Concert Notes

A Bernstein Celebration

Overture to Candide
Leonard Bernstein
b. Lawrence, Massachusetts, USA / August 25, 1918
d. New York, New York, USA / October 14, 1990

Based on a satiric tale by eighteenth-century French author Voltaire, Bernstein’s comic operetta Candide premièred on Broadway in 1956, without much success. Several revisions were needed before it reached its definitive form in the late 1980s as a semi-opera. Bernstein set the stage for Candide with a sparkling and tuneful overture, based on themes from the show.

Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”)
Leonard Bernstein 

Bernstein composed this work in 1954 on a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation, that would feature Isaac Stern as soloist. Originally conceived as a traditional violin concerto, it evolved into something more personal: a tribute to the serenades of Mozart, and a reaction to a literary work from Classical Greece: Plato’s dialogue The Symposium.

Bernstein wrote, “For the benefit of those interested in literary allusion, I might suggest the following points as guideposts. 

Phaedrus; Pausanias: Phaedrus opens the symposium with a lyrical oration in praise of Eros, the god of love. Pausanias continues by describing the duality of lover and beloved.
Aristophanes: Aristophanes does not play the role of clown in this dialogue, but instead that of the bedtime storyteller, invoking the fairy‑tale mythology of love.
Eryximachus: The physician speaks of bodily harmony as a scientific model for the workings of love‑patterns.
Agathon: Perhaps the most moving speech of the dialogue. Agathon’s panegyric enhances all aspects of love’s powers, charms and functions.
Socrates; Alcibiades: Socrates describes his visit to the seer Diotima, quoting her speech on the demonology of love. This is a slow introduction of greater weight than any of the preceding movements…The famous interruption by Alcibiades and his band of drunken revellers ushers in the Allegro, which is an extended rondo ranging in spirit from agitation through jig‑like dance music to joyful celebration. 

Serenade (after Plato’s “Symposium”)
1. Phaedrus; Pausanias: Lento – Allegro
2. Aristophanes: Allegretto
3. Erixymachus: Presto
4. Agathon: Adagio
5. Socrates; Alcibiades: Molto tenuto – Allegro molto vivace

Symphony No. 2 “The Age of Anxiety”
Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein read W.H. Auden’s poem The Age of Anxiety in 1947. It immediately inspired him to compose a musical response. Following is a synopsis of the composer’s introduction. 

I imagine that the conception of a symphony with piano solo emerges from the extremely personal identification of myself with the poem. In this sense, the pianist provides almost an autobiographical protagonist, set against the orchestral mirror in which he sees himself, analytically, in the modern ambience. The essential line of the poem (and of the music) is the record of our difficult and problematical search for faith. In the end, two of the characters enunciate the recognition of this faith – even a passive submission to it – at the same time revealing an inability to relate to it personally in their daily lives, except through blind acceptance. 

Part One
(a) The Prologue
finds four lonely characters, a girl and three men, in a Third Avenue bar, all of them insecure and trying, through drink, to detach themselves from their conflicts, or, at best, to resolve them. They are drawn together by this common urge and begin a kind of symposium on the state of man.

(b) The Seven Ages. The life of man is reviewed from the four personal points of view. This is a set of variations which differ from conventional variations in that they do not vary any one common theme. Each variation seizes upon some feature of the preceding one and develops it.

(c) The Seven Stages. The variation form continues for another set of seven, in which the characters go on an inner and highly symbolic journey according to a geographical plan leading back to a point of comfort and security. The four try every means, going singly and in pairs, exchanging partners, and always missing the objective. When they awaken from this dream-odyssey, they are closely united through a common experience (and through alcohol), and begin to function as one organism.

Part Two
(a) The Dirge
is sung by the four as they sit in a cab en route to the girl’s apartment for a nightcap. They mourn the loss of the “colossal Dad,” the great leader who can always give the right orders and satisfy the universal need for a father-symbol.

(b) The Masque finds the group in the girl’s apartment, weary, guilty, determined to have a party, each one afraid of spoiling the others’ fun by admitting that he should be home in bed. This is a scherzo for piano and percussion alone, in which a kind of fantastic piano-jazz is employed, by turns nervous, sentimental, self-satisfied, vociferous. The party ends in anti-climax and the dispersal of the actors. When the orchestra stops, as abruptly as it began, a pianino in the orchestra is continuing the Masque, as the Epilogue begins. Thus a kind of separation of the self from the guilt of escapist living has been effected, and the protagonist is free again to examine what is left beneath the emptiness.

(c) The Epilogue. What is left, it turns out, is faith. The trumpet intrudes its statement of “something pure” upon the dying pianino; the strings answer in a melancholy reminiscent of the Prologue; again and again the strings re-iterate “something pure” against the mounting tension of the strings’ loneliness. All at once the strings accept the situation, in a sudden radiant pianissimo, and begin to build, with the rest of the orchestra, to a positive statement of the newly recognized faith. 

Symphony No. 2 “The Age of Anxiety”
Part One
1. The Prologue
2. The Seven Ages
3. The Seven Stages

Part Two
1. The Dirge
2. The Masque
3. The Epilogue


Programme Notes © 2018 Don Anderson

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