Haydn’s Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresa

Notes by TŌN cellist Pecos Singer

The Composer
Franz Joseph Haydn is perhaps best known for the influence he exerted on his younger and even more famous contemporaries, Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart dedicated a beautiful set of string quartets to Haydn out of deference to the master. And although Beethoven brashly claimed to have learned nothing from Haydn, even a cursory investigation reveals many similarities between their works. Most characteristic in Haydn’s music is his use of wit, humor, suspense, and surprise. These attributes made his music tremendously popular across Europe during his lifetime and continue to delight audiences today.

The Music
Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies, yet they are rarely performed by modern orchestras. His most famous symphonies were written later in his career during his time in London (1791–95), such as the Surprise, Drumroll, and the Clock (performed by The Orchestra Now last season at The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresa, was written in the middle of Haydn’s career while he served as Kapellmeister at the Hungarian Esterházy family estate. The piece was long believed to have been written and performed for the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa upon her visit in 1773, until an earlier manuscript was found dated 1769. The nickname survived however, and like many of the nicknames for Haydn’s works it presumably led to increased sales for the publisher, so it remains in use. Regardless, the trumpets in the first movement certainly evoke a regal quality.

The Maria Theresa symphony hails from Haydn’s so-called Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) period. The term originates somewhat anachronistically from the literary movement that emerged years later, but nonetheless appropriately describes the stormy quality just beneath the surface of the music. This can be heard best in the development of the first movement, certain episodes in the fourth movement, and the Trio section of the Minuet. In this regard, the symphony serves as a preview of Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, La passione, which I highly recommend for further listening.

A Note from the Cello Section
I derive no greater joy than from playing Haydn string quartets, and as this symphony is essentially a quartet with augmented forces colored by one basson, two horns, two trumpets, and two oboes, it is an equal if not greater pleasure to perform. As an aside, the best analogy for Haydn’s four movement, symphonic structure that I have heard comes from Jeoff Nuttal of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. He aptly describes the movements as follows: a story (I. Allegro), a song (II. Adagio), a dance (III. Minuet), and a party (IV. Allegro). I hope you agree and enjoy, especially the party in the last movement.

Ulysses Kay’s Scherzi musicali

Notes by TŌN horn player Ser Konvalin

The Composer
Ulysses Simpson Kay Jr. was an African-American composer born in 1917 in Tucson, Arizona. He was born into a musical family—his mother and sister played piano, and his uncle was the famous jazz bandleader Joe “King” Oliver. Kay began playing piano and violin at a young age, then learned saxophone and played in his high school’s marching and jazz bands. He studied music at the University of Arizona, where he first learned theory and composition. It was there that William Grant Still heard Kay’s music and encouraged him to keep composing. Kay then studied with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers at the Eastman School of Music, and in 1942 studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale University. He also studied at Columbia University. He studied in Rome from 1949–53 with a Fulbright Scholarship, the “Prix de Rome,” and a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship. He was named Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, where he taught theory and composition for twenty years. Kay wrote five operas, twenty large orchestral works, thirty choral compositions, a ballet, fifteen chamber pieces, and many other works for film, television, solo instruments, and voice.

The Music
Kay’s chamber orchestra work Scherzi musicali was written in 1968 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of The Chamber Music Society of Detroit. Kay’s compositional style is sometimes labeled as neoclassical, much like the works of Paul Hindemith, and his later works are sometimes labeled as atonal, crisp, and dissonant. Scherzi musicali employs the use of twelve-tone composition, ensuring that all twelve notes of the chromatic scale are circulated in melodic lines. The first movement begins by passing around dissonant long tones through the orchestra, followed by swirling melodic lines that are echoed in different instruments. The beauty of the chamber orchestra setting allows for each instrument to be heard clearly even while layering on top of one another. Often the orchestra functions as two groups: the wind quintet and the string section. The inquisitive second movement, Interlude I, offers an exposed look at the wind instruments, excluding strings entirely. The last movement builds in intensity with increasing volume, more dissonant chords, and strings furiously increasing tempo and rhythm, until a last unison tone releases like a pressure valve.

