Symphony Sundays Program Notes

Program Notes: “Thanksgiving Promises” Symphony Sundays – Nov. 12, 2017

FCS FCS

Festival City Symphony: 11/12/17 Program Notes by Roger Ruggeri © 2017

 

William Walton

(1902-1983)

Spitfire Prelude and Fugue

A revered mid-20th-century English composer, Walton celebrated the spirit of his homeland with music of rhythmic drive, contrapuntal textures, brilliant orchestration and long melodic lines. He produced music in virtually all instrumental forms and was particularly successful in creating dramatic music for stage and screen.

Walton created music for fourteen films, the present work was drawn from his music for the 1942 film The First of the Few. (“Spitfire” was the name of the compact British fighter plane in use during the World War II era.) Walton begins with fanfare-like music that prefaces a rousingly patriotic march. The energetic Fugue is contrasted by a tranquil middle section before counterpoint returns to complete this concise eight-minute curtain-raiser.

 

Jennifer Higdon

(b. 1962)

Teton Range, from All Things Majestic

Born in Brooklyn and subsequently raised in Georgia and Tennessee, Higdon is a product of an essentially rural life with artistic counter culture parents and a lot of pop music. She played percussion in high school and taught herself to play flute. Ultimately gravitating more and more toward composition, Higdon gained graduate degrees in composition at the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, she has taught part time at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute and Bard College (in New York’s Hudson valley). She also conducts several ensembles, but makes it clear that her “main work is composing.”

In 2010, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her Violin Concerto. That summer, she went to Jackson Hole to consult on a performance of her Percussion Concerto at the Grand Teton Music Festival. Higdon readily accepted a commission to write a four-movement orchestral work in celebration of the Festival’s 50th anniversary. Conducted by Music Director Donald Runnicles, the Festival Orchestra premiered All Things Majestic on August 19, 2011.

Higdon explains that All Things Majestic “is a tribute to not only the Festival and its home, the Tetons, but also to the grandeur and majesty of all of our parks.”

The first movement, Teton Range, gives prominence to brass and winds while suggesting glimpses of the Snake River flowing near the mountains’ base.

 

Aaron Copland

(1900-1990)

Suite from The Tender Land

Commissioned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for the thirtieth anniversary of the League of Composers, Copland’s three-act opera, The Tender Land, was composed between 1952 and 1954. It was first performed by the New York City Opera Company under the direction of Thomas Schippers at New York’s City Center on April 1, 1954.

Since writing The Second Hurricane in 1936-37, Copland had been looking for a suitable libretto upon which to create another opera. He found his inspiration in the book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans. Among the book’s images of life in rural Alabama, a photograph of a young and an old woman caught Copland’s fancy. “There was something so full of living and understanding in the face of the older woman,” he recalled, “and something so open and eager in the face of the younger one, that I began to think that here was the basis of an idea.” With general guidance from the composer, Horace Everett subsequently produced the opera’s libretto.

Before the first performance, Copland shared the following with the New York Herald Tribune: “The opera takes place in the mid ‘30s, in June, spring harvest time. It’s about a farm family—a mother, a daughter who’s just about to graduate from high school, a younger sister of ten, and a grandfather. There’s big doings in the works—no one in the family has ever graduated before, and a whopping party is planned for the occasion.”

In 1955, Copland revised his new opera from a two- into a three-act opera; in this form, it was premiered at the Oberlin Conservatory on May 20, 21, 1955. The following year, the composer also extracted an orchestral suite from his materials. The Suite begins with the third act’s introduction then continues with the love duo. Rural exuberance abounds in a final excerpt with music of a graduation party scene.

 

Antonin Dvorák

(1841-1904)

Symphony No. 8 in G major, Opus 88

Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8 exudes a sense of warmth and relaxation; its bountiful melodies, like wildflowers, are so beautiful in themselves that they seem to require no further development. Having just begun to gain long-overdue recognition, Dvorák was in his vintage years when he began this symphony on August 26, 1889, a period of relative calm and reflection. Completed on November 8, 1889, the symphony is dedicated “To the Bohemian Academy of Emperor Franz Josef for the Encouragement of Art and Literature, in thanks for my election.”

Dvorák’s expression, in this case, found itself with a multitude of full-blown themes that did not lend themselves to “symphonic” development. Dvorák was in good company, for both Schubert and Tchaikovsky wrote lovely, flowing themes that led to the same predicament in the eyes of purists. Those who felt that a “real symphony” had to be cast in the classical forms with emphasis upon development, considered this work to be inferior; perhaps a suite or a serenade, but certainly not a symphony. These commentators had overlooked a basic artistic premise: expression gives rise to form, not vice versa. The essence of this work was beautifully expressed by one of the composer’s Czech biographers: “This symphony is not profound; it awakens no echo of conflict or passion. It is a simple lyric singing of the beauty of our country for the artist’s consolation.”