Hutch Symphony – Program Notes
October 2, 2021
Overture to The Barber of Seville
As with most of Rossini’s operas, he composed The Barber of Seville with lightning speed in just three weeks. He initially had wanted to write a Spanish-inspired overture for Seville, but ran out of time, and using one of his tried-and-true tricks, resorted to recycling. He chose an overture originally written in 1813, which he used again in 1815, but this time, there was no extricating his use of the overture in 1816 and its felicitous attachment to The Barber of Seville.
The overture follows many of Rossini’s opera overture formats, this one beginning with a slow introduction in E Major with a marking of Andante maestoso. The introduction vacillates between forte chords involving the whole orchestra, and softer and smaller complements of instruments for its often reflective and introspective moments. In typical Rossini format the introduction is followed by a sprightly allegro in e minor, an allegro that once stated, treats the listener to the true ambience of the action to follow. With this, comes the recognition that this overture could never again be attached to another work other than The Barber of Seville.
This is one of the more recognizable opera overtures in popular culture, familiar to both opera lovers and the reluctant and nescient opera detractors. Lest us forget the cartoon’s contribution to Seville’s popularity – Woody Woodpecker’s The Barber of Seville (1944) and Bugs Bunny’s creative The Rabbit of Seville (1949). Even the seminal sitcom, Seinfeld (1993) used the allegro of the overture during one of its most farcical plot lines involving a barber and an infidelity scandal.
Beethoven Symphony No. 5, Allegro con brio
“This symphony invariably wields its power over men of every age like those great phenomena of nature …[it] … will be heard in future centuries, as long as music and the world exist.” –Robert Schumann on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of classical music ever composed, as well as one of the most iconoclastic. It has also come to represent the very essence of classical music itself. Music lovers know it backwards and forwards, and even those who have never attended an orchestra concert nonetheless recognize the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, as it is informally known, immediately.
Since the Fifth’s premiere on a cold December night in Vienna, it has become a lens through which we have viewed music, society, and culture. Early audiences heard in its notes an exhortation of victory and triumph, whether literal or of a more internal, personal kind. As the 19th century progressed, Beethoven’s music, particularly the symphonies, became the standard against which every subsequent composer’s music was measured. During World War II, the Allies used the famous four-note opening as a signal in radio broadcasts of victory over the Axis powers.
The Fifth Symphony generated little comment at its premiere, but, 18 months later, composer and critic E. T. A. Hoffmann wrote a lengthy review, in which he called it “one of the most important works of the master whose stature as a first-rate instrumental composer probably no one will now dispute … the instrumental music of Beethoven open[s] the realm of the colossal and the immeasurable for us.”
American in Paris
Far more than a mere Jazz Age travelogue, Gershwin’s quintessentially American symphonic poem An American in Paris unfolds with radiant vitality and intoxicating energy. The work’s spry longevity (ninety years and counting) would have come as a surprise to those critics who dismissed Gershwin’s works as mere passing fancies. The New York Evening Post’s Oscar Thompson allowed that while An American in Paris might be all the rage circa 1928, “to conceive of a symphony audience listening to it with any degree of pleasure or patience twenty years from now, when whoopee is no longer even a word, is another matter.”
Conductors knew a good thing when they heard it and snapped the piece up. The work’s December 1928 premiere by Walter Damrosch and the New York Philharmonic-Symphony was followed by performances by such luminaries as Fritz Reiner, Artur Rodziński (who led the SFS premiere in 1931), Alfredo Casella, and erstwhile San Francisco Symphony maestro Henry Hadley. Even Arturo Toscanini—nobody’s choice as an advocate for American music—turned in a whip crack rendition with the NBC Symphony. The first studio recording, with Nathaniel Shilkret conducting the Victor Symphony and featuring an uncredited George Gershwin Himself on celesta, took place on February 4, 1929, less than two months after the New York premiere. Umpteen performances and recordings later, An American in Paris dances blithely towards its centennial, bedrock repertory, familiar and loved the world over.