Paul Hindemith’s Concert Music for Piano, Brass, and Harps

Notes by TŌN tuba player Jarrod Briley

The Composer
Of the many fantastic composers throughout classical music history, I can think of few who wrote as expressively and effectively for brass instruments as Paul Hindemith. A German composer, violist, violinist, teacher, and conductor, Hindemith wrote extensively for every musical medium. Besides the 19 orchestral works and 14 concertante, he wrote a number of chamber works, solo pieces, vocal settings, operas, and even a few ballets. He is well known for his unique musical voice, which is tonal in the sense that it is usually written within certain formal keys and has harmonic motion like tonal music, yet he uses all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, breaking the “tonic” tradition. Although complex and sometimes confusing, it provides the audience with an exciting auditory experience that always pays off in grand form.

The Music
The Konzertmusik for Piano, Brass, and Harps, Op. 49 is one of the “hidden gems” of Hindemith’s repertoire. It was written in 1930, just before his Konzertmusik for String Orchestra and Brass, Op. 50, and precedes most of his popular orchestral works, such as the Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber or his Symphony in B-flat. The Op. 49 is a four-movement work that focuses primarily on the piano soloist and ten-part brass ensemble with the two harps playing a crucial supporting role. The work begins with a solemn solo in the tuba part accompanied by a horn choir, and is soon followed by the piano soloist with gentle ornaments surrounding the original theme. This first movement is lugubrious and heavy, reminiscent of a funeral procession interspersed by happy memories of the deceased, but never losing its dark and chaotic character. It closes with a reprise of the opening solo before quickly departing this idea for an invigorating and excited pianist opening the second movement. After a substantial development in the piano and raucous interjections from the brass, a gentler middle section has the brass instruments quietly accompanying rapid lines in the solo piano. Soon after, we enter a fugue-like revisit to our original theme with the brass sections handing off the melody between each other. The third movement is only piano and the two harps, returning to a calmer mood, yet sustaining the harmonic intensity. After a lengthy reprieve from the chaos of the previous movement, the pianists and harpists slowly fade into the distance. At the beginning of the third movement, the brass introduces the new rhythmic motif stately by itself, and is then followed by the entrance of the piano and harps again. Towards the middle, the harps overlay these running lines with a beautiful melody that, combined with the chaotic-ness of the piano, gives memory to a hazy dream of a shepherd in fields. As the end approaches, the piano is again joined by the harps in a gentle theme accompanied by the solo tuba. The pianist plays one final winding line to descend towards the final chord played by the brass section, closing on a beautiful C-major chord.

Edgard Varèse’s Hyperprism

Notes by TŌN horn player Steven Harmon

A New Sound World
While the European musical establishment was being revolutionized by The Ballet Russe in Paris and the Second Viennese School in Vienna, Varèse was poised to start his own revolution upon his arrival in America. In an interview with the New York Telegraph, he revealed his vision: “Our musical alphabet must be enriched. We also need new instruments very badly. I have always felt the need for new mediums of expression in my work. I refuse to submit myself only to sounds that have already been heard.”

Hyperprism is one of a handful of Varèse’s most influential works, all written in a period between 1921 and 1925, all of which contributed to a notoriety comparable to that of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. In just a handful of scores, most of them lasting only a few minutes, Varèse elevated rhythm to a new prominence, granted percussion instruments a role of unforeseen importance (and complexity), and developed a new sound world, dependent not on melody and harmony, but on timbre, texture, and dynamics.

