December 18, 2005
FAU University Theater

(Winner, 2005 American Chopin Piano Competition)


Ludwig van Beethoven
Overture to “The Creatures of Prometheus”

Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat Major, Op.73 (“Emperor”)
I. Allegro moderato
II. Adagio un poco mosso
III. Rondo: Allegro
Mei Ting Sun


Aaron Jay Kernis
Musica Celestis* 

Igor Stravinsky
Suite from “Pulcinella” 
I. Sinfonia (Overture)
II. Serenata
III. a) Scherzino
b) Allegro
c) Andantino
IV. Tarantella
V. Toccata
VI. Gavotta [con due Variazioni]
Variazione I. Allegretto
Variazione II. Allegro piu tosto
VII. Vivo (Duetto) 
VIII. a) Minuetto
b) Finale

*First local performance

Program Notes:

By Lawrence Budmen

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Overture to “The Creatures of Prometheus” 

Beethoven settled in Vienna in 1792. The city was an innovative cultural capital of the Habsburg Empire. Dance masters had pioneered the thematic ballet – a danced scenario that combined mime with rhythmic choreography. The Italian dancer and choreographer Salvatore Vigano (whose uncle was the composer Luigi Boccherini) arrived in Vienna in the 1790’s. Building on the pioneering work of Gasparo Angiolini (who had conceived the dances for Gluck’s Orfeo ed Eurydice) Vigano began to produce evening length ballet entertainments. It was for Vigano that Beethoven wrote his ballet score for The Creatures of Prometheus. Beethoven dedicated the music to Princess Maria Christiane von Lichnowsky, wife of the composer’s patron Prince Karl Lichnowsky. 

While Beethoven’s rhythmically vivacious score awaits an imaginative modern choreographer to reconstruct the original entertainment, the overture has long been a frequently played concert piece. After a slow introduction the overture is in sonata form. A lively theme in the strings is followed by a contrasting, elegant subject in the winds. After a brief development section the themes are restated and the curtain raiser is brought to a vigorous conclusion.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.5 in E-flat Major, Op.73 (“Emperor”) 

Beethoven’s final and grandest piano concerto was composed between 1808 and 1810. The composer did not give the work its subtitle nor did he intend for it to be his last effort in this genre. A sketch for a piano concerto in D Major exists from 1815. The grandeur and technical complexity of this Emperor of concertos presents a formidable challenge to any keyboard artist. Unlike the Mozartean elegance of Beethoven’s first two piano concertos or the lyrical drama of the third and fourth, the Emperor is a virtuoso vehicle that looks ahead to the concerto-symphonies of Brahms. 

The first movement opens with a sustained chord in the full orchestra followed by a mini cadenza in the solo piano (twice interrupted by similar orchestral perorations). Only after this pianistic manifesto does the orchestral tutti of the Allegro moderato commence. A commanding theme swirls through the ensemble. A pensive second theme by the strings follows with interjections by the horns. The soloist develops these subjects in a dialogue in which piano and orchestra are equals.

The great pianist, composer, and teacher Carl Czerny wrote that the noble melody of the Adagio is based on the hymns of Austrian pilgrims. Elegant piano filigree is accompanied by beautiful wind writing. This is music of great serenity which touches the sublime. At the conclusion of the movement a brief cadenza leads to a key modulation (B natural to B flat). The piano sings forth with the sparkling Rondo theme of the finale. An aristocratic second subject follows. At the conclusion of the movement the piano and timpani engage in one of the most unique duets in the musical literature – another instance of Beethoven’s genius as a path breaking innovator. A final orchestral statement puts an exclamation point on this most imperial of piano-orchestral works. 

