An exciting Program featuring the intricate, enigmatic Symphony No. 15 by Shostakovitch - full of sudden and dramatic shifts in mood and instrumental texture. It is paired with the piece by Rossini (known to many as the "Lone Ranger" theme) which Shostakovitch, with his inimitable musical whimsy, quotes in the Symphony.
Recorded live December 8, 2005, Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
In the first important German-language history of music, published in 1834 and written by Raphael Georg Kiesewetter, the years 1800-32 are characterized as “The Epoch of Beethoven and Rossini.” This description may seem odd today because it reflects distinctions between instrumental and vocal music, aesthetic ideologies, and a north/south geography that are no longer much discussed. (By the 1860s, when Vienna’s preeminent music critic, Eduard Hanslick, wrote the history of Viennese music, he designated the period as the “Age of Beethoven and Schubert,” the view still held today.) What Kiesewetter recognized was that even though Beethoven had been considered the greatest composer already for some two decades, Rossini was the most popular. His operas, particularly the comic ones, dominated Europe’s opera houses—and beyond: This music was so endlessly arranged that it could be heard in almost every conceivable setting, from intimate domestic gatherings to large orchestral concerts. A Master’s Last Opera No composer of Italian opera formed a more significant bridge between Mozartean Classicism and Verdian high Romanticism than Rossini. His some three dozen operas defy easy categorization: They are Classical in musical design yet often Romantic in dramatic outlook. His contribution to the history and development of grand opera was critical; but more to the point for most contemporaries and for posterity, his unique comic idiom and fluid melodic style are utterly irresistible to the ear. Rossini was not only a brilliant composer, but also a shrewd one. He knew what worked and once he had perfected a formula, be it how to write an overture, mould an aria, or craft a finale, he tended to stick to it for some time. The lilting melodies, infectious rhythms, and bubbling crescendos found in most of his overtures were widely admired and imitated. (Beethoven esteemed Rossini’s operas; Schubert wrote two “Overtures in the Italian Style,” which is to say, à la Rossini.) But Rossini wrote not only opera buffa (comic opera). For one thing, he married a celebrated singer who desired more serious fare and that was surely one of various reasons he concentrated on writing opera seria for about the last 10 years of his career, beginning in 1817. For his last opera, William Tell, composed for the Paris Opéra and premiered in 1829, Rossini based his libretto on Friedrich von Schiller’s play Wilhelm Tell (1804), which tells a story of Swiss patriots struggling against Austrian imperial dominance in the 13th century. Although it is not clear whether Rossini at the time intended this long and demanding work to be his final opera—audience tastes were changing—it does synthesize many elements of his style. After the premiere Rossini in essence retired, at the height of his fame and at the age of 37. (Born on leap-year day in 1792, Rossini had, however, celebrated only nine birthdays!) He lived a rich and famous man for nearly 40 more years—or nine more birthdays. A Closer Look The music of William Tell, an opera in four acts that lasts some four hours (not counting intermissions), manifests a depth and seriousness that contrasts with the composer’s comic successes, such as The Italian Girl in Algiers (1813) and The Barber of Seville (1816). Likewise the Overture to this opera is unique, functioning programmatically in a manner that previous examples had done only obliquely. Rossini’s overtures often have no musical connection to the opera that follows (one reason is that he freely reused earlier ones for new operas), but in this case the Overture both sets the mood and prefigures musical content. Structured in four independent sections, it forms a remarkably effective concert-piece, even divorced from its operatic context. The intimate chamber-like opening, for five cellos, sets the scene of pastoral quietude that is the backdrop of the opera; Berlioz praised the way in which this depiction of the Swiss countryside evoked “the calm of profound solitude, the solemn silence of nature when the elements and human passions are at rest.” A nervous transitional passage leads to the second section, a striking re- creation of the terror and chaos of a sudden storm. The third section, a famous English horn solo meant to evoke the shepherd’s ranz des vaches, a melody that returns at various points in the opera (and that Berlioz would adapt the following year for the slow movement of his Symphonie fantastique). The fourth section is the best known, featuring the rousing trumpet gallop finale that would become such a familiar part of popular culture in the 20th century, most notably from its use in the TV Western The Lone Ranger. —Christopher H. Gibbs Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141 Composed in 1971 Dmitri Shostakovich Born in St. Petersburg, September 25, 1906 Died in Moscow, August 9, 1975 Shostakovich was undoubtedly one of the greatest and most prolific symphonists of the 20th century: His 15 works in the genre seem to chart not only the history of the Soviet Union, but