Movement II from Symphony No.1, Dream Dialogs
Kenneth Froelich composed his Symphony No. 1 in 2013. Of the second movement, Spinning Yarns, he writes: “Spinning Yarns was inspired by the jazz concept of “trading fours” in which the drummer performs a series of brief solos that alternate with solos by the rest of the ensemble. This concept is related to the musical tradition of “call and response,” a method of music-making that directly imitates human dialog. Unlike traditional trading fours, the call and response found in this movement is between all sections of the orchestra, not just the percussion (although the trading does begin there).”
The opening timpani solo introduces the rhythmic motive that pervades the entire movement. Froelich continues: “The form of the movement is divided up into three large sections, which can be further divided into thirteen separate “strands.” Each of these strands, with the exception of the middle seventh one, is presented in varied repetition by different sections of the orchestra. The three larger sections represent a more traditional arch form (ABA’), with the two A sections each mirroring one another and the B section representing a mid-point climax of the work.”
In a self-ironic blogpost before the November 2013 premiere in by the Fresno State Symphony Orchestra, the composer wrote: “I have to say (and it is NOT my wish to sound arrogant or egotistical here…but…) I think it all turned out pretty damn well! Truly – I am very, very pleased with the end result. Trust me – this is not always the case. There have been many times where, upon completing a piece, I take a look at it and say “well, at least it doesn’t *completely* suck.” Not this time. I can safely say that, in my humble opinion, none of this piece “sucks.” Needless to say, I have high hopes for it.
Froelich received his musical training at Southern California and Indiana universities and is currently Associate Professor in music composition at California State University in Fresno.
Ludwig van Beethoven
|Ludwig van Beethoven|
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
Although the autograph of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C minor is dated 1800, sketches date back to as early as 1796, and the composer made revisions up to the date of publication. The premiere took place at an Akademie (benefit concert) of Beethoven’s works in April 1803, together with that of the Second Symphony and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives.
Even at the premiere the manuscript had not been finalized. Beethoven was the soloist and asked his friend, the young conductor Ignaz von Seyfried, to turn pages for him. Seyfried later wrote: “...but heaven help me! – that was easier said than done. I saw almost nothing but empty pages; at the most, on one page or another a few Egyptian hieroglyphs wholly unintelligible to me were scribbled down to serve as a clue for him; for he played almost all of the solo parts from memory since, as was so often the case, he had not had the time to set it all down on paper.” The Concerto was finally published in 1804 with the empty pages filled in.
The key of the Concerto, C minor, is also that of the Fifth Symphony and of the last Piano Sonata and has been considered to be Beethoven’s Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) key. This literary and musical movement, whose heyday occurred during Beethoven’s early childhood, reflected the revolutionary attitudes and stormy emotions of the time. But for Beethoven emotional upheaval was a personal constant throughout his life.
The Concerto’s first movement opens with a powerful statement of one of the composer’s deceptively simple musical ideas: a rumination on a triad, first as an arpeggio, then filled in with a descending scale. The contrast with the second theme, a graceful melody with expressive leaps and appoggiaturas, is, therefore, all the greater. In this concerto Beethoven still adhered strictly to the tradition of the classical concerto, in which a long orchestral introduction precedes the entrance of the soloist; in the last two piano concertos, the soloist plunges in from the start. At a later date, probably in 1809, Beethoven wrote a cadenza for the movement for his patron and pupil Archduke Rudolf. There is an unusual and mysterious transition at the end of the cadenza back to the orchestra.
The gentle largo second movement is in sharp contrast to the first, a contrast accentuated by the surprisingly distant key of E major. It contains a lovely dialogue between flute and bassoon, accompanied by the pizzicato strings and piano arpeggios. The Concerto ends with a Rondo and an unusual coda that suddenly takes off with a transformation of the main theme in triple meter, ending in C major.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
|Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky|
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36
In the roster of Russian nationalist composers at the end of the nineteenth century, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was an oddity. Although an ardent nationalist, he did not espouse the Nationalist movement in music, symbolized by such composers as Modest Mussorgsky, Aleksander Borodin, Mily Balakirev and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Despite the many folk elements in his music, his great melodic gift enabled him to develop his own themes and only occasionally use borrowed melodies. Instead of nationalistic themes, his music usually was a vehicle to express his personal anguish and erratic mood swings.
The son of a mining engineer, Tchaikovsky had an economically comfortable but unsettled childhood, as his father relocated from one post to the other. He was a precocious child with a gift for words, reading French and German at age six; the seven-year-old started to write a biography of Joan of Arc.
