R. Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life)

Notes by TŌN violinist Sophia Bernitz

The Inspiration
Written in the summer of 1898 while staying in a Bavarian mountain resort, Ein Heldenleben depicts a hero conquering his enemies. Strauss was convinced that Beethoven’s great “Eroica” (Heroic) Symphony was underperformed, and that it was his job to eradicate this injustice with his own homage to “Eroica.” “Thus to fulfill a pressing need I am composing a largish tone poem entitled Ein Heldenleben, admittedly without a funeral march, but nonetheless in E-flat major, with lots of horns—which is always a measure of heroism,” he wrote.

The Music
The work is made up of six movements played without interruption. In “The Hero” the E-flat major theme ranges upwards of five octaves. “The Hero’s Adversaries” are signaled by a very sarcastic flute melody. “The Hero’s Companion” is a substantial portrait between solo violin and the orchestra. I will be playing the solo violin part, which is a portrayal of Strauss’ wife, Pauline Maria de Ahna. She is a complex woman with many sides to her—“never twice the same,” as Strauss said. “The Hero’s Deeds of War” is the climax of the work. It uses eight horns, three offstage trumpets, and a significant amount of percussion. “The Hero’s Works of Peace” is where the hero shows off his “accomplishments” by presenting themes from eight of his other great works, most famously Don Juan, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Till Eulenspeigel’s Merry Pranks, Don Quixote, and Death and Transfiguration. If you are familiar with any of these works, it is fun to try to find them! And finally, in “The Hero’s Retirement,” the motive from the second section returns with a ferocious episode, followed by a calming theme in the English Horn. This leads into the peaceful ending, where the violin solo and the home key of E-flat major return, signifying the Hero’s completion and fulfillment.

The Reception
After its premiere, some called Ein Heldenleben “revolutionary in every sense of the word,” while others thought it was far too egotistical. In later years, Strauss denied that he was the hero depicted in this work. However, it is fairly obvious that that is a falsehood. Nonetheless, it is one of the most challenging and fulfilling pieces in the orchestral repertoire to this day. This is my first time playing it, and I am so fortunate to be able to portray Pauline’s wild personality for all of you, along with the rest of this great work with my colleagues.

Audio Flashback: Ives’ Decoration Day

We’re releasing a live concert recording every Tuesday, and today we offer Charles IvesDecoration Day, based on the composer’s childhood memories of the Memorial Day celebrations in his hometown. Listen below and read the concert notes, written by former TŌN percussionist William Kaufman, by clicking here.

Audio Flashback: Lera Auerbach’s Violin Concerto No. 3, De Profundis

Starting today, we are thrilled to release a live concert recording from our archives every Tuesday! Today we offer the U.S. premiere of Lera Auerbach‘s Violin Concerto No. 3, De Profundis, performed with soloist Vadim Repin.

Music From Home: Anita Tóth

. . . and one for Mahler! The great composer passed away on this day in 1911. TŌN musician Anita Tóth plays an excerpt from his third symphony along the banks of the Hudson River.

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Posted by Tóth Anita on Monday, May 18, 2020

Meet the Musicians of TŌN: Dillon Robb

A few months back we got to chat with TŌN violinist Dillon Robb. He talked about his origins on the violin, what he loves about the camaraderie with his fellow musicians, and how he secretly wishes he was a raver!

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Resurrection

Notes by TŌN cellist Pecos Singer

Inspiration
Mahler produced his second symphony in short bursts of creativity over a six-year period. The inspiration was a visceral, emotional response to a room full of flowers after a performance. Mahler suddenly imagined that he was attending his own funeral and soon after began writing a tone poem titled Totenfeier (“Funeral Rite”) based on the experience. The title page of the manuscript reads, “Symphony in C minor/First Movement,” implying that he always intended it to be part of a larger work. The piece eventually became the first movement of his Symphony No. 2, Resurrection.

Respite
The second movement of the symphony is noticeably lighter in character and texture than the symphony as a whole. In the program Mahler wrote to accompany the symphony, he describes the movement as attending a funeral of a close friend and “the picture of a happy hour long past arises in your mind,” nearly distracting you from the somberness of the occasion. Mahler eventually withdrew his own programmatic text, evidently preferring the audience to develop their own reactions to the music.

Song
As with many composers, much of Mahler’s inspiration stemmed from vocal music. The inner movements of the symphony drew from a set of songs for voice and piano that Mahler wrote based on German folk poems called Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Mahler describes the third movement as an abrupt end to the “nostalgic daydream” of the previous movement. Upon waking you are struck with horror, and “life can seem meaningless, a gruesome, ghostly spectacle, from which you recoil with a cry of disgust!” The fourth movement of the symphony is a reworking of one of the Wunderhorn songs for mezzo-soprano soloist and orchestra.

Criticism
Musicians are no foreigners to harsh criticism, and Mahler was no exception. Upon hearing Mahler play the first movement on the piano, the celebrated conductor Hans von Bülow reportedly covered his ears and said, “Beside your music, Tristan sounds as simple as a Haydn symphony!” Deeply wounded by this criticism, Mahler set the work aside for several years. Coincidentally, the music for the final movement was inspired by events from Bülow’s funeral six years later. During the memorial service, Mahler heard a children’s choir perform Klopstock’s Resurrection chorale. Mahler’s close friend, Josef Förster, recalled finding him after the service, having just jotted down the germ for the fifth and final movement, in which Mahler calls for a full chorus singing the text from the first eight lines of  Klopstock’s poem, Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection). The rest of the words Mahler wrote himself.

