BOCA RATON PHILHARMONIC SYMPHONIA
February 18, 2007
The Roberts Theater at St. Andrew’s School
Scott Yoo, Conductor
Bion Tsang, Cello
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Overture to The Magic Flute
Cello Concerto No.1 in E-flat Major
IV. Allegro con motto
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No.6 in F Major, Op.68 (Pastoral)
I. Allegro ma non troppo
Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arriving in the Country
II. Andante molto mosso
Scene by the Brook
Merry Gathering of the Country Folk
Shepherd’s Song: Happy Thankful Feelings After the Storm
By Lawrence Budmen
Overture to The Magic Flute
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
It is difficult to believe that The Magic Flute was a major product of Mozart’s tragic final year. The work is both an exalted ode to humanity and to Free Masonry (which Mozart eagerly embraced) and a light, comedic singspiel. Despite Mozart’s dire financial circumstances and his illness and death at age thirty-five, The Magic Flute is an uplifting, optimistic piece. With a libretto by theater director-actor-vaudevillian Emanuel Schikaneder, the opera received its premiere at the Theater auf der Wieden in suburban Vienna on September 30, 1791.
The overture opens with solemn chords signifying the Masonic brotherhood. A spacious introduction is followed by a vigorous theme which Mozart treats contrapuntally. Briefly the chords of Masonic ritual intervene. The allegro subject returns and is further developed, leading to a joyous coda.
The Magic Flute was a popular success. Even as Mozart was dying in December, 1791 the opera was playing nightly. Today it undoubtedly ranks as one of the composer’s masterpieces in the operatic genre.
Cello Concerto No.1 in E-flat Major, Op.107
Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Shostakovich composed both of his cello concertos for the distinguished Russian cellist Mistislav Rostropovich. The composer had been Rostropovich’s piano accompanist on a concert tour of the Soviet Union. One of the works they had played together was Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata of 1934.
After his 10th and 11th symphonies, the composer sought to write a work of less epic proportions. In 1959 Shostakovich wrote in a Soviet publication: “My next work will be a cello concerto…I would find it difficult to say anything concrete about its content: such questions, despite their apparent naturalness and simplicity, always cause me problems. I can say only that this concerto was conceived a long time ago. The original impulse came from hearing Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra, which interested me greatly and also, aroused my desire to try my hand at this genre.” The Prokofiev piece, one of that composer’s last scores, was also written for Rostropovich who premiered the Shostakovich concerto on October 4, 1959 with the Leningrad Philharmonic under the direction of the legendary Russian conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky (who conducted the first performances of six of the composer’s symphonies).
The initial Allegretto opens with a four note motif introduced by the cello. It is repeated by the horn which acts (throughout the concerto) as almost a second solo instrument. A terse, distinctively Russian theme is heard later. For a work of comparatively lighter character, the slow Moderato movement is unusually introspective. Indeed this music is anguished and emotionally intense. In the much disputed memoir Testimony by Solomon Volkov, Shostakovich indicated that he wrote themes and episodes in his works that spoke about the pain and horror of totalitarian Soviet bureaucracy. Can this movement be such an instance? As in Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1, the third movement is an elongated solo cadenza based on themes from the previous movements. This movement is also a high voltage display of cello pyrotechnics which leads into the concluding Allegro con moto. An acerbic principal theme is developed by soloist and orchestra with the French horn insistently suggesting the theme of the first movement which is restated at the work’s conclusion.
Shostakovich was one of the most distinctive creative voices of the 20th century. Even when composing an instrumental showpiece, his deeply felt, passionately stated argument rises to the fore. Shostakovich’s magical command of orchestration remains in a class by itself.
Symphony No.6 in F Major, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
While the aural image of Beethoven the Titan is vividly conveyed in his Eroica, 5th and 9th Symphonies, Emperor Concerto and many other works, there was a more genial, lyrical side to the master from Bonn. His even numbered symphonies and first two piano concertos are filled with engaging melodies and elegant instrumental writing. If one score personifies this gentler side of Beethoven, it is the Pastoral Symphony.
The initial sketches for the Pastoral Symphony were made in 1803 when Beethoven was writing the titanic Symphony No.3 (Eroica). His sketchbooks from that period contain the opening theme of the Sixth Symphony, the Trio section of the Scherzo, and two fragments from the second movement (Scene by the Brook). Beethoven returned to the work in 1808 following the composition of such landmark works as the Waldstein and Appasionata Sonatas, the Razumovsky Quartets, and the heroic opera Fidelio. He dedicated the score jointly to his patrons Prince Lobkowitz and Count Razumovsky.
While Beethoven’s 5th and 6th Symphonies are total opposites in character and musical ambience, these two scores were written simultaneously. Both were given premieres at a concert Beethoven directed on December 22, 1808 at the Theater an der Wien. The 4th Piano Concerto, excerpts from the Mass in C Minor, the Choral Fantasia, and a piano improvisation were also on the program. Luckily the Pastoral Symphony opened that overlong program and was well received.
Beethoven was uneasy with the concept of a programmatic symphony. The original set of orchestral parts (as well as the concert program at the premiere) contained the statement “Pastoral Symphony which is more an expression of feeling than painting.” In his sketches Beethoven further enumerated “Let us leave the listener to find out the situation by his own devices.” Eventually the composer seems to have become comfortable with a series of descriptive titles for each movement which are printed in the score (in all published editions).
It is important to remember that these movement titles are merely suggestive. The Pastoral is a 19th century romantic symphony in full bloom, albeit with an additional movement. Aside from this deviation, the score is conceived in rigorous formal contours. What distinguishes the work from the symphonies that immediately precede and follow it (the 5th and 7th) is the music’s serenity and spaciousness. The richness of Beethoven’s orchestral writing stands in direct contrast to the more spare instrumentation of the earlier symphonies. (The Pastoral Symphony has often been compared to the 2nd Symphony of Johannes Brahms. While there are numerous similarities in the two scores, they are probably coincidental.)
The symphony’s opening phrases prefigure the lively first subject. A broader second theme follows. The third subject has a clipped, rhythmically springy cast. While the movement follows the broad outlines of sonata form (Exposition-Development-Recapitulation), Beethoven daringly introduces a fourth subject of noble character during the development section. In the Scene by the Brook (second movement) an accompanying figure suggests a flowing stream. Beethoven’s inventive wind writing simulates bird calls: nightingale, quail, and cuckoo. The third movement is a rustic peasant dance. The prevailing high spirits (and autumnal cast of the previous movements) is broken by the storm. Here is the heaven storming Beethoven rolling thunderbolts on timpani and introducing chromaticism into the harmonic brew. As the musical torrent subsides, the main theme of the finale (the Shepherd’s song of Thanksgiving) is introduced. One of Beethoven’s most eloquent melodies, the subject is developed in many guises (almost a theme and variations) and, finally, is suggested again by the French horn as two climactic chords bring the symphony to a close. The unending melodic inspiration, instrumental ingenuity, and ambitious scale of this symphony make it one of Beethoven’s most striking yet accessible works.