Print this page

Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Paul Dukas

L'apprenti Sorcier ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice")
Paul Dukas
(b. 1865, Paris; d. 1935, Paris)

Composed in 1897.
Premiered on May 18, 1897 in Paris.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, two cornets, three trombones, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
Duration: approximately 12 minutes.

Paul Dukas spent his entire life in Paris as a greatly respected teacher and composer. He showed his musical aptitude early, teaching himself to play piano, and entered the Conservatoire in 1882, where he proved to be an excellent student, winning the second Prix de Rome in 1888. Though he had to abandon his formal training for a time to serve in the army, he turned that period to good use by studying many of the classical works of music, the basis upon which he later built his own compositions. (He later edited several volumes of works by Rameau, Beethoven, Couperin and Scarlatti.) After his stint in the military, he completed the overture Polyeucte, his first work to be performed publicly. The Symphony in C major followed in 1896, and he gained international recognition a year later with The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Dukas held important positions throughout his life as an instructor at the Conservatoire and as a critic, and was awarded the Legion of Honor in 1906. Stern self-criticism of his compositions led him to destroy all his unpublished manuscripts before his death, so that his small musical legacy comprises only three overtures, a symphony, an opera (Ariane et Barbe-Bleu), a ballet (La Péri), three piano works, a short Villanelle for horn and The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is based on Goethe's 1796 ballad Der Zauberlehrling, which in turn was derived from the dialogues of the second-century Greek satirist Lucian. The tale tells of a naive apprentice to a wizard who overhears the magic incantation used by his master to animate the household broom into a water-carrier. In the sorcerer's absence, the neophyte tries the spell on the broom, and - to his delight - it works. The broom marches smartly between well and water basin until the latter is full, then overflowing, then flooding - the apprentice never bothered to learn the magic words to stop his wooden servant! Not knowing what to do, he axes the broom in half, only making matters worse - now there are two water-carriers instead of one. More chopping produces more brooms. Just before the novice drowns in his own mischief, the sorcerer returns and, with a sweep of his hand and a spoken word, quiets the tumult.

Dukas captured perfectly the fantastic spirit of this poem in his colorful music. The quiet, mysterious strains of the beginning depict the wizard and his incantations, while the apprentice scurries about to lively phrases in the woodwinds. When the door slams behind the departing sorcerer (a loud whack on the timpani), the tyro is left in silence. A rumble in the low instruments signals the first stirring of the enchanted broom. The rumble becomes a galumphing accompaniment, over which the bassoons give out the main theme of the work. This melody, combined with a quicker version of the incantation theme and brass fanfares, is used to suggest the aquatic havoc being wrought in the wizard's absence. At the height of the confusion, the magician bursts through the door (the mysterious music of the opening returns to indicate his presence), and he orders the flood to subside. When peace has been restored, the apprentice receives a swift boxing of the ears to end this jovial musical tale.

Maurice Ravel

Tzigane, Rapsodie de Concert for Violin and Orchestra
Maurice Ravel
(b. 1823, Lille, France; d. 1892, Paris)

Composed for violin and piano in spring 1924; orchestrated later that year.
Premiered in the original version on April 26, 1924 by Jelly d'Aranyi in London; Mlle. d'Aranyi was also soloist in the premiere of the orchestral version on November 30, 1924 in Paris; Gabriel Pierné conducted.
Instrumentation: pairs of woodwinds and horns, trumpet, percussion, harp and strings.
Duration: approximately 10 minutes.

Exoticism had a great appeal for Maurice Ravel: he was fascinated, as was Debussy, by the Oriental and Russian music he heard as a young lad at the Paris International Exhibition of 1889; he harbored a special fondness for stimulating condiments and unusual dishes; he filled his home with chinoiserie and quaint knick-knacks from earlier times and other cultures. Among his musical compositions, his interest in exotic themes is evidenced by Daphnis et Chloé (ancient Greece), Le Tombeau de Couperin (rococo France), Mother Goose (fantasy tales), and the "Concert Rhapsody" for Violin and Orchestra, Tzigane, which evokes the colorful Gypsy idioms of Eastern Europe.

While in England in July 1922, Ravel was a guest at a soirée at which the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Aranyi participated in a performance of his Sonata for Violin and Cello. When the formal part of the evening's entertainment had been accomplished, Ravel asked Mlle. d'Aranyi to play some Gypsy melodies from her native land, and she filled the night until dawn with music that enthralled the composer. Ravel, though captivated by the passionate Hungarian music and determined to compose a new work of Gypsy cast for Mlle. d'Aranyi, had been mired in a fallow period since the end of the War, and it was almost two years before he was able to compose Tzigane.

Tzigane, which follows in the tradition of the Gypsy-inspired compositions of Liszt and Enesco, comprises several structural sections played without pause following an extended introduction for unaccompanied violin. Each section is a virtual miniature dance movement which reaches its own climax before making way for the next dance-section. The tempo of the last section goes from faster to fastest, and Tzigane ends in the bedazzling whirl of the soloist's moto perpetuo pyrotechnics. The work is filled with more than enough virtuosity to gratify the violinist and to electrify any audience: harmonics, multiple stops, pizzicati, trills and appoggiaturas abound. Ravel, with his perfect craftsmanship, set this dizzying display against a subtle orchestral background to produce a composition rich in atmosphere and filled with fiery, Gypsy enthusiasm.


