The Virtuoso Orchestra
Franz Joseph Haydn 1732-1809
Franz Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 83 in G minor, “La poule” (The Hen)

Franz Joseph Haydn had one of the most innovative and creative musical minds of his time. It is to Haydn that we owe the development of the string quartet into a mature and enduring form, and we can also credit him with vastly expanding the emotional range and harmonic vocabulary of the classical symphony. He was constantly seeking ways to counter the expectations of his audience and enliven standard musical forms with twists and surprises.

His long life spanned one of the great upheavals in the economics of the musical profession. It marked the demise of the aristocratic “ownership” of music and musicians and the rise of the middle class as patron, supporter and chief consumer of the arts. No one bridged this transition better than Haydn, who continued to be the darling of the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy as well as the musical paragon for London's merchants – without offending either.

During the mid 1760s through the ‘70s, Haydn’s music underwent a profound transformation. His symphonies ceased to be mere light-hearted entertainment and became more intense and dramatic. By the 1780s, with his fame spreading, he began publishing his music as an independent composer although he was still technically a servant – albeit a highly esteemed one – of Prince Esterházy. In 1786, he wrote six symphonies (Nos. 81-87) for a fashionable Paris concert organization, Le Concert de la loge olympique; these were a giant leap forward both technically and emotionally. They paved the way for his two series of London Symphonies, where the impresario unsuccessfully attempted to convince him to immigrate.

Haydn was always tweaking the conventions of musical structure, and often with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The symphony opens Vivace with an aggressive, almost threatening theme, lacking the composer’s usual slow introduction. Example 1 It leads, paradoxically and humorously into the clucking second theme that gave the symphony its nickname. Example 2 Its classic sonata form does not, however, give any hint to the originality of the succeeding movements.

The Allegretto second movement is a witty set of contrasts between forte and piano. While the opening melody, repeated immediately with embellishments is rather ordinary, Example 3 Haydn then inserts a little theme that forces the listener to wait impatiently as the composer deliberately stalls its momentum and comes back with a roar. Example 4 Haydn also adds a dash of pepper to an otherwise bland closing theme of the exposition. Example 5 A brief transition – not enough to be called a development – loops back to a repeat of the first part of the movement. Example 6

For the Minuet, Haydn gives us a complex series of themes without the conventional repeat of the initial motive. Example 7 The Trio, however, is melodically simpler and shorter. Example 8

Haydn occasionally composed movements based on a single theme or brief motive, a practice frequently involving an ostinato or rhythmic pattern to intensify the effect, as in the Finale. Example 9 Example 10
Ralph Vaughan Williams 1872-1958
Ralph Vaughan-Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending, Romance for Violin and Orchestra

“The first startling thing about our decision to do a VW weekend was the blank looks when we mentioned it…But not as startling as the reactions to the weekend itself. If I had a quid for every time I heard someone say ‘I never knew he wrote music like that’ I’d be as rich as…” writes Richard Morrison, chief music critic of the Times (London) of a weekend commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams – and this in the composer’s own backyard.

VW came from a distinguished family: his paternal grandfather was the first Judge of Common Pleas. His maternal grandparents were Josiah Wedgwood III and a sister of Charles Darwin. Although the family encouraged his youthful musical talents, they later disapproved of his choice of music as a career; VW prevailed, graduating with a Mus.B from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1894.

Vaughan Williams' progress was slow and uncertain. He went to Berlin in 1897 to study with Max Bruch, and to Paris in 1908 to take lessons from Maurice Ravel. But he was drawn to English folksong and Elizabethan and Jacobean music, and his music became rooted in Tudor polyphony, uncovering that rich heritage for contemporaneous audiences. He also had a passion for English folk music; his collection of over 800 folksongs, on which he worked between 1903 and 1910 and his selection of the songs for The English Hymnal in 1906 helped set the stage for the future development of his musical language.

In his long, productive life – his last symphony was premiered just four months before his death at age 85 – VW practiced what he preached. He wrote music for numerous instrumental and vocal combinations, as well as for levels of sophistication and performing ability. Considered radical in his young days and a lifelong agnostic (despite his contributions to religious music), he believed that music was the birthright of every individual.

In his youth, Ralph Vaughan Williams studied the violin, an instrument he came to regard with special affection although he never fully mastered it. In 1914, considered a rising musical star just starting work on his Second (“London”) Symphony, he expressed his love for the instrument with The Lark Ascending, composed for the violinist Marie Hall. The outbreak of World War I indefinitely postponed the premiere until 1920, by which time Vaughan Williams had revised and re-orchestrated it. The work takes its title from a poem of the same name by George Meredith, the following extract of which appears in the score:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain or sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake...

