- September 28, 2019
- 8:00 pm
- Marietta Performing Arts Center
There's no place like home. The Georgia Symphony's sixty-ninth season begins with a voyage of discovery, and a homecoming of enlightenment.
Beethoven's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage is a short choral cantata that begins the sojourn. This work, which features the GSO Chorus, has very discernible connections to Beethoven’s most famous work, his ninth symphony. Elgar's Spanish Serenade and Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor add international excursions to our journey. The first moment of the concerto will be performed by Young Artist Competition Winner, Josh Liu.
Dvorak's popular "New World Symphony" brings us back home, but with a view of America through the eyes of a traveler. Its alluring melodies and driving brass fanfares have captivated audiences since its premier in 1893 at Carnegie Hall. The nostalgic second movement has been featured in arrangements, transcriptions, and utilized in film and documentary scores.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, "From the New World", Op. 95
Meersstille und Glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage)
Poems by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
Music by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
“How happy he made me then! I would have gone to death, yes, ten times to death for Goethe.”
Those were the words of Beethoven, describing his impressions of writer, artist, scientist, and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, more than a decade after their meeting. Their collaboration would produce more than 20 pieces of music.
Brought together by a mutual friend at a fashionable resort during the summer of 1812, the two men were cut from very different cloths. Goethe, twenty years Beethoven’s senior, was refined and cultured, had been ennobled at a young age by the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, and sat on the duke’s privy council. Beethoven, on the other hand—once described by Cherubini as “an unlicked bear cub”—was rough around the edges, difficult to get along with, and harbored deep resentment toward nobility. Goethe referred to Beethoven as “an absolutely uncontrolled personality,” while Beethoven described the writer as being too enamored by the “glitter” of court. Yet, the two held deep and mutual admiration for one another’s artistic genius.
In 1814, while Austria worked to restore order after the Napoleonic wars, Beethoven used two poems of Goethe that had been written some 20 years earlier to compose the cantata Meersstille und Glückliche Fahrt. As the works of Beethoven go, it is relatively small and unknown piece, yet it contains some of his most expressive writing. The evocative irony in the poems provided rich musical fodder. The quiet, calm sea of the first poem would most often be associated with peaceful waters, yet Goethe’s text presents the windless sea as alarming, mysterious, and frightening. Beethoven relays that deathly calm with harmonic stillness, a static tempo, and hushed choral tones, punctuating the music with bits of text painting—such as the extreme vocal range used for ungeheuern Weite (vast expanse). In the second poem, the music mimics the winds picking up and the release of fear, as the strings ascend the scale and the journey to land ensues. Listeners might be reminded of the final moments of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the rapid-fire dialogue between the chorus and orchestra (“Geschwinde! Geshwinde!”) and the exuberant repetitions of “das Land” as the relieved sailors sight land.
Meersstille und Glückliche Fahrt was first performed in December of 1815 as part of a hospital fund benefit concert in Vienna. It was published in 1822, at which time Beethoven dedicated the work to Goethe.
“Meeresstille” “Calm Sea”
Tiefe Stille herrscht im Wasser, Deep silence prevails in the waters;
Ohne Regung ruht das Meer, Motionless, the sea rests,
Und bekümmert sieht der Schiffer And the boatsman looks about with alarm
Glatte Fläche ringsumher. Smooth surfaces about him.
Keine Luft von keiner Seite! No air from any side!
Todesstille fürchterlich! A deathly, terrible silence!
In der ungeheuern Weite In the vast expanse
Reget keine Welle sich. no wave stirs.
“Glückliche Fahrt” “Prosperous Voyage”
Die Nebel zerreißen, The mist is torn away,
Der Himmel ist helle, The heavens turn bright,
Und Äolus löset And Aelous unfastens
Das ängstliche Band. the bonds of fear.
Es säuseln die Winde, There, the winds rustle,
Es rührt sich der Schiffer. and stir the boatsman.
