Summer Classical I

Tue. Jul 9 Como Park Pavilion 7:00pm
1360 Lexington Parkway North, St. Paul

Fri. Jul 12 Basilica of St. Mary 7:30pm
1600 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis


December and June from The SeasonsPeter Tchaikovsky

The ComediansDmitri Kabalevsky

“Nimrod” from Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma Variations)Edward Elgar

Symphony No. 92 in G Major, “Oxford”Franz Joseph Haydn


Program Notes


The Seasons, Opus 37Peter Tchaikowsky (1840-1893)

Peter Tchaikowsky was born in Kamsko-Votinsk (Russia) in 1840, and died in St. Petersburg in 1893. To this day, he is one of Russia’s most famous and popular 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. Tchaikowsky 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 actually incorporate folk melodies into his works, while at other times he would simply create tunes that sounded like folk songs.

The Seasons is actually a suite of 12 individual pieces composed for solo piano. Each work is unique and can stand on its own, or as part of the larger (35-minute) suite. Because the individual movements can stand alone, I felt that it would be fun to pick out a few and orchestrate them for chamber orchestra. From the original four works that I arranged, I chose two for this set of concerts. They contrast nicely with each other, and at the same time form a complimentary (smaller, shorter) group. In his original suite, prior to each piece, Tchaikowsky included a short verse, written by a famous Russian author. Those are included below:

June: “Barcarolle” (Aleksey Pleshcheyev)
Let’s go out to the shore,
where the waves will kiss our feet,
where the stars with mysterious melancholy
will shine above us.

December: “Christmas” (Vasily Zhukovsky)
Once, on the evening of Twelfth Night
girls used to tell fortunes:
they would take their shoe off their foot
and throw it outside the gate.


The Comedians, Opus 26Dimitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987)

The Comedians is one of Dimitry Kabalevsky’s most popular and often played works. It was created in 1938 originally to be incidental music for the play Inventor and Comedian written by Mark Daniels. The play and its music were premiered at the Moscow Central Children’s Theater, which two years earlier also premiered another famous children’s work, Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. The story of The Comedians describes the adventures of a troup of traveling entertainers. In 1940 Kabalevsky took some of the music and created a ten-movement orchestral suite, which is heard on this set of performances. As described by Harold Sheldon, who was the editor of the American edition, Kabalevsky wanted to create a number of gay, characteristic pieces and genre pictures, depicting the life of an itinerant company of comedians. Among the movements are a waltz that never seems to get it right, and a gallop, which was to become one of the most well-known and loved pieces from this suite. jf

“Nimrod” from Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma Variations)Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Edward Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme is considered to be one of the 20th century’s true orchestral masterpieces and, without question, the composer’s crowning achievement. The subtitle Enigma Variations came about because Elgar wrote “that through and over the whole set a larger theme ‘goes’ but is not played.” There has been much speculation as to what that theme is (some have guessed God Save the Queen, while others suggested Auld Lang Syne) but the composer never divulged the original source.

Each variation is a musical tribute and dedicated to individual friends. Among those variations, Nimrod was the composer’s favorite, and the emotional centerpiece for the entire work. It was dedicated to A.J. Jaeger, Elgar’s publisher, and recalls conversations about Beethoven and how the master wrote his slow movements. This work brought instantaneous success and renown to the composer, and generally has been considered to be the most important piece of British music to be written since the time of 17th century English composer Henry Purcell. jf

Symphony No. 92 in G Major, The OxfordFranz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Franz Joseph Haydn (born in Lower Austria in 1732, and died in Vienna in 1809) is generally considered to be the father of the classical symphony. Because he had the luxury of consistent financial security, and the opportunity to work with quality musicians over a long period of time, he was able to develop slowly and methodically as a composer and craftsman. Haydn spent the years of 1761 to 1790 in the employ of the Esterhazy family – first with Paul Anton and, after Anton’s death, his brother Prince Nicolaus. Nicolaus (who had the longer tenure) loved music and was very supportive of Haydn and his efforts. Nicolaus employed excellent musicians and singers, who in turn gave Haydn a marvelous laboratory to develop and sharpen his compositional skills. The Esterhazy estate, which was described by a French traveler as “having no place but Versailles to compare with for magnificence,” became a center for excellent music making and productions.

At first, Haydn’s orchestra was small (his early symphonies generally used few winds and a small string compliment), but over time the size of the orchestra grew, as did the proficiency of its players. Haydn’s composing mirrored these changes. The complexities and the lengths of his symphonies increased, and he made more technical demands on his players. Over this time frame, the typical four movement classical symphony format became formalized, largely because of the development of his compositions.

Haydn’s fame spread across Europe, and after the death of his patron Prince Nicolaus, he was very much in demand. He was brought to England by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who commissioned him to compose two sets of six symphonies. These twelve symphonies (numbers 93-104), which are referred to as the London Symphonies or the Salomon Symphonies, are considered to be the pinnacle of the classical symphonic form, and the best of Haydn’s enormous symphonic output.

Many of these symphonies have nicknames, somehow related to the musical content. Examples include the Surprise because of the sudden loud noises in the slow movement, or the Drumroll because of the opening roll in the timpani. Other symphonies have specific associations, such as the Oxford (heard on this set of concerts), because Haydn was awarded an honorary doctorate at one of the town’s universities, or the Clock because of the constant “ticking” sound of the regular rhythm in the second movement.

Titles on symphonies were also good marketing tools. An excellent case in point is the Miracle symphony, number 96. Stories (rumors) circulated that during the premiere of this work, a chandelier crashed from the ceiling to the floor of the concert hall. Fortunately, before the crash, the audience had rushed to the stage to see the famous composer, and consequently, no one was hurt by the falling fixture. The lack of injuries was called a miracle, which led to the nickname. Although this is a great story, reality tells a different tale. According to historical records, a chandelier did fall during a concert, and no one was injured. But it was during the premiere of Haydn’s symphony number 102, not 96. So even though the numbers did not work, the story stuck, the nickname caught on, and to this day it has been associated with the wrong symphony. jf


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