Camille Saint-Saens

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 28
Camille Saint-Saëns

(b. 1835, Paris; d. 1921, Algiers)

Composed in 1863.
Premiered on April 4, 1867 in Paris, with Pablo de Sarasate as soloist.
Instrumentation: pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 9 minutes.

Camille Saint-Saëns was the Renaissance man among the great composers. His interests extended well beyond music to include the sciences (especially astronomy), theater, drawing and caricature, archeology, poetry, mathematics and literature. Philip Hale, the noted critic, left a memorable sketch of him: "He was of less than average height, thin, nervous, sick-faced, with a great and exposed forehead, hair habitually short, beard frosted. His eyes were almost level with his face. His eagle-beak would have excited the admiration of Sir Charles Napier, who once exclaimed: 'Give me a man with plenty of nose.' Irritable, whimsical, ironical, paradoxical, indulging in sudden changes of opinion, he was faithful to his friends, appreciative of certain rivals, kindly disposed toward young composers, zealous in practical assistance as well as verbal encouragement. [He was] a man that knew the world and sparkled in conversation; fond of society; at ease and on equal terms with leaders in art, literature, fashion."

Camille Saint-Saëns, himself a brilliant pianist, wrote ten concertos - five for his own instrument, three for violin and two for cello. In addition, there are numerous smaller concerted pieces scattered throughout his large body of work, including the Havanaise and the popular Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for violin. The latter was composed in 1863 for the great Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate, for whom Saint-Saëns also wrote the Third Violin Concerto in 1880. The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is prefaced by a doleful opening section (marked "malinconico" - "melancholy"-in the score), after which the spirited main rondo theme is presented by the soloist. This section of the work is based on the stirring rhythms of the Spanish dance from Aragon, the jota, perhaps in tribute to Sarasate's native land. The work is a sterling display of the violin's technical possibilities balanced by Saint-Saëns' unerring sense of musical form and good taste.

Camille Saint-Saiens

Symphony No. 2 in A Minor, Opus 55
Camille Saint-Saëns
(b. 1835, Paris; d. 1921, Algiers)

Composed in 1859.
Premiered on March 25, 1860 in Paris by the Société des Jeunes Artistes, conducted Jules Pasdeloup.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 23 minutes

Camille Saint-Saëns was one of the most prodigiously gifted musicians France ever produced. Saint-Saëns' father died just three months after the boy was born in Paris in 1835, and little Camille went with his mother to live with her aunt, a piano teacher who started the toddler on the instrument when he was three and taught him so effectively that he was composing little pieces by five and two years later was accepted by the noted pedagogue Camille-Marie Stamaty, a student of Kalkbrenner and Mendelssohn and the teacher of Gottschalk. Saint-Saëns made his formal debut in the Salle Pleyel at the age of ten playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 and Mozart's Concerto in B-flat major, K. 450 (for which he wrote his own cadenza) and then offered as encores any of Beethoven's 32 sonatas; he played everything from memory. He soon thereafter gave a command performance for King Louis Philippe, demonstrated remarkable precocity in theory and composition, studied French classics, religion, Latin, Greek, mathematics, astronomy, archaeology and philosophy, and in 1848 was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, where he won the friendship of Bizet, Gottschalk and Guiraud and the admiration of Liszt, Rossini and Berlioz (who quipped that "he knows everything but lacks inexperience"). He wrote a Symphony in A major (not numbered) in 1850, even before he had started formal composition lessons with Fromental Halévy at the Conservatoire, and his First Symphony, Op. 2, three years later.

After completing his studies at the Conservatoire in 1853 (he was seventeen), Saint-Saëns was appointed organist at the Church of St. Merry, burial place of the 7th-century Saint Médéric, and there composed several pieces of service music, a piano quartet, songs, a concert overture and a symphony titled "Urbs Roma" ("City of Rome"), which won a competition and which he performed in his conducting debut but then withdrew and never published. (It became available only in 1974 and, like the A major Symphony of 1850, bears no number.) In 1857 he assumed the prestigious organist's post at the Church of the Madeleine, where he became known during the two decades of his tenure as one of his generation's foremost performers and improvisers on that instrument while also establishing himself among Europe's leading composers and piano virtuosos.

