The core of Emmanuel Music is Bach, and this assumes, consciously or not, a starting point for all our programming. Similarly, Bach provided a starting point for each of the composers at stylistic “crossroads” whose works we present this evening. Mendelssohn stands on the cusp of Classicism and Romanticism, while at the same time conjuring up Bach and Handel. Hugo Wolf, a disciplined student of Bach counterpoint, developed the lieder tradition of Schubert and Schumann to a point beyond which hardly anybody else could go. Stravinsky absorbed, and in many ways defined, nearly every compositional trend of the 20th century, from serialism to neoclassicism, including arrangements of two Wolf songs! Harbison essentially comingles his comprehensive knowledge of Bach, encyclopedic insight into Schubert’s lieder, and profound influence of Stravinsky into his own musical vernacular.
Sinfonia No. 2 in D Major for Strings (1821)
Composer, pianist, organist, conductor, and visual artist, Felix Mendelssohn possessed prodigious talents that not only rivaled but surpassed those of Mozart. By the age of sixteen, Mendelssohn produced his first masterwork: the Octet for Strings, Op. 20, and the following year saw the completion of the luminous A Midsummer Night’s Dream concert overture. Rigorously schooled in Bach counterpoint, Mendelssohn, at the age of 20, gained international fame and sparked revived interest in the music of J.S. Bach by conducting the first performance of the St. Matthew Passion since Bach’s death. During his tenures as conductor in Düsseldorf (1833-1835) and Leipzig (1835-1845), Mendelssohn rekindled interest in the music of Handel, and premiered other works, including Schubert’s newly discovered Symphony No. 9.
One of the unique characteristics of Mendelssohn’s development as a composer is that, starting from a high Classical point of view, he moved almost simultaneously in two opposite historical directions. In his teens, he was wooed both by the music of the late Classical and early Romantic periods, and by the craft of Bach and Handel, for whom he developed intense admiration, even reverence. This bifurcated tendency is on full display in the thirteen early string sinfonias composed between the ages of 12 and 14, but not discovered until 1960. Sinfonia No. 2 in D boasts a classically oriented opening movement, a fully Baroque middle movement, and a final movement with flashes of a rustic Beethoven that hint at the remarkable range of invention to come.
Hugo Wolf’s obsession with poetry and his singular sensitivity to its nuances resulted in upwards of three hundred uniquely crafted, intense, perfect songs—written in bursts of intense creative fervor separated by months-long, paralyzing depressions. After a youthful outpouring of songs between 1878 and early 1883, Wolf experienced one of these extended periods of creative inactivity. During these years he earned his living primarily as Vienna’s most biting music critic, indulging, among other things, in his rabid hatred of Brahms’s music. It was only in 1888 that his creative output began to flow again. Between February 16 and May 18, Wolf composed 43 settings of Mörike, working at a friend’s house on the edge of the Vienna Woods. In a letter to his friend Edmund Lang of February 22, 1888, he proclaims: “I have just written down a new song, a divine song, I tell you. I feel my cheeks glow like molten iron with excitement, and this state of pure inspiration is to me exquisite torment, not pure happiness.”
Eduard Mörike (1804–75) was a pastor, a painter and the author of some of the most exquisite, ardent, and lyrical German poetry. Scholar Richard Wigmore explains: “His range was extraordinarily wide, encompassing ideal, unhappy and erotic love, joy in the natural world, religious mysticism, the supernatural, whimsy and broad or ironic humor—all themes richly represented in Wolf’s Mörike collection.”
Originally composed for voice and piano, the arrangements performed tonight for strings are by composer Patrick Castillo. Baritone Thomas Hampson and the Jupiter Quartet premiered the version for string quartet and voice in April 2013 in Alice Tully Hall. Mr. Castillo has graciously adapted the orchestration for our string ensemble.
Italian Serenade (1887)
Three compositions for string quartet—the Serenade, Intermezzo, and the full length String Quartet in D minor — and a tone poem Penthesilea — are Wolf’s only compositions that do not involve the voice. Among these, the Italian Serenade remains the most well known. In 1892, five years after the original string quartet version, Wolf produced an orchestral version, intending, but failing to write two additional movements — an intermezzo and tarantella — in hopes of producing a large-scale suite. Like Schubert’s miraculous Quartetsatz, the Italian Serenade stands alone as a magnificent self-contained movement.
