Mahler’s Symphony No. 7

Notes by Steve V. Sinclair

Sometimes referred to as the Song of the Night, though not named this by Mahler himself, this symphony underwent many revisions. Nonetheless, Mahler allegedly completed most of the symphony in just four weeks, especially impressive as he began sketching out the piece while simultaneously working on his sixth symphony. While the work was first composed in the happiest moments of his life and career—he was director at the Vienna State Opera and happily married with two young daughters—three whole years passed between the premiere of the symphony and the date on which Mahler completed the score. During this time his life had turned upside-down: he resigned from the Vienna State Opera, his four-year-old daughter died, and he was diagnosed with a heart condition for which there was no cure.

The symphony thrives on these paradoxes and contrasts ringing through Mahler’s life. It’s written in the key of E minor, and yet the tonality is far more complicated, and at times the symphony is sensuous and elated. He first composed what would become the second and forth movements, both called Nachtmusik, hence the symphony’s commonly referred to title, Song of the Night. The second movement illustrates the walk at night, which Mahler associated with the atmosphere evoked in Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. The Scherzo is found between the two Nachtmusik movements, and while Scherzo refers to a “joke”, this movement is sinister and unsettled, with unique orchestration giving the movement a strongly nightmarish quality. The second Nachtmusik returns to a lighter, leisurely stroll, with reduced orchestration which gives the movement a chamber music feel. This is at the core of the symphony; Mahler did not add the first and final movements until the following year. The first movement brings the symphony into nighttime, and the final rondo returns to daybreak, with the orchestra returning in large form. The symphony travels from dusk until dawn, with the final movement bringing back structural and melodic themes that were heard earlier in the Allegro theme of the opening.

Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1

Notes by TŌN clarinetist Elias Rodriguez

There is no doubt that the clarinet was Carl Maria von Weber’s favorite wind instrument. Weber’s contributions to clarinet literature are significant and of comparable importance to that of Mozart and Brahms. It was only during the second half of the 18th century that the clarinet was sufficiently developed to become generally accepted as an orchestral and solo instrument. And between the years 1811 and 1816, Weber wrote no fewer than seven compositions featuring the clarinet. These include the Quintet Op. 34, a concertino, two concerti, and the Grand Duo Concertant, Op. 48, all of which (except the Duo) were written for the renowned clarinetist of the period, Heinrich Baermann (1784–1847). The First Concerto, composed in 1811, came about from a commission by Maximilian Joseph, King of Bavaria, after the success that the composer had with his Concertino Op. 26, written just before. The musicians of the orchestra begged Weber to write a concerto for their respective instrument, but to their dismay, he responded by writing a trio of pieces for solo clarinet.

I initially chose this concerto for the first movement theme introduced by the orchestra. From the onset, the music is full of drama. I fell in love with the decorative melodies contrasted by dramatic statements from the orchestra, and there is something captivating to me about the key of F minor, which though somber in sound, allows for a lot of expression—and it is no wonder. Non-clarinetists know Weber prominently for his opera overtures, most notably Der Freischütz, Oberon, and Euryanthe. And this concerto is essentially an opera in one act without words.

In my lessons of this piece, my teacher emphasized the importance of singing through my instrument, and I was encouraged to attend or listen to more opera, in order to better emulate the early German romantic style.

The second movement Adagio resembles largely and demonstrates the influence of the second movement Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, written just 20 years before. The melody is melancholic, and the long phrases test the soloist’s air control.

Characteristic of ending most concerti from the Classical and early Romantic period, the third and finale movement is a rondo. In a rondo, a principal theme (typically jovial and light in character) alternates with one or more contrasting themes.

Weber writes a number of expressive markings throughout the concerto, among them con duolo (with pain), morendo (dying), con anima (with soul), lusingando (flattering), scherzando (joking), con fuoco (with fire).

I try to live my life as peaceful as possible, but when it comes to music, bring all of the drama! I’ve known since I was a very young clarinetist that if I ever had the honor to stand in front of an orchestra, I would play Weber, without a second thought.

Gershwin’s An American in Paris

Notes by TŌN oboist Regina Brady

Like the title would suggest, George Gershwin began composing this piece on his trip to Paris, although he was living in the United States at the time. While writing An American in Paris, Gershwin was so inspired by the Parisian taxi horns that he handpicked several horns to bring back to the United States for the New York City premiere at Carnegie Hall. It was actually discovering and exploring the sounds of the city that made this piece come to fruition. To me the piece is so characteristically French: the variety of sounds and sonorities are lively, hazy, and excited, including those pitched taxi horns in the percussion section. It’s one of the first pieces in the canon in which jazz found its way into the middle of the classical repertoire, and it’s such a fun piece to listen to.

Schumann’s Symphony No. 2

Notes by Steve V. Sinclair

Schumann was suffering from both physical and mental illness prior to and during the composition of this symphony. His wife, Clara, observed that he could not sleep at night, and each morning she would wake to him sobbing. For much of the year he did not do a lot of composing—he tagged along with Clara on her performance tour of Russia, and then moved his family to Dresden—but began to sketch a new symphony in December of 1845, which he finished in October of 1846. While written in the bright key of C major, the use of tonality is often ambivalent; much of the piece does not yield the strong impression of being in the major. Schumann himself would later reveal to George Dietrich Otten, a musical colleague, that he wrote the symphony when he was still ill. He wrote, “I feel that people are bound to notice this when they hear the work . . . Only in the final movement did I begin to feel my old self again, but it was only after I had completed the whole work that I really felt any better. Otherwise, as I say, it reminds me of a black period.” The final movement indeed resounds Schumann’s triumph and hard-won affirmation, as the optimistic melody and resolution combat the moody and rebellious nature of the first movement. He also nods to Beethoven, as the theme echoes the last song, “Nimm sie hin denn, diese Lieder” from Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte. As Schumann put it, “I would say that my resistant spirit had a visible influence on [the work] and it is through that that I sought to fight my condition.”

Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral

Notes by composer Jennifer Higdon

Blue . . . like the sky. Where all possibilities soar. Cathedrals . . . a place of thought, growth, spiritual expression . . . serving as a symbolic doorway into and out of this world.

Cathedrals represent a place of beginnings, endings, solitude, fellowship, contemplation, knowledge and growth. These were my thoughts when The Curtis Institute of Music commissioned me to write a work to commemorate its 75th anniversary. Curtis is a house of knowledge—a place to reach towards that beautiful expression of the soul which comes through music. Coming to the writing of this piece at a unique juncture in my life, I found myself pondering the question of what makes a life. The recent loss of my younger brother, Andrew Blue, made me reflect on the amazing journeys that we all make, especially at a place like Curtis, where the pursuit of “the singing soul” is what music and life are all about. This piece represents the expression of the individual and the whole of the group . . . our journeys and the places our souls carry us.

jennifer higdon
Commissioned by The Curtis Institute of Music
Premiered May 1, 2000
by The Curtis Symphony Orchestra
Robert Spano, conducting
Academy of Music
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania