Concert Notes

Night of the Flying Horses

Night of the Flying Horses
Osvaldo Golijov
b. La Plata, Argentina / December 5, 1960

Golijov’s appealing, label-defying music reflects his mixed heritage and upbringing. Born into an Eastern European Jewish family who had emigrated to Argentina, his youthful ears were filled with a heady mixture of classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the sophisticated tangos of Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla. His many international commissions have come from such prestigious organizations as the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Lincoln Center, New York.

Golijov composed his first film score for director/writer Sally Potter’s The Man Who Cried (2000). He adapted the soulful, neo-gypsy/neo-klezmer piece you will hear at this concert from that score. The composer writes, “The piece starts with a set of variations on a Yiddish lullaby that I composed for The Man Who Cried, set to function well in counterpoint to another important music theme in the soundtrack: Bizet’s aria ‘Je crois entendre encore’ from The Pearl Fishers. In her evocative film, Sally Potter explores the fate of Jews and gypsies in the tragic mid-years of the twentieth century, through a love story between a Jewish young woman (Christina Ricci) and a gypsy young man (Johnny Depp). Accordingly, the theme of the lullaby here metamorphoses into a dense and dark doina (a slow, rubato gypsy genre) featuring the lowest strings of the viola. The piece ends in a fast gallop boasting a theme that I stole from my friends of the wild gypsy band Taraf de Haidouks.”

Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85
Sir Edward Elgar
b. Broadheath, England / June 2, 1857;
d. Worcester, England / February 23, 1934 


War One changed Europe forever, not only on the map, but in the hearts and minds of its citizens. For Elgar, the leading English composer of the pre-war era, the effects of the political upheavals and battlefield carnage were nothing less than devastating. The warmth and confidence that illuminate and helped to popularize such pieces as the “Enigma” Variations (1899) and the concert overture Cockaigne (1901) diminished markedly, never fully to return. Elgar longed for the comfortable optimism of the past, but sensed it was irretrievably lost. He gave voice to his world’s saddening, to its growing inwardness and pessimism.

Other composers, such as Stravinsky, turned to the lean textures and buoyant optimism of Neo-Classicism. Meanwhile, Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples deconstructed traditional musical procedures in their pursuit of new means of expression.

In the warm, noble voice of the cello, Elgar found the perfect medium to express his brooding, nostalgic post-war emotions. The première of the Cello Concerto took place in London on October 27, 1919. Elgar himself conducted, with Felix Salmond – the performer who had given him technical advice on it, and to whom it is dedicated – playing the solo part.

It is a restrained piece, at least in comparison with the more outgoing virtuoso concertos of the nineteenth century. After a brief introduction, the first movement is founded on two themes, both melancholy in character. The scherzo like second movement follows without a pause. For all its brilliance, it is far from carefree. The third movement is an interlude of searching meditation. The concerto then concludes with an energetic, if hardly exuberant, final rondo. A heartfelt coda recalls earlier material, before the concerto ends with a final statement of the rondo’s main subject.

Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85
1. Adagio – Moderato...
2. Lento – Allegro molto
3. Adagio
4. Allegro

Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25
Johannes Brahms
b. Hamburg, Germany / May 7, 1833;
d. Vienna, Austria / April 3, 1897
Orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Listeners with open ears should enjoythis creative transcription immensely. In it Schoenberg, who idolized Brahms, paid him sincere and stylistically appropriate homage. This is how he explained his reasons for creating it:  

1. I like the piece.
2. It is seldom played.
3. It is always very badly played, because the better the pianist, the louder he plays and you hear nothing from the strings. I wanted once to hear everything, and this I achieved. 

My intentions:
1. To remain strictly in the style of Brahms and not to go farther than he himself would have gone if he lived today.
2. To watch carefully all these laws which Brahms obeyed and not to violate any of those which are only known to musicians educated in his environment. 

How I did it:
I am for almost 50 years very thoroughly acquainted with Brahms’ style and his principles. I have analyzed many of his works for myself and with my pupils. I have played as violist and cellist this work and many others numerous times: I therefore know how it should sound in the orchestra and this is in fact what I did.

Schoenberg thus continued the long-standing tradition of using transcriptions to promote what one composer considered the unjustly neglected works of others. 

Brahms was a fiery youth of 28 when he completed the original quartet. Its broad scale and rich, diverse contents make it a plausible candidate for conversion to the orchestral medium. Schoenberg once referred to his arrangement of it, half in jest, as “Brahms’s Fifth (Symphony).” His scoring does at times go beyond what Brahms himself employed. In the boisterous, gypsy-flavoured concluding rondo, Schoenberg’s percussion-tinged scoring ventures into Rimsky-Korsakov territory. Elsewhere he stays close to Brahmsian models, even paring down the texture to the quartet’s original string trio, just before the dashing final bars. 

Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25
1. Allegro
2. Intermezzo: Allegro, ma non troppo
3. Andante con moto
4. Rondo alla Zingarese: Presto


Programme Notes © 2018 Don Anderson

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