Virtuoso pianist Daniil Trifonov joins Austrian conductor Sascha Goetzel, who takes the stage with the IPO for the first time.
For every masterpiece, stories and anecdotes inevitably develop over the years. The credibility of some is questionable, but in certain cases there is likely a grain of truth. One such story explains how the nickname “The Emperor” became linked to Beethoven’s Concerto No. 5: a soldier from the occupation army (a Frenchman in Vienna) who attended the premiere of the piece shouted “long live the emperor.” It may have been the festive atmosphere, or the militaristic rhythms in the first movement that reminded him of marching music. The subject of “military rhythms” in Beethoven’s music has engaged researchers and music lovers alike.
Musicologist Alfred Einstein, who wrote extensively on how military rhythms appeared in 4/4 time in Beethoven’s compositions, especially in his concerti, discovered that this idea was borrowed from the works of Giovanni Battista Violti, an Italian composer who lived in France.
Looking at the work from this angle reveals an interesting process in which these “military themes” develop. For example, the second theme in the first movement is heard in the horns, among others, that play “military intervals,” but lyrically (sensitive hunters?). Is this a concerto about “softening” the generals? (Things written before the elections.) And the dotted rhythm? It softens throughout the movement.
But even without speculation and extra-musical thought, this concerto is groundbreaking in a number of respects. In terms of form, it’s notable that not only is there no pause between the second and third movements, but the subject that starts the third movement is first presented slowly and lyrically at the end of the second movement. In this way, the work is divided into two parts within the three-part structure: the first movement (which is almost a work on its own in terms of dimensions and empowerment) and then the second and third movements together. Another point–attributed to the fact that the fifth concerto is the only concerto Beethoven could not perform himself due to his deafness, and the performance of the premiere was entrusted to his close pupil, Carl Czerny–is the absence of an improvised cadenza at the end of the first and third movements. (Beethoven even writes in detail not to improvise the cadenza where it is written out.)
Other peculiarities of this work include the high technical difficulty it poses to its performers–it requires immense skill, and the fact that the harmonies in the third movement (the rondo) expand into keys that would not have been typical during the time of the work’s composition.
In any case, the power, softness, virtuosity, orchestration, the beautiful melody of the second movement and the great interest that has been preserved make it one of the most popular works throughout history, by performers, conductors and music lovers.
Scheherazade, Op. 35 is a symphonic suite written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in the summer of 1888. It is interesting to examine what else happened during this year:
On March 25, the first International Women’s Congress was held in Washington, led by Susan B. Anthony.
Jack the Ripper began systematically killing prostitutes in London.
Bertha Benz made the first long journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim in a car produced by her husband, Karl Benz.
In the field of music:
The first commercial recording of a classic work was completed in London (via wax cylinder): Handel’s “Israel in Egypt.”
The Concertgebouw Orchestra was founded in Holland.
And now to the piece:
Fantasy has always been the fuel that engines composers and artists. Imagination could flourish where the facts were not known (it will certainly be interesting to examine how the accessibility of information today will affect the creative and training processes of artists and performers). The “exotic east” has ignited the imagination of composers for generations. The Turkish influence on Mozart, Verdi’s interest in Egypt, and of course the way the French impressionists perceived the East–the colors, the smells, the women and the sounds. Rimsky-Korsakov loved the sea. He had a brother who served as a sailor in the Russian navy and as a young boy Nikolai eagerly read enthusiastic postcards sent by his brother from his voyages. In fact, Rimsky-Korsakov wanted to be a military man. He even completed a cadet course and sailed for about a year on the deck of one of the Russian flag vessels, after which he apparently understood that that he should commit himself to music for the rest of his life. The East of Rimsky-Korsakov’s dreams was not entirely fictional. At certain stages of his life, he found great interest in the anthology of Algerian melodies, which Borodin recorded in his travels (I suppose this is the equivalent of the great interest that Israeli composers have in Abraham Zevi Idelsohn.) On a family trip to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), he was intrigued by what he saw and heard and smelled there (in his letters he enthusiastically described the cafes he visited…). “Scheherazade” was written shortly after Borodin’s death, and the influence of Borodin’s “Orientalist” ideas is evident. The work is influenced by “One Thousand and One Nights” (translated into Hebrew by Yosef Yoel Rivlin, a relative of the President), a collection of stories probably written in the eighth or ninth centuries. The work is a collection of musical pictures rich in orchestration, melodies and harmonies, with extensive modal influence. The composer himself asked not to treat the work as programmatic, and we honor his request and invite our listeners to note the way the Middle East was perceived at the end of the nineteenth century by those who visited it, dreamed about it and read the wonderful literature written there.
Music history is full of stories about poor and sad composers. One of the few aristocrats who turned to composition was Felix Mendelssohn, who came from a well-to-do family and never knew poverty. Between 1829 and 1830, Mendelssohn, like educated young people of his generation, went on a journey in Europe to expand his roots. Long before the time of the internet, and given the musical talent and creative urge of the young traveler, this trip produced at least two works for orchestra, a symphony and an overture. In order to recover from the arduous journey, Mendelssohn packed his belongings and embarked on another journey, this time to Italy where he worked between 1830 and 1831, where he also wrote two symphonies: the first (“Scottish”) was an expression of the experiences from his previous trip in Europe and the second, the “Italian” symphony, heard tonight, was greatly influenced by the landscapes, the climate and music heard by the young composer while in Italy. The symphony, which Mendelssohn called “Italian,” includes at least two Italian musical touches. Researcher Peter Lackie (who writes, among other things, for the Kennedy Center in Washington) notes that the symphony’s second movement was probably influenced by a poem Mendelssohn heard in a religious procession (which may explain the beauty and rhythmic and melodic simplicity of the melodies by the gifted composer). Another “salute” to the country of inspiration can be found in the fourth movement, Saltarello, a quick and energetic dance from southern Italy.
That this symphony, whose premiere was conducted by the composer in London, was an immediate success, testifies to Mendelssohn’s great skill in dealing with the orchestra, his wonderful melodic feeling and his ability to combine sophisticated harmonies in a delightful musical sequence.
In 1829 (before his big tour of Italy), Mendelssohn went on a tour of the British Isles, during which he spent two days sailing (with severe seasickness) between the Inner Hebrides, where he saw Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa off the coast of Scotland. Mendelssohn was deeply influenced by the landscape, which inspired him immediately. He wrote a letter to his sister Fanny which included the 20 opening bars of the work, noting: “In order for you to understand how the wonderful Hebrides have affected me, I send you the attached, which came to my mind while I was there.”
The work is written as an orchestral overture that stands on its own right, describing the feeling of the ocean waves around the cave, and the changes in the atmosphere reflect the unexpected nature of the sea.
The work was completed in December 1830 and was originally called “To the Lonely Island.” Later, he made changes to it, completed in June 1832, and changed its name to “The Hebrides” However, the title “Fingal’s Cave” was also used: on the title pages with the orchestration listing, Mendelssohn wrote “The Hebrides,” but the on score itself he used “Fingal’s Cave,” a moniker that is still in use today.