History of the Music
History of the Music
By Jeff Counts
Duration: 15 minutes in three movements.
THE COMPOSER – FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732–1809) – Haydn, in 1763, was still only the vice-Kapellmeister at Eisenstadt for the Esterházy family, but his logical ascension to the top job was not far off. Prince Pál Antal had only recently rescued the composer after his previous position in Count Morzin's court was dissolved for financial reasons, but the prince's death in 1762 did not negatively impact the growing devotion between the Esterházy family and Haydn. Pál Antal's brother Miklós was an avid musical connoisseur as well, and he made sure his favored composer, once he became full Kapellmeister in 1766, continued to enjoy a generous environment in which to create new works for the next 24 years.
THE HISTORY – The great majority of those new works were, of course, symphonies. The five early examples Haydn wrote during his Morzin period were a big part of what brought him to the attention of House Esterházy, so a continuation of that genre exploration was highly important to everyone. In fact, of the staggering 104 symphonies Haydn would write during his productive life, 87 of them date from his Esterházy years. That his international reputation grew so steadily during his almost three decades in a relatively remote Hungarian location was thanks in part to the professional flexibility his employers allowed. His duties at court kept him very busy, but Haydn was permitted to take occasional outside commissions like the one that produced the six "Paris" symphonies in 1785–86. Long before those high days of continental fame, however, were the more formative ones. Symphony No. 12 was composed in 1763, within a five-year stretch that yielded dozens of similar works. This extravagant pace of output has made the chronology of the low-numbered symphonies a challenge for scholars, but No. 12 has a firm birth year. On the short side, as Haydn symphonies go, No. 12 comprises three movements and features a central adagio in place of the expected minuet that is somber, harmonically unusual (for the time) and half the length of the entire piece! Despite the inclusion of such an interesting middle movement, academic commentary about Symphony No. 12 often refers to it as a "trifle" or "bit of fluff". But its admittedly dashed-off-in-a-day character does not detract from its importance in the progression of ideas Haydn was cultivating in his early 30s. He did not invent the symphony form, tempting as it is to think so, but he did perfect it and elevate it to a masterwork status worthy of later acolytes like Mozart, Beethoven, and so many others.
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1763, the Seven Year's War came to an end, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia was damaged by an earthquake, Russia invaded Circassia in the Northern Causasus, and slaves revolted against their Dutch masters in Guyana.
THE CONNECTION – Though they regularly perform Haydn Symphonies on the Masterworks Series, these concerts represent the Utah Symphony premiere of No. 12.
Duration: 17 minutes in three movements.
THE COMPOSER – ALBAN BERG (1885–1935) – For a composer whose catalogue of works was relatively slim at the time of his passing, Berg managed to make a surprisingly meaningful impact on music history. Pieces like Wozzeck, Lulu, the Violin Concerto, and the Piano Sonata not only remain in the common repertory today, they continue to influence a deeper conversation about the legacy of 20th-century composition. Berg was never fully classifiable as either avant-garde or retrograde and, not being terribly prolific, he did not enjoy the same level of early public success as the elite Viennese company he kept. But thanks to Wozzeck, that began to change in the mid 1920s. People started to notice him then, and to remark on the highly personal way he approached the formal innovations of the era.
THE HISTORY – Alban Berg's use of the 12-tone technique (in which every note in the chromatic scale gets equal melodic weight and are often not repeated until all have sounded) was generally less abstract than his teacher Arnold Schoenberg. Berg was interested in overlaying occasional tonal comforts onto the supposedly random, purely atonal system and the Violin Concerto is a great example of this practice, with its sequence of gently rising thirds. He was also prone to encoding messages into his scores and both impulses, the serial and the secret, found a home in the Lyric Suite for string quartet from 1926. The year before, Berg had traveled to Prague to hear a selection of orchestral excerpts from Wozzeck and stayed at the home of Herbert and Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. Berg had been introduced to the couple by Alma Mahler (who would eventually marry Hanna's brother Franz Werfel) and the composer was instantly taken with Mrs. Fuchs-Robettin. Alban and Hanna indulged in a brief but intoxicating love affair that, by most accounts, remained hidden from public knowledge for the next 50 years. What gave it away at last? Berg did, from the beyond. Embedded throughout the score are cyphers and references to his time with Hanna that include their initials (A.B. and H.F. transliterated into musical language as A. B-flat. and B.F.), various numerological permutations of 23 (the number of letters in his full name) and 10 (the number in hers), the superimposed text of the Baudelaire poem "De profundis clamavi" and the ultimate sonic signal for forbidden romance, the Tristan chord from Wagner's opera. The Lyric Suite was an instant hit, even though nobody yet knew its illicit extra-musical content, and Berg's publisher sought to capitalize on its popularity by asking the composer to rearrange three of the movements (2-4) for string orchestra in 1927.