The Reception
The original reception of Hyperprism was mixed. Writer Eric Salzman notes, “Hyperprism brought the audience to blows and Varèse to a new kind of fame. The music was violently attacked, but it also had its defenders.” One notable positive critique came from composer Charles Martin Loeffler: “It would be the negation of all the centuries of musical progress if I were to call this music. Nevertheless, this piece roused in me a sort of subconscious racial memory, something elemental that happened before the beginning of recorded time. It affected me as only music of the past has affected me.” Some of the more abusive criticism labeled the work as “shrieks from a zoo, the din of passing trains, the hammering of a drunken woodpecker, a thunderbolt striking a tinplate factory.”

The Music
While to a casual listener, Varèse’s music may come off more abrasive than agreeable, it has stuck around for nearly a century because of its innovative and evocative use of timbre, rhythm, and instrumentation. Hyperprism calls for nine wind players and seven to ten percussionists playing 20 instruments. Rather than relying on a key, the purpose of each note is derived primarily from its shape, length and timing. Robert P. Morgan Notes describes it well: “There are many passages in Varèse’s music in which the pitches appear to have lost their sense of linear direction, to have relinquished their tendency to form connections defined by stepwise motion. The pitches, one might say, don’t want to go anywhere.”

Hyperprism begins with an expansion around a single note, C-sharp. Repeated, varied, ornamented, the C-sharp gets passed around the ensemble. For a first time listener, focusing on the pitches at the center of each section and observing their manipulation may give some fiber to latch onto throughout the work. Varèse recalled, “With my physical ears I heard a sound that kept recurring in my dreams as a boy: a high whistling C-sharp. It came to me as I worked in my Westside apartment, where I could hear all the river sounds—the lonely foghorns, the shrill peremptory whistles—the whole wonderful river symphony which moved me more than anything ever had before.”

R. Strauss’ Metamorphosen

Notes by TŌN violinist Bram Margoles

As Allied bombs rained down on the final days of Nazi rule, eighty-year-old German composer Richard Strauss completed Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings. Metamorphosen is Strauss’ profound and moving effort to understand the incomprehensible death and destruction surrounding him and to somehow through his composition forge a bridge to a better future for the German people—and the world.

Strauss was a witness to the greatest atrocities in human history, and the context in which he constructed Metamorphosen is critical for an understanding of the work. Strauss began the Nazi era cooperating with and accepting prominent musical positions under the Nazi regime. By the end, he had fallen out of favor with those in power due to his efforts (which did not always work) to use his high-profile connections to save Jewish extended family members from being murdered in the Holocaust.

On March 12, 1945, American bombers destroyed the Vienna Opera House—the day before Strauss began scoring his final version of the piece. On April 12, Strauss completed the piece—the same day hundreds of prominent Nazis attended a final performance by the Berlin Philharmonic of music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, following which members of the Hitler youth distributed cyanide capsules so that the audience could commit suicide. Accordingly, Strauss composed Metamorphosen as he witnessed firsthand the final demise of the Nazi regime. Upon completion of Metamorphosen, Strauss wrote in his diary:

“The most terrible period of human history is at an end, the twelve year reign of bestiality, ignorance and anti-culture under the greatest criminals, during which Germany’s 2,000 years of cultural evolution met its doom.”

Strauss saw Germanic civilization, which he strove to represent artistically, in terrifying ruins. He perceived that the world was on the brink of dramatic change. With Metamorphosen (which means “Transformation”), Strauss sought to convey the meaning of how World War II had dramatically transformed humanity.

The piece is constructed in a unique format for 23 solo strings: Each of us on stage has a part that is special and unique from all the others. The parts blend together to form an overwhelmingly rich and thick texture. All performers from all 23 parts are given moments where they stand out to be heard as individuals.

The manner in which Strauss constructed the piece is relevant to the meaning as a memorial for the victims of World War II. The pain and suffering is felt differently by each individual, and also felt collectively by everyone in the entire world.

Silvestre Revueltas’ Cuauhnáhuac

Notes by TŌN violist Katelyn Hoag

Silvestre Revueltas’ Cuauhnáhuac is a fascinating fusion of pre-Colombian Mexican musical traditions with European modernism.