Geschwinde! Geschwinde! Quickly! Quickly!
Es teilt sich die Welle, The waves rise up.
Es naht sich die Ferne; The distant view draws close,
Schon seh’ ich das Land! I see the land!
Bose, Sudip (2017, July 27). When Beethoven Met Goethe. Retrieved from https://theamericanscholar.org/when-beethoven-met-goethe/#.XWtIkChKg2w
Johann von Goethe (1749-1832) and Beethoven: Meeting of Minds. Retrieved from https://www.classicfm.com/composers/beethoven/guides/johann-von-goethe-1749-1832/
Horton, Scott (2009, February 1) Goethe’s Quiet Sea. Retrieved from https://harpers.org/blog/2009/02/goethes-quiet-sea/
Goethe, Etc. (2010, September 20) Goethe and Beethoven. Retrieved from http://goethetc.blogspot.com/2010/09/goethe-and-beethoven.html
Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage), cantata for chorus and orchestra, Op. 112 Palmer, John. Retrieved from https://www.allmusic.com/composition/meeresstille-und-gl%C3%BCckliche-fahrt-calm-sea-and-prosperous-voyage-cantata-for-chorus-orchestra-op-112-mc0002356176
Program Notes. Huscher, Phillip. Retrieved from https://cso.org/uploadedFiles/1_Tickets_and_Events/Program_Notes/061810_ProgramNotes_Beethoven_CalmSeaProsperousVoyage.pdf
A Meeting of Genius: Beethoven and Goethe, July, 1812. Retrieved from https://www.gramophone.co.uk/features/focus/a-meeting-of-genius-beethoven-and-goethe-july-1812
Spanish Serenade, Op. 23 (1892)
Music by Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Lyrics by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)
Sir Edward William Elgar was an English composer who, in spite of being knighted by King Edward VII in 1904, always considered himself an outsider. Professionally, he was almost entirely self-taught in a world of highly-trained musical scholars. Socially, he was of humble origins and a Roman Catholic in heavily Protestant England. Indeed, when he married, his wife’s family disinherited her, aghast that she would choose an unknown, Roman Catholic musician who worked as a clerk. The son of a violinist/piano tuner and a farm worker’s daughter, Elgar began composing at an early age. One piece (“The Wand of Youth”), was composed at the age of ten for a childhood play, and 40 years later published with few changes. As an adult, he patched together a career of teaching, playing, conducting, and composing in various venues. But at the age of 42, his “Enigma Variations” catapulted him to international notoriety. Formally called “Variations on an Original Theme,” it is a large-scale work consisting of a theme and 14 variations, each named with the initials of one of Elgar’s friends and presenting a musical caricature of the person. It was widely acclaimed for its craftsmanship and yet its most enduring charm comes from Elgar’s suggestion that the principal theme of the piece is one that runs throughout, but is never heard. Despite a great deal of study and supposition on the part of music scholars, and a number of hints provided by Elgar, the exact nature of that mysterious theme remains unsolved.
A few years prior to achieving fame with his Enigma Variations, Elgar composed “Spanish Serenade.” He used lyrics by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was said to have been his mother’s favorite poet. Longfellow had written the poem “Stars of the Summer Night” (also known as “Serenade”) for a play called “The Spanish Student.” Though Longfellow intended for it to be produced on the stage, its only American publications came in the serial monthly Graham’s Magazine in September, October, and November of 1842, and later in book form. The story was inspired in part by what Longfellow called “the beautiful tale of Cervantes, La Gitanilla.” The serenade in the play is sung by Preciosa’s lover, Victorian, outside her balcony as she sleeps.
“Stars of the Summer Night” (Serenade)
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1842)
Stars of the summer night!
Far in yon azure deeps,
Hide, hide your golden light!
My lady sleeps!
Moon of the summer night!
Far down yon western steeps,
Sink, sink in silver light!
My lady sleeps!
Wind of the summer night!
