The Season Opener

Conductor: Geoff Neuman, Interim Conductor

Featuring Patrick Hsieh, Violin

Program Notes by Geoff Neuman

Sponsored by The Landwell Company


The Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave)

Approx. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings

Composer: Felix Mendelssohn

In April of 1829, a twenty-year-old Felix Mendelssohn (February 3, 1809-November 4, 1847) departed his native Germany to embark upon one of his many journeys throughout Europe. These travels provided the inspiration for several of his compositions. By the summer of that year, Mendelssohn and his friend, the poet Carl Klingemann, had made it to Scotland. On August 7, they endured a rather treacherous voyage to visit Fingal’s Cave on the Hebrides island of Staffa. Named for a legendary Gaelic Hero, Fingal’s Cave is a magnificent natural structure that measures 227 feet in length, with pillars made of richly-colored basalt. It is an otherworldly natural cathedral with an arched roof and distinctive acoustics. When the sea is calm, it is possible to row into the mouth of the cave, whose murmuring waters have inspired the Scots to call the sight “the cave of music.” Mendelssohn chose to express his reaction to this place with music of his own. In a letter to his sister, Fanny, Mendelssohn wrote: “In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I am sending you the following which came into my head there.” Included in his letter were 21 measures of music he had composed that night. Mendelssohn referred to the brooding, atmospheric opening of what was to become the opening theme of The Hebrides Overture, or “Fingal’s Cave.” The Overture begins with the theme by the bassoons, violas and cellos that suggests the waters of “the cave of music.” The cellos and bassoons introduce the majestic cantabile second theme. The development section conjures images of the stormy waters that surround the Cave’s opening. The recapitulation leads to a vigorous coda. For all of the Overture’s intensity, The Hebrides ends as quietly and mysteriously as it began, possibly a final reference to the timelessness of the natural wonder that inspired Mendelssohn.

Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218

Approx. 25 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings and solo violin

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756-December 5, 1791) began lessons with the violin at an early age. His father Leopold (1719-1787), who was an excellent violinist and accomplished composer of both religious and secular music, was also the author of a highly regarded book on violin technique, A Treatise on the Fundamentals of Violin Playing which was published in 1756, the year of his son’s birth. The treatise is still an important source for the study of the musical practice of the time. Wolfgang began lessons with his father in 1762, and was soon actively participating in making music with his father’s colleagues and friends. During this period he was introduced to the music of two of Italy’s finest violinist/composers, Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) and Pietro Locatelli (1695-1764). In 1769 Mozart was hired by the Archbishop of Salzburg as both concertmaster and composer.

Between 1769 and 1773 Mozart made three separate trips with his father to Italy. During this period of time he spent much time studying and composing dramatic works for the stage as well as sacred works, but he was also exposed to one of Italy’s finest violin virtuosi, Pietro Nardini (1722-1793). In addition, Mozart had befriended Thomas Linley, a young Englishman and gifted student of Nardini. Wolfgang and Linley spent quite a bit of time making music together. This experience and Nardini’s playing, increased Mozart’s interest in perfecting his own playing, but more importantly, it became a catalyst for him to begin to compose seriously for the violin.

There is some debate whether Mozart himself actually gave the first performance of his five known violin concertos. Already by 1774, Mozart was apparently quite negligent about his violin playing and possibly wrote the concertos for one of his friends, either violinist Antonio Brunetti or for Franz Kolb, another. After 1775 Mozart occasionally performed them himself.

The Concerto No. 4 in D, which he composed in October, 1775, is more extroverted and virtuosic than are Mozart’s first three concertos. It begins with a fanfare-like classic double exposition (first section is played twice) and the first theme, a military-like rhythm, answers directly with a more graceful response. Strangely this fanfare never returns because the recapitulation begins with the second theme. The exposition concludes with a new third theme, whose elements the soloist will develop later in the movement. Upon entering, the soloist’s normal role would be to “decorate” the main theme, but instead he introduces a new secondary theme. After finally getting to the orchestra’s original second theme, the soloist begins the development section by playing a new theme in the minor based on one of the orchestra’s closing motives.

