Program Notes – Masterworks V

MASTERWORKS V  —  RUSSIAN ROULETTE

April 22, 2017   7:30 PM
P.E. Monroe Auditorium, Lenoir-Rhyne University

As Waters Cover the Sea: A Tribute to Mozart. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Meira Warshauer
Born in Wilmington, North Carolina on February 28, 1949

As the Waters Cover the Sea (a tribute to Mozart), written in honor of the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death, is inspired by Mozart’s G minor Symphony. The title refers to the time when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9), and the composition is both a musical and spiritual interpretation of Mozart’s work. His symphony communicates a haunting pathos which has an unsettling, unresolved quality. This composition uses and transforms elements from the symphony as a means to resolve some of its spiritual questions.

The work is in two sections, played without interruption. The first section heightens the unsettled mood, combining such elements as the half-step relationship of the opening melodic motive in various settings, the descending g-minor scale in two-note phrases, the viola accompaniment figure, the opening melody itself in an expanded form, and the staccato arpeggios from the last movement. These elements work to a frenzy which is finally reduced to the opening two-note half step, the seed from which Mozart’s symphony grew. This motive, beginning in the flutes, becomes an urgent cry which gradually permeates the entire orchestra in its quest for resolution.

As if entering a new gate, the climax chord simultaneously closes the first section and opens the second. This calmer section contrasts with the agitation of the first part. Here the motives transform into agents of inner awakening and strength. An ascending melody begins in the cellos and culminates in a trumpet climax, reaching towards the source of grace, with open fifths and fourths providing space for the heart to open. Sul tasto violin arpeggios in a slow rocking motion lead gently back to Mozart’s original melody, now with slow, expanded rhythms. It appears first in the celeste and woodwinds, presenting the previously agitato melody, now bathed in peace and light.

In the final moments of the composition, a two-note descending figure from the second movement of Mozart’s symphony appears. It was delicately, almost tentatively spaced as a melodic counterpoint in Mozart’s setting. Here the pacing gradually increases into a cascade of quintuplets, while the viola accompaniment figure from Mozart’s first movement expands to include cellos and violins. In this energetic, harmonious texture, the trumpet melody moves to its final melodic climax, sound filling the hall, “as the waters cover the sea.”-Note provided by the composer.

Piano Concerto #5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “The Emperor”. . .. . . . . . . . . Ludwig van Beethoven
Born in Bonn, Germany on December 17, 1770
Died in Vienna, Austria on March 26, 1827

Beethoven was considered the finest pianist in Vienna, but his gradual hearing loss and subsequent deafness ruled out his ability to perform as a soloist with orchestra. His final concerto was certainly influenced by his own tremendous technical ability at the keyboard, but his last appearance as a concerto soloist had been in 1805. His deafness had made it impossible to coordinate his playing with orchestra, especially in places like the tricky opening of the first movement with its short, improvisatory-sounding solo piano passages bookended by massive outbursts in the full orchestra.
The 5th Concerto was written in 1809, but because of the Napoleonic Wars and a poor economy, it did not receive a premiere until 1811 and then not in Vienna, but Leipzig. In 1812, it was finally performed in Vienna, a city occupied by French troops, much to Beethoven’s disgust. The subtitle did not please Beethoven, and probably had its origin from a French officer who remarked on its imperial nature. Remember Beethoven had originally dedicated his Symphony #3 “Eroica” to Bonaparte and then withdrew the dedication when he had himself declared Emperor in 1804. By 1812, Beethoven’s opinion was even more negative as he found himself living in a city occupied by Napoleon’s troops.

Grandiose is probably an insufficient description of the opening that starts with a massive E-flat major chord in the full orchestra and short arpeggiated mini-cadenzas in the solo piano. The opening theme of the allegro is elegant and sweeping and gives the soloist a chance to rest up a bit after the opening pyrotechnics. The second theme in the orchestral exposition is presented in E-flat minor, but in the solo exposition in B-flat major, the dominant key. This shift in the solo passage is quite jarring, given our expectations from the orchestral passage. We just don’t expect Beethoven to play by the rules!

The slow movement begins with muted strings in the distantly related key of B Major. This would have been shocking and disorienting to early 19th century ears. But there is also a connection if you bother to think of the B Major as actually being C-flat Major, then the opening note of the 1st violins, a D# becomes an E-flat, and the connection is actually quite logical. The opening string passage is in the style of a hymn/chorale. You might notice that Leonard Bernstein might have borrowed the melody in the fourth measure for one of his tunes in a famous Broadway musical. The piano passages are extraordinarily beautiful while being quite simple and uncomplicated. Frequently it seems as though the piano is singing an operatic aria and the hymn and its subsequent opera-like embellishments layer onto one another quite nicely.

