Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Overture to William Tell
(b. Nelahozeves, Bohemia, 1841; d. Prague, 1904)
Composed in 1828-1829.
Premiered on August 3, 1829 in Paris, conducted by François Habeneck.
Instrumentation: piccolo, flute, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, percussion and strings.
Duration: approximately 12 minutes.
In his later years, Rossini wrote to an aspiring opera composer giving advice about composing an overture for a new stage work: "Wait until the evening before the opening. Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting for your work or for the prodding of an impresario tearing his hair. In my time, all the impresarios in Italy were bald at thirty. I composed the overture to Otello in a little room in the Barbaja palace wherein the baldest and fiercest of directors had forcibly locked me with a lone plate of spaghetti and the threat that I would not be allowed to leave the room alive until I had written the last note. I wrote the overture to La Gazza Ladra the day of the opening in the theater itself, where I was imprisoned by the director and under the surveillance of four stagehands who were instructed to throw my original text through the window, page by page, to the copyists waiting below to transcribe it. In default of pages, they were ordered to throw me out the window bodily.... I composed the overture to Comte Ory while fishing, with my feet in the water, and in the company of Signor Agnado, who talked of his Spanish fiancée. The overture to William Tell was composed under more or less similar circumstances." Even though this admission seems to confirm both Rossini's lazy procrastination and his awesome ease of composition, the effort he expended on William Tell seems to have been rather greater than his words allow.
If there was ever a composer who made a business of writing music, that composer was Rossini. (Richard Strauss was a close runner-up.) Rossini turned out operas at a startling rate during the twenty years of his active composing career, sometimes as many as three or four annually. William Tell was his 38th work in the genre, finished when he was 37 years old. His previous operas made brilliantly inventive use of the musico-dramatic formulas and cliches of the late Classical era, and his music proved to be precisely suited to the taste of audiences throughout Europe — he was the most popular composer of his time. In 1824, he moved to Paris to become director of the Théâtre Italien, and there became fully aware of the revolutionary artistic and political trends that were then gaining prominence. In music, the Romantic movement was heralded by such works as Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz, first seen in the French capital in 1824. In politics, republican sympathies were again festering, and stage works that portrayed the popular struggle against oppression and tyranny stirred considerable sentiment. Auber's opera La muette de Portici of 1828, based on the 17th-century Neapolitan revolt against Spain, not only proved to be a popular success, but also caught the spirit of the times in both its music and its subject. Rossini was too closely attuned to public fashion to ignore the changing audience tastes these pieces portended, and he began to cast about for a libretto that would keep him abreast of the latest developments in the musical theater while solidifying his position in Paris.
Schiller's play William Tell, based on the heroic Swiss struggle against tyranny in the 14th century, had recently been introduced to Paris in a French translation, and created much interest. Rossini decided that the drama would make a fine opera (or, at least, a salable one), and set the minor playwright Jouy to work on the libretto. Jouy made a botch of the undertaking ("certainly one of the poorest jobs in libretto annals," assessed Milton Cross), and Hippolyte Bis and Armand Marrast were called in to put the book into final shape. Rossini seems to have taken special care to incorporate the emerging Romantic style into this epic work, as evidenced by its subject matter, symphonic scope and attention to dramatic and poetic content. The French public followed intently the progress of the new piece through frequent press reports — it was Rossini's first opera written exclusively for Paris. From the summer of 1828, when word of the project first surfaced, through the following spring, when several delays were reportedly caused by prima donna incapacity (actually, Rossini was withholding the work's premiere to press negotiations with the government over a lucrative contract for future — never realized — operas) until the premiere in August 1829, William Tell kept Parisian society abuzz. Once the opera finally reached the stage, it was hailed by critics and musicians, but disappointed the public, who felt that its six-hour length was more entertainment than a single evening should decently hold. (The score was greatly truncated when it was staged in later years.) Whether the new style of the opera was one which Rossini did not wish to pursue, or whether he was drained by two decades of constant work, or whether he just wanted to enjoy in leisure the fortune he had amassed, William Tell was his last opera. During the remaining 39 years of his life, he did not compose another note for the stage.
