Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra’s Winter Concert

Adolphus Cunningham Hailstork (b.1941): American Fanfare

Born in Rochester, New York, Hailstork grew up in Albany, and later studied at Howard University, the Manhattan School of Music, the American Institute at Fountainebleau and Michigan State University. His teachers included H. Owen Reed, Vittorio Giannini, David Diamond and Nadia Boulanger. He has taught at Youngstown State University in Ohio and at Virginia’s Norfolk State University. He is currently professor of music and composer-in-residence at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Composed in 1985, American Fanfare was a contest entry for a fanfare celebrating the opening of a new wing at a Virginia art gallery. The first performance was given by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra in January, 1991.

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957): Finlandia, Op. 26 No. 7

“We are not Swedes, we can never be Russians, so let us be Finns” was the popular slogan in Finland. The country had been ruled by Sweden for five hundred years and then, in 1809, by Tsarist Russia. In 1894, Tsar Nicholas II appointed General Bobrikov as governor of Finland. Within months, the General had abolished all freedom of speech and assembly.

Early in November, 1899, the wily Finns staged a series of “Press Celebrations,” ostensibly benefits for the Press Pension Fund, but really grand patriotic pageants meant to protest Russian rule. The November fourth show featured a series of six tableaux depicting various events in Finland’s history. Sibelius wrote the accompanying music. The final section, titled “Finland Awakes,” aroused such patriotic fervor of the audience that the piece was banned by the Russian authorities.

Sibelius separated “Finland Awakes” from the other incidental music, revised it, and made a piano arrangement titled Finlandia. The orchestral tone poem had many names. “It was actually rather late,” Sibelius recalled, “that Finlandia was performed under its final title. At the farewell concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra before leaving for Paris, when the tone poem was played for the first time in its revised form, it was called Suomi. It was introduced by the same name in Scandinavia; in German towns it was called Vaterland, and in Paris La Patrie. In Finland its performance was forbidden during the years of unrest, and in other parts of the Empire it was not allowed to be played under any name that in any way indicated its patriotic character. When I conducted in Reval and Riga by invitation in the summer of 1904, I had to call it Impromptu.”

Alexander Borodin (1833-1887): Polovtsian Dances from Act II of Prince Igor

Begun in 1869, Prince Igor occupied Borodin on and off for the rest of his life. It was still unfinished when he died in 1887.  The task of completing the opera, notably the Overture and much of the third act, was left to Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov. The first complete performance took place in St. Petersburg on November 16, 1890.

One portion of Prince Igor that Borodin did complete was the famous Polovtsian Dances. Rimsky-Korsakov conducted them at a concert in St. Petersburg on February 27, 1879.

In the second act of the opera, Prince Igor and his son have been taken prisoner by the Polovtsi, a Tartar tribe whose leader, Khan Kontchak, visits the prisoner, inquiring after his health and informing him that “you are not my prisoner here, you are rather a guest of honor in my house.” He offers Igor every hospitality, including the famous Polovtsian Dances.

These begin with a sinuous introduction for the winds, depicting the procession of the slave girls. This is followed by perhaps the most famous melody Borodin ever wrote, a lyric plaint expressing the captives’ longing for their homeland. A more vigorous theme for solo clarinet accompanies the Dance of the Savage Men. Then comes the waltz-like General Dance, with its thumping bass drum and cymbal crashes, a heavily syncopated simulation of war games by the young boys. A savage four-note descending ostinato with snare drum accompanies the Dance of the Prisoners and Dance of the Little Boys. Fragments of the preceding dances recur in the Dance of Young Girls with Undulating Movements, leading to a wild and exultant conclusion.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Opus 67

“So often heard,” Robert Schumann wrote of the Fifth Symphony, “it still exercises its power over all ages, just as those great phenomena of nature that, no matter how often they recur, fill us with awe and wonder. This Symphony will go on centuries hence, as long as the world and world’s music endure.”

According to Beethoven’s biographer, Alexander Thayer, “this wondrous work was no sudden inspiration. Themes for (three of the movements) are found in sketchbooks belonging, at the very latest, to the years 1800 and 1801.” After interrupting himself to write the Fourth Symphony, Beethoven finished the Fifth in the spring of 1808.

Beethoven conducted the first performance at a typically massive all-Beethoven concert in Vienna on December 22, 1808. Besides the Fifth, the program included the Sixth Symphony, the concert aria Ah, Perfido, two movements from the Mass in C major, the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Choral Fantasy. One listener complained: “There we continued, in the bitterest cold, too, from half past six to half past ten, and experienced the truth that one can easily have too much of a good thing–and still more of a loud…. Many a failure in the performance vexed our patience in the highest degree.”

“In spite of several faults which I could not prevent,” said Beethoven, “the public received everything most enthusiastically.”

In 1830, Mendelssohn played the first movement on the piano for Goethe, who said: “It is tremendous–quite crazy–one is almost afraid the house will collapse; and imagine how it must sound in the orchestra!” Of the celebrated four notes that begin the movement, Beethoven is supposed to have said: “Thus Fate knocks at the door.” Much has been made of this remark, most of it nonsense. Pointing to the same four notes in the Fourth Piano Concerto, theorist Heinrich Schenker wondered, “Was this another door on which Fate knocked or was someone else knocking at the same door?” By coincidence, the rhythm of the four notes corresponds to the Morse code for the letter “V.” That, coupled with Winston Churchill’s “V for Victory” gesture, inspired the BBC to use the phrase as a signature during World War II.

Sir Donald Francis Tovey compared the second movement to Shakespeare’s heroines, for “the same courage, the same beauty of goodness, and the same humor.” Berlioz claimed that the third movement produces “the inexplicable emotion that one experiences under the magnetic gaze of certain individuals.” With the finale, writes George Grove, “all the noisy elements at Beethoven’s command in those simpler days (burst) like a thunder-clap into the major key and into a triumphal march.”

~ Program Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2016.