Beethoven's Seventh Symphony

Program Notes

This weekend, we open our season—and kick off the Bernstein Centennial Celebration—with the festive Candide Overture. Two almost-new pieces follow: Anna Clyne’s Masquerade and a suite from Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. After intermission, we’ll hear Beethoven’s propulsive, energetic, dance-infused Symphony No. 7.
 

Candide Overture

Leonard Bernstein
(Born 25 August 1918, Lawrence, Massachusetts; Died 14 October 1990, New York, New York)

Composed: 1955-56

First performance: 1 December 1956; New York (Broadway opening); 26 January 1957 (concert version)

Last MSO performance: May 2016; Asher Fisch, conductor

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, snare drum, tenor drum, triangle, xylophone), harp, strings

Approximate duration: 5 minutes

Leonard Bernstein’s best-loved concert piece began its life in the theatre. Following a three-week trial run in Boston, his operetta Candide opened at Broadway’s Martin Beck Theatre on 1 December 1956, with Samuel Krachmalnick as music director. The composer led the New York Philharmonic in a concert-hall performance of its sparkling overture less than two months later. Within a couple of years, nearly a hundred orchestras had performed the work.

Candide ran for 73 performances, a staggering number in the opera world, but disappointing by Broadway standards. Lillian Hellman’s adaptation of Voltaire’s novella received much of the blame for the show’s failure, but adapting its many locations and quick-paced adventures to the stage was no easy task. Across the following decades, Bernstein’s “valentine to European music” continued to be tweaked, growing ever more convincing; a 1989 Deutsche Grammophone recording under his direction was one of the maestro’s final projects.

The overture features some of the show’s great tunes, including a duet for Candide and Cunegonde, “Oh, Happy We,” and Cunegonde’s coloratura aria “Glitter and Be Gay.” At times wistfully lyrical, at others whimsically effervescent, it’s an appropriate curtain-raiser both for Voltaire’s story and the MSO’s new season.

Recommended recording: Leonard Bernstein, New York Philharmonic (Sony Classical)

 

Masquerade

Anna Clyne

(Born 9 March 1980, London, England)

Composed: 2013

First performance: 7 September 2013; London, England

Last MSO performance: MSO premiere

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, suspended cymbals, zizzle cymbal, castanets, kazoos, snare drum, cowbells, crash cymbal, motor horn, whip, tam tam, ratchet, vibraslap, triangle), harp, strings

Approximate duration: 5 minutes

The 37-year-old British composer Anna Clyne grew up in Abingdon, near Oxford, where her mother earned a living as a midwife. Though music was not a regular part of the family’s life, she took cello lessons and later studied music at the University of Edinburgh. Composition lessons commenced during a year abroad at Queen’s University in Ontario. “It was late to start,” she said in an interview last year, “but I already knew what I wanted to say.”

Masquerade was commissioned to be the opening work on 2013’s Last Night of the Proms, that venerable British institution. Marin Alsop led the BBC Symphony Orchestra in its premiere performance at the Royal Albert Hall. The composer has given the following insights:

Masquerade draws inspiration from the original mid-18th- century promenade concerts held in London’s pleasure gardens. As is true today, these concerts were a place where people from all walks of life mingled to enjoy a wide array of music. Other forms of entertainment ranged from the sedate to the salacious with acrobatics, exotic street entertainers, dancers, fireworks and masquerades. I am fascinated by the historic and sociological courtship between music and dance. Combined with costumes, masked guises and elaborate settings, masquerades created an exciting, yet controlled, sense of occasion and celebration. It is this that I wish to evoke in Masquerade. 

