Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7

Notes by TŌN oboist JJ Silvey

“As a sforzando occurred, he tore his arms with great vehemence asunder . . . at the entrance of a forte he jumped into the air.”

So Louis Spohr, the renowned German composer and violinist, described Beethoven’s tempestuous conducting at the premiere of the Seventh Symphony. The occasion was a patriotic one. On December 8, 1813, Spohr, along with a starry group of musicians including Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Antonio Salieri, and Giacomo Meyerbeer, gathered to play in an orchestra led by Beethoven as part of a charity concert for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau. For this event the composer, by then an emphatic critic of the megalomaniacal Napoleon, debuted his Seventh Symphony alongside another new work, Wellington’s Victory, written to commemorate the Duke of Wellington’s defeat of Joseph Bonaparte’s forces in the Battle of Vitoria.

Revolutionary Zeal
Though the Seventh Symphony does not share the explicit political immediacy of Wellington’s Victory, it is impossible to dissociate it from Beethoven’s resolute idealism. Even at a time in his career plagued by worsening deafness and dire financial hardship, Beethoven was able to suffuse the work with a palpable sense of revolutionary zeal. As a whole, the symphony is exuberant, grand, and unbridled in its dual capacities for jubilance and sincerity. The first movement begins with a gracefully unfolding oboe solo punctuated by chordal “hits” from the full orchestra. The rest of the poco sostenuto introduction alternates between poised, lilting wind passages and stentorian iterations from the orchestra which, before long, give way to a cheerful vivace permeated by lively dotted rhythms.

Triumph Over Tyranny
The second movement, though marked allegretto, is the work’s dramatic zenith. A simple, serious rhythmic theme is introduced by low strings and is soon interwoven with a grave countermelody. These two ideas compete in increasing force as more instruments take them up, building steadily to an intense, climactic scene. This gives way to a dreamlike, yearning middle section, soon interrupted by a re-introduction of the theme. Another climax results, this time texturally enriched by deeper layers of Beethoven’s characteristically masterful counterpoint. In the third movement, a rollicking presto, fleet, playful wind solos are heard among bombastic, high-spirited dance episodes. The spectacle is occasionally curtailed by the emergence of an unhurried, stately theme. Finally, the fourth movement arrives to declare victory. Beethoven, the revolutionary, has had an ecstatic vision of mankind’s final triumph over tyranny.

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto

Notes by TŌN trumpet player Maggie Tsan-Jung Wei

The Background
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto in C major, Op. 56, is more similar to a piano trio than a concerto, with the whole orchestra acting as an accompanist to build up texture and add different colors. Most of the time, it is a competition or cooperation among three soloists. The three of them may play against each other, or support each other in different phrases. What makes this piece unique is the instrumentation. Beethoven was successful not only at putting these three solo instruments together in front of a whole orchestra, but also at keeping them balanced. Acting more as partners, the three instruments do not dominate over each other. Even now, it is probably the only well-known triple sonata for these three instruments. However, the work was not as successful as it is now when Beethoven first composed it around the year 1804. It was not officially performed until about four years after it was published. Surprisingly, it did not receive great critiques during the nineteenth century. However, the fact that people are still performing the concerto nowadays proves the value of this piece.

The Music
I certainly cannot choose my favorite movement in this concerto. The three movements have their own unique texture and musical language. The first movement is in sonata form, which is one of the most common forms for first movements in symphonies or concertos. It can be separated into three parts based on the motive. In this movement I really enjoy the beginning, when the piece opens with the lower string section, and the rest of the orchestra slowly builds up and introduces the three soloists. The second movement instills a sacred and peaceful feeling in me, almost as if I was standing by myself in the middle of an empty cathedral. The last movement, just like other traditional concertos, is a fast movement. It is joyful and delightful, and also brings back the tension and the cooperation between the three soloists.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

Notes by TŌN bassoonist Philip McNaughton

An Icon
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, also known as the “Fate Symphony,” is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of classical music in the canon. Its four-note opening motif evokes an immediate reaction from not only the most avid classical music appreciator, but also from someone who has never stepped foot into a concert hall before. It has been played by world-class orchestras in almost every city around the world, and has even been heard in McDonald’s commercials. The work was composed from 1804 to 1808 and was based off of three of Beethoven’s original sketches. The piece premiered in Vienna in 1808 at a momentous all-Beethoven program that is said to have lasted four hours, at which the composer himself conducted and performed on the piano. The work was one of several premieres on the program, including Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.

