Print this page

Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Pancho Vladigerov

Seven Pieces for String Orchestra
Pancho Vladigerov
(b. Zurich, Switzerland, 1899; d. Sofia, Bulgaria, 1978)

Pancho Vladigerov - the classic composer of Bulgarian music to contribute the most for bringing the young Bulgarian composer school closer to European culture – became internationally renowned as early as the 1920s. Together with his brother, the violinist Lyuben Vladigerov, he spent about two decades in Germany – he studied at the Higher School of Music (Staatliche Akademische Hochschule für Musik) in Berlin and after that at the Academy of Arts and Music where he won twice the Academy Mendelssohn Prize. That is when he started contributing as a performer and a composer on the European scene and when his talent was recognized and started gaining popularity through the records of Deutsche Grammophon in Berlin and the issues of the Universal Edition in Vienna. Vladigerov’s active collaboration with the famous director Max Reinhart at Deutsches Theater during the years 1920-1932 played a great part in his development. For Reinhart’s productions staged in Berlin and at Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna Vladigerov composed music for dramatic works from both the classic and contemporary world literature – Shaw, Strindberg, Hebel, Klabund, Werfel, Shakespeare, etc. It is during this same period that he composed his classic “genuinely Bulgarian” opuses – the Bulgarian rhapsody Vardar, a Bulgarian suite, Seven Bulgarian symphonic dances, Classic and Romantic and other masterpieces that turned into a hallmark of his style.

Vladigerov was a splendid pianist with international recognition who clearly outlined one of the heights of our national culture being a brilliant combination of a composer and a performer, an artist reminiscent of music giants such as Chopin and List, Rahnaninov, Skryabin, Prokofiev… He has composed more than a hundred piano pieces in different genres which, being performed by him, quickly attained popularity. Today they are still among the preferred works in the modern piano repertoire. At the same time most of his piano cycles (or parts thereof) transcend into author’s transcriptions and pieces for various ensembles – chamber and symphony orchestras, string quartets, violin, violoncello or clarinet and violin, etc.

Thus in 1969 were born SEVEN PIECES FOR STRING ORCHESTRA as author’s interpretations of pieces from earlier piano cycles. Small Horo and Master’s Horo (“horo” is a traditional Bulgarian folk dance) are excerpts of “Bulgarian Songs and Dances”, opus 25, composed in 1932. Prelude and Nostalgia are the first two piano miniatures of “Episodes”, opus 36, composed in 1941 (parts of the same cycle are Improvisation and Toccata, revised for symphony orchestra as early as 1942). Dance, Small Prelude and Pastoral are parts of “Aquarelles“, opus 37, also composed in 1941. Notes translated by Marina Valkova

Joseph Haydn

Sinfonia Concertante for Oboe, Bassoon, Violin, Cello and Orchestra
in B-flat major, Opus 84, Hob I:105
Joseph Haydn

(b. Rohrau, Austria, 1732; d. Vienna, 1809)

Composed in 1792.
Premiered on March 9, 1792 in London, conducted by the composer.
Instrumentation: flute, oboe, bassoon (optional, doubling the basses), two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 21 minutes.

Haydn’s first visit to England, from January 1791 until the summer of the following year, was one of the happiest times of his life. His health was good, his works were acclaimed, he was entertained royally (literally), and he was the talk of the town. His concerts, sponsored by the violinist-impresario Johann Peter Salomon, began in March 1791, and were received with an enthusiasm such as has not been seen for a composer since the heyday of that chief British musical luminary, Handel. The honorary doctorate of music Haydn received from Oxford University in July was a fitting culmination of his glamorously successful first season.

In December 1791, a former pupil of Haydn’s appeared in London to announce that he, too, was going to give a series of concerts in the British capital, one that would rival those produced by Salomon. Ignaz Joseph Pleyel, however, was not interested in alienating his old teacher, but rather in sharing the interest in music that Haydn’s programs in London had created. He called on his master soon after arriving to convey his greetings, and told him that, out of respect, the first piece on his opening concert in February would be a symphony by Haydn. Pleyel also confided to him that he was composing a new work, a “sinfonia concertante,” for a group of six solo instruments with orchestral accompaniment. Pleyel had been living in Paris where such pieces — concerted works for two or more soloists — were much in demand in the 1780s. Several Parisian publishers did a brisk trade in sinfonie concertante, and the pieces were favorites with the public. Mozart’s splendid example for violin and viola (K. 364), as well as his Flute and Harp Concerto (K. 299), the Two Piano Concerto (K. 365) and other works grew from contact with the sinfonia concertante on his trip to Paris in 1778. It occurred to Haydn (with, as can easily be imagined, more than a bit of prompting from his impresario Salomon) that he should also compose a “sinfonia concertante” as a friendly competitor to Pleyel’s exercise.

Pleyel’s opening concert, on February 27, 1792 in the elegant Hanover Square Rooms, made a fine success with its Haydn symphony and the new Sinfonia Concertante. Just over a week later, however, Haydn unveiled his own Sinfonia Concertante at the concert of March 9th, and Pleyel’s work was quickly overshadowed. The London Morning Chronicle reported, “Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante combined with all the excellencies of music; it was profound, airy, affecting, and original, and the performance was in unison with the merit of the composition. SALOMON [the same Salomon who produced the concert] particularly exerted himself as violinist on this occasion, in doing justice to the music of his friend HAYDN.” So favorable was the impression made at this first hearing that audiences demanded the score be played again on the following week’s concert. Haydn also chose to include it on the London concert for his benefit on May 3rd.

The reasons for the popularity of Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante, his only venture in the genre, are not hard to find. In common with the best of his “London” Symphonies, it is melodically infectious, rhythmically invigorating, harmonically inventive and a great deal of fun. The solo group comprises two pairs of instruments chosen to provide high-low register contrasts as well as variety of string and wind sound: oboe and bassoon, and violin and cello. The first movement, cast in a large sonata form, trots along at a merry pace. The full orchestra makes the traditional attempt to present all the thematic material before the soloists begin, but the jolly little band is ready to get on with things, and takes over as quickly as decorum will allow. Following their entry, the show belongs to the soloists, and quite a show it is. Each has a chance not only at virtuosic display, but also at intricate ensemble work with the other featured players. (The difficulty of the parts is testimony to the high quality of Haydn’s musicians at the London concerts.) Such fresh, cheerful and high-spirited music reflects Haydn’s sunny mood and lovable personality better than any letters, portraits or written accounts ever could.

The second movement is a lovely chamber piece for the four soloists to which the orchestra adds little more than visual presence. Haydn here balanced the unadorned presentation of a sweet, simple song with exactly the right amount of decorative figuration to perfectly counterpoise the extremes of plainness and excess. It is precisely such a quality that 18th-century connoisseurs meant when they noted a composer had “taste.” It was the highest compliment (next to plentiful sales) that could be given to a musician in 1792.

Haydn is often credited with a keen sense of humor in his music. One of the most important ways in which he achieved this wit was through quick juxtapositions of contrasting material. In the finale, these contrasts and the humor are so broad that they almost seem to mimic a farcical operatic scene. The orchestra opens the scene with a jolly peasant dance. The lamenting contralto (solo violin in recitative) lumbers forward to ask who has stolen her husband, or whatever, and temporarily halts the merriment. The dancers ignore her for six measures of brisk whirling about, until she erupts with a more impassioned plea. To no avail. So she does the only sensible thing — takes up the intoxicating dance tune and leads the company through a merry festival. Near the end of the finale, she recalls the quest for her husband, and again recites her ponderous questions. Her presence of mind still not having deserted her, however, she now knows that dancing is more fun than ululation, and the joyful entertainment continues to the end.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, “Jupiter”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(b. Salzburg, 1756; d. Vienna, 1791)

Composed in 1788.
Instrumentation: flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 30 minutes.

Mozart’s life was starting to come apart in 1788 — his money, health, family situation and professional status were all on the decline. The beginning of the year seemed to hold a promise of good things. When Gluck died in November 1787, his position as composer to the court of Emperor Joseph II fell vacant. Mozart had sufficiently ingratiated himself with the aristocracy to win the job, but with the offer came a salary of only 800 florins, less than half the 2,000 florins Gluck had been paid. For this amount, Joseph, who apparently did not care much for Mozart or his music, required only some dances for his grand balls and not the career-advancing operas and symphonies that the composer was hoping to provide. The position at court, so long sought, did little to alleviate Mozart’s financial worries. He was a poor money manager, and the last years of his life saw him sliding progressively deeper into debt. One of his most generous creditors was Michael Puchberg, a brother Mason, to whom Mozart wrote a letter which includes the following pitiable statement: “If you my worthy brother do not help me in this predicament, I shall lose my honor and my credit, which of all things I wish to preserve.”

Other sources of income dried up. His students had dwindled to only two by summer, and he had to sell his new compositions for a pittance to pay the most immediate bills. He hoped that Vienna would receive Don Giovanni as well as had Prague when that opera was premiered there the preceding year, but it was met with a haughty indifference when first heard in the Austrian capital in May 1788. (“The opera is divine, finer perhaps than Figaro, but it is not the meat for my Viennese,” sniffed the Emperor, to which Mozart tartly replied, “We must give them time to chew it.”) He could no longer draw enough subscribers to produce his own concerts, and had to take second billing on the programs of other musicians. His wife, Constanze, was ill from worry and continuous pregnancy, and she spent much time away from her husband taking cures at various mineral spas. On June 29th, his fourth child and only daughter, Theresia, age six months, died.

Yet, astonishingly, from these seemingly debilitating circumstances came one of the greatest miracles in the history of music. In the summer of 1788, in the space of only six weeks, Mozart composed the three greatest symphonies of his life: No. 39, in E-flat (K. 543) was finished on June 26th; the G minor (No. 40, K. 550) on July 25th; and the C major, “Jupiter” (No. 41, K. 551) on August 10th. It is not known why he wrote these last three of his symphonies, a most unusual circumstance at a time when every piece was intended for a specific situation. There is no record that he ever heard the works, nor are they mentioned anywhere in his known correspondence after they were completed. They may have been intended for a series of oft-delayed concerts originally planned for June which never occurred. Or perhaps in these glorious symphonies, as in many other aspects of his art, Mozart looked forward to the Romantic era and its belief in artistic inspiration divorced from practical requirements. Or perhaps he needed, at that stressful time in his life, to prove to himself that he could still compose great music. Or perhaps, wrote R.L.F. McCombs, “he felt he had, at this point in his life, achieved maturity as an artist and mastery as a craftsman — an occasion at least as worthy of celebration as a twenty-first birthday. These symphonies are the monument with which he commemorated that crisis in his creative life.” Or — perhaps — we are richer for allowing the mysterious creative urge which produced these works to hover, unknown, above them forever, a perceptive point of view espoused by Robert Schumann when he wrote, “There are things in the world about which nothing can be said, as Mozart’s C major Symphony, much of Shakespeare and pages of Beethoven.”

The Symphony’s sobriquet, “Jupiter,” did not originate with Mozart. The composer’s son Franz Xavier Wolfgang said that it was the invention of the impresario Salomon, famous as the instigator of Haydn’s London visits. Weightier evidence for author of the subtitle, however, points to John Baptist Cramer, a German musician who moved to London and opened a publishing house. He may have been the first to deify this work when he appended the word “Jupiter” to its title for a concert of London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on March 26, 1821. The cognomen has no meaning other than to indicate the Symphony’s grand nobility of style, and Tovey dismissed it as “among the silliest injuries ever inflicted on a great work of art.” Philip Hale even warned that the sobriquet might lead away from the true nature of the music, “[which] is not of an Olympian mood. It is intensely human in its loveliness and its gaiety.” Mozart would probably have agreed.

The “Jupiter” Symphony stands at the pinnacle of 18th-century orchestral art. It is grand in scope, impeccable in form and rich in substance. Mozart, always fecund as a melodist, was absolutely profligate with themes in this Symphony. Three separate motives are successively introduced in the first dozen measures: a brilliant rushing gesture, a sweetly lyrical thought from the strings, and a marching motive played by the winds. After a unison held note, yet another idea is presented, this comprising an octave leap followed by a quick scale passage in the woodwinds. These motives are woven together to form a climax leading to the formal second theme, a simple melody first sung by the violins over a rocking accompaniment. This, too, accumulates several component motives as it progresses. The closing section of the exposition (begun immediately after a falling figure in the violins and a silence) introduces a jolly little tune that Mozart had originally written a few weeks earlier as a buffa aria for bass voice to be interpolated into Le Gelosie Fortunate (“The Fortunate Jealousy”), an opera by Pasquale Anfossi. Much of the development is devoted to an amazing exploration of the musical possibilities of this simple ditty. The second portion of the development is dominated by the rushing figure which opened the movement. The thematic material is heard again in the recapitulation, but, as so often with Mozart, in a richer orchestral and harmonic setting.

The second movement is one of the most intensely expressive essays in Classical-era music. “There is spiritual seriousness; there is perfect form, exquisite proportion, and euphony,” wrote Philip Hale. This ravishing Andante is spread across a fully realized sonata form, with a compact but emotionally charged development section. The third movement (Minuet) is a perfect blend of the light-hearted rhythms of popular Viennese dances and Mozart’s deeply expressive chromatic harmony.

The finale of this Symphony has been the focus of many a musicological assault. It is demonstrable that there are as many as five different themes played simultaneously at certain places in the movement, making this one of the most masterful displays of technical accomplishment in the entire orchestral repertory. But the listener need not be subjected to any numbing pedantry to realize that this music is really something special. Eric Blom, good sensible Englishman that he was, wrote of this movement, “There is a mystery in this music not to be solved by analysis or criticism, and perhaps only just to be apprehended by the imagination. We can understand the utter simplicity; we can also, with effort, comprehend the immense technical skill with which its elaborate fabric is woven; what remains forever a riddle is how any human being could manage to combine these two opposites into such a perfectly balanced work of art.” Mozart was the greatest genius in the history of music, and he never surpassed this movement.

Of this remarkable work, Charles O’Connell wrote, “Mozart put aside the exigencies of time and circumstance, and, we imagine, wrote a symphony after his own heart. There has been nothing, and there are no indications that there will be anything, in music to surpass it in its special virtues. In it, the inner Mozart spoke. He wrote not for the age, but for the ages.”

©2012 Dr. Richard E. Rodda