September 30, 2016 • Grand Opening of the Antonia Brico Stage
Concert program notes by Callista Medland
Leonore Overture No. 3, Op 72b
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770. His father, who struggled with alcoholism his whole life, was a sometimes brutal task-master when it came to Beethoven’s musical teachings.
Beethoven’s first public recital was at age 7.5 — although his father announced him as only 6, thus causing some confusion for Beethoven later in life about his own age. His first published composition of a set of piano variations came at age 12. And his first paid position was at at age 14 as the assistant court organist of the Electorate of Cologne.
In 1792, he went to Vienna, where he studied with Haydn, Salieri, and Albrechtsberger.
By the turn of the century at the age of 30, Beethoven confessed to close friends that he was going deaf. Despite what may seem impossible odds, his most famous works were composed during the last 10 years of his life, when he was completely deaf. These works included his Ninth Symphony, one of the most widely recognized pieces of classical music to this day. While he had many personal struggles leaving him miserable and alone for much of his adult life, Beethoven is widely accepted as the most important musical figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
Beethoven’s only opera, Leonore (later re-worked and re-titled Fidelio), took 10 years to develop. He wrote a total of four different overtures; the third emerged as a standalone work that is often performed by symphony orchestras, as we are doing this evening.
The opera’s story centers around Leonore, who disguises herself as a young man to rescue her husband from prison where he has been held for political reasons.
After the final version of Fidelio was released, Beethoven is known to have revealed to colleagues that he was dissatisfied with it. Audiences, however, continue to love Fidelio and Leonore’s third overture.
Trumpet Concerto in E-Flat Major
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778–1837)
Johann Nepomuk Hummel was an Austrian composer first known for piano performance and compositions.
Starting at age 8, he studied with Mozart, giving his first performance at one of Mozart’s concerts when he was 9 years old. He also studied with Haydn, who composed a piano sonata for him in 1791. During Beethoven’s time in Vienna, Hummel became a colleague and friend.
While Hummel has not made it into the group of composers very widely known today, he was very well regarded during his time, and held prestigious positions in the Esterhazy court, such as Konzertmeister (concertmaster) and Kapellmeister (the guy in charge of music-making), which he essentially took over for Haydn. Unlike Beethoven, who bridged the gap from the Classical into the Romantic era, Hummel was firmly rooted in the classical tradition for his compositions.
ABOUT THE MUSIC
While the bulk of Hummel’s compositions were for piano, his Trumpet Concerto has continued to be quite popular. It was originally written for Anton Weidinger, the creator of the valved trumpet — what we currently see as an ordinary trumpet. This invention opened up many possibilities, including the ability to play chromatic scales throughout the instrument’s range, which was also extended by the additional of valves.
Premiered on New Year’s Day in 1804, the concerto was originally composed in E Major, but soon thereafter was transposed to E-Flat Major, thus making it easier for the soloist to play (although a bit more difficult for the accompanying strings!).
In form, the piece conforms to the standard three movement format of most concertos. The majestic opening movement, Allegro, is in sonata form. The middle movement, Andante, is slow and lyrical, and showcases the softer colors of the instrument. Allegro moto, the third and final movement, begins without a gap after the second movement (attaca), and is a fast, virtuosic ride to the end.
Overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Richard Wagner (1813–1883)
German composer Richard Wagner was born in Leipzig. During his youth, he was exposed to theatre by his stepfather and composed his first opera Die Feen (The Fairies) at age 20.
Throughout his lifetime, he composed 13 full-length operas and authored all of his own libretti (which is the lyrics, like a screenplay for an opera). One of Wagner’s best-known compositional contributions to classical music is his use of the leitmotif. These small snippets are melodic themes representing characters, and recur throughout each opera. For a more modern example of the use of leitmotifs, check out the wildly popular PBS series Downton Abbey — it’s full of them!
ABOUT THE MUSIC
The plot of the opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Master-Singers of Nuremberg) is a lighthearted one, and Wagner’s only attempt at a comedic opera. A young woman is to be the prize of the winner of a contest by the mastersingers, and tells this to Walther, a young knight. Many hoped to win the contest with their song, drama and conflict ensues, but young love prevails when Walther wins Eva’s hand.
The overture was composed before Wagner wrote the opera, which didn’t premiere until 1868. It was written during a train trip in 1862 and served as a sketch of what was to come. This optimistic and stately piece introduces themes for the mastersingers and apprentices, as well as Walther’s prize song. The thematic material is stitched together so seamlessly though, that the piece can stand alone without the opera, as most of Wagner’s overtures do.
Symphony No. 5 in C Major
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Premiered December 22, 1808, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was played during the second half of the concert; his Sixth was on the first half of the program.
After the immense popularity of his Third Symphony, Eroica, the Fifth and Sixth had a lot to live up to. The premiere was with an underprepared orchestra that only rehearsed once, in a hall that was cold, for an audience that grew exhausted by the end of the lengthy program. As a result, the piece didn’t receive critical accolades. However, within the next few years, the piece received praise and developed a following.
Today, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is often performed at inaugural concerts. We are keeping with this tradition by performing it for you tonight at our inaugural concert on the Antonia Brico Stage.
Structure and Theory
Perhaps the most widely recognized motif in classical music today: Da-Da-Da-Dun!
The short-short-short-long pattern appears all over the first movement, including through a technique known as inversion. The ‘long’ in the pattern is a lower pitch than the ‘short-short-short.’ Inversion would use the same rhythmic pattern, but have the shorts leading to a higher pitched ‘long.’ Listen closely — you will hear short-short-short-long examples throughout the entire symphony. The first movement is structured in Sonata Form, the predominant structure in instrumental music between the Classical and 20th Century eras of music.
The second movement is a slower, lyrical contrast to the opening movement, and is of the Theme & Variation form (playing many variations of a central theme). Unlike a typical theme & variation, this movement actually contains variations on two themes. The first theme is stated by the low strings, who are soon joined by the upper strings, and accompanied by the winds. A short second theme follows, after which the winds and brass restate a variation of the first theme. Keep listening for the many different ways that Beethoven writes each theme!
In the third movement, Beethoven adds a fresh perspective to the more traditional Minuet & Trio form (ternary), implementing instead a Scherzo & Trio. Returning to our home key of C minor, you’ll certainly also notice a return of our short-short-short-long motif.
The final movement, also in a version of sonata form, follows the third without pause (attaca).
Some have alluded to the short-short-short-long motif representing fate knocking at the door. This triumphant movement is in C major (rather than the expected C minor of the first movement), and contains a long concluding passage making it exciting to the last note.