by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings.
Duration: 7 minutes.
THE COMPOSER – WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) – Mozart was working simultaneously on the Requiem and two operas during the incredibly prolific year of 1791, his last on Earth. The drama of these final creations was matched by that of his actual life and the ill health and mysterious visits of 1791 leant an air of urgency to everything Mozart touched. It was a furious dash to the finish, the finish of an existence cut far too short.
THE HISTORY – Though he started it before La clemenza di Tito, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) was the last opera Mozart completed. It was an example of the popular dramatic style known as Singspiel (a blend of singing and spoken text) and also an allegory on Mozart’s own Masonic associations and beliefs. He would live to see it successfully staged and actually conducted the premiere performances, but his death just months later would deprive him of knowing how lasting and important the work was meant to become. Three chords begin the overture in direct tribute to the Masonic themes of the opera (three being an important symbolic number). After the mysterious but inexorable introduction, it is a fleet-footed five minutes until the end. Mozart treats us to right away to fugue, transformation, delightful instrumental playfulness and an invigorating sense that something special is in store. Right in the middle of this infectious activity are the famous three times three chords, the “dreimalige Akkord,” which not only echo the overture’s opening but clear the air for a brief moment with spectacular effect. It is important to view The Magic Flute not as Mozart’s benediction or farewell to opera but rather as the excited, forward-looking declaration of a young genius in his prime. This is the hopeful music of a man with plans for the future, not the last rites of someone who felt time slipping and assumed he had said enough. From this perspective, the Overture to The Magic Flute may well be the most rewarding six minutes in music.
THE WORLD – Lost in 1791 were Methodist Church founder John Wesley, Virginia Governor and Declaration signer Benjamin Harrison, French revolutionary Honoré Mirabeau and of course, Mozart. Found (and founded) were the element Titanium, the U.S. Mint and the State of Vermont.
THE CONNECTION – Utah Symphony has performed The Magic Flute Overture countless times on virtually every concert series. Utah Opera has staged Flute on four separate occasions – 1987, 1993, 2006 and 2013.
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
Duration: 34 minutes in three movements.
THE COMPOSER – LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) – Beethoven’s reputation as an instrumental composer was well set in 1803 and though he still had much more to say in that realm, he was also eager to enter the glamorous world of opera. An invitation by the Theater an der Wien to collaborate with Schikaneder was exactly what Beethoven was hoping for and he moved into the building to begin the work of selecting a suitable subject.
THE HISTORY – Though the opera contract would be voided a year later (through no fault of the composer), the posting at the Theater provided an opportunity to schedule one of Beethoven’s signature mega-concerts. Important Beethoven premieres often occurred on ambitious programs that bundled several of his works into marathon evenings that, as often as not, went very poorly. Programmed on this particular event were the 1st Symphony, the 2nd Symphony, the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives and the 3rd Piano Concerto. All but the 1st Symphony were new works and, in the case of the 3rd Piano Concerto, the first performance was hampered by the usual rehearsal shortages (the orchestra had only one grueling half-day session to prepare everything) and the incomplete status of the score, in which Beethoven’s page-turner noticed more than a few “empty pages” at the performance. In its final form, this concerto represented a pivot point for Beethoven between his first two fully Classical examples and the more Romantic models that would follow. According to Michael Steinberg, this is due to the date of its publication, not its composition. Concerto No. 3 benefited from delays that allowed it to bypass an “early work” classification and be judged as contemporary to the 3rd Symphony rather than the 2nd. Regardless of its place in Beethoven’s timeline, there is no doubt about the historical inspiration for the piece with its stylistic and thematic nods to Mozart and his K. 491 concerto.
THE WORLD – 1803 was the year of the Louisiana Purchase in the United States. Also the year, Britain declared war on Napoleonic France and the French suffered defeat at the hands of Haitian rebels in the Battle of Vertieres.
THE CONNECTION – Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto was last performed on a Utah Symphony Masterworks program in 2007. Fabio Bidini was soloist under Matthias Bamert.
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings
Duration: 45 minutes in four movements.
