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Notes on the Program
by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Serge Prokofiev

Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Opus 25 "Classical"
Sergei Prokofiev

(b. Sontsovka, Russia, 1891; d.  1953, Moscow)

Composed in 1916-1917.
Premiered on April 21, 1918 in Leningrad, conducted by the composer.
Instrumentation: woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 15 minutes.

"In the field of instrumental music, I am well content with the forms already perfected. I want nothing better, nothing more flexible or more complete than sonata form, which contains everything necessary to my structural purpose." This statement, given to Olin Downes by Prokofiev during an interview in 1930 for The New York Times, seems a curious one for a composer who had gained a reputation as an ear-shattering iconoclast, the enfant terrible of 20th-century music, the master of modernity. While it is certainly true that some of his early works (Scythian Suite, Sarcasms, the first two Piano Concertos) raised the hackles of musical traditionalists, it is also true that Prokofiev sought to preserve that same tradition by extending its boundaries to encompass his own distinctive style. A glance through the list of his works shows a preponderance of established Classical forms: sonatas, symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, quartets, overtures and suites account for most of his output. This is certainly not to say that he merely mimicked the music of earlier generations, but he did accept it as the conceptual framework within which he built his own compositions.

Prokofiev's penchant for using Classical musical idioms was instilled in him during the course of his thorough, excellent training: when he was a little tot, his mother played Beethoven sonatas to him while he sat under the piano; he studied with the greatest Russian musicians of the time — Glière, Rimsky-Korsakov, Liadov, Glazunov; he began composing at the Mozartian age of six. By the time he was 25, Prokofiev was composing prolifically, always brewing a variety of compositions simultaneously. The works of 1917, for example, represent widely divergent styles - The Gambler is a satirical opera; They Are Seven, a nearly atonal cantata; the Classical Symphony, a charming miniature. This last piece was a direct result of Prokofiev's study with Alexander Tcherepnin, a good and wise teacher who allowed the young composer to forge ahead in his own manner while making sure that he had a thorough understanding of the great musical works of the past. It was in 1916 that Prokofiev first had the idea for a symphony based on the Viennese models supplied by Tcherepnin, and at that time he sketched out a few themes for it. Most of the work, however, was done the following year, as Prokofiev recounted in his Autobiography:

"I spent the summer of 1917 in complete solitude in the environs of Petrograd; I read Kant and I worked hard. I had purposely not had my piano moved to the country because I wanted to establish the fact that thematic material worked out without a piano is better.... The idea occurred to me to compose an entire symphonic work without the piano. Composed in this fashion, the orchestral colors would, of necessity, be clearer and cleaner. Thus the plan of a symphony in Haydnesque style originated, since, as a result of my studies in Tcherepnin's classes, Haydn's technique had somehow become especially clear to me, and with such intimate understanding it was much easier to plunge into the dangerous flood without a piano. It seemed to me that, were he alive today, Haydn, while retaining his style of composition, would have appropriated something from the modern. Such a symphony I now wanted to compose: a symphony in the classic manner. As it began to take actual form I named it Classical Symphony; first, because it was the simplest thing to call it; second, out of bravado, to stir up a hornet's nest; and finally, in the hope that should the symphony prove itself in time to be truly 'classic,' it would benefit me considerably." Prokofiev's closing wish has been fulfilled - the Classical Symphony has been one of his most successful works ever since it was first heard.

The work is in the four movements customary in Haydn's symphonies, though at only fifteen minutes it hardly runs to half their typical length. The dapper first movement is a miniature sonata design that follows the traditional form but adds some quirks that would have given old Haydn himself a chuckle — the recapitulation, for example, begins in the "wrong" key (but soon rights itself), and occasionally a beat is left out, as though the music had stubbed its toe. The sleek main theme is followed by the enormous leaps, flashing grace notes and sparse texture of the second subject. A graceful, ethereal melody floating high in the violins is used to open and close the Larghetto, with the pizzicato gentle middle section reaching a brilliant tutti before quickly subsiding. The third movement, a Gavotte, comes not from the Viennese symphony but rather from the tradition of French Baroque ballet. The finale is the most brilliant movement of the Symphony, and calls for remarkable feats of agility and precise ensemble from the performers.

