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Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Russell Steinberg

Cosmic Dust
Russell Steinberg
(b. Los Angeles, 1959)

World Premiere.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs plus piccolo, two horns, two trumpets, three trombone, timpani, percussion and strings.
Duration: 12 minutes.

 

Composer, conductor, lecturer, teacher and author Russell Steinberg received his baccalaureate from UCLA, master’s degree from the New England Conservatory and doctorate from Harvard; his composition teachers have included Leon Kirchner, Arthur Berger, Elaine Barkin and Kenneth Klauss. Steinberg is Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, an ensemble that includes students from over sixty LA area schools; the LAYO made its Carnegie Hall debut in February 2013 under his direction. He has taught at UCLA, given pre-concert lectures for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, New West Symphony and La Jolla Music Society SummerFest, and created AudioMaps®, an innovative approach to music listening intended for beginners as well as connoisseurs. Steinberg’s compositions, which have been performed internationally, include two symphonies, several independent orchestral pieces, works for piano, guitar, violin, cello, flute and chamber ensembles, songs and choral numbers. Among his distinctions are an ASCAPLUS Award, a Gold Medal Jury’s Choice Award at the Park City Film Music Festival (for Something True), and commissions from the Sonora Chamber Ensemble, California Association of Professional Music Teachers (CAPMT), Westchester Symphony (New York) and Hopkins Symphony (Baltimore).

Russell Steinberg wrote of Cosmic Dust, “Whether you live in a major city or remote hamlet, at night you probably still look up at the sky in search of stars. We were all child stargazers, and that wonder we first experienced is what I was after in my orchestra piece Cosmic Dust. Nowadays, the Hubble Space Telescope provides images and discoveries that stretch the limits of our imagination. Even when it points at what seems an empty patch of space, it catches the light of over 3,000 galaxies formed at the beginning of the universe! These revelations make the heavens seem even more impossibly beyond human scale and understanding.

“But then I heard Rabbi Harold Schulweis talking about mortality, and he put a whole new perspective on our fascination with astronomy. He said that in thinking of our short life span, we lament that we are but dust (we say ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’). But we must remember, he challenged, dust is not only the stuff of earth, but of stars as well. We ourselves come from stars — we are literally stardust, part of this eternal cosmic pageant. So we look up at night because we are drawn to our own origins. We gaze ultimately at ourselves.

Cosmic Dust is a single movement in four continuous sections: Magic Sky, Shooting Stars, Interstellar Dust, and Nova.
“In Magic Sky, I ask the strings to play harmonics (‘star music’). They create high bell-like tones [i.e., harmonics] by touching the fingers of their left hand very lightly on the instruments. In Shooting Stars, the strings use another effect called ricochet, where they throw the bow against the string, almost like skipping rocks over water. This section also features the timpani in more dramatic music. Interstellar Dust takes its inspiration from those incredibly colorful nebulae revealed by telescopes. You’ll hear strings, woodwinds and brass each play different chords cross-fading between each other. The calm inner part of this section features a violin solo. The final section — Nova — gathers the material from all the previous ‘star’ music and bursts forth in a joyful final fanfare.

Cosmic Dust lasts approximately twelve minutes, and may be accompanied by a slideshow of appropriate images that evoke each section of the piece. The work is commissioned by an orchestra consortium consisting of the New West Symphony (Thousand Oaks, California), Bay-Atlantic Symphony (Bridgeton, New Jersey) and Hopkins Symphony (Baltimore, Maryland).”

 

Chopin

Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra in F minor, Op. 21
Frédéric Chopin
(b. Zelazowa-Wola (near Warsaw), Poland; d. 1849, Paris)

Composed in 1829.
Premiered on March 17, 1830 in Warsaw, with the composer as soloist.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, two horns, two trumpets, bass trombone, timpani and strings.

Duration: 34 minutes.

Frédéric Chopin was nineteen and in love when he wrote this Concerto in 1829. The Concerto he handled with maturity and assurance — the love affair, he did not. When Chopin finished his studies at the Warsaw Conservatory that summer, he was already an accomplished pianist and composer. As a graduation present, his father sent him to Vienna, where he gave two successful concerts and found a publisher for his Variations for Piano and Orchestra on Mozart’s La ci darem la mano (Op. 2). It was sometime during those summer months that he began the F minor Concerto. Though he enjoyed his visit to the imperial city, his thoughts were often back in Warsaw, centered on a comely young singer, one Constantia Gladowska. In his biography of the composer, Casimir Wierzynski passed on some information about this apparently delightful lady: “She had been studying voice at the Conservatory for four years and was considered one of the school’s best pupils. She was also said to be one of the prettiest. Her regular, full face, framed in blond hair, was an epitome of youth, health and vigor, and her beauty was conspicuous in the Conservatory chorus, for all that it boasted of numbers of beautiful women. The young lady, conscious of her charms, was distinguished by ambition and diligence in her studies. She dreamed of becoming an opera singer....” Constantia was certainly a worthy object for Chopin’s affections, though she had no way to know of his interest — it took him a full year to utter a word to her.

Chopin first saw Constantia when she sang at a Conservatory concert on April 21, 1829. For the first time in his life, he fell in love. He followed Constantia to her performances, and caught glimpses of her when she appeared at the theater or in church, but never approached her. He kept his churning passion secret even from his friends. She was on his mind constantly, and the emotional rush of young love played a seminal role in the creation of his two piano concertos. On October 6th, Chopin, recently returned from Vienna, composed a waltz (Op. 70, No. 3) with the image of Constantia vivid in his mind. That evening, he was no longer able to contain his feelings, and wrote to his friend Titus
Woyciechowski, “I have — perhaps to my own misfortune — already found my ideal, whom I worship faithfully and sincerely. Six months have elapsed, and I haven’t yet exchanged a syllable with her of whom I dream every night — she who was in my mind when I composed the Adagio of my Concerto.” Chopin’s love manifested itself in giddily immature ways. He raved about Constantia’s virtues to his friends. He invited one Mrs. Beyer to dinner simply because her given name was the same as that of his beloved. He reported “tingling with pleasure” whenever he saw a handkerchief embroidered with her name. He broke off one of his letters abruptly with the syllable “Con — ,” explaining, “No, I cannot complete her name, my hand is too unworthy.”

After yet another half year of such maudlin goings-on, Chopin finally met — actually talked with — Constantia in April 1830. She was pleasant to him, and they became friends, but he was never convinced that she fully returned his ardent love. She took part in his farewell concert in Warsaw on October 11th, and he kept up a correspondence with her for a while through an intermediary. (He felt it improper to write directly to a young woman without her parents’ permission.) Her marriage to a Warsaw merchant in 1832 caused him intense but impermanent grief, which soon evaporated in the glittering social whirl of Paris, his new home.

Another woman entered the story of the Second Concerto with Chopin’s move to France — Countess Delphine Potocka, one of the grandes dames of the Parisian salons, and a lady of wealth and taste who also possessed a fine singing voice. She was one of Chopin’s earliest supporters in the French capital, and she bestowed her favors upon him in a more meaningful manner than had his young girl friend back in Warsaw. The two remained close for the rest of Chopin’s life. When she learned that he was on his deathbed in 1849, she rushed back from Italy and comforted him with her songs during his last hours. The Concerto No. 2 was dedicated to the Countess upon its publication in 1836.

The F minor Concerto was first heard at Chopin’s concert of March 17, 1830 in Warsaw’s National Theater, an occasion that also marked his official public debut as a pianist in that city. He achieved such a resounding success that he had to schedule an additional performance the following week to satisfy the audience demand. Since three full movements of a single concerto played one immediately after another were a bit too demanding for the contemporary taste, a Divertissement for French horn by Görner was inserted between the first two movements to leaven the proceedings. Despite this intrusion typical of the times (even Beethoven’s works were thus split asunder in the early 19th century), Chopin reported a fine success for the new work. “The first Allegro of my Concerto (unintelligible to most),” he wrote, with a whiff of condescension, to a friend, “received the reward of a ‘Bravo,’ but I believe this was given because people wanted to show that they understand and know how to appreciate serious music. There are people enough in all countries who like to assume the air of connoisseurs! The Adagio and Rondo produced a very great effect; after these, the applause and the ‘Bravos’ came really from the heart.” Soon after its premiere, the Concerto acquired such influential admirers as Liszt and Schumann, and has remained one of the best-loved works in the piano repertory.

Chopin based his concertos on the Romantic piano style of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Field and Ries rather than on the weightier abstract forms of Beethoven. The orchestra in these virtuoso works is, truly, accompaniment, and is virtually excluded from the musical argument once the pianist enters. The center of attention is the soloist, and it says much about the quality of Chopin’s writing for the piano that his concertos continue to be heard while literally shelves-full of their contemporary creations have not been displayed for over a century. In the opening movement of the Second Concerto, most of the orchestra’s participation occurs in the introduction, in which are presented the main theme (a rather dolorous tune with dotted rhythms played immediately by violins) and the second theme, a brighter strain given by woodwinds led by the oboe. The piano enters and, with the exception of orchestral interludes surrounding the development section and the concluding coda, dominates the remainder of the movement. The writing for the soloist makes abundantly clear that even at the age of nineteen, Chopin was a master of weaving elaborate filigrees of figuration around simple melodic shapes to create his characteristic gossamer piano sonorities and incomparable range of feeling.

