CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Thursday, February 7, 2013 | 8 PM

Orchestra of St. Luke's

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Hear Pablo Heras-Casado as he leads the Orchestra of St. Luke’s for the first time since his appointment as its principal conductor. Together, they perform music by Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, and Schumann.
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The Program

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Overture to Goethe's Egmont, Op. 84

                                                    
About the Composer


Nearly 20 years after Goethe had staged his tragedy Egmont with only moderate success, the Vienna Court Theater proposed to mount it there and commissioned incidental music from Beethoven. The production opened on May 24, 1810, though the score (several entr'actes and two songs, plus a brief finale) was still lacking its overture, which Beethoven added to the performance on June 15. In this play, the composer found a captivating, dramatic subject.

                                                      
About the Work


Halfway between Goethe's youthful Sturm und Drang and his mature Classicism, Goethe's Egmont called for several songs and other bits of incidental music. In his overture, Beethoven echoed one specific moment of music from the play's final scene. The imprisoned Egmont, awaiting execution, sees a vision of freedom in the likeness of his sweetheart Klärchen, and awakens emboldened to address the audience in heroic closing words: "And to save all that is dearest to you, fall joyously, as I set you an example." The poet called for music to break in immediately after these last words, to bring down the curtain with a "victory symphony."


A Closer Listen


Beethoven saw the conflict between Egmont and Alba as the clash between good and evil, between liberty and tyranny; in response, he produced music of great force. His overture is mostly tense and somber, its overall air of suspense foreshadowing the drama to follow. At the very end of the overture, Beethoven suddenly brings in totally new material for his coda-the "victory symphony" that was heard again in the play's last scene. This brilliant F-major peroration provides a powerful dramatic lift.

 

© 2013 Steven Ledbetter

FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21

                                      
About the Composer


Chopin had begun composition work at the age of 12 with Józef Elsner, director of the Warsaw Conservatory, in 1822. His pianistic talent was recognized even earlier: He had appeared in public playing a concerto of Adalbert Gyrowetz a month before his eighth birthday. When Elsner took him in hand, he hoped that his gifted pupil would one day compose a great Polish national opera, but it was not to be. Eventually, Elsner realized that the young man had such remarkable gifts that it was useless to impose on them. He was wholly devoted to the piano, and never composed any music without a part for his instrument.


About the Work


Chopin composed his two piano concertos within a year of each other; the one known as No. 2 was actually the earlier work. In 1829, at the age of 19, he went to Vienna and attracted a great deal of attention with his overtly Polish works. He wrote to a friend that his Adagio had been inspired by tender feelings for one Constantia Gladkowska, a vocal student at the Warsaw Conservatory, "whom I dream of." He finished the work that winter and premiered it the following March.


A Closer Listen


During Chopin's youth, the most advanced concertos of the dayBeethoven's, for examplewere still unknown in Poland. Hummel was the major composer, and it was his flashy, decorative concertos that provided the model for Chopin's early works. Yet this concerto is extraordinary in that special way that makes Chopin's music personal and immediately identifiable. The opening movement begins with a series of typical concerto gambits, but when the soloist enters, Chopin's personality at once takes over. While obviously influenced by the decorative art of Hummel and Moscheles, Chopin's highly ornamented writing is far more expressive. His first movement is simple and straightforward in form, but its content proclaims the budding master.

The slow movement already reveals the genius: It has a simple A-B-A outline that Chopin decorates with extraordinary freedom. The finale is related to that Polish country dance, the mazurka, that Chopin made so wonderfully his own. The traditional mazurka was in triple time accompanied by strong accents on the second or third beat (when danced, the accents are reinforced by a strong tap of the heel). This movement is a rondo with several sharply contrasting themes in mazurka style, closing with a dramatic coda.

 

© 2013 Steven Ledbetter

 

CLAUDE DEBUSSY
Five Préludes (orchestrated by Hans Zender)

                                          

About the Composer

 

Debussy was a superb pianist, and he composed important piano works all his life. In 1910 and 1913, he published two books of preludes-relatively short, colorful works identified by a term already honored in music history particularly from its use with the "preludes and fugues" of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and the preludes of Chopin. Bach's and Chopin's preludes were purely abstract compositions, each growing from a single musical idea or gesture, with no verbal indication of its significance or inspiration. Unlike them, Debussy appended a brief hint after each piece to suggest a visual or aural image intended for the music.