A renowned violinist, conductor, teacher and composer, Revueltas was one of the most significant Mexican musicians of the 20th century. He composed Cuauhnáhuac in 1931 at the age of 31 while working as the assistant conductor of Mexico’s National Symphony Orchestra. Today, you will hear the first version of Cuauhnáhuac, which was written for strings alone. Revueltas later composed two more versions of the piece, culminating with his conducting the National Symphony in the final version’s 1933 premiere.

Cuauhnáhuac was the pre-Columbian name of the Mexican city of Cuernavaca before the Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century. In the aboriginal Nahuatl language (an Aztecan dialect still spoken today by 1.7 million people in central Mexico), Cuauhnahuac means “near the forest.”

Despite the title’s clear reference to the age of the Aztecs, the piece does not clearly fit within one musical tradition. Written during a turning point in Mexican society following the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), artists emphasized “Indigenism,” or a search for ethnic and nationalistic roots. In the two decades before composing Cuauhnáhuac, composers such as Revueltas idealized the pre-Colombian era and incorporated elements of it into their work. It should be noted that most, if not all, of these elements were fictitious, since no one actually knew what Aztec music sounded like. In the final version of Cuauhnáhuac, for example, one hears the indigenous influence with Revueltas incorporating the huehuetl (Indian drum) as a means of “nationalist propaganda.”

By the time Cuauhnáhuac was composed in 1931, however, populism was more fashionable than Indigenism. Due to this cultural shift, Revuletas is less obvious with his use of Indigenism in Cuauhnáhuac than in earlier works. Instead of basing the piece entirely on pre-Colombian musical elements, Revueltas uniquely blends these techniques with those of European modernists Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky to create a distinctly modern Mexican sound.

Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1

Notes by TŌN clarinetist Matthew Griffith

At the age of 31, Arnold Schoenberg began sketching two works for reduced orchestra called Kammersymphonies in a conscious effort to establish his own musical personality. While on vacation in Bavaria in July 1906, he etched the final markings into one of these compositions and declared, “Now I know how I have to compose.”

Although in hindsight we know that his most famous musical characteristics were yet to develop, the Chamber Symphony No. 1 is a landmark at a distinctly pivotal moment in the history of classical music. Schoenberg would soon be known for a seeming departure from tradition, but his journey stemmed from a desire to refine and enhance what already was. In this piece there are only 15 players on the stage, but the expressive range and intensity still sounds remarkably like a full orchestra.

This Kammersymphonie is written as one continuous movement roughly 20 minutes in length, with elements of a full symphony strung together. Schoenberg himself indicated that there are five connected movement-like sections within: Exposition, Scherzo, Development, Adagio, and Reprise. After a brief and pleasant introduction, the piece jumps into action with a call from the French horn. This rising sequence of notes will return in many instruments throughout the piece, so be sure to listen for this iconic “motto” that the horn launches.

As a clarinetist, I am struck by how extreme the emotions are in this piece. At times my part requires incredibly quiet and delicate playing, while at other times I must be “shrill” and almost jazzy. There are luscious, resonant melodies next to march-like drives forward. No time is wasted dwelling on any one idea because another is just around the corner. It seems that Schoenberg’s students were also captivated by this Op. 9 and wished for it to be available in other forms. Alban Berg arranged it for two pianos, and Anton Webern wrote two different quintet arrangements. Schoenberg himself paired it with a four-hands piano version and later expanded it to full orchestra, cataloged as Op. 9b.

While the pandemic does not currently allow us to sit in the exact arrangement requested by the composer, I nonetheless hope that you enjoy our performance of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 in E major.

Handel’s Water Music Suite No. 1

Notes by TŌN oboist Shawn Hutchison

Composed in 1717, Water Music by Georg Frederic Handel is a collection of three suites for orchestra. The work’s title is derived from the original intended purpose of the music, namely to provide musical entertainment for King George I in a grand and opulent fashion by performing from the decks of barges on the River Thames.

