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Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Gioacchino Rossini

Overture to La scala di seta ("The Silken Ladder")
Gioacchino Rossini
(b. Pesaro, Italy, 1792; d. Paris, 1868)

Composed in 1812.
Premiered on May 9, 1812 in Venice.
Instrumentation: piccolo, flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings.
Duration: approximately 6 minutes.

Rossini entered the Bologna Liceo in 1806 as a student of Padre Stanislao Mattei, a disciple of the great 18th-century musical pedant Padre Martini. Rossini did not care much for Mattei's arid counterpoint assignments or the academic life, but he did find many opportunities at the school to foster his talents and make professional contacts. His first opera, Demetrio e Polibio, appeared in 1808. He was sixteen. Two years later, he left the Liceo to fulfill a commission for a one-act opera from the Teatro San Moisè in Venice, a small, 800-seat house with an orchestra of 27 musicians. (He was also desperately in need of money to support his aging parents, whose health had been broken by the deprivations of the Napoleonic wars.) La Cambiale di Matrimonio ("Marriage by Promissory Note"), premiered on November 3rd, enjoyed enough success for Rossini to be appointed composer and maestro di cembalo, the 19th-century equivalent of rehearsal pianist and accompanist, at Bologna's Teatro del Corso.

L'Inganno felice ("The Fortunate Deception"), premiered at the Venice's Teatro San Moisè in January 1812, was Rossini's first genuine hit, whose success immediately spawned five commissions for productions later that year. (His speed of composition became legend — he wrote 38 operas in the 19 years after 1810.) The second of these commissions to be completed was La scala di seta ("The Silken Ladder"), a one-act farsa comica ("comic farce") written for San Moisè and premiered on May 9th. The libretto by Giuseppe Foppa, based on a French farce of the same name, dealt, as did Cimarosa's then wildly popular Il Matrimonio segreto, with the complications of a secret marriage. (The silken ladder of the opera's title is the means by which the husband, Dorvil, climbs to the chamber of his wife, Giulia.) The opera did not enjoy the success of L'Inganno felice, though it remained in the San Moisè's repertory until mid June. It has been infrequently revived in Venice and elsewhere, though it has almost never been staged outside of Italy. When it was new, La scala di seta drew some criticism (which Rossini slickly deflected to Foppa) because its libretto was too similar to that of Cimarosa's opera, and also because the orchestral scoring was considered too elaborate. It is exactly this attention to instrumental detail, decried in its day, that makes Rossini's overtures a continuing delight for modern audiences.

Rossini's orchestral ingenuity sparkles throughout the Overture to La scala di seta, especially in the sophisticated contrast of wind and string sonorities. A flourish from the strings prefaces the slow introduction, which is otherwise entrusted entirely to the woodwinds and horns led by those prima donne of the orchestra — the flute and the oboe. The bubbling, scalar main theme is trotted out by the strings, repeated by the winds, and given a vigorous working-over by the full ensemble as transition to the second theme, a lyrical phrase for the flute and clarinet answered by a chattering motive in the paired oboes. Then comes the bracing build-up of sound and rhythm that appeared in so many of Rossini's overtures that it earned him the nickname of "Monsieur Crescendo." Development (using the second theme) and recapitulation follow, and this miniature masterwork ends amid whirling high spirits and festive brilliance.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Concerto No. 5 for Piano and Orchestra in E-flat Major, Opus 73, "Emperor"
Ludwig van Beethoven
(b. Bonn, 1770; d. Vienna, 1827)

Composed in 1809.
Premiered on November 11, 1811 in Leipzig, conducted by Johann Philipp Schulz with Friedrich Schneider as soloist.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 40 minutes.

The year 1809 was a difficult one for Vienna and for Beethoven. In May, Napoleon invaded the city with enough firepower to send the residents scurrying and Beethoven into the basement of his brother's house. The bombardment was close enough that he covered his sensitive ears with pillows to protect them from the concussion of the blasts. On July 29th, he wrote to the publisher Breitkopf und Härtel, "We have passed through a great deal of misery. I tell you that since May 4th, I have brought into the world little that is connected; only here and there a fragment. The whole course of events has affected me body and soul…. What a disturbing, wild life around me; nothing but drums, cannons, men, misery of all sorts." He bellowed his frustration at a French officer he chanced to meet: "If I were a general and knew as much about strategy as I do about counterpoint, I'd give you fellows something to think about." Austria's finances were in shambles, and the annual stipend Beethoven had been promised by several noblemen who supported his work was considerably reduced in value, placing him in a precarious pecuniary predicament. As a sturdy tree can root in flinty soil, however, a great musical work grew from these unpromising circumstances — by the end of that year, 1809, Beethoven had completed his "Emperor" Concerto.

