Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Tale of a River

Another of the pieces the Lincoln Youth Symphony is working on for their November concert is Smetana's "Moldau," a very famous symphonic poem that depicts the Moldau (the German name)or Vltava (the Czech name)River, the longest river in the Czech Republic.

Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) was a nationalist romantic Czech composer of the 19th century. He is considered the father of Czech music. Although he wrote all sorts of music, he is best remembered for his opera "The Bartered Bride" and for his cycle of symphonic poems "Ma vlast (My country)," of which the Moldau is the second one, written in 1874, and premiered in 1875,

A symphonic poem or tone poem is an orchestral work in one movement that depicts, illustrates or evokes a story, a painting, a place, or some other non-musical content. Smetana's "Moldau" depicts the course of the river through the country. He wrote his publisher about his work:

"The work depicts the course of the river Vltava, beginning from the two small sources, the cold and warm Vltava, the joining of both streams into one, then the flow of the Vltava through forests and across meadows, through the countryside where gay festivals are just being celebrated; by the light of the moon a dance of wter nymphs; on the nearby cliffs proud castles, mansions and ruins rise up; the Vltava swirls in the St. John's rapids, flows in a broad stream as far as Prague, the Vysehrad appears, and finally the river disappears in the distance as it flows majestically into the Elbe."

That description can be followed through the music, with the initial source of the river depicted by the flutes starting in the first measure, and the second source inverted in the clarinets a few measures later. You might want to listen for a hunt in the forest or polka strains of a country wedding, and the broad melodies as the stream becomes a river.

You can hear the "Moldau" at the Lincoln Youth Symphony concert on Sunday, November 11, 2012, 3 p.m., at Lincoln Southwest High School. The concert is free.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Hebrides, a concert overture

One of the pieces that the Lincoln Youth Symphony is preparing for their November concert is The Hebrides, by the German romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).

The Hebrides is an overture. It's not an overture that is connected with a another work, like an opera or oratorio. Rather it is a concert overture, an independent symphonic work that may or may not have a programatic basis. The Hebrides is frequestly used as an example of the concert overture. While many people hear The Hebrides as a seascape, with tides and waves, glimmers of foam, and even a storm, Mendelssohn indicated that his overture was inspired by the beauty of that part of Scotland, rather than being a depiction of it.

In 1829, a young Felix Mendelssohn visited Scotland as part of his grand European tour. It was the first summer that steamer trips to the islands were advertised. The night before catching the steamer, Mendelssohn sent his sister Fanny a letter with 20 bars of the theme he later used in the overture. The ship that Mendelssohn took visited both Iona and Staffa, where Fingal's Cave is the main attraction. Mendelssohn, however, remembered little of that day because he was quite sea sick, so Fingal's Cave was not the inspiration for his work.

Mendelssohn spent three years working on his overture. The first draft was called The Lonely Island (Die einsame Insel). The first version was completed in Rome in 1830, and called The Hebrides. Mendelssohn decided he didn't like it, and so wrote a second version that had a premier at a London concert in 1832. He made a third version the next year.

The first published version of the overture was called Fingal's Cave by the publisher, a name that has stuck, even though Mendelssohn hadn't even seen Fingal's Cave on his trip to Scotland. It has also been called The Isles of Fingal and Ossian in Fingal's Cave, in addition to the titles Mendelssohn used.

Whatever you want to call Mendelssohn's concert overture, the Lincoln Youth Symphony will be performing it on Nevember 11, 2012.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

President Garfield's Inauguration March to be Performed

President Garfield's Inauguration March will be performed on Monday night, October 15, 2012, at Kimball Recital Hall at UN-L. It will be performed by the Lincoln Community Concert Band as a part of their fall concert. The 7:30 p.m. concert is free. President Garfield is subject of Destiny of the Republic, the One Book One Lincoln selection for 2012.

A young John Philip Sousa wrote the march in 1881 for the March 4th inauguration of James A. Garfield as President of the United States. Sousa had been named leader of the U.S. Marine Corps Band in 1880. The march was first performed at the inauguration by the Marine Corps Band with Sousa conducting. Inaugural processions take a long time, and this march is a little longer than the typical Sousa march.  Sousa also wrote a march for Garfield's 1881 funeral -- Garfield being the only president for whom Sousa wrote two marches.

Also on the band's concert will be three movements from Poulenc's Les Biches, the ballet which launched Francis Poulenc's career. The ballet was written in 1923 for Serge Diaghilev and the Ballet Russe, and premiered the following year. Les Biches has multiple translations and is a play on words, being a female deer (doe) or a darling. Poulenc (1899-1963) said that he based the work on paintings of Watteau depicting Louis XV and various women in Louis' deer park. The ballet was reorchestrated in 1939, and Poulenc pulled out an orchestral suite, from which these three pieces are taken.

Other works on the concert include a fantasy on sea songs, a selection of tunes from Meredith Willson's "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," and selections by Chicago (the musical group) and the Kingston Trio.