Concert Notes

The Titan: VSO Season Finale

New Work in celebration of Canada 150 (World Première)
Bramwell Tovey
b. Essex, England / July 11, 1953

Programme notes coming soon.


Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
Erich Wolfgang Korngold
b. Brno, Bohemia / May 29, 1897;
d. Hollywood, California, USA / November 29, 1957

For several years, Korngold shuttled back and forth between Europe and America, creating operas and concert scores for the old world and outstanding symphonic film music for the new. With the onset of the Second World War, he and his family settled in California. After the war, he returned to writing concert music in his previous style. Attitudes had changed so much in the interim that his works were condemned as old-fashioned. As the wheel of taste revolves, however, Korngold’s brand of lush, emotional music has regained much of its early popularity.

After the soloist to whom Korngold offered the premiere of the Violin Concerto decided not to perform it, Korngold persuaded the renowned virtuoso, Jascha Heifetz, to give the première (although he insisted that Korngold increase the finale’s technical difficulty!). The first performance took place on February 15, 1947, with Vladimir Golschmann conducting the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. 

Korngold took the themes from his film scores: Another Dawn and Juarez (first movement); Anthony Adverse (second movement); and The Prince and the Pauper (third movement). It is above all a lyrical creation, intended, in the composer’s words, “for a Caruso rather than a Paganini.” After two tender and expressive movements, the joyful finale, as Heifetz requested, bristles with virtuoso fireworks.

Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35

  1. Moderato nobile
  2. Romance: Andante
  3. Finale: Allegro assai vivace

Symphony No. 1 in D Major “The Titan”
Gustav Mahler
b. Kalischt, Bohemia / July 7, 1860;
d. Vienna, Austria / May 18, 1911

Reactions to Mahler’s First Symphony reflect a century’s worth of change in musical taste. He conducted the première himself, during his tenure as Director of the Royal Budapest Opera. Given that the audience was accustomed to little save mainstream Italian opera, the indifferent, if not hostile response came as no surprise. Press reaction was almost unanimously negative.

But what struck so many ears as shapeless and vulgar in 1889 has become loveable, even quaint. This robust score bursts with the boldness and fire of youth, proudly displays a burgeoning mastery of orchestration, and flirts cheekily with traditional ideas of good taste. 

At first, Mahler referred to the work as a symphonic poem rather than a symphony, and gave each of the four movements a programmatic association — nature’s awakening after the long sleep of winter (first movement); the hunter’s funeral procession (third movement); from the inferno to paradise (fourth movement), and so forth. At other times, he associated the symphony with the Titan, a novel by one of his favourite authors, Jean Paul. He eventually disavowed all these outside inspirations, confessing that he made them up after composing the music, in the sole hope of making the pieces easier to understand. 

In the first movement, he built a crescendo of sound and emotional awakening. It grows from a quiet beginning dotted with bird calls, through a warmly flowing melody for cellos, to a jubilant conclusion. The second movement is a hearty “peasant” scherzo. Its strong accents and rustic themes, with their echoes of yodelling, recall the mid-European country dances Mahler had known and loved from childhood onwards.

Timpani set the pace for the third movement, an ironic funeral march. The solo double bass introduces a minor-key version of the old French children's round song Frère Jacques, or Brüder Martin, as Mahler knew it. A witty, klezmer-like parody of military band music intrudes. The march resumes, only to fade away into silence. 

The finale bursts in abruptly with an explosion of heated emotion. Romantic yearning wages battle with darker sentiments, but positive feelings win the day. Mahler reprised materials from the symphony’s opening movement, and crowned the symphony with a lengthy, unreservedly triumphant coda.

Symphony No. 1 in D Major “The Titan”

  1. Langsam Schleppend
  2. Kräftig bewegt
  3. Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen
  4. Stürmisch bewegt


Programme Notes © 2017 Don Anderson


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