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Program Notes

The Magic of Melody

January 23 and 24, 2016

 

Written by David W. Bailey

Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), Overture, KV 620

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

born at Salzburg, Austria, 27 January 1756; died at Vienna, 5 December 1791

   

scored for pairs of flues, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets,

three trombones, timpani and strings.

 

The opera premiered at Schikanader's Theatrer-Auf-der-Wieden, Vienna, 1791, Mozart conducting.

 

Early in 1791, Mozart was deeply in debt, plagued by the public's lack of interest in his recent works, and suffering from the kidney failure which was soon to take his life.  When his old acqauintance, Emanuel Schickenader, a somewhat shady actor and theatre Imressario, suggested in May that they collaborate on a new opera, Mozart jumped at the chance.  At the time, the Viennese public was especially fond of comedic entertainments with oriental or fantastic settings.  Schickenader, riding on the success of his recent production of a “magic opera,” Oberon, with composer,Paul Wranitzky,   proposed to Mozart a collaboration on a singspiel (a comic opera with spoken dialogue), Die Zauberflote – The Magic Flute, based on Liebeskind's story Lulu from Wieland's 1786 collection of Oriental fairy tales, Dschinnistan.  The Magic Flute was an immediate and lasting success, especially for Schickenader who made a great deal of money on its productions after Mozart's death, while the composer's widow struggled to get out of debt.  

 

The story begins in “ancient Egypt,” where one Prince Tamino is attacked by a great serpent, only to be rescued by three ladies who are the daughters of the Queen of the Night.  The three ladies show Tamino a picture of the Queen's daughter, Pamina, and Tamino falls in love with her, sight-unseen, on the spot.  The Queen of the Night tells Tamino he may marry Pamina if he can rescue her from the evil Sarastro.  Tamino is to do so with the aid of a magic flute given to him by the three ladies.  He meets Papageno, a bird catcher, who has been given a set of bells by the same three ladies, and the pair sets out.  Using the power of the flute and bells, Tamino meets Pamina, and they fall in love.  We find that Sarastro is, in fact, not evil, but the Queen of the Night is.  Sarastro is the High Priest who has been proctecting Pamina from her mother, who wishes to dominate the world.   Act 2 begins as Sarastro imposes upon Tamino the tests of Silence, Fire, and Water, which he must pass to win Tamina. He does so.  Birdcatcher Papageno is given the same three tests, and though he fails, manages to win one Papagena by using the magic bells.  Sarastro blesses the couples.  The Queen of the Night, in a fit of pique, tries to break up Sarastro's temple, is hit by a thunderbolt, and goes to hell.

 

The Great Chords opening the Overture to Mozart's  The Magic Flute, are taken from Act II, the March of the Priests and Sarastro's aria, O Isis and Osiris,  and are the only apparent reference in the Overture to the opera itself.  Those 'great chords' remind us that both Mozart and Schickenader were active Freemasons; tales abound of their supposed use of Masonic symbols in their opera.

At least one theory suggests that Mozart's early death was hastened by the composer having revealed certain Masonic 'secrets' in the Magic Flute. 

The Allegro is built upon a typical jocular fugue subject, cleverly weaving passages in Major and minor, with a complementary answering voice in the flute.  The piece follows a typical Sonata form, with the Great Chords of the Priests returning to 'announce' the development section.

 

This was the last of Mozart's great operas. In but a few, short years, he had transformed opera. Donald Jay Grout says: “In Mozart's operas eighteenth and nineteenth centuries meet.  He has brought into the inherited traditions, formats and musical language a new conception, that of the individual as the proper subject for operatic treatment.”   He goes on to explain why this is the path to Beethoven's Fidelio, Weber's Die Freischutz and The Ring.  It explains, as well, the comedic element and character development found in both The Magic Flute and Die Meistersinger.

 

 

 

Concerto in a-minor for Violoncello and Orchestra, opus 129

Robert Schumann

born at Zwickau, Saxony, 8 June 1810; died at Bonn, 29 July 1856.

 

scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings.

 

Composed in October 1850

First performance, posthumous, at the Leipzig Conservatory by Ludwig Ebert

First American performance by Fritz Geise with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Wilhelm Gericke.

 

In September, 1850, Robert and Clara Schumann, and their six children, moved to Dusseldorf, where Robert was to assume directorship of the Dusseldorf Music Society.  Dusseldorf had a reputation as being a 'conductor-eating town,' (Michael Steinberg) and Schumann's predecessor, Ferdinand Hiller, had been all but run out on a rail.  It was quite the same for Schumann and, by October 1852, he too was asked to 'resign.'   But at its beginning, it was a rare time of good spirit for the composer, who had spent his life plagued by extreme mood swings.  The Cello Concerto was composed in a mere fifteen days (though not performed until much later); he wrote the Rhenish Symphony, and revised the D-minor into what we know as his Fourth Symphony; The Marchenbilder (Fairy Tales) for Viola and Piano, two cantatas and several concert overtures on literary themes all come from this brief time.   Following Schumann's 'resignation' however, his despair dropped to new depths and four months later threw himself into the Rhine River in a suicide attempt.  He was committed to a hospital in nearby Endenich, where he did two and a half years later.