Symphony V for Victory
The nickname of the symphony, “Fate,” which was not given by Beethoven himself, comes from the four note opening of the piece. The most recognizable portion, “short-short-short-long,” was thought to resemble fate knocking at a subject’s door, and is used as a motif throughout each movement of the work. Because of the symphony’s popularity, the theme was commonly used during the second World War as a way to mark a victory over the radio systems. In Morse code, “short-short-short-long” spelled out the letter “V” for victory. The theme would be played whenever the Allied forces found success in their endeavors. It became a powerful symbol of hope.

A Gateway Work
Whether or not Beethoven himself thought of this opening motif as fate knocking on the door remains unclear. What does ring true is that it was fate for this piece to live on forever. I think of this work as a gateway to classical music for the average person. The opening four notes are recognized by practically everyone around the world, but it’s what follows those notes that makes the symphony magical. The opening hooks the audience, but the rest of the piece keeps listeners planted in their seats, amazed at what contemporary and rich stories classical music can paint. The “Fate Symphony” has held the fate of classical music in its hands for centuries, and I believe the piece will continue to be a riveting gateway work for many more centuries to come.

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, Scottish

Notes by TŌN flutist Rebecca Tutunick

The Grand Tour
As was expected of a cultured, wealthy man in the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn, at age 20, embarked on a Grand Tour, departing his family home in Berlin for what would be a three-year expedition across various countries. With his family friend Karl Klingemann, Mendelssohn started his Grand Tour with a threeweek walking tour of Scotland, beginning in Edinburgh. In a letter to his family, Mendelssohn noted, “We went, in the deep twilight, to the Palace of Holyrood, where Queen Mary lived and loved. There’s a little room to be seen there, with a winding staircase leading up to it. This the murderers ascended, and finding Rizzio, drew him out. Three chambers away is a small corner where they killed him. Everything around is broken and moldering, and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today in the old chapel the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.” Enclosed within the envelope was a scrap of paper with what would become his symphony’s opening theme.

A 13 Year Journey
Over the next 13 years, Mendelssohn set aside and returned to his work on the Scottish Symphony several times, until eventually completing the symphony while in Berlin, in 1842. Though it was his fifth, and final symphony, it was his third to become published, so it became widely known as Symphony No. 3. It was first performed in Leipzig in 1842 under Mendelssohn’s own baton, and then brought to London to an audience that included Queen Victoria, to whom the symphony became dedicated.

The Music
The symphony is played in four interconnected movements. It begins with a rather somber, yet grand, opening theme, followed by a slightly more agitated idea in the violins. The two ideas conversate and evolve, in a beautiful, overlapping texture. The movement develops to bring plenty of drama and tension, as well as captivating melodies and thematic progression. The influence of Scotland is very clearly heard in the burbling, lighthearted second movement. Mendelssohn illustrates his deft use of featherlight magic, and inspires ideas of folk dance. The Adagio follows, interlacing a sweet, charming melody with a darker counterpart, evoking the conflict between love and fate. This movement has been described as a lament for Mary Queen of Scots. The fourth movement starts fiercely, immediately suggesting impending battle. The heroism and chaos of combat is conveyed, until a new, majestic theme prevails in the coda.

Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments

Notes by TŌN bass trombonist Jack E. Noble

Sounds Struck and Blown
The first performance of Stravinsky’s Concerto pour Piano avec L’Orchestre d’Harmonie occurred in Paris in May 1924, only one month after the completion of the score, with the composer as soloist and Serge Koussevitsky conducting. Stravinsky described his “Harmonic Orchestra” as separate from the Symphonic Orchestra, consisting solely of winds and percussion (although this piece includes double basses). His choice to exclude the strings caused Parisian critics to ask “Where are the bows?” So why did Stravinsky choose this format for his concerto? In an interview following the opening concerts he expressed that “Strings and piano, a sound scraped and a sound struck, do not sound well together; piano and wind, sounds struck and blown, do.” This is a noteworthy deviation from the norm which Stravinsky uses to highlight certain characteristics of sound. In particular, the percussive articulation of the piano stands out against the sustain of the winds.