THE COMPOSER – PIOTR ILYCH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) – 1875 was important for Tchaikovsky as a composer. In addition to being awarded first prize in an operatic competition based on Gogol’s Christmas Eve (the opera has been sadly forgotten), Tchaikovsky began work on Swan Lake and endured his infamous row with Nikolai Rubenstein to have the “vulgar” Piano Concerto No. 1 premiered by Bülow in Boston. Successes, at this time, where hardly assured but they did begin to mount.
THE HISTORY – When simplicity is wanted, Tchaikovsky’s six numbered symphonies can be separated into two groups, those we hear rather often and those we don’t. The popularity of the former set can be attributed (with due respect to their undeniable quality) to the personal turmoil modern audiences read into the music. Tchaikovsky is believed to have been a psychological mess over his sexuality and the 4th, 5th and 6th symphonies rarely escape interpretations that focus on his presumed neuroses. No. 3, written by Tchaikovsky in 1875 just before he started Swan Lake, is the last of the emotionally uncomplicated symphonies. He began composing it while summering at his friend Vladimir Shilovsky’s estate in Usovo and completed it two months later. After the premiere Tchaikovsky told Rimsky-Korsakov that the new symphony contained “no particularly successful ideas” but was a “step forward [in craftsmanship].” That equivocal pair of quotes might convince one to expect very little from Symphony No. 3, but in terms of thematic richness and formal novelty, it deserves better. Cast in an unorthodox five movements instead of four, Symphony No. 3 predicts Tchaikovsky’s orchestral Suites more than his later symphonies and though the music told no programmatic story, it did highlight some of Tchaikovsky’s most brilliant orchestration to date (hence the reluctant “step forward” acknowledgement?). As is so often the case with the nicknames of musical works, the “Polish” moniker needs explanation. It was applied by the conductor of the symphony’s London premiere for no better reason than the “Tempo di polacca” marking of the finale. Time and repetition have allowed the ridiculously misleading name to stick, even while they fail to confirm it as appropriate.
THE WORLD – Matthew Webb became the first recorded person to swim the English Channel in 1875. Also in 1875, Brigham Young University was founded, the first indoor hockey game was played in Montreal and Carmen premiered in Paris.
THE CONNECTION – Though a rare treat on a Utah Symphony Masterworks concert, Tchaikovsky 3 was performed here in 2000. Keri-Lynn Wilson conducted.
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings
Duration: 25 minutes in two movements.
THE COMPOSER – FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828) – A nearly unimaginable profusion of art songs made Schubert an important part of Viennese musical life at the beginning of the 1820s. He also wrote chamber music, an opera, a mass and a symphony during this period, even though his productive work ethic was at constant odds with his unhealthy personal routines. Put mildly, meals comprised solely of black coffee and pipe smoke do not a long life make.
THE HISTORY – It is interesting, and perhaps essential, to recall that Schubert’s famous “unfinished” symphony was first an “unremembered” symphony. We know very little about why the composer didn’t complete the score but we do have some idea about what happened to it after he set it aside in 1822. It is presumed that Schubert gave the two-movement score to Josef Hüttenbrenner as a gift for his brother Anselm. Anselm Hüttenbrenner was president of the Styrian Music Society in Graz. He awarded Schubert with an Honorary Diploma in 1823 and, furthering the above presumption, the symphony movements where offered as thanks. For reasons that remain unclear, the score was then shelved and not given another glance by either Schubert or Anselm. Josef apparently rediscovered it in 1860 and realized (finally) that he held a little miracle in his hands. He approached the conductor Johann von Herbeck with assurances of a “treasure” on par “with any of Beethoven’s” and after another inexplicable delay of five years, Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony had its premiere in 1865. Why Schubert abandoned the project in the first place is now a matter of pure conjecture. Some say he saw too much of Beethoven in it and did not want to seem derivative. Others posit that the sketches of the third movement scherzo were evidence that he had simply run out of creative steam in this case. Ranging even farther afield, the shortness of Schubert’s life might be massaged into support for the notion that he was simply out of time. Not true. He was still six years from death and he continued to compose often and well. Without certainty as to why Schubert didn’t finish the B Minor Symphony, we are left to accept and cherish it as is.
