Program Notes, Classics I

Beethoven, Maestro and Son James

Saturday, October 10, 2015, at 6:00 pm

Warren Atherton Auditorium

Peter Jaffe,conductor

Zhou-Yu-Jaffe Trio
Ning Zhou, piano
Victor (Yanghe) Yu, violin
James Jaffe, cello

Brahms            Academic Festival Overture, op. 80
(1833–1897)

Beethoven      Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, op. 56, “Triple”
(1770–1827)

Allegro
Largo
Rondo alla Polacca

Zhou-Yu-Jaffe Trio
Ning Zhou, piano
Victor (Yanghe) Yu, violin
James Jaffe, cello

Intermission

Ravel                         Alborada del gracioso
(1875–1937)

 

Debussy                 Clair de lune
(1868–1918)
arr. Alfred Reed

 

Ravel                       La valse

Concert co-sponsors: M.J. Hall/Golden Bear Insurance; Michael and Karen Hall
Concert venue sponsor: San Joaquin Delta College
Media sponsor: The Record/San Joaquin Media Group
Guest artist co-sponsors: Stockton Symphony Board of Directors, Jim and Conni Bock, E. Urban Ernst, and anonymous
Guest artist accommodations provided by Hal and Debbie Lurtsema

Piano tuning by Marty Weiner

 

Program Notes

Academic Festival Overture, op. 80
Johannes Brahms
Born in Hamburg, May 7, 1833; died in Vienna April 3, 1897

Although Brahms did not attend the university when he lived in Göttingen in the early 1850s, Joseph Joachim and other friends introduced him to the student songs of the day and to the freshman initiation “fox-ride” around the tables in the common room. He drew on these experiences many years later when he composed his Academic Festival Overture, having received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Breslau. In typical fashion, Brahms had not attended the 1879 ceremony and had to be persuaded by his friend Bernard Scholz, conductor of the Breslau subscription concerts, that the University would be expecting a musical thank-you rather than a simple postcard. The resulting Overture, completed in 1880, was premiered in Breslau on January 4, 1881, with the composer himself conducting. The University rector, senate, and philosophy faculty were all on hand to show their appreciation.

Brahms, who habitually belittled the merits of his own pieces, described the Academic Festival Overture as a “jolly potpourri of student songs à la Suppé.” Franz Suppé had indeed included several student songs in the simple medley-overture to his operetta Flotte Bursche (Dashing fellows, 1863), but though Brahms used one of the same tunes—the famous “Gaudeamus igitur” (Let us now enjoy ourselves)—he went far beyond a mere “potpourri” in his ingenious combination of student songs and sonata form.

The introduction presents the main theme in mysterious guise, triangle later to be transformed in the triumphal first subject; triangle  this introductory material also finds its way into the development and preparation for the recapitulation. The first student song, “Wir hatten gebauet ein staatliches Haus” (We have built a stately house), crowns the introduction in hymnlike fashion, solemnly intoned by trumpets and horn, triangle and leads into a full majestic declamation of the main theme. The second student song, “Hochfeierlicher Landesvater” (Most solemn song to the father of the country), becomes the melting second subject, played by second violins and violas adorned by a floating pedal point in first violins, triangle The “fox-ride” song, “Was kommt dort von der Höh’?” (What comes there from on high?), enters in a spirit of irrepressible fun as the closing theme of the exposition, played tongue-in-cheek by bassoons and oboe, then interrupted boisterously by full forces. triangle Brahms caps his celebration with a grandiose coda based on the last of his student songs, “Gaudeamus igitur.” triangle The orchestration, though modest by Mahlerian standards, is the largest Brahms ever used.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings

 

Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, op. 56, “Triple”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Born in Bonn, baptized December 17, 1770; died in Vienna, March 26, 1827

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto occupies a unique position in the history of music as the first concerto for violin, cello, piano, and orchestra, and as the only one that has entered into the standard repertoire. Previous concertos that had employed more than one solo instrument—as in a Baroque concerto grosso or works in the sinfonia concertante genre by Mozart, J. C. Bach, and Haydn—typically employed a more homogeneous combination of solo instruments. Beethoven recognized his accomplishment only casually in billing the Concerto as a novelty to publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in 1804. Though Beethoven’s Triple Concerto spawned later examples by Emanuel Moor, Paul Juon, Alexander Tcherepnin, and Alfredo Casella, none has surpassed or even equaled Beethoven’s.