Aaron Jay Kernis (1960- )
Musica Celestis 

Aaron Jay Kernis first attracted attention at age 15 when – as a student at New York’s High School of Music and Art – his symphony was selected for a public sight reading session of works by student composers by the New York Philharmonic. The young composer corrected the conductor Zubin Mehta to the applause and delight of the audience. Kernis went on to study with John Adams, Charles Wuorinen, and Jacob Druckman. Like Adams, Kernis has won the Pulitzer Prize for Music (for his Second String Quartet – Musica Instrumentalis). Kernis has written works that make strong political statements (also in tandem with Adams). His “Colored Fields” (a concerto for English horn and orchestra; later transcribed for cello) was a protest against the tragedies of Bosnia and Croatia. Kernis’s Second Symphony was his reaction to the Gulf War.

Musica Celestis is a transcription of the slow movement of the composer’s String Quartet No.1 – composed in 1990 and commissioned by the Lark Quartet. The version for string orchestra was the first work to establish Kernis’s reputation as a major American creative voice. Inspired by the Medieval chants of Hildegard of Bingen, the music is evidence of the composer’s fascination with ancient musical epochs. The score’s austere serenity and instrumental transparency is related (stylistically) to some of Adams’s trance music pieces.

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Suite from “Pulcinella” 

Igor Stravinsky’s relationship with the impresario Sergei Diaghilev was one of the most decisive influences on his artistic personality. A student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky absorbed his teacher’s mastery of orchestration and tonal coloration. His early works (Symphony, Op.1, Scherzo Fantastique, and Fireworks) are strongly imbued with Rimsky-Korsakov’s lush orchestral tonal painting of Russian exotica. Diaghilev met Stravinsky at a concert in St. Petersburg in 1909. He immediately commissioned the young composer to compose L’Oiseau de Feu (The Firebird) – a major score for his Ballet Russes. The tremendous success of that work’s premiere in Paris in 1910 led to further Diaghilev commissions – Petrouchka, the revolutionary Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring), La Baiser de la Fe (The Fairy’s Kiss), and Pulcinella. 

Stravinsky accompanied the Diaghilev company on a tour of Italy in 1917. Two of the works in the Ballet Russe repertoire were musical adaptations of scores by composers from previous centuries. La Donne di Buon Umore (The Good Humored Ladies) was a transcription by Tomassini of movements from keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. La Boutique Fantasque was a ballet score adapted by Ottorino Respighi from the music of the master of the Italian opera-buffa Gioacchino Rossini. A performance by a Neapolitan comedia dell’arte troupe inspired Stravinsky to propose a Harlequinade ballet. Diaghilev eagerly took up the idea and suggested the young choreographer George Balanchine as Stravinsky’s collaborator and the legendary Pablo Picasso as production designer. The impresario also gave Stravinsky a set of compositions by Giovanni Battista Pergolessi (1710-1736) which he had copied in libraries throughout Europe. Modern scholarship has shown that many of these pieces were not by Pergolessi. In any case Stravinsky’s music for Pulcinella is far more than a series of transcriptions. Indeed this work is more Stravinsky than Pergolessi. Stravinsky added dissonant harmonies, rewrote melodies, changed meter, and added unusual instrumentation for a classically oriented score (i.e. trombones, trumpets). The premiere in Paris in 1920 was a stunning success for Stravinsky, Balanchine, Picasso, and Diaghilev. Stravinsky and Balanchine would continue to collaborate for nearly four more decades. After the composer’s death in 1971 Balanchine would continue to choreograph Stravinsky’s concert works – most notably the Symphony in Three Movements and Violin Concerto. 

Pulcinella is one of the quintessential works of Stravinsky’s neo-classical period. The orchestral suite omits the vocal parts that were an essential component of the ballet’s musico-dramatic essence. The opening Sinfonia at once establishes Stravinsky’s slightly astringent view of material from the classical era. Throughout the score Stravinsky’s imaginative orchestration surprises the listener in myriad ways. Section VI. is a series of variations on a gavotte theme scored entirely for winds. VII. Vivo is a fugue for brass instruments with satirical writing for trombone and double bass – the only instrument in this section’s scoring that does not belong to the brass family. The harmonics of the Finale are right out of the twentieth century rather than the eighteenth. Pulcinella remains a unique and singular work in the Stravinsky canon. 

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