THE WORLD – Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822. Also that year, Jean-Francois Champollion used the Rosetta Stone to finally break the encryption of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Charles Babbage first proposed his “difference engine” precursor to modern computers.
THE CONNECTION – The “Unfinished” was last performed on Masterworks program back in 2009. Thierry Fischer was on the podium.
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 4 flutes, 4 oboes, 4 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, strings (12 celli, 10 double basses).
Duration: 20 minutes in three sections.
THE COMPOSER – HENRI DUTILLEUX (1916-2013) – Dutilleux passed away in May of 2013 after a career once referred to by Paul Griffiths as “proudly solitary.” Dutilleux left his position as head of music production at Radio France in 1963 to devote himself fully to composition and the string of awards he received throughout his long life (including the inaugural Kravis Prize as late as 2011) confirmed him as a critical contributor to his personal century and beyond.
THE HISTORY – Timbres, Espace, Mouvement was inspired by Van Gogh’s celebrated painting The Starry Night. As great-grandson to a painter who counted Delacroix among his contemporaries, Dutilleux was often drawn to the spatial fascinations of visual art. He chose to portray his impressions of Van Gogh’s image by plotting a highly specific staging for the orchestra. The unique configuration (featuring a semi-circle of celli right in front of the podium) allows the sounds to travel through space and time in a physical way that makes the music extremely effective in live performance. The instrumentation, though robust, lacks upper strings and depends heavily on the winds to depict whirling motions of the painting and create a sonic divide between themselves and the celli/double bass grouping. Dutilleux claimed to be ever mindful of Van Gogh’s own spiritual questions while he worked on Timbres and the extremes of instrumental register the composer exploited were meant to represent the vertical abyss that separates Earth and the heavens. Timbres, Espace, Mouvement was commissioned by Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony in Washington D.C., who premiered it in 1978. A central interlude for the cello section was added between the Nebuleuse and Constellation movements in 1990.
THE WORLD – Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first climbers to summit Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1978. Also in 1978, Charlie Chaplin’s remains were stolen from a Swiss cemetery and the Camp David Accords were signed in the U.S.
THE CONNECTION – These are the first Utah Symphony performances of Timbres, Espace, Mouvement ou La nuit étoilée.
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 3 clarinets, baritone or mezzo-soprano.
Duration: 2 minutes.
THE COMPOSER – IGOR STRAVINSKY (1882-1971) – Stravinsky wrote brief memorial works throughout his life but by the late 1950s and early 1960s, he had reached an age when they were becoming a far too regular necessity. Among the friends and admired strangers Stravinsky commemorated during that period was festival patron Prince Max Egon zu Furstenburg, Reverend James MacLane, painter Raoul Dufy and writers Dylan Thomas and Aldous Huxley.
THE HISTORY – Huxley died on November 22, 1963 but due to another notable passing that day, Stravinsky was not able to complete the author’s tribute work right away. Stravinsky had been an acquaintance of President John F. Kennedy and was shocked by the news of the assassination. He later told the New York Times: “The idea [for the Elegy] came to me in mid-January 1964. I felt that the events of November were being too quickly forgotten and I wished to protest.” W.H. Auden had come to enjoy a meal with the Stravinsky’s that January and the composer suggested a collaboration in memory of the President. According to Stravinsky, he originally envisioned a chorale and asked Auden for a “very quiet little lyric” but the poet obliged in March with a set of four haiku-like verses that was clearly better suited to solo performance. Stravinsky immediately set to work on the vocal line, using a technique that matched the 17 syllables of each poetic stanza with the musical notes of a serial tone-row. Auden’s poem was not exactly a literary masterpiece but it did capture a respectful balance of the deep emotions felt by Americans after the tragedy. Stravinsky, in “protest” against our ability to move on too soon, fashioned a highly effective miniature lament.
THE WORLD – 1964 was also the year of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the removal of Nikita Khrushchev from power in the Soviet Union, the sentencing of Nelson Mandela to life in prison and the publication of Saul Bellow’s Herzog.
THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Elegy for JFK.
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 3 bassoons (3rd doubles contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, strings.
Duration: 36 minutes in four movements (played without pause).
THE COMPOSER – CARL NIELSEN (1865-1931) – Nielsen’s domestic life continued to be a source of great stress in 1914. Infidelities (his) and the generally difficult circumstances of a multi-city professional life (his and hers) had begun to put significant strain on his marriage. As always, Nielsen attempted to weather the impasse through hard work as a conductor and educator but the mounting personal pressures where sure to necessitate some self-reflection in his compositional life as well.
THE HISTORY – Symphony No. 4 (1916) dates from this period and it constituted Nielsen’s strongest and most iconoclastic symphonic statement to date. This was partly attributable to his evolving maturity as a composer but also due to the inclusion of something rather new to his sound so far – outright conflict. If the 3rd Symphony was created to positively convey the musical characteristics of the human spirit and the natural world, the 4th could be read as an effort to present music as discrete and equal to man and nature, not merely their expressive proxy. It was the idea of music as a force in and of itself, capable of giving voice to “The Elemental Will of Life.” Nielsen believed life and music to be enduring in the truest sense of the word and stated as much in the preface to the score. “Music is life,” he wrote, “and, like it, is inextinguishable.” The title of “Inextinguishable” was given to the symphony by Nielsen not as a programmatic reference but as “a suggestion as to a way into this, music’s own territory.” It did not mean the symphony lacked a readable dramatic arc because for a thing to be proven inextinguishable it must be put the test. Hence the aforementioned conflict as depicted in the final movement by dueling timpani in what must be among the most physically realistic journeys from tension to reward in all of music. The four movements of the symphony are performed without pause, which intensifies the experience by keeping the thread taught for the entire 30-plus minutes. This symphony often invites comparisons to Sibelius but these suggested similarities do both men harm. “The Inextinguishable” was pure Nielsen, which then and always spelled pure (and peerless) originality.
THE WORLD – 1916 was the year of the Easter Rebellion in Ireland, the Battle of the Somme in France, the killing of Rasputin in Russia and the publication of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
THE CONNECTION – Nielsen 4 was last performed by the Utah Symphony back in 2005. Assistant Conductor Scott O’Neil was on the podium.
Britten - Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, op. 34 (Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell)
by Jeff Count
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, xylophone, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine, gong, whip, castanets, Chinese block, harp, strings, optional speaker.
Duration: 18 minutes.
THE COMPOSER – BENJAMIN BRITTEN (1913-1976) – 1945 was the culmination of an incredibly productive period for Britten. It was highly successful too, so much so that it concerned him. “I am a worried by my excessive local success at the moment…” he had written in a letter two years prior, “…I hope it doesn’t mean there’s too much superficial charm about my pieces.” A strange fear for a man who was about to pen Peter Grimes.
THE HISTORY – Once Grimes had been staged and was free to conquer the opera world, Britten turned his attention to other projects, including the interesting commission offered by the BBC back in 1944. Britten was asked to provide the score for an education film entitled Instruments of the Orchestra in which Malcolm Sargent would lead the London Symphony in a narrative/musical tour of the sections that comprise an orchestra. Britten based his piece on the Rondeau movement of Henry Purcell’s incidental music for the play Abdelazer (The Moor’s Revenge). 1945 was the 250th anniversary of Purcell’s death and Britten had already paid homage in his Second String Quartet and The Holy Sonnets of John Donne. For the Young Person’s Guide, the Purcell Rondeau was cast as the unifying theme for the entire work. Britten presents the theme first for full orchestra and then uses it to highlight the sonic capabilities of each of the ensemble’s large sections. From there the individual instrument types get their due in turn, followed by a blinding fugue that reassembles the orchestra and builds to the electrifying return of the opening theme. Though intended for film, Young Person’s Guide works equally well as a concert piece and premiered that way in 1946. Britten surely knew this while he composed and it has become one of his most popular works for the symphony stage. Superficial charm? Plenty. Undeniably brilliant craftsmanship? Oh, yes.