According to Beethoven’s first biographer Anton Schindler, who presumably learned the details from Beethoven himself, the piano part of the Triple Concerto was composed for Archduke Rudolph, the violin part for Carl Seidler, and the cello part for Anton Kraft (formerly associated with Haydn at Esterháza). The sixteen-year-old Archduke became Beethoven’s piano student in the winter of 1803–04, and Beethoven’s brother Carl offered the barely begun Concerto to Breitkopf & Härtel on October 14, 1803. Though there is little reason to doubt Schindler, questions have arisen concerning when Beethoven became acquainted with the Archduke. In any case, sketches show that Beethoven wrote the first theme while working on the Eroica Symphony in 1803 and most of the remainder of the of the Concerto in the spring of 1804 amid work on the Waldstein and Appassionata Sonatas and the opera Fidelio.

Beethoven offered the Concerto to Breitkopf & Härtel again in August and October 1804, but was turned down each time. The Concerto was finally published in 1808 by the Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie. By that time Beethoven must have felt he needed to please Prince Lobkowitz, for the dedication went to him rather than to Archduke Rudolph. Most commentaries give the date of the first performance as May 1808 at one of the Augarten (outdoor) concerts in Vienna, but the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung reviewed a performance that took place in Leipzig before Easter that year by a trio of soloists listed as Madame Mueller, piano; Mattäi, violin; and J.J.F. Dotzauer, cello. The work was favorably received then in contrast to the May performance, which according to Schindler won no applause.

Beethoven’s work stands out for its solution of seemingly insurmountable problems: that of the balance between the three solo instruments and the orchestra, particularly with regard to the darker hue of the cello, and that of formal proportions—that is, how to proceed without making the work too long when, to be a true triple concerto, each instrument as well as the orchestra should play each theme. The composer met the first of these challenges by having the cello play most of the time in its highest and brightest register and by having it lead off with the majority of the main themes.

Beethoven solved the second problem on the broadest level simply by allowing himself more space. He had entered a new heroic phase—as exemplified by the new broad proportions of the Eroica—and let his scale expand to accommodate all the protagonists, particularly in the first movement. Nevertheless, a great deal of ingenuity was required not to expand beyond manageability. He began by crafting relatively brief and simple themes so as to allow more time for elaboration. Furthermore, he offered a condensed second movement, having the cello join the orchestra in its opening theme and truncating the form to lead directly into the finale. The Rondo alla Polacca also dispenses with a purely orchestral opening.

The quiet, mysterious entrance of the main theme of the first movement suggests great things to come. Its prominent dotted rhythms and subsequent grand crescendo further demonstrate Beethoven’s heroic phase. triangle The second theme also depends on dotted rhythms, but with much different effect. triangle In the solo trio’s exposition Beethoven gives this theme a special radiance by modulating to A major, the submediant keytriangle. With full-scale development, recapitulation, and coda, Beethoven felt no need for a cadenza in this movement.

