This is a rare opportunity to hear the principals of the Philadelphia Orchestra in a chamber orchestra setting - under two different batons. Charles Dutoit and Christoph Eschenbach are both acknowledged as masters of 20th century music. Here the listener has the chance to experience each in a different musical setting, with the virtuosity and sensitivity of a core group of the finest musicians around.
Concerto in E-flat major for Chamber Orchestra (“Dumbarton Oaks”)
Composed from 1937-38
Igor Stravinsky - Born in Lomonosov, Russia, June 17, 1882 Died in New York City, April 6, 1971
It was only natural that Igor Stravinsky, after composing some of the most startlingly revolutionary music of this century, should have looked backward in history for inspiration. A decade after The Rite of Spring and Petrushka he was a celebrity in Paris, exiled from his native Russia, teeming with an enormous creativity—and looking for a new musical direction. What critics later termed his “neo-Classical” period actually began with J.S. Bach (“whose universal and enormous grasp upon musical art has never been transcended,” he wrote in 1925), but it also ultimately embraced the music of the Viennese Classicists and even that of Brahms. Yet the relationship of Stravinsky’s neo-Classical music to the works of earlier composers is complex and easily misunderstood. The sometimes conventional-sounding harmonies of these works, beginning with the ballet Pulcinella and including such works as the Octet and the Concerto for Piano and Winds, do not function in traditional ways, and often result from the almost coincidental juxtaposition of pitches that arise from contrapuntal lines. In the Concerto, for example, it is the driving rhythms and spun-out melodic lines that recall a Baroque concerto, as much as it is any harmonic elements. Nevertheless the work’s connection to the past is unmistakable. In any event this process of continued homage to the past continued to the end of Stravinsky’s life, and the music and example of Bach inspired many of the composer’s most celebrated works, including the three orchestral symphonies; Oedipus Rex; the Serenade for piano; ballets such as Apollon musagète, The Fairy’s Kiss, and Jeu de cartes; the opera The Rake’s Progress; the Symphony of Psalms; and several concertos. As late as the 1950s, Stravinsky was still writing homages to Bach, as attested by the Chorale-variations on Bach’s setting of the Christmas song “Vom Himmel hoch.” Each of these works took an individualistic approach to what Stravinsky himself (writing of Pulcinella) called his “discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible.” Stravinsky had called Pulcinella “a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but … a look in the mirror, too.” The Music Among the seven concertos that Stravinsky composed in the neo-Classical vein is an inspired Concerto in E-flat, which has come to be called “Dumbarton Oaks” after the Washington, D.C., estate of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, who commissioned the piece. The Blisses were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in 1938, and a piece by Stravinsky seemed like just the thing for such an occasion. During the work’s conception the composer visited the estate—a venue known for vital social functions of the city’s cultural life—and was delighted with its lavish gardens. Some critics have speculated that the structure of the gardens might have found reflection in formal aspects of the Concerto. Composed in Arnemasse, Switzerland, and Paris from the spring of 1937 to March 1938, the “little concerto in the style of the Brandenburg Concertos” (as the composer called it) received its premiere at the Blisses’ estate on May 8, 1938, under the baton of no less a figure than teacher-conductor Nadia Boulanger. A Closer Look Stravinsky’s statement about Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos is telling, for in fact each of the 15 instruments of “Dumbarton Oaks” is treated as an independent solo voice; the resulting texture of propulsive “busyness” alludes to the distinctively vibrant nature of Bach’s originals. “I played Bach very regularly during the composition of the Concerto,” Stravinksy wrote later, “and was greatly attracted to the Brandenburg Concertos. Whether or not the first theme of my first movement [Tempo giusto] is a conscious borrowing from the third of the Brandenburg set, however, I do not know. “What I can say is that Bach would most certainly have been delighted to have loaned it to me; to borrow in this way was exactly the sort of thing he liked to do himself.” The clean lines of the second movement (Allegretto) produce a striking sense of clarity and repose—the same sorts of words, in fact, that are often applied to the neo-Classicism of Gluck and his contemporaries in 18th-century France. The finale (Con moto) is an energetic march filled with a lively contrapuntal gaiety, the likes of which old Johann Sebastian Bach would certainly have approved. —Paul J. Horsley Program note © 2008. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 Composed from 1905-06 Arnold Schoenberg Born in Vienna, September 13, 1874 Died in Los Angeles, July 13, 1951 Although Schoenberg is commonly viewed as one of the most radically disruptive composers in the history of western music, few before or after him matched his intense awareness of that history or his technical mastery of tradition. They are not unrelated issues—he knew the musical past well and felt his innovations would help secure the future of German music. The First Chamber Symphony exemplifies Schoenberg’s desire for both continuity and change in its exploration of modernist trends arising out of late Romanticism. Musical Politics The path to Schoenberg’s modernist musical adventures was already evolving independently during the final decades of the 19th century. In the mid-1870s, when he was born, composers tended to ally themselves with one of two distinct camps: One was either a Brahmsian, a Classical Romantic committed to “absolute music,” or a Wagnerian, a progressive associated with opera and program music. Brahms had by this time lived in Vienna for years and become a revered figure. In 1875 Wagner made a triumphant visit, enthralling composers such as Anton Bruckner and Hugo Wolf, while the powerful critic Eduard Hanslick and others mainly saw degeneracy. By the end of the century, Schoenberg, being of a younger generation, felt little pressure to choose between the warring camps. He loved Wagner’s music and went to see his operas repeatedly. He loved Brahms’s music as well and learned much from it. In a famous essay called “Brahms the Progressive,” Schoenberg later argued that Brahms was not quite so conservative after all, especially in the way that he manipulated small groups of notes—melodies or musical cells—so as to constantly develop into new ideas, what he called “developing variation.” Schoenberg sought to merge Wagnerian and Brahmsian traditions in his own compositions, and also to draw upon more recent inspirations, such as the music of Mahler and of his teacher (and eventual brother-in-law) Alexander Zemlinsky. Unconventional Works Given audience expectations at the time, the hostility Schoenberg encountered toward his music during the first decade of the 20th century may not be unexpected, even if most of these early works seem rather tame today. The date the 25-year-old composer affixed to his first instrumental masterpiece, the string sextet Transfigured Night, is nicely symbolic: December 1, 1899, the end of a century and, in a sense, of a musical era. Schoenberg’s compositions became increasingly complex over the next few years as their harmonic language took tonality to its limits. By 1909 he was writing works such as The Book of the Hanging Gardens, Five Pieces for Orchestra, and Erwartung that were no longer recognizably tonal. Commonly known as “atonal,” Schoenberg preferred the name “pan-tonal” and talked of how he had “emancipated” dissonance. Besides songs, chamber, and keyboard music, Schoenberg wrote few large-scale pieces during this period of his career. He may have been reluctant to produce symphonies that would have competed with Mahler’s, but did write the large symphonic poem Pelleas and Melisande in 1902-03. Schoenberg seems to have begun sketching his Chamber Symphony No. 1 in late 1905 and completed it in July 1906. He would tell friends concerning it: “Now I have established my style. I know now how I have to compose.” The celebrated Rosé Quartet and members of the Vienna Philharmonic gave the premiere in Vienna in February 1907. Although it did not win the success he expected, Schoenberg stated that he had “enjoyed so much pleasure during the composing, everything had gone so easily and seemed to be so convincing, that I was sure the audience would react spontaneously to the melodies and to the moods and would find this music to be as beautiful as I felt it to be. And besides, I expected much from the sound of the extraordinary combination of 15 solo instruments—that is, five strings, eight woodwinds, and two horns.” This chamber scoring is indeed a distinctive feature of the work, although Schoenberg himself later wrote a version for full orchestra that he conducted for the first time in Los Angeles in 1935. (We hear the original instrumentation tonight.) A few years later, in 1939, he completed his Second Chamber Symphony, which he had begun decades earlier, just after he finished writing the First. A Closer Look The extravagant lyricism, broad melodies, and lush harmonies of Schonberg’s fin-de-siècle works may seem to be of a different world from his later atonal and serial compositions. Yet from a purely technical perspective, many of his aesthetic and compositional concerns remained remarkably consistent throughout his career. In the Chamber Symphony No. 1 Schoenberg continued to explore a structural plan that he had used in the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7, which casts a multi-movement format into one uninterrupted sonata form. He acknowledged Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, as a model, as well as works by Liszt. Schubert’s “Wanderer” Fantasy, which had in turn been Liszt’s model, may have been another inspiration. In the unusually lively and ebullient Chamber Symphony No. 1 there are five continuous movements (rather than the usual four) that can be thought of as exposition, scherzo, development, slow movement, and recapitulation or finale. Schoenberg viewed the work as the “climax” of his early tonal period and remarked: “Here is established a very intimate reciprocation between melody and harmony, in that both connect remote relations of the tonality into a perfect unity, draw logical consequences from the problems they attempt to solve, and simultaneously make great progress in the direction of the emancipation of the dissonance.” —Christopher H. Gibbs
Program note © 2007. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association.