Print this page

Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Opus 13
Sergei Rachmaninov

(b. Oneg [near Novgorod], Russia, 1873; d. 1943, Beverly Hills, California)

Composed in 1895.
Premiered on March 27, 1897 in St. Petersburg, conducted by Alexander Glazunov.
Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion and strings.
Duration: approximately 45 minutes.

"If there is a conservatory competition in Hell, this Symphony would gain first prize," railed César Cui. "Forgive me," Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov said to the composer, "but I do not find this music at all agreeable." "A kind of shapeless, turbid sound-mass that dragged on interminably," was the assessment of musicologist Alexander Ossovsky. The object of these critical thunderbolts was the First Symphony of a 24-year-old Russian musician who had already won the highest rating ever given by the Moscow Conservatory to one of its graduates, established a reputation as a top-notch pianist, had an opera staged by the Moscow Bolshoi and orchestral, chamber and piano works played by some of the country's leading artists, acquired a prestigious publisher, and been hailed as a genius by the late Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky — Sergei Rachmaninov. Rachmaninov, proud of his accomplishments and confident of his future, had every reason to expect a good reception for his Symphony No. 1 when it was premiered in St. Petersburg's Hall of the Nobility under the baton of Alexander Glazunov on March 27, 1897. What he got, however, was a trauma that threw him into a pit of depression and self-deprecation.

Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1, composed between January and August 1895, was hardly his first work for orchestra. He had been experimenting with symphonic composition for almost a decade by that time, having attempted three symphonies, a suite, a symphonic poem, two piano concertos and a scherzo; the Piano Concerto No. 1 and the tone poem The Rock had been successfully performed. "I had a high opinion of my Symphony," he later recalled. "The joy of creating it carried me away." He showed the new work to his composition teacher at the Moscow Conservatory, Sergei Taneyev, who advised him that the score could stand some serious revision, but then recommended to the publisher Mitrofan Belyayev that he include the piece on his concert series in St. Petersburg: "A man as richly gifted as Rachmaninov will the more quickly come to his true path if he can hear his pieces performed." Belyayev, eager to win the promising young composer away from his agreement with Moscow publisher Karl Gutheil, scheduled the premiere of the Symphony for March 1897.

Rachmaninov traveled expectantly from Moscow to St. Petersburg, but began to have serious misgivings soon after he arrived. Two other new works were also to be given on the same program — Tchaikovsky's Fatum (whose score the composer had destroyed after two unsuccessful performances in 1869 but Belyayev had reconstructed for his catalog from a set of parts he unearthed at the St. Petersburg Conservatory) and Nikolai Artsibushev's Valse-Fantaisie — and the rehearsals were little more than cursory run-throughs. Glazunov, the conductor, admitted not caring much for Rachmaninov's music in any case ("there is a lot of feeling in it, but no sense whatsoever"), and the other local musicians were hardly more encouraging. When Glazunov showed up drunk for the premiere and launched into a wretched representation of the Symphony, Rachmaninov knew that disaster was at hand, and he endured the experience huddled on the auditorium's fire escape: "It was the most agonizing moment of my life! Sometimes I stuck my fingers in my ears to prevent myself from hearing my own music, the discords of which tortured me.... All my hopes, all belief in myself, had been destroyed." He bolted from the hall, not even taking time to collect the orchestra's parts, and spent the entire night aimlessly prowling the streets and riding the trams. Unable to face an immediate return to Moscow, he fled to the comfort of his beloved grandmother's nurturing in Novgorod before heading home. He tried to salve his pain and regain his confidence by beginning another symphony, but nothing would come. His aunt and uncle, Varvara and Alexander Satin, alarmed over his mental state, convinced him to give up his private flat and move in with them. The wealthy industrialist Savva Mamontov tried to divert Sergei's morbid thoughts by giving him a conducting job with the opera company he was then backing. (Ironically, this post allowed Rachmaninov to discover a true genius for conducting amid the debris of the Symphony's premiere, and he quickly developed a significant parallel career in that field.)