 

Although written in a short space of time, Schumann was never content with the Cello Concerto, cancelled its first scheduled performance in Spring of 1852, and continued to make revisions of the score until his untimely death.  Its first performance, at the Leipzig Conservatory, was on the fiftieth anniversary of Schumann's birth.   Nonetheless, his wife, Clara Wieck Schumann, noted in her diary in October of 1850 (Nancy Reich, Clara Schumann),  “I have played Robert's Violoncello Concerto through again, thus giving myself a truly musical and happy hour.  The Romantic quality, the vivacity, the freshness and humor, also the highly interesting interweaving of violoncello and orchestra are indeed wholly ravishing, and what euphony and deep feeling one finds in its melodic passages.”

 

The construction of the whole piece is quite novel, as the composer experimented with new ways of connecting movements.  Each movement is, in fact completely linked to the next with the middle section as a bridge or arch, and as a whole comparable to a popular format of the time, the Konzerstucke (Concert Piece).  Schumann's orchestration is at its best, being neither overwhelming or intrusive on the solo 'cello.

The three “movements” are played without pause, linked together by a recitative-like bridge which makes use of a theme first heard in the work's opening section, and returns again in the cadenza near the end.  Not given to “display” as such, Schumann presents a work very rich in tone quality and color, with an intimate give-and-take between soloist and orchestra often found in chamber music.

Robert's father, August Schumann, was a combination bookseller, publisher and novelist, hence much of the composer's early life was spent devouring the great novels and poetry of the age.  Many of Schumann's compositions reflect his knowledge and love of this literature, the sets of Fairy Tales and Fantasy Pieces, music to Byron's Manfred, Scenes from Goethe's Faust, and many others.   No doubt alluding to this tendency in the composer, Donald Francis Tovey, in his Essays makes an analogy between Schumann and the poet, Robert Browning:

 

“Both are the 'essential manly' poets of people who innocently wallow in sentiment: and when Schumann is nervous he is apt to develop exactly Browning's habit of digging you in the ribs and illustrating grave realities with some crack-jaw quadruple rhyme.

“And so,” Tovey tells us, “we may well accept Schumann's “finale” passage here as Browningseque.”

 

 

Die Meistersinger, an orchestral tribute (2005)

music of Richard Wagner

 

born at Leipzig, 22 May 1813; died at Venice, 13 February 1883

symphonic compilation by Jenk de Vlieger

born at Scheidam, The Netherlands, 1953

 

first performance at Moscow, conducted by Eri Klas, 29 September 2006

dedicated to Edo de Waart

 

scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 ob0es, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings.

 

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg is unique among Wagner's operas.  It is his only 'comic opera,' falling chronologically just after his most 'tragic,'  Tristan und Isolde.  Often said to have been written to compete with the extremely popular Czar und Zimmerman  (The Czar and the Carpenter) by Albert Lorzting, it runs the comedic gamut from subtle farce, to the Shaw-like lampooning of Wagner's arch-rival, Eduard Hanlick as traditionalist, Beckmesser.  The tragedy of Tristan is gone - with its intense and complicated musical structure and tonality stretched to the limit; Meistersinger returns to diatonic harmonies, beginning and ending in a bright C-Major.  Even its central moment is a C-Major chord!

 

In short, the opera is the story of a Singing Contest which takes place in 16th-century Nurnberg, Germany.   Walther (a knight) meets Eva and they fall in love.  Eva's father, a goldsmith, holds a singing contest, the winner of which shall win both the rich man's estate and his daughter, Eva.  Walther doesn't even make the finals, but one of the Judges, Hans Sachs, believes Walther has potential.   Eva knows that Walther has failed and goes to Sachs for guidance.  Sachs also loves Eva, but is chivalrous and agrees to help the young couple.   On the following morning Walther goes to Sach's house, where Sachs advises Walther to write an original song based on a dream he has had, which Walther does then and there, then leaves.  Enter Beckmesser, who also loves Eva.  Beckmesser finds the song, and, thinking Sachs has written it for him, decides to use it at the contest.   The song contest is held in the field of Pegnitz.  First, Beckmesser sings the song he believes to be from Sachs, but not very well.  Sachs then tells the audience that the song is, in fact, not his work, and reveals the true writer of the song, “The Roseat Glow of Dawn” to be none other than Walther.  Walther sings the “prize” song, impresses the audience and judges alike, wins first prize, and married Eva.

 

Henk de Vlieger's ...orchestral tribute is one of a series of symphonic compilations the arranger has made of the works of Richard Wagner, the others being The Ring, an orchestral adventure, Parsifal, an orchestral quest, and Tristan & Isolde, an orchestral passion.  In order to do this, he selected the most important fragment of these operas and placed them in a symphonic context, replacing voices with instruments.  Since 1984, de Vlieger has been a permanent member of the Netherlands Padio Philharmonic Orchestra as percussion. In 2011 he was appointed artistic advisor to the orchestra.