Program Notes - Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Program Notes - Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

Notes on the Program by Ken Meltzer A Shropshire Lad, Rhapsody for Full Orchestra (1912) George Butterworth was born in London, England, on July 12, 1...

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Notes on the Program by Ken Meltzer A Shropshire Lad, Rhapsody for Full Orchestra (1912) George Butterworth was born in London, England, on July 12, 1885, and died in Pozières, France, on August 5, 1916. The first performance of A Shropshire Lad took place at the Leeds Festival, West Yorkshire, England, on October, 2, 1913, with Arthur Nikisch conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. These performances mark the first performances of this work by the Charlotte Symphony. As a young man, George Butterworth became fascinated with English folksong. He and his friend and fellow British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), made several visits to the English countryside to study and collect folk songs. These journeys exerted a profound influence on their approach to composition. Butterworth’s promising career was cut short when he died while fighting as member of the British Army in the Battle of the Somme. He was 31 years old. After Butterworth’s death, Vaughan Williams confided to Gustav Holst: “I sometimes think now that it is wrong to have made friends with people much younger than oneself—because there will only be the middle aged left and I have got out of touch with most of my contemporary friends…” From 1911-12, Butterworth composed a series of songs for voice and piano, settings of poems from the collection entitled A Shropshire Lad (1896). Written by Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936), A Shropshire Lad explores life in the face of the specter of impending mortality. Butterworth composed his orchestral A Shropshire Lad as an “orchestral epilogue” to his song settings of the various Housman poems. The work received its successful premiere at the Leeds Festival on October 2, 1913, with the distinguished conductor Arthur Nikisch leading the London Symphony Orchestra. A Shropshire Lad’s melancholy lyricism, richly scored, is a poignant epilogue to George Butterworth’s settings of the Housman poems. That poignancy is only accentuated by the knowledge the work’s creator would be gone less than three years after the premiere. The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombone, timpani, harp, and strings. Duration: ca. 11 minutes

Ma mère l’oye (1908) Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, France, on March 7, 1875, and died in Paris, France, on December 28, 1937. The first performance of the original piano duet version of Ma mère l’oye took place at the Paris Salle Gaveau on April 20, 1910. The first performance of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on March 22, 1958 with Henry Janiec conducting at Ovens Auditorium. The ninth and most recent performance took place on March 26, 2011 with Jacomo Bairos conducting a Lollipops concert in Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Maurice Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye (Mother Goose), subtitled Five Pieces for Children, first appeared as a series of miniatures for piano four hands. Ravel composed the duets in 1908 as a surprise gift for Mimi and Jean, children of his dear friends, Ida and Jean Godebski. Ravel loved to play with young Mimi and Jean, and often delighted them with his animated readings of various Mother Goose tales. Three years after composing the original piano work, Ravel orchestrated Ma mère l’oye. Finally, Ravel was commissioned to create a Ma mère l’oye ballet that received its premiere at the Théâtre des Arts in Paris on January 28, 1912. For the ballet, Ravel added a Prelude, another scene, and interludes connecting the various episodes. He noted: “(m)y intention of awakening the poetry of childhood in these pieces naturally led me to simplify my style and thin out my writing.” Despite Ravel’s typically selfeffacing posture, there is nothing simple about the magical atmosphere and charm he conjures in these exquisite miniatures, particularly when heard in their orchestral guise. This concert features Ravel’s orchestration of the original five-movement work. I. Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant (Pavane of the Sleeping Beauty)—Twenty bars of delicate music, featuring woodwinds and muted strings, set the stage for the remaining tales. II. Petit Poucet (Hop-o’ My Thumb)—In the preface to this movement, Ravel includes the following excerpt from the Perrault fairy tale: He believed that he would easily find his way by means of the breadcrumbs that he had strewn wherever he had passed; but he was greatly surprised when he could not find a single crumb; the birds had come and eaten them all. Muted violins trace Hop-o’ My Thumb’s footsteps in the forest, as the oboe sings a lovely tune. Ravel recreates the sounds of the ravenous birds through a masterful combination of strings and woodwinds. III. Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes (Laideronnette, Empress of the Pagodas)— A beautiful princess is horribly transformed by an evil witch (later she is rescued by a prince). In his score, Ravel includes the following excerpt from the fairy tale: She undressed and went into the bath. The Pagodas and Pagodines began to sing and play on instruments; some had theorbos made of walnut shells;

some had violas made of almond shells, for they were obliged to proportion the instruments to their figure. Ravel’s fascination with Asian music is reflected in the use of pentatonic scales and sonorities that recall gamelan ensembles. IV. Les entretiens de la Belle et de la Bête (Conversations of Beauty and the Beast)—The Beauty takes note of the Beast’s kind heart that makes him, somehow, less unattractive. The Beast pleads with the Beauty to marry him. At first the Beauty declines, but finally agrees. Suddenly, the Beast disappears and is replaced by a handsome prince “more beautiful than Cupid.” The Beauty is portrayed by an elegant waltz, first played by the solo clarinet. A rumbling contrabassoon voices the Beast’s entreaties. A shimmering harp glissando depicts the magical transformation of the Beast, now represented in his princely form by a romantic solo violin. V. Le jardin féerique (The Fairy Garden)—Ma mère l’oye concludes with a glorious evocation of the awakening of the Fairy Garden. The strings introduce a simple, yet hauntingly affecting melody. The movement grows in splendor, as Ravel’s Mother Goose reaches its shimmering and elegant resolution. The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, timpani, orchestra bells, bass drum, xylophone, triangle, cymbals, suspended cymbal, tam-tam, harp, celeste, and strings. Duration: ca. 17 minutes

Requiem, Opus 48 (1888) Gabriel Fauré was born in Pamiers, France, on May 12, 1845, and died in Paris, France, on November 4, 1924. The first performance of the Requiem took place at the La Madeleine church in Paris on January 16, 1888, with the composer conducting. The first performance of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on May 6, 1963 with Donald Plott conducting at Myers Park Baptist Church. The third and most recent performance set took place on October 31 & November 1, 2008 with Thierry Fischer conducting in the Belk Theater of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. The premiere of the Requiem by French composer Gabriel Fauré took place at the La Madeleine church in Paris on January 16, 1888. Fauré, the organist at the Madeleine church, conducted the performance, presented as part of the funeral of a wealthy parishioner, Joseph La Soufaché. The original version of the Requiem was in five movements (Introït et Kyrie, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus dei, and In paradisum), and scored for soprano solo, mixed chorus, violas,

cellos, basses, timpani, harp and organ. In subsequent years, Fauré added the Offertoire and Libera me (which include a baritone solo), and rescored the work for a larger, more conventional symphony orchestra. A comparison of the Fauré Requiem with another superb, and relatively contemporaneous version (1874) by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi is striking. The Verdi Requiem is a grand, fiercely dramatic work whose overtly theatrical elements prompted German conductor Hans von Bülow to dub it the composer’s “latest opera in ecclesiastical garb.” By contrast, the Fauré Requiem is lyrical and introspective. In fact, Fauré did not include a setting of the centerpiece of the Verdi Requiem, the Dies irae portion of the Mass, with its terrifying depiction of the Day of Judgment. As Fauré explained: “They say that my Requiem does not express the terror of death; someone has called it a lullaby of death. But that is how I see death: as a happy deliverance, as a yearning for joy that lies beyond, rather than as a sorrowful passing.” The scores calls for soprano and baritone soloists, mixed chorus, two flutes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, harp, organ, and strings. Duration: ca. 39 minutes