The family recognized Tchaikovsky’s musical talents, but in 1852 he was entered into St. Petersburg’s School of Jurisprudence, which he attended for seven years. It was there that he first became aware of his homosexuality; he took its negative social implications seriously, especially the effect it could have on his family. His emotional conflict exacerbated extreme mood swings with frequent bouts of deep depression and self-doubt that dogged him from childhood until his death.
The School of Jurisprudence provided a well-rounded education, including music, and Tchaikovsky also availed himself also to the many cultural opportunities of the city. After graduation he was assigned a job in the Ministry of Justice, but music became more and more the center of his cultural life.
His serious musical studies began in 1861; a year later, he was accepted into the first class of the newly opened St. Petersburg Conservatory, graduating in 1865. His principal teacher was pianist and composer Anton Rubinstein, whose strong personality instilled in Tchaikovsky compositional discipline: to sketch quickly to the end of a work, then score; work every day, and hold to music as a sacred calling.
After graduation, Tchaikovsky was recruited by Nikolay Rubinstein, Anton’s brother, for the new music conservatory in Moscow. But he was not a good teacher, ever dogged by feelings of insecurity. He also resented the time it took away from composing.
Things were actually looking up for Tchaikovsky during the early part of 1877. He had his first contact with Nadezhda von Meck, the wealthy widow of a railroad builder, who fell in love with Tchaikovsky’s music and arranged to pay him a large annual stipend. The only stipulation she attached to her generous help was that they never meet in person, although they corresponded voluminously. In May he started work on the Fourth Symphony, but in July came his disastrous marriage to one of his students, Antonina Milyukova, who had fallen madly in love with him and had written to him confessing her devotion. Although Tchaikovsky, who was homosexual, didn’t even remember the girl, he hoped the marriage would still the rumors about his sexual preference. Instead he fled Antonina after two weeks. In total despair, he made a pathetic attempt at suicide (he walked into the Moskva River, hoping to die of pneumonia) and ended up with a complete mental collapse. To recuperate, his brother took him to Switzerland and Italy, where he picked up work on the symphony, finishing it in January 1878.
Tchaikovsky dedicated the work To Mme. von Meck, expressing his confidence in the new work: “I feel in my heart that this work is the best I have ever written.” He himself did not return from abroad for the February 1878 premiere in Moscow, which was only a luke-warm success.Tchaikovsky himself contributed to the notion that the Symphony was programmatic. He wrote to his patroness:
Of course my symphony is programmatic, but this program is such that it cannot be formulated in words. That would excite ridicule and appear comic. Ought not a symphony – that is, the most lyrical of all forms – to be such a work? Should it not express everything for which there are no words, but which the soul wishes to express, and which requires to be expressed?In Tchaikovsky's last three symphonies, motivic unity among the movements was to take an increasingly more prominent role. The symphony opens with a sinister fanfare-like theme by the brass, which recurs as the movement unfolds. The anxiety-laden main theme, which Tchaikovsky develops on the spot, strives towards a resolution that continually seems to elude it. The relief comes with the second theme, one of Tchaikovsky's inimitable melodies, a waltz for solo clarinet, and a third played in counterpoint with the clarinet theme by the strings and timpani. The development, based exclusively on the main theme and the fanfare, begins quietly, slowly ramping up the emotional tension. After the recapitulation, the fanfare announces a long two-part coda with a new theme set contrapuntally against the main theme to resolve the movement on a more positive note. But just as we are starting to sit back and relax, the fanfare returns to blast us back into Tchaikovsky's stormy reality.
The second movement, by contrast, opens with a plaintive melody on the oboe, accompanied by pizzicato strings. The oboe theme is answered by a more intense second theme in the strings. The pace picks up as the composer adds a dance-like melody. Typical Tchaikovsky anxiety mounts, until he returns to the gentle oboe theme now in the violins, adorned with feathery ornaments in the winds recalling the accompaniment to the clarinet theme in the first movement.
The third movement, Pizzicato ostinato, is a playful diversion. It is a typical scherzo and trio. The Trio consists of a medley of tunes, the first for a pair of oboes, the second, slightly mournful Russian folk tune, also for the upper winds, and a playful brass riff with staccato playing to match the pizzicato strings from the Scherzo. The movement ends with a medley of the various themes and instrumental combinations.
While one hears subtle references to first-movement musical ideas in movements two and three, Tchaikovsky explicitly unifies the Symphony in the Finale. This last movement is the most “Russian” of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic movements and is something of a musical battle between the festive and the melancholic. After a festive opening theme, the oboe and bassoon introduce an authentic Russia folk-song (for which he was roundly condemned by his academic colleagues and the critics). Once again, however, a sprightly mood turns negative, and it is hardly surprising that the movement is brought up short towards the end by the reappearance of the grim fanfare from the opening movement – the spectre at the feast. An energetic coda, however, tips the balance towards positive territory.
|Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017|