For singing till his heaven fills,
`Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes.…

...Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

From its opening bars, there is a certain magic in the work. It presents the image of the soaring lark – “the wine which overflows” – in the non-metrical line of the solo violin against the more down-to-earth (metrically bound) orchestra – the “golden cup” – all in a grand musical arch.

After a few gentle introductory measures by the orchestra, the solo violin enters hesitantly with a five-note motive Example 1 reminiscent of bird song that becomes increasingly complex, a gentle but full cadenza – "And ever winging up and up." The violin then breaks out in a lilting melody reminiscent of English folk song Example 2, which it almost seems to “teach” the orchestra while it takes off again in more embellishments. After a return to the opening cadenza, the tempo picks up as the orchestra, led by the flute and clarinet, introduces its own animated folk-like melody, which it “teaches” the violin Example 3. During the change of pace, the violin returns to its cadenza, this time accompanied by other bird-song images by the solo winds. Example 4 The work winds down with a varied reprise of the first folk melody and ends pianissimo as it began, with another cadenza on the violin, fading gradually – “Till lost on his aerial rings” – out of sight and hearing.
Lukas Foss 1922-2009
Lukas Foss
Lukas Foss
Three American Pieces For Violin and Orchestra

The musical examples are from the original violin and piano version

Conductor, pianist and composer, Lukas Foss was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1937, where he studied at the Curtis Institute. He was a child prodigy who started composing at age seven, but for many years made his living as a pianist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and as a soloist in the performance of his own music. Since the mid 1950s he served as conductor and music director of a large number of orchestras and musical ensembles here and abroad. He was well known for his championing of young composers and avant-garde music, as well as for his unorthodox approach when conducting the classics.

Orchestrated in 1986, Three American Pieces started life in 1944 as Three Pieces for Violin and Piano. The style is neo-romantic:
1. Early Song (Andante): An abrupt alternation of slow and fast sections based on short, related motives. Example 1 Example 2

2. Dedication (Lento): Also involving changes in tempo, the piece is based on a four-note motive. Example 3 Example 4

3. Composer’s Holiday (Allegro): The final piece in the set is folksy, with a little Dixie and a few blue notes thrown in. It resembles some of Aaron Copland’s witty Americana. Example 5 Example 6
Alberto Ginastera 1916-1983
Alberto Ginastera
Alberto Ginastera
Variaciones concertantes, Op. 23

Throughout most of his career, Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera attempted to find a synthesis between the indigenous music of his native country and the techniques of the twentieth century. His works, especially his ballets, often feature the fantastic, mysterious stories and symbolism of the native Indian and pre-Columbian cultures. In 1958 he embraced serialism, blending it successfully with the rhythms of his native culture. In September 1971 the Opera Society of Washington staged Ginastera’s opera Beatrix Cenci as the inaugural production of the opera house of the new Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC.

Ginastera was a world traveler. While he spent many years teaching in Argentina, the unsettled political situation, especially the rise to power of Juan Perón, interfered with his academic duties, requiring him to live abroad, mostly in the USA and Europe. In 1971 he settled permanently in Geneva.

The Variaciones concertantes, composed in 1953, is a concerto for orchestra. According to the composer, “The work has a subjective Argentine character. Instead of employing folklore material, an Argentine atmosphere is obtained by the use of original melodies and rhythms.”

It begins with an original theme played by the harp and cello, followed by ten variations for either one instrument or a pair of solo instruments. The final variation is a rondo for the whole orchestra with a prominent role for the timpani. The work requires virtuoso performances from the solo instruments and demonstrates Ginastera’s skill in creating unusual colorful orchestral sonorities.

The composer exercises considerable freedom in crafting the variations, often disguising the theme, in the manner of Elgar’s Enigma Variations. The set is also symmetrical, beginning with the theme, followed by an Interludio for the strings; after seven variations for the orchestral soloists, the woodwinds play another Interludio, followed by a repeat of the theme. The final variation has the character of a coda and stands outside the arch.

The fourths that open the Concerto are the intervals between the open strings of all string instruments, but here refer specifically to the gauchesco, an Argentine six-string guitar (E-A-D-G-B-E’) Example 1 Ginastera begins each variation with a transformation of these six tuning pitches. In a similar manner as the variations in Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, each variation bears a descriptive title and captures the traditional character of the solo instrument, such as in Variation 2, “Variazione giocosa per flauto,” (Playful variation for flute). Example 2 The unaccompanied viola solo in the third variation recalls the Bach solo violin partitas or cello suites. Example 3 The orchestral coda brings back the soloists from the preceding variations. Example 4
Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017