also his own fraught experiences as a brilliant composer living and working within a brutal system. What he wrote as a precocious teenager evolved from an almost entirely different world than the one he inhabited at the end of his life, when he created the last symphony we hear today. The heady, optimistic days after the Revolution had passed through the horrific realities of Stalin to the stagnation and dreariness of the Brezhnev era. A Symphonist’s Progress Shostakovich’s dazzling First Symphony, premiered when the composer was just 19, made him famous overnight, extending his renown far beyond the Soviet Union as Bruno Walter, Furtwängler, Toscanini, and other leading conductors championed the youthful work. (Leopold Stokowski gave the American premiere with the Philadelphians in 1928.) The Second Symphony from the next year was entitled “To October—A Symphonic Dedication” and included a chorus praising the Revolution and Lenin. The Third Symphony, “The First of May,” was another choral and political testimony (again given its U.S. premiere by Stokowski and the Orchestra in 1932). By the time of his Fourth, in 1936, the 29-year-old Shostakovich had run into serious difficulties with the Soviet government. Stalin’s displeasure at his opera Lady Macbeth of the District of Mtszensk had resulted in a scathing reprimand in the official newspaper Pravda. Shostakovich was forced to withdraw the Symphony, a grand Mahlerian work that waited 25 years for its premiere, once Stalin had safely been buried. (The Philadelphians gave the first American performance, in 1963.) The popular Fifth Symphony officially redeemed Shostakovich in 1937 and became his most popular and admired work, an instant “classic.” And although the Sixth (1939) did not fare quite as well (Stokowski and The Philadelphia Orchestra gave the first performances outside the USSR, in 1940), the Seventh (“Leningrad”), written during the war and performed to great acclaim in Russia and in the West in 1942, secured his position at the leading Soviet composer. It landed Shostakovich on the cover of Time. Expectations were great about what he would do next and the Eighth (1943) generally disappointed in its pessimistic tone. Worse, the Ninth, composed as the German defeat was imminent in 1945 and Russian victory to be celebrated, was a modestly witty affair. The Tenth, one of his greatest, was followed by three symphonies with programmatic titles: “The Year 1905,” “The Year 1917,” and “Babi Yar,” the first two ostensibly inspired by the revolutionary events of the years evoked in the titles, and the Thirteenth (given its first performances outside the USSR by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphians in 1970) featuring bass and bass choir singing the words of poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko about the 1941 massacre of Jews near Kiev. With Shostakovich’s health declining, the searing Fourteenth Symphony from 1969 (given its U.S. premiere by Ormandy and the Orchestra in 1971) is a song cycle to death-haunted poems by García Lorca, Apollinaire, Rilke, and the Russian poet William Küchelbecker. Death haunts the other great works that followed: the Symphony we hear today, his Suite on texts by Michelangelo, the late string quartets, and his last work, the Viola Sonata. As with Mahler’s late works, Shostakovich displays a variety of responses to the approach of death. While the Symphony No. 14, for example, confronted it with anger, the Fifteenth seems more serene and resigned. The Final Symphony Shostakovich wrote his final symphony in the summer of 1971. After four that either featured programs or texts, he returned to the more abstract presentation of the Tenth, written some 18 years earlier. Work on the Fifteenth Symphony proceeded quickly, although sometimes painfully, and it was finished by the end of July. In September Shostakovich celebrated his 65th birthday and a few weeks later survived a second heart attack. Illness delayed the premiere of the Symphony, the first one that he entrusted to be conducted by his son, Maxim, who led the first performance with the Symphony Orchestra of All-Union Radio and Television at the Moscow Conservatory in January 1972. Ormandy and The Philadelphia Orchestra led the American premiere later that year. Many of Shostakovich’s symphonies—some would argue most or all of them—seem to carry hidden meanings and messages that either have deeply personal resonances or that run counter to their announced intention. Is the Eleventh Symphony really about the “Bloody Sunday” in 1905, when the Tsar opened fire on a peaceful gathering in front of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, or rather about the later Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising that occurred as Shostakovich wrote the work in 1956? Although the composer did not give a title to the Fifteenth Symphony, or include a sung text, he did insert various musical quotations that are immediately identifiable to listeners, most obviously Rossini’s William Tell Overture in the first movement and the “fate motive” from Wagner’s Ring cycle in the fourth movement. (A quotation from Glinka’s song “Do not tempt me needlessly” in the finale will probably be less noticeable for Western audiences.) A Closer Look The appearances of the Tell Overture in the first movement (Allegretto) are so striking that one inevitably asks why Shostakovich inserted such a well-known