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1927, Fritz Lang's Metropolis had its premiere, the Harlem Globetrotters had their road debut, Babe Ruth had his 60-homerun season, the Freedom Bridge opened in Canada, and Heisenberg formulated his Uncertainty Principle.
THE CONNECTION – This marks the Utah Symphony debut of Three Pieces from Berg's Lyric Suite
Duration: 13 minutes.
THE COMPOSER – WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756–1791) – Mozart was working simultaneously on the Requiem, the clarinet concerto, his final string quartet, and two operas during the incredibly prolific year of 1791, his last on Earth. The drama of these final creations was matched only by that of his actual life and the ill health and mysterious visits of 1791 leant an air of urgency to everything Mozart produced. It was a furious dash to the finish, the finish of an existence cut far too short after 35 brief years. Theories about the cause of Mozart's demise have varied over the years (rheumatic fever? acute miliary fever or the ridiculous but persistent typo of "military" fever?), but his wife Constanze believed he had simply worked himself to death. She would know.
THE HISTORY – Though he started it before La clemenza di Tito, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) was the last opera Mozart completed. It was a prime example of the popular dramatic style known as Singspiel (a blend of singing and spoken text) and an intellectually crafty allegory on Mozart's own Masonic associations and beliefs. The highly unusual plot details the exploits of Prince Tamino who, lost and pursued by a demon in a foreign land, is rescued by servants of the Queen of the Night. After seeing a picture of the Queen's daughter Pamina (and falling instantly in love with her), Tamino receives the eponymous instrument as a gift and sets off with the bird catcher Papageno (who has also been given a magic musical implement) to save Pamina from the evil Sarastro. Mozart would live to see Flute successfully staged and even conducted the premiere performances, but his death just months later would deprive him of knowing how lasting and important the work was meant to become. It is important to view The Magic Flute not as Mozart's personal benediction or his farewell to opera but rather as the excited, forward-looking declaration of a young genius in his prime. This is the ambitious music of a man with plans for the future, not the last rites of one who felt time slipping and hoped he had said enough. Excerpts from this great masterpiece have been put to many uses in the centuries since. In the steps of violin virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, Belgian composer Robert Fobbes made an arrangement of themes from the opera in 2018 as a gift for his flautist friend and countryman Marc Grauwels. The Fantaisie paraphrases the best moments of Mozart's drama and gives the solo flute the unenviable job of telling one of opera's strangest stories over 13 brisk minutes.
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1791, Methodist Church founder John Wesley died, the element Titanium was discovered, the Brandenburg Gate was completed in Berlin, and Thomas Paine's Rights of Man was published in London.
THE CONNECTION – Utah Opera has staged The Magic Flute periodically over the years, but these performances represent the Utah Symphony premiere of Fobbes' arrangement of the opera's themes into the Fantasy for solo flute.
Duration: 20 minutes in two movements.
THE COMPOSER – CARL NIELSEN (1865–1931) – Anyone interested in reading Carl Nielsen's own thoughts about his incredible life in music must thank his daughter Irmelin. It was at her consistent urging that he offered his one and only autobiography for publication in 1927. It was a reminiscence of his early days called "My Childhood on Funen." Also the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson, Funen is Denmark's third largest island and, in and around its fertile farmland, it boasts castles, stone age ruins, and Viking relics. The book only covers Nielsen's life up to his departure for Copenhagen to start his formal studies and, written from the distant perspective of the composer's last years, it is only fair to acknowledge that it includes the occasional embellishment.
