Wolfgang & Igor Program Notes

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky
Concerto in E-flat major for Chamber Orchestra, “Dumbarton Oaks”

Dumbarton Oaks is probably the only garden to have a whole composition named after it. It is the name of the Washington, D.C. estate of Robert Woods Bliss, a well-known patron of the arts, whose house, museum and gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown had provided the setting for many important functions and entertainments. He commissioned the concerto to be performed at the Bliss’s thirtieth wedding anniversary in 1938. Stravinsky was unable to conduct the first performance, and at his express wish, Nadia Boulanger was invited to take his place; the concerto was premiered in the great hall of Dumbarton Oaks under her direction.

Stravinsky began the concerto in the spring of 1937 in Annemasse in the Upper Savoy region in France, near the sanatorium where his daughter Mika was mortally ill with tuberculosis. He completed it in Paris the following spring.

Stravinsky wrote in notes to the concerto: “…[it was] perhaps, the most difficult time of my life. I played Bach very regularly during the composition of the Concerto, and was greatly attracted to the Brandenburg Concertos. Whether or not the first theme of my first movement is a conscious borrowing from the third of the Brandenburg Concertos, however, I cannot say.” It is sometimes referred to facetiously as the Seventh Brandenburg. A product of the composer’s neoclassical period, “Dumbarton Oaks” derives inspiration not only from Bach: Stravinsky cherry picks musical ideas from across the entire eighteenth century, giving the concerto a particularly eclectic air. And, of course, such musical quotations and allusions are part of the composer’s vocabulary of this period, as in The Fairy’s Kiss or Pulcinella.

The concerto is written for 15 instruments (3 violins, 3 violas, 2 celli, 2 double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, 2 horns), all of which are treated as quasi-soloists in the style of a concerto grosso. The style of the first movement blends the traditional counterpoint and fugal writing of Bach’s concerti with Stravinsky’s spiky melodic lines and syncopated rhythms. The meaning of the tempo marking of the first movement, Tempo giusto, is controversial; musicians understand it to mean everything from “play in strict time without rubato,” to “intuit and play the music the way notes suggest it should be played.” The first movement rolls out a series of diverse melodies featuring the different sections, first the upper strings, the winds, and the lower strings. The movements flow into each other via gentle, legato passages in a slower tempo.

While the first movement is more contrapuntal, the second, Allegretto, is decidedly more Classical in style, even wandering into the twentieth century. And as the first movement concentrates on the ensemble as a whole, the second features individual instruments, for example, a creepy clarinet solo joined by the flute, and another filigreed solo for the flute dancing over the main theme. The violins lead into the inter-movement transition.

The final movement, Con moto, sets the sections off against each other, beginning with a recurring syncopated quick march for the horns and lower strings, which is slightly varied each time. Between the recurrences of the rondo theme, Stravinsky inserts a fugue for the sections, a little Spanish-sounding gavotte and a waltz for the winds.

Christopher Marshall
b. 1956

Christopher Marshall
Guitar Concerto Soul Journeys

Born in France and raised in New Zealand, Christopher Marshall received his musical training in Australia and New Zealand, but considers himself largely self-taught. He is a freelance composer now residing in Orlando. He is also Composer in Residence and Adjunct Professor of Composition at the University of Central Florida.

Marshall’s music is lyrical and tonal. He writes: “The foundation of my style is a strong belief that music is primarily a means of expressive communication with an audience. Singable, memorable melody coupled with a subtle use of the tonal harmonic system is a valuable resource. However if music is to communicate on more than an ephemeral level, especially after repeated hearings, the melodic and harmonic elements must be integrated into a convincing structure. I believe instrumentation must be part of this structure, not an afterthought.”

