Great Romantic Serenades Saturday, March 10, 2018, 7pm Broadmoor Community Church Sunday, March 11, 2018, 2:30pm First Christian Church
Saturday, March 10, 2018, 7pm Broadmoor Community Church Sunday, March 11, 2018, 2:30pm First Christian Church Brahms Serenade No. 2 in A Major, op. 16 Strauss Serenade in E-ﬂat Major, op. 7 Dvorak Serenade in D Minor, op. 44
Three of the biggest names of the Romantic Era come to together in a program of their most blissful music. Brahms, Strauss and Dvořák are at the center of a weekend of rare and special works showing how these composers were willing to experiment with different ways to put together an orchestra and blend the instruments. It’s the Voice of the Romantic at its most rewarding.
Pre-concert talk 45 minutes prior to each concert with Guy Dutra-Silveira, Ute Pass Chamber Players, Former Principal Oboist, Colorado Springs Philharmonic.
PROGRAM NOTES BY MARK ARNEST
The serenade first appears in Medieval times, exactly as portrayed in B-movies: as a song performed by an outdoor lover to his indoor beloved through an open window during the evening. It gradually evolved into a multi-movement work, often played outdoors (therefore stressing brass and woodwind instruments over the quieter strings), and requiring less attention from a listener than a symphony. Its heyday was the 18th Century, when Mozart produced several masterpieces in the genre, and the 19th Century, by which time it had moved indoors and was no longer limited in instrumentation. Serenades have largely fallen out of favor with contemporary composers; the last one of note may be Leonard Bernstein’s 1954 Serenade After Plato's “Symposium.”
Overview: Johannes Brahms Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg, Germany, died April 3, 1897, Vienna, Austria Work Composed: 1859 Why It Matters: A marvelously fresh and inventive early work
“I was in a perfectly blissful mood. I have seldom written music with such delight.” – Johannes Brahms to Joseph Joachim regarding the Serenade No. 2
Brahms began his career as a protégé of Robert Schumann, who was so impressed that he broke a nine-year silence as music critic to praise Brahms in an 1853 article that climaxed with one of the most florid sentences in the history of music criticism: “And finally it seemed as though he himself, a surging stream incarnate, swept [all his compositions] together into a single waterfall, sending aloft a peaceful rainbow above the turbulent waves, flanked on the shores by playful butterflies and the voices of nightingales.” The sober and modest Brahms never quite got over Schumann’s praise, which, he wrote the composer, “will have so greatly increased the expectations of the musical world regarding my work that I do not know how I shall manage to do even approximate justice to it.” But Schumann was on to something. Even if Brahms did not, as Schumann gushed, “spring fully armed from the head of Zeus,” he was nevertheless an enormously accomplished and mature 20-year-old when Schumann met him. Brahms’s earliest published works require no indulgence or excuses. One reason is Brahms’s extremely self-critical attitude: He didn’t want anyone to see the labor that went into his compositions, so he destroyed all sketches, and even entire pieces that he decided did not reflect his best work. Such an attitude can paralyze a composer (as it did Sibelius), but Brahms was productive until the end of his life. Most discussions of the Brahms-Schumann relationship revolve around the fact that both composers were in love with the same woman: Schumann’s wife, Clara. (Nobody knows how far the Brahms-Clara affair went, though there’s no question that they loved each other until the ends of their lives.) But despite their very different temperaments, the two composers had a great deal artistically in common: Both are known for their rhythmic quirkiness, and for the way they synthesized their intensely personal creative imaginations with a reverent knowledge of the music that preceded them. This Serenade illustrates a third way in which Brahms and Schumann resemble one another: Each had an unusually systematic approach to learning the craft of composition. Brahms doesn’t match Schumann’s almost monomaniacal emphasis on one genre at a time – solo piano works followed by songs for voice and piano, orchestral works, chamber music, and oratorio – but like Schumann, Brahms began with solo piano compositions and then branched out to songs, chamber music, and finally the orchestra with his first Serenade Op. 12, completed a year before this piece. The second Serenade is only his second orchestral composition, and from the standpoint of orchestration is a bit of a “practice” work, featuring a trimmed-down ensemble. This piece immediately follows the composer’s first piano concerto, an enormous and complex work that occupied Brahms for four years. Relieved to have finally finished it, he composed the Serenade quickly and easily. It remains one of his freshest and most immediately appealing works. Its most unusual feature is the instrumentation. There are no violins, and the only brass is a pair of French horns. Among the instruments he has, Brahms gives special attention to the bassoons and the lower range of the clarinets. All this gives the work an unusually dark and warm sonority. He would never again write for such an unusual orchestral combination. There are five movements, in the form of a symphony but with an added movement between the slow movement and the finale. The key scheme also resembles a symphony more than a serenade, which is generally restricted to a few closely related keys. The first movement’s opening theme seems to float upwards; the sensation of rising is a feature of the second theme as well. The movement ends with a long and nostalgic closing section. In the exuberant second movement, Brahms plays with the rhythmic difference between two times three beats and three times two beats. The slow movement is the serenade’s richest, equal to many symphonic slow movements. It begins with a mournful, passacaglia-like opening section, followed by a noble and lyrical middle section, and an extensive third section that develops ideas from the first section. The genial fourth movement is in 6/4 time, a time signature Brahms used often in his early works, including two of the three movements of the first piano concerto. It has a distinctive rhythmic swing; its middle section is more mysterious, but just as rhythmically charming. The boisterous rondo finale brings the Serenade to a satisfying conclusion.
Overview: Richard Strauss Born June 11, 1864, Munich, Germany; died September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany Work Composed: 1882 Why It Matters: A charming early work by a composer whose style would take a very different path
“He was not a composer who waited for the spark from heaven to fall; he worked and he worked, in the hope that something good would sometimes be the result.” – Michael Kennedy
Richard Strauss came from a musical family. His father, Franz, was one of the most celebrated French horn players in Germany. Franz was musically conservative, especially favoring Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, and heartily disapproving of the music of the ultra-modern Richard Wagner – though he played it with surpassing skill. “Strauss is a detestable fellow,” wrote Wagner, “but when he blows his horn one cannot sulk with him.” Growing up in such an environment, it’s not surprising that early Strauss compositions – such as this Serenade – are far more conservative than the works on which his reputation rests today. The young Strauss preferred Brahms to Wagner, and in 1884 he wrote to a friend that Brahms’s then-new Symphony No. 3 was “probably the most important symphony that has ever been written.” Strauss would eventually fall under Wagner’s spell, earning him the title “Richard the Third” from the eminent musician Hans von Bülow. (The third, said von Bülow, because there could be no Richard the Second.) But that was still on the horizon when Strauss composed this Serenade. He had just turned 17, and it’s an extraordinary work for for such a young composer. The Serenade attracted a good deal of attention in the early 1880s, and was programmed by some of Germany’s most respected conductors. As Strauss biographer Michael Kennedy wrote, “One can imagine how the news must have travelled on the German musical grapevine that the son of that old curmudgeon Strauss the horn player had genuine talent as a composer.” Unusually for a serenade, the piece is a single movement. The sonata form is conventional but very lucidly constructed. The first theme has a sense of calm repose that becomes rare in Strauss’s later music, while the lyrical second theme is rhythmically propelled by underlying triplets. The development section’s sonorous climax leads to the recapitulation, now presented majestically by the horns. A few hints of the mature Strauss are audible, such as the slippery chromatic progression near the beginning – a progression that, however, quickly resolves to a conventional dominant chord. Strauss’s handling of the instruments also shows remarkable maturity: He had paid close attention during the hundreds of hours he’d spent at his father’s orchestra rehearsals. In later life, Strauss would describe this Serenade as “nothing more than the respectable work of a music student.” Perhaps; but it’s the work of a prodigiously talented music student.
Overview: Antonín Dvořák Born September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, Czech Republic; died: May 1, 1904, Prague, Czech Republic Work Composed: 1878 Why It Matters: You will be hard-pressed to find a composition that’s more fun than this.
“Take a look at Dvorák's Serenade for Wind Instruments. … It would be difficult to discover a finer, more refreshing impression of really abundant and charming creative talent.” – Johannes Brahms to Joseph Joachim
In 1878 the 36-year-old Dvořák was finally getting traction as a composer. His career had taken off three years before, when he won an Austrian state prize for composition, and he was pouring out new pieces at a furious rate. It’s not unusual, then, that he would have composed this Serenade in only two weeks, after hearing Mozart’s Serenade in B-flat for Wind Instruments. A couple of months later he would compose the first book of Slavonic Dances, the work that made him famous worldwide. Those dances are foreshadowed in this exuberant work, which practically bubbles over with high spirits and catchy themes. The orchestral treatment is as good as the material: Dvořák gets the potentially heavy-sounding ensemble of winds and basses to dance. The piece has a four-movement form suggestive of a symphony, but there are important differences. There are no violins or violas (Dvořák reinforces the lower part of the ensemble with cellos and basses) and the only brass is a trio of horns. Its size is modest, and the first movement, rather than being a weighty and elaborate sonata form, is a simple A-B-A. Aside from the instrumentation, though, the final three movements could belong to a symphony: a brisk scherzo, a slow movement (another A-B-A form), and a rondo finale. The first movement is cheerful despite its minor key. The opening theme is reminiscent of Wagner’s Wedding March, but the treatment and the mood are pure Dvořák. The second theme is more relaxed, and shows the influence of the Czech folk music that would play an increasingly important role in Dvořák’s music. The second movement’s graceful opening section plays some rhythmic games reminiscent of Brahms, who had been one of the composer’s champions since learning of Dvořák in 1875. The middle section is exhilarating in a frenzied, almost Tchiakovsky-esque way. The lyrical third movement features a dramatic middle section that contrasts in mood rather than in thematic material. The transitions are brilliant, with the passage arriving and departing like a summer storm. Unusually for most composers – but not so unusually for Dvořák – the coda is immense, as if the music were just too beautiful to end. The finale bubbles over with high spirits. Its coda, featuring a return of the first movement’s main theme, is also long, but the mood couldn’t be more different than that of the third movement. Here, it’s as if Dvořák simply doesn’t want the fun to stop.