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Concert II, 2018-19 Season

Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments in E Flat Major, Op. 7
Richard Strauss (1864–1949)

As an adult, Richard Strauss wrote emotionally overwrought and risqué operas about women like Salome and Electra, and huge tone poems with bold topics and extreme effects, like Thus Spake Zarathustra and A Hero’s Life. Later in his life he indulged in super-sentimental effusions like Der Rosenkavalier and the Four Last Songs. But the Strauss who wrote this Serenade was only 17 and still in high school. Neither his quasi-expressionist agony nor his sentimental indulgences would be predictable from this sweet piece, which was written for the amateur orchestra in which he played violin and his father conducted. Strauss was something of a musical prodigy and started taking composition lessons at 11 years old: his father also contributed to his musical education, in part by critiquing Richard’s compositions, and in part by introducing him to the Viennese classics—Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. This piece refers to the “default” practices of that older world with its regular phrases, consonant harmonies, and general placidity.

 

Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra
Rich Shemaria (b. 1955)

Mr. Shemaria has kindly provided the following note about this new composition:

"Inspired by a casual conversation with trumpeter Wayne du Maine (‘Hey Rich, you don’t happen to have a trumpet concerto do you?’), this is my first extended work for the trumpet. This performance is its World Premiere.

The piece is in three movements (medium, slow, and fast). I have worked in a kind of jigsaw manner by starting with the third movement, followed by the first and lastly, the second. Hence, the material not heard until the trumpet’s entrance in the last movement is in fact the base material for the other two movements.

The first movement opens with a five-note theme orchestrated for brass, then passed around to the woodwinds and eventually strings and finally, the soloist. In the second movement, the more lyrical side of the trumpet is presented on another variation of the original theme.

 I have written in a harmonically dense yet lyrical fashion. The usual trumpet flourishes and technical feats often present in trumpet concertos are largely absent here and there is a broader sense of the soloist integrating into the composition with the orchestra as a whole.”

 

Symphony No. 1 “Spring,” in B-flat Major, Op. 38
Robert Schumann (1810–1846)

Robert Schumann famously tended to concentrate on a single genre for a year at a time, and 1841 was his symphonic year. His new wife, the pianist Clara, née Wieck, had urged him to consider orchestral composition, and orchestral writing was certainly a way to boost his visibility and reputation. So during that year, in addition to this first symphony, he wrote his Overture, Scherzo and Finale (like a symphony with no slow movement), a D minor symphony that eventually turned into his Fourth, a C minor symphony that didn’t see the light of day in its original form, the Phantasie for piano and orchestra, and several works for voices and orchestra.

This manic pace was epitomized in the speed of writing this symphony. In striking contrast to his future friend Johannes Brahms, whose first symphony was the result of years of drafting, avoiding, and feeling overwhelmed by the shadow of Beethoven, Schumann wrote this work in four days (and nights) of fevered activity in the January of this year. Performed in March the same year, it was an instant and enduring popular success—a relatively rare fate for Schumann’s music.

The work’s subtitle is “Spring.” Unlike Mozart’s “Spring” string quartet or Beethoven’s “Spring” sonata for violin and piano, this subtitle was actually intended by Schumann. Indeed, as musicologist John Daverio has pointed out, Schumann himself wrote in his diary that a spring poem by his friend Adolf Böttger was the proximate inspiration. The original manuscript entitled the movements, respectively, “Beginning of Spring,” “Evening,” “Jolly Playmates,” and “Spring Replete.” However, the poem is actually about a disconsolate lover seeing a reflection of his misery in the weather (“You spirit of the clouds, cheerless and damp, why have you banished all my happiness,”) and contrasting his cheerlessness with the onset of Spring (“Spring blossoms in the valley!”). Clearly Schumann took the blossoming of spring to be more relevant to his symphony than the misery of the rejected lover, and the first published edition of the symphony’s score omitted these titles. It’s always dangerous to assume that a composer’s own mental state determines the mood of his music, and indeed, 1841 had its moments of depression for Schumann, but it is hard to avoid relating the persistent good cheer of this music to Schumann’s happiness in the first year of his marriage to Clara (a union long and hard in coming), the birth of their first child, and a sense of optimism about the future.

Even though Schumann was not as tortured by the shadow of Beethoven as Brahms was 20 years later, he could not escape the older composer’s outsize influence: the sudden storm that blows up about ten seconds into the first movement seems quite Beethoven-like, for example; the ornamental accompaniments to the main tune in the slow movement may remind us of Beethoven, perhaps especially the slow movement of the Ninth Symphony; and both the tone and the extended form of the Scherzo movement also derive from Beethoven. But Schubert is a more immediate influence: the very opening of the symphony is a direct reference to the opening of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9, the long-breathedness of the tune in the slow movement is Schubertian, as is the cheerful repetitiveness of the last movement.

Critics argue about whether Schumann’s symphonies were essentially forward-looking and original, or more derivative. Obviously there’s not simple answer to that question. But one way in which this work is quite novel is the way Schumann connects the movements in such a way as to discourage applause between them. Other than the first movement, which ends with a bang, the other three all lead quite directly into each other, presenting the symphony as a single large musical thought rather than a series of separable bits. Clapping between movements was entirely normal until the early twentieth century. We don’t know what Schumann’s audience did, but the music makes it pretty clear what he was probably hoping for.

 

© Mary Hunter