The Largo, in the warm key of A-flat major, sounds like the broad opening of a substantial slow movement—a lovely cello theme, triangle followed by a varied restatement in the winds with piano decoration, triangle and a further statement in which the violin takes the lead. triangle Dramatic chords and portentous solo arpeggios, however, do not lead to a contrasting section. Instead we realize that all the foregoing has served as an introduction to the finale.triangle

The closing movement is a rondo in the style of a polonaise, a characteristic Polish dance in triple meter familiar to the Viennese at the time, but which Beethoven used only rarely. triangle In the central episode the solo violin initiates a particularly energetic display of the polonaise rhythm. triangle The rondo refrain itself is especially charming for its harmonic shift from C major to E major and back again. Just before the closing statement of the main theme Beethoven inserts a whirlwind section in duple meter, in which the polonaise rhythm is smoothed out triangle and which culminates in a cadenza-like passage for the soloists. triangle Beethoven brings his polonaise theme back in the original triple meter to close the movement majestically.triangle

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

 

Alborada del gracioso
Maurice Ravel
Born in Ciboure, Basses Pyrénées, March 7, 1875; died in Paris, December 28, 1937

In 1918 on a commission from ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, Ravel made a masterful orchestration of his Alborada del gracioso (Morning song of the jester), thereby bringing extra celebrity to one of his Miroirs for solo piano. In his autobiographical sketch Ravel said that his Miroirs of 1904–05 “mark a change in my harmonic development pronounced enough to have upset those musicians who till then had had the least trouble in appreciating my style.” He no doubt referred to his freedom to avoid the home key for long stretches and to use passages of unresolved chords over pedal points.

Ravel’s formal structures in these five “mirrors” of nature were also freer than in his earlier works. When pianist Ricardo Viñes told him that Debussy dreamed of writing “a kind of music whose form was so free that it would sound improvised” (never minding old improvisatory-sounding forms such as fantasias and toccatas!), Ravel told Viñes that he, too, was working along similar principles. Several weeks later Ravel played his free-sounding Miroirs for the Apaches, his circle of Parisian artists.

Ravel dedicated each of the five Miroirs to a fellow Apache—Alborada to his lifelong friend, critic Michel D. Calvocoressi. Viñes premiered Miroirs on January 6, 1906, at a concert of the Société Nationale de Musique. Aldorada del gracisoso became the best known of the pieces, owing to Ravel’s 1918 orchestration, premiered by Rhené-Baton conducting the Pasdeloup Orchestra on May 17, 1919.

The first of Ravel’s many “Spanish” pieces, Alborada employs fast repeated notes, glissandos, half-step clashes, and characteristic rhythmic patterns to achieve the proper flavor. triangle He also shows his interest in earlier historical periods, particularly the age of courtly love, in which alborada or alba was a form of poetry with song about a lover’s departure at dawn. The piece also reflects the alborada as a popular dance form that flourished near the Basque country where Ravel was born, particularly in the outer sections. Following the mock-melancholy recitative of the contrasting middle section triangle and an altered return of the opening, Ravel launches one of the most exciting codas in the repertoire.triangle

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 3 flutes, 3rd doubling piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, xylophone, crotales, castanets, 2 harps, and strings.

 

Clair de lune
Claude Debussy
Born in St. Germaine-en-Laye, August 22, 1862; died in Paris, March 25, 1918
arr. Alfred Reed

Debussy was enchanted by the poetry of Paul Verlaine. Around 1890 he composed Suite bergamasque, a set of piano pieces taking its title from a line of Verlaine’s famous poem Clair de lune (Moonlight). That poem had appeared in a collection of poems entitled Fêtes galantes, which in turn were inspired by the paintings of Watteau and his followers. In these paintings idealized landscapes of parks and gardens in the twilight are often populated by revelers in costumes of the tragic-comic characters of the commedia dell’arte—Harlequin, Pierrot, Colombine, and company.