The familiar Overture to William Tell is Rossini's most ambitious undertaking in the form. Even with his legendary fecundity, it seems unlikely that he composed it while floating about one afternoon in a boat, as he claimed. Rather than the vivacious single-movement forms that had characterized his earlier overtures, this one is essentially a miniature tone poem divided into several evocative sections. Peaceful dawn in the towering Swiss mountains is depicted by the quiet song of the cello quintet that opens the Overture. The following, furious music hurled forth by the full orchestra signifies a violent thunderstorm. The subsequent English horn theme portrays the calm after the tempest and the pastoral beauty of the Swiss countryside. (These two central episodes are the progeny of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Symphony.) The final section is one of the most famous strains in symphonic music. Rossini originally wrote this theme seven years earlier in Vienna as a quickstep march for military band, and borrowed it for William Tell to accompany the triumphant return of the Swiss patriot troops in Act III and to provide a blazing conclusion to this splendid Overture.
Viola Jazz Concerto Based on a Theme by Paganini
(b. New York City, 1945)
Composed in 2014.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano and strings.
Duration: approximately 18 minutes.
Mike Garson gained early and lasting fame as keyboardist with David Bowie, with whom he has recorded and toured internationally since 1971, but he has also enjoyed a brilliant multi-faceted career as a solo artist, composer, arranger, producer and teacher. Garson, born in New York in 1945, started playing piano at age seven and went on to study composition with Leonard Eisner of the Juilliard School and earn degrees in music and education from Brooklyn College; his other teachers have included Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Hal Overton, Robert Starer and Lennie Tristano. When he began playing jazz in his teens, he revealed an exceptional gift for improvisation, often taking as subjects themes by Mozart, Chopin and the other classical composers he was studying at school. After graduating in 1970, Garson played with the rock/country/jazz band Brethren before beginning his long collaboration with Bowie the following year. Garson also established his reputation as a soloist during the following years through performances and more than a dozen recordings, becoming especially known for his wide-ranging improvisations, and as a member of such prominent rock bands as Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and No Doubt; from 1982 to 2004, he also played with and composed for Free Flight, a jazz and classical ensemble that appeared four times on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and performed a concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also appeared regularly with such jazz greats as Stanley Clarke, Elvin Jones, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz and Freddie Hubbard. In a remarkable display of stylistic diversity, Garson performed all the piano works for the 1988 ABC television movie Liberace in that showman's flamboyant style.
Mike Garson has composed over 4,000 pieces in a wide variety of genres — "I'm not concerned whether I play jazz, rock, classical or pop, as long as it's creative," he explained — including: a piano concerto; Symphony 5.1, inspired by Beethoven's Fifth Symphony; ten works for Andrés Cárdenas, former Concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Fanfare for a New Beginning, a tribute to President Barack Obama upon his inauguration; Prayer for New York, his response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001; Requiem for the 20th Century, marking the arrival of the new millennium; and the score for the 1999 MGM film Stigmata, written with Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. As an educator, Garson has maintained a private studio, performed, lectured and taught master classes at schools and conferences around the world, and authored seven music instruction books; graduate students in a 20th-century music class at the University of Southern California have been required to perform one of his classical pieces.
Garson wrote of Viola Concerto Based on a Theme by Paganini, one of his continuing series of works based on that composer's best-known melody, "The great violinist Paganini composed many caprices for violin, his 24th Caprice being the most famous due to its catchy melody, which has been used by great composers like Brahms and Rachmaninoff as a starting point for variations. I've always loved this theme and have written many variations on it for flute, piano, saxophone and violin over the years. The New West Symphony and Lauren Chipman, the orchestra's Principal Violist, commissioned me to compose this Concerto based on this famous theme. As we are in the 21st century, I decided to use jazz as well as pop and classical elements in this piece. In addition to many variations for viola, an essential role is played in it by the piano, which I will perform."
Capriccio Italien, Opus 45
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
(b. Votkinsk, Russia, 1840; d. St. Petersburg, 1893)
Composed in 1880.
