BOCA RATON PHILHARMONIC SYMPHONIA
January 28, 2007
The Roberts Theater at St. Andrew’s School
Edwin Outwater, Conductor
Polina Osetinskaya, Pianist
Men and Mountains *
III. Marching Mountains
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op.16
I. Allegro molto moderato
III. Allegro moderato e marcato
Serenade No.1 in D Major, Op.11
I. Allegro molto
II. Scherzo: Allegro non troppo; Trio; Poco piu moto
III. Adagio non troppo
IV. Menuetto I; Menuetto II
V. Scherzo: Allegro; Trio
VI. Rondo: Allegro
*First local performance
By Lawrence Budmen
Men and Mountains
Carl Ruggles (1876-1971)
Like Charles Ives and Wallingford Riegger, Carl Ruggles was an American original. A native of Massachusetts, he studied composition at Harvard with John Knowles Paine, a traditionalist of the Central European school. After several years of conducting a small orchestra in Minnesota, Ruggles moved to New York where he fell under the influence of Edgar Varese and Henry Cowell – two of the mavericks of American music. He developed his own version of serialism. Unlike Schoenberg’s academic theories of atonality, Ruggles’s scores are densely constructed, fiercely dissonant, and replete with explosive instrumental writing.
Ruggles composed a small output of works which he constantly revised. Men and Mountains is a case in point. The score takes its title from a quote by William Blake: “Great things are done when Men and Mountains meet.” In the 1920’s Ruggles penned the piece’s first incarnation as Men and Angels. He would separate the work’s two movements. Angels became a separate piece. The first movement (Men) then became the opening section of a three movement work. The second movement Lilacs refers to Walt Whitman’s poem When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. (That Whitman poem would also form the basis for large scale works by Paul Hindemith and Roger Sessions.) A third movement Marching Mountains filled out the Blake reference in the title. The score is a non-traditional, symphonic suite. The composer’s original version was scored for chamber orchestra and received its premiere in 1924 at a concert of Varese’s International Composers’ Guild. That initial performance was received with derision. Ruggles revised the work in instrumentation for large orchestra which was first performed in 1936 by the New York Philharmonic under Hans Lange (an excellent conductor who is now unjustly forgotten). This time the work was given a respectful reception with some critics expressing grudging admiration.
The opening movement Men is subtitled Rhapsodic Proclamation for Horns and Orchestra. In Ruggles’s typical craggy style, the music is marked by constant changes of meter. The Lilacs movement is scored for strings alone. Elegiac in tone, this is as close as Ruggles came to lyricism. Marching Mountains concludes the work on a note of monumentality. Uncompromising contrapuntal lines and dissonant harmonies create a sense of striving upward – a brand of modernist mysticism. Ruggles’s very personal musical language was always very intense. In his maverick zeal and anti-populist originality, Ruggles created music of visionary ideals and artistic integrity.
Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op.16
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
A strong musical nationalist, Edvard Grieg became the musical voice of Norway. (Often referred to as the Norwegian Chopin, he was memorialized in the Robert Wright-George Forest musical Song of Norway. That score was based on themes from Grieg’s works including the Piano Concerto.) Grieg was best known as a composer of miniatures – countless songs, piano pieces, Norwegian dances, incidental music to plays and theatrical entertainments (most notably Ibsen’s Peer Gynt). The Piano Concerto in A Minor was the composer’s largest canvass and, arguably, his most popular score. Since its initial performances, virtuoso pianists have been drawn to the work’s combination of songful lyricism and bravura fireworks.
While Grieg’s Norwegian roots come to the fore in the concerto, the influence of Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt is also deeply felt. Grieg first heard Schumann’s Piano Concerto while a student at Leipzig (with Clara Schumann, no less, as soloist). That both the Grieg and Schumann concertos are in the key of A minor is hardly accidental. Likewise the similarities of the two score’s openings: a single chord by the orchestra followed by a brief thematic motif and mini-cadenza by the piano and, finally, a rhapsodic principal theme. Both concertos were created from the hills and valleys of romanticism in excel sis.
Grieg composed the first version of the Piano Concerto in 1868. In 1870 the composer visited Franz Liszt in Leipzig. Liszt, the most formidable pianist of that era, sight read the score. The elder master suggested numerous revisions and advised Grieg about writing for the piano. While Grieg did not accept all of Liszt’s suggestions, the final published version of the concerto bears his advisory imprint – particularly in the virtuoso writing for the piano. Despite the strong influence of Schumann and Liszt, the A Minor Concerto remains the product of Grieg’s personal creative voice. This is definitely a nationalistic score with strong Norwegian roots.
After an opening drum roll and a brief chord by the orchestra, the piano plays a brief figure. That motif would become this concerto’s signature. (Hollywood made use of it countless times.) The Allegro molto moderato proceeds with an orchestral tutti that introduces the principal theme -at once romantic and dramatic. After the piano enters and takes up this thematic material, a lyrical second subject is introduced by the cellos and repeated by the soloist. A fiery orchestral outbursts leads to an extend cadenza and brilliant conclusion. The second movement is introduced by the strings playing a darkly ruminative melody. When the piano enters, instead of repeating that motif, it plays a brief, more animated Chopinesque figuration. Later piano and orchestra burst forth with a strongly nationalistic theme. The extended Allegro moderato e marcato finale opens with a vigorous, folk influenced theme similar to Grieg’s Norwegian dances. After much bravura keyboard writing, a second melody of calm, pastoral character is introduced by the solo flute. The piano repeats this theme and then returns to the dance motif in ever more brilliant pyrotechnics. At the score’s conclusion, piano and orchestra vociferously restate the flute melody, now transformed into a heroic conclusion.
In the late 20th century, Grieg was too often dismissed as a lightweight composer of small scale vignettes. In fact, his technical mastery was impressive and his melodic inspiration could be compared favorably to such 19th century giants as Tchaikovsky. The Piano Concerto has long been a favorite of generations of pianists. In structural form, idiomatic keyboard writing, and memorable thematic ideas, the concerto remains one of the great keyboard-orchestral creations of the late 19th century.
Serenade No.1 in D Major, op.11
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Johannes Brahms remained haunted by the symphonic shadow of Ludwig van Beethoven. “You have no idea how the likes of us feel when we hear the tramp of a giant like him (Beethoven) behind us,” he said. Although he began sketching a symphony in 1855, he did not publish his monumental 1st Symphony until 1876 when he was in his forties. Brahms was the ultimate perfectionist. He constantly revised his works and destroyed more than a few scores he deemed unworthy of stature in the Austro-German musical milieu of the 19th century.
Brahms’s early scores were solo piano pieces. It was natural that he would write for the instrument he knew most intimately. His first published orchestral work was the Serenade in D Major. In many ways, the genesis of Brahms’s symphonies was planted in this charming yet rigorous score.
Between 1856 and 1859 Brahms spent four monthes each autumn in the town of Detmold as court musician for Prince Leopold III. There he led a forty-five member court orchestra. That orchestral experience probably inspired the two Serenades, Op. 11 and 16. The initial version of the 1st Serenade was written in Detmold in 1857 and 1858. A private performance of that edition for a small ensemble of eight or nine players was given by Brahms and his friends in Gottingen in 1858. Brahms conducted a public performance in Hamburg in March, 1859. The composer then revised the work for large instrumental forces. Taking his cue from the serenades of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, this version is scored for pairs of woodwinds, horns, and trumpets with strings and timpani. Joseph Joachim conducted the premiere of this final version in Hanover in March, 1860. (Joachim had advised Brahms on the expansion of the orchestration from the original chamber version.) To some extent, the D Major Serenade is a miniature symphony. Brahms actually wrote the words Sinfonie-Serenade on the manuscript before striking the first term. Following the successful premiere, Brahms wrote to Clara Schumann that the music “really seemed to reach the audience…the applause continued until I showed myself on the stage.”
Indeed the first movement Allegro molto is cast in the traditional sonata-allegro form with exposition, development and recapitulation – very much the form of a first movement of a symphony. A solo horn call opens the movement with a bucolic theme that recalls the trio in the Scherzo of Beethoven’s Symphony No.6 (Pastoral). A second subject of more lyrical, romantic important is rendered by the strings. The second movement Scherzo is pensive in mood. It definitely is stylistically related to the Scherzo of the Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat Major which Brahms composed two decades later. A calm, idyllic Adagio non troppo is a fine example of the composer’s elongated lyrical powers (with the woodwinds unusually prominent). A graceful melody in the clarinet introduces the two Menuettos of the fourth movement. This section is, perhaps, the most chamber music like in character. Hunting calls in the horns bring forth the second Scherzo in the fifth movement. Brahms’s rigorous contrapuntal powers come to the fore here. The final Allegro movement is a Rondo. Mozart favored this form – particularly in the finales of his keyboard and violin concertos. A sprightly theme is repeated between two contrasting lyrical sections. The works ends in a blaze of festive brass.
The D Major Serenade is a major essay of symphonic proportions. Brahms’s first orchestral work distinctively bears the hand, voice, and genius of its creator.