Opening with a stylized and energetic French overture, the first Suite in F Major features an assortment of Baroque dance forms (such as the minuet, bourrée, and hornpipe) transmuted from their original functions into lively concert music. These forms were a key element in the compositional language of the late Baroque, and were employed broadly and with great success by composers such as J.S. Bach, G.P. Telemann, and G. F. Handel.

As an oboist, it is a particular joy to perform, as the second movement features a prominent oboe solo. This provides a wonderful opportunity for creative invention, as the solo line itself is sparsely notated so that the oboist may provide personal ornamentation in the rhetorical style. This creative license can be further utilized throughout the work in the form of altering articulation, dynamics, and even the instrumentation on subsequent repeated sections. These characteristics instill a recurring freshness and novelty to each interpretation of the work, lending it to repeated listenings and performances. While still performed outdoors on occasion, the collected suites have since migrated into the concert hall, and are frequently programmed to the enjoyment of audiences and musicians alike.

M. Camargo Guarnieri’s Concerto for String Orchestra and Percussion

Notes by TŌN percussionist Charles Gillette

An Unusual Pairing
Scored for strings, timpani, and two snare drums, M. Camargo Guarnieri’s Concerto for Strings and Percussion is an unusual pairing of two sections in the orchestra that rarely play together. The piece is less of a concerto in the traditional sense as it doesn’t feature any one particular instrument or performer. The strings and percussion play off one another in three movements played without pause following a fast–slow–fast format. The first movement is defined by its rhythmic energy as the strings and timpani trade driving passages, with the snare drums providing grooves to accompany the strings. Guarnieri frequently uses syncopation and mixed meter in this movement, giving the music a sense of unpredictability. The second movement showcases the strings in a lyrical and emotional memorial to the composer’s mother. The final movement returns to the same sense of energy from before. Guarnieri worked as a pianist for silent films growing up in S.o Paulo, and it’s easy to imagine this music scoring an old western. The percussion section is featured at the end as Guarneri instructs to improvise a cadenza between the snare drums and timpani for roughly one minute before the violin solo that begins the final section.

Pairing Rhythm with Lyricism
Guarneri was a new composer to me before this program and I’m struck by the way he pairs rhythm with lyricism in this piece. He dedicated his 1942 piece Abertura Concertante to Aaron Copland, and I can definitely hear Copland’s influence in Concerto for Strings and Percussion. I’m excited to be able to perform a piece that’s new to me and discover more of Guarneri’s music.

Grażnya Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra

Notes by TŌN violist Sean Flynn

The Concerto for String Orchestra by Grażyna Bacewicz is considered to be the composer’s finest work. In what is known as the “neoclassical” style, Bacewicz utilizes forms and melodic elements from the Baroque and Classical eras in tandem with modern rhythms and harmonies. This combination allows the piece to be accessible to even a first-time listener while still holding many surprises and ear-catching moments. Despite other great composers like Prokofiev and Stravinsky writing in this style, the concerto stands out as a wholly original work, particularly with the composer’s Polish roots being made apparent in many of the folk-like elements heard throughout the piece. The work follows a standard three-movement concerto form (fast–slow–fast), with each instrument group being asked to display their specific virtuosic capabilities throughout. In addition to composing, Bacewicz was also an accomplished violinist, and her knowledge of string-playing allowed this piece to have great textural and technical variety. It is rare to find an orchestral piece where each instrumental group has a part written for them that feels both essential to the whole and is continuously engaging to play. As a violist, I am no stranger to less-than-engaging orchestral parts, but there certainly are none of the like to be found in this concerto. Bacewicz asks a lot of the players of this piece; a number of solos, complicated rhythmic passages, and melodic lines with difficult intonation make for an intense but endlessly exciting playing experience, but I am sure that this intensity and excitement will be felt by listeners as well.