Subscription Concert No.855 B Series

Mendelssohn: Symphony No.3 in A minor, op.56, “Scottish”

I   Andante con moto - Allegro un poco agitato

II  Vivace non troppo

III Adagio

IV  Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai(played without pause)

Felix Mendelssohn: Born in Hamburg, February 3, 1809; died in Leipzig, November 4, 1847

During July and August of 1829, the twenty-year-old Mendelssohn enjoyed himself touring Scotland. As he was an inveterate letter writer, we know in considerable detail his reactions, mostly favorable, to the Highland country, its weather, and its people with their “long, red beards, tartan plaids, bonnets and feathers, naked knees, and their bagpipes in their hands.” One day in Edinburgh he came upon the picturesque ruins of the Palace of Holyrood, in which Mary, Queen of Scots, had once lived. On July 30, Mendelssohn, the impressionable young tourist, wrote home that

In the darkening twilight today, [I] went to the Palace where Queen Mary lived and loved. There is a little room to be seen there with a spiral staircase at its door. That is where they went up and found Rizzio in the room, dragged him out, and three chambers away there is a dark corner where they murdered him. The chapel beside it has lost its roof and is overgrown with grass and ivy, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is ruined, decayed, and open to the clear sky. I believe that I have found there today the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.

The “beginning of my Scottish Symphony” consisted of a scrap of paper containing a few bars of music. That is all that became of the symphony until twelve years later, by which time Mendelssohn had already been to Italy and had written his Italian Symphony. In 1831, he wrote from Italy that he could “not find his way back into the Scottish fog mood,” a quite understandable condition given Italy’s sunny climes. The Scottish Symphony was eventually completed in January of 1842, making it Mendelssohn’s last major orchestral work. Hence, though called “No. 3,” it is really the fifth of his five important symphonies. (There also exist twelve works belonging to his juvenilia.) The symphony received its premiere in Leipzig on March 3, 1842, with Mendelssohn on the podium.

Is there anything particularly “Scottish” about the work? Well, yes and no. The degree of “Scottishness” is dependent on the individual listener’s susceptibility to programmatic suggestion and on hindsight. The somber, melancholic opening is certainly at least suggestive of the brooding, misty Scottish land; the ebullient clarinet theme of the Scherzo may be based on a Scottish folk air, since the scale pattern corresponds to that of the country’s folk music; the leaping, vigorous, dance-like main theme of the finale is thought by some to be a musical representation of the gathering of the clans.

None of this is conclusive, of course. But we do know that Mendelssohn had little sympathy with native folk idioms, and had he not spoken of it as his “Scottish” symphony, probably no one would have guessed as much. Scottish or not though, this work is fully representative of Mendelssohn at his best. Hans von Bülow thought it to be, in 1877, still one of the finest symphonies since Beethoven. If our estimation today is not quite as high as von Bülow’s, we can still respect this classically-chiseled symphony for its gentle charms, melodiousness and imaginative ideas.

Corigliano: Mr. Tambourine Man
- Seven Poems of Bob Dylan (2003) (Japan Premiere)

I   Prelude: Mr. Tambourine Man

II  Clothes Line

III Blowin' in the Wind

IV  Masters of War

V   All Along The Watchtower

VI  Chimes of Freedom

VII Postlude: Forever Young

John Corigliano: Born in New York, February 16, 1938

Winner of two Grammy Awards, 2008 ("Best Contemporary Composition", “Best classical vocal performance”)

When Sylvia McNair asked me to write her a major song cycle for Carnegie Hall, she had only one request; to choose an American text.

I have set only four poets in my adult compositional life: Stephen Spender, Richard Wilbur, Dylan Thomas (whose major works generated the oratorio A Dylan Thomas Trilogy) and William M. Hoffman, collaborator with me on, among other, shorter pieces, the opera The Ghosts of Versailles. Aside from asking Bill to create a new text, I had no ideas.

Except that I had always heard, by reputation, of the high regard accorded the folk-ballad singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. But I was so engaged in developing my orchestral technique during the years when Dylan was heard by the rest of the world that I had never heard his songs.

So I bought a collection of his texts, and found many of them to be every bit as beautiful and as immediate as I had heard-and surprisingly well-suited to my own musical language. I then contact-ed Jeff Rosen, his manager, who approached Bob Dylan with the idea of re-setting his poetry to my music.

I do not know of an instance in which this has been done before (which was part of what appealed to me), so I needed to explain that these would be in no way arrangements, or variations, or in any way derivations of the music of the original songs, which I decided to not hear before the cycle was complete. Just as Schumann or Brahms or Wolf had re-interpreted in their own musical styles the same Goethe text, I intended to treat the Dylan lyrics as the poems I found them to be. Nor would their settings make any attempt at pop or rock writing. I wanted to take poetry I knew to be strongly associated with popular art and readdress it in terms of concert art-crossover in the opposite direction, one might say. Dylan granted his permission, and I set to work.

I chose seven poems for what became a thirty-five minute cycle. A Prologue: Mr. Tambourine Man, in a fantastic and exuberant manner, precedes five searching and reflective monologues that form the core of the piece; and Epilogue: Forever Young makes a kind of folk-song benediction after the cycle's close. Dramatically, the inner five songs trace a journey of emotional and civic maturation, from the innocence of Clothes Line through the beginnings of awareness of a wider world (Blowin' in the Wind), through the political fury of Masters of War, to a premonition of an apocalyptic future (All Along the Watchtower), culminating in a vision of a victory of ideas (Chimes of Freedom).

Musically, each of the five songs introduces an accompanimental motive that becomes the principal motive of the next. The descending scale introduced in Clothes Line resurfaces as the passacaglia which shapes Blowin' in the Wind. The echoing pulse-notes of that song harden into the hammered ostinato under Masters of War; the stringent chords of that song's finale explode into the raucous accompaniment under All Along the Watchtower; and that song's repeated figures dissolve into the bellsounds of Chimes of Freedom.

Several years after composing the vocal/piano score I orchestrated the work. Since I did not want the soprano to have to sing in an "operatic" manner (with these Dylan texts), I specified that she be amplified. This way, she can project her voice over the orchestra while remaining intimate in her sound. The work is dedicated to Mark Adamo.

John Corigliano

John Corigliano
©J. Henry Fair

John Corigliano

The American John Corigliano continues to add to one of the richest, most unusual, and most widely celebrated bodies of work any composer has created over the last forty years. His numerous scores - including three symphonies and eight concerti among over one hundred chamber, vocal, choral, and orchestral works - have been performed and recorded by many of the most prominent orchestras, soloists, and chamber musicians in the world. Important scores include Conjurer; Con-certo for Violin and Orchestra: The Red Violin; Symphony No. 3: Circus Maximus; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 1; and the opera The Ghosts of Versailles. Corigliano serves on the composition faculty at the Juilliard School of Music and holds the position of Distinguished Professor of Music at Lehman College, City University of New York.

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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