piece. The composer himself divulged little, except that the first movement “describes childhood— just a toyshop, with a cloudless sky above.” Indeed, there is a largely playful tone to the movement, although the conductor Kurt Sanderling recalls sitting with the composer at the Berlin premiere and remarking that, unlike most of the audience, he found the first movement tragic. He reports Shostakovich replied, “You are not wrong. It is tragic, marionette-like: We are all marionettes.” There is, in any case, a contrast in moods over the course of the Symphony, from the shorter and often jaunty first and third movements to the longer and more ominous second and fourth ones. The second movement (Adagio) is another of the composer’s movements haunted by death, most explicitly in the funeral march heard within. The third movement follows without pause—a scherzo (Allegretto) that has the grotesque qualities found in so many of his symphonies from the very beginning and that harkens back once again to his beloved Mahler. Shostakovich also includes, as in many of his later works, his own musical signature, the motto DSCH (spelled by the notes D, E-flat, C, B natural). The finale (Adagio-Allegretto) opens with a brass and timpani quotation drawn from Wagner’s Die Walküre, where it is associated with the so-called Annunciation of Death (“Todesverkündigung”) in the second act as Brünnhilde tells Siegmund that he must die and be taken to Valhalla. This theme in the trombones and tuba segue into the first three notes from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, but then veer off into a playful waltz. In addition to a reference to the Glinka song, Shostakovich includes another musical spelling—of BACH, as well as extended allusions to the famous “invasion” theme from the first movement of his “Leningrad” Symphony. The haunting and miraculous ending of the work, dominated by percussion instruments, recalls the conclusion of his suppressed Fourth Symphony. Sanderling suggests a deathly image: “At the end when the percussion starts twittering and chirping, I always think of the intensive-care ward in a hospital: The person is attached to various contraptions and the dials and screens indicate that heartbeat and brain activity are gradually expiring. Then comes a vast convulsion and it’s all over. The listeners feel this, too, or something like it, and are very shaken.” —Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2005. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTIST Rossen Milanov, associate conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, also serves as music director of the Haddonfield Symphony in New Jersey and the New Symphony Orchestra in his native city of Sofia, Bulgaria. Recently he was named chief conductor of the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra, also in Sofia. Mr. Milanov’s 2004-05 season highlights with The Philadelphia Orchestra included subscription concerts featuring the world premiere of Nicholas Maw’s English Horn Concerto, the annual holiday concerts, and a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Mann Center. During the 2003-04 season, Mr. Milanov conducted the Orchestra in a week of concerts celebrating the 75th birthday of pianist Gary Graffman in a program featuring Ravel’s Left Hand Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and Jennifer Higdon’s blue cathedral. This season, in addition to his duties with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Milanov will appear with the Honolulu and Syracuse symphonies. Other future engagements include performances with the Rotterdam Philharmonic and the Hague’s Residentie Orchestra. He also returns to the Curtis Institute of Music to conduct a production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Mr. Milanov’s North American guest conducting appearances have included concerts and tours with the Saint Paul and Cincinnati chamber orchestras; the Baltimore, Colorado, New World, Elgin, Indianapolis, Omaha, and Duluth-Superior symphonies; the Civic Orchestra of Chicago; the Juilliard Opera Center; and the Curtis Opera Theater. He was music director of the Chicago Youth Symphony from 1997 to 2001, and has participated in numerous summer festivals, including Tanglewood and the Interlochen Arts Festival. Mr. Milanov retains a close association with his native city of Sofia. As music director of the New Symphony Orchestra, the first privately funded orchestra in Eastern Europe, he has commissioned and premiered many new works, introduced American music to Bulgarian audiences, and made several recordings. Mr. Milanov founded the Sofia-Mt. Vitosha International Conducting Institute, a summer festival dedicated to the training of young aspiring conductors. He has received the Award for Extraordinary Contribution to Bulgarian Culture, awarded by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, and in 2005 he was chosen as Bulgaria’s Musician of the Year. Mr. Milanov studied conducting at the Juilliard School (recipient of the Bruno Walter Memorial Scholarship), the Curtis Institute of Music, Duquesne University, and the Bulgarian National Academy of Music. His primary teachers have included Otto-Werner Mueller, Robin Fountain, and Vassil Kazandjiev. 12/2005 PRODUCTION CREDITS Producer: Charles Gagnon Balance Engineer: Charles Gagnon Recording Engineer: Charles Gagnon Editor: Charles Gagnon Bio Photo: Anthony Sinagoga