Carson City Symphony
NOTES for Feb. 27, 2011, by Steve Anthenien
Georges Bizet - L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1
Best known as the composer of the opera Carmen, Georges Bizet
(1838-1875) was considered a child prodigy, entering the National Conservatory
in Paris at age nine. An early death cut short his promising career, but
the music he left is tuneful, approachable, and among the most frequently
programmed classical music.
Bizet was born in Paris, the son of amateur musicians. He was able to
read and write music at age four, and after his enrollment at the National
Conservatory, he earned a series of prizes for music theory, organ, piano, and
composition. His Symphony in C, written at age seventeen while he was still a
student at the conservatory, is considered a masterwork.
The incidental music to Alphonse Daudet's play L'Arlésienne
(The Girl fom Arles) was composed in 1872. The play was a failure, with
critics complaining that there were "too many overtures." In other words, Bizet's
music overpowered the drama. Fortunately, Bizet rescued some of the best music
and assembled two suites. L'Arlésienne Suite No. 1, performed today,
has four movements:
- 1. Prelude. Bizet borrows the French Christmas carol "The March of the Kings"
and offers it several ways: the strings, woodwinds and horns open with a vigorous
rendition; then the woodwinds alone play it as a quiet chorale. The full orchestra
with percussion and brass follows, presenting the melody as a storm at sea, with
rising and falling dynamics and a rolling chromatic underpinning. Cello, horn
and bassoon then offer the theme with gently loping rhythms, and the final variant
is a return to full orchestra with military flourish. Bizet ends the movement
with a second melody featuring the saxophone, its first appearance in the
standard orchestral repertoire following its invention in 1844 by the fiery
Belgian instrument maker, Adolphe Sax.
- 2. Minuetto begins with a sharp, rhythmic melody passed from section to
section within the orchestra before yielding to the soaring second subject. The
piece ends as any proper classical minuet should, by returning to the first theme.
- 3. Adagietto is scored for strings alone. The instruments are muted using
a device to dampen their sound, giving a hushed, veiled quality to the heartfelt music.
- 4. Carillon. As the name implies, the orchestra imitates the ringing of church
bells in the opening, quieting as the first theme is introduced by the violins.
The second theme is a gentle sicilienne, and the piece closes with the return of the Carillon.
Gabriel Fauré - Dolly Suite, Op. 56
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was one of the foremost French composers of the
late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among his best-known works are the
Requiem, Incidental Music for Pelleas and Melisande, Pavane,
Clair de lune, and the Nocturnes for piano.
Fauré showed an early aptitude for music, and was enrolled in the School of
Classical and Religious Music at age nine. He studied piano there with Camille
Saint-Saëns, and the two became lifelong friends. After graduation, Fauré
secured a series of increasingly prestigious positions as a church organist, a
living that would allow time for writing music. He was encouraged by Saint-Saëns
to apply for a position at the National Conservatory in Paris and was appointed
professor of composition in 1896 and Conservatory Director in 1905. His students
there included Georges Enescu, Nadia Boulanger, and Maurice Ravel.
Dolly Suite is dedicated to Hélène Bardac, the daughter of a close friend,
singer Emma Bardac. Hélène was known to her family as "Dolly," and some speculate
that she may have been Fauré's daughter. The orchestral adaptation performed today
is by Henri Rabaud (1873-1949), who was a composer, cellist, conductor, and Fauré's
successor as National Conservatory Director. The suite consists of six movements:
- 1. "Berceuse" is a lullaby with a gentle melody that is passed from one section
of the orchestra to another, and an accompaniment that suggests the rocking of a cradle.
- 2. "Mi-a-o" doesn't refer to the vocalizing of a pet cat, but rather is Dolly's
nickname for her brother Raoul. The lively, rapidly shifting music offers the
impression of Raoul as a typically active little boy.
- 3. "Le Jardin de Dolly" (Dolly's Garden) evokes the calm of the perfect garden
as a young girl might imagine it.
- 4. "Kitty-Waltz," another seeming reference to a cat, is actually about Raoul's
puppy, "Kitty." The opening melody is the best-known music of the suite.
- 5. "Tendresse" is typical Fauré—fluid, melodic and full of shifting tonalities.
- 6. "Le Pas Espagnol." French composers of the period had a fascination with
Spain, and works by Bizet, Lalo, Debussy, Ibert, Ravel, and others demonstrate
their ability to write music in the Spanish style. Fauré ends the set with music
full of Spanish rhythms and fire, indeed a grand finale.
Édouard Lalo - Symphonie espagnole for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 21
Édouard Lalo (1823-1892), while well known to string players for his
Symphonie espagnole and Cello Concerto, isn't one of the most recognizable
names in the standard orchestral repertoire. Lalo wrote music of high quality
throughout his lifetime, but didn't achieve recognition until middle age.
Born in Lille, France, Lalo attended the local music school before enrolling at the
National Conservatory in Paris at age sixteen. He hoped to make a career as a
composer, but discouraged by his inability to get his music performed and published,
he worked for many years as a string player and teacher in Paris. Lalo's music
began to receive notice when the violin virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate added one of
Lalo's early violin concerti to his repertoire in the early 1870s. Encouraged by the
acclaim the work received, Lalo wrote the Symphonie espagnole for Sarasate in 1874.
The raging success of the piece finally cemented Lalo's reputation as a composer.
A typical violin concerto has three movements; a symphony has four. The
Symphonie espagnole has five:
- 1. The dramatic opening reveals a compositional device Lalo uses throughout the
piece - combining note groupings of two (duplet) and three (triplet) to give the
music a Spanish flair. The drama eventually gives way to a gentler second theme
before returning to the first. The soloist is active throughout, with many
opportunities for technical displays.
- 2. Scherzando. Lalo transforms the classical scherzo into a seguidilla, a dance
from southern Spain.
- 3. An Intermezzo typically is music added to entertain the audience between
acts of a play or opera, or to distract the audience during a lengthy scene change,
but here it is added as a solo vehicle, with some of the most technically
challenging music of the piece. Lalo again uses notes in groups of two and three to
- 4. Andante. In contrast with the brilliant character of the previous movements,
the orchestration and harmonies here combine to create a dark, smoldering atmosphere.
This is the soloist's opportunity to display the passionate, melancholy aspect of
- 5. The listener is brought back into the bright sunshine by the last movement,
a Rondo. The first theme is presented several times, interspersed with contrasting
melodies of a Spanish character, offering the soloist the chance to dazzle the
audience with a variety of brilliant playing techniques.
This page last updated 2/22/2011