An American in Paris eschews formal symphonic development in favor of a loose episodic structure charting the adventures of an American tourist sampling the glories of Paris and succumbing to fits of homesickness along the way. The work’s most compelling features are its marvelous melodies—who isn’t enchanted by the central “blues” section with its wailing trumpet solo?—and its glittering orchestration, featuring that quacking quartet of Parisian taxi horns. “It’s not a Beethoven symphony, you know,” commented Gershwin, perhaps in reaction to elitist reservations about the work’s overriding joie de vivre. “If it pleases symphony audiences as a light, jolly piece, a series of impressions musically expressed, it succeeds.”
Danzon No. 2
Arturo Márquez is a Mexican composer, now of international stature. Born in 1950, the son of a mariachi musician, he displayed musical talent and interest early and attended the Mexican Music Conservatory. Later he studied in the United States at the California Institute of the Arts and has worked to create contemporary classical music that incorporates traditional forms and styles from Mexico.
Danzón No. 2, perhaps his most well-known composition, reflects the composer’s interest in Mexico’s musical heritage. Opening with a lovely, wistful duet between clarinet and piano, Danzón No. 2 evokes the erotic feel of the tango though in a form that recalls salon music in Mexican cities in the early 1900s. The composition makes use of full orchestra, interspersed with solos for clarinet, piccolo, violin, trumpet, not to mention the claves, whose regular staccato rhythm provides the heartbeat throughout much of the piece. His body of work includes music for various solo instruments, string and saxophone ensembles, chamber orchestra, full orchestra; he has also written scores for a number of ballets. Márquez has won a number of awards, both in Mexico and abroad; his work has been the focus of music festivals in Venezuela and the US.
Composers—or artists of any kind, really—aren’t often the best judges of their own work. Case in point: Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. In a letter to Madame von Meck, Tchaikovsky wrote, “The overture will be very loud and noisy, but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and so it will have no artistic merits at all.” Loud and noisy it is, particularly during its finale. But orchestras and audiences alike would argue for its merits, as the piece has become a perennial favorite and one of the composer’s best-known works.
Tchaikovsky’s lack of enthusiasm for 1812 stems, perhaps, from its status as a commission. Earlier in his career, he’d rejected Madame von Meck’s request for a commissioned piece, replying, “I trust you would never imagine that I would undertake any musical work purely for the sake of the 100 ruble note at the end of it.”
The Overture offers a virtual play-by-play of the conflict between French and Russian forces, albeit in condensed and somewhat fictionalized form. There was no decisive Russian military victory, as suggested by the booming cannons and pealing bells of the finale. The Russians actually retreated after losing the Battle of Borodino, allowing the French to occupy Moscow. But the Russians had abandoned and burned the city, leaving the French to face famine, disease, and the bitter cold. “General Famine and General Winter, rather than the Russian bullets, have conquered the Grand Army,” wrote French Marshal Michael Ney.
The piece pits the Russian people, represented by hymns and folksongs, against the French, suggested by the revolutionary anthem “La Marseillaise.” The lamentations and struggles of the Russian people are palpable, as is the persistence of the French. Tchaikovsky also stretched credulity with the use of “La Marseillaise” as a symbol for the Imperial Army. Napoleon had actually banned the tune during his reign. Meanwhile, “God Save the Czar,” composed by Alexei Lvov and declared the Russian national anthem in 1833, is another anachronism. No matter. Though hardly his masterwork, the 1812 Overture has stood the test of time and today is perhaps more popular than ever. Tchaikovsky often had problems satisfying his harshest critics—and sometimes himself. But he did know how to please his audience.
Hutch Symphony – Program
October 2, 2021
Overture to The Barber of Seville Gioachino Rossini
Metallica Symphonic Medley arr. Micky Tejada
An American in Paris George Gershwin
Deep Purple Orchestral Medley arr. Micky Tejada
Symphony No. 5 Ludwing van Beethoven
Allegro con brio
Black Sabbath Symphonic Medley arr. Micky Tejada
Danzon No. 2 Arturo Marquez
Another Brick in the Wall arr. Micky Tejada
Megadeth Symphonic Medley arr. Micky Tejada
Overture 1812 – Finale Pyotr Tchaikovsky