Unexpected Moments
Although the piece is considered Neo-Classical, Stravinsky does not play by antiquated rules. Beyond the fast—slow—fast organization of the movements, almost nothing in the music could be confused with Mozart or Haydn. This stems mainly from Stravinsky’s (now infamous) harmonic language. His characteristic use of dissonance appears immediately in the first few bars with a brass chorale and continues throughout the concerto; every bar seems to bear his mark. Beyond his innovative harmonies, Stravinsky is also known for employing unexpected rhythms. For example, Stravinsky often articulates solo piano passages with ragtime syncopations in the right hand. An easily identifiable instance of this comes in the beginning of the piece, after the introduction when the piano plays alone for the first time. The passage begins as an approachable counterpoint, almost spoon-feeding the idea of Neo-Classicism we were told to expect. However, the Classical motive is quickly shattered by these aggressive syncopations which remind the listener this is the music of a 20th century master. As is the case with most of Stravinsky’s music, he controls the audience by way of unexpected moments.

Beauty in a Crunchy Landscape
The second movement is solemn, and exemplifies how Stravinsky can create beauty while maintaining his dissonant, often “crunchy” harmonic landscape. After two cadenzas, the finale begins with an energetic fugue. The piano states the theme first, complete with more jazzy accents, and from there the energy of the fugue is ceaseless. However, a recapitulation of the brass chorale brings the motion to a halt. The energy attempts to return, but is only a brief flourish before the concerto concludes.

Deliberate Orchestration
The most important thing to remember as an audience is that this concerto is principally an example of Stravinsky’s composition. Influences abound, including those of Classical era music, but the harmonies and jarring rhythms are the composer’s trademark. Instead of hanging on to the term Neo-Classicism, focus instead on the deliberate orchestration and instrumentation. Know that this work was composed specifically for the solo piano to interact with the winds. Allow yourself to be surprised while understanding everything was done with great purpose.

Bernstein’s Serenade (after Plato’s Symposium)

Notes by TŌN timpanist Keith Hammer III

The Background
Completed during the summer of 1954, Bernstein wrote this piece alongside his musical Candide. Similar to Candide, West Side Story, and The Age of Anxiety, Serenade relates directly to literature. This work (as stated in the subtitle) is based on Plato’s dialogue The Symposium. Plato’s work is a musical reflection of the impassioned, yet rancorous, speeches on the subject of love made by philosophers such as Aristophanes, Agathon, Phaedrus, and Socrates. Bernstein describes his thoughts on each movement and the philosophers’ speeches they represent.

I. Phaedrus; Pausanias
“Phaedrus opens the symposium with a lyrical oration in praise of Eros, the god of love. (Fugato, begun by the solo violin.) Pausanias continues by describing the duality of the lover as compared with the beloved. This is expressed in a classical sonata-allegro, based on the material of the opening fugato.”
Composed in sonata form, the second theme utilizes disjunct grace-note figures and dissonant intervals in an otherwise elegant solo violin part.

II. Aristophanes
“Aristophanes does not play the role of clown in this dialogue, but instead that of the bedtime-storyteller, invoking the fairy-tale mythology of love. The atmosphere is one of quiet charm.”
Much of the material derives from the grace-note theme of the first movement. The middle section incorporates a melody for the lower strings played in close canon.

III. Eryximachus
“The physician speaks of bodily harmony as a scientific model for the workings of love-patterns. This is an extremely short fugato-scherzo, born of a blend of mystery and humor.”
This section contains music that corresponds thematically to the canon of the previous movement.

IV. Agathon
“Perhaps the most moving speech of the dialogue, Agathon’s panegyric embraces all aspects of love’s powers, charms and functions. This movement is a simple three-part song.”

V. Socrates; Alcibiades
“Socrates describes his visit to the seer Diotima, quoting her speech on the demonology of love. Love as a daemon is Socrates’ image for the profundity of love; and his seniority adds to the feeling of didactic soberness in an otherwise pleasant and convivial after-dinner discussion. This is a slow introduction of greater weight than any of the preceding movements, and serves as a highly developed reprise of the middle section of the Agathon movement, thus suggesting a hidden sonata-form. The famous interruption by Alcibiades and his band of drunken revelers ushers in the Allegro, which is an extended rondo ranging in spirit from agitation through jig-like dance music to joyful celebration. If there is a hint of jazz in the celebration, I hope it will not be taken as anachronistic Greek party-music, but rather the natural expression of a contemporary American composer imbued with the spirit of that timeless dinner party.”
Speaking through the voice of Diotima, Socrates proposes the notion that the most virtuous form of love is the love for wisdom (philosophy).

