes, leading to a recapitulation and ending with a short coda.
The second and third movements are courtly, enchanting "Salzburg party music." The slow and graceful melodies of the second movement, Andante, provide a welcome relief to the energy and excitement of the first movement. Instead of a development, a brief chorale-like passage is presented by the woodwinds, clearly punctuated by a syncopated accompaniment by the violins and violas. A recapitulation follows. This movement can best be characterized as delicate and elaborate, but definitely relaxing.
The third movement, Menuetto, provides a bright change of atmosphere from the preceding slow Andante. The movement, in D major, is marked forte (loud). It is punctuated, however, by short sections marked piano (soft), producing a pleasant contrast. The trio, in the dominant key of A major, is marked piano, providing a clear contrast in dynamics. In true Classical style, the Menuetto is repeated, bringing the movement to its conclusion.
The Finale: Presto maintains just as much fire as the first movement. Although it begins at a quiet, brisk pace, the listener is immediately arrested by three beats of silence, followed by the full orchestra playing at a full forte level in bar 9. Such musical surprises appear throughout this movement. Permeated with silences, rapid dynamic shifts, and a bright grace-note passage near the end of the movement, one may expect the unexpected. With its brilliance, fire, and grandeur, it is quite apparent why Mozart chose this music as the final movement of the Haffner Symphony.
George Gershwin (1898-1937) was one of the most successful American composers during the 1920s and 1930s. In terms of acceptance during his lifetime, he was unsurpassed: his works, which widely ranged from songs to opera (Porgy and Bess) to orchestral poems (Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris) were far more widely accepted than those of more cerebral composers such as Arnold Schoenberg (who, incidentally, was a friend and mentor of Gershwin).
The genesis of the Concerto in F dates to a concert in New York of music by contemporary American composers on February 12, 1924, by an orchestra, arranged and conducted by Paul Whiteman. One of the works performed was Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with the composer as piano soloist. Attending this concert was Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony. Damrosch was quite taken by the Rhapsody, and, accordingly, the New York Symphony commissioned the young composer to write a concerto for piano and orchestra. The result was the Concerto in F, which was first performed at Carnegie Hall on December 3, 1925, with the composer as soloist and the New York Symphony conducted by Damrosch.
As characterized by Charles Schwartz in his book, Gershwin, His Life and Music (1973), "…the Concerto somehow captured much of the essence of the time in which it was written. For in its special hybrid way—a mixture of New York musical vernacular and the concert hall—the Concerto evokes the spirit of the Jazz age, with its speakeasies, raccoon coats, Stutz roadsters, the Charleston, whiskey flasks, and other razzle-dazzle features of the 1920’s."
The Concerto is in the traditional three movements: Allegro; Adagio-Andante con moto; Allegro agitato. There are strong thematic links between the outer movements, while the second movement is the most obviously jazz-influenced. Each movement has a very subtle structural integrity that is not immediately apparent to the listener or even the player, but the structure rivals that of any Classical or Romantic composer.
The first movement begins with blasts from the timpani, introducing some of the main thematic material. After four pages of orchestral introduction, the piano comes in to play a jazzy solo section, which introduces yet another new melody that will be heard throughout the movement. From here, the music alternates between grandiose and skittish, between broad and delicately soft. The climax is reached at a section marked grandioso, with the orchestra blaring out the piano’s original melody, and the piano playing a large triplet figure in support. A piano cadenza of a quick triplet ostinato that has been heard before in the piece, leads to the final pages; speeding octaves and chords, capitulating in a large run of the triplet ostinato up the keyboard along an F Major chord, brings the movement to a close.
The second movement is the blues, with a slow beginning, where a solo trumpet plays a slow blues type melody; a faster piano part follows, and a gradual build until near the end. When the full orchestra and piano are playing loudly, only a few bars to the end, and it seems the piece will come to a crashing end, everything pulls back to the original quiet melody and ends peacefully.
The final movement is a pulsating, energetic finale that features the dominant seventh melody and the main melody of syncopated eighth notes and triplets from the first movement, the blues melody from the second movement, and a melody of its own. One section, at the Grandioso, is exactly the same as the corresponding section in the first movement, but this time, the scales at the end lead back into the pulsating patterns from the beginning. The same motif that closed the first movement is heard in octaves now, a quick run of octaves up and down an F Major chord, bringing the work to a blasting finish.
This page last updated 12/27/2008