Spring 2013 Concert
Symphony No. 4, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)
Tchaikovsky composed his fourth symphony during a short, tumultuous period in 1877-88, during which he both married and left his wife and attempted suicide. It is dedicated to the other woman in his life, his patroness Nadezhda von Meck. She not only supported him financially, but was also his confidant, although they never met, communicating only through letters.
It was not uncommon during the Romantic period (and extending through the works of Richard Strauss) for composers to write detailed program notes describing the extra musical things depicted in their music (rushing streams, sunsets, lovers’ quarrels). Many times these were dropped upon publication or for later performances. At von Meck’s request Tchaikovsky wrote an elaborate “poetic” treatment describing the fourth symphony. Early critics of the work got lost in his poetic description and forgot about the music. Tchaikovsky’s program notes today are largely ignored.
The fourth Symphony echoes folk-styles (second movement) and even includes a quote of a folk song, “In a Field Stood a Birch Tree” (fourth movement). The loosely constructed first movement with its prominent “Fate” motive is followed by a melancholy melody, which has to be one of the longest melodies in the repertory and a real challenge for the oboist. The third movement stands out for its exceptional all pizzicato section followed by a bright section dominated by the winds. The rousing fourth movement brings back the “Fate” motive from the first movement.
Tchaikovsky’s 4th isn’t the only work with an all-pizzicato movement. Which of the following does not have one:
A. J. S. Bach, Magnificat
B. Stravinsky, Firebird
C. Béla Bartók String, Quartet No. 4
For the answer, see the Concert Orchestra program notes.
Answer to Concert Orchestra Trivia Quiz: 3
Winter 2013 Concert
Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34, by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Many late Romantic-period composers relished using exotic melodies and musical styles, and Spain and its folk music was frequently an inspiration to them. Just think about Bizet’s opera Carmen (1875), Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole (1863), and Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole (1875), not to mention Debussy’s Ibéria (1905-08) and Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole (1907). Rimsky-Korsakov joined them with Capriccio espagnol, written in 1887.
Rimsky originally planned to make this a work for solo violin and orchestra, but later decided using the full orchestral forces would better serve his purpose. Rimsky was known as a brilliant orchestrator (he literally wrote the book on orchestration), but became annoyed when people praised his colorful orchestration over the music. For example, in this work the strings imitate guitars in the fourth movement. He pointed out that the orchestration was conceived along with the melodies and harmony, and it was inseparable from the other musical elements.
Apparently, this work is still considered exotic, at least by people who score films. Parts of it have been used on the sound tracks for The Devil is a Woman and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Hear the Berlin Philharmonic play it on YouTube
The Middle East also inspired European composers to write fantastical compositions. In addition to Rimsky-Korsakov, which of the following composers wrote an orchestral Scheherazade?
Camille Saint-Saëns’ (1835-1921) Dance Macabre depicts the Devil’s appearance at midnight on Halloween, inviting the skeletons in a graveyard to join him in dance, shown cleverly in an animated cartoon on YouTube. After the clock strikes 12 (12 notes in the harp), the devil’s own musical interval, the tritone, is heard in the solo violin. Since Medieval times, the tritone has been associated with the devil, perhaps because of its dissonance and instability. Saint-Saëns requires the violin soloist to retune her violin so that both notes of the tritone can be played on open strings, a technique known as scordatura. Dance Macabre is, in the general, an energetic waltz. Listen near the end for the notes from the Gregorian chant of the Dies Irae (see below) from the mass for the dead.
Which two compositions listed below also quote the Dies Irae?
- Beethoven – Funeral March
- Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique
- Verdi – Requiem
- Rachmaninoff – Variation on a Theme of Paganini
(See Carnegie Hill Program Notes page for the answer.)
We know Night on Bald Mountain as a composition by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) , but it actually is a work by Rimsky-Korsakov based on Mussorgsky’s youthful composition called St. John’s Eve on a Bare Mountain. Mussorgsky liked the music so much that he recycled parts of it into two later compositions, but as with all of his most famous music, we know it as distilled and arranged by Rimsky. Disney famously used the work in Fantasia .
Answer to Symphonic Band Trivia Quiz: trick question! Virtually any composer you can think of used dance rhythms.
Answer to Carnegie Hill Trivia Quiz: 3