Subscription Concert No.835 B Series

Britten: Passacaglia, op.33b from “Peter Grimes”

Benjamin Britten: Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, England, November 22, 1913; died in Aldeburgh, December 4, 1976

In 1941, Benjamin Britten read a magazine article by E.M. Forster about the English poet George Crabbe. Stimulated to read Crabbe, he found a book of his works, among which was a tale called “The Borough.” In discussing with Serge Koussevitzky the possibility of writing an opera on the subject, Britten obtained from the famous conductor a commission that led to the world premiere of his first important opera in 1945. The opera’s passionate force, strongly drawn characters and spellbinding psychological impact have earned it a place among the half-dozen most outstanding operas of the twentieth century. The story takes place in a small fishing village in Suffolk, Britten’s birthplace. The sea forms a constant backdrop to the action, taking on the role of a mute character.

The Passacaglia is the central music of the entire drama, placed between the two scenes of Act II. The passacaglia form, only rarely used after the time of Bach, consists of a steadily recurring melodic and/or rhythmic pattern in the bass line (the foundation, or “ground”), while above it other voices embellish the ground or develop a set of variations built on an entirely different theme. Such is the latter case in Britten’s Passacaglia. The ground, which consists of just seven notes played to an irregular rhythmic pattern, is heard alone at first, twice plucked quietly in the low cellos and basses. A solo viola then presents the mournful theme that will be developed in a continuous series of variations. Some operaphiles regard the variations as a metaphor for the conflicting emotions in the title character’s tortured soul.

Program notes by Robert Markow

Toshio Hosokawa: Fluss - Ich woll’t, ich wär ein Fluss und Du das Meer - for string quartet and orchestra (2014) (Japan Premiere)

In Taoism, Chi (the energy that produces the root of the universe) flows at the bottom of the earth, and it is thought that the changes in its flow forms the universe. The flows overlap, and form Yin and Yang, and the Chi of Yin and Yang cross joint to produce life. Light and shadow, cold and warm, high and low, heaven and earth, and male and female. Two opposing principles co-exist without killing each other to produce the universe. (You see an ecstasy of the male and female there).

I want to capture the idea that music is a river of Chi (a river of sound) in the depth of this world, and to produce music by using the principle of Yin and Yang. Not by structuring around Western music sound as materials, but compose by listening to the flow of Chi in the depth of this world and weave it with the Yin and Yang cosmology.

This Fluss, which started by just listening to one sound (Es), gradually expands the light and shadow of this single sound. This Es splits into Es and D, and gradually the interval becomes bigger, however, it is considered as a part of the opening Es fundamentally.

The string quartet represents human, and the orchestra represents the nature and the universe surrounding people. The Yin and Yang cosmos conceived by the string quartet becomes reflected in the orchestra; many flows meet and collide, the intermingle changes like a flow of a river. The subtitle, “Ich woll’t, ich wär ein Fluss und Du das Meer (I wish to become a river and you are the sea)” was named after the fact that I composed by imagining my own existance as sound, and flowing into something bigger.

I was inspired by the musicians of Arditti Quartet full of exceptionally strong Chi, and dedicate this work to them to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Small River in a Distance, which I wrote for them prior to this work is the model of this work.

Program notes by Toshio Hosokawa

Scriabin: Symphony No.3, op.43, “Le Divin Poème”

Ⅰ Lento; Luttes (Allegro)

Ⅱ Voluptès (Lento)

Ⅲ Jeu Divin (Allegro)

Alexander Scriabin: Born in Moscow, January 6, 1872; died in Moscow, April 27, 1915

Although any composer’s music must be considered ultimately on its own esthetic strengths, in Scriabin’s case the extramusical elements are so vital a part of his musical thinking that any consideration of his later works

must involve these extramusical elements. Theosophy (an occult religious system which involves establishing direct contact with divine principle through contemplation and revelation), synesthesia (the transferral of one sensation into another; in Scriabin’s case, from sound into color), mysticism, Oriental religions, and the Nietzschean Superman all strongly

influenced Scriabin’s emotional and psychological make-up. Bowers provides insight into Scriabin’s brand of musical mysticism when he writes:

“Flight and light are part of Scriabin’s mystical scene - not just the light of the sun, but the Sun itself; not imaginary flight, as in a floating dream, but physical transport of the body, or ‘walking in the sky,’ as the Tibetans say to describe ‘ecstasy.’ … He believed that music originated in religion and philosophy and vice versa.”

Scriabin’s musical development was fairly even and consistent, but he considered his Third Symphony as a major turning point in his career. “This was the first time I found light in music, the first time I found this rapture, this soaring flight, this suffocation from Joy!” The Symphony was written in Switzerland in 1905. Arthur Nikisch (a former conductor of the Boston Symphony) led the first performance in Paris on May 29, 1905.

Although a symphony in title, “The Divine Poem” is really more a symphonic poem in view of its programmatic content, formal design and esthetic orientation. The emphasis is above all on sheer opulence of sound and super-heated emotional expressiveness through the manipulation of motifs in an ever-changing kaleidoscopic landscape of instrumental color. To this end, Scriabin employs an expanded orchestra that includes quadruple woodwinds, eight horns, five trumpets and two harps. Highly charged emotions boil up from the seething orchestral mass, thunderous climaxes threaten to inundate the listener with walls of pure sound, and languorous twistings and turnings seduce the ear with the most sensuous effects.

Program notes by Robert Markow

Unauthorized copying and replication of the contents of this site, text and images are strictly prohibited. All Rights Reserved.