All posts by Douglas Meyer

Erwin Schulhoff: Symphony No. 2

Erwin Schulhoff was born in Prague on 8 June 1894. Upon the recommendation by Antonín Dvořák, he was accepted as a piano pupil at the Prague Conservatory at the early age of ten. He continued his studies in 1906 in Vienna, in 1908 in Leipzig with Max Reger and in 1911 in Cologne. After his military service in the Austrian Army during the war, he was resident in Germany until 1924 where his interest was particularly aroused by the radical direction taken by the avant-garde: Dadaism and jazz, Impressionism, Expressionism and Neo-Classicism. He also struck up a lively correspondence with the Viennese composer, Alban Berg. A brilliant pianist Schulhoff was considered to be a specialist of Alois Hába’s quarter-tone music.

On his return to Prague, Schulhoff became the successor of Max Brod as the music critic of the newspaper Prager Abendblatt. After 1933, he was unable to continue his career in Germany due to his Communist convictions (he had for example set the Communist Manifesto to music) and also his Jewish roots. The planned first performance of his opera Flammen in Berlin was cancelled. During the 1930s, Schulhoff underwent an artistic transformation, his symphonic jazz compositions were superseded by symphonies in the style of Social Realism and in 1941 Schulhoff acquired Soviet citizenship. The German declaration of war with the Soviet Union meant that he was now categorized as a citizen of an enemy nation. He was initially interned in Prague on 23 June 1941 and subsequently deported to the concentration camp Wülzburg near Weißenburg in Bavaria where he died of tuberculosis on 18 August 1942.

Symphony No. 2
Allegro ma non troppo
Andante con moto
Scherzo alla Jazz: Allegro assai
Finale: Allegro con spirit

Eliezer Elper: By the Rivers of Babylon (premiere)

The composer Eliezer Elper holds his Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University, Israel. His compositions are broadcast on the Israeli classical channel, Kol ha-Musica. His works have recently been performed in Israel, Poland, Austria, Turkey, Italy, Russia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Greece, Slovakia, Brazil, Ukraine and the United States.

In recent years Eliezer Elper has composed a number of works for string orchestra. The premier of Greetings from the Holy Land took place in Rovno, Ukraine (2013). The premier of Mein Städtele Jerusalem took place on the same day in Seoul, S. Korea and in Kaluga, Russia (2016) and is to be repeated in Kaluga in 2017. A major piece, The Sun, Boulevard and… Barbed Wire for strings (in memory of the Holocaust) is to be premiered in Makhachkala, Dagestan, RF (2017).

In 2016 Elper’s piece Bу the Rivers of Babylon for symphonic orchestra was commissioned by the Adele and John Gray Endowment Fund. The piece is dedicated to the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra.

The music is based on Psalm 137. The early lines of the poem are very well known, as they describe the sadness of the Israelites, asked to “sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.” This they refuse to do, leaving their harps hanging on trees. The poem then turns into self-exhortation to remember Jerusalem.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we also wept, when we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres on the willows in its midst. For there, those who carried us away captive required of us a song; and those who tormented us required of us mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How shall we sing God’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. (Psalms 137:1-6)

Mendelssohn: Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings in D minor

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was born into a wealthy Hamburg family in 1809, but shortly afterwards, when the French occupied the city, they moved to Berlin. On the paternal side, Mendelssohn was the grandson of the 18th-century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786), but was not raised in the Jewish faith.

The Concerto for Piano, Violin and Strings in D minor was written in 1823 when he was 14 years old. Mendelssohn composed the work to be performed with his violin teacher and friend, Eduard Rietz in a private concert at the Mendelssohn home in Berlin. Following this private performance, Mendelssohn revised the scoring, adding winds and timpani. A public performance was given on July 3, 1823 at the Berlin Schauspielhaus.

As Mendelssohn’s career developed he was almost universally lauded as a musical genius. What is more, Mendelssohn also became the artistic director and chief conductor of The Gewandhaus in Leipzig, a venue that has long been recognized as one of the most important performing centers in Europe. Mendelssohn not only initiated the revival of music by Bach, Handel, Haydn and Mozart, he also assured that his brand of musical historicism was disseminated throughout Europe and beyond.

When Felix Mendelssohn died at the incredibly young age of thirty-eight, he simply had not yet made arrangements for literally hundreds of unpublished musical manuscripts and artworks, alongside thousands of personal letters to and from the composer.

It was Richard Wagner who declared “Judaism the evil conscience of our modern civilization” in his 1850 treatise Judaism in Music. And when Wagner declared Mendelssohn’s music “an icon of degenerate decadence,” some part of the public unfortunately agreed.