Tania León’s Ácana

Notes by TŌN bassoonist Cheryl Fries

The Composer
Cuban-born composer and conductor Tania León has had a diverse career as a musician, conductor, champion for cultural diversity, and advisor for arts and educational organizations. After arriving in the United States as a Cuban refugee in 1967, León not only made New York City her home, but left a lasting legacy on the cultural scene of the vibrant city. Beginning in 1969, León became the Artistic Director of Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem, and would go on to create the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert series, serve as Latin American music advisor to the American Composers Orchestra, and serve as New Music Advisor at the New York Philharmonic from 1993–97. A dedicated advocate for diversity, León founded and served as Artistic Director of Composers Now, an organization designed to empower composers and amplify the diversity of their work and voices.

The Music
León found inspiration for her chamber orchestra piece Ácana in Cuban Laureate Poet Nicolás Guillén’s poem dedicated to the Cuban tree. Sprawling to a height of 90 feet and 3 feet wide, the ácana tree is revered for its strength and wide-spreading roots. Guillén’s poem serves as an ode to the tree that is essential to Cuban life and society. The ácana’s role is described in this poem as being the pitchfork that helps to build homes, a staff to lead people safely home, and finally the table that will hold their coffins. This message of unity with the nature of our homelands couldn’t resonate more today, in a time where our ecosystems are continually being threatened by global warming. León undoubtedly found inspiration in this universal message, and her love for her native Cuba can be heard throughout the piece in the vibrant dance rhythms found in the percussion and the upper woodwinds. León successfully creates a multi-dimensional atmosphere using varying textures and motives. This is my first time playing Tania León’s Ácana and I’m excited to transport you to the rainforests of Cuba and immerse you in the bustling life of León’s birthplace, Havana, with this exhilarating piece.

Ácana
Nicolás Guillén

Allá dentro, en el monte,
donde la luz acaba,
allá en el monte adentro,
ácana.
 
Ay, ácana con ácana,
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana.
El horcón de mi casa.
 
Allá dentro, en el monte,
ácana,
bastón de mis caminos,
allá en el monte adentro . . .
 
Ay, ácana con ácana
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana.
 
Allá dentro, en el monte,
donde la luz acaba,
tabla de mi sarcófago,
allá en el monte adentro . . .
 
Ay, ácana con ácana,
con ácana;
ay, ácana con ácana . . .
Con ácana.
Inside there, on the mountain,
where the light ends,
there in the mountains,
acana.
 
Ay, acana with acana,
with acana;
ay, acana with acana.
The pitchfork of my house.
 
Inside there, on the mountain,
acana,
staff of my ways,
there in the mountains . . .
 
Ay, acana with acana
with acana;
ay, acana with acana.
 
Inside there, on the mountain,
where the light ends,
table of my sarcophagus,
there in the mountains . . .
 
Ay, acana with acana,
with acana;
ay, acana with acana . . .
With acana.

Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite (after Bizet’s opera)

Notes by TŌN percussionist Luis Herrera Albertazzi

The Composer
Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin is a Russian composer and pianist. Born into a musical family, he was introduced to music from a very early age by his father, who was a composer and music theory teacher. Shchedrin attended the Moscow Choral School and the Moscow Conservatory as a composition and piano major. His early compositions are mostly tonal. Often, little excerpts of Russian folk music can be heard in his writings, a common musical choice of composers of his time, with Shostakovich being the best example of it. His later compositions explore the world of serialism and some aleatoric techniques. As a pianist, Shchedrin premiered the first three of his six piano concertos, including a recording with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra. After the fall of the Soviet regime, Shchedrin took advantage of the new opportunities for international travel and musical collaboration, and now divides his time between Munich and Moscow.

The Ballet
Arranged for strings, timpani, and four percussionists, Shchedrin’s Carmen Ballet for strings & percussion (after Bizet’s opera) is his best-known work. He was approached by Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso and was asked to write the music for a Carmen ballet. Shchedrin was hesitant about the idea, especially because according to him, Alonso was ignoring the fact that the story of Carmen had become inseparable from Bizet’s opera. In addition to this, Dimitri Shostakovich had already turned down the opportunity to write this ballet before the project was accepted by Shchedrin. Like the other four ballets composed by Shchedrin, Carmen was designed with his wife, Bolshoi prima ballerina Maya Pilsetskaya, in mind.