The second movement begins with an orchestral introduction featuring the two oboes, the only winds scored in the work. As expected, the violin soloist dominates the rest of the movement, relegating the orchestra to the background. Instead of the customary ABA form, Mozart created a complex theme that incorporates other melodies with minor variations.

The third movement is a combination of a rondo and sonata form. It opens with a dance-like phrase in 2/4 time – most likely a gavotte – followed by a phrase in fast 6/8 time. After the development section, a middle section contains an entirely new melody. The movement continues with a reprise of the dual-tempo rondo with a cadenza included. This concerto is an example of how a modest piece composed by a highly-skilled and creative mind can delight by bending the rules of formal structure.

Symphony No. 8

Approx. 36 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes and english horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones and tuba, timpani, and strings

Composer: Antonin Dvorak

Antonín Dvorak (September 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904), is considered as one of the most versatile composers of his time. He was the oldest of nine children born in Nelahozeves (near Prague, then part of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire, now the Czech Republic). His father, an innkeeper and butcher, encouraged his musical talent and when young Dvorak was sent to live with his uncle to become an apprentice butcher, he continued studying organ, piano, and violin. At the age of sixteen, his father allowed him to pursue a career in music, under the condition that he become an organist. Dvorak wrote his first string quartet at the age of twenty, two years after graduating from the only organ school in Prague.

Dvorak and Johannes Brahms struck up a friendship that would become a pivotal influence and “break” for the young composer as Brahms sent Dvorak’s early compositions to his own publisher. In the summer of 1889, Dvorak travelled to Vysoka (a village near the Czech Republic/Poland border), and inspired by the rolling countryside, composed his eighth symphony. Dvorak broke new ground with the Symphony No. 8. The music is heavily influenced by the atmosphere of the Czech countryside. Within the music, Dvorak included sounds from nature, particularly hunting horn calls, birdsong and dramatic fanfares that suggest nonmusical images. This piece is one of his better-known works since its premiere in 1890 in which Dvorak was the conductor. Instead of staying with a traditional harmonic plan, Dvorak uses less defined harmony, creating a modal sound as the backdrop to his melodic fragments.

The first movement (Allegro con brio) begins with a slightly deceptive introduction in g minor, but the bird call that arrives in the flutes quickly moves the movement into a major or optimistic sounding tonal center. The lush introduction returns in the strings to mark the beginning of the development, and then again in the clarinets to mark the beginning of the recapitulation. The first movement is characterized by a vast amount of melodic material which swell to a frenzied climax and a grand finish.

The second movement (Adagio) opens with a somber interplay between the the strings and the winds that floats into a cheerful melody played by the flute, oboe and eventually solo violin. The lushness of the beginning returns and then gives way to trumpet fanfares that end the movement.

Movement three (Allegretto grazioso) is neither a conventional minuet and trio nor a scherzo, but rather an intermezzo. The movement starts with an almost sluggish waltz featuring the violins and flutes; the “trio” section uses the double reed colors of the oboe and bassoon that remind us of Dvorak’s roots in Bohemian folk music. After the return of the waltz, Dvorak concludes the movement with a short Coda, marked Molto vivace. This ending is in fact a quicker, more rhythmic version of the rustic dance heard previously.

Dvorak introduces the last movement (Allegro ma non troppo) with a trumpet fanfare. This movement is a theme-and-variations, with the central theme introduced by the cellos. The variations that follow include rapid melodic lines in the flutes to a solemn march eventually giving way to a powerful statement by the brass section. The movement starts to fade away before Dvorak gives the music one last hurrah, a vibrant and spirited ending.

Dvorak’s popularity grew, and in 1892, two years after the premiere of the Symphony in G Major, he was invited to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. After three years in the United States, homesickness and a desire to return to the European music scene caused him to move back to his native Bohemia. Dvorak died in 1904 of a stroke, leaving many unfinished compositions behind.

About Geoff Neuman

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