We forget that Wagner was only four years Mendelssohn’s junior. The reason for Wagner’s vitriol was simple: he felt threatened. In the years after his death, Mendelssohn’s influence made him the most important figure in German musical culture and before Wagner could launch his musical and social revolutions, he believed he needed to destroy Mendelssohn.

The rise of the Third Reich in the 20th century did further damage to Mendelssohn’s reputation in Germany. The Nazis tore down his statue that had stood before the Leipzig Gewandhaus, banned Mendelssohn’s music but left his grave unscathed in the Trinity Cemetery of Berlin and liquidated the family banking house.

But they were unable to expunge Mendelssohn completely from German culture. When Richard Strauss was asked to write new music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he replied that he could not improve on Mendelssohn’s music.

In later years the propaganda machinery of Nazi Germany added Mendelssohn’s name to various lists of forbidden artists. At that time, according to Stephen Somary, founder and artistic director of the Mendelssohn Project, “a majority of Mendelssohn manuscripts — both published and unpublished — were housed in the basement of the Berlin State Library. To protect them they were smuggled to Warsaw and Krakow during the winter of 1936/37, and when those cities fell under Nazi control in 1939, they were hurriedly smuggled out again and disbursed to locations wide and far between.” Following WWII, the majority of manuscripts remained buried behind the Iron Curtain. Among these items of course was the Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Strings.

The concerto remained unpublished until 1960, when the Astoria Verlag in Berlin issued a miniature score, edited and arranged by Clemens Schmalstich. Finally, in 1999 the 1960 miniature score was reissued in a scholarly edition with the wind and timpani parts added.

Hans Krása: Overture for Small Orchestra

Hans Krása was born in Prague on 30 November 1899. His affluent family encouraged and generously sup­ported his musical studies, to the extent that his father hired instrumental ensembles in order for Hans to hear his composi­tions. Krása studied with Alexander Zemlinsky in Prague, and in 1921 he began working as a vocal coach at the New German Opera. He spent considerable time in Paris, where he came to admire, among others, the works of Igor Stravinsky.

Krása’s first important success as a composer came in 1920 with his Four Orchestral Songs, based on the “Songs from the Gallows” poems of Christian Morgenstern. His 1923 Symphony was performed under Serge Koussevitzky in Boston, and his 1933 prize-winning opera Verlobung im Traum (Betrothal in a Dream) was conducted in Prague by George Szell.

In 1938 Hans Krása and Adolf Hoffmeister wrote a children’s opera called Brundibár (Bumblebee) for a government competition. Rehearsals started in 1941 at the Jewish orphanage in Prague, which served as a temporary educational facility for children separated from their parents by the war. In the winter of 1942 the opera was first performed at the orphanage but by this time composer Krása and set designer František Zelenka had already been transported to Theresienstadt. By July 1943, nearly all of the children of the original chorus and the orphanage staff had also been transported to Theresienstadt. Only the librettist Hoffmeister was able to escape from Prague in time.

Theresienstadt, 35 miles north of Prague, is now known for its being exploited with Nazi propaganda intended to deceive the world and cover up the campaign of genocide against the Jews. The Nazis cynically presented Theresienstadt as “the Fuhrer’s gift to the Jews,” but in fact it was a transit camp through which prisoners were systematically transported to death camps in the East.

Reunited with the cast in Theresienstadt, Krása reconstructed the full score of the opera, based on memory and the partial piano score that remained in his hands. On 23 September 1943, Brundibár premiered in Theresienstadt. The production was directed by Zelenka and choreographed by Camilla Rosenbaum, and was shown 55 times in the following year.

There are reports from survivors that the Nazi commandants pushed Krása to write the Overture for Small Orchestra as an overture to Brundibár because the Nazis thought that, to be a proper opera, Brundibár needed an overture. The Overture has a similar pulse and a certain thematic connection to Brundibár but there is no evidence that it was performed in the camp.

Krása was deported to Auschwitz on October 16, 1944, and murdered in the gas chambers two days later.

Mozart – Symphony No. 39

Mozart was 32 when he wrote his last three symphonies in the summer of 1788. Seven successful years as an independent composer-performer-impresario in Vienna had made him prosperous. However when the Austrian Empire, of which Vienna was the capital, declared war on the Ottoman Empire (today, Turkey) in February of that year, the Viennese economy fizzled, and Mozart’s career fizzled with it. His livelihood depended on the Viennese moneyed class, which dwindled as upper-class men left the city to serve as military officers, or went to their country estates to avoid questions about why they weren’t serving.

In June of 1788 Mozart moved his family from his apartment in the centre of Vienna to a more spacious suburban residence at Alsergrund 135 (today Währingerstraße 26), a seven-room apartment with a garden attached. The rooms were spacious and it is speculated that Mozart intended to use the large rooms for rehearsals of music he was about to compose. It was in this house that Mozart would compose his last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40, and 41, all from 1788), and the last of the three Da Ponte operas, Cosi fan tutte, which premiered in 1790.

