Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, D. 797: Ballet Excerpts
Suite from Der Rosenkavalier
Approx. 90 Minute Performance
A concert mixing irresistible Hungarian folk music with grand storytelling. Guy Braunstein brings his intimate sound to Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s rich second Violin Concerto. Globe-trotting Viennese conductor Sascha Goetzel leads the VSO in charming musical tales from the Vienna Woods, featuring Richard Strauss and Franz Schubert.
Join us in the Bell Centre Lobby at 7:00pm for a very special prelude concert with the VSO School of Music Honour Jazz Combo.
The Surrey Nights Series is endowed by a generous gift from WERNER AND HELGA HÖING.
When Brahms was 20, he undertook a concert tour as the piano accompanist to a Hungarian violinist, Ede Reményi. Reményi’s playing gave him his first exposure to Gypsy/Romani/Hungarian music. It affected him profoundly, and inspired him to compose the Hungarian Dances. The first two sets were published in 1869 and the second two in 1880, for a total of 21 pieces, all scored for piano duet. He described them to his publisher as “perhaps the most practical article so unpractical a man as myself can supply. They are genuine Gypsy children, which I did not beget, but merely brought up with bread and milk.”
Later research has shown that some of the tunes he used are neither Gypsy tunes nor Hungarian folk melodies – they were so familiar that they just seemed to be! They are concert works by a variety of lesser-known composers. Together with the Liebeslieder (Love Song) Waltzes, the fiery, mercurial Hungarian Dances earned Brahms the lion’s share of his fortune. Orchestral transcriptions of all 21 have been prepared. His good friend Antonín Dvořák, for example, orchestrated Nos. 17 through 21.
The inspiration for this vibrant concerto came from Zoltán Székely, a renowned Hungarian violinist who had been Bartók’s friend and chamber music partner since the mid-1920s. In 1936, he approached Bartók with a commission. The composer suggested a one-movement work in variation form, but Székely balked. He eventually persuaded Bartók to create the type of multi-movement virtuoso concerto he was looking for.
Székely gave the premiere in April 1939. Both concerto and soloist won great acclaim. Bartók must have smiled secretly to himself. He had not only written Székely his virtuoso concerto, he had also satisfied his own wish to compose variations. He set the second movement in that form, and since the first and last movements share thematic materials and treatment to a great degree, the third may be considered a “variation” of the first.
The themes bear the flavours and rhythms of Bartók’s beloved Hungarian folk music. Although the entire piece is clearly structured, Bartók also infused it with a feeling of improvisation, another characteristic of Hungarian folk culture. The opening and closing movements balance strong, thrusting energy with nostalgic, occasionally bittersweet lyricism. Bartók brought the full power of the orchestra tellingly into play at appropriately dramatic moments. He also used it, the light percussion instruments in particular, to brighten the mood, especially in the otherwise rather serious, nocturnal second movement.
The emotionally bruising operatic dramas Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909) purged a taste for such ghoulish material from Strauss’s system. For his next stage project, he produced the delicious, supremely tuneful “comedy for music” Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose). Admirers of the previous operas were taken aback by this startling shift in style, but audiences gave the new score a swift and eager embrace as soon as it premièred in Dresden, Germany on January 26, 1911. Fifty sold-out performances followed before the year was out. It remains his most popular opera, combining Classical period charm à la Mozart, with nineteenth-century dance rhythms, all of it clothed in Strauss’s ripe, late-Romantic orchestration.
The plot unfolds in Vienna during the eighteenth-century reign of Empress Maria Theresa. The Marschallin, a worldly woman in her thirties, is having an affair with a young nobleman, Octavian. When Octavian falls in love with Sophie, a more suitable match for him, the Marschallin graciously steps aside and allows true, young love to take its course.
Instrumental excerpts from the opera have been performed in concert virtually since its creation, although Strauss did not prepare all of them himself. This popular concert suite appeared in 1945, without crediting an arranger. It presents an enchanting medley of the opera’s most glorious moments, including the surging Prelude; the presentation of the silver rose; a luscious love duet between Sophie and Octavian; a teasing, languorous waltz associated with the lecherous Baron Ochs; the ecstatic final trio and duet; and another, quicker waltz to finish.