THE WORLD – The first meetings of the United Nations occurred in 1946. Also that year, Charles de Gaulle resigned as President of France, Juan Perón was elected President of Argentina and the Atomic Energy Commission was formed in the U.S.
THE CONNECTION – Young Person’s Guide has appeared often on Utah Symphony education programs. The last Masterworks performance was in 2000 under Keith Lockhart.
by Jeff Counts
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd doubles bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, suspended cymbal, bass drum, chimes, tam-tam, tenor drum, harp, strings.
Duration: 10 minutes.
THE COMPOSER – BENJAMIN BRITTEN (1913-1976) – Like many fellow European artists, Britten left for North America just ahead of the coming World War in 1939. Aside from safety reasons, he was anxious to take a break from England’s often unfriendly opinions. Britten would spend three years on our continent and his work during that time reflected both the stress of events back home and an honest attempt to capture the cultural uniqueness of his hosts.
THE HISTORY – Britten received a commission for a short orchestral work in 1941 from Maestro Artur Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra. For reasons that are unclear today, the piece was never performed and Britten left the manuscript in America when he returned to England in 1942. The original title of the work was An Occasional Overture and when it was unearthed in the 1970s, Britten claimed at first to have no memory of it. The lack of memory soon turned to outright denial until Britten saw the score for himself and was forced to admit that the handwriting was indeed his. The rediscovery necessitated a change of title to differentiate the 1941 piece from another Occasional Overture published later in 1946. It’s hard to say why Britten tried to disavow his stately, Copland-influenced American Overture (the new name). He may have found it lacking or possibly emblematic of the “composer’s block” that plagued him for a time starting in 1942. His own letters from just after he had acknowledged ownership of the music provide some justification for the latter theory. He stated that his “recollection of that time was of complete incapacity to work; my only achievements being a few Folk-song arrangements and some realizations of Henry Purcell.” That mention of Purcell is tantalizing proof that the block did not last for very long.
THE WORLD – As a war year, 1941 was known for the Babi Yar massacre and the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other events in 1941 included Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, the premiere of Citizen Kane and passing of author James Joyce.
THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of An American Overture.
by Jeff counts
Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubles piccolo), 2 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd doubles bass clarinet), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, percussion, piano, harp, strings
Duration: 15 minutes.
THE COMPOSER – PETER LIEBERSON (1946-2011) – American composer Peter Lieberson was best known for Neruda Songs, written for his wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and honored with the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition in 2008. Throughout his compositional career, Lieberson was heavily influenced by the tenets of Tibetan Buddhism and many of his works reflect the ideals of the faith’s enlightened leaders. But inspirational Buddhist figures were not the only important people to capture Lieberson’s attention.
THE HISTORY – Lieberson was commissioned in 2010 to compose a commemorative work for the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Inauguration the following January. Intent on a work consisting of woven narration and orchestral color, Lieberson began to read through the collected speeches of JFK and, as quoted in Thomas May’s note for the National Symphony premiere, stated that he was “astonished that so much of what [Kennedy] said carried presentiments of what we need today.” It must have been a challenge to curate from such a wealth of possibilities but Lieberson chose to present excerpts from three of JFK’s most eloquent speeches. With the famous inaugural address serving as the centerpiece, the choices were designed to present a balanced image of Kennedy the man, leader and mythical icon. Lieberson summed up his text selections by acknowledging “there is an elegiac quality surrounding this inspirational figure, since in the end he was not able to accomplish so much of what he wanted. But there was also a practical element in his understanding of human nature that couples with the visionary. I chose speeches that reflect both.” Lieberson took further inspiration from the fourth of Brahms’ eleven Chorale Preludes, op. 122, an elegiac work entitled Herzlich tut mich erfreuen (“My Heart Rejoices”). Another wise choice by Lieberson.
THE WORLD – In addition to other important commemorations, 2011 saw the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program, civil war in Libya, the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan and the entry of Estonia into the Eurozone.
THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Remembering JFK.