The work derives its material from two melodies. For the main theme, I imagined a chorus welcoming the audience and inviting them into their imaginary world. The second theme, “Juice of Barley,” is an old English country dance melody and drinking song, which first appeared in John Playford’s 1695 edition of The English Dancing Master

 

Moby-Dick Suite

Jake Heggie
(
Born 31 March 1961, West Palm Beach, Florida)

Composed: 2008-09 (opera); 2017 (suite)

First performance: 30 April 2010; Dallas, Texas (complete opera); 12 August 2017; Santa Cruz, California (suite)

Last MSO performance: MSO premiere

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, crotale, vibraphone, xylophone, snare drum, bass drum, tom tom, congas, bodhran, suspended cymbals, tam tam, cymbals, wood box, bell plate, triangle, tambourine, rainstick, wooden sticks), harp, strings

Approximate duration: 20 minutes

Bay-Area composer Jake Heggie is best known for his vocal works: operas that include Dead Man Walking (2000), Three Decembers (2008), and It’s a Wonderful Life (2016); and nearly 300 art songs. His catalogue also encompasses concertos and chamber music, as well as choral and orchestral works. He has collaborated—both as pianist and composer—with some of the most renowned singers of our day.

Moby-Dick, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, is an operatic adaptation of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel. Heggie wrote the role of Captain Ahab for tenor Ben Heppner, and dedicated the score to Stephen Sondheim. Patrick Summers conducted the premiere at Dallas Opera. The assistant conductor on that occasion was a young man named Cristian Măcelaru. “From the start,” Jake Heggie wrote in the program notes for last month’s premiere at the Cabrillo Festival, “Cristian expressed interest in one day creating an orchestral suite based on the score. His passion and determination have led to the suite you will hear tonight.”

Recommended recording: Patrick Summers, San Francisco Opera (EuroArts DVD of the complete opera)

 

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

Ludwig van Beethoven
(Baptized 17 December 1770, Bonn, Germany; Died 26 March 1827, Vienna, Austria)

Composed: 1811-12

First performance: 8 December 1813; Vienna, Austria

Last MSO performance: April 2014; Edo de Waart, conductor

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Approximate duration: 36 minutes

On his doctor’s orders, the 40-year-old Beethoven visited the Bohemian spa town of Tepliče in the summer of 1811. While there, he composed incidental music for two plays: King Stephen and The Ruin of Athens. He returned to Vienna apparently revivified and set to work on his A major symphony, completing it in the spring of 1812. With his Op. 92, Beethoven sought to perpetuate the “symphonic ideal” he had celebrated in his third, fifth, and sixth symphonies—the notion that he was concerned not only with the musical and technical aspects of composition, but also with conveying his own spiritual journey and growth process.

Taken as a whole, the Symphony No. 7 exudes a sense of élan, with the composer exercising effortless control over the musical processes at every level. The first movement opens with an extensive introduction marked Poco sostenuto. This transitions to the main Vivace through a series of insistent repetitions of the note E. In sonata form, the movement is permeated with lively dance-like rhythms, sudden dynamic changes, and abrupt modulations. The much-loved Allegretto was immediately encored at the premiere and has remained popular ever since. In the 19th century, it was dubbed “the crown of instrumental music.” Set in A minor, alternating with A major, it is in double variation form; its characteristic rhythm permeates the entire movement.

The breathless scherzo movement is in F major, with two trios in D major, creating an ABABA form. The finale is marked Allegro con brio. Back in the home key of A major, it impresses with its relentless energy and sense of fun. It is cast in sonata form, with a repeated exposition and a protracted coda that is the largest section of the movement. Rising to fff (fortississimo), a rare dynamic marking in Beethoven’s music, its powerful sonorities bring this towering symphony to its conclusion.

Beethoven was on the podium for the Symphony No. 7’s first performance, at a charity concert for soldiers wounded in the battle of Hanau. His so-called “battle symphony,” Wellington’s Victory, a less-than-subtle patriotic work, was also premiered. At that performance, Beethoven remarked that the A major symphony was one of his best efforts. A generation later, it was greatly admired by Richard Wagner. Referring to the lively rhythms throughout the piece, he stated, “It is the apotheosis of the dance itself; it is dance in its highest aspect, the loftiest deed of bodily motion, incorporated into an ideal mold of tone.”

Recommended recording: Carlos Kleiber, Vienna Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon)