Promenade Concert No.373

Gade: Symphony No.4 in B-flat major, op.20

Ⅰ Andantino – Allegro vivace e grazioso

Ⅱ Andante con moto

Ⅲ Scherzo: Allegro, ma non troppo e tranquillamente

Ⅳ Finale: Allegro molto vivace

Niels Gade: Born in Copenhagen, February 22, 1817; died in Copenhagen, December 21, 1890

Niels Gade was a few years younger than Mendelssohn and Schumann, both of whom spent a significant portion of their careers in Leipzig, and Gade followed suit. In 1842, his op. 1, a concert overture called Echoes of Ossian, was performed in Leipzig, conducted by Mendelssohn. It made Gade (pronounced GAHdeh) a celebrity overnight in Germany. When he arrived in Leipzig the following year, Mendelssohn appointed him to the faculty of the newly-opened conservatory there, and made him assistant conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra (of which Mendelssohn was principal conductor). In 1847, after Mendelssohn died, Gade took over his position. His output includes eight symphonies (he avoided writing a ninth in deference to Beethoven), overtures like Hamlet and Michelangelo, and much choral music. The Danes remember him best for his ballad-cantata Elverskud.

Shortly after succeeding Mendelssohn as music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1847, Gade was forced to return to Denmark due to the outbreak of war in 1848. Here he wrote his Fourth Symphony, which became the first of his symphonies to be premiered in his homeland. This took place on November 16, 1850 with the composer conducting the Symphony Orchestra of the Musical Society, but it was published in Leipzig (1851) and was performed often in that city and elsewhere in Germany. In fact, this became the best-known of Gade’s eight symphonies. In Boston, for example, it was offered in that orchestra’s second season in 1883, and given twice more in coming years.

Symphony No. 4 is genial in nature, modest in scope (its four movements last but about twenty minutes), and conventional in formal layout. The first movement subscribes nicely to traditional sonata-allegro form. Following the briefest of slow introductions we hear the energetic first theme, and a few minutes later the soaring, lyrical second theme in cellos and horns. Only the first theme is developed. The slow movement is imbued with a mood reminiscent of a Schumann romanza, more notable for the all-embracing warmth of its orchestration than for melodic interest. The third movement is a fleet scherzo that combines Mendelssohnian elegance with inexorable forward momentum. The finale propels the listener through a whirlwind of notes generated mostly by the string section, which gets a workout of near-virtuosic proportions. The symphony’s last bars are all-too obviously designed to generate generous applause.

R.Strauss: Horn Concerto No.1 in E-flat major, op.11

Ⅰ Allegro

Ⅱ Andante

Ⅲ Rondo: Allegro

Richard Strauss: Born in Munich, June 11, 1864; died in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, September 8, 1949

The repertory of concertos for horn is surprisingly large, but only a half dozen or so are performed with any degree of regularity: the four of Mozart, the two of Strauss, and perhaps one or two others. For a composer who did so much to push the capability of the instrument to its limits, it seems strange that Strauss wrote just two concertos for the horn (both in E-flat major), one at the very beginning and one at the very end of his long life - in his nineteenth and seventy-eighth year.

Richard’s father Franz was a horn player, generally considered to be the finest in Germany in his day, so it is hardly surprising that young Richard wrote his First Horn Concerto for his own father. Yet Franz never played the work except in the privacy of his home. The first performance of any kind was given by one of his students, Bruno Hoyer, with piano accompaniment. The first orchestral performance took place in Meiningen on March 4, 1885, with soloist Gustav Leinhos.

The nature of the thematic material distinctly recalls the style of music traditionally written for the instrument, evoking as it does the prevalent fanfares, hunting calls and soaring romantic themes so evocative of forest scenes. The challenges to the soloist are formidable, and indicate in no uncertain terms the direction in which Strauss was heading with regard to writing for one of his favorite instruments.

