Copland, Dukas and Berlioz Program Notes

Copland, Dukas and Berlioz

Saturday, November 14, 2015, at 6:00 pm
Warren Atherton Auditorium
Peter Jaffe, conductor

 

Dukas                                      The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
(1865–1935)

Copland                                 Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo
(1900–1990)

Buckaroo Holiday
Corral Nocturne
Saturday Night Waltz
Hoe-down

Intermission

Berlioz                                   Symphonie fantastique, op. 14
(1803–1869)

Rêveries, Passions: LargoAllegro agitato e appassionato assai
Un bal: Allegro non troppo
Scène aux champs: Adagio
March au supplice: Allegretto non troppo
Songe d’une nuit de sabbat: LarghettoAllegro

Concert sponsors: Henry and Carol Zeiter and Zeiter Eye Medical Group
Thomas and Virginia Chen
Concert venue sponsor: San Joaquin Delta College
Media sponsor: The Record/San Joaquin Media Group
Music co-sponsors: Beverly and John McCarthy; James Morris/Steve Schermerhorn and Mary Ann Brooks-Schermerhorn

Guest artist accommodations provided by Hal and Debbie Lurtsema

 

Program Notes

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Paul Dukas
Born in Paris, October 1, 1865; died in Paris, May 17, 1935

Paul Dukas took his inspiration for this marvelously descriptive work from the ballad Der Zauberlehrling (The sorcerer’s apprentice) by the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; lest there be any doubt, Dukas published all fourteen stanzas of the ballad in the score. The story of an apprentice getting into “deep water” while the sorcerer is away was not new with Goethe. Luciano of Samosata told the story in the second century in Greek, titled The Lie-Fancier, or The Skeptic. Luciano’s dialogue was a witty attack on the most respected philosophers of his time. Goethe not only substituted a broom for the pestle of a wooden mortar and an unnamed magician for Pancrates, but exchanged a broader kind of humor for the devastating satire.

The “symphonic scherzo,” as Dukas categorized the work, follows the story precisely. Although he never published a program, the composer did make notations in the manuscript identifying three principal themes. The mysterious opening measures of the introduction depict the magic spell. triangle He called attention to the fact that the first part (eerie violin progression) remains unchanged, whereas the second part develops into the main theme (“broomstick theme”) of the scherzo proper. The second principal theme, the “scampering” woodwinds, represents the apprentice, triangle and the third—muted-trumpet and stopped-horn fanfare—portrays the “Evocation.” triangle “This summons by the brass instruments,” wrote Dukas, “mixes with different combinations of the two principal themes. When it appears magnified in the postlude, it expresses the idea of mastery, bringing back the calm tempo of the introduction.”

The mysterious introduction ends dramatically with a solo timpani stroke followed by an expectant silence. The scherzo proper begins with the bassoon section jauntily depicting the broom coming to life, awkwardly at first, then gathering momentum. triangle A great climax indicates the blow of the ax, when the apprentice tries to stop the broom but succeeds only in doubling it and its water-carrying capacity. triangle The signal that the sorcerer has returned is given by the sustained brass instruments, followed by the opening eerie music, now suggesting a receding—or evaporation—of the spell.triangle

Dukas wrote The Sorcerer’s Apprentice early in 1897, and it was first performed on May 18 of that year at a concert of the Société Nationale in Paris. Most commentators consider the work Dukas’s masterpiece because of its wonderful illustration of the story, its skillful and concise construction, and its brilliant orchestration. Walt Disney’s use of the piece for an animated Mickey Mouse sequence in the movie Fantasia brought The Sorcerer’s Apprentice incredible popularity. Horn players may keep the composer’s memory alive with Villanelle, and brass ensembles with the Fanfare from La Péri, but it is The Sorcerer’s Apprentice that has saved Dukas from obscurity

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, timpani, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, harp, and strings

 

Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo
Aaron Copland
Born in Brooklyn, New York, November 14, 1900; died in North Tarrytown, New York, December 2, 1990