For more than two years after the disaster in St. Petersburg, Rachmaninov could not bring himself to compose again. Then in 1900, he began consulting one Dr. Nicholas Dahl, a Moscow physician specializing in the treatment of alcoholism through hypnosis. Dahl's method of auto-suggestion (and, probably, his enlightened conversation about music) restored the composer's confidence and desire to work. Within a year, the Second Piano Concerto was produced and successfully launched into the world, and Rachmaninov, having learned the lessons from his early debacle about perfecting his processes of composition and revision and sharpening his creative personality, was on his way to international fame. Though he did not destroy the score of his Symphony No. 1, and occasionally hinted that he might revise it, the manuscript disappeared when he fled Russia in the wake of the 1917 revolution. In 1945, the instrumental parts were discovered in the library of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and a performing edition of the work made from them. Rachmaninov's First Symphony was heard for the second time on October 17, 1945 in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, conducted by Alexander Gauk, more than two years after the composer's death. Eugene Ormandy gave the American premiere with the Philadelphia Orchestra on March 19, 1948 as part of the first complete symphony concert televised in this country.

The occasional performances and numerous recordings of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 1 indicate that the work itself does not deserve the ferocious attacks it received at its premiere. Though his skills of orchestration, melodic construction, harmonic cogency and thematic development naturally grew as he matured, Rachmaninov already demonstrated in this early composition his characteristic voice, his ability to construct large instrumental forms, and his strong emotionalism. The reasons for its initial failure, in other words, lie not just in the music itself, but also in the circumstance in which it was first heard in St. Petersburg. That Glazunov's performance was a disgrace is now well documented, but Rachmaninov was also the victim not only of jealousy over his astounding youthful genius but also of a virulent animosity within the Russian musical community. The St. Petersburg school of composers — centered by "The Five": Cui, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov — felt that they represented the true soul and spirit of Russia, and favored nationalistic works based on native folk and church music, history and lore whose expression, they were convinced, could be hampered by a strict conservatory education. In contrast, the Moscow group, led by Nikolai Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky, held that the discipline of formal training was essential for making any serious music of lasting value, whatever its national origins, and looked down on the rough-hewn works of The Five. (Tchaikovsky once castigated Mussorgsky's work as "the lowest, commonest parody of music; it may go to the devil for all I care.") Rachmaninov, Moscow Conservatory, Class of '92, was a vulnerable target caught in the cross-fire between those feuding factions.

The Symphony follows the conventional four movements, though the scherzo comes second and the Larghetto third. The tiny slashing motive of close intervals that opens the work recurs throughout the Symphony, most obviously at the beginning of each movement. The brief introduction also contains a broad unison phrase in the strings, which Rachmaninov said was one of several themes in the work modeled on Russian ecclesiastical chants. Speeded up, it becomes the main theme of the sonata form that occupies the main body of the movement; a quick, descending bass motive provides counterpoint. A Gypsy-influenced melody wound through an exotic scale serves as the contrasting second theme. The development section is concerned with the two motives of the main theme. The recapitulation returns the earlier material in modified versions to round out the movement. The second movement, the Symphony's scherzo, is built from a variant of the opening movement's main theme, and the relationship between the two movements is strengthened by the direct quotation and further development of the earlier melody in the central section. The Larghetto takes as its subject a romantic strain, first sung by the clarinet, for which the turbulent central episode, based on the slashing motive that opened the Symphony, provides formal and expressive contrast. The finale gathers together the principal thematic elements of the Symphony as a summary of the entire work: the slashing motive as introduction, a brilliant fanfare treatment of the first movement's main theme, a soaring transformation of the Gypsy-influenced melody, references to the scherzo and the Larghetto in the central section. The work is brought to a close by the final appearance of the slashing motive as a weighty coda.

Manuel de Falla

World Premiere Commission
Bruce Broughton

(b. Los Angeles, 1945)

Composed in 2017.
World Premiere.

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.


Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky

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.

Back to Top

©2017 Dr. Richard E. Rodda