Where yonder woodbine creeps,
Fold, fold thy pinions light!
My lady sleeps!
Dreams of the summer night!
Tell her, her lover keeps
Watch! while in slumbers light
My lady sleeps!
Dibble, Jeremy. The Choral Music of Edward Elgar. Retrieved from https://www.gothic-catalog.com/Choral_Music_of_Elgar_Choir_of_Trinity_College_p/g-49262.htm
Edward Elgar Biography. Retrieved from https://www.singers.com/bio/4145
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: The Spanish Student. Retrieved from https://www.bartleby.com/356/38.html#119
The Moving Story Behind Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Retrieved from https://www.classicfm.com/composers/elgar/guides/story-behind-elgars-enigma-variations/
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto – Movement 1 (1904)
Jean Sibelius had dreamed of being a virtuoso violinist, but by the time he was a young adult, he knew it wasn’t to be:
My tragedy was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. Since the age of 15 I played my violin practically from morning to night….it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.
If his dreams of being a violinist weren’t realized, though, as a composer he is widely celebrated as Finland’s greatest and most important. He is credited with helping the country develop a national identity while it struggled to gain independence from Russia. His impressive body of work includes—among other things—seven symphonies, over a hundred songs for voice and piano, incidental music for numerous plays, an opera, many piano, choral, and chamber pieces—and one concerto.
Sibelius’s single foray into that genre, the Violin Concerto in D minor, might have been a way of living out his youthful dream. It is the most recorded violin concerto of the twentieth century, and technically too difficult for many performers. Symphonic in scope, the first movement explores a progressive rendition of traditional sonata form, including an extended cadenza that serves as the development.
Sibelius originally wrote his concerto for noted violinist Willy Burmester, but when Burmester was unable to come to Helsinki for the premiere (some have questioned why Sibelius scheduled it at a time when the soloist couldn’t make it), violin teacher Victor Nováček was hired to play. Unfortunately, the piece was barely finished in time and Nováček had little preparation, and the performance was disastrous. Sibelius pulled the score and reworked it, offering a new version for Burmester to play in Berlin in 1905, under the baton of Richard Strauss. Interestingly, the violinist’s schedule didn’t work again and when yet another soloist was hired to play the concerto, Burmester became so offended that he refused to ever play it. Sibelius would later re-dedicate the concerto to the Hungarian “wunderkind” Ferenc von Vecsey, who performed it at the age of 13.
The original version of the piece—in all its prodigious difficulty—was unknown until 1991, when Sibelius’s heirs agreed to allow one live performance and one recording. (The first movement’s cadenza was not among Sibelius’s revisions.) Since 2015, very few orchestras and soloists have been permitted to play the original version.
Frymann, Abigail. (2000, October) How It Works: Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, first movement. Retrieved from https://www.gramophone.co.uk/feature/masterclass-sibelius-violin-concerto
Jean Sibelius As a Composer http://www.sibelius.fi/english/musiikki/js_saveltajana.html
Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Retrieved from https://www.classicfm.com/composers/sibelius/music/violin-concerto-d-minor/
May, Thomas. About the Work: Violin Concerto in D Minor, Op. 47. Retrieved from https://www.kennedy-center.org/artist/composition/2200
Newman, Lori (2013) Program Notes. Retrieved from https://nmphil.org/music-in-new-mexico/program-notes-sibelius-shostakovich/
Segerstam, Leif. (2000, October) Masterclass: Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. Retrieved from https://www.gramophone.co.uk/feature/masterclass-sibelius-violin-concerto
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World” Op. 95 (1893)
Antonín Leopold Dvořák (1841-1904)
“The Americans expect me…to show them the promised land and kingdom of a new and independent art, in short to create a national music. If the small Czech nation can have such musicians, they say, why could not they, too, when their country and people is so immense.”