Premiered on December 18, 1880 in Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein.
Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two cornets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp and strings.
Duration: approximately 16 minutes.
For nearly a decade after his disastrous marriage in 1877, Tchaikovsky was filled with self-recrimination and doubts about his ability to compose anything more. He managed to finish the Violin Concerto during the spring of 1878, but then had to wait more than three years for someone to perform it, and did not undertake another large composition until the Manfred Symphony of 1885. His frustration was only increased by staying at home in Moscow, and he traveled frequently and far during those years for diversion. In November 1879 he set off for Rome via a circuitous route that took him and his traveling companion, his brother Modeste, through Berlin and Paris, finally arriving in the Eternal City in mid-December. Despite spending the holiday in Rome and taking part in the riotous festivities of Carnival (Tchaikovsky recorded that this "wild folly" did not suit him very well), the sensitive composer still complained in a letter written on February 17, 1880 to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck, that "a worm gnaws continually in secret at my heart. I cannot sleep. My God, what an incomprehensible and complicated mechanism the human organism is! We shall never solve the various phenomena of our spiritual and material existence!"
Though Tchaikovsky was never long parted from his residual melancholy, his spirits were temporarily brightened by some of the local tunes he heard in Rome, and he decided to write an orchestral piece that would incorporate several of them. At the beginning of February he wrote to Mme. von Meck, "I have been working, and during the last few days I have sketched the rough draft of an Italian Caprice based on popular melodies. I think it has a bright future; it will be effective because of the wonderful melodies I happened to pick up, partly from published collections and partly out of the streets with my own ears." As introduction to the work, Tchaikovsky used a bugle call sounded every evening from the barracks of the Royal Italian Cuirassiers, which was adjacent to the Hotel Costanzi where he was staying. He sketched the Capriccio in a week, but then did not return to the score until he was back in Russia in the spring; the orchestration was completed in mid-May at his summer home in Kamenka. The Capriccio Italien enjoyed a fine success at its premiere on December 18, 1880 by Nikolai Rubinstein and the Moscow branch of the Russian Musical Society, and audiences demanded its repetition on several subsequent concerts.
Tchaikovsky admitted modeling his Capriccio Italien on Mikhail Glinka's potpourri of Spanish themes, Night in Madrid, a piece Mili Balakirev had suggested more than a decade earlier that he study for its "masterly fusing-together of sections." The first section of the Capriccio Italien opens with the brazen trumpet fanfare of the Royal Cuirassiers, which gives way to a dolorous melody intoned above an insistent accompanimental motive. There follows a swinging tune given first by the oboes in sweet parallel thirds and later by the full orchestra in tintinnabulous splendor. A brisk folk dance comes next, then a reprise of the dolorous melody and finally a whirling tarantella, perhaps inspired by the finale of Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. This "bundle of Italian folk tunes," as Edwin Evans called the Capriccio Italien, ends with one of the most rousing displays of orchestral sonority in all of Romantic music.
The Pines of Rome
(b. Bologna, Italy, 1879; d. Rome, 1936)
Composed in 1923-1924.
Premiered on December 14, 1924 in Rome, conducted by Bernardino Molinari.
Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, piano, organ, six off-stage "bucinae" or ancient Roman war trumpets ad lib (playable on flugelhorns), strings, and a recording of the song of a nightingale.
Duration: approximately 20 minutes.
