Renshaw & Rachmaninoff
Mason Bates (b.1977)
As an undergraduate, Bates studied with John Corigliano, David Del Tredici, and Samuel Adler at the Juilliard School, then received a doctorate in composition from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008. He was a DJ and techno artist in Oakland, and is now composer-
in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Devil’s Radio was commissioned by the Sun Valley (Idaho) Summer Symphony, which gave the world premiere on August 16, 2014, with Alasdair Neale conducting. In his program note, Bates writes: “Rumor is the Devil’s radio, goes an evocative Southern phrase, and ever since hearing it, I’ve fantasized about a fanfare with equal parts darkness and groove. What began life as a brief piano étude quickly swelled way beyond its bounds, and the opportunity to write for a massive orchestra in Sun Valley seemed the perfect chance to give the Devil his due.”
“Sometimes the music is coldly propulsive, as at the opening, which uses a kind of sparkling ‘musical lure’ in the upper woodwinds. But this is soon undercut by a bluesy bass line and energetic percussion, ultimately building into a soaring melody that’s best described as vainglorious. Indeed, the work has ample brightness to counter its dark corners, and in this way it can be heard as a fanfare our villain might write for himself, complete with grandiose flourishes and an infectious swing section. But this lightness quickly evaporates in the work’s final minutes, when thunderous hits in the low brass suggest a Goliath-sized figure throwing his weight around. He bows out with a wink and a nod, ever the gentleman.”
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
The best account of the origins of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto comes from the composer himself. In his autobiography, he wrote: “In 1935, a group of admirers of the French violinist Robert Soëtans asked me to write a violin concerto for him, giving him exclusive rights to perform it for one year. I readily agreed, since I had been intending to write something for the violin at that time and had accumulated some material. As in the case of the preceding concertos, I began searching for an original title for the piece, such as ‘concert sonata for violin and orchestra,’ but finally returned to the simplest solution: Concerto No. 2. Nevertheless, I wanted it to be altogether different from No. 1, both as to music and style.”
The premiere took place on December 1, 1935, with violinist Soëtans and the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Enrique Fernández Arbós. A special delegation visited Prokofiev afterwards to thank him for choosing Spain for the first performance.
“The Second Violin Concerto,” writes biographer Israel V. Nestyev, “is more serious, more philosophical than the First, which was written twenty years before. Here we no longer find those mocking, grotesque effects which had so astonished listeners…in the First Concerto. There are fewer harsh timbres and harmonies, and a more restrained and gentle play of tone colors. The Second Concerto is written in a simpler, more intimate style…. The virtuoso writing is also more modest, containing fewer unusual technical innovations, even though this time the composer did use some very complicated technical figuration with biting accents.”
Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
“Real family music” was Brahms’ description of the Liebeslieder Waltzes, a collection of 18 settings of poems from Georg Friedrich Daumer’s Polydora. They were composed and published in 1869 and first performed in Vienna, on January 5, 1870.
“Brahms and waltzes!” exclaimed critic Eduard Hanslick when he saw the score. “The two words stare at each other in positive amazement on the elegant title-page. The earnest, silent Brahms, a true younger brother of Schumann, and just as North German, Protestant, and unworldly as he—writing waltzes!”
Brahms himself was pleased. He wrote to his publisher: “I must confess that it was the first time I smiled at the sight of a printed work—of mine! I will risk being called an ass if our Liebeslieder don’t give pleasure to a few people.”
Originally scored for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, with four-hand piano, the Op. 52 set was joined by Neue Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 65, in 1874. Conductor Ernst Rudorff persuaded Brahms to arrange a set for voices with orchestra, which included eight pieces from Op. 52 and one that was later included in the Neue Liebeslieder.
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)
A few months before his death in 1943, Rachmaninoff complained of lacking the “strength and fire” to compose. When friends reminded him of the Symphonic Dances, he replied: “Yes, I don’t know how that happened. That was probably my last flicker.
” Rachmaninoff ’s “last flicker” was begun during the summer of 1940 on an estate in Long Island. By August, he wrote to conductor Eugene Ormandy: “Last week I finished a new symphonic piece, which I naturally want to give first to you and your orchestra. It is called Fantastic Dances.”
Meanwhile, Rachmaninoff had second thoughts about the title. “It should have been called just Dances,” he said, “but I was afraid people would think I had written dance music for jazz orchestras.” At one point he even considered titles for the three movements— “Midday,” “Twilight” and “Midnight”—but abandoned the idea in favor of the Italian tempo designations.
By the time Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra introduced the work on January 4, 1941, Rachmaninoff had settled on the title Symphonic Dances. At the end of the score, Rachmaninoff had written “I thank Thee, Lord!” It was his last major work. Two and a half years after its completion, he died in Beverly Hills, California.
~ Program Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2015