Rodney Marsalis, Trumpet
Helen Chang Haertzen, Violin
Fri. Oct 20 First Covenant Church 7pm
1280 Arcade Street, St. Paul, 55106
Sun. Oct 22 Basilica of St. Mary 2pm
1600 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, 55403
September and December from The SeasonsPeter Tchaikovsky
Concerto for Trumpet and ViolinAntonio Vivaldi
Rodney Marsalis, Trumpettrans. Johann Sebastian Bach
Helen Chang Haertzen, Violin
Yizkor for MomJay Fishman
Concerto for TrumpetGiuseppe Torelli
Rodney Marsalis, Trumpet
Three Intermezzi and Rhapsody (from op. 118 and 119)Johannes Brahms
Symphony No. 1, in D Major, Opus 25 (“Classical”)Sergei Prokofiev
September and December from The SeasonsPeter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
To this day, Peter Tchaikovsky is one of Russia’s most famous composers. Known the world over for his ever-popular ballet, The Nutcracker, he was also a gifted composer of symphonies, concertos, operas, other ballets (including Sleeping Beauty – which was the music that Walt Disney used for his animated feature film), and, of course, piano music. Tchaikovsky was a romantic composer who was also very proud of his Russian heritage. His melodies were beautiful and singable, and there was a spirit and excitement that permeated his output that can only be described as “Russian.” Folk music, songs and stories were important, and they influenced much of his output. At times he would incorporate folk melodies into his works, and at other times, he would simply create tunes that sounded like folk songs.
The Seasons is a set of 12 individual pieces originally composed for piano. Each work is unique and can stand on its own, or as part of the larger (35-minute) suite. Because the individual movements each have their own distinguishing characteristics, I felt it would be fun to choose a few and orchestrate them for chamber orchestra, and thereby create a reduced, but still viable, suite. I chose four works which contrast nicely with each other, and at the same time form a complimentary (smaller, shorter) group. For these programs I chose to include two of my arrangements, a march (September) and a waltz (December). Each movement was accompanied by short descriptive quotes written by famous Russian writers, and most likely were chosen by the publisher. jf
No. 9. The Hunt (September):
It is time! The horns are sounding!
The hunters in their hunting dress
Are mounted on their horses;
In early dawn the borzois are jumping.
No. 12. Christmas Tide (December):
Once upon a Christmas night
The girls were telling fortunes:
Taking their slippers off their feet
And throwing them out of the gate.
Yizkor for MomJay Fishman (b. 1947)
“Yizkor” is Jewish prayer for remembering those who have died, and is recited at special Jewish holidays and on the anniversary of the person’s death. My mother, Dorothy Fishman Jacobs, died in 2018 at the age of 95. She had a full and adventurous life, first living through the depression, then later expecting to join my father Bernie (who was an oboist with the Minneapolis Symphony) to play flute in that orchestra. But then my brothers and I came onto the scene, dashing her hopes of a symphony career, and instead led to a life of teaching flute and raising three boys. Her life encompassed many joys – family bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, helping me to build first the old Minneapolis Chamber Symphony, and then later the Sinfonia – and sorrow (my father died in 1960 from cancer at the age of 37). But through it all, she had an indomitable spirit and energy that persevered and permeated all of her undertakings.
After she died, even though we all knew that her time had come, I felt traumatized. Mom was the last living relative of her generation, and I knew that we as a family had not only lost our matriarch, but also that we would undergo a difficult transition. I coped in the only way that I could – I decided to compose a memorial piece. For over forty years, Mom, her sister Rosalyn Locketz, and a family friend, Fanny Brudnoy, played in a trio that performed for countless weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other happy occasions. One of her favorite pieces was Daber Elay Bifrachim (“Speak to me with flowers”), and the trio played this piece scores and scores of times. I decided to take the first three notes of the song and build a piece around this motif. As I wrote the music, I knew that I wanted to highlight both the flute and the oboe, and I decided that the most fitting way was to end the piece not only with the Daber motif, but also to feature the flute and oboe as soloists, both being accompanied by a string quartet. And that is how I conceived my Yizkor for Mom. jf
Three Intermezzi and Rhapsody (from op. 118 and 119)Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Johannes Brahms was deeply rooted in the classical traditions of his predecessors (Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven). In a letter, he wrote, “If we cannot compose as beautifully as Mozart and Haydn, let us at least try to compose as purely.” On another occasion, while working on his first symphony (at the late age of forty-three), he wrote, “You have no idea what it is to hear the tromp of a genius over your shoulder.” Later, when someone pointed out the similarity between the theme of this symphony’s last movement and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, he responded, “any fool can see that.”