The transition from slow movement to the Finale, a Rondo allows Beethoven to “preview” his theme in the slow tempo of the Adagio, as the music moves down a half-step from B to B-flat creating a pedal in the French horns over which the new theme is presented, slowly and in fragments. The Finale is in 6/8 and is a German dance tune, based on the Italian dance called the caccia, a hunter’s tune. It isn’t hard to imagine those hunters, mounted on horses chasing their prey. The movement is rousing and a romp, though there are those wonderful episodes where Beethoven turns melodic fragments into motives and even a couple of episodes that hearken back to the opening of both the first and last movements.

Symphony #5 in E minor, Op. 64. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky
Born in Votinsk, Russia on May 7, 1840
Died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893

Tchaikovsky’s reputation as a symphonist was rock solid after the premiere of his Symphony #4 in F minor in 1878. It would be ten years before he would begin his Symphony #5 in early 1888 and conduct the work’s premiere in November of that year in Saint Petersburg. The scoring of both works is nearly identical: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings. The only difference is the lack of percussion, which the composer had used in the Finale of the Symphony #4. In his diaries there also are suggestions of a connection between the two works in using the elements of Fate as their inspiration.
Tchaikovsky begins the Fifth with long and dark introduction dominated by low clarinets and low strings (viola, cello, bass) a sound he would also employ in the opening of his Symphony #6. It has been suggested that this opening theme is a Funeral March but, for the sake of argument, we will call it the Fate theme. Its rhythm is distinctive, and that will prove useful when it comes back later in other movements.

When the main part of the first movement begins, the tempo is quicker and the new theme is in triple time. It is still closely connected to the introduction since the alternating chords of E minor and A minor in the first twelve measures are identical to the chords which harmonize the Fate theme. Clarinet and bassoon play the theme, which is another sad song.

After a simple start this theme charges to a bold and noisy climax. Then the second theme is introduced, an anguished theme for strings with characteristic little descending flourishes for the woodwinds. The movement ends quietly with the bassoons playing a portion of the first fast theme in the lower register of their instruments accompanied by very soft and sustained cellos and basses.

In 1939, Mack David, Mack Davis, and André Kostelanetz produced a song called “Moon Love” that became a recorded hit by Frank Sinatra. It had a great tune, “borrowed” from Tchaikovsky. This is the tune the French horn plays to open the second movement. Tchaikovsky picks up the pace as the clarinet introduces a new theme which is repeated by the bassoon and then by whole string section. Suddenly, this idea is brutally interrupted by the Fate theme, establishing the cyclic nature of the symphony for the first time. After this theme is abruptly halted, loud plucked string chords restore order. The original more restrained tempo returns as the violins take up the opening horn melody. After a spinning out of the theme in a fuller orchestration, the Fate theme once again intervenes. This time there is no real recovery. With a final appearance of what was originally the oboe’s continuation of the horn melody, the movement winds down to an exhausted close.

After two movements of angst, Tchaikovsky gives us a graceful, though still somewhat melancholic waltz. This is the symphony’s dance movement, not really happy most of time, but vigorous and energetic with the strings adding some light-hearted filigree in a scherzo style. Just before the waltz ends, the Fate theme appears very softly and briefly supplants the dance theme as the movement ends.

The Finale begins with the Fate theme, but heard now in a quietly sonorous E major, not exactly triumphant but definitely more optimistic. This opening replicates the introduction of the first movement. The timpani pedal that appears softly at the end of this longer statement of the opening movement material builds suddenly and connects to the violent theme that begins the fast portion and exposition of the Finale. The second theme is more connected, and appears in the solo oboe and then the strings. A third and even broader theme now appears in A Major and after a few key changes brings us to another statement of “Fate” but this time in the brass, with storm tossed 8th notes blowing the music back to the first fast theme taken up by the full orchestra at full volume, and a full development with many twists of plot ensues. Toward the end of the recapitulation, Fate reappears, now just as a rhythmic punctuation without any feeling of distinct pitch. Then the Fate theme marches forward in its most triumphant form—in major, fortissimo, broad, majestic. However, the audience should beware! It seems like things have ended just before this happens. Don’t be fooled! After the Fate theme has made its final grand entrance, the music moves forward into a headlong Presto, broadening again for the rousing final pages and a final statement of one of the first movement themes just to finish tying things together.

Find us on Social Media