What to Listen for?
Mahler is particularly skillful in his ability to move smoothly between passages with a massive orchestration to others that highlight smaller groups within the orchestra. This “chamber music” approach to symphonic writing is a hallmark of Mahler’s style and adds to the deeply personal and moving character of his music, especially evident in the fourth movement with the solo violin and voice.

 

 

Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, Resurrection

Notes by TŌN tuba player Jarrod Briley

Death Served as Inspiration
In 1888, after finishing his first symphony, Gustav Mahler completed a single-movement symphonic poem titled Totenfeier (Funeral Rites). In 1893 after a five-year hiatus, Mahler completed the second and third movements, but became stuck on the finale. He knew he wanted to add a choir but struggled to find an appropriate text, noting it had to be just right to avoid being seen as an imitation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The composer turned to his colleague Hans von Bülow, an esteemed German conductor and admirer of Mahler’s, for advice on the work. In 1894, at Bülow’s funeral, Mahler heard a setting of Friedrich Klopstock’s poem Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection). Instantly, the composer knew he had found his finale. He wrote of the experience, saying: “Then the choir, up in the organ-loft, intoned Klopstock’s Resurrection chorale.—It flashed on me like lightning, and everything became plain and clear in my mind! It was the flash that all creative artists wait for—“conceiving by the Holy Ghost!

Wunderhorn Influence
Most of Mahler’s music is inspired by and based upon traditional folk music: his most notable work besides his symphonies are his settings of German folk poems from a collection titled Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn). Mahler set twelve of the songs for voice and piano, and regularly used these in his orchestral music. The third movement of his Second Symphony was originally a voice and piano duo based on the Wunderhorn song “St. Anthony of Padua’s Sermon to the Fishes.” The fourth movement is another from the Wunderhorn set, the famous “Urlicht” (Primal Light) movement. His use of the mezzo-soprano soloist in this movement harkens to his lieder, and also serves as foreshadowing to the choral component of the final movement.

The Program Dilemma
Mahler’s opinion on program music changed drastically over his lifetime. In his early years, the composer wrote and even published programs to his symphonies, yet by the time he was composing his Fifth Symphony Mahler had abandoned all programming and descriptive titling and had retracted his early programs. The Second Symphony, however, remains a programmatic piece both in inspiration and nature. Mahler was notably fascinated with existentialism and metaphysical aspects of life, and his original programming displays that in this symphony. The first movement asks questions such as “Is there life after death?”; subsequent movements question the meaning of life, the importance of its experiences, and the finale gives the listener hope of happiness and transcendent renewal.

 

 

Music From Home: Regina Brady

TŌN oboist Regina Brady played the world premiere of a movement of COVID OBOE VIOLA OVID for oboe and viola with her partner, Jonah Sirota (who is also the composer!), in tonight’s episode of Living Music with Nadia Sirota.

Living Music: Pirate Radio Edition Episode 15

Episode 15 of Living Music: Pirate Radio Edition — Tune in for a classics-inspired world premiere! Mai Tais! A pregnant cockroach! LITERAL GLENN KOTCHE! SIBLINGS!! It’s all tonight at 9pm eastern. Whip yourself up something fruity, garnish garishly, and watch with friends! Starring Jonah Sirota, Regina Brady, Du Yun and Glenn Kotche! More info at livingmusicshow.com

Posted by Living Music with Nadia Sirota on Thursday, May 7, 2020

Music From Home: Regina Brady

TŌN oboist Regina Brady played the world premiere of a movement of COVID OBOE VIOLA OVID for oboe and viola with her partner, Jonah Sirota (who is also the composer!), on tonight’s episode of Living Music with Nadia Sirota.

Living Music: Pirate Radio Edition Episode 15

Episode 15 of Living Music: Pirate Radio Edition — Tune in for a classics-inspired world premiere! Mai Tais! A pregnant cockroach! LITERAL GLENN KOTCHE! SIBLINGS!! It’s all tonight at 9pm eastern. Whip yourself up something fruity, garnish garishly, and watch with friends! Starring Jonah Sirota, Regina Brady, Du Yun and Glenn Kotche! More info at livingmusicshow.com

Posted by Living Music with Nadia Sirota on Thursday, May 7, 2020

 

Video Flashback: Shostakovich, Michelangelo & The Artistic Conscience

In the hit series Sight & Sound at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Leon Botstein and The Orchestra Now explore the parallels between music and art. Now you can enjoy our 2018 performance of Shostakovich’s “Suite on Verses of Michelangelo” with baritone Tyler Duncan, which was live streamed on Facebook. Scroll down for more details, below the video.

Conductor and music historian Leon Botstein and The Orchestra Now (TŌN) explore Shostakovich’s “Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti” and works from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer.” Recorded live at The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on February 11, 2018.
Tyler Duncan, baritone

1:29 Introduction
1:57 Remarks by Carmen C. Bambach, curator of the exhibition “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer”
3:51 Discussion & Excerpts with Leon Botstein and The Orchestra Now
37:43 Review of artworks from the exhibition “Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer”
46:05 Performance of Shostakovich’s “Suite on Verses by Michelangelo Buonarroti”
47:43 Truth
52:03 Morning
54:46 Love
58:20 Separation
1:00:39 Anger
1:02:37 Dante
1:06:04 To the Exile
1:10:45 Creativity
1:13:24 Night
1:17:54 Death
1:22:10 Immortality
1:27:17 Q&A with the Audience

Dmitri Shostakovich
Born: 9/25/1906 in St. Petersburg
Died: 8/9/1975 at age 68 in Moscow

Written: 1974, at age 67

Premiered: 10/12/1975 at the Moscow Conservatory Bolshoi Hall in Moscow; USSR Radio and Television Orchestra; Maxim Shostakovich, conductor