All posts by Douglas Meyer

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.

Fanny Mendelssohn – Overture

Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of Felix, was born in Hamburg in 1805. She first learned piano from her mother, and later studied in Paris and Berlin. Her musical training and talent were comparable to that of her brother. She performed weekly at her parents home in Berlin and wrote more than 400 works, most of which were never published. Although her father and brother discouraged her from publishing, her mother and her husband, artist Wilhelm Hensel, eventually persuaded her to submit some works for publication.
Most of Fanny Mendelssohn’s compositions were songs, piano pieces, and chamber music; she also wrote cantatas and oratorios. The Overture, one of her few orchestral pieces, is written in a Classical style.

“The work boasts bold modulations, a finely controlled rise and fall of tension, and scoring of a resourcefulness bordering on the quirky – some very low pedal notes for the horn, and a trumpet fanfare appearing from out of the blue.” (THE TIMES, March 10, 1994)

In her own words…
“I’m beginning to publish…and if I’ve done it of my own free will and cannot blame anyone in my family if aggravation results from it…then I can console myself with the knowledge that in no way did I seek or induce the kind of musical reputation that might have brought me such offers. I hope I shall not disgrace you all, for I am no femme libre…If it [my publication] succeeds, that is, if people like the pieces and I receive further offers, I know it will be a great stimulus to me, which I have always needed in order to create. If not, I shall be at the same point where I have always been.”

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale”

It was Beethoven’s deep love of nature that was the inspiration for his Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale.” Countess Theresa of Brunswick, a student and close friend of Beethoven, wrote: “He loved to be alone with Nature, to make her his only confidante. When his brain was reeling with confused ideas, Nature at all times comforted him.” Others reported that Beethoven refused lodging without nearby trees, could not be dissuaded from long daily walks even in heavy rain (for which he refused an umbrella), that he wandered around jotting down themes in his ever-present sketchbooks, and that he assumed a frightening presence by lapsing into the appearance and behavior of a vagrant. In a letter he wrote, “My bad hearing does not trouble me here.”

Anton Felix Shindler reported that Beethoven’s favorite book was a copy, dog-eared from use, of Christian Sturm’s Reflections on the Works of God in the Realm of Nature and Providence from which he copied passages such as: “One might rightly designate Nature the school of the heart; she clearly shows us our duties toward God and our neighbor.”
Heiligenstadt in Beethoven’s time

Although completed in the summer of 1808 in Weisenthal, near Heiligenstadt (then a rural resort near the bank of the Danube), sketches for the Pastoral are found in Beethoven’s notebooks as early as 1803. The most telling are two attempts that year to transcribe the sound of a stream, which eventually would emerge as the undulating introduction to the second movement. Although Beethoven provided descriptive titles for each movement, he cautioned against interpreting his intentions literally. He wrote in his sketchbooks: “The hearers should be allowed to discover the situations.” “Pastoral Symphony: no picture but something in which the emotions are expressed which are aroused in men by the pleasure of the country, in which some feelings of country-life are set forth.”

Beethoven said from the outset that his sixth symphony be titled “Pastoral Symphony, or a recollection of country life. More an expression of feeling than a painting.” The label is found in a letter Beethoven sent to his publisher in 1809. The titles of each movement were published in the program book at the first performance and on the engraved first violin part.

I. “Erwachen heiterer Gefühle bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande” (“Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country”) – Beethoven draws us in immediately with a gorgeous flowing theme over a rustic open-fifth drone (think rustic bagpipes).

II. “Szene am Bach” (“Scene by the brook”) – The mood of calm contentment continues as the strings invoke the sound of a gently babbling brook. Barely a minute from the end of the movement, the steady lilting activity halts as Beethoven introduces three bird-songs: a nightingale in the flutes, a quail in the oboes and a cuckoo in the clarinets. Lest there be any doubt, he actually labels each one in the score.

III. “Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute” (“Merry gathering of the country folk”) – We encounter country folk for the first time, intruding upon the solitude with a lusty peasant dance, though not for long. Nature will soon reassert itself to show who’s really the boss

IV. “Gewitter, Sturm” (“Storm, Tempest”) – Augmenting the instruments used so far, Beethoven adds a piccolo, trombones and tympani to add wind, rain, thunder and lightning to his musical portrayal of Nature’s tempest. The movement ends in a ravishing transition of a gently rising flute scale which signals the subsiding storm, parting clouds and the glorious light of the sun upon Nature’s pastoral landscape.

V. “Hirtengasang. Frohe, dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm” (“Shepherds’ song. Happy and thankful feelings after the storm”) – The final movement is perhaps the most heartfelt of all. It begins with an Alpine hunting call that evolves effortlessly into a bucolic Rondo, perhaps one of the simplest of Beethoven’s works, completely saturated with the joy of Nature.

Honegger: Pastorale d’été

There must have been a remarkable sunrise on one August morning in 1920, when Arthur Honegger put pen to paper to capture a musical image of the resort village of Wengen in the Bernese Alps. Nestled beneath the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains the village is filled with typical Swiss houses and farmsteads and from car-free streets and alleys the view of the massive Alps invited sounds of the Alphorn, songs of birds and wildlife and the deep drone of alpine mountainscapes for Honegger.

At the head of the score the composer inserted a quote from the French poet Arthur Rimbaud: “J’ai embrassé l’aube d’été” (“I embraced the summer dawn”) and he titled his piece Pastorale d’été (Summer Pastoral). The music begins with a languorous soaring theme by the horn, which is then taken up by the strings. Flute and clarinet tell us the birds are already singing. The middle section is lively and is colorfully orchestrated and the harmony shifts as if one is turning one’s head toward another view. The main theme returns to close the piece with the peaceful sounds of the opening. The work was dedicated to Alexis Roland-Manuel a French composer/critic, and Professor of Aesthetics at the Paris Conservatory.

Pastorale d’été was first performed on 17 February 1921 at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, conducted by Vladimir Golschmann. The work won a Prix Verley, a prize decided by the audience members present at the concert. The work is for chamber orchestra made up of strings and single winds: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn.