CARNEGIE HALL PRESENTS

Performance Wednesday, December 28, 2011 | 8 PM

New York String Orchestra

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Forty-eight years ago, a teenager named André Watts launched his career with a featured appearance on one of Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. This one-time prodigy is now one of America’s most esteemed pianists. On this concert he joins the next generation of great young performers—participants in the annual New York String Orchestra Seminar—in Beethoven’s mighty “Emperor” Concerto.
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The Program

JUAN CRISÓSTOMO ARRIAGA
Symphony in D Minor

About the Composer


Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga was born in Bilbao, Spain, to a musical family. His father and uncle were accomplished amateur musicians, and pushed Juan to become a professional. He started composing at 11 years old; by the time he was 15, he had written nearly two dozen pieces, including an opera. In 1821, he traveled to France and was admitted into the Paris Conservatoire, where he excelled in the study of counterpoint and became an assistant to celebrated pedagogue François-Joseph Fétis. He died, reportedly of a pulmonary infection, in January 1826—just shy of his 20th birthday.


About the Music


One of his last works, Arriaga’s only symphony reveals the voice of a young composer exploring the genre by emulating previous masters—in this case, Beethoven and Schubert. His symphony shows that as a young Spanish composer, Arriaga had already assimilated the practices of late-Classical and early-Romantic forms and styles.


A Closer Listen


The slow introduction to the first movement begins in D major instead of the home key of D minor. The first theme (in the minor key) is stormy and tempestuous; the second theme, back in the major, is comparatively calm. The second movement is in sonata-allegro form—the favored form for first and final symphonic movements at the time, though less common for middle movements. The third movement is, as expected, a minuet and trio. The best feature of the finale is the fugato: Imitative, overlapping entrances weave a delicate counterpoint. Here, Arriaga shows off the results of his study with Fétis.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

BÉLA BARTÓK
Divertimento for Strings

About the Composer


Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was a child prodigy; he made his public debut as a pianist and composer at age 11. His first orchestral work was a tone poem similar to those by Richard Strauss (whom Bartók met in 1902), but his works were also influenced by the music of Debussy and Brahms. Beginning around 1908, however, Bartók’s compositions began to reflect his affinity for Hungarian folksong. That year, he traveled with his friend Zoltán Kodály through the countryside to collect indigenous melodies. Bartók integrated these into his own works, not only by quoting folk tunes, but also by adapting traditional harmonies and dance rhythms.

With Hungary allied with Nazi Germany, Bartók fled to the US in 1940, where he struggled personally and professionally. In 1944, after years of ill health, he was diagnosed with leukemia. His last work was a commission from Serge Koussevitzky for the Boston Symphony Orchestra—the Concerto for Orchestra. That same year, Bartók finished the Violin Sonata and his Third Piano Concerto; a viola concerto was left incomplete at his death.


About the Music


Bartók was at the height of his compositional powers during the tumultuous years between 1934 and 1940, turning out chamber, orchestral, vocal, and piano masterworks. Since the mid-1920s, his style had evolved from a folk-inflected, kinetically powerful, Modernist style toward a simpler, more melodic (yet no less driving) idiom influenced by Baroque music. After visiting Italy a number of times in 1925 and 1926, he returned with a new passion for the Italian Baroque; however, his true musical love was J. S. Bach.

The Divertimento for Strings showcases Bartók’s interest in 18th-century forms and styles, namely the concerto grosso—a musical form that pits an ensemble against a smaller group of soloists. Commissioned by Paul Sacher, the divertimento was composed in a mere two weeks while the composer was living in Switzerland. It was the last of his works to be premiered in Europe before he fled to the US. Despite the looming prospect of war—Germany invaded Poland only two weeks after the divertimento was completed—Bartók composed the work quickly and easily.


A Closer Listen


The first movement falls into three sections, the first of which presents a variety of folk-like tunes. In the middle section, groups of instruments exchange with one another and with the whole ensemble. The third section recapitulates the opening music. Though the first movement generally maintains high spirits, the ending is more sedate as it prepares for the introspective adagio that follows. The rondo finale features a recurring folk tune as its theme that alternates with contrasting episodes. One of these episodes bears the true hallmark of Bach’s own music: a fugue. But the serious-minded counterpoint is swept away by a sparkling cadenza for solo violin, and the movement ends with a polka.


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, “Emperor”

About the Composer


Beethoven’s life story is the stuff of legend—partly due to the personal and social crises that he lived through, and partly because historians tend to embellish his biography with fictional speculation and crude psychoanalysis. The confirmed events are as follows: Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, the son of a court musician. Owing to his father’s alcoholism, he was forced to get a job at age 13 in the court orchestra and to take over the family finances. In 1792, Beethoven went to Vienna, where he studied for a time with Joseph Haydn. He made a living in music salons, and was touted as a great pianist and improviser. Instead of relying on aristocratic patronage, Beethoven lived on commissions.

From 1800, his emotional and psychological outlook was clouded by the onset of deafness; it appears that he even contemplated suicide, the evidence contained in a famous letter of 1802 known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. By 1815, he was almost completely deaf and had to rely on his inner ear to guide him in composing. He never married, though he did end up with a family. When his brother Kaspar died, Beethoven became embroiled in a prolonged battle with his sister-in-law for custody of his nephew. He won, but their relationship was so strained that in 1826, the boy attempted suicide. Beethoven died the following year at age 57.


About the Music


In 1809, Beethoven was planning to move from Vienna to Kassel, where he was assured a steady salary that would grant him the freedom to compose as he wished without relying on public concerts and good reviews. To keep him in Vienna, however, a group of patrons pledged their continued financial support. One of his benefactors was Archduke Rudolf, to whom the Fifth Piano Concerto is dedicated.

Times were tough, though; Beethoven was worried about more than his finances. When Napoleon laid siege to the city that year, Beethoven fled to the basement of his brother’s house, hiding from the din of warfare and covering his ears with pillows in hopes of preserving what little hearing he had left. “What a destructive, disorderly life I see and hear around me, nothing but drums, cannons, and human misery in every form.” Still, in the midst of such chaos, Beethoven managed to continue composing; the tumultuous years of Napoleon’s assault on Europe were the most productive of the composer’s career.


A Closer Listen


The opening of the Fifth Piano Concerto is shocking—or would have been to audiences at the time. The orchestra typically presents the two main themes of the first movement before the soloist enters to iterate the same themes. Here, however, the pianist not only comes in too early, but replaces thematic exposition with a bold cadenza. In a sense, the concerto is over before it even begins—the pianist has won the purported contest. Thus the “Emperor” is not a conventional piano concerto in the sense of pitting a heroic soloist against the stubborn orchestra; instead, the movement is propelled by a discursive exploration of texture and timbre. Beethoven expands the tonal range of the score by using three themes (instead of the usual two) that move far afield: The second of the themes, in B minor, lies a tritone away from the home key of E-flat major—basically, as far away tonally as it can be.

The second movement, with a hymn-like theme that is inventively decorated and varied, flows into the third, an elaborate rondo in seven sections. The brass and timpani, which were silent in the Adagio un poco mosso, return with full force. There’s even a passage for solo timpani toward the end of the movement, during which it engages in a stunning, martial dialogue between piano and percussion. As musicologist Leon Plantinga points out, the “Emperor” Concerto bears the mark of its times and perhaps warrants its epithet: The work “bristles with musical topoi of a military cast and with modes of expression we easily identify as ‘heroic.’”


—Elizabeth Bergman

© 2011 The Carnegie Hall Corporation

United 130x32 extra bottom space
Sponsored by United, Official Airline of Carnegie Hall
This concert is made possible, in part, by an endowment fund for young artists established by Stella and Robert Jones.

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