Guest Conductor Robert Tweten will lead The Symphony Orchestra in this program dreaming of springtimes to come. The afternoon’s overture will be Chabrier’s Suite Pastorale, a set of four themed works drawn from his piano repertoire and orchestrated to paint a picture of the idyllic French countryside. The Symphony’s Principal Horn Nathan Ukens will show his soloistic talents in Haydn’s first Horn Concerto. The grand finale, Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, is a pillar of the Romantic literature whose optimism is all the more inspiring given the health challenges faced by its author during its composition.
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SUNDAY, APRIL 23, 2017, AT 4:00 PM
Emmanuel Chabrier was, despite stubby fingers, a piano prodigy as a child, and he grew up longing to be a composer. But his parents insisted on a “sensible” career, and so Chabrier spent several unhappy decades as a minor clerk in the Ministry of the Interior who dabbled in composition in his spare time. In 1881, Chabrier had just abandoned his government job to devote himself to music when he wrote a set of ten brief pieces for piano that he titled Pièces pittoresques (“Picturesque Pieces”). These Pièces pittoresques proved so successful that seven years later Chabrier orchestrated four of them to form his 1888 Suite pastorale. The Suite, which was premiered on November 4 of that year in Angers, has become one of his most popular works.
Though the original piano composition was titled Pièces pittoresques, not all its movement are musical portraits, and in this “Pastoral Suite” Chabrier blends scene-painting (a village dance, for instance) with more abstract forms. The opening movement, Idylle, is an absolutely charming piece. Only a few minutes long, it is built on the simplest of materials: an irresistible main theme, a pulsing staccato accompaniment, and harmonies that shift with delightful subtlety all the way through. Chabrier’s performance marking for this piece, “With freshness and naiveté,” is perfect, and Idylle charms at every instant, right through the ending when it winks out in front of us.
Danse villageoise takes the three-part form of a scherzo. A pair of clarinets announce the jaunty, march-like beginning, which Chabrier marks “gaily.” This develops some power as it proceeds (Chabrier specifies that it should be Allegro risoluto: “resolute”), which makes the central episode, scored largely for woodwinds, such an attractive contrast. A return of the opening material leads to a firm close.
Sous-bois, which has been variously translated as “Under the Trees” or “Underbrush,” is a gentle little mood-piece. The bass line here murmurs quietly throughout—its occasional soft discords are part of the fun—and above this the upper voices have a melodic line of unusual rhythmic fluidity. The entire piece is remarkable for its subtlety, understatement, and beauty.
Chabrier rounds off the Suite pastorale with another scherzo, though he specifies that this one is a Scherzo-valse. He marks it Allegro vivo, and it dances energetically throughout, whirling along on sparkling triplet runs. A murmuring, pulsing central section leads to a return of the opening music and a sparkling close.
Horn Concerto No. 1
Haydn may have revolutionized the symphony and the string quartet, but he was not especially attracted to the concerto; he was uninterested in virtuosity for its own sake, and he found little appeal in the concerto form. Most of Haydn’s concertos date from the early 1760s, during his first years as Kapellmeister for the Esterhazy family in Eisenstadt. There he led a small orchestra of virtuoso players, and it was natural that he would write concertos for those performers. But after writing a handful of concertos (some of them unfortunately lost, including concertos for double bass and for flute), Haydn lost interest in the form.
The Horn Concerto No. 1 in D Major is believed to date from the summer of 1762. On July 3 of that year, the horn player Joseph Leutgeb and his wife had a baby daughter in Vienna, and Haydn’s wife Anna Maria became her godmother. Unable to get away from Eisenstadt, Haydn wrote a concerto as a gift to the infant’s father. It may well be that he was pressed to complete it quickly; in the manuscript to the last movement, he accidentally confused the oboe and violin staves. When he discovered what he had done, Haydn wrote a wry comment over the error: “In Schlaf geschrieben” (“Written while asleep”).
At age thirty, Haydn was still very early in his career when he wrote this concerto: at that point he had written only nine of his 104 symphonies, only six of his 83 quartets. His Horn Concerto takes the form of the baroque concerto: three movements in a fast-slow-fast sequence, with the structure based on the Italian ritornello. He scores the concerto for an orchestra of strings and two oboes, and while the soloist is given an opportunity for a cadenza in each movement, Haydn was apparently unsure about the ability of the horn to project the musical line adequately by itself—he frequently doubles the horn line with the first violins.