About the Work


Hans Zender orchestrated five of Debussy's preludes for small orchestra, one with very imaginative choices of alternate instruments and a particularly modern take on the percussion instruments, to provide an extraordinary range of color-something right in the spirit of Debussy's music.


A Closer Listen


"Voiles" could be understood in the French language to mean "veils" or "sails." On the whole, it suggests a seascape, since the clearest melody seems related to a ringing theme in the last movement of La mer.

"La danse de Puck" evokes mental images from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, where Puck is the playful, good-natured sprite, a "joyous nomad of the night." The piece is conceived in an ethereal scherzando style, with the occasional appearance of a motif (a Wagnerian parody?)a horn call figure that brings Puck to a momentary halt in his capricious activity.

"Général Lavineeccentric"  was a famous comic puppet, an American clown figure, who wore lanterns on his shoulder and played the piano with his toes. The doll appeared at the Marigny Theater in Paris in 1910, where Debussy evidently saw him and captured the performance with music in the ragtime style that was becoming popular in France in the years before World War I.

"Des pas sur la neige" suggests weary footsteps, boots clogged with snow, moving at a steady, weary pace, with a fragmented melodic line.

"Les collines d'Anacapri" celebrates the view from Anacapri (on top of a hill on Capri, in the Bay of Naples), which is at the top of a climb of 552 steps. Debussy's Italian landscape begins in a tarantella rhythm and resembles an Italian folk song in its middle section.

© 2013 Steven Ledbetter

ROBERT SCHUMANN
Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120 (original version, 1841)

                                               
About the Composer


It is well known that Robert Schumann, in the first flush of happiness at his impending marriage to Clara Wieck, embarked on his "year of song," 1840, during which he produced nearly 150 songs. A similar single-mindedness appeared the following year when, with the enthusiastic encouragement of his new bride, he embarked whole-heartedly on the new field of orchestral composition.

Early in 1841, he actually did write his first symphony, in B-flat major ("Spring"), which was performed at the end of March and proved an instant success. He then composed another symphony, in D minor. After a disastrous performance, Schumann withdrew the score and held it for 10 years. In the meantime, he wrote what we now know as his second and third symphonies. Thus, when he returned to the D-Minor Symphony in 1851 to undertake a complete revision, he called it Symphony No. 4.


About the Work


In its first form, Schumann hesitated to call the work a symphony at all. The interlocking of thematic material between movements, and the fact that the movements were intended to be played without pause, suggested the title "Symphonic Fantasy," possibly with the intention of recalling Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy. The revised score of 1851 is by far the best known, but Brahms preferred the early version. Each has its strengths, and each has a claim on the listener's attention.


A Closer Listen


Schumann's D-Minor Symphony is one of the most ingenious and successful experiments in formal continuity produced in the 19th century. The principal musical ideasthree of them, all toldrecur throughout the entire work, creating a sense of unity rare in a mid-century symphony. At the same time, Schumann's fresh and imaginative reworking of these ideas never palls, though we hear them many times in the course of the four movements. The first of these themes, the somber opening idea first heard in the strings and bassoons, fills most of the slow introduction until the violins introduce a new figure that gradually speeds up and suddenly turns into the main thematic idea of the fast section.

The slow movement begins with the oboe and cello singing a lyrical ballad, but no sooner is it stated than the introductory theme of the first movement finds an opportunity to return. The stormy and energetic Scherzo is built primarily of the opening theme (turned upside down) and the martial figure from the first movement, alternating with a section of drooping melodies. The movement is about to end, it seems, when string tremolos and a version of the first movement's main theme leads directly, without break, into the finale, whose rhythmic theme is compounded by yet another version of the martial figure and the first movement's main theme. The richness of this finalethe power of its conclusiongive it one of the most fully satisfying climaxes of any large-scale Schumann work.

 

© 2013 Steven Ledbetter

 


This performance is part of Orchestra of St. Luke's, and Singers and Symphonies.

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