Concert Notes

Bramwell Tovey’s Shalimar Variations

Im Sommerwind (In the Summer Wind)
Anton Webern
b. Vienna, Austria / December 3, 1883;
d. Mittersill, Austria / September 15, 1945

When the era of musical Romanticism climaxed in the lengthy, richly-scored and emotionally saturated works of Mahler and Strauss, a reaction against that approach inevitably set in. Certain composers chose to adopt a style characterized by more economical means, in terms both of resources used and emotions expressed.

One of the most influential schools of Post‑Romantic musical thought sprang up around Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg. He and his pupils, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, struck out in new directions. Much of what they did – including the abandonment of many traditional musical practices – remains controversial, but their methods have been widely used.

In their early works, they continued to employ the late-Romantic style. This emotionally rich and instrumentally luxurious “idyll” for large orchestra, which Webern composed in the summer of 1904 when he was 21 and just months away from the start of his studies with Schoenberg, is one such piece. His most ambitious and accomplished work to date, this hymn to nature was neither performed nor published during his lifetime. He named it after an impressionistic poem by Bruno Wille that evokes the play of wind and light upon a warm summer landscape. Another source of inspiration was the gorgeous scenery at the Webern family’s summer estate in the Austrian province of Lower Carinthia. 

Shalimar Variations for Piano and Orchestra – World Première
Bramwell Tovey
b. Essex, England / July 11, 1953

Notes coming soon.

Four Dances
Johann Strauss, Jr.
b. Vienna, Austria / October 25, 1825;
d. Vienna / June 3, 1899

The Blue Danube Waltz is Johann, Jr.’s most beloved composition. The first version (1867) featuring a male chorus singing a feeble text, was a flop. It was only after its début in Paris in purely orchestral form, that it began its triumphant career. It has long been considered a second Austrian national anthem, and it traditionally appears as the second-last item at the Vienna Philharmonic’s annual New Year’s Concert. Part of its popularity flows from the poetic nature of the opening and closing sections, the first like a shimmering sunrise over a peaceful river valley.

Josef, Johann, Jr.’s younger brother, became a musician only reluctantly. Nevertheless, he proved himself a master of composing ballroom dances. In his thirties, Johann, Jr. made frequent trips to Russia. He conducted ten summer concert seasons in Pavlovsk, near St. Petersburg. For the Pavlovsk season of 1869, he suggested to Josef that he compose a pizzicato polka, a piece in which the string players pluck their instruments throughout. Josef balked, but Johann’s offer to compose it together with him brought him onside. The première audience demanded that it be played no fewer than nine times.

Strauss composed Perpetual Motion, a frisky “musical joke,” in 1861. It consists of variations on a cheeky theme that keeps coming round and round. It also gives numerous musicians of the orchestra brief solo passages in which they can display their virtuosity.

Strauss paid tribute to a favourite Viennese beverage in the zesty Champagne Polka, which premièred in Pavlovsk in 1858. The middle section quotes a popular tavern song of the day: What do I care, whether I have money or not!

1812 Overture, Op. 49
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky          
b. Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia / May 7, 1840;
d. St. Petersburg, Russia / November 6, 1893

This is the ultimate festival piece: stirring, spectacular, unmarred by inappropriate subtlety. It was commissioned by the organizers of a major exhibition of industry and arts, scheduled to be held in Moscow in 1881. Tchaikovsky’s publisher informed him that they were offering a choice of items: an overture to open the exhibition, or pieces to enhance two other events that would be taking place at the same time: Tsar Alexander’s silver jubilee, and the consecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Tchaikovsky reluctantly agreed to take on the job. Settling on the dedication of the cathedral as his subject, he knocked off the 1812 Overture in a week. “It will be very loud and noisy,” he wrote to his patroness, Madame von Meck, “but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and therefore there will probably be no artistic merits in it.”

His conception originated in the cathedral’s being built to commemorate the events of 1812. The music recreates a battle that took place that year, near the Russian town of Borodino. This was a turning point in the French invasion under Napoleon. Soon afterwards, his troops were forced to withdraw from the country. The overture begins with a solemn Russian folk song, God, Preserve Thy People. A vivid depiction of the battle follows. A group of folk songs represents the Russian side; La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, the other. After the Russian forces have prevailed, Tchaikovsky has the orchestra thunder out both the Russian folk tunes and God Save the Tsar, the Russian national anthem at the time that he composed the overture.


Programme Notes © 2017 Don Anderson

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