The Fountains of Rome Program Notes
A Children’s Mass (Lapsimessu), Opus 71
Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016)
After Sibelius, Rautavaara is perhaps the best known and most frequently performed Finnish composer. After study at Helsinki University and the Sibelius Academy, he spent two years in the United States, studying with Vincent Persichetti, Roger Sessions, and Aaron Copland. His output includes eight symphonies, nine operas, and twelve concertos, as well as numerous vocal and chamber works.
A Children’s Mass (Lapsimessu) was introduced by the Tapiola Choir, conducted by Erkki Pohjola, on December 20, 1973 in Espoo, near Helsinki. The city of Espoo awarded the work first prize in composition.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
A setting of a poem by Anatole de Ségur (1823-1902), Salut Printemps was composed in 1882. Conductor Morna Edmundson says “The mood is light, fresh, and sentimental.” Here is the recurring refrain:
Salut printemps, jeune saison
Dieu rend aux plaines leur couronne
La sève ardente qui bouillonne
S’épanche et brise sa prison
Bois et champs sont en floraison.
(Greetings Spring! Youthful season. God restores to the plains their glories. The glowing sap, bubbling and seething, bursts from its prison.)
Concierto de Aranjuez
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Inspired by the royal town of Aranjuez (between Madrid and Toledo), the Concierto de Aranjuez was begun in Paris during the winter of 1939 and finished later in Madrid. The first performance took place in Barcelona on November 9, 1940. The guitarist was Regina Sáinz de la Maza, to whom the work is dedicated.
“The Aranjuez Concerto,” said Rodrigo, “is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the treetops in the parks, and it should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty as a veronica. In its themes, there lingers on the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains, although any more specific description is absent.”
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
In 1876, Stéphane Mallarmé published The Afternoon of a Faun, a dreamy evocation of a faun (half man-half goat) and his lusty pursuit of nymphs. One admirer of the poem was Claude Debussy, who planned a Prelude, Interlude