Brahms lived during tumultuous times, as contemporary music was in a state of flux. The music world was dividing into two camps – those favoring the music of Richard Wagner and his stretching of harmonies to the point of destroying tonality, and the others who were more circumspect in their thinking. In most respects, Brahms was in the latter camp, but when looking at this division, it is helpful to see it in an historical context. Often, as most composers grow older and mature, they tend to expand their harmonic languages. One need only compare Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony with his earlier opuses, or better still, Beethoven’s early output to his late string quartets, to realize these tendencies.
In a few of the piano intermezzi (various opuses) there are tonal ambiguities and such extensive counterpoint that tonal centers are nearly obscured. No less of a composer and theorist than Arnold Schoenberg noted these advances, and wrote of Brahms’ forward harmonic thinking, and the implications of his use of “stretching” the harmonic boundaries. And, as is so often the case, there were no steadfast rules or regulations between opposing sides; each individual musician must be judged on his or her own particular merits.
The Opus 119 contain some of Brahms’ last piano works. The pieces are short and intimate. In many respects they are both an homage to an era that had ended, and in their own way, a glimpse towards the future. I was introduced to these works by my son Loren’s piano practicing. Because I am not a pianist and only knew much of the piano repertoire “by ear,” listening to his work was a very exciting experience for me, and of course gave me a dad’s pride second to none. As I listened, I imagined that three of the pieces from Opus 119 (there are four in the set) could be orchestrated and form the basis of a very nice chamber orchestra suite. I added a fourth intermezzo from the opus 118 (the only one that I ever attempted to play) to round out the set.
Most of the romantic composers did not write much for chamber orchestra. Brahms, aside from his two early serenades, composed none that I know of. Consequently, there is a shortage of music from that era in the chamber orchestra repertoire. By creating this and a few other arrangements of romantic composers, I have hopes of adding to that repertoire and, at the same time, introducing our audiences to some wonderful music, albeit in a slightly different format from its origins. jf
Symphony No. 1, in D Major, Opus 25 (“Classical”)Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
In 1917, Russia was enduring a great deal of strife. The Revolution had deposed the Tsar and installed the Bolsheviks to power. On the international front, Russia was losing its war against Germany and Austria. It was during these very difficult and stressful times that Sergei Prokofiev created what was to become one of his most endearing works – his first symphony.
Prokofiev had already composed two piano concertos, the second of which created an uproar with its expansive emotional and dramatic outbursts. The symphony was an immediate and remarkable change with its references to forms and dances of the 18th century, its light-hearted and satirical moments, and its very typical four classical movement format. But with all of these nods to the past, Prokofiev put a very special “modern” stamp on the music. It was his use of harmonic structure, and unusual pairing of key signatures, that not only differentiated this work from its model, but also gave the music a refreshing sound that has lasted for 100 years.
Prokofiev generally composed at the piano, which of course was great for his piano works, but often created awkward and unsettling passages and phrasing issues for other instrumentalists. Perhaps, the best explanation of his thoughts about the way he conceived and composed this symphony can be gained from his descriptions, taken from his autobiography:
I spent the summer of 1917 in the country near Petrograd all alone, reading Kant [a famous and difficult-to-understand philosopher] and composing. I deliberately did not take my piano. I had noticed that orchestral thematic material composed without the piano was often better in quality So this was how the project of writing a symphony in the style of Haydn came about … it seemed it would be easier to dive into the deep waters of writing without the piano if I worked in a familiar setting.
It seemed to me that if Haydn had lived in our day he would have retained his own style while accepting something of the new at the same time. That’s the kind of symphony I wanted to compose. When I saw that the idea was beginning to work, I called it ‘Classical Symphony’ … for several reasons: first, it was easy; secondly, out of naughtiness and a desire to ‘tease the geese’, secretly hoping that in the end I would have my way if the title ‘Classical’ stuck… I composed much of it during long walks, although the third movement, the Gavotte, had actually been written a good deal earlier. I had also written an earlier version of the finale but crossed that out and wrote an entirely new one, endeavoring among other things to avoid all minor chords
As a footnote, he did not succeed in eliminating all of the minor chords. jf