Subscription Concert No.846 B Series

R.Strauss:Der Burger als Edelmann, suite, op.60
(Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme)

Ⅰ Ouverture zum 1 Aufzug (Jourdain - der Burger) Overture
Ⅱ Menuett Minuet
Ⅲ Der Fechtmeister The Fencing Master
Ⅳ Auftritt und Tanz der Schneider Entrance and Dance of the Tailors
Ⅴ Das Menuett des Lully The Minuet of Lully
Ⅵ Courante Courante
Ⅶ Aufritt des Cleonte Entry of Cleonte
Ⅷ Vorspiel zum 2. Aufzug (Intermezzo) Prelude to Act 2 (Intermezzo)
(Dorantes und Dorimene - Graf und Marquise)
Ⅸ Das Diner (Tafelmusik und Tanz des Kuchenjungen) The Banquet

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

Moliere (1622-1673) was all the rage in Paris of the mid-seventeenth century, and his comedie-ballet Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, first performed at Chambord on October 14, 1670, was especially enjoyed by an audience that included Louis XIV. The leading French composer of the day, Jean-Baptiste Lully, provided the incidental music, and Moliere himself enacted the title role. The story revolves around Monsieur Jourdain, a commoner who suddenly finds himself rich and tries his utmost to play the role convincingly, but years of gaucheries cannot be erased so easily.

Nearly two and a half centuries later, the German poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal and composer Richard Strauss jointly concocted an evening’s entertainment whose point of departure was a revised version of Moliere’s play. On October 25, 1912 in Stuttgart, the audience was offered Der Burger als Edelmann, now somewhat abridged and in German translation with music this time by Strauss. The Suite was first performed exactly a century ago, on April 9, 1918 in Berlin with the composer conducting.

The charm and wit of the play, as well as the transparency and delicacy of Strauss’s scoring, are encountered immediately in the opening bars of the OVERTURE. All the bustle and commotion of a large household brimming with servants, guests and excitable characters are portrayed in a brisk theme for strings and piano (replacing harpsichord, which would have been more appropriate for the period evoked, but was unavailable in Strauss’s day). The pompous Jourdain is heard approaching to the same theme, now ridiculously expanded into long chords by the full orchestra.

Jourdain’s dancing lesson takes the form of a MINUET. Strauss’s music is delicate and graceful, but Jourdain’s attempts to dance are clumsy and inelegant. THE FENCING MASTER presents Jourdain at his next lesson. The teacher enters to grand flourishes by trombone, trumpet, piano and horn in turn, indicative of the lunges, parries and thrusts he is demonstrating for Jourdain’s benefit, but a nervous, pitiful theme in the violins suggests our bourgeois gentilhomme’s unsuccessful attempts to imitate the master. Military exercises conclude the lesson.

The first part of ENTRANCE AND DANCE OF THE TAILORS is a gavotte, mainly for woodwinds, the second part a polonaise featuring solo violin, possibly an allusion to the nationality of so many of Vienna’s tailors. The MINUET OF LULLY is decked out in orchestral colors that Lully would scarcely have recognized. In the lively COURANTE, Strauss engages in some contrapuntal showmanship by constructing a series of canons in which two separate instrumental ensembles seem to “follow” each other through various musical lines. The ENTRY OF CLEONTE is a sarabande.

The PRELUDE TO ACT 2 (INTERMEZZO) accompanies the arrival of two new characters, Dorante and Dorimene. The former is an unscrupulous count who is after Jourdain’s money and, to this end, is not beneath offering Jourdain his own paramour, the marquise Dorimene, as a flirt with which to entertain him. The superbly refined, perfectly poised music belies the moral turpitude of the characters it accompanies.

Grand entrance music accompanies the guests as they assemble at Jourdain’s magnificently laid table for THE BANQUET. The fish course, salmon from the Rhine, is served to the accompaniment of a suitable leitmotiv from Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold, and the roast mutton is announced by the bleating sheep music from Strauss’s own symphonic poem, Don Quixote. The mood turns mellow, and to the sensuously lyrical strains of a solo cello, Jourdain makes amorous advances to Dorimene. The grand finale comes in the form of an omelette surprise, from which a kitchen boy emerges to perform a brilliant, erotic dance.

Zemlinsky:Die Seejungfrau (The Mermaid)

Ⅰ Sehr masig bewegt
Ⅱ Sehr bewegt, rauschend
Ⅲ Sehr gedehnt, mit schmerzvollem Ausdruck

Alexander Zemlinsky: Born in Vienna, October 14, 1871; died in Larchmont, New York, March 15, 1942

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Little Mermaid,” published in 1837, was but one of about 170 stories the great Dane wrote throughout the mid-nineteenth century, a collection that ranks among the finest achievements in world literature. Such is the popular attraction of this story, about an aquatic creature who longs to acquire a human soul, that her bronze statue, perched on a rock in Copenhagen’s waterfront, has become Denmark’s best known icon. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Viennese composer Alexander Zemlinsky set this story to music in a forty-minute symphonic poem of ravishing beauty and sumptuous orchestral colors. (Zemlinsky’s title drops the adjective “little.”) The first performance was given in Vienna on January 25, 1905.

Briefly recounted, the story is this, divided into three parts to correspond with the divisions of Zemlinsky’s music:

Part I: Deep in the ocean lives the sea king and his six mermaid daughters, who learn about the world of men living up above from their grandmother. Each daughter is allowed a glimpse of this world upon reaching her fifteenth birthday. The youngest of these daughters also yearns for an immortal soul, just like men have. When it comes her turn to rise to the surface of the sea, she sees a ship bearing a handsome young prince. A storm breaks out and destroys the ship, and he is in danger of drowning. The mermaid brings the exhausted and unconscious prince to shore, but being a mermaid, she cannot leave the water, and when the prince revives, he believes that a human girl who has chanced to pass by was his savior.

Part II: The mermaid has fallen desperately in love with the prince, and is willing to make a great sacrifice to be with him. She goes to the sea witch, who gives her a potion that will replace her tail with human legs, but in the process will leave her without a tongue. After going through the terrible ordeal, she regains consciousness at the palace of the prince, who finds her and befriends her, but cannot offer her the love he reserves for the human girl he thinks saved him from drowning. As the mermaid is now mute, she cannot explain the truth to him, and the prince eventually marries his assumed rescuer, much to the grief of the little mermaid. Her quest for the prince’s love, and her bid to become immortal through the eternal love of a human being, have both failed.

Part III: The little mermaid is devastated at this turn of events. Once more the sea witch enters the picture. She presents a knife which she instructs the mermaid to plunge into the prince, thus releasing blood that will turn her feet back into a tail so she can return to the sea world. The mermaid is about to follow these instructions, when, at the critical moment, she throws the knife away, plunges into the sea and begins to dissolve. As she looks up, she sees thousands of points of light, the daughters of the air flying about. The mermaid has, through her nobility of soul and honorable character, become one of them, and though these creatures are not yet immortal, they have the capacity to become so. The little mermaid has fulfilled her quest ? she will attain immortality, just like humans.

A rich tapestry of motifs unifies the work. The languorous solo violin, the first melodic material to evolve from the dark, primeval world suggested by the opening moments of the score, surely represents the little mermaid herself. The theme heard most often throughout Die Seejungfrau, the sea theme, is first encountered briefly in the unison woodwinds, then in the strings. Another melody, this one strongly reminiscent of a theme from the slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, might be associated with the mermaid’s longing for immortality.

Robert Markow's musical career began as a horn player in the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. He now writes program notes for orchestras and concert organizations in the USA, Canada, and several countries in Asia. As a journalist he covers the music scenes across North America, Europe, and Asian countries, especially Japan. At Montreal's McGill University he lectured on music for over 25 years.

Program notes by Robert Markow

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