History of the Music
History of the Music
By Jeff Counts
Duration: 8 minutes.
THE COMPOSER – PAULO COSTA LIMA (b. 1954) – As a renowned composer and scholar, Brazilian-born Paulo Costa Lima regularly explores the conflation of art and culture and the ways the politics of imperialism are reflected in both. It is through this post-colonialist lens that Costa Lima often uses music to resist the continued southward creep of European and American dominance. In doing so, his compositional voice toys with the juxtapositions of the intellectual and the emotional, the elite and the popular, the traditional and the modern. It also reflects a lifelong interest in Brazilian folk traditions (Afro-Brazilian heritage in particular) and a desire to reckon with what he calls the cultural plurality present in most contemporary South American art music.
THE HISTORY – Costa Lima’s program note (translated here by Alex Olegnowicz) for the world premiere states: “The work Oji – Chegança e ímpeto is structured around the metaphor the Atlantic crossing.” Taking the great musicologist Gerard Bèhague’s saying as inspiration, “…and that is how, through ethics and aesthetics, Africa civilized Brazil…,” this work imagines the crossing from its first moments with its departure rituals, its complex navigation, its whirlwind of contradictions, all entangled in a daro de lansã rhythm that appears in the high seas and leads finally to the no less fiery dance of arrival. This ends the Atlantic crossing yet establishes our own destiny and further contradictions on land, something that is suggested in the end by the noise of the wind machine. The whirlwind continues and, in this way, the famous couplet Iansã: Agbara nino afefe (the force within the wind) represents the active, irresistible force that moves all of the particles within the people, and reflects in us a utopian society and nation. Commissioned by OSESP (Symphony Orchestra of the State of São Paulo) in 2019, this work and its “whirlwind” were imagined in dialogue with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (to which it refers). Its palette of gestures brings together transformations and derivations of Afro-Brazilian rhythmic patterns, variations of melodic gestures that suggest the “Ndemburê” song of Angolan tradition and an assortment of related textures and syntax (all informing the ongoing dialogue between African tradition and the habits of contemporary concert music). All of this allows an appropriate connection to the larger metaphor of the crossing. “I went through one door and went out through another; the Lord my King, tell me another…”
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 2019, UK Prime Minister Theresa May resigned, The U.S. Women’s Soccer team won the FIFA World Cup, China landed a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon, and the first proven malaria vaccine was introduced in Malawi.
THE CONNECTION – These concerts represent the U.S. premiere of Costa Lima’s Oji – Chegança e ímpeto.
Duration: 34 minutes in three movements.
THE COMPOSER – PIOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) – Tchaikovsky was a man quite accustomed to emotional dissonance and discomfort, and likely expected life to challenge him at every turn. And why not? It had so often obliged. But even an experienced pessimist like Tchaikovsky must have been unprepared for one of his most painful professional experiences to repeat itself so literally in 1878. His Piano Concerto No. 1 had been written in 1875 and after Nicolai Rubenstein refused to play it (and crushing the composer with one of the least graceful critiques in the history of music), the premiere had to be moved to Boston. The stage was set for an encore performance of this embarrassing drama only three short years later.
THE HISTORY – Obviously, Mr. Rubenstein was wrong about Piano Concerto No. 1. It has become an anchor work in the repertoire, a status it deserves, and its popularity among high profile pianists has never waned. Even Rubenstein himself abandoned his minority opinion eventually and added it to his repertoire. Tchaikovsky began work on the Violin Concerto in the spring of 1878 and completed it in about a month. Its dedicatee was Leopold Auer, a Hungarian virtuoso who taught at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. Years later, Auer recalled the moment when Tchaikovsky presented him with the score, already in print and already dedicated to him. “I regretted that the great composer had not shown it to me before…,” he recounted, “Much unpleasantness might then have been spared us both.” The rest of Auer’s interview is a confession of sorts, in which the violinist lists his objections to the music, but also admits he was wrong to reject the premiere. His closing comment about how it is “impossible to please everybody” intimated that he might never fully endorse a work that persisted without his unsolicited amendments. But he did, and became a real champion of the piece later in his life. For his part, Tchaikovsky spurred his wounded pride into action by publishing a second edition right away, complete with a new dedication. Adolf Brodsky knew the opportunity before him and seized it by premiering the concerto in Vienna in 1881. Brodsky apparently played beautifully, but the performance did not go over. Critical commentary from that night is as brutal as anything Rubenstein ever said and so much crueler than the merely disappointed Auer’s reaction. Tchaikovsky reportedly carried around Eduard Hanslick’s scathing indictment (complete with a comment about how it is possible to “hear” the stink of something) for months. Just like in 1875, though, everyone would be proven wrong. The Violin Concerto stands so easily now next to Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Brahms; it is difficult to imagine it was ever otherwise.
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1881, the First Boer War came to an end, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral occurred, and Scottish footballer Andrew Watson became the first black man to play international soccer.
THE CONNECTION – Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was last performed by the Utah Symphony on the Masterworks Series in 2020. Thierry Fischer conducted and Karen Gomyo was soloist.
Duration: 31 minutes in eight movements.
THE COMPOSER – SERGE PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) – Prokofiev’s work in 1941 on the ballet Cinderella jostled with an unruly host of other events and distractions – professional, personal, and global. His marriage to Lina was at a breaking point. He was uncertain about the viability of his illicit relationship with Mira Mendelson. His new opera Betrothal at a Monastery was in production. And last, but certainly not least, there was a war going on. The fantastic (and surprising) success of Romeo and Juliet had encouraged the Kirov Ballet to commission the new work a year earlier, but Prokofiev wouldn’t complete the project until 1945. His busy, complicated life continued to intervene during those four years, as did the collapsing world order.
THE HISTORY – The fact that the first two acts of Cinderella were composed during the dissolution of Prokofiev’s marriage to Lina and the start of his public life with Mira, calls certain aspects of the piece into question. He had made statements to the press about how he hoped to make the character of Cinderella a “real person” and not simply a fairy tale archetype. He wanted to see her “feeling, experiencing and moving among us.” Whether the desire to add a third dimension to his heroine was meant to confirm a new devotion to Mira or hint at some lingering sympathy for Lina, or both, is impossible to divine now. But Prokofiev was working on an autobiography during that same 1941 summer, so it seems likely the reflective mood engendered by that process found its way into Cinderella. Both the ballet and the memoir had to be shelved when Germany invaded, however, and Prokofiev soon turned his attention to an opera based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He and Mira were able to return to Moscow in 1943 and he got back to work on the ballet in due course, reckoning at last with his own delayed midnight and completing the orchestration in 1944. When the premiere finally happened in 1945 it was at the Bolshoi, not the Kirov, but the commissioning company got its turn just one year later (with a production the composer greatly preferred). Three orchestral collections were drawn from the score in 1946 as well and tonight’s compilation is based on numbers from Suites 1 and 3. The story of Cinderella is well known, but Prokofiev’s intentions for the ballet version are worth considering in light of its protracted and emotionally freighted timeline. “What I wished to express above all else in the music of Cinderella,” he claimed, “was the poetic love of Cinderella and the Prince, the birth and flowering of that love, the obstacles in its path, and finally the dream fulfilled.”
THE WORLD – Elsewhere in 1945, World War II ended, Korea split into two nations, George Orwell published Animal Farm, scientists discovered the chemical element Promethium, and penicillin became widely available for the first time.
THE CONNECTION – Music from Prokofiev’s Cinderella suites has not been featured on a Utah Symphony program since 2015. Rei Hotoda conducted.