Program Notes for Stockton Symphony – Fantastique

Saturday | October 29, 2022 | 7:00 pm
Sunday | October 30, 2022 | 2:30 pm
Atherton Auditorium

Stockton Symphony
Peter Jaffe, conductor
Chili Ekman, violin

Paul Dukas

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Franz Liszt


Terrence Wilson, piano


Hector Berlioz

Symphonie fantastique, op. 14
Rêveries, Passions: Largo—Allegro 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: Larghetto—Allegro

Concert sponsors:
Daniel and Lynne Terry
Karen Hall in memory of Michael Hall

Guest artist sponsors:
Honorable Ann Chargin
Earl Taylor, M.D., and Ms. Etoile Holmes

Piano tuning by Weiner Piano Service

Program Notes by Jane Vial Jaffe

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

Paul Dukas
Paul Dukas

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 he 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. He called attention to the fact that the first part (eerie violin progression) remains unchanged, whereas the second part develops into the main theme of the scherzo proper. The second principal theme, the “scampering” woodwinds, represents the apprentice, and the third—muted-trumpet and stopped-horn fanfare—portrays the “Evocation.” “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. A great climax indicates the blow of the ax, when the apprentice tries to stop the broom but only succeeds in doubling it and its water-carrying capacity. 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.

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

Franz Liszt
Born in Raiding, near Sopran, Hungary, October 22, 1811; died in Bayreuth, July 31, 1886

Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt

Sometime in the 1830s Liszt was seized by the idea of writing a paraphrase on the Dies irae (Day of wrath) from the Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. As a Catholic, he had been familiar with the Gregorian plainchant since childhood, and since 1830 he had been energized by Berlioz’s use of the melody in his Symphonie fantastique. Liszt was known to rouse the wrath of his neighbors during this period by improvising piano variations on the Dies irae in the wee hours.

Then in 1839 he mentioned his desire to write a work based on Hans Holbein’s Der Totentanz (Dance of Death)—a series of some forty woodcut prints that depicted Death as he claimed people from all backgrounds and social classes in a great variety of ways. At the same time, he noted the macabre fresco at the Campo Santo in Pisa called Triumph of Death, formerly attributed to Orcagna, which in response to the plague of the fourteenth century showed bodies of the dead surrounded by figures of death, angels, and devils.

It was not until 1848, however, that Liszt began writing his Totentanz in earnest. Orchestrated by the following year, the piece lay dormant until the composer revised it in 1853, and even then it might have gathered dust had not the great German pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow urged him to publish it. With the finishing touches added in 1864, the work appeared in print in 1865, dedicated to Bülow, who gave the first performance on April 15, 1865, in The Hague, conducted by Johannes Verhulst.

The reputation of Totentanz became tarnished by Liszt’s “authorized” biography, which claimed that the entire work, instead of just one part that Liszt had noted to his biographer, was related to the macabre Pisa fresco. Liszt’s work would have attracted much more serious attention had everyone made more of the Holbein inspiration, as commentators did when the Totentanz first appeared. The case for the Holbein inspiration seems much more preferable in that his series of prints can be viewed as a set of variations on a theme, just as Liszt’s work constitutes a set of variations—actually a double set of variations.

Following a pounding introduction and a series of brilliant improvisatory “warm-ups” for the piano soloist, Liszt offers five variations on the Dies irae theme. The last of these shows his freest approach to the theme, which is treated to extensive elaboration. A brilliant cadenza separates this first set of variations from the second set. A new heroic but related theme receives seven variations, capped and reconnected with the opening set by a long cadenza that incorporates the Dies irae. Liszt wouldn’t be Liszt without a brilliant concluding coda to dazzle the audience. Here the Dies irae returns in full force.

—©Jane Vial Jaffe

Scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, 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 Young
Hector Berlioz, portrait by Émile Signol, 1832

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 they describe a young musician who falls desperately in love and passes from a state of melancholy reverie to frenzied passion (first movement). He then encounters his beloved “in the midst of the tumult of a brilliant party” (second movement) and considers his passion calmly in the country (third 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. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, is condemned to death and led to the scaffold (fourth movement), and he meets his love at the witches’ sabbath (fifth movement).

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. Another important borrowed theme, the Dies irae from the Gregorian Requiem Mass, makes its appearance in the last movement and becomes ingeniously combined with the idée fixe.

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 and sonata-allegro first movement, the Ball might be considered the scherzo, and the Scene in the Country the slow movement. The correspondence then breaks down with the March to the Scaffold 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.

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

Guest Artist

Terrence Wilson
Terrence Wilson / J. Henry Fair photo

Acclaimed by the Baltimore Sun as “one of the biggest pianistic talents to have emerged in this country in the last 25 years,” Terrence Wilson has appeared as soloist with the symphony orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Washington, D.C. (National Symphony), San Francisco, and St. Louis; the orchestras of Cleveland, Minnesota, and Philadelphia; and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Abroad he has played concertos with such ensembles as the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra in Switzerland, the Malaysian Philharmonic, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Orquestra Sinfonica do Estado de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He has toured with orchestras in the U.S. and abroad, including a tour of the U.S. with the Sofia Festival Orchestra (Bulgaria) and in Europe with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yuri Temirkanov.

Terrence Wilson made his New York City recital debut at the 92nd Street Y and his Washington, D.C., recital debut at the Kennedy Center. In Europe he has given recitals at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland, the Louvre in Paris, and countless other major venues. In the U.S. he has given recitals at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Halls, the Ravinia Festival, the Caramoor Festival, San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre, and for the La Jolla Chamber Music Society. An avid chamber musician, he performs regularly with Ritz Chamber Players. He has also appeared at the Blossom Festival, Tanglewood, Wolf Trap, with the San Francisco Symphony at Stern Grove Park, and with the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra on July 4, 2015, before an audience of over fifteen thousand. 

In addition to Mr. Wilson’s engagments as soloist with orchestra in the 2022–23 season, he also performs recitals in Boston and Kansas City. In the summer of 2022, he appeared with the Aspen Chamber Symphony, returned for chamber music performances at the St. Augustine Music Festival, and made his debut on the Maverick Concert Series in Woodstock, New York. He also taught at the Brevard Music Center and Tanglewood Institute. In March 2021, Wilson was appointed to the piano faculty at Bard College Conservatory of Music.

The previous season Mr. Wilson returned as soloist with the Alabama and Nashville Symphony Orchestras, made his debut with the Roanoke Symphony, and returned to the Boulder Philharmonic. He also played the Brahms F minor Piano Quintet witht e Escher String Quartet for Chamber Music Detroit and appeared at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center performing music by Julius Eastman and Clarence Barlow. His performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467, with the New Jersey Symphony is available on YouTube.

Terrence Wilson has received numerous awards and prizes, including the SONY ES Award for Musical Excellence, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and the Juilliard Petschek Award. He has also been featured on several radio and television broadcasts, including NPR’s Performance Today, WQXR radio in New York, and programs on the Bravo and Arts & Entertainment networks, public television, and late night network television. In 2011 Mr. Wilson was nominated for a Grammy Award for his world-premiere recording with the Nashville Symphony of Michael Daugherty’s Deus ex Machina with the Nashville Symphony—written for him in 2007. 

Terrence Wilson is a graduate of the Juilliard School, where he studied with Yoheved Kaplinsky. He has also enjoyed the invaluable mentorship of the Romanian pianist and teacher Zitta Zohar. A native of the Bronx, he resides in Montclair, New Jersey.