Concerto for Violin “I Will Not Remain Silent”
Born May 31, 1955, New York City
Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto, composed in 2013 and subtitled “I Will Not Remain Silent,” was inspired by the moral example of Joachim Prinz. Prinz (1902-1988) grew up in Germany, became a rabbi, and very early recognized the threat posed by Hitler and the Nazis. He spoke out vigorously, warned Jews of the imminent danger, and encouraged them to act to protect themselves, saving thousands of lives in the process. Expelled from Nazi Germany in 1937, Prinz came to the United States and committed himself with equal fervor to the civil rights movement, recognizing parallels between those oppressed in Nazi Germany and in mid-century America. He was one of the organizers of the civil rights March on Washington in August 1963, and on that occasion he spoke just before Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In his speech, Prinz warned that “the most urgent, the most disgraceful and most tragic problem is silence.”
That remark, which encapsulates Prinz’s entire career, became the inspiration for Bruce Adolphe’s Concerto for Violin. Though this is not program music (it does not tell a story), nevertheless the outlines of Prinz’s life and efforts can be made out in the concerto’s two movements, each of which has a specific ethnic identity. In a note in the published score, Adolphe points out that “In the first movement, the orchestra represents Nazi Germany; in the second movement, the orchestra represents America during the civil rights era. In both movements, the solo violin represents the voice and mind of Joachim Prinz.”
The first movement, titled Berlin During the Nazi Era, explodes to life with music marked forcefully, dangerously. The violin quickly enters, often soaring above a background full of violence (do we hear the sound of gunfire at moments?) in music of an unmistakably Jewish identity. In a published interview, Adolphe said of the solo violin part: “There’s an ethnic identity immediately understandable.” He continued: “the violin is trying to say something and the orchestra is congealed, basically, into a big fist. It’s trying to smash the violin, and it produces a very irregular, completely unpredictable series of hard blows. But the violin does not get crushed, and it remains the last note of the movement.”
The second movement, titled Civil Rights Movement, America, is less violent, but no less passionate. The music often echoes African-American music—spirituals, folk songs, jazz—and once again the violin soars high above the orchestra, sometimes in extended passages in such unexpected and unbalanced meters as 5/8, 9/16, and 6/16. Adolphe’s performance markings in the score suggest the character of this movement: With dignity and passion at the opening, Slowly, grieving at one point, Urgently, passionately at another, and at the end Passionately, freely. In the closing moments, the violin has a long cadenza-like passage, and the concerto concludes with a firm chord, symbolic of the resolve to carry the struggle forward. It should be noted that the concerto is of unbelievable difficulty for the violin soloist, who often plays in the instrument’s highest register, though the orchestra part is just as demanding, with important solo roles for French horn and trumpet.
“I Will Not Remain Silent” was commissioned by a group of orchestras—the IRIS Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, and Musicians for Human Rights Orchestra. Sharon Roffman was the soloist at the premiere on January 24, 2015, in Germantown, Tennessee, with the IRIS Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern. The concerto has had a number of subsequent performances, including the European premiere in Lucerne with violinist Ilya Gringolts and performances in Los Angeles and in Essen with Daniel Hope as soloist.
ADOLPHE Concerto for Violin “I Will Not Remain Silent”
I. Berlin During the Nazi Era
II. Civil Rights Movement, America
Theme from Schindler’s List
Born February 8, 1932, Long Island, NY
Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which opened in December 1993, told the story of the German businessman Oskar Schindler, who used his position as head of an enamelware factory in Krakow to save thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. The film won a total of seven Academy Awards, and one of these was for Best Original Score, which had been composed by John Williams. The Spielberg-Williams collaboration is now nearly fifty years old (Williams has provided the scores for all but two of Spielberg’s films), and Schindler’s List proved one of their most successful efforts—it won the Academy Award for Best Picture and has been hailed as perhaps Spielberg’s finest film.
For the principal theme of the movie, Williams composed a haunting melody scored for violin and orchestra. Williams wrote it specifically with Itzhak Perlman in mind, and it was Perlman who played the violin on the movie’s soundtrack. That melody, nostalgic and achingly beautiful, captures perfectly the sense of what was lost in the Holocaust, and it has become one of Williams’ most frequently performed concert works. Its three-part form is simplicity itself: solo violin sings the main theme, the brief center section is at a slightly quicker tempo, and the opening melody—now varied—returns to round the piece off.