In 1859, Saint-Saëns composed his Symphony No. 2 in A minor, Op. 55, the fourth of his five works in the form, a series capped by the justly celebrated Symphony No. 3, "Organ," of 1886. The work was premiered on March 25, 1860 by the Société des Jeunes Artistes, an orchestra recently formed from young Conservatoire graduates by the influential conductor and faculty member Jules Pasdeloup. The A minor Symphony was published by Durand in 1878, and performed with great success during Saint-Saëns' tour the following year to Leipzig, Milan, London and other European music capitals. The first movement is woven almost entirely from the chain-of-thirds motive that rises and falls through the halting gestures of the introduction before being forged into the strongly rhythmic and rather stormy main theme. The theme is given a precise fugal treatment (Saint-Saëns, only 24 and still a relatively new Conservatoire graduate, was not averse to showing off his excellent training in counterpoint) and becomes the subject of almost continuous development as the movement unfolds; the only additional thematic element is a smoother phrase in dotted rhythms first heard in the strings when the music's mood temporarily brightens. The brief Adagio, an intermezzo rather than a full-scale movement, is in the nature of a quiet minuet, more memory than dance, with a complementary strain led by the English horn providing a wistful intervening moment. The Scherzo follows the expected progression through its energetic opening section and its contrasting trio, which features an infectiously syncopated melody in the woodwinds, but suddenly becomes curiously introverted and almost mysterious, with soft pizzicatos and thematic fragments suggesting a ghostly development of the trio rather than the usual reprise of the initial Scherzo. The finale, probably inspired by the last movement of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, is a propulsive tarantella, the traditional Italian dance whose exertions are said to rid the body of the poisonous bite of the tarantula spider. The movement is based, rondo-like, around the returns of its whirling theme, with an extended development section at the center and a slow passage inserted just before the end that echoes the Adagio's minuet. The Symphony comes to a quick and fiery close.

Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel
(b. 1875, Ciboure, France; d. 1937, Paris)

Composed in 1928.
Premiered on November 20, 1928 in Paris, conducted by Walter Straram.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, oboe d'amore (alto oboe), English horn, E-flat clarinet, two B-flat clarinets, bass clarinet, three saxophones, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, harp, and strings.
Duration: approximately 16 minutes.

"Ravel's Boléro I submit as the most insolent monstrosity ever perpetrated in the history of music," fumed the critic Edward Robinson in 1932. He was hardly the only music lover disparaging the piece when it was new - the composer himself informed his colleague Arthur Honegger, "I have written only one masterpiece. That is the Boléro. Unfortunately, it contains no music." When told that a woman at the Paris premiere had pointed in his direction and cried out, "He is mad," Ravel smiled, and said that she truly understood the work.

Despite critical misgivings, however, the public, always the ultimate arbiter, made Boléro one of the most popular pieces of concert music written in the 20th century. Within weeks of its American premiere, it carried Ravel's name and music to more ears than had any of his other works of the preceding four decades: virtually every major American orchestra scheduled Boléro for immediate performance; six recordings appeared simultaneously; the melody was arranged for jazz bands and just about every conceivable instrument and ensemble, including solo harmonica; it appeared in a Broadway revue and a cabaret; it served as background music for the 1934 film of the same name starring Carole Lombard and George Raft, as well as another Hollywood effort of more recent vintage in which Dudley Moore pursued a beautiful fantasy on a beach in Mexico. Even the city fathers of Ravel's home town were moved to name the street on which he was born in his honor. Soon after the Paris orchestral premiere in 1930, Ravel was in Monte Carlo with the conductor Paul Paray. When they walked past the Casino, Paray suggested, "Let's go in and play." Ravel replied, "No. I have played, and I don't play any more. I have won." Indeed he had.

Ravel originated what he once called his "danse lascive" at the suggestion of Ida Rubinstein, the famed ballerina who also inspired works from Debussy, Honegger and Stravinsky. Rubinstein's balletic interpretation of Boléro, set in a rustic Spanish tavern, portrayed a voluptuous dancer whose stomps and whirls atop a table incite the men in the bar to mounting fervor. With growing intensity, they join in her dance until, in a brilliant coup de théâtre, knives are drawn and violence flares on stage at the moment near the end where the music modulates, breathtakingly, from the key of C to the key of E. So viscerally stirring was the combination of the powerful music and the ballerina's suggestive dancing at the premiere that a near-riot ensued between audience and performers, and Miss Rubinstein narrowly escaped injury. The usually reserved Pitts Sanborn reported that the American premiere, conducted by Arturo Toscanini at Carnegie Hall on November 14, 1929, had a similar effect on its hearers: "If it had been the custom to repeat a number at a symphonic concert, Boléro would surely have been encored, even at the risk of mass wreckage of the nerves."

Of the musical nature of this magnificent study in hypnotic rhythm and orchestral sonority, Ravel wrote in 1931 to the critic M.D. Calvocoressi, "I am particularly desirous that there should be no misunderstanding about this work. It constitutes an experiment in a very special and limited direction, and should not be suspected of aiming at achieving anything different from or anything more than it actually does achieve. Before its first performance, I issued a warning to the effect that what I had written was a piece lasting about seventeen minutes and consisting wholly of 'orchestral tissue without music' - of one long, very gradual crescendo. There are no contrasts, there is practically no invention except the plan and the manner of execution. The themes are altogether impersonal ... folktunes of the usual Spanish-Arabian kind, and (whatever may have been said to the contrary) the orchestral writing is simple and straightforward throughout, without the slightest attempt at virtuosity.... I have carried out exactly what I intended, and it is for listeners to take it or leave it."

Back to Top

©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda