Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Symphony No. 1 in D Minor
(b. Oneg [near Novgorod], Russia, 1873; d. 1943, Beverly Hills, California)
Composed in 1891.
Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 12 minutes
Rachmaninov was born of noble blood. His paternal grandfather was a general in the Russian military as well as a highly skilled musical amateur who had studied piano with the Irish virtuoso John Field during his long residency in St. Petersburg and Moscow. His father, Vasily, followed both military and musical pursuits and enhanced the family fortunes with five additional estates when he married the daughter of the wealthy General Butakov; Rachmaninoff was born on April 1, 1873 on one of these, called Oneg, twenty miles from Novgorod. Sergei spent his childhood at Oneg, a pleasant place on the banks of the River Volkhov, which flows into Lake Ladoga, north of St. Petersburg, studying piano first with his mother and then with Anna Ornatskaya, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, who was brought in to take over his lessons when the boy showed exceptional musical promise. Vasily, however, squandered the family fortune (David Mason Greene, in his useful Greene's Biographical Encyclopedia of Composers, described him as "a wastrel, a compulsive gambler, a pathological liar and a skirt chaser"), and by 1882 he had had to sell off all of the estates to settle his debts. The family moved into a flat in St. Petersburg, where Sergei received a scholarship to study piano and composition at the city's conservatory. The death of his sister in a diphtheria epidemic later that year and the family's continuing financial strains eventually caused his parents to separate, and his studies at the conservatory suffered so severely that he failed all of his examinations in general subjects in 1885. His mother consulted about her gifted but troubled son with the budding conductor and pianist (a pupil of Liszt) Alexander Siloti, a nephew of her husband, who arranged for the boy to study at the Moscow Conservatory with his own early piano teacher, the rigorous disciplinarian Nikolai Zverev.
Zverev gave Sergei free room, board and instruction in his own home along with two other promising but indigent musicians, and Rachmaninov benefited greatly from the rigorous schedule of lessons and practice as well as from the exposure to Moscow's rich musical life and the chance to meet such eminent musicians as Anton Rubinstein, Taneyev, Arensky and, most influentially, Tchaikovsky. In 1888, Rachmaninov was promoted to the advanced division of the Moscow Conservatory and became a piano student of Siloti, who arranged for him to study counterpoint with Taneyev and harmony with Arensky; his first works appeared soon thereafter — an orchestral scherzo, some piano pieces and sketches for a never-finished opera titled Esmeralda based on Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Rachmaninov's gestating creativity, however, was hampered by the small, noisy studio that he shared with Zverev's other young scholars, and when his request for a private room was denied he had a falling out with his mentor and in the summer of 1890 he went to stay with his aunt Varvara Satina and her four children at their isolated country home at Ivanovka, 250 miles southeast of Moscow; Rachmaninov returned there frequently to compose until leaving the country in the wake of the 1917 Revolution.
At Ivanovka during the summer of 1891, Rachmaninov wrote a movement he ambitiously titled Symphony in D minor, probably as the orchestral work required for his expected graduation from the composition curriculum the following year. He admitted to his friend Mikhail Slonov that composing the piece was "sheer torture… I threw away more than I kept," but managed to finish the movement back in Moscow in late September and then never returned to the score. There is no record that the piece was performed during his lifetime, not publicly at any rate, and the score was published only in 1947, four years after his death in California.
A symphonic graduation exercise for the Moscow Conservatory was expected to show competence rather than originality, so it is hardly surprising that Rachmaninov's "Youth" Symphony in D minor was modeled closely in its scoring, melodic and harmonic content, and even its rhythmic figurations on the opening movement of the Symphony No. 4 by Peter Tchaikovsky, who had been praising and encouraging Rachmaninov's exceptional gifts even since the two had first met three years before. (Tchaikovsky had been one of the guest examiners at Rachmaninov's piano graduation recital during the spring of 1891, when he gave him the highest possible score and then added four plus marks to that, an unprecedented occurrence at the school.) The sonata-form movement opens with a slow, somber introduction that leads without pause or transition to the main theme, an urgent, rhythmically impetuous strain initiated by the violins before being taken up the full orchestra. The woodwinds are entrusted with the genial second subject, which is extended into a broad, lyrical melody by the strings. Both ideas figure in the development section. This movement by the prodigious eighteen-year-old Rachmaninov is rounded out by the full recapitulation of main and second themes, a recall of the somber introduction, and a bracing, fast-tempo coda.
Salmagundi for String Quartet & Orchestra
(b. Los Angeles, 1945)
World Premiere. New West Symphony commission.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, trumpet, bass trombone, percussion, harp and strings.
Duration: approximately 28 minutes.
Bruce Broughton, one of America's most versatile composers, was born in Los Angeles in 1945 and educated at the University of Southern California, where his chief mentor was the Oscar-nominated composer David Raksin. Broughton broke into the business with music for episodes of several popular television series in the 1970s — Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Logan's Run, Hawaii Five-O — and scored his first feature film with Silverado in 1985, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He has since composed the scores for well over a hundred television shows and movies, including Tombstone, Lost in Space, The Presidio, Miracle on 34th Street, Young Sherlock Holmes, Harry and The Hendersons and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. He has also provided the music for many attractions at the Disney theme parks, scored the Disney animated features The Rescuers Down Under and Bambi II, and conducted and supervised the recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for Fantasia 2000. In addition to nominations for an Oscar (for Silverado) and a Grammy (Young Sherlock Holmes), Broughton has received 24 Emmy nominations and won that award ten times, most recently for HBO's Warm Springs. His music for Heart Of Darkness was the first orchestral score composed for a video game.
Bruce Broughton is also an accomplished classical composer, having written concert and theatrical works for the Sunflower Music Festival, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Magic Circle Mime Company, United States Air Force Band, Bay Brass (San Francisco), Debussy Trio, and the Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle and National symphonies, as well as concertos for piccolo and tuba, solo compositions for winds, and numerous chamber works. Broughton is a board member of ASCAP, a past governor on the boards of both the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and former president of the Society of Composers and Lyricists. He has taught in the Advanced Film Music Studies program at USC and is now a frequent lecturer at UCLA.
Broughton wrote of Salmagundi for String Quartet and Orchestra (2017), commissioned by the New West Symphony, "The exotic sounding word 'Salmagundi' referred originally to a type of mixed English salad and even, it is thought, to a type of pirate stew. It is used here in its modern sense as a mixture or collection of miscellaneous items. The 'mixture' is the inclusion of a string quartet with a symphony orchestra. Generally, string quartets are self-reliant and are rarely accompanied by any instrument other than the occasional piano (in which case the 'string quartet' becomes part of a 'piano quintet'). Salmagundi is not, therefore, a 'concerto for string quartet with orchestra,' but rather a 'piece for quartet and orchestra.'
"The first movement (Energetically, with enthusiasm) introduces the quartet immediately after the orchestral strings begin to play a light tremolo accompaniment with pizzicato accents. The theme that emerges is used throughout the movement and is contrasted by a slower section of descending string figures. There is a lot of thematic variation in the movement as fragments of the theme are tossed back and forth between the orchestra and the quartet throughout.
"The second movement begins with a theme stated primarily by the quartet, accompanied lightly by the orchestral strings. Three variations follow: fast, moderate and slow, each with its own distinctive character. The movement closes with a soft reference to the original theme from the solo clarinet.
"The last movement (Games) is a sort of cat-and-mouse fugue in which the themes are played, alluded to, mixed up and combined in a quick and playful manner. It begins with a statement of the main theme by the solo quartet, which is soon joined by the orchestra with its own statement of the theme and then cheerfully tossed to and fro between the two groups. Eventually the quartet introduces a second counter-theme and this, along with the first theme, is exploited in many different guises up to the finish."
Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Opus 74, "Pathétique"
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
(b. Votkinsk, Russia, 1840; d. St. Petersburg, 1893)
Composed in 1893.
Premiered on October 28, 1893 in St. Petersburg, conducted by the composer.
Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.
Duration: approximately 47 minutes.
Tchaikovsky died in 1893, at the age of only 53. His death was long attributed to the accidental drinking of a glass of unboiled water during a cholera outbreak, but this theory has been questioned in recent years with the alternate explanation that he was forced to take his own life because of a homosexual liaison with the underage son of a noble family. Though the manner of Tchaikovsky's death is incidental to the place of his Sixth Symphony in music history, the fact of it is not.
Tchaikovsky conducted his B Minor Symphony for the first time only a week before his death. It was given a cool reception by musicians and public, and Tchaikovsky's frustration was multiplied when discussion of the work was avoided by the guests at a dinner party following the concert. Three days later, however, his mood seemed brighter, and he told a friend that he was not yet ready to be snatched off by death, "that snubbed-nose horror. I feel that I shall live a long time." He was wrong. The evidence of the manner of his death is not conclusive, but what is certain is the overwhelming grief and sense of loss felt by music lovers in Russia and abroad as the news of his passing spread. Memorial concerts were planned. One of the first was in St. Petersburg on November 18th, only twelve days after he died. Eduard Napravnik conducted the Sixth Symphony on that occasion, and it was a resounding success. The "Pathétique" was wafted by the winds of sorrow across the musical world, and became — and remains — one of the most popular symphonies ever written, the quintessential expression of tragedy in music.
The music of the "Pathétique" is a distillation of the strong residual strain of melancholy in Tchaikovsky's personality rather than a mirror of his daily feelings and thoughts. Though he admitted there was a program for the Symphony, he refused to reveal it. "Let him guess it who can," he told Vladimir Davidov. A cryptic note discovered years later among his sketches suggests that the first movement was "all impulsive passion; the second, love; the third, disappointments; the fourth, death — the result of collapse." It is not clear, however, whether this précis applied to the finished version of the work, or was merely a preliminary, perhaps never even realized, plan. That Tchaikovsky at one point considered the title "Tragic" for the score gives sufficient indication of its prevailing emotional content.
The title "Pathétique" was suggested to Tchaikovsky by his elder brother, Modeste. In his biography of Peter, Modeste recalled that they were sitting around a tea table one evening after the premiere, and the composer was unable to settle on an appropriate designation for the work before sending it to the publisher. The sobriquet "Pathétique" popped into Modeste's mind, and Tchaikovsky pounced on it immediately: "Splendid, Modi, bravo. 'Pathétique' it shall be." This title has always been applied to the Symphony, though the original Russian word carries a meaning closer to "passionate" or "emotional" than to the English "pathetic."
The Symphony opens with a slow introduction dominated by the sepulchral intonation of the bassoon, whose melody, in a faster tempo, becomes the impetuous first theme of the exposition. Additional instruments are drawn into the symphonic argument until the brasses arrive to crown the movement's first climax. The tension subsides into silence before the yearning second theme appears, "like a recollection of happiness in time of pain," according to Edward Downes. The tempestuous development section, intricate, brilliant and the most masterful thematic manipulation in Tchaikovsky's output, is launched by a mighty blast from the full orchestra. The recapitulation is more condensed, vibrantly scored and intense in emotion than the exposition. The major tonality achieved with the second theme is maintained until the hymnal end of the movement. Tchaikovsky referred to the second movement as a scherzo, though its 5/4 meter gives it more the feeling of a waltz with a limp. The third movement is a boisterous march. The tragedy of the finale is apparent immediately at the outset in its somber contrast to the whirling explosion of sound that ends the third movement. A profound emptiness pervades the Symphony's closing movement, which maintains its slow tempo and mood of despair throughout.
©2017 Dr. Richard E. Rodda