Originally Debussy had called the present piece “Promenade sentimentale” after another Verlaine poem, but when he polished the Suite bergamasque for publication in 1905 he changed the title to Clair de lune. Since that time the piece has taken on a life of its own, having become extraordinarily popular and, sad to say, trivialized. Its luminous qualities and inspired construction, however, should inspire listeners to look beyond its familiarity. That amazing opening—how it just hangs there then gently descends as silvery light from the moon! triangle The rhythmic freedom gives the feeling of floating as does the delay of the anchoring pitch of the home key. Debussy, like his contemporary Ravel, was justly famous for his water imagery. The rippling central section no doubt responds to the line in Verlaine’s poem describing the moonlight bringing sobs of ecstasy to the fountains. triangle The ending is magical—Debussy fragments the theme as moonlight would be broken up by shadows and allows it to die away in a haunting final cadence.triangle

Clair de lune has been arranged for orchestra many times, notably by Debussy’s younger colleague André Caplet and also by that inveterate arranger Leopold Stokowski. Tonight’s arrangement is by Alfred Reed (1921–2005), who began as a trumpet player, became interested in concert band music, and eventually became a staff composer and arranger for NBC, then ABC, contributing works for radio, television, films, and recordings. He later conducted at Baylor University and followed Frederick Fennell at the University of Miami, continuing his interest in educational music of all levels.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, horn, 2 trumpets, trombone, vibraphone, harp, piano, and strings

 

La valse
Maurice Ravel

La valse had its origins as early as 1906 in a pre-war symphonic poem entitled Wien (Vienna). Completed in the spring of 1920, the work had not only been renamed La valse, possibly because the original title lacked tact in France so soon after World War I, but the subtitle had also been replaced with “choreographic poem.” Ravel hoped that his work would find favor with Diaghilev, the famous impresario of the Ballets Russes, with whom Ravel had had some success before.

With the idea of securing a definite contract, Ravel played it for Diaghilev in a two-piano version with Marcelle Meyer at the apartment of Misia Sert (to whom the work was later dedicated). Stravinsky and Poulenc were also present. Poulenc later wrote in Moi et mes amis (Me and my friends) that as they played Diaghilev began to show signs of disapproval. When they finished he said, “Ravel, it is a masterpiece . . . but it is not a ballet. . . . It is the portrait of a ballet . . . the painting of a ballet.” Ravel quietly took the score from the piano and left. The friendship thus broken was never mended.

La valse was first performed in concert version on December 12, 1920, at the Concerts Lamoreaux. Ravel did have the satisfaction of seeing it staged eight years later by Ida Rubinstein at the Paris Opera on November 20, 1928, but it is as a concert piece, not a ballet, that La valse has achieved its immense popularity. Ravel often based his orchestra pieces on piano originals, but in this case he wrote the orchestra version first, followed by the two-piano arrangement.

Ravel himself described the idea behind La valse as “a kind of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz, with which was associated in my imagination an impression of a fantastic and fatal sort of dervish’s dance.” And in a note prefacing the score he described the choreographic scene he envisioned:

Whirling clouds give glimpses, through rifts, of couples dancing. One sees an immense ball peopled with a twirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth fortissimo. An imperial court, in or about 1855.

Two crescendos provide the framework for the piece: one long, building to the great climax of the burst of chandelier light triangle and the other short, more frenzied and even violent, climaxing in a press to the finish.triangle  Both rise out of the same “whirling clouds” of low, murky bass sounds. The elements of the Viennese waltz—the perpetual harmonization in thirds, the formal cadences, the portamentos (expressive connections between notes), the glissandos (slides)—are all incorporated or perhaps satirized in Ravel’s chromatic and clustered harmonic style and his syncopated and irregular rhythms.triangle  Though old Vienna may have served as Ravel’s starting point, the piece instead became a fascinating study in the accumulation of sound and momentum.

Of the many technical features that contribute to Ravel’s lustrous orchestral colors, some of the most notable are in the strings: players remove their mutes one by one and cease to play over the fingerboard to come more “into focus,” each string section is sometimes divided in four and produces dissonant clusters, and incredible unison string glissandos span up to three octaves.Ravel’s fastidious attention to detail is also present in the percussion, which includes triangle, tambourine, castanets, and, where a special sheen is required, bells and antique cymbals.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 3 flutes, 3rd doubling piccolo, 3 oboes, 3rd doubling English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, tam-tam, glockenspiel, crotales, castanets, 2 harps, and strings