Evidently the music for Symphony 39 was already in Mozart‘s head as he made the move to Alsergrund and he finished it on June 25; No. 40 followed on July 26 and No. 41 on August 10. That’s two months give or take a few days, a compositional speed record for such masterpieces.

Contrary to common belief, Mozart heard and possibly performed the three symphonies. He had orchestra parts copied, an expense he would not have incurred unless he needed them for a performance and he went to the trouble of re-orchestrating the G-minor Symphony to add clarinets, an effort that would have made no sense unless the Symphony were going to be played.

Mozart included symphonies, most likely from this final set, in concerts he gave in Leipzig in 1789 and Frankfurt in 1790, and a Mozart symphony was performed at a concert led by Antonio Salieri in Vienna in 1791. Programs do not include numbers for these symphonies but it is not likely that Mozart would have passed up a chance to show off one or another of his new works. The orchestra for Salieri’s 1791 Vienna concert included the clarinetists Johann and Anton Stadler, probably the reason for the second version of the G-minor Symphony with clarinets.

The Symphony in E-flat is the only symphony from Mozart’s adulthood that does not use oboes, which means that the clarinets are given unusual prominence. It also has a slow introduction, a common feature in symphonies of the day, but rare in Mozart. This slow introduction is a grand procession eventually dissolving in a few misty bars before the energetic Allegro makes a cautious entrance.

The ambling Andante con moto and the energetic Minuet are typical of Mozart’s mature symphonies. The middle section of the Minuet, with one clarinet playing a simple but unforgettable little tune over the other clarinet’s bubbling arpeggios, would most likely have been composed with the Stadler brothers in mind.

Mozart’s finales are often remarkable for their sheer number of melodic ideas, but the finale of this Symphony relies essentially on a single theme, explored, varied and worked over in the style of Haydn.

Mozart – Clarinet Concerto in A

Anton Stadler was born in 1753 in Bruck an der Leitha, 40 km southeast of Vienna. In 1756 his family moved to Vienna where his brother Johann was born. The pair were to become two of the finest clarinetists in the city.

In his day, Anton Stadler enjoyed a reputation far beyond the confines of Vienna as an excellent clarinetist and player of the basset horn. It is uncertain just when his friendship with Mozart began, but the two men were probably already acquainted by 1784, when Stadler performed “a large wind piece” by Mozart (perhaps the Gran Partita, K. 361) at an academy in Vienna. Whatever the case, the first time they are known to have played music together was on 20 October 1785, at a benefit concert for Vienna’s Masonic lodges. Stadler also experimented with the construction of the clarinet, adding to the length of the instrument which extended the range of the instrument downward by four semitones, creating what is called a basset clarinet.

At the peak of his compositional abilities and just weeks before his death, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the Clarinet Concerto in A major. He wrote it specifically for his friend and fellow freemason, Anton Stadler and for the basset clarinet which Stadler had created. This was hardly the first time Mozart wrote for Stadler. He was the intended player for numerous orchestral parts and several chamber works, including the “Kegelstatt Trio” K. 498 and the Clarinet Quintet K. 581.

Mozart gave Stadler the completed concerto on October 9th or 10th along with traveling money (about $3,000 today) to travel to Prague, and told the clarinetist to make use of the concerto at the benefit concert the artist had arranged in that city. Stadler arrived in Prague on October 13th or 14th and according to Prague city records, Stadler’s concert took place at the Royal Old City Theater on October 16th, 1791.

Like the original basset clarinet, the autograph of Mozart’s clarinet concerto was lost, or perhaps even pawned by Stadler on the European tour that followed the Prague benefit concert. The concerto we hear these days is a version edited by modern day publishers so it can be played on today’s instruments. Ms. Katz performs the Henle Edition edited by Henrick Wiese.

For this concerto, Mozart chose an orchestra with flutes instead of oboes, bassoons, no brass instruments except for two horns, and a full complement of strings, to make it possible for the soloist to be heard distinctly above the ensemble.

The first movement begins with flowing melodies that exploit the clarinet’s rich tone in an atmosphere of gracious lyricism.

The Adagio second movement is undoubtedly one of Mozart’s most sublime slow movements. This movement displays the exquisite singing quality of the clarinet and the musicality of the clarinetist. A reviewer wrote Stadler in 1784,

Never should I have thought that a clarinet could be so capable of imitating a human voice so closely as it was imitated by thee.  Verily, thy instrument has so soft and lovely a tone that nobody who has a heart can resist it.”

The finale is a capricious rondo that captures the lighthearted, comical quality of the clarinet.  Mozart contrasts the rondo theme with other melodies that are harmonically adventurous and unexpectedly moving.

Chevalier de Saint-Georges – Symphony in D, Op 11 No 2

Early in 1779, (just ten years before the storming of the Bastille) Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, began performing music with Queen Marie-Antoniette at Versailles, at her request. In Vienna Marie-Antoniette had grown up with daily instruction in voice, harp and forte-piano and now as the first royal hostess at Versailles since Marie de Medici she supported and participated in performances of the finest classical music.

Joseph Bologne was born in the French colony of Guadeloupe to the plantation owner George Bologne de Saint-Georges and his African slave Nanon. They lived for some time on an estate on St. Domingue (now Haiti) before his family finally settled in Paris in around 1749. In the French capital Joseph’s talents for music and athletics were realized. At the age of 13 Saint-Georges became a pupil of La Boëssière, a master of arms, and also had riding lessons with Dugast at the Tuileries and would become one of the finest swordsmen in Europe.

Little is known of his musical education but it has been suggested that he studied the violin with Leclair and composition with Gossec. 1769 is the year of his first professional engagement, as a violinist in Gossec’s orchestra, the Concert des Amateurs. He made his public début as a soloist with the Concert des Amateurs in 1772, performing two of his own Violin Concerti Op 2. When Gossec became a director of the Concert Spirituel in 1773, Saint-Georges succeeded him as musical director and leader of the Amateurs which rapidly won recognition as one of the finest orchestras in France. (It was Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges who commissioned and premiered the six Paris Symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn.)

The first performance of the symphony on our program today was given in Paris at the Hôtel de Soubise, by the Concert des Amateurs. The music is identical to the Overture to the opera L’Amant Anonyme first performed 8 March 1780.

L’Amant Anonyme (The Anonymous Lover) is the only one of six operas by Saint-Georges to survive in its entirety. Madame de Montesson, who was the secret wife of the Duke of Orleans and a patron of Saint-Georges, sponsored the premier of the opera at her private theater in 1780. It tells the story of Valcour, a man secretly in love with his friend Leontine, but because of social norms is unable to tell her of his affections. It is entirely possible that Saint-George found himself in a similar situation.

Beethoven – Violin Concerto

The year 1803 was a turning point for Beethoven. Having come to terms with his growing deafness, he also came into his own as a composer, breaking free from the classical, Viennese style in which he had begun his career and asserting his own voice in a new, “heroic” style marked by his Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.” The next five years were a  fertile time for him, and saw the composition of a number of his most famous works, including the “Waldstein” and “Appassionata” piano sonatas, a Piano Concerto (1805–6), the first version of his opera Fidelio (1805), and his fourth and fifth symphonies — both completed in 1806, the year he composed the Violin Concerto.

Nikolaj Znaider, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Riccardo Chailly

The concerto was written for 26-year-old violinist Franz Clement, a conductor at the Theater-an-der-Wien for which Beethoven had begun his work on Fidelio. Beethoven completed the concerto in a rush, finishing either close to or on the day of the performance. Clement not only sight-read the part, but between the first and second movements he also threw in a couple of compositions of his own — which he played with the violin turned upside-down. Such showmanship was typical of musical performances of the period, but though the audience appears to have enjoyed the event, critical response to the concerto was lukewarm. It was not until 1844, almost 20 years after Beethoven’s death, that the work gained popularity when another young virtuoso, 13-year-old Joseph Joachim, took the piece on a European tour with his friend Felix Mendelssohn conducting.

Katherine Hoover – Summer Night

Katherine Hoover was born in West Virginia and resides in New York, where she maintains an active career as composer, conductor, and flutist. She is the recipient of a 1979 National Endowment Composer’s Fellowship and many other awards, including an 1994 Academy of Arts and Letters Academy Award in Composition. Four of her pieces have won the National Flute Association’s Newly Published Music Competition, in 1987, 1991, 1993 and 1994.

Ms. Hoover’s works have been performed by many orchestras. Her tone poem Eleni: A Greek Tragedy, premiered by the Harrisburg Symphony under Larry Newland in 1987, has been performed by eleven other orchestras. including the Fort Worth Symphony, under conductor John Giordano. Her Clarinet Concerto, written for the jazz virtuoso Eddie Daniels, was premiered by Mr. Daniels with the Santa Fe Symphony. In January, 1994, Ms. Hoover conducted the premiere of her Night Skies, a 25-minute work for large orchestra, with the Harrisburg Symphony.

“Summer Night was completed in July, 1985, and premiered by the New York Concerto Orchestra outdoors at Lincoln Center the following September. The flute and horn are a rather mismatched pair in many ways. To let their individual qualities sound, I began with a short soliloquy for each. This is followed by a slow dance which grows out of the soliloquies, and then a lively one, as the instruments (or characters, or thoughts) meet and interact.” K.H.