After the smashing success of Copland’s first “cowboy” ballet, Billy the Kid, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo commissioned him to compose a second. He wrote the music in the summer of 1942 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he lived while teaching at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood). The Festival itself had been canceled owing to wartime gas rationing, all except for the School, which Koussevitzky kept open with his own money and that of a few patrons. Copland wrote to Benjamin Britten who had returned to England in June, “It’s wonderful to be back—so relaxing and peaceful. I’m doing a frothy ballet for the Monte Carlo people on the usual Wild West subject—full of square dances and Scotch tunes and the like.” Copland reported that it was hard for him to work on it once the Center had opened, but he had promised choreographer Agnes de Mille that he would finish it by the end of the summer.

Rodeo was premiered by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo on October 16 at the Metropolitan Opera House, conducted by Frank Allers, with settings by Oliver Smith and costumes by Kermit Love. It became perhaps the most popular American ballet. Copland extracted a suite from the work entitled Four Dance Episodes, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic on June 22, 1943, conducted by Alexander Smallens.

Copland used folk songs as the basis for Rodeo, much as he had done in Billy the Kid. Rather than quoting them directly, however, he subjected them to his own techniques. Buckaroo Holiday, the first episode, is based on two folk songs, “Sis Joe,” which after the gentle theme for the Cowgirl provides a boisterous entrance for the cowboys, triangle and “If he’d be a buckaroo by his trade,” with which the Cowgirl mimics the cowboys.triangle  Copland found both tunes in John and Alan Lomax’s compilation Our Singing Country. Copland employs cheerful ragtime accompaniments and humorous pauses. The story begins as a young tomboy Cowgirl suddenly becomes aware of her attraction to men and tries to impress the Head Wrangler and Champion Roper with her riding skills.

The Corral Nocturne brings great contrast as the dejected Cowgirl cannot measure up to the city girls and is deserted by the cowboys. Copland borrowed no tunes for this episode, instead creating a subdued Western landscape with muted brass and strings and plaintive wind solos.triangle

The Saturday Night Waltz accompanies the dance festivities at the ranch. The tuning up of the strings to start the dance is part of the score. The Roper and the Wrangler ask the Cowgirl to dance, but she is overcome by shyness. The folk tune “Old Paint” is incorporated as the Roper insists that she dance.triangle  Copland cleverly reconfigured the meter and accentuations of the original tune, which gives it a pleasingly off-kilter freshness. As the Cowgirl is dancing she becomes jealous when she sees the Wrangler dancing with the Rancher’s daughter. The annoyed Roper leaves her.

The rollicking Hoe-down triangle is based on “Bonyparte,” which Copland took from Ira Ford’s Traditional Music of America, though it probably has European origins. “McLeod’s Reel,” one of the “Scotch tunes” Copland mentioned to Britten, also makes a brief appearance. triangle The composer uses plentiful “fiddle” figures in the violins to enhance the folk-dance atmosphere. In the ballet the Hoe-down accompanies the happy ending when the cowgirl finally attracts the attention of all the men and accepts the Roper as her partner.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 3 flutes, 2nd doubling 1st piccolo, 3rd doubling 2nd piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, xylophone, glockenspiel, snare drum, wood block, triangles, cymbals, whip, bass drum, harp, piano doubling celesta, and strings

Symphonie fantastique, op. 14
Hector Berlioz
Born in La Côte-St.-André, Isère, December 11, 1803; died in Paris, March 8, 1869

Berlioz’s inspiration for the Symphonie fantastique was his great love for Irish actress Harriet Smithson, a member of an English acting group that performed Shakespeare’s plays in Paris in 1827. Though they had not yet met, he became obsessed by her, constantly seeking ways to approach her. The Symphonie expresses the tumult of emotions she aroused in him, including the apparent souring of his passion in 1830, the year of its composition. They eventually met in 1832 and married after a stormy courtship—a would-be happy ending to the story, but they were miserable within a few years and separated formally in 1844.

Berlioz was almost as obsessed with outlining his “Episode in the Life of an Artist” (the Symphonie’s subtitle) in prose as he was with Harriet Smithson. He wrote many versions of the story behind the work, some in letters, but several as formal programs to be distributed to audiences or with the score. They differ in certain details of order, but in essence describe a young musician who: falls desperately in love and passes from a state of melancholy reverie to frenzied passion (first movement); encounters his beloved “in the midst of the tumult of a brilliant party” (second movement); considers his passion calmly in the country (third movement); dreams that he has killed his beloved, is condemned to death and led to the scaffold (fourth movement); and meets his love at the witches’ sabbath (fifth movement). Before the events of the fourth movement or before the entire work begins, depending on which version one reads, the artist poisons himself with a dose of opium too weak to be fatal, but potent enough to send him into deep slumber, accompanied by the strangest visions.

When the work was finally published in 1846 Berlioz had decided that the absolute qualities of the music could stand on their own, for he wrote in the preface, “If the Symphony alone is performed [without its seldom-performed choral and orchestral sequel Lélio (1831–32)] . . . if necessary, one can even dispense with distributing the program, keeping only the titles of the five movements. The Symphony by itself (the author hopes) can afford musical interest independent of any dramatic purpose.”

Berlioz described the melodic image that pursues the artist in all five movements of the work as an idée fixe, a term at that time associated not with music but with the psychiatric branch of the medical profession. Berlioz first conceived his musical idée fixe long before encountering Harriet Smithson; he was only twelve years old and obsessed by Estelle, an older girl. He reused the theme in his cantata Herminie in 1828, and clearly considered it a love theme. This musical idea is remarkable for its length and unpredictability of intervals, rhythm, and phrasing. triangle Another important borrowed theme, the Dies irae from the Gregorian Requiem Mass, triangle makes its appearance in the last movement, triangle after Berlioz has transformed his idée fixe into a “grotesque” (Berlioz’s word) dance tune.  triangleUltimately he combines it with the theme of the witches’ dance.triangle

Amid all the novel features of the Symphonie fantastique, one can still trace the forms of the customary symphonic pattern, at least up until the last two movements. The Reveries and Passions correspond to a slow introduction triangle and sonata-allegro first movement (begun by the idée fixe, see above), the Ball might be considered the scherzo, triangle and the Scene in the Country the slow movement. triangle  The correspondence then breaks down with the March to the Scaffold triangle and the Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath—a multisectional, quasi-sonata form movement, complete with a colossal fugue—which becomes the focal point of the work.triangle

The dramatic, innovative Symphonie fantastique created a furor, first apparent during the preparation for a performance that never materialized. Berlioz wanted a 220-member orchestra, but had to settle for 130, eighty of whom he recruited himself. His account in his Memoirs of the pandemonium at the rehearsal makes wonderful reading. The historic first performance on December 5, 1830, set off more explosions and many critics took pen in hand to fuel the fire. One of the most perceptive essays was written by Robert Schumann, who went to some length to obtain a copy of the music to study, after reading both François Fétis’s attack on it and violinist Heinrich Panofka’s glowing account.

Everyone who attended the first performance of the Symphonie fantastique was surely struck by Berlioz’s great originality; his music sounded like no other. Listening to the work nearly two centuries later it is hard to remember that Beethoven had died only three years before. What must have impressed the listener, aside from unorthodox harmonic procedures, was the collective sound of the orchestra. Not only did Berlioz single out certain instruments for dramatic roles (the English horn solo at the beginning of the Country Scene must surely have had an effect on Wagner’s Tristan), but he treated the entire orchestra as one virtuoso instrument. The Berlioz sound has been in the ears of composers ever since. “It is through this work,” wrote noted historian and Berlioz scholar Jacques Barzun, “that he first became known, and from it one can date his unremitting influence on nineteenth-century composers.”

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 2 flutes, 2nd doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, 2nd doubling English horn, 2 clarinets, 1st doubling E-flat clarinet, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets (2 trumpets, 2 cornets), 3 trombones, 2 tubas, 4 timpani (2 of 4 players doubling percussion), bass drum, cymbals, suspended cymbals, snare drum, 2 low chimes, 2 harps, and strings