The Orchestra Reborn

The Phoenix Blog

A little about the pieces we will be playing...

Hello everyone,

Have you ever wanted to know a little bit about the pieces you will be hearing at the upcoming concert? If you have, this blog post is for you!

Christina, our Admin Director, who also happens to be a brilliant musicologist, put together program notes for you so that if you wanted, you could read up on it before the concert!

Here it is, and we can't wait to see you tonight at the concert! --Janny

Dectet for Winds, Op. 14 George Enescu (1881-1955)

Born in 1881, George Enescu was one of Romania’s greatest treasures. A composer, violinist, and conductor, Enescu completed his studies in Vienna and Paris under the tutelage of Fuchs, Massenet, Fauré, and Gédalge, among others. After his schooling was complete, in 1899, Enescu split his professional life between France and Romania, and divided his time between performing as a violinist and working as a composer. Enescu’s compositional output extends to only 33 opus numbers, a reflection of both his busy life as a performer and his obsession with perfection.

Enescu’s compositional style was influenced by many of the great Romantic-era composers including: Schumann, Brahms, Fauré, Wagner, and Strauss. He was also quite passionate about the integration of his Romania heritage, and turned to folk music like many of his Polish, Hungarian, and English contemporaries. However, instead of directly quoting parts of the folk music in full, Enescu used a technique of superimposing melodic content in order to create a more organic technique.

The Dectet for Winds (sometimes called by its French name Dixtour) was written in 1906, shortly after Enescu graduated from the Paris Conservatoire. Written as three movements, tonight you will hear the third movement entitled: Allegrément, mais pas trop vit. This finale makes a few nods to the music of Brahms, especially his second symphony, and also makes use of Wagnerian harmonies that showcase the magnificence of a consort of ten winds. It is bright, fast, and full of euphoria—a perfect jumping off point for tonight’s concert!

Symphony No. 92 in G Major, “Oxford” Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Commonly known as the “father of the symphony, “ Austrian composer Joseph Haydn is celebrated as one of the first three “Viennese Classics,” the other two being Mozart and Beethoven. With an output of over 100 symphonies, Haydn is regarded as the most productive and historically important symphonic composer. After spending the early part of his career in Vienna (1750-61), Haydn spent the majority of his time working at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy in Hungary (1761-90). This period was followed by his time in London (1791-95), before the final return to Vienna for the last fourteen years of his life.

Almost the entirety of Haydn’s symphonic output was written for the castle orchestra at Esterháza, and until 1779 his contract with the Esterházy family prohibited performance outside of said orchestra. However, once word of mouth allowed Haydn’s fame to grow, his contract was amended to allow outside commissions. The first of these commissions were the six “Paris” symphonies (No. 82-87), commissioned by Count d’Ogny. As a result of their success Haydn was immediately asked to write three more symphonies, Symphony No. 92 being one of them (symphonies 90-92). Haydn completed Symphony No. 92 in 1789. While Paris has some claim to this symphony, it was one of the works that Haydn brought with him to London in 1791. After quickly gaining popularity in London, Haydn chose to perform Symphony No. 92 when he received his honorary doctorate of music at Oxford University in July 1791, thus earning it the moniker “Oxford.”

Written in four movements, Symphony No. 92—like many of Haydn’s mature symphonies—begins with a slow introduction to the Allegro spiritoso. Composed in sonata form, this spirited first movement knits together a series of themes, showing Haydn’s command over thematic integration and innovation. The second movement, Adagio, paints an idyllic world that gets interrupted by the unexpected minor-key entrances of the trumpets and timpani—unexpected, since these instruments were normally marked tacet in Classical era slow movements—and some dramatic pauses. The dramatic pauses continue to reign in the Minuet and Trio, highlighting the blatant syncopation that undermines the conventional dance rhythms of the minuet. The Trio begins with stubborn off-beat entrances in the horns and bassoons that challenge the anticipated dance rhythms, which only come to fruition in time for the return to the Minuet. The final Presto possesses a bustling melodious theme that Haydn crafts into a magnificent sonata form movement.

Salut d’Amour, Op. 12 Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

Inspired by his country’s culture and landscape as well as his colleagues on the Continent, English composer Edward Elgar produced an impressive output of music throughout his career. Elgar was born into a family of little means; his father, an organist, owned a small music shop, and made sure that all of his seven children received a musical upbringing.

Elgar originally composed his Salut d’Amour as an engagement present to his future wife, Caroline Alice Roberts, in 1888 after she gave him two poems for the same occasion. It was originally entitled Liebesgruss (Love’s Greeting) and written for piano. In the same year he arranged the work for violin and piano, and soon after, in 1889, he orchestrated the work. All three versions (solo piano, violin and piano, and orchestral) were published by Schott and renamed Salut d’Amour, with Elgar’s permission. A breakthrough for the composer, Salut d’Amour sold quite well once Schott Frenchified both the title of the work as well as the name of the—at the time unknown—composer, writing Ed. Elgar instead of Edward Elgar.

Salut d’Amour is now one of Elgar’s most widely recognized pieces, and its popularity has led to arrangements for almost every instrument. Tonight you will hear Elgar’s fully orchestrated version. This short work utilizes a very simple, tuneful melody that beautifully weaves its way around the orchestra. It is an incredibly sentimental piece that tears on your heartstrings just a little, and gives you a glimpse of the love that Elgar felt.

Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 Classical Sergey Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Born in 1891, composer and pianist Sergey Prokofiev was a revolutionary artist both deeply rooted in his Russian heritage and willing to push the boundaries of its traditions. Like many of his countrymen he left his homeland after the October Revolution in 1917 and spent time in the United States (1918-22) and Europe (1922-36) before he returned to the Soviet Union in 1936. He remained there until his death, March 5th 1953, which went virtually unnoticed since Joseph Stalin died the same day. Prokofiev’s musical output includes: seven operas, seven symphonies, eight ballets, five piano concertos, two violin concertos, one cello concerto, and nine piano sonatas, among other works.

Prokofiev began working on his Symphony No. 1, Classical in 1916. He wrote most of it the following year, and completed it on September 10, 1917. Prokofiev himself gave it the subtitle, Classical, and remarked, “I though that if Haydn were alive today he would compose just as he did before, but at the same time would include something new in his manner of composition. I wanted to compose such a symphony: a symphony in the classical style.” He premiered the work, conducting from the podium, on April 21, 1918 in Petrograd (St. Petersburg). The symphony is in four movements, and is an early nod to neo-classicism; however, the term wasn’t officially used until 1923 when it was applied to Stravinsky as a reaction to his Pulcinella (1919-20). The Classical Symphony is written in sunny D Major—despite the tense background of the Russian Revolution—for a Haydn or Mozart sized orchestra (strings, double winds, no low brass).

In typical Classical period fashion the opening Allegro conforms to a sonata form. As a twist it makes use of Prokofiev’s idiomatic 20th Century harmonies, and undermines the tonic D Major constantly, sending the listener on a tonal roller coaster. The Larghetto is quite lively and full of wit with its continuous running sixteenth notes. It eschews the overtly sentimental slow movements of the great Romantic era composers. The Gavotte replaces the traditional minuet and trio. It is a nod all to the Baroque era, in its over stylized dance form, and later will find itself recycled and expanded in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The closing Molto Vivace is also a sonata form movement, and recalls the same driving force of many of Haydn’s symphonies. This movement is a direct result of Prokofiev experimenting with composing away from the piano, and places quite a technical demand on many of the instruments, especially the first violins.

Matt SzymanskiComment