The Classical Symphony, in the words of American musicologist Milton Cross, "was an attempt to approximate how Mozart would have written a symphony had he lived in the 20th century. Each of the four movements is epigrammatic in its brevity, and given to pellucid writing, old-world grace, and bright-faced wit."

Franz Joseph Haydn

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in D Major, Hob. XVII:11
Joseph Haydn
(b 1732, Rohrau, Lower Austria; d; 1809, Vienna)

Composed before 1784.
Instrumentation: two oboes, two horns and strings.
Duration: approximately 15 minutes.

Haydn was among the most industrious composers in the history of music. He summarized his philosophy of no-nonsense professionalism when he wrote, "I know that God has bestowed a talent upon me, and I thank Him for it. I think I have done my duty and been of use in my generation by my works. Let others do the same." His capacity for simple hard work and his seemingly boundless fecundity were apparent as soon as he joined the musical staff of the Esterházy family in 1761, his employer for the next half century. Not only did he compose, but he was also the general administrator of the music establishment, chief keyboard player for chamber and orchestral concerts and conductor of the orchestra. Regarding the press of his duties, the noted scholar H.C. Robbins Landon related an amusing anecdote about Haydn during those years: "He was extremely busy at this time, and when he wrote out the score of the First Horn Concerto he mixed up the staves of the oboe and the first violin, and wrote on the score, as he corrected his mistake, 'Written while asleep'."

Among the products of Haydn's Esterházy years were some fifty concertos, including perhaps as many as twenty such works for clavier. Though some of these works may have been written on commission (one was said to have been composed for a concert tour of the blind pianist Maria Theresa Paradis, for whom Mozart created his Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, K. 456), several were probably written for his own use at the Palace concerts. Haydn was not a virtuoso keyboard artist of the caliber of Mozart, but he was a competent pianist who frequently participated in the household chamber music and operas. Indeed, in those pre-podium days, he would have regularly led Esterházy's orchestra from the keyboard. It is likely that he wrote this D major Concerto (Hoboken XVIII, No. 11) for himself, though exactly when he did so is unknown: the conjectured dates of the score's composition cover some ten years. The earliest firm evidence for the work's existence is its publication in 1784 in three separate editions, issued in Vienna (Artaria), Paris (Boyer & Le Menu) and London (Longman & Broderip). A. Peter Brown, in his recent study of Joseph Haydn's Keyboard Music. Sources and Style (Indiana University Press, 1986), believes the Concerto may date from as early as the mid-1770s, and have been performed at a concert in Vienna on February 28, 1780. Despite its contemporary popularity (there were no fewer than seven different publications of its parts and score during Haydn's lifetime), the work virtually disappeared after the composer's death. It was that noble pioneer in the authentic modern performance of early music, the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, who sought out the piece in the 1940s, and had performance materials prepared from Artaria's published edition and a set of contemporary orchestral parts. (Haydn's manuscript has vanished.) Her performance with the New York Philharmonic on February 22, 1945 was probably the first of the Concerto in America.

When this Concerto was written, it would almost certainly have been performed not on the then new-fangled fortepiano but on the harpsichord, which was at the zenith of its mechanical and decorative perfection in the 1780s. Mozart, whose position as one of Vienna's most fashionable soloists demanded that he keep up with the latest trends, did not buy his first piano until 1784, just when this Concerto first appeared in print. Haydn acquired his piano four years later. In a clever business strategy in a changing market, Artaria labeled its edition "per il Clavicembalo o Forte Piano." Haydn's only reference to the Concerto notes simply that it is for "clavier," the generic 18th-century term for keyboard which could indicate either harpsichord or piano. As performances and recordings of this most popular of all Haydn's keyboard concertos have shown, the work can be successfully negotiated on either instrument.

"The first movement of this Concerto," according to a contemporary review of Artaria's 1784 first edition, "breathes the true and genuine spirit of its author; it is neat, sprightly and beautiful." Like many of Haydn's symphonies and quartets of the 1780s, this music is largely built from a single theme, announced immediately at the outset and developed with seemingly boundless imagination. The Adagio is almost operatic in its tender, affective mood; its lyricism and touching pathos are reminders that Haydn was one of the busiest and most successful opera composers and producers of his day. Of the spicy finale, marked "Rondo all'Ungherese," Robbins Landon wrote, "We seem to see dancing figures, whirling before our eyes in front of the campfire on those endless, lonely Hungarian plains, the charm and slightly forbidding aspects of which have captivated any Western visitor of perception and imagination."

