Masterworks 3: Almost Vienna
Scott Seaton | Conductor
This concert explores the sounds of Vienna with a collage of favorites from many iconic composers from this famous musical hub. William Bolcom parodies many of these very composers in his Commedia for (almost) 18th-century Orchestra followed by the showcasing of the Young Artist Audition winners in a celebration of Mozart. The concert concludes with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the only of his symphonies to rival his immortal Fifth Symphony in terms of rhythmic vitality.
Bolcom: Commedia for (almost) 18th-century Orchestra
Free pre-concert talk one hour before each performance.
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Jet Glover, Violin
Born in Vietnam, moved to California as an infant, Jet Viet Glover played Suzuki piano for two years and then began studying violin at age 5. At age 11, he became the principle second violin of the All Seasons Orchestra, a community orchestra in Arcata, California, and became concertmaster there the following year. He held that position until he began as concertmaster at Arcata High School Orchestra in 2015. Jet graduated from Arcata High in June of 2017 and began his studies at Sonoma State University in music performance in the fall of 2017.
Jet Glover has attributed much of his musical ability his unique teachers, Rob Diggins, Principal of the Portland Baroque Orchestra, and his current violin professor, Jay Zhong, the Assistant Concert Master of the Santa Rosa Symphony, as well as to the summer camps that he had the good fortune to attend, including the California State Summer School for the Arts, Sequoia Chamber Music Workshop in Arcata, and the Advanced String Quartet at Interlochen Center for the Performing Arts in Michigan. In 2015, he won the Junior Division Championship of the California Old Time Fiddle Contest and that same year, qualified for the Nationals and was honored in the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame in Weiser Idaho.
Jet has worked with several great conductors, including Carlos Kalmar of the Oregon Symphony, Jung-Ho Pak of the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, and Christopher Rountree of WildUp. He has been mentored by some of the world's leading violinists, such as Martin Chalifour, concertmaster of the LA Philharmonic, Dennis Kim, Concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Jeff Thayer, concertmaster of the San Diego Symphony, and Nathan Oleson, co-concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Jet believes that one of the most inspiring moments of his musical life was when he got to hold the 1701 Dushkin Stradivarius.
Natasha Czajka, Soprano
William Bolcom composed Commedia for (almost) 18th-century Orchestra in 1971 for the newly-formed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra after a request by their conductor Sydney Hodkinson. Their small orchestra roster reminded the composer of an 18th-century ensemble, thus the subtitle "for (almost) 18th-century orchestra." Commedia was first recorded by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in 1975 under Dennis Russell Davies, and has become Bolcom's most performed orchestral work.
Bolcom is a Grammy Awardee and recipient of the National Medal of Arts and a Pulitzer Prize, and was a member of the faculty of the University of Michigan's School of Music from 1973 to 2008. His style is eclectic, so defining the genre of Commedia is not straightforward. The conductor must hold a chaotic free flow of music together. Dreamy nostalgia and jazzy riffs coalesce to reveal a fiery dance at the core. Like Samuel Barber’s School for Scandal, the piece is not of a typical symphonic form; imagine rather, a series of theatrical moments of Rossini-like spirit. The dense sound comes from the detailed orchestration - listen for the intricacy of the individual parts. Bolcom wrote that “while writing the program note for the first performance of Commedia, I happened by pure coincidence upon this apposite quote:
‘...but after being bitten by the Tarantula, there was, according to popular opinion, no way of saving lives except by music...Those who were bitten generally fell into a state of melancholy and appeared to be stupefied...This condition was, in many cases, united with so great a sensibility to music that, at the very first tones of their favorite melodies, they sprang up, shouting for joy, and danced on without intermission, until they sank to the ground exhausted...The number of those affected by it increased beyond all belief, for whoever had even fancied that he had been bitten by a poisonous spider made his appearance annually whenever the merry notes of the Tarantella resounded.’ (Dancing Mania in the Middle Ages, J.F.C. Hecker, M.D., 1837)”
Mozart composed his Violin Concerto No. 4 while in the service of the Salzburg court in 1775. In fact, all five of his violin concertos were written in the same year at the age of only 19, while his duties as concertmaster included playing, composing, co-conducting, and soloist. These five concertos were likely written originally for his personal use, but he later edited the violin parts for the virtuoso violinist, Antonio Brunetti, who succeeded him. The latter of these concerti are considered the first examples of Mozart’s mature style, and are still performed.
Mozart was brilliant at exploiting the natural voice of the violin and even the choice of D major exploits the natural resonance of the instrument. The first movement begins with a military-style fanfare based on a major chord, then balanced with a gracefully sculpted phrase as only Mozart could write. The central section of the movement is fanciful fantasia of scales and arpeggios. The recapitulation reports with an altered version of the main theme followed by the remaining themes before we are treated to a cadenza from the soloist. A brief coda brings an energetic close – a big sound from the small orchestra of only 2 oboes, 2 horns, and strings.
Mozart’s “Mi tradi quell'alma ingrate” (That ungrateful wretch betrayed me) is taken from Don Giovanni. In the opera, Donna Elvira, one of the Don's betrayed victims, sings of her splintered emotions. She believes that the Don deserves the wrath of heaven, but at the same time is fearful at the thought of him being harmed. Don Giovanni was first performed in 1787 in Prague, then revised for the stages of Vienna. “Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata” was not part of the première; it was written for soprano Caterina Cavalieri, and added to the subsequent Vienna revision.