This pleasing music is very straightforward and requires little introduction. The spirited outer movements, both marked Allegro, are in D major: the first movement is built around the opening theme (which consists simply of the notes of a D-major triad), while the last movement requires some fairly athletic playing from the soloist. The real glory of this concerto is the Adagio, longest of the three movements. Haydn moves to A major here, and the movement opens with a lovely orchestral prelude as the violins spin out a long melodic line over a solemn pulse. The horn takes up this same idea, and Haydn rounds off the movement by returning to the music of the prelude.
Symphony No. 2
Schumann and his wife Clara made a five-month tour of Russia in 1844. Her piano-playing was acclaimed everywhere, but the always-vulnerable Schumann found himself somewhat in the shade, and on their return to Leipzig the composer began to show signs of acute depression: he said that even the act of listening to music “cut into my nerves like knives.” So serious did this become that by the end of the year Schumann was unable to work at all. He gave up his position at the Leipzig Conservatory, and the couple moved to Dresden in the hope that quieter surroundings would help his recovery. Only gradually was he able to resume work, completing the Piano Concerto in the summer of 1845 and beginning work on the Second Symphony in the fall. Schumann usually worked quickly, but the composition of this symphony took a very long time. Apparently Schumann had to suspend work on the symphony for extended periods while he struggled to maintain his mental energy, and it was not completed until October of 1846. The first performance took place on November 5, 1846, with Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra.
Given the conditions under which it was written, one might expect Schumann’s Second Symphony to be full of dark music, but in fact the opposite is true—this is one of Schumann’s sunniest scores, full of radiance and strength. Considering the protracted and difficult period of the symphony’s composition, it is surprising to find the work so tightly unified. The symphony opens with a slow introduction, Sostenuto assai, as a trumpet fanfare rings out quietly above slowly moving strings. During the earliest stages of this symphony’s composition, Schumann wrote to Mendelssohn that “Drums and trumpets (trumpets in C) have been sounding in my mind for quite a while now,” so apparently this trumpet-call was one of the earliest seeds of the symphony; it recurs throughout. The introduction gathers speed and flows directly into the Allegro ma non troppo, whose main subject is a sharply dotted melody for violins and woodwinds. This opening movement is in sonata form, and near the end the trumpet fanfare blazes out once again.
The second movement is a scherzo marked Allegro vivace. In contrast to some of Schumann’s others symphonic scherzos, which can remain earthbound, this one flies. Almost a perpetual-motion movement, it makes virtuosic demands on the violins. Two trio sections interrupt the scherzo—the first for woodwinds in triplets, the second for strings—before the opening music returns and the movement speeds to an exciting close. At the climax of this coda, the trumpet fanfare rings out above the racing violins.
The Adagio espressivo, one of Schumann’s most attractive slow movements, opens with a long-breathed melody for the violins. This movement is the emotional center of the symphony and, though this music never wears its heart on its sleeve, its composition made such heavy emotional demands on the composer that he had to stop work temporarily after completing it.
In the finale, marked Allegro molto vivace, the energy of the opening movements returns as the music bursts to life with a rush up the C-major scale. Schumann said of the composition of this movement, “In the Finale I began to feel myself, and indeed I was much better after I finished the work. Yet . . . it recalls to me a dark period in my life.” The symphony’s unity is further demonstrated by Schumann’s transformation of the first four notes of the main theme of the Adagio into this movement’s second theme and then, at the climax of the entire symphony, by the return of the trumpet fanfare. It begins softly, but gradually grows to a statement of complete triumph, and, with timpani and brass ringing out, the symphony thunders to its close.
Though the Second Symphony may have been the product of a “dark period” in its creator’s often unstable life, it also appears to have been the vehicle by which he made his way back to health.
Conductor Robert Tweten has been described as leading with “verve and precision,” as well as having “flawless” pacing and “musicality and near-symbiotic accord with singers which always impresses.” Most recently he made his debut with Dayton Opera for Madama Butterfly and returned to Utah Opera for Tosca and Calgary Opera for Die Zauberflöte. Read more!
Nathan Ukens, born and raised in Tulsa, OK, is currently Principal Horn of The Santa Fe Symphony and Second Horn in the New Mexico Philharmonic. Read more!