Spring 2012 Program Notes
Sunday, April 29, 2012
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Four Dance Episodes from “Rodeo”
Elgar, Variations on an Original Theme (“Enigma”)
By George Weaver, Catherine Crouch, Tim Crouch and Debra Lew Harder
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo (1942)
Aaron Copland was the quintessential 20th century American composer. He captured an authentic sound of the rugged American spirit through use of harmonies stacking open fourths and fifths, energetic rhythms, melodic themes featuring solo instruments, and generous quotation of American folk tunes.
Copland composed Rodeo in five months. The success of his ballet Billy the Kid (1938) prompted the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to commission the work. The renowned Agnes de Mille, the choreographer and lead dancer for the premiere, had played a critical role in recruiting Copland to compose the score. Copland employed four episodes of the original five to structure the symphonic version.
The storyline is simple: a cowgirl tries to lasso a cowboy by being one of the boys. The first episode, Buckaroo Holiday, begins with a bright fanfare descending between the winds and strings accented by the percussion before settling down to the calmer melody for the cowgirl theme. It is followed by a lively rhythmic theme derived from two American folk tunes. Corral Nocturne provides a sweet and poignant contrast as melody overtakes the rhythmic energy of the first episode. Saturday Night Waltz is a gentle dance movement that cautiously sways as the cowboys select their dance partners. The final episode, Hoe-Down, is highly recognizable. Copland quotes two animated fiddle tunes as the percussion punctuates the energy of the winds and strings in this barn-burner of a square dance.
Alsop, Marin: Copland: Early Music from America’s Composer. NPR Music, December, 2008.
Rodda, Richard E.: Program Notes: Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra. April, 2011.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878)
Composed in 1878, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is among the best known of the violin concerto repertoire, as well as one of the most difficult. It was initially poorly received. Tchaikovsky dedicated the work to the violinist Leopold Auer, but Auer refused to perform it on the grounds that the violin writing was “impracticable.” The work was finally premiered in 1881 in Vienna, with Adolf Brodsky as the soloist, to mixed reviews. However, it has aged well; David Brown writes, “It is one of the freshest … of Tchaikovsky’s works, in which a simple concerto pattern is filled with appealing melody that might have spilled over from one of his ballets.”
The first movement, Allegro moderato, opens with a brief orchestral introduction, before introducing the soloist, who presents the main theme, a gentle, lilting D major statement. This theme is developed throughout the first half of the movement, through increasingly virtuosic solo writing, until finally the modulation into the dominant is completed and a massive tutti restates the theme, now in A. The soloist returns again in a cadenza-like passage with orchestral accompaniment that resolves into another orchestral tutti, this time ending in the actual cadenza. Much of the material of the first half is restated after the cadenza in the original theme, culminating in a joyful D major coda.
The second and third movements, Canzonetta: Andante and Finale: Allegro vivacissimo, are performed without a break. The Canzonetta is soft and mellow, with the strings muted and much of the brass absent; after a short introduction in the winds, the soloist enters with a soft, sad G minor theme. This theme is developed throughout the movement, taking full advantage of the violin’s capacity for expression, until it quietly comes to an end with a soft chord in the winds. The orchestra then abruptly interrupts these peaceful chords with the start of the Finale. The soloist plays alone, at first in an exploratory, cadenza-like solo passage, then launching into an infectious dance tune that is joined by the orchestra. A slower pensive interlude appears twice, once in A major and once in G major, before the virtuoso dance returns for the final time and brings the concerto to a dazzling finale.
—Catherine Crouch and Tim Crouch
Brown, David: Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky. In The New Grove Russian Masters I (New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1986), pp. 175-176.
Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op. 36 (1899)
In October 1898, after a long day of teaching violin, 41-year-old Edward Elgar returned to his home in Worcestershire, England and began improvising at the piano after dinner. His wife Alice remarked that she liked what her composer husband was playing, a tune that began in G minor and ended in G major. Thus was born the “original theme” of Opus 36. Fourteen variations and a full orchestration soon followed.
Elgar had a sense of humor, and in each of the variations he depicted a person close to him. These people included Alice, himself, and several friends, as well as the antics of his friend Sinclair’s dog (listen for energetic dog paddling and barking in Variation 11). After the manuscript was complete, Elgar asked his champion and publisher August Johannes Jaeger (“Nimrod” of Variation 9) to inscribe the word “Enigma” in the heading.
The renowned conductor Hans Richter agreed to premiere the Enigma Variations at St. James’s Hall the following June. The performance won enthusiastic reviews, ensuring Elgar an international reputation and eventual knighthood.
As for the Enigma, Elgar enigmatically wrote “The Enigma I will not explain – its ‘dark saying’ must be left unguessed..…through and over the whole set another and larger theme ‘goes,’ but is not played.” Over the years, people have speculated on the identity of this larger enigma. Popular theories include “Auld Lang Syne,” “Rule Britannia,” and Elgar himself.
—Debra Lew Harder
Anderson, Robert: Elgar, Master Musicians Series. New York, Schirmer Books, 1993.
Kennedy, Michael: The Life of Elgar, Musical Lives Series. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.