Concert Notes


Rákóczy March from The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24
Hector Berlioz

b. La Côte-Saint-André, France / December 11, 1803;
d. Paris, France / March 8, 1869            

Berlioz shared with countless other Romantic artists a deep enthusiasm for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s morality tale Faust, the story of a doctor who sells his soul to the Devil (Mephistopheles) in exchange for great knowledge. His “dramatic legend” or concert opera, The Damnation of Faust, débuted in Paris in 1846. The year before, he had created a stirring orchestral arrangement of the Rákóczy March, a patriotic Hungarian folk melody named after the leader of a rebellion against Austria in the early eighteenth century. It proved so successful that he shoe-horned a Hungarian scene into Part One of his Faust, for the sole purpose of showcasing the march. To its rousing strains, the doctor watches a troop of Hungarian cavalry march proudly by. 

Secret Arnold
Juliet Palmer
b. Kapiti, New Zealand / 1967

New Zealand-Canadian composer Juliet Palmer is known as a “post-modernist with a conscience” (The Listener) whose work “crosses so many genres as to be in a category of its own” (Toronto Star). Based in Toronto since 1997, her work has been featured around the world with performances at: New York’s Lincoln Center, London’s Southbank Centre, Voix Nouvelles France, Italy’s Angelica Festival and many others. She was the 2011/12 Creative New Zealand/Jack C. Richards composer-in-residence at the New Zealand School of Music, and the 2012 composer-in-residence of Orchestra Wellington.

Secret Arnold was commissioned by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra of New Zealand and was premièred by them in May 1999. The composer has provided the following note.

In his Second String Quartet Op. 10, Arnold Schoenberg stepped outside the four corners of the quartet and created a sublime part for soprano. In the last movement she sings “I feel air from other planets.” Just as Schoenberg opened a door for classical music with his Second String Quartet, Jamaican dub started the sampling and scratching scene which grooved all the way to `90s Bristol. Clive Randy Chin’s Easy Come Dub is a stripped down remix of The Wailers’ It Won’t Come Easy. In Only You from 1997, the Bristol-based band Portishead create an ambient space in which even the ‘Inspector Clouseau’ theme finds a new identity. Compressing time and space, Secret Arnold finds room for all three: Schoenberg, Randy and Portishead.

Oboe Concerto in D Major
Richard Strauss
b. Munich, Germany / June 11, 1864
d. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany / September 8, 1949

During the final days of the Second World War, American forces reached Garmisch‑Partenkirchen, the Alpine German town where Strauss and his wife Pauline had come to live a short time before. One of the soldiers stationed there was John de Lancie, a Paris-trained professional musician who would soon afterwards become Principal Oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“During one of my visits with Strauss,” de Lancie recalled, “I asked him if, in view of the numerous beautiful lyric solos for oboe in almost all his works, he had ever considered writing a concerto for oboe. He answered ‘No!’ And there was no more conversation on the subject. He later told a fellow musician friend of mine that the idea had taken hold of him as a result of that remark.” 

The Strauss Oboe Concerto unfolds in one, continuous movement. Its principal characteristics are warmth, charm and beauty. The central section in slow tempo is exceptionally sweet and lyrical. The writing for the soloist is long-breathed, virtually operatic in style. A quasi-cadenza accompanied by pizzicato strings leads into the bright, witty Finale, where the oboist displays considerable agility and virtuosity.

Oboe Concerto in D Major
1. Allegro moderato…
2. Andante…
3. Vivace – Allegro

Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
Hector Berlioz

In 1827, while Berlioz was studying at the Paris Conservatoire, he developed a typically all‑consuming passion for Harriet Smithson, an Irish actress whom he saw perform a number of works by Shakespeare. His attempts to communicate with her came to nothing. This unhappy experience inspired him to compose Episode in the Life of an Artist – Grand Fantastic Symphony in Five Parts. He did so partly at the call of his brilliant creative imagination, partly for a more practical reason: he hoped it would win him the kind of reputation that would impress Harriet Smithson. In it, he broke new compositional ground by synthesizing events from his life with purely imaginary ones.

Smithson’s stage company returned to Paris in 1832, and Berlioz made sure she heard the piece he had written for her. They were married the following year, but their relationship proved an unhappy one.

“A young musician of morbidly sensitive temperament and fiery imagination poisons himself with opium in a fit of lovesick despair,” the final revision of the symphony’s published program begins. “The dose of the narcotic, too weak to kill him, plunges him into a slumber accompanied by the strangest visions, during which his sensations, his emotions, his memories are transformed in his sick mind into musical thoughts and images. The loved one herself has become a melody to him, an idée fixe (fixed idea) as it were, that he encounters and hears everywhere.” He hears it, in various transformations, amidst the turbulence of the opening movement; the waltz rhythms of the second; the tranquil country scene of the third; the sinister march to the scaffold of the fourth; and the hallucinatory revels of the concluding Witches’ Sabbath. 

Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14
1. Rêveries – Passions (Dreams, Passions): Largo – Allegro agitato e appassionato assai
2. Un bal (A Ball): Valse: Allegro non troppo
3. Scène aux champs (Country Scene): Adagio
4. Marche au supplice (March to the Scaffold): Allegretto non troppo
5. Songe d’une nuit du sabbat (Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath): Larghetto – Allegro


Programme Notes © 2017 Don Anderson

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