Liszt thought the second movement “of a perfection almost ideal; its expression, now radiant with light, now full of tender pathos.” Robert Schumann — writer, publisher, editor as well as composer — mused, “What are ten editorial crowns compared to one such Adagio as that of the Second Concerto!” Composed under the spell of his first love, this movement was a special favorite of Chopin himself. A description of the movement’s form — three-part (A-B-A) with wide-ranging harmonic excursions in the center section — is too clinical to convey the moonlit poetry and quiet intensity of this beautiful music. In both its technique and its tender emotionalism, it breathes the rarefied air of Chopin’s greatest works.

Chopin’s biographer Frederick Niecks noted the finale’s “feminine softness and rounded contours, its graceful, gyrating, dance-like motions, its sprightliness and frolicsomeness.” The theme was inspired by the mazurka, the Polish national dance which also served Chopin as the basis for more than fifty stylized compositions for solo piano. The movement brims with dazzling virtuosity. Its structure comprises a series of episodes rounded off by the return of the beguiling main theme and a cheerful coda in F major heralded by a call from the solo horn.

Of Chopin’s F minor Concerto, Herrmann Scholz, a noted German pianist and a contemporary of Brahms, wrote, “It is a piece full of poetic charm. In it all the attributes of a perfect work of art appear in the happiest union: noble melody, choice harmonies, agreeable figures, and the perfection of form, while the thoroughly original ideas are finely contrasted.”

Beethoven

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67
Ludwig van Beethoven
(b. 1770, Bonn; d. 1827, Vienna)

Composed between 1804 and 1808.
Premiered on December 22, 1808 in Vienna, conducted by the composer.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs plus piccolo and contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 35

Surprisingly, for the Symphony that serves as the locus classicus of orchestral music, little is known about its creation. There are vague hints that it may have been occasioned by an aborted love affair with either Therese von Brunswick or Giulietta Guicciardi. The theory has been advanced that it was influenced by a surge of patriotism fueled by an Austrian loss to the Napoleonic juggernaut. Even the famous remark attributed to Beethoven about the opening motive representing “Fate knocking at the door” is probably apocryphal, an invention of either Anton Schindler or Ferdinand Ries, two young men, close to the composer in his last years, who later published their often-untrustworthy reminiscences of him.

It is known that the time of the creation of the Fifth Symphony was one of intense activity for Beethoven. The four years during which the work was composed also saw the completion of a rich variety of other works: Piano Sonatas, Op. 53, 54 and 57; Fourth Piano Concerto; Fourth and Sixth Symphonies; Violin Concerto; the first two versions of Fidelio; Rasumovsky Quartets, Op. 59; Coriolan Overture; Mass in C major, Op. 86; and Cello Sonata No. 3, Op. 69. As was his practice with almost all of his important works, Beethoven revised and rewrote the Fifth Symphony for years.

Beethoven’s remarks about this Symphony are vague and elusive rather than concrete. The compositional problems he set for himself were abstract, musico-emotional ones that were little affected by external experiences, and not accessible to translation into mere words. In one of his few comments about the Symphony, he noted that, after the creation of the theme, “begins in my head the working-out in breadth, height, and depth. Since I am aware of what I want, the fundamental idea never leaves me. It mounts, it grows. I see before my mind the picture in its whole extent, as if in a single grasp.” By “picture” Beethoven meant not a visible painting, but rather an overview of the total structure of the Symphony, from its tiniest fragmentary component to the grand sweep of its total structure.

So completely did composition occupy Beethoven’s thoughts that he sometimes ignored the necessities of daily life. Concern with his appearance, eating habits, cleanliness, even his conversation, all gave way before his composing. There are many reports of his trooping the streets and woods of Vienna humming, singing, bellowing, penning a scrap of melody, and being, in general, oblivious to the people or places around him. (One suspects that his professed love of Nature grew in part from his need to find a solitary workplace free from distractions and the prying interest of his fellow Viennese.) This titanic struggle with musical tones produced such mighty monuments as the Fifth Symphony. With it, and with the Third Symphony completed only four years earlier, Beethoven launched music and art into the world of Romanticism.