Serge Prokofiev

Concerto No. 4 for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra in B-flat Major, Opus 53
Sergei Prokofiev

Composed in 1931.
Premiered on September 5, 1956 in Berlin, with Siegfried Rapp as soloist.
Instrumentation: woodwinds and horns in pairs, trumpet, trombone, bass drum and strings.
Duration: approximately 22 minutes.

 

Paul Wittgenstein was a remarkable man. Born in Vienna in 1887, two years before his brother Ludwig, who became one of the most prominent philosophers of his time, Paul was raised in a cultured home in which Brahms, Mahler and Richard Strauss (which whom he played piano duets) were frequent visitors. He studied piano with the famed Polish virtuoso Theodor Leschetizky and made his debut in 1913, but when war broke out the following year he was called up for military duty. He was wounded and captured by Russian forces during the invasion of Poland, and his right arm had to be amputated. After Wittgenstein was returned to Austria in a prisoner exchange in 1916, he vowed to carry on his concert career. He returned to the stage as a left-handed pianist after the war using a small repertory of existing pieces (Saint-Saëns' Six Etudes pour la main gauche, Godowsky's Transcriptions for the Left Hand Alone of the Chopin Etudes, Scriabin's Prelude and Nocturne, and some left-hand studies by Alkan and Liapunov) and his own arrangements of some standard piano works, and he also began commissioning new pieces from noted contemporary composers — Franz Schmidt (Concert Variations on a Theme of Beethoven), Paul Hindemith (a concerto) and Erich Wolfgang Korngold (another concerto) in 1923, Richard Strauss a year later (Parergon to the Symphonia Domestica), and Maurice Ravel in 1929 (one of the masterpieces of the concerto literature). After being driven from Austria to America by the Nazis in 1939, Wittgenstein commissioned a work (Diversions) from Benjamin Britten. (Wittgenstein died in New York in 1961.)

In the spring of 1931, Wittgenstein met Sergei Prokofiev in Paris, demonstrated to him his remarkable technique, and convinced him to add another composition to his growing left-hand repertory. Prokofiev worked throughout the summer on the piece, his Piano Concerto No. 4, and sent it to Wittgenstein in September, when the pianist was preparing for the premiere of Ravel's Left Hand Concerto. Prokofiev's music of those last years in the West before returning to Russia in 1933 was some of the most advanced that he ever composed, and after Wittgenstein had seen the score he replied, "Thank you for your concerto, but I do not understand a single note of it and shall not play it." Prokofiev considered revising the piece for two hands or using its materials in another work but never did, and the Piano Concerto No. 4 was not heard until September 1956, three years after the composer's death, when Siegfried Rapp, who had also lost his right arm in combat, played it in West Berlin.

Prokofiev chose for much of the Concerto's solo part a brilliant, single-line style that flies across virtually the entire keyboard, and used it in moto perpetuo fashion in the opening Vivace, "a swift-running movement built mainly on finger technique," according to the composer. There are vestiges of sonata form here - a jagged main theme, some lyrical phrases in the orchestra for contrast, a bracingly dissonant development section, a return of the main theme - but the movement is in essence a dazzling showpiece for the soloist, a modern analogue to the old Baroque form of the virtuoso toccata. The tender, arching theme presented by the strings at the outset of the nocturnal Andante becomes the subject for free variations that build to an expressive high point at the middle of the movement before subsiding to an ethereal close. The Moderato contains a number of recurring thematic ideas that are treated in an almost fantasia-like manner, with a certain developmental character in the center and a sense of return toward the end. (Prokofiev called the movement "a sort of sonata-allegro.") Though the Moderato finishes with an air of finality, Prokofiev appended to the Concerto a synopsis of the brilliant opening movement to restore the work to its proper home key and to round out its form.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K. 385, "Haffner"
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(b. 1756, Salzburg; d. 1791, Vienna)

Composed in 1782.
Premiered publicly on March 23, 1783 in Vienna.
Instrumentation: pairs of woodwinds, horns and trumpets, timpani and strings.
Duration: approximately 20 minutes.