The Music
Shchedrin’s Carmen combines musical excerpts from three of Bizet’s works (Carmen, Incidental music for L’Arlésienne, and the opera La Jolie Fille de Perth) to form his suite of 13 separate numbers. Shchedrin described the work as “not simply a slavish obeisance to the genius of Bizet, but rather an attempt at a creative meeting of two minds.” The ballet was banned right after its first performance and called an insult to Bizet’s masterpiece, and for the sexualization of Carmen’s character. Percussionists, like myself, are quite familiar with Bizet’s Carmen, because there are a couple of excerpts for auxiliary instruments (tambourine, triangle) that we are regularly asked to perform in orchestral auditions.

Arvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten

Notes by TŌN violinist Sabrina Parry

The Composer
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is particularly well known today for his creation of the musical technique named “tintinnabuli.” Pärt began his piano studies at the age of three and went on to attend the Rakvere Music School and Tallinn Music School as a teenager. After a brief two years of mandatory military service for the Soviet Army he finished his schooling, with many compositions from this time still being acknowledged today.

Tintinnabuli
In his 20s, Pärt worked as a sound engineer and found himself experimenting with many of the compositional techniques and styles that were in vogue at the time, but not lingering amongst them. In 1976, after many years of turmoil and self-discovery, as well as an obsession with early music such as Gregorian chant and Renaissance music, he birthed the musical technique “tintinnabuli.” From the Latin tintinnabulum, a bell, when used, this technique brings together both melody and triad to create a united ensemble. This distinct method has been used by Pärt in his compositions for nearly 40 years, with one of his earliest examples being the Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, which you will hear today.

In Memory of Benjamin Britten
Pärt learned of Benjamin Britten’s passing while listening to the radio one day in 1976. While the two had no personal connection, Pärt said, “Why should the date of Benjamin Britten’s death [December 4, 1976] touch such a chord in me? Evidently it was only in that moment that I matured enough to realize the magnitude of such a loss. Inexplicable feelings of duty, or even more than that, arose in me—I had just discovered Britten for myself. Not a very long time before his death, I recalled my impression of his music’s rare purity.”

The Music
Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra and bell, premiered in 1977 and was written using tintinnabuli, as well as canon. In this six-minute work, Pärt used the A-minor scale in a descending pattern that is repeated, beginning with the violins, after three tolls of the bell. Each subsequent entrance of this scale is an octave lower and half the tempo of the preceding line, creating five layers out of one simple scale. The culminating sound created by these techniques in the string orchestra juxtaposed with the bell create a lush and hypnotic melody, very pleasing to the ear and emanating a churchly atmosphere.

Frank Martin’s Petite symphonie concertante

Notes by TŌN harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman

The Composer
Born in 1890, Frank Martin was one of the leading Swiss composers of his time. He not only composed his music, but also performed many of his own works while on tour as a pianist and harpsichordist. His compositional style resembles that of Johann Sebastian Bach with a twist of early-20th-century French composers. He wrote many sacred vocal works, which may be due to the fact that his father was a priest, but he also composed on secular subjects. Though Martin’s output on vocal works is prominent, he was very prolific in instrumental compositions that are now staples in the international concert repertoire. His Petite symphonie concertante is by far his most widely respected work.

The Origin of the Work
The Petite symphonie concertante was composed in 1945 from a request made by Paul Sacher. Sacher did not micromanage how the piece was to be composed, but his one specific request was that plucked basso continuo instruments were to be employed along with standard string instruments. From here, Martin decided to use instruments that are still common today, which included harp, piano, and harpsichord. These three instruments are the soloists of the work while the remaining strings are split into two equally important groups.

The Music
Martin composed a second version of this piece that did not include solo instruments and was for full symphony orchestra. He believed that this work would not be performed often due to its uncommon orchestration; however, Martin’s belief turned out to be erroneous. The original version that you will be hearing today is the more frequently performed of the two versions. I find that its unusual combination of instruments makes this piece all the more intriguing. In addition to the exquisite pacing and shape, the atmosphere Martin sets in each section draws you into his world for the full 21 minutes. The opening resembles a concerto with the three solo instruments accompanying each other while the remaining strings are supporting them. In the next section, the music moves in a slow, improvisatory style, then turns into a spirited march ending the piece. While I enjoy the entire work, my favorite moment is around the 14-minute mark, after a slow chordal introduction in the harpsichord. Listen closely and you will hear why.