Notes: November 20

Posted on Nov 5, 2015 in Program Notes
Notes: November 20

November 20, 2015 • Inextinguishable

Program notes by Leigh Townsend

LOCKLAIR Phoenix for Orchestra (2007)

LocklairWorking from Winston-Salem, NC, Dr. Dan Locklair (b.1949) is a composer and educator currently serving as Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University. In an article from 2007, the native North Carolinian describes the origin and evolution, as well as some listening notes, of PHOENIX for orchestra:

PHOENIX for orchestra began its life as a three-minute fanfare entitled, PHOENIX Fanfare. It was commissioned in 1979 . . . for the 3 February 1980 reopening and dedication of Union’s renovated James Memorial Chapel. Since the Chapel had been virtually gutted and rebuilt, a title evoking the mythological bird that rose from the ashes seemed most appropriate. From the beginning, the piece was conceived as an antiphonal composition, with the original brass sextet placed in a rear balcony, while the organ and percussion were located in the front of James Chapel. . . .

In the autumn of 2006, Winston-Salem Symphony Music Director, Robert Moody, heard a concert performance of the original version of PHOENIX Fanfare and Processional and, soon afterwards, phoned to ask if I would consider creating a version of it for orchestra. . . . I then agreed to transcribe the work for orchestra, with work on the piece spanning December 2006 to early March 2007. . . . PHOENIX for orchestra is warmly dedicated to the Winston-Salem Symphony and its conductor, Robert Moody.

PHOENIX for orchestra is approximately ten minutes in length. As in the original PHOENIX Fanfare, an antiphonal brass ensemble (here two trumpets and two trombones) is a vital part of the composition, with this ensemble being placed either in the rear or to both sides of the performance space. . . . As the opening bars progress, the activity of this dialoguing quickly grows to include the entire orchestra, which eventually leads to the composition’s processional-like main section. The primary, stately melodic material is first presented by the strings alone, then handed over to the antiphonal brass quartet just before all forces join together as the section regally builds. After a large climax is reached, a contrasting and delicately colored middle section for the orchestra alone emerges. After this section reaches its zenith, a variant of the opening fanfare section between the antiphonal brass and orchestral brass emerges. This section leads to a return of the primary processional-like section of the piece and, ultimately, to the piece’s majestic conclusion. [1]

[1] Locklair, D. (2007, May). PHOENIX for orchestra. Retrieved November 3, 2015, from


ELGAR Cello Concerto

Edward_ElgarBorn near Worcester, England in 1857, Edward Elgar received much of his early music training from his father who worked as a piano technician and shopkeeper selling sheet music and instruments. Despite never receiving formal composition training, he developed masterly and unconventional techniques in composition and orchestration. Elgar continually jotted down short themes and phrases, which he’d then scrap together into a larger composition. Over time, his orchestral skills improved greatly, providing finessed technique to support the creative genius elemental to his early works.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto, written in 1919, was influenced by his desire for a return to simplicity as contemporary music trended towards the modernism of Stravinsky and Hindemith. Elgar was ever true to his roots — using a beautiful melody above all else.

The four movement work opens slowly: an almost improvisatory solo cello part gives way to winds and strings, ebbing and flowing alongside the cello, and building in trajectory to the first full statement of the main theme by the entire ensemble, while the cello climbs into the stratosphere.

The first movement ends as quietly as it began and proceeds directly into the second, jauntier, movement. The bouncing accompaniment of the orchestra perfectly frames the virtuosic cello, alternately soaring and moving blisteringly fast through the high register of the instrument.

The third movement, again slow, is a continuous lamenting solo for the cello. It echoes the longing themes of the first movement, perhaps with even more poignancy.

The final movement begins with a suggestion of the first theme, but is interrupted by the solo cello. In brilliant Elgar style, the natural exuberance and joy of both orchestra and soloist are tempered by introspection and melancholy interjections. This longest of the four movements ends abruptly and with punctuation.


NIELSEN Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable”

‘Music is Life, and, like it, Inextinguishable’ – Carl Nielsen, 1916

Carl_NielsenCarl Nielsen (b. 1865, d. 1931) metaphorically rose from the ashes many times in his life. Born into a large, impoverished family in Denmark, Carl gravitated towards music. In his autobiography, he wrote, “I had heard music before, heard father play the violin and cornet, heard mother singing, and, when in bed with the measles, I had tried myself out on the little violin” [1]. Yet, his musical career almost didn’t happen. His parents decided he should apprentice as a cobbler, but the shop went bankrupt and he returned home. Having learned to play brass instruments, he joined the 16th Battalion army band. Despite these potential hurdles along the way to a career in music, he continued to practice and perform violin in his free time, and began studying with an instructor in 1881. After his release from the military in 1884, he enrolled at Copenhagen Conservatory, and by 1889, his skills markedly improved through his dedication and training, he was hired by the Royal Theater Orchestra as a section 2nd violinist, a post he kept for 16 years, although his career aspirations were always higher.

Only one year later, in 1890, he was awarded a scholarship that allowed him to travel throughout Europe seeking artistic inspiration, which he found in Anne Marie Brodersen. She was a truly modern woman, also from Denmark but studying sculpture and art in Paris. The two fell madly in love and married almost immediately.

Carl Nielsen is recognized as Denmark’s greatest composer. 

The title of the 4th Symphony, The Inextinguishable, was chosen to express what Nielsen saw as the elemental will of life; explaining that music, like life, is inextinguishable. The symphony should be understood in these terms, rather than the presence of specific programmatic elements. The symphony is scored for large woodwind and brass sections, with a double set of timpani set opposite each other as if to battle. Nielsen was attempting a more modern style to embody the fractured continuity of Denmark in 1916, and his own soul at that moment.

The first of the four linked movements opens forcefully, yet ambiguous in tonal center. All grows quieter with a passage for solo cello and the three flutes, followed by the three clarinets, leading in ascending scales from violas and muted second violins, to a passage in which the strings and woodwinds are happily joined. Nevertheless, the harmonic ambiguity continues and the instability is unquestionable from the opening in D minor/major the end in E major. An exultant passage for full orchestra, marked pesante e glorioso is followed by the introduction of a new rhythmic element, a leaping phrase heard first from the flute. The music continues in a traditional 3-part form, with a return of the initial material to mark the beginning of a triumphant recapitulation section.

The violins introduce the third movement with a strong and definitive melodic line, seemingly striving towards the eventual key of E major. This intense music is joined to the final movement by a rapid change of mood, as the strings come to a sudden rest, before the last fast section, a movement of struggle and conflict as the timpani battle it out. The opposing forces are eventually resolved; proclaiming music and the will to live as inextinguishable, although contemporary events in Europe might too easily have suggested only despair.

[1] Nielsen, Carl (1953). My Childhood. Translated from the Danish by Reginald Spink.