Presumably inspired by a popular novella by Joseph Eichendorff, From the Life of a Ne’er Do Well (Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts, 1822) the music conveys the ardent wooing of a young man who leaves home, carefree, fiddle in his pack, in search of success in life and love, serenading as he goes. The result is a sort of Mendelssohnian “Song without Words” — a buoyant, fanciful, lyrical love song. Wolf sets the scene with an opening that evokes the sounds of a guitar tuning up in preparation for a window serenade, and a middle recitative-like section that is reminiscent of a Mahler scherzo.
- Ryan Turner (2014)
Crossroads, for Soprano or Mezzo Soprano, Oboe and Strings, was co-commissioned by the following organizations and ensembles: Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, La Jolla Music Society for Summer Fest, and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, with additional support from Atlanta Chamber Players, Blair School of Music- Vanderbilt University, Chamber Music Amarillo/Harrington String Quartet/Amy Goeser Kolb, Chamber Music Northwest, Chesapeake Orchestra of St. Luke’s, San Francisco Symphony, Serenata of Santa Fe Texas Tech University School of Music, and Winsor Music.
This piece represents my third musical encounter with Louise Glück’s poetry. In my Symphony No. 5, her poem “Relic” offers a kind of rejoinder, a Euridice counterforce to Czeslaw Milosz’ retelling of the Orpheus story. In The Seven Ages, six of the poems are chosen to follow that book’s hidden narrative. The shape of her lines and the emotional regions they inhabit forced me to find some new musical solutions, and left a lot of questions about how to do this unanswered.
When Glück published A Village Life in 2009, I noticed a new direction: the book seemed to originate in a community, in which isolation was both ameliorated and more deeply experienced, something like what I register in Leopardi’s poems. I wanted to engage with these poems partly to add voice to this new direction, to affirm it, and to find whatever new compositional skills it required.
Each of these three settings is preceded by the same Refrain, which I took to be a location, the community norm, from which the music can depart.
I am grateful to the oboist Peggy Pearson for initiating the co-commissioning process and to the many participants for their support.
- John Harbison (2014)
Concerto in D for Strings (1946)
The Concerto in D for Strings was Stravinsky’s first European commission after his move to the United States in 1939. The work was commissioned by Paul Sacher, the Swiss conductor and influential arts patron, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Basel Chamber Orchestra. Sacher had a profound influence on music of the early 20th century, commissioning work from Bartok, Strauss, Britten, Hindemith, Martinu, Honegger, Frank Martin, and Elliott Carter, among others
Although Stravinsky composed the Concerto in D at age 64, it is representative of his middle neoclassical style, defined by the inclusion of various stylistic and formal aspects of Classical form. The Concerto in D draws for its model on the concerto grosso of the Baroque era, with its division between a small group of soloists (the concertino) and the main body of instruments (the ripieno or tutti). The work’s three-movement structure (fast, slow, fast) corresponds to that of the Mendelssohn Sinfonia in D, as does its length: Stravinsky accepted Sacher’s commission on the understanding that the work would be “ten to twelve minutes, like Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.”
The opening Vivace commences with a series of chords that immediately launch a creative conflict between the keys of D major and D minor, replete with dry, jabbing accents. The quasi-exotic Arioso slow movement is Stravinsky at his most lyrical, with a long, spinning, yet unpredictable melody in the violins that is interrupted twice by unexplainable and stern perfect cadences. The concluding rondo, another nod to the 18th century, jitters with driving, angular agitation.
An interesting sidelight: In 1951, Jerome Robbins used Stravinsky’s concerto for one of his early works, The Cage, which imagines a community of female creatures. In describing the ballet, Robbins said, “I did not have to confine myself to human beings moving in a way that we know is human. In the way their fingers worked, in the crouch of a body or the thrust of an arm, I could let myself see what I wanted to imagine.” The Stravinsky scholar Roman Vlad explains “but Jerome Robbins, cueing on the jabbing accents and heady velocity, turned it into a grim and violent ballet.”
- Ryan Turner (2014)