The Guitar Concerto, commissioned by guitarists Matthew Marshall (no relative), was funded by Creative New Zealand, the government funded arts program. Marshall explains: “My concerto for guitar and orchestra is titled Soul Journeys, which is a reference to the influence the poetry of Rumi (the 13th century Persian mystic Sufi poet) continues to have on my life and work. There are two movements, Transcendence and Metamorphosis. Stylistically this work, like much of my music, places very strong emphasis on melody and a Romantic influence is evident in the harmonic language.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Symphony No. 41 in C major. K. 551

Mozart composed his three last symphonies – or at least finished them – in the short span of 6 weeks in June-August 1788. In spite of the ceaseless flow of his musical output, he had composed no symphonies in the preceding two years, nor was he to write any in the following three, the last years of his life.

These three symphonies were not composed on commission but were probably written for a series of subscription concerts that Mozart planned for 1788-89 in Vienna and that apparently never materialized for lack of support. At this point in his career his star was already in decline despite the success of his two great operas in collaboration with Lorenzo da Ponte, Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro. He was desperately in need of money – in large part because he was constitutionally unable to curb his extravagant spending habit. However, the notion that Mozart never heard these symphonies performed is the creation of nineteenth-century romanticism; in fact, Mozart probably scheduled the C Major symphony for a concert in Frankfurt in October 1790.

The three symphonies reflect very different moods, the darkest being that of No. 40. It is almost as if the tragedy of this symphony saw its resolution only the in triumph of “The Jupiter,” No. 41. The nickname “Jupiter” is a late addition by a hand unknown and mercifully forgotten, inspired probably by the majestic-sounding first movement. Olympian it may sound to us, but according to Eric Blom, Mozart borrowed the little auxiliary theme in G Major in the first movement from his comic bass arietta “Un bacio di mano” (K. 541); the text that accompanies this theme runs, “Voi siete un po’ tondo, Mio caro Pompeo,” (You are a little chubby, my dear Pompeo).

Unlike No. 40, this symphony breaks no new ground either in form or content; its greatness lies not with its novelty but with its classic elegance. Despite the fact that he composed 41 symphonies, it was not the vehicle Mozart chose as an outlet for his greatest creative inspirations; many of them were among his earliest compositions. Haydn, on the other hand, was constantly tweaking the form throughout his long life to make each symphony different in some way – often even quirky.

Although Haydn was partial to the slow introduction, Mozart used the device rarely in his later symphonies, of the final three, only in No. 39. Number 41 begins with its own kind of contrast in microcosm – in the first few measures – with abrupt shift in dynamics and texture.  The movement proceeds to lay out two additional themes, both of which contain within theme transformations of motivic elements from the opening figure. &

The second movement, marked Andante cantabile, is unusual for a slow movement in that it is in sonata form rather than the customary ABA song form. Instead, it incorporates the form with its contrasting B section into the exposition. The opening contains one of those ravishing Mozartian themes that begins with almost banal simplicity but concludes with gentle melancholy. Mozart ramps up the drama with a second theme in the minor, finally resolving the crisis in a closing theme. But the development opens the topic all over again.

Never one to write foot-stomping Ländler as was Haydn, Mozart created one of his most lyric and flowing minuet and trio movements for this Symphony. The Minuet features a legato descending chromatic motive that Mozart uses throughout the section. In the Trio, by contrast, the upper winds play a tongued, detached theme. As in the beginning of the Symphony there is a continual alternation between legato and staccato textures.

Of particular interest in Finale to the Symphony No 41 is Mozart’s use of the four-note opening motive of the final movement, which he then develops into a fugue. & When Mozart first presents the theme, he does not treat it contrapuntally and, therefore, finishes it off as if he were going to proceed with a rondo or sonata form movement. This theme contains within it a decorated descending scale motive that Mozart later combines contrapuntally with his principal subject.

Mozart was partial to his little four-note fugue subject and had previously used it in two masses and his B-flat Symphony K. 319 (No. 33). Other composers, mostly notably Felix Mendelssohn, used the motive as well, either in imitation of or tribute to the composer who was valued more after his death than during his lifetime.

Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2016