Ottorino Respighi, born on July 9, 1879 into the family of a piano teacher in Bologna, was introduced to music by his father and progressed so rapidly that he began his professional training in violin, piano and composition at age thirteen at the city's respected Liceo Musicale; his principal teacher was the school's director, Giuseppe Martucci, then Italy's leading composer of orchestral music. Respighi was granted a leave from the Liceo in 1900 to play as a violist with the orchestra of the St. Petersburg Opera, and he took advantage of his time in Russia to arrange what he called "a few, but for me very important" lessons with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose brilliant orchestral technique would prove to be a lasting influence. Respighi returned to Bologna the following year to complete his degree and then went to Berlin to study violin and composition with Max Bruch. After spending another season in St. Petersburg, he settled in Bologna in 1903, earning his living as a free-lance violinist and receiving his earliest notice as a composer — some of his violin and piano pieces were published in 1904; his first opera, Re Enzo ("King Enzo"), was given a student production at the Liceo in 1905; Rodolfo Ferrari conducted the Notturno on an orchestral concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1908 — and becoming active as an editor and arranger of music from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Respighi was back in Berlin in 1908, teaching piano at a private school there, befriending such musical luminaries as Busoni, Kreisler, Caruso, Paderewski and Bruno Walter, and promoting his work so effectively that the renowned conductor Arthur Nikisch included his transcription of Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna on a Philharmonic concert. Deeply impressed by a performance of Richard Strauss' three-year old Salome that he attended in Berlin, Respighi went home to Bologna in 1909 and wrote his own operatic "tragic poem in three acts," Semirâma, set in ancient Babylon; it was premiered in Bologna in 1910. Performances of the Notturno and excerpts from Semirâma in Rome in 1912 (and frustration at being unable to land a regular teaching appointment at Bologna's Liceo Musicale) led him to accept a post on the faculty of Rome's Santa Cecilia Academy in 1913. He found his first great success, and his musical voice, with the opulent tone poem The Fountains of Rome and the first set of Ancient Airs and Dances in 1917. He was appointed director of the Conservatory of the Santa Cecilia Academy in 1923, but found the administrative duties too intrusive on his creative work and resigned from the position three years later, though he did continue teaching privately for several years. Respighi began touring internationally with a visit to Prague in 1921 and he thereafter traveled extensively throughout Europe and North and South America to conduct and occasionally appear as piano soloist in his works; he made four trips to the United States between 1925 and 1932. His burgeoning career began to take a toll on his health, however, and a heart murmur was diagnosed in 1931. Like Gustav Mahler after a similar diagnosis of heart disease, Respighi nevertheless carried on with his demanding schedule and by 1935 he had pretty well worn himself out. He died of a heart attack in Rome on April 18, 1936; he was 56.
The Pines of Rome is the second work of Respighi's trilogy on Roman subjects. The first was The Fountains of Rome of 1916; the last, Roman Festivals, dates from 1928. These compositions depict various aspects of the city through Respighi's musical impressions. He wrote (in the third person) of his intentions in a note for his performance of The Pines of Rome with the Philadelphia Orchestra: "While in his preceding work, The Fountains of Rome, the composer sought to reproduce by means of tone an impression of nature, in The Pines of Rome he uses nature as a point of departure, in order to recall memories and visions. The centuries-old trees which dominate so characteristically the Roman landscape become testimony for the principal events in Roman life." Respighi collected material for this work for some time. His wife, Elsa, recalled in the short biography of her husband that he had asked her in 1920 to sing some songs from her days of childhood play in the Villa Borghese. She was wonderfully surprised when they emerged four years later in the first section of The Pines of Rome.
Respighi supplied the following synopsis of the four continuous sections of The Pines of Rome as a preface to the score:
"1. The Pines of the Villa Borghese. Children are at play in the pine grove of the Villa Borghese, dancing the Italian equivalent of Ring around the Rosy; mimicking marching soldiers and battles; twittering and shrieking like swallows at evening; and they disappear. Suddenly the scene changes to ...
"2. The Pines near a Catacomb. We see the shadows of the pines, which overhang the entrance of a catacomb. From the depths rises a chant which re-echoes solemnly, like a hymn, and is then mysteriously silenced.
"3. The Pines of the Janiculum. There is a thrill in the air. The full moon reveals the profile of the pines of Gianicolo's Hill. A nightingale sings.
"4. The Pines of the Appian Way. Misty dawn on the Appian Way. The tragic country is guarded by solitary pines. Indistinctly, incessantly, the rhythm of innumerable steps. To the poet's fantasy appears a vision of past glories; trumpets blare, and the army of the Consul advances brilliantly in the grandeur of a newly risen sun toward the Sacred Way, mounting in triumph the Capitoline Hill."
©2014 Dr. Richard E. Rodda