The concerto is in three movements, all played without pauses in between. Strauss conferred unity on the music by using essentially the same theme as both the opening fanfare and, rhythmically altered, as the principal theme for the third movement, a rondo. In this rondo, the horn must often play with the elfin lightness and agility of strings and woodwinds. The hushed, faintly mysterious slow movement, which begins and ends in the highly unusual key of A-flat minor (seven flats!), also evokes the world of Mendelssohn, particularly in many of the accompanying orchestral touches.

Mussorgsky (arr. Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition

Promenade - Gnomus - Promenade - The Old Castle - Promenade - Tuileries - Bydlo - Promenade - Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks - Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle - The Marketplace at Limoges - Catacombs - Cum mortuis in lingua mortua - Baba Yaga’s Hut on Chicken Legs - The Great Gate at Kiev

Modest Mussorgsky: Born in Karevo (renamed Mussorgsky in 1939), province of Pskov, March 21, 1839; died in St. Petersburg, March 28, 1881

When Viktor Hartmann, an artist, designer and sculptor, died of a heart attack in 1873, his close friend Modest Mussorgsky was devastated. Mussorgsky was further plagued with guilt feelings, recalling that, had he run for a doctor rather than trying to comfort the stricken Hartmann, the artist might have lived. Mussorgsky slipped into depression, aggravated by his alcohol problem.

Vladimir Stassov, a music critic and friend of both Mussorgsky and Hartmann, arranged an exhibit of about four hundred works of the deceased artist, hoping that this tribute might in some way relieve Mussorgsky’s depression. The exhibition opened in January, 1874 at the St. Petersburg Society of Architects. Thanks to Stassov, Mussorgsky was inspired to create a suite of ten musical portraits for piano, his only significant work for this instrument. The entire set was written in a single burst of creative energy during June of 1874. The music was not published until 1886, and did not achieve popularity in any form until Maurice Ravel orchestrated it in 1922 at the request of conductor Serge Koussevitzky. The first orchestral performance was given later the same year, conducted by Koussevitzky at the Paris Opéra. Since then, Pictures has become one of the most popular staples in the repertory for orchestras and pianists alike. Nearly forty more orchestrations besides Ravel’s are known to exist.

Each musical portrait is based on one of Hartmann’s paintings. A “Promenade” theme opens an imaginary stroll through the picture gallery, a theme that returns several times throughout the work as the viewer moves on to another painting or group of paintings. These paintings are:

Gnomus - A child’s toy made of wood, styled after a small, grotesque gnome with gnarled legs and erratic hopping movements. The Old Castle - A watercolor of a troubadour singing in front of a medieval castle. Tuileries - A lively picture of children scampering about, engaged in horseplay while their nannies chatter. Bydlo - On giant, lumbering wheels, an oxcart comes into view, its driver singing a folk song in the Aeolian mode. Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks- Cheeping baby canaries dance about, wings and legs protruding from their shells. Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle - Mussorgsky called this piece “TwoPolish Jews, Rich and Poor.” Their personalities are vividly drawn. The Marketplace at Limoges - Another lively, bustling, French scene. Here, rather than children, we find the rapid chatter, babble and arguments of housewives. Catacombs - Hartmann himself, lantern in hand, explores the subterranean passages of Paris. Eerie, ominous sounds are heard in the ensuing “Cum mortuis in lingua mortua (With the dead in a dead language)”. To a distorted version of the Promenade theme, the music depicts a grisly sight. Baba Yaga’s Hut on Chicken Legs - Mussorgsky portrays the fabled witch’s ride through the air in her mortar, steering with a pestle. At the height of the dizzying ride, she seems to sail right out of this picture into the next. The Great Gate at Kiev - This depicts Hartmann’s architectural design for a gate (never built) to commemorate Alexander II’s narrow escape from an assassination attempt in Kiev. For a profile of Robert Markow, see page 32.

Program notes by Robert Markow

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