By the summer of 1782, Mozart had been living in Vienna for a full year and was making some headway in his career and in his personal life. Though he had more than a drop of the roustabout in his blood, he was preparing to undertake a marriage in August with Constanze Weber, his second choice after Constanze's sister, Aloysia, became unavailable. His music was becoming known, and a steady stream of commissions was coming his way. Through his concerts, for which he wrote his own concertos, he was gaining a sound reputation as a splendid pianist. In July, he was finishing The Abduction from the Seraglio and getting the production on the boards, as well as working on the C minor Serenade (K. 388). At the end of the month, an urgent letter arrived from his father, Leopold, in Salzburg. It told Wolfgang that the Salzburg Burgomaster [mayor] Siegmund Haffner was being elevated to the nobility, and would not think of celebrating such an important occasion without a grand party highlighted by a new composition from that distinguished son of Salzburg, the young Mozart off seeking his fortune in Vienna. The Burgomaster knew what he was ordering — Mozart had provided the splendid "Haffner" Serenade (K. 250) for the wedding of Siegmund's daughter, Elizabeth, in 1776. Mozart was reluctant to accept the proposal because of his crowded schedule, but he realized that a request from such an important person was not to be taken lightly, and he agreed. Over the next two weeks, the six movements of the commissioned work — another serenade — were sent to Salzburg. The last movement to be completed was an introductory march which was posted on August 1st, only three days before his marriage to Constanze. Despite the haste with which he wrote the piece, Mozart was determined to provide Burgomaster Haffner with his best work. "I just will not smear down any old notes on the paper," he vowed. Mozart, it seemed, was constitutionally incapable of writing bad music.

Early the following year, Mozart was organizing a concert and needed a new symphony for the program. He recalled the second Serenade he had composed for Burgomaster Haffner, and wrote to his father asking him to send a copy of the work. The piece had been written so quickly the preceding summer that, on seeing the score again, Mozart wrote, "It was a complete surprise to me. I had completely forgotten what it was like - this should really make a good effect." The opening march (K. 408, No. 2) and a second minuet (perhaps K. 409) were not needed and were jettisoned to produce the four-movement "Haffner" Symphony which has always borne the name of its patron. To enhance the work's "good effect" Mozart added flutes and clarinets to the scoring. It all worked splendidly, and the Symphony was a great success at the concert on March 23, 1783. The Emperor himself attended, and Mozart proudly noted the monarch's "loud applause" and "boundless enthusiasm" for the music.

The majestic opening movement owes as much to Handel as to Haydn, and is excellently suited to the grand occasion for which it was conceived. The exposition contains only a single theme rather than the contrasting melodies usually found in similar movements, and most commentators attribute this technique to Haydn's influence, though his treatment of it is considerably different from that of Mozart. Saint-Foix, in his study of Mozart's symphonies, led in the right direction when he wrote of the movement's "archaic style spiced with harmonic tang," because it is the ceremonial music of Handel (Water Music, Royal Fireworks Music) that is here the dominant influence. Mozart was introduced to the music of Handel and Bach by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the Habsburg Court librarian, and the composer was deeply influenced by these Baroque masters. Not only did he study their scores, but he also re-orchestrated some of their works (including Messiah) and conducted numerous performances of their vocal and instrumental music. The legacy he inherited from Bach and Handel is evident in the contrapuntal ingenuity and singularity of mood of this movement.

The intimate second movement, a delicate sonatina (sonata-allegro without development section) in Mozart's most elegant style, presents a charming contrast to the extroverted bustle of the first movement. The following Menuetto treads a stately strain, with a Trio that bears some resemblance to an air from Mozart's opera La finta giardiniera, composed for the Munich carnival season of 1775. The finale, which Mozart instructed should go "as fast as possible," begins with a vigorous theme that recalls Osmin's aria "Ha! Wie will ich triumphieren" ("Ah! I shall be triumphant") from The Abduction from the Seraglio, an opera that was mounted just at the time that this Symphony was composed. The feelings expressed by Osmin — that he had every intention of succeeding — may have been the independent-minded young composer's subtle message to the Salzburg that he had recently escaped. The form of the finale is a rollicking sonata-rondo (the influence of Haydn is apparent here) whose music makes understandable the enthusiastic response of Emperor Joseph at the premiere of this marvelous Symphony

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©2013 Dr. Richard E. Rodda