Spring 2011 Program Notes


Sunday, May 1, 2011
Upper Darby Performing Arts Center
601 N. Lansdowne Avenue
Drexel Hill, PA 19026

Sunday, May 15, 2011
Conestoga High School
200 Irish Road
Berwyn, PA 19312


Samson and Delilah: Bacchanale
Respighi: Pines of Rome

Symphony No. 5 “Reformation”


By Alison Manaker, Marilyn Lutz and Jun Han

Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Danse Bacchanale, Samson et Dalila (Samson and Delilah) (1877)

Camille Saint-Saëns’ grand opera Samson et Dalila comprises three acts and four scenes. The French libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire, based on the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah, presents Samson as an inspiring leader and Delilah as a manipulative, merciless avenger. Franz Liszt conducted the opera’s premiere in Weimar at the Grossherzogliches (Grand Ducal) Theater (now the Staatskapelle Weimar) on 2 December 1877 in a German translation. The pivotal Danse Bacchanale (Act 3, scene 2) is often performed separately as an orchestral piece.

Saint-Saëns creates an exotic-sounding piece by employing an unusual scale based on the Arabic hijiz mode, whose unique sound comes from the augmented interval between the second and third degrees of the scale, and much use of percussion to evoke the barbarism of the Philistines. In the opening measures, the rhapsodic oboe solo evokes the Middle East with the sounds of a muezzin’s call to prayer. Subsequently, when the danse begins, a more savage and wild atmosphere develops.

A brief interlude reprises Delilah’s ode to spring from Act 1, but the piece resumes an unrelenting rhythm, building tension to the ultimate, destructive, and fatal culmination of the opera. As the revelry reaches its climax, Samson calls on God for vengeance and, with a supreme effort, brings down the pillars and the temple, crushing himself and his enemies. The score allows little more than five seconds between Samson’s mighty exertion and the descent of the curtain.

—Alison Manaker

Huebner, Steven (2006). French Opera at the Fin de Siecle: Samson and Delilah. Oxford University Press, 206-212.
Macdonald, Hugh. “Samson et Dalila, ” Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (accessed February 26, 2011).
(Subscription access from Oxford Music online.)
Samson et Dalila at www.concertoperaboston.org
Temple Hill Symphony Winter 2010 Program

Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome, 1923-1924)

Respighi took first prize in violin upon his graduation in 1900 from the famous Liceo Musicale of his native Bologna. He then travelled to St. Petersburg, Russia where he served as principal viola during the Italian opera season at the Imperial Theater and, most importantly, studied with Rimsky-Korsakov for an intense five-month period. Upon his return to Bologna, he resumed studies at the Liceo Musicale where he took first prize in composition in 1901.

After several years of freelancing and composing on the side, Respighi was appointed professor of composition at the Saint Cecilia Academy in Rome in January, 1913. Respighi was a prolific composer of opera, ballet, choral/vocal music, concerti, and chamber music; however, he is best known for his orchestral works. Of these, the most famous are the three musical pictures of the Roman scene: Le fontane di Roma (The Fountains of Rome, 1915-1916), Pini di Roma (The Pines of Rome, 1923-1924), and Feste Romane (Roman Festivals, 1928). Pini di Roma consists of four musical photographs that flow without interruption:

I. I Pini di Villa Borghese (The Pines of the Villa Borghese). Snatches of popular Italian children’s songs can be heard in the sparkle of sound that depicts children at play in the park with its famous view of the great city.
II. Pini presso una Catacomba (The Pines near a Catacomb). Early Christians worshipped in secret among the catacombs, which inspired this contrasting movement. It begins quietly with an off-stage trumpet solo. The mysterious mood is accomplished through the use of Gregorian chant, which combines with other more rhythmic musical fragments reminiscent of ancient religious ceremonies into a grand crescendo, then fades away.
III. I pini del Gianicolo (The Pines of the Janiculum). Of all Respighi’s orchestrations, this is perhaps the most magical. The thick groves of pines are envisioned as twilight comes to this park with its palaces and gardens, creating a general impression of the calm and beauty of a moonlit night given voice especially by the piano, solo clarinet, lush strings, harp, and finally the thrill of the nightingale, singing.
IV. I pini della Via Appia (The Pines of the Appian Way). Out of the misty dawn, the ghosts of Rome’s glorious past emerge as the legions march once again to mount the Capitoline Hill in triumph.

—Marilyn Lutz

Ferguson, Donald N.: Masterworks of the Orchestral Repertoire, University of Minnesota, 1954.
Kelly, C. Michael: Program notes at immaculatasymphony.org
Respighi, Elsa: Ottorino Respighi (translated by Gwyn Morris), Ricordi, 1962.
Sheean, Vincent: Liner notes from the 1949 Toscanini recording with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
Warrack, John: Liner notes from the 1997 Deutsche Grammophon recording with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 5, “Reformation,” Opus 107 (completed 1830, premiere 1832)

Numbered as Mendelssohn’s last symphony, the Symphony No. 5 actually pre-dated his other two more popular symphonies, the No. 3 “Scotch” (1842) and the No. 4 “Italian” (1833). Mendelssohn was only 21 years old when he composed the Symphony No. 5; in contrast, Haydn and Beethoven at that age had not produced any symphonies at all.

Although born into a Jewish family, Mendelssohn became Lutheran when he was seven years old. The life and beliefs of Martin Luther, the founder of Mendelssohn’s adopted faith, impressed the composer deeply. He named his fifth symphony ‘Reformation’ as it was intended to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, which was one of the most important documents of the Lutheran reformation.

Festivities for the tercentennial of the Augsburg Confession took place in June, 1830 in Berlin. Unfortunately, Mendelssohn’s ill health delayed the completion of the symphony until May by which time it was too late to organize a performance for June. The symphony was premiered in 1832, with the composer himself as the conductor. It was not published until 1868, many years after his death. A typical performance of the symphony lasts about 33 minutes.

In the slow introduction of the first movement, the composer used the “Dresden Amen” on strings as the first theme. It is followed by variations of this theme in the later development of the Allegro con fuoco, which shifts to D minor but is still a derivative of the first theme. The two middle movements are more like intermezzi between the first and last. The charming second movement begins with an inversion of the “Dresden Amen.” The rather operatic third movement is in G minor, which is more restrained and mainly for strings.

In the fourth movement, Luther’s famous hymn, Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress is Our God) in G major is used as the main theme, which is subsequently transformed into an inversion of the Allegro con fuoco, as presented in the first movement. At the very end of the coda, a powerful version of Luther’s chorale is triumphantly played by the entire orchestra in majestic splendor.

—Jun Han

Silber, J. (1987). “Mendelssohn and His Reformation Symphony,” J. Am. Musicol. Soc., 40:310.
Wilson, C. (2005). Notes on Mendelssohn: 20 Crucial Works, Eerdmans Publishing: Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Tony Fung, conductor of the Trinity Christian Church of Greater Philadelphia Choir and Youth Orchestra, also contributed.