Franz Schubert’s Die Zwillingsbrüder (The Twin Brothers, D. 647) is a one-act “singspiel” composed in 1819 on a libretto by Georg Ernst von Hofmann. The charming overture was the last section to be composed and is still performed in modern times. This popular German style mixes spoken dialog with song, it was often comedic and based on folk-tale characters. The plot turns on a complicated love triangle between identical twin brothers and a young girl.
The work remained unperformed for over a year, as Schubert’s style was not typical of the more popular composers in the genre, but eventually he got his break in 1820, with the première at the Kärntnertor Theater in Vienna. The delay caused the disgruntled Schubert to wait in line behind more popular singspiel composers of the day. The reviews were ambivalent, as critics of the day noted a “certain tinge of melancholy.” Apparently Schubert’s polished style was a mismatch with the light-hearted nature of the singspiel genre, not meshing with the simple country folk of the story. Wolfgang Mozart Jr. found the work “a little too serious.” Today, it is precisely the overarching gloominess that distinguishes it as a unique example of the genre.
Beethoven began his Symphony No. 7 in the summer of 1811 while staying the Bohemian spa city of Teplitz, but completed it later that year. By the time he composed his Seventh Symphony, deafness had put an end to his virtuoso performance career, and for nearly two decades he had lived in Vienna enjoying his celebrity status. The Seventh was heard for the first time in 1813, when it appeared on a benefit program for Austrian and allied veterans of the wars against Napoleon. Beethoven himself conducted the première at a concert to benefit Austrian and Bavarian soldiers wounded at the battle of Hanau in the Napoleonic Wars. Also on the program was Beethoven's initially more successful (though now forgotten) novelty piece, Wellington's Victory. The event was a huge success, although he was reportedly irritated that the Seventh Symphony was promoted as a “companion piece” to Wellington’s Victory.
The Seventh is one of Beethoven's most abstract compositions in the sense that, like the Eighth, the power of music itself is the focus. Many descriptions of this music refer to it as a Dionysian experience; its celebratory spirit suggests a carnival or festival. Some authors have suggested that Napoleon was the inspiration. Still others historians attribute the passion to his "Immortal Beloved," to whom Beethoven addressed a heartfelt declaration of love in a letter around the time of the composition. Biographer Maynard Solomon suggested that "Beethoven, for the first and as far as we know the only time in his life, had found a woman whom he loved and who fully reciprocated his love."
Beethoven called the Symphony No. 7 his “most excellent symphony,” and one critic of the time described it as “the most pleasing and comprehensible of all Beethoven symphonies.” On the other hand, Carl Maria von Weber heard the Seventh as evidence that its composer “had lost his mind,“ and Clara Schumann’s father maintained that ”the music could only have been written by someone who was seriously intoxicated.” Richard Wagner loved it, and thought the piece was “the apotheosis of the dance.” In Wagner’s words, “if anyone plays the Seventh, tables and benches, cans and cups, the grandmother, the blind and the lame, aye, the children in the cradle fall to dancing.” Wagner once danced to the themes, accompanied by Franz Liszt playing his own piano reduction. Donald Tovey, writing in his Essays in Musical Analysis, described this movement as "Bacchic fury.” The whirling dance-energy supports an arrangement of the Irish folk-song "Save me from the grave and wise," from No. 8 of his Twelve Irish Folk Songs.
The first movement starts with a long introduction marked Poco sostenuto, and several minutes pass before the movement’s most prominent theme arrives with the brilliant Vivace. The Vivace is thrilling with its lively dance-like dotted rhythms, sudden dynamic changes, and abrupt modulations. The movement finishes with a startling coda that contains a famous twenty-bar passage consisting of a two-bar motif repeated ten times over a growling four octave pedal point of an E.
The second movement in A minor has a tempo marking of Allegretto ("a little lively)", slow only in comparison to the other three movements. This movement is so stirring that it was encored at the première and since has remained popular. The somber character has been described as “if Beethoven were imagining several processions converging upon the cemetery at once.” The double variation form begins with the primary theme in the violas and cellos, then played by the second violins, while the violas and cellos play a second melody. The music modulates from minor to major as clarinets play against light string triplets, and then this section ends with a rapid descent on the minor scale to resume the first melody in fugue.
The dance returns with the third movement Presto as Beethoven juggles two light melodies using a triple meter 6/8 pattern found in many country dances. The movement is a scherzo and the trio is based on an Austrian pilgrims' hymn. Listen for Beethoven’s little surprises, like playing with expectations by reversing some of the dynamics on the repeated sections.
The Allegro con brio finale opens with a four-note motif that is closely related to his famous Symphony no. 5. In that work, three repeated short notes are followed by a single longer note lower in pitch; here, the single long note comes before the short notes, rather than after, and the short notes are lower in pitch. In either case, it is a rhythmic pattern that will recur throughout the movement. Also very fast, the finale picks up the recalls the frenetic first movement and spins it into euphoria, ending with a coda that that summons the wild first movement. The coda contains a rare instance of Beethoven's use of the dynamic marking “fff.”