Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla
Born June 1, 1804, Novospasskoye
Died February 15, 1857, Berlin
This dazzling overture is all that lives on from Glinka’s opera Russlan and Ludmilla, first produced in St. Petersburg in 1842, when the composer was 38. Russlan and Ludmilla was inspired by the fairy-tale poem of the same name by Alexander Pushkin. Intrigued by Glinka’s plan to write an opera based on his poem, Pushkin had planned to supply the libretto but was killed in a duel before he could, and Glinka had to turn to others for help. The scenario was supplied by Glinka’s friend Konstantin Bakhturin “in a quarter of an hour while drunk,” and
Its overture, however, has always been a favorite in concert halls. The exciting opening–with its virtuoso writing for violins–is drawn from the opera’s festive finale, while the lyrical second subject, first heard in the lower strings, is based on Russlan’s aria in the second act in which he dreams of Ludmilla. The compact (five-minute) overture is in sonata form, and in its closing pages Glinka briefly introduces–in the trombones–music associated with the evil dwarf Chernomor before the overture ends triumphantly.
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107
Born September 25, 1906, St. Petersburg
Died August 9, 1975, Moscow
Shostakovich met Mstislav Rostropovich when the cellist was still a teenager and soon became the young man’s composition teacher at the Moscow Conservatory. Even after Rostropovich went on to a brilliant solo career, he remained close to the composer, and in 1959 Shostakovich wrote a concerto for his former student. The Cello Concerto No. 1, dedicated to Rostropovich and conceived with his phenomenal abilities in mind, has become one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all cello concertos, but
Shostakovich described the opening Allegretto as “a scherzo-like march,” and in another original touch he dispenses altogether with the usual orchestral exposition: the solo cello itself opens the concerto with the four-note figure that will form the melodic basis of the first movement. The cello also announces the firm and driving second subject, and in the course of the active development the solo horn repeats both these ideas. This saucy, slightly sardonic movement comes to a sudden close on its opening theme.
The mood changes completely at the Moderato. Muted strings introduce the wistful main idea, quickly repeated by the solo horn. The cello, though, enters with different material: its simple tune is singing, almost innocent. The development grows gnarled and complex, but the horn leads to a haunting conclusion: Shostakovich has the cello play the final pages entirely in artificial harmonics and accompanies it with the softly-ringing sound of the celesta. On this lean and icy sound the movement flows directly into the third movement.
This lengthy cadenza develops themes from the second movement and makes virtuoso demands on the cellist, who at some points must bow with the right hand and simultaneously pluck doublestopped pizzicatos with the left. There is something almost grotesque about the skirling woodwind tune that opens the athletic finale. As this movement proceeds, the opening theme of the first movement begins to emerge from the busy texture, and–pushed on by prominent horn calls–the concerto rushes to its close on the theme with which it began.
Rostropovich gave the first performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Leningrad Philharmonic on October 4, 1959. A month later, he and the composer made a visit to the United States and brought the concerto with them. Following the triumphant performance in Philadelphia, Rostropovich made a recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy, and Shostakovich was present to supervise the recording sessions. That recording, which preserves the excitement of that occasion, remains the finest ever made of this concerto.
Excerpts from Swan Lake, Op. 20
PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY
Born May 7, 1840, Votkinsk
Died November 6, 1893, St. Petersburg
Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is such a favorite of audiences around the world that it comes as a surprise to learn that the ballet was an abject failure at its premiere. Tchaikovsky, then a young composition teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, had been commissioned by the Imperial Theaters to write music for a production of this new ballet at the Bolshoi, and he worked on the score from August 1875 until April 1876. The first
Swan Lake tells a story of eternal charm: Prince Siegfried discovers a flock of beautiful white swans on the lake in a forest. Their queen Odette tells him that they are all maidens who have been transformed by the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart. Though deceived by Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile (the black swan) during the climactic ball in Act III, Siegfried eventually triumphs over the sorcerer and is united with Odette. Tchaikovsky never arranged the music from Swan Lake into orchestral suites, and so conductors are free to make their own selections.
At these concerts, the Santa Fe Symphony performs three movements from Swan Lake. An introductory Scene is built on music associated with the first appearance of the swans in Act I. The next Scene, also known as the Pas d’action (and sometimes as The White Swan), accompanies the developing love of Odette and the Prince in Act II. It begins with a long harp cadenza, followed by an elegant dance for solo violin, eventually joined by solo cello. The famous Waltz is danced as part of the celebration of Prince Siegfried’s birthday in Act I.
Don’t miss the second of our 2017-2018 Concert Recital series featuring Joshua Roman, International Cellist and 2015 TED Senior Fellow, joined by pianist Gilles Vonsattel. Joshua Roman has earned an international reputation for his wide-ranging repertoire, a commitment to communicating the essence of music in visionary ways, artistic leadership and versatility. As well as being a celebrated performer, he is recognized as an accomplished composer and curator.