Overture Magazine - 2018-19 Season BSO_Overture_JanFeb_19 | Page 20

SIBELIUS VIOLIN CONCERTO did he reluctantly agree to publish it under its present name. The principal themes are drawn from the Act III love duet in Siegfried (the third of the Ring operas). The tenderness of the music evoked Wagner’s love for the woman who had left her first husband and devoted her life solely to the needs of his genius. The melody introduced by the solo oboe is a lullaby Wagner wrote when he knew little Siegfried was on the way. Midway through, we also hear a gentle version of Siegfried’s hunting call in the horn and a snatch of the Forest Bird’s Act II song in clarinet and flute. Instrumentation: Flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet and strings. VIOLIN CONCERTO Jean Sibelius Born in Hämeenlinna, Finland, December 8, 1865; died in Järvenpää, Finland, September 20, 1957 Despite the acclaim he received, Jean Sibelius nursed a hidden wound over a musical accomplishment that had eluded him. In his diary in 1915 he wrote: “Dreamt I was twelve years old and a virtuoso.” Sibelius loved the violin above all instruments and had in his youth striven hard to conquer its difficulties. But he had begun too late—age 14—and lacked the physical coordination and temperament to become a virtuoso. In his early 20s, he tried for a position with the Vienna Philharmonic; failing the audition, he returned to his hotel room and wept for his lost dream. Sibelius fulfilled the dream vicariously by writing one of the most magnificent of all violin concertos and, more over, one bristling with the greatest virtuoso demands. The external stimulus came from violinist Willy Burmester, concertmaster of the Helsinki Philharmonic. Responding to Burmester’s urging, Sibelius began composing the concerto in 1902 but barely completed the work in time for its premiere in Helsinki on February 8, 1904. Despite dour portraits of the composer in old age, Sibelius in his 18 OV E R T U R E / BSOmusic.org younger days was a bon vivant with a fondness for liquor and Helsinki’s café life, which often got in the way of his composing schedule. Rushing to finish the concerto, he completely forgot Burmester, turning instead to the less able Viktor Nováček. Nováček went down in flames because of the work’s formidable difficulties, and the premiere was not a success. Realizing his mistake, Sibelius revised the work in 1905, making the solo part slightly easier, but again he passed over Burmester. The concerto as we hear it today was premiered by Karl Halir with the Berlin Philharmonic, led by Richard Strauss, on October 29, 1905. This work falls into the category of the soloist-dominated concerto, like Mendelssohn’s or Bruch’s, rather than the more symphonically conceived concertos of Beethoven and Brahms. But it boasts greater musical complexity and a more interesting role for the orchestra than most virtuoso vehicles. Soloist and orchestra alternate in the foreground, often following different agendas. Over the shimmer of muted orchestral violins, the soloist opens the first movement with a long solo melody that steadily grows in intensity and passion, sweeping over the instrument’s full range. At first subservient, the orchestra eventually asserts itself with grim power, introducing an ominous stepwise theme. The soloist returns to embroider on this in a passage of rich double stops. The orchestra wraps up the exposition with a bold striding theme, partnered by a lighter idea for woodwinds. In an innovative stroke, Sibelius now interjects a long and introspective cadenza for the soloist. This takes the place of a conventional development. As it concludes, a bassoon quietly reprises the opening solo in a shadow image of the violin’s soaring tones. A sudden acceleration of tempo brings a spectacular close for the soloist, playing brawny chords and ferocious octave scales. The second movement combines lyricism and drama within a very slow tempo. After a haunting introduction by pairs of woodwinds, the violin sings an expansive, soulful melody opening deep in its range. The orchestra then proposes a stormy idea, derived from the woodwind introduction; with the violin above, this strives passionately upward to a climax. The orchestra then quietly reprises the opening melody while the violin independently soars to another climax. Over the rumble of timpani and low strings, the violin launches a robust dance, characterized by some of the most fiendish multiple-stopping ever devised. Sibelius provided no comfort to the fiddler: “It must be played with absolute mastery, fast…but no faster than it can be played perfectly,” he instructed. A second theme, introduced by the orchestra, delights in lively cross- rhythms. Over an epic orchestral swell the soloist triumphantly fulfills the composer’s dream of virtuosity. Instrumentation: Two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani and strings. SYMPHONY NO. 104 IN D MAJOR Franz Joseph Haydn Born in Rohrau, Austria, March 31, 1732; died in Vienna, Austria, May 31, 1809 Life began anew for Haydn late in 1790 when the German-English impresario Johann Peter Salomon appeared without warning on the 58-year-old composer’s doorstep in Vienna. Salomon offered him a princely sum to come to London to write and perform works for his ambitious concert series. Though Haydn spoke virtually no English and was at an age when most men were either dead or quietly retired, he accepted. The first six of Haydn’s “London” Symphonies were composed and premiered during the composer’s first London sojourn of 1791–92. Haydn immediately became the toast of London society. His concerts were packed, and Salomon made a lot of money. Hayden returned for another 18 months, and six additional symphonies were born, the greatest of his career, including the last —number 104 — which so epitomized Haydn’s symphonic achievement it became known as the “London.” By the time it was premiered, probably