In the history of music, Beethoven stands, Janus-faced, as the great colossus between two ages and two philosophies. The formal perfection of the preceding Classical period finds its greatest fulfillment in his works, which at the same time contain the taproot of the cathartic emotional experience from which grew the art of the 19th century. Beethoven himself evaluated his position as a creator in the following way: “Music is the mediator between intellectual and sensuous life ... the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” The Fifth Symphony is indeed such a “mediator.” Its message of victory through struggle, which so deeply touches both the heart and the mind, is achieved by a near-perfect balance of musical technique and passionate sentiment unsurpassed in the history of music. This Symphony was the work that won for Beethoven an international renown. Despite a few early misunderstandings due undoubtedly to its unprecedented concentration of energy, it caught on very quickly, and was soon recognized in Europe, England and America as a pathbreaking achievement. Its popularity has never waned.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, more than any work in the musical repertory, is the archetypal example of the technique and content of the form. Its overall structure is not one of four independent essays linked simply by tonality and style, as in the typical 18th-century example, but is rather a carefully devised whole in which each of the movements serves to carry the work inexorably toward its end. The progression from minor to major, from dark to light, from conflict to resolution is at the very heart of the “meaning” of this Symphony. The triumphant, victorious nature of the final movement as the logical outcome of all that preceded it established a model for the symphonies of the Romantic era. The psychological progression toward the finale — the relentless movement toward a life-affirming close — is one of the most important technical and emotional legacies Beethoven left to his successors. Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler — their symphonies are indebted to this one (and to the Ninth Symphony, as well) for the concept of how such a creation could be structured, and in what manner it should engage the listener.

The opening gesture is the most famous beginning in all of classical music. It establishes the stormy temper of the Allegro by presenting the germinal cell from which the entire movement grows. Though it is possible to trace this memorable four-note motive through most of the measures of the movement, the esteemed English musicologist Sir Donald Tovey pointed out that the power of the music is not contained in this fragment, but rather in the “long sentences” that Beethoven built from it. The key to appreciating Beethoven’s formal structures lies in being aware of the way in which the music moves constantly from one point of arrival to the next, from one sentence to the next. It is in the careful weighting of successive climaxes through harmonic, rhythmic and instrumental resources that Beethoven created the enormous energy and seeming inevitability of this monumental movement. The gentler second theme derives from the opening motive, and gives only a brief respite in the headlong rush that hurtles through the movement. It provides the necessary contrast while doing nothing to impede the music’s flow. The development section is a paragon of cohesion, logic and concision. The recapitulation roars forth after a series of breathless chords that pass from woodwinds to strings and back. The stark hammer-blows of the closing chords bring the movement to its powerful end.

The form of the second movement is a set of variations on two contrasting themes. The first theme, presented by violas and cellos, is sweet and lyrical in nature; the second, heard in horns and trumpets, is heroic. The ensuing variations on the themes alternate to produce a movement by turns gentle and majestic.

The following Scherzo returns the tempestuous character of the opening movement, as the four-note motto from the first movement is heard again in a brazen setting led by the horns. The fughetta, the “little fugue,” of the central trio is initiated by the cellos and basses. The Scherzo returns with the mysterious tread of the plucked strings, after which the music wanes until little more than a heartbeat from the timpani remains. Then begins another accumulation of intensity, first gradually, then more quickly, as a link to the finale, which arrives with a glorious proclamation, like brilliant sun bursting through ominous clouds.

The finale, set in the triumphant key of C major, is jubilant and martial. (Robert Schumann saw here the influence of Étienne-Nicolas Méhul, one of the prominent composers of the French Revolution.) The sonata form proceeds apace. At the apex of the development, however, the mysterious end of the Scherzo is invoked to serve as the link to the return of the main theme in the recapitulation. It also recalls and compresses the emotional journey of the entire Symphony. The closing pages repeat the cadence chords extensively to discharge the enormous accumulated energy of the work.

Concerning the effect of the “struggle to victory” that is symbolized by the structure of the Fifth Symphony, a quote that Beethoven scribbled in a notebook of the Archduke Rudolf, one of his aristocratic piano and composition students, is pertinent. The composer wrote, “Many assert that every minor [tonality] piece must end in the minor. Nego! On the contrary, I find that ... the major [tonality] has a glorious effect. Joy follows sorrow, sunshine — rain. It affects me as if I were looking up to the silvery glistening of the evening star.”

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©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda