the fields - May 11th, 7:30pm, the armory
Serenade for Wind Instruments, Op. 44
Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904)
Regarded as one of the great nationalist Czech composer of the 19th century, Antonin Dvořák earned worldwide admiration for his country’s music with his symphonies, chamber music, oratorios, and songs. Dvořák was born into a modest family; his father was a butcher and innkeeper who played zither for his guests at the inn. The eldest of eight children, Dvořák received his first music education in 1847 at his village’s school. His parents recognized his musical talent from a young age and did all they could to encourage it. He went on to study at the Prague Organ School from 1857-1859. During his time in school he was exposed to the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Wagner, which figured prominently into his compositional output.
Dvořák’s wrote his Serenade for Wind Instruments in D minor, op. 44 in 1878; it was the product of his first maturity as a composer. Even Johannes Brahms admired the piece. In a letter to violinist Joachim dated May 1879 he wrote, “Take a look at Dvořák’s Serenade for Wind Instruments. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do . . . It would be difficult to discover a finer, more refreshing impression of really abundant and charming creative talent.” Dvořák wrote the piece as an homage to Mozart, but at the same time it is full of the spirit of Czech folk music, a common quality to much of Dvořák’s music.
Tonight you will hear excerpts from first and last movement of the Serenade for Wind Instruments. The work opens with a march, a nod to Mozart and the classical tradition, but with Dvořák’s own twist. Conveniently for our performance purposes, the opening of the first movement returns in the last movement of the work, and that is where we make our cut. In the last movement the opening march gives way to a lively conclusion that is surely will not disappoint.
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60
Ludwig van Beethoven (baptised 1770-1827)
One of the most well known composers of Classical music, Ludwig van Beethoven displayed his musical talents at a very young age. His extensive compositional output includes symphonies, chamber music, solo piano music, choral works, opera, and a litany of solo instrumental pieces, among others. Beethoven was a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras of Western music, which is clearly articulated by his three periods of composition (early, middle, late).
Beethoven wrote the fourth symphony between the summer and fall of 1806. It was premiered the following March in a private performance in the Vienna home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. It is probably the least performed of Beethoven’s nine symphonies; however, that should not comment on the worth of the piece. Compared to Beethoven’s other symphonic output—especially the one’s on either side of it (Symphony no. 3 and Symphony no. 5)—it falls short of the composers innovations to the classical symphony, but when compared to the output of turn of the century composers it shines bright as a supreme achievement for orchestral writing.
Written in four movements, Symphony no. 4 follows in the steps of Haydn’s symphonic tradition with its slow introduction that erupts into a lively first movement. The second movement features a beautiful singing melody introduced in the strings, juxtaposed with a recurring rhythmic pattern, another common feature of Haydn’s symphonies. In the third movement, Beethoven thwarts the traditional minuet and trio, by replacing the minuet with a high-energy scherzo, characterized by dramatic cross-rhythms. The final movement opens with a scurrying sixteenth note pattern that defines the perpetual motion character of the finale. The symphony continues to push through the finale with a few of Beethoven’s trademark interruptions by members of the wind section, before it reaches its conclusion with a final surge of energy.
György Ligeti (1923-2006)
Born in present day Transylvania, Hungarian composer György Ligeti has earned a reputation of one of the most original, idiosyncratic, and influential composers to emerge in the second half of the 20th century. His family was unusually musical and lived in a Hungarian-speaking community in Romania, until they relocated to Hungary proper when Ligeti was a young child. Ligeti studied at the conservatory in Budapest until 1943 when, as a Jew, he was sent into a forced labor camp for the remainder of World War II. After the war he resumed his studies and joined the faculty of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest in 1950.
Written in 1951, Ligeti’s Concert Românesc (Romanian Concerto) is based on actual Romanian folk music the composer studied at the Folklore Institute of Bucharest in 1949. Like his predecessors Bartók and Kodály, Ligeti had a genuine interest in folk music. At the time of its genesis the work, with its modestly modern touches, caused quite a stir and was actually banned until 1971, when it received its first public performance. The Concerto has four continuously played short movements, each one with its own special character. The piece opens with a lyrical, pastoral introduction in the cellos and clarinets that gives way to an energetic dance in the second movement. Here, the concertmaster plays a series of “call and answers” with a rest of the string section that show off the virtuosity of the violinist as well and the signature rhythms of the Romanian folk dance tradition. The third movement hints at Ligeti’s emerging mature style. The horns mimic the sounds of the alphorn by using no valves to play their calls. At the conclusion of the third movement the finale breaks out into a whirling dervish of a Romanian-inspired dance that grows in excitement until the close of the piece.