Program Notes – Masterworks II

Tickets Available Here

 

“CLASSICAL CRITTERS”

Saturday, November 5, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.

Frank Drendel Auditorium, The SALT Block, Hickory, North Carolina

With Hal Row, Narrator

 

PROGRAM

“Flight of the Bumblebee” from Tsar Saltan………………………….…Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Symphony #82 in C Major, H 1/82 “The Bear” ……………………………….…Franz Josef Haydn  (1732-1809)

  1. Allegretto
  2. Mineutto and Trio
  3. Finale: Vivace

“Bluebird Pas-de-Deux” from The Sleeping Beauty……………………..Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

  1. Variation I Orchestrated by Igor Stravinsky
  2. Variation II (1882-1971)
  3. Coda

Peter and the Wolf: A Musical Tale………………………………………………………Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Hal Row, Narrator

Hal Row’s appearance is made possible by the support of Catawba Valley Medical Center who also sponsored this afternoon’s Family Concert.

 

NOTES ON THE PROGRAM

 

“Flight of the Bumble Bee” from Tsar Saltan…………………………………………Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Born in Tikhvin, Russia on March 18, 1844

Died in Lyubensk, Russia on June 21, 1908

 

“Flight of the Bumblebee” is one of the best-known pieces of classical music.  In fact, several pieces by this Russian composer have a firm place in the popular music world.

Trombonist/bandleader Tommy Dorsey popularized “Song of India” from Sadko and many popular adaptations of themes from his symphonic fantasy Scheherazade are familiar to many people.   Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky is the only Russian composer whose popularity and familiarity eclipse Rimsky-Korsakov.   In the world of opera and symphonic music they were both giants, leaving a legacy of great music and also influence on succeeding generations of musicians in their own countries and throughout the Western World.

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov is best known in this country for three symphonic works:

Scheherazade (1888), Capriccio Espagnol (1887) and Russian Easter Overture (1888).  Though he composed 15 operas, only Le coq d’or (The Golden Cockerel) has gained a place in the repertory of companies outside of Russia.   In Russia, Sadko, The Snow Maiden (“Dance of the Tumblers”) and Tsar Saltan (1900) remain staples of the major Russian opera houses.   Rimsky-Korsakov also revised Mussourgsky’s works, most notably Boris Godunov and completed Borodin’s Prince Igor.

“Flight of the Bumblebee” is described in detail in a Wikipedia article that includes a section on the many adaptations of this short piece and a section on contemporary uses of the music in film and cartoons:

Speed is the operative word in performing this piece and many soloists have adapted it for their use from the violin to the tuba.  Bandleader Spike Jones incorporated the piece into his comedic routine and his first long-playing album as well.

The musical content of “Flight of the Bumblebee” appears throughout the opera, but the actual piece serves as an orchestral interlude in Act III when Prince Gvidon (Tsar Saltan’s son) is turned into a bumblebee by the Swan-Bird so he can fly off to find his father.  Here are the main themes:

 

 

Symphony #82 in C Major, H 1/82 “The Bear”…………………………………………………Franz Josef Haydn

Born in Rohrau, Lower Austria on March 31, 1792   Died in Vienna on May 31, 1809

Many of Haydn’s 104 symphonies bear subtitles, but most were not provided by the composer.  The tradition began with a set of three symphonies written for Count Morzin in 1761 #6 Morning, #7 Noon, and #8 Night.    Symphony #82 written in 1786, was actually the last written of six symphonies  which became known as the Paris Symphonies, commissioned by Concerts Spirituel, an organization of Parisian musicians led by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a highly-favored musician of Marie Antoinette.    Haydn’s music was held in great favor by the French public and the publication of all six of these works in Paris, London, and Vienna shortly after their premieres is a testament to Haydn’s “international” reputation.    The subtitle is theorized to have come from an 1829 piano arrangement of the finale which was called “Dance of the Bears.”   Dancing bears were a popular, though somewhat cruel street entertainment since they were often cubs taken from their mother at birth and forced to live in cramped and caged conditions.

This work because of its key is considered a festive or celebratory symphony.   The movement in very quick triple time opens with a theme based on a C major triad quickly contrasted (antithesis) by a soft and lyrical phrase and ending with a fanfare.   The second theme in the dominant (G Major) is also more sustained and lyrical.  The development section begins with a short statement of the antithesis and then treatment of the fanfare and principal theme in a series of distant keys.  Typical of sonata-allegro form the recapitulation presents both principal themes in the home key of C Major.

The second movement is a set of double variations–that is to say a set of variations based on the opening theme in F Major, and another set of variations based upon a contrasting theme in F minor.  Like the initial statements of the original themes these variations alternate.   The shift between major and minor and the development of materials creates the longest and most serious movement of the work.   The one weakness of the movement, perhaps, is the rhythmic similarity of the principal themes

The minuet is quick, and rather than a piece in the French style, this music is closer to the Viennese dance called the Deutsch which was a precursor of the waltz and landler.    Haydn’s colleague Mozart and his most noted student Beethoven, would both write several Deutsches.   Beethoven would take the genre to the next speed and favor the scherzo as the dance movement in many of his major works.

The most interesting aspect of this dance movement is the harmonic movement of the Trio or contrasting middle section of the ABA form.  Usually the Trio starts in a different but closely related key, but this section remains in C major.   The second section of the Trio is quite a different matter.   The music takes some very interesting melodic and harmonic detours, and at times can be quite disorienting.

The Finale is the source of the nickname “L’ours” or “The Bear.”   The movement begins with a drone in the cello and bass, and the harmony is static.   Contemporary audiences might have thought the simple folk dance tune above the drone, or later in the midst of it, would be the kind of tune used by street entertainers.    During the later 18th and early 19th centuries, bears who did tricks and “danced” were very popular with crowds.    Many of us probably recall a popular character on the famed children’s television series Captain Kangaroo named Dancing Bear.   Structurally, there is also a more than casual resemblance between the theme of the second movement and this “Bear tune.”

 

“Bluebird Pas de Deux” from The Sleeping Beauty…………………………………….Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky

arranged for small orchestra by Igor Stravinsky

Born in Votinsk, Russia on May 7, 1840    Died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893

The story made famous in our lifetime by Walt Disney’s animated full length feature can be traced back in written form to 1528, though the story of an enchanted, sleeping princess dates farther back in oral tradition.   Of course the story has many variations, with the initial printed version coming down heavily with sexual assault, murder, and cannibalism.   In 1697 it got cleaned a bit and recast as a fable for children.  In 1812, the Brothers Grimm altered the tale to include a happy ending, and were the first to end the sleeping spell with a kiss from a handsome prince.   This element is present in Tchaikovsky’s full length ballet of 1890, his second of three full length ballets (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and Nutcracker)  and Disney’s movie of 1959.

The “Bluebird Pas de Deux” is probably the most famous dance for female and male principal dancers. The choreography was created by Marius Petipa, the Balletmaster of Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, whose career in Russia lasted over 40 years.   The Bluebird Pas de Deux in Act III is known for its airborne choreography for the Bluebird (male dancer) who is teaching the Princess Florine how to fly.  Petipa’s tricky steps mimic how a bird springs, bounces and soars.   This Pas de Deux (dance for two) is still considered the tour de force in all of classical ballet repertoire.  Petipa’s choreography still challenges even the most skilled and technically proficient dancers performing today.

Igor Stravinsky’s orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s music was created in 1941 for the company now known as American Ballet Theatre at the request of George Balanchine, a lifelong friend and colleague of the composer.  As early as 1921, Stravinsky had performed a similar chore for Balanchine, restoring music from the original ballet that had been lost or was unavailable for orchestra due to the Bolshevik Revolution.    In both instances Stravinsky had only a piano score as a source and these “arrangements”  bear the stamp of Stravinsky’s orchestral style in both sonority and articulation.   The 1921 project used full orchestra, but exigencies of World War II made it difficult for the Ballet Theatre to engage a full orchestra, and Stravinsky significantly reduced the instrumentation.   He once again did not have the benefit of a full score, as no materials were present in America when the war began.

Stravinsky had also created the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss (Baiser de la Fee) in 1928 based on non-orchestral music, mostly songs and piano pieces of Tchaikovsky for Ida Rubinstein and Michael Benois in honor of the 35th anniversary of the composer’s death.

Also, in a moment of shameless organizational promotion, let me mention that the famous bandleader Duke Ellington together with his composing partner Billy Strayhorn arranged nine movements of The Nutcracker Ballet for his big band in 1960.    A live performance by the Hickory Jazz Orchestra of this music will take place as part of The Nutcracker Ball, the annual fundraiser of the WPS Board of Directors on Saturday, November 19th.    Details can be found elsewhere in our program book and on our website.

 

Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67………………………………………………………………………………….Serge Prokofiev

Born in Sonstsovka, now Krasnoye, Ukraine on April 27, 1891  Died in Moscow on March 5, 1953

Peter and the Wolf began its life as a concert piece for the Moscow Children’s Theater written shortly after the composer returned to the Soviet Union to live in 1936.   Since that time it has been adapted for the movie theater, the television, as a ballet, and was even the subject of a major spoof in 1964 by the late American comedian Allen Sherman (Hello Fahdu, Hello Mudda!) entitled Peter and the Commissar.  Prokofiev chose to create a work that would introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra by assigning specific themes and characters to each instrumental group.    The piece usually begins with the narrator introducing the instruments and their themes before the story, also narrated, begins.

Peter, lives at his grandfather’s home in a forest clearing. One day, Peter goes out into the clearing, leaving the garden gate open, and the duck that lives in the yard takes the opportunity to go swimming in a pond nearby. The duck starts arguing with a little bird (“What kind of bird are you if you can’t fly?” – “What kind of bird are you if you can’t swim?”). Peter’s pet cat stalks them quietly, and the bird—warned by Peter—flies to safety in a tall tree while the duck swims to safety in the middle of the pond.

Peter’s grandfather scolds Peter for being outside in the meadow alone (“Suppose a wolf came out of the forest?”), and, when Peter defies him, saying: “Boys like me are not afraid of wolves,” his grandfather takes him back into the house and locks the gate. Soon afterwards “a big, grey wolf” does indeed come out of the forest. The cat quickly climbs into a tree, but the duck, who has jumped out of the pond, is chased, overtaken, and swallowed by the wolf.

Peter fetches a rope and climbs over the garden wall into the tree. He asks the bird to fly around the wolf’s head to distract it, while he lowers a noose and catches the wolf by its tail. The wolf struggles to get free, but Peter ties the rope to the tree and the noose only gets tighter.

Some hunters who have been tracking the wolf come out of the forest ready to shoot, but Peter gets them to help him take the wolf to a zoo in a victory parade that includes himself, the bird, the hunters leading the wolf, the cat, and the grumpy Grandfather (“What if Peter hadn’t caught the wolf? What then?”)

 

 

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