THE HISTORY – Contemporary to the writing of the memoir for Nielsen, was a project meant to capitalize on the popularity of his Wind Quintet (1922). The intention was to create separate concerti for each of the instruments in the Copenhagen Quintet that premiered the work, but sadly for the horn, bassoon, and oboe players of the world, Nielsen never completed the set. Of the two concerti he did write, the work for flute came first. But even it was delayed. Nielsen was struggling to wrestle down his Sixth Symphony at the time, so work on the first of the wind concerti did not begin in earnest until 1926. By then, the Copenhagen Quintet had replaced flutist Paul Hagemann with Holger Gilbert-Jespersen, so a new soloist/composer relationship needed to be established. Nielsen worked on the concerto in Florence, Italy through September and much of October of 1926 and Gilbert-Jespersen performed it on October 21. It was well received (Honegger was there and reportedly liked it) but the composer found it lacking. Of particular artistic concern for Nielsen was the temporary ending he had been forced to append due to an illness he developed on his travels, so he revised the score before taking the podium himself for the second, definitive presentation later in the year. Nielsen wrote a densely in-depth program note for the Flute Concerto in 1929. Some of the highlights of that essay regarding the first movement describe how the solo flute "moves about as if seeking something" before running through various states of being that include "impassioned expressions" and "pottering around here and there" before becoming "bored" and then "quite nervous". The second movement narrative is less lengthy, but it is just as colorful, with mentions of a "maliciously" jabbing orchestra and a "child-like…innocent" soloist that meet by the end in a "lighter, more superficial, and smiling atmosphere."
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1926, the UK faced a general strike in support of the empire's coal miners, Germany signed the Treaty of Berlin with the Soviet Union, and Italian silent film star Rudolph Valentino passed away.
THE CONNECTION – Nielsen's Flute Concerto was last performed by the Utah Symphony back in 1988. Joseph Silverstein was on the podium and Erich Graf was soloist.
Duration: 22 minutes in four movements.
THE COMPOSER – LEOŠ JANÁČEK (1854–1928) – Born just 13 years after his Czech countryman Dvořák, Leós Janáček should have been an established elder statesman by the time the last decade of his life came around. He wasn't. By then, he had spent most of his career in the city of Brno (capital of his beloved Moravian homeland region), and his successes as a composer were modest until the opera Jenufa began making an international splash in 2016. From that moment forward, he enjoyed his most intensively creative period and confirmed himself as an essential artistic innovator of the 20th century, not the 19th. Important works from his last years include The Cunning Little Vixen, the two string quartets, the Glagolitic Mass, Mládí, and the Sinfonietta.
THE HISTORY – The Sinfonietta of 1926 was completed just two years before Janáček died, and it represented a culmination of ideas and ideals that were important to him throughout his life. It was 1925, the story goes, when he happened upon a military band performance in a park and imagined himself composing a set of fanfares that matched the infectious patriotic sentiment of what he was hearing. Moravia had been part of Czechoslovakia since the World War I, and a subject of the Hapsburg Empire before that, so a certain individualistic cultural honor was to be expected amongst the citizens in and around Brno. Janáček definitely felt it himself and used his fanfare inspiration to fulfill an interesting commission a few months later. The Sokol gymnastics movement was founded in Prague in 1862 and continued into the 20th century as a means of honing the bodies and minds of young Czech men and (eventually) women. Their events were quietly nationalist in spirit and provided an opportunity for Czechs of every stripe to indulge in some healthy civic pride. So, when organizers of an upcoming Sokol festival approached Janáček for a new work, he knew it would be a perfect outlet for his military band project. He dedicated the Sinfonietta to "The Czechoslovak Armed Forces" and devised a scenario of landmarks to accompany its five movements. Movement one opens, of course, with a herald of militaristic brass. Movement two portrays Špilberk Castle, while the third movement depicts the Brno Monastery. In movement four we are transported through the streets of downtown Brno during the liberation, our progress halting in the finale before the great Brno Town Hall. The fanfares invoking that special day in the park return at the end and through them we feel the bright, generous character of a man whose time came late, but was not wasted.
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1926, Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel, Hirohito was crowned Emperor of Japan, Henry Ford announced the 40-hour workweek, and Harry Houdini died on Halloween.
THE CONNECTION – Despite its popularity, Janáček's Sinfonietta has not been often performed by Utah Symphony. The most recent concerts were in 2001 with Keith Lockhart on the podium.