When conditions finally allowed the Concerto to be performed in Leipzig some two years later, it was hailed by the press as "without doubt one of the most original, imaginative, most effective but also one of the most difficult of all concertos." (The soloist was Friedrich Schneider, a prominent organist and pianist in Leipzig who was enlisted by the local publisher Breitkopf und Hätel to bring this Concerto by the firm's most prominent composer to performance.) The Viennese premiere on February 12, 1812, with Beethoven's pupil Carl Czerny at the keyboard, fared considerably less well. It was given as part of a benefit party sponsored by the augustly titled "Society of Noble Ladies for Charity for Fostering the Good and Useful." Beethoven's Concerto was only one unit in a passing parade of sopranos, tenors and pianists who dispensed a stream of the most fashionable musical bon-bons for the delectation of the Noble Ladies. Beethoven's majestic work was out of place among these trifles, and a reviewer for one periodical sniffed, "Beethoven, full of proud self-confidence, refused to write for the crowd. He can be understood and appreciated only by the connoisseurs, and one cannot reckon on their being in the majority at such affairs." It was not the musical bill that really robbed the attention of the audience from the Concerto, however. It was the re-creation, through living tableaux — in costume and in detail — of paintings by Raphael, Poussin and Troyes. The Ladies loved that. It was encored. Beethoven left.

The sobriquet "Emperor" attached itself to the E-flat Concerto very early, though it was not of Beethoven's doing. If anything, he would have objected to the name. "Emperor" equaled "Napoleon" for Beethoven, as for most Europeans of the time, and anyone familiar with the story of the "Eroica" Symphony will remember how that particular ruler had tumbled from the great composer's esteem. "This man will trample the rights of men underfoot and become a greater tyrant than any other," he rumbled to his young friend and pupil Ferdinand Ries. The Concerto's name may have been tacked on by an early publisher or pianist because of the grand character of the work; or it may have originated with the purported exclamation during the premiere by a French officer at one particularly noble passage, "C'est l'Empereur!" The most likely explanation, however, and one ignored with a unanimity rare among musical scholars, is given by Anton Schindler, long-time friend and early biographer of Beethoven. The Viennese premiere, it seems, took place at a celebration of the Emperor's birthday. Since the party sponsored by the Noble Ladies was part of the festivities ordered by the French conquerors, what could be more natural than to call this new Concerto introduced at that gathering the "Emperor"?

The "Emperor" is the largest in scale of all Beethoven's concertos. It is also the last one, though he did considerable work on a sixth piano concerto in 1815 but never completed it. The Fifth Concerto is written in a virtuosic style that looks forward to the grand pianism of Liszt in its full chordal textures and wide dynamic range. Such prescience of piano technique is remarkable when it is realized that the modern, steel-frame concert grand was not perfected until 1825, and in this work, written sixteen years earlier, Beethoven envisioned possibilities offered only by this later, improved instrument.

The Concerto opens with broad chords for orchestra answered by piano before the main theme is announced by the violins. The following orchestral tutti embraces a rich variety of secondary themes leading to a repeat of all the material by the piano accompanied by the orchestra. A development ensues with "the fury of a hail-storm," wrote the eminent English music scholar Sir Donald Tovey. Following a recapitulation of the themes and the sounding of a proper chord on which to launch a cadenza, Beethoven wrote into the piano part, "Do not play a cadenza, but begin immediately what follows." At this point, he supplied a tiny, written-out solo passage that begins the coda. This being the first of his concertos that Beethoven himself would not play, he wanted to have more control over the finished product, and so he prescribed exactly what the soloist was to do. With this novel device, he initiated the practice of completely writing out all solo passages that was to become the standard method used by most later composers in their concertos.

The second movement begins with a chorale for strings. Sir George Grove dubbed this movement a sequence of "quasi-variations," with the piano providing a coruscating filigree above the orchestral accompaniment. This Adagio leads directly into the finale, a vast rondo with sonata elements. The bounding ascent of the main theme is heard first from the soloist and then from the orchestra. Developmental episodes separate the returns of the theme. The closing pages include the magical sound of drum-taps accompanying the shimmering piano chords and scales, and a final brief romp to the finish.

Franz Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 104 in D Major, "London"
Joseph Haydn
(b. Rohrau, Lower Austria, 1732; d. Vienna, 1809)

Composed in 1795.
Premiered on May 4, 1795 in London.
Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 30 minutes.

Haydn had the good fortune to live a long, healthy life: he was in his 78th year when he died in Vienna. Had he been allotted the length of Mozart's life — 36 years — he would have composed some forty symphonies, numerous piano sonatas and string quartets, and some liturgical music. A sizeable output, but not one that would have raised him to the position of pre-eminence he later attained. If he had lived for 57 years, as did Beethoven, the last twelve symphonies, two dozen quartets, the late Masses, the Trumpet Concerto and the two oratorios would not exist. Throughout his life, Haydn was a wonder of vigor and energy, and he retired from work only in his last three years. Chief among the masterworks he created after 1790 were the magisterial symphonies he composed for his two visits to England.

For three decades Haydn toiled for the Esterházy family in Eisenstadt and at their new palace, Esterháza, just across the Hungarian border from Austria. He managed the extensive musical establishment of the house, composed music continuously, and oversaw the famed resident opera company. (After her visit in 1773, Empress Maria Theresa let it be known that whenever she wanted to see a good opera, she invited herself to the Esterházy palace.) With his many responsibilities, Haydn was grossly overworked for most of his life. It is understandable, therefore, that, though his dedication and love of his job never wavered, it was with some relief that he viewed the death of the music-loving Prince Nicolaus in 1790. Nicolaus' son, Anton, did not inherit his father's love of music, and he dispersed the entire musical establishment except for a brass band for ceremonial functions, thereby releasing Haydn from all but titular duties. A comfortable pension was settled upon Haydn as reward for his many years of service, and he moved to Vienna so quickly that he left most of his personal belongings behind.

Johann Peter Salomon, a German violinist and impresario, had initiated a series of concerts in London in 1786, and he was always searching for new attractions to present. He was in Bonn when word came of Prince Nicolaus' death, and he set off for Vienna immediately to entice Haydn to Britain. He was successful, and Haydn made his first visit to London from January 1791 to June 1792, composing there six symphonies for Salomon's concerts and leading their premieres. The venture was a triumph. Haydn went home to Vienna, but it was not difficult for Salomon to convince him to return to London. His second visit began in February 1794 and again lasted for a year and a half. The success of the first was repeated, and Haydn received an acclaim from the British public such as he had never known in the close confines of his service to the Esterházy family.

Haydn wrote three symphonies (Nos. 99-101) for Salomon's concerts of spring 1794. He then spent the summer touring through the British countryside, and returned to London in the early autumn to make preparations for the following season. Salomon, however, was having difficulties arranging for the performers necessary to ensure the high quality of his concerts because the Reign of Terror then sweeping France made travel and financial dealings risky, and he was forced to cancel his spring performances. However, a rival operation, the so-called "Opera Concerts," was not about to let pass the opportunity of displaying England's most distinguished musical visitor, so their director, Italian violinist and composer Giovan Battista Viotti, arranged for Haydn to compose three more symphonies and direct their premieres on his programs.

The last of the important works that Haydn composed in London, and his final contribution to the genre, is the magnificent Symphony No. 104 in D major; the composer carefully noted in English on the manuscript's title page that this Symphony was "the 12th which I have composed in England." The work has been known since the 19th century as the "London" Symphony, though it deserves the sobriquet no more than any other of the dozen Haydn wrote in the British capital. It was included on the program of Haydn's farewell appearance in London, given in the King's Theatre on May 4, 1795. Of this concert, the proceeds of which were for his own benefit, he noted in his diary, "The hall was filled with a picked audience. The whole company was delighted and so was I. I took in this evening 4,000 gulden. One can make as much as this only in England!" (It is possible that the "London" Symphony may have been first heard some three weeks earlier, on April 13th. Printed programs of the time were frustratingly vague in their musical listings; the Symphony No. 104, for example, was called simply a "New Overture" in the May 4th program.)

The "London" Symphony opens with perhaps the most solemn introduction to be found anywhere in Haydn's instrumental works, with stern, unison, minor-mode proclamations of open intervals alternating with hushed passages of deeply affective harmonies. The movement's sonata form proper, which begins with the arrival of the quick tempo, is largely built from two motives presented in the major-key main theme: the opening long-short-short figure in the violins and the four repeated notes in the third measure. These tiny thematic fragments are treated with seemingly boundless imagination, driving the music forward with a constant sense of freedom and invention while at the same time unifying it through continual reference back to the germinal motives, a superb example of the process of thematic development that he had perfected over the course of forty years of writing symphonies.

The Andante, a fascinating formal hybrid of rondo and variations, begins with a genteel theme, but veers into turbulent emotional territory in its episodes. This movement's strong expression has led some commentators to suggest that it was Haydn's musical elegy to his departed friend and colleague, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who died in 1791. The minuet, in Haydn's most robust country manner, encloses a sweetly contrasting trio utilizing the plangent sonorities of double reeds. The finale, Haydn's last realization of the sonata form that was the very heart of Classical instrumental music, is based on a sprightly tune that no less an ethnomusicological authority than Béla Bartók identified as a peasant song from Croatia. Haydn certainly heard the melody, known as "Oh, Jellena," sung in the environs of Esterháza, and may well have had it recalled to him by the surprisingly similar 18th-century vendors' cries for "Hot Cross Buns" and "Live Cod" that echoed through the streets of London every morning. This finale is a splendid and festive valedictory to the genre by the man who earned from some of his followers the accolade, "Father of the Symphony."

In his biography of the composer, J. Cuthbert Hadden noted of the dozen "Salomon" Symphonies, "These, so far as his instrumental music is concerned, are the crowning glory of his life work. They are the ripe fruit of his long experience, and mark to the full all those qualities of natural geniality, humour, vigor and simple good-heartedness which are the leading characteristics of his style."

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©2016 Dr. Richard E. Rodda