Symphony No. 4 in G Major
Born July 7, 1860, Kalischt, Bohemia
Died May 18, 1911, Vienna
In April 1897 Mahler was named director of the Vienna Court Opera, the most prestigious post in the world of music. But the fierce demands of that position brought his composing to a standstill, and from the summer of 1896 until the summer of 1899 he composed no new music. Finally established in Vienna, he could return to creative work, and during the summer of 1899 he retreated to the resort town of Alt-Aussee in the Styrian Alps and composed the first two movements of his Fourth Symphony. He completed the symphony the following year at his new summer home on the shores of the Wörthersee and led the premiere in Munich on November 25, 1901.
The Fourth is Mahler’s friendliest symphony—even people who claim not to like Mahler take this music to their hearts. At just under an hour in length, it is also the shortest of Mahler’s ten symphonies, and it is scored for an orchestra that is—by his standards—relatively modest: it lacks trombones and tuba. Mahler’s claim that the Fourth never rises to a fortissimo is not literally true, but it is figuratively true, for even at its loudest this symphony is Mahler’s most approachable work. Much of its charm comes from the text sung by the soprano in the last movement, with its wide-eyed child’s vision of heaven. In fact, several recordings use a boy soprano in place of a woman in the finale, because the sound of a child’s voice is exactly right in this music. This sense of a child’s vision—full of wonder, innocence, and radiance—touches the entire Fourth Symphony.
The symphony opens with the sound of sleigh bells, and violins quickly sing the graceful main subject. Mahler marks this movement Bedächtig (“Deliberately”), and it is remarkable for the profusion of its melodic material: a jaunty tune for clarinets, a broad and noble melody for cellos, a lyric melody for cellos, a poised little duet for oboes and bassoons. We arrive at what seems to be the development, and scarcely has this begun when an entirely new theme—a radiant call for four unison flutes—looks ahead to the celestial glories of the final movement. This movement proceeds melodically rather than dramatically—there are no battles fought and won here—and at the end the opening violin theme drives the movement to its ringing close on great G-major chords.
The second movement—In gemächlicher Bewegung (“Moving leisurely”)—is in a rather free form: it might be described as a scherzo with two trios. Mahler requires here that the concertmaster play two violins, one of them tuned up a whole step to give it a whining, piercing sound—Mahler asks that it sound Wie eine Fiedel: “like a fiddle.” Mahler said that this movement was inspired by a self-portrait by the German painter Arnold Böcklin in which the devil—in this case a skeleton—plays a violin (with only one string!) in the painter’s ear. Despite all Mahler’s suggestions of demonic influence, this music remains genial rather than nightmarish—in Donald Francis Tovey’s wonderful phrase, the shadows cast here “are those of the nursery candlelight.”
However attractive the second movement may be, it finds its match in the third, marked Ruhevoll (“Peaceful”), which begins with some of the most beautiful music ever written: a long, glowing melody for cellos and its counter theme in the violins. This movement is in variation form, with the variations based on this opening theme and on a more somber second subject, sung first by the oboe. Near the close, violins suddenly leap up and the gates of heaven swing open: brilliant brass fanfares and smashing timpani offer a glimpse of paradise, but that finale must wait for this movement to reach its utterly peaceful close.
Out of the silence, solo clarinet sings the main theme of the finale, marked Sehr behaglich (“Very comfortable”), and soon the soprano takes up her gentle song. Mahler had originally composed this song, titled Das himmlische Leben (“The Heavenly Life”), in 1892 when he was conductor of the Hamburg Opera. Its text, drawn from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, offers a child’s vision of heaven. Mahler said that he wished to create a portrait of heaven as “clear blue sky,” and this vision of heaven glows with a child’s sense of wonder. It is a place full of apples, pears, and grapes, a place where Saint Martha does the cooking, Saint Peter the fishing, where there is music and dancing and joy. The sleighbells from the symphony’s opening now return to separate the four stanzas, and at the end the soprano sings the key line: “Kein Musik ist ja nicht auf Erden” (“There is no such music on earth”). For this truly is heavenly music, music of such innocence that it feels as if it must have come from another world, and at the end of this most peaceful of Mahler symphonies the harp and contrabasses draw the music to its barely-audible close.
MAHLER Symphony No. 4 in G Major
I. Bedächtig, nicht eilen
II. In gemächlicher Bewegung, ohne Hast
III. Ruhevoll, poco adagio
IV. Sehr behaglich