Dvorak expressed this sentiment in a letter to a friend, not long after he had left his home in Prague, to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. The Conservatory was the vision of millionaire and music enthusiast Jeannette Thurber, who had dreamed of launching a music training institute that would foster an authentically American breed of music, and which—to that end—welcomed women, the underprivileged, and minorities as students. By this time in Dvorak’s career, in 1892, he was widely accepted as the premier composer of a national idiom for his own Czech heritage—integrating Bohemian folk music with classical traditions—and was also known as a skilled teacher. Thurber’s influence convinced him to relocate to the United States, where he embraced her challenge. He became enamored with indigenous American music, specifically from African-American and Native American sources. Harry T. Burleigh, who would later become one of America’s greatest composers, was a student at the Conservatory, introducing him to a wealth of African-American spirituals. He said of Dvorak: “I sang our Negro songs for him very often, and before he wrote his own themes, he filled himself with the spirit of the old Spirituals.” In the May 21 issue of the New York Herald in 1893 (just days before the completion of Symphony No. 9), Dvorak was quoted as saying, “In the Negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that his ninth and last symphony is famous for displaying the inspiration he found in both African-American and Native American music. Some believe he actually used existing tunes in the work, but in fact, his melodies were original. The famous tune presented in the second movement (scored for English horn ostensibly because it reminded him of Harry T. Burleigh’s voice) is so reminiscent of an African-American spiritual that in 1922, years after Dvorak’s death, one of his former students added lyrics to it and it became known as “Goin’ Home.” So while many people assume it was a spiritual Dvorak quoted in the Largo, in fact, its life began as an original motive the New World Symphony. It only later became known as “Goin’ Home” in hymnbooks.
Symphony No. 9 in E Minor premiered in December of 1893, with Anton Seidl conducting the New York Philharmonic. It met with rave reviews, the New York Evening Post calling it “the greatest symphonic work ever composed in this country.” Its title, “From the New World” had been added as an afterthought at the last minute, and some scholars suggest that without it, audiences might not have found the symphony so different from Dvorak’s other works. With it, though, the first movement—in traditional sonata form and containing clear Czech influences—also seems reminiscent of “Swing Lo, Sweet Chariot” when the flute plays the final theme. The middle two movements are thought to carry inspiration from Native American sources, though most scholars agree it’s doubtful Dvorak’s familiarity with that music occurred in time for its flavor to be present in the Ninth Syphony. Still, his intrigue with Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha is well documented—one of the projects planned from the beginning of his time in America was an opera based on the epic poem, but it never happened. Dvorak himself stated that his image for the Scherzo was “the feast where the Indians dance,” which he had read in Longfellow’s Hiawatha. The final movement of the symphony contains touches of the total Dvorak—an ambassador for a Czech national music as well as an Americanized trailblazer, all wrapped up in the formal structures of absolute music. Some claim that the Ninth Symphony is simply the Czech composer of his pre-America days, with a few ornaments from the new world. But as Dvorak himself wrote to a Czech friend, while composing the Ninth Symphony, “I should never have written the symphony ‘just so’ if I hadn’t seen America.”
Dvořák Symphony No. 9 in E minor. Retrieved from https://www.classicfm.com/composers/dvorak/music/symphony-no-9-e-minor-new-world/
Symphony No. 9 from the New World. Retrieved from http://www.antonin-dvorak.cz/en/symphony9
Huizenga, Tom. (2018, November 24) How the ‘New World’ Symphony Introduced American Music to Itself. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/11/24/669557133/dvorak-new-world-symphony-american-anthem
Keller, James M (2017, June) Notes on the Program. Retrieved from https://nyphil.org/~/media/pdfs/program-notes/1617/Dvorak-Symphony-No-9-From-the-New-World.pdf
May, Thomas. Symphony No. 9 in E Minor “From the new World” Retrieved from https://www.kennedy-center.org/artist/composition/3223
Ledbetter, Steven. Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor https://www.aspenmusicfestival.com/program_notes/view/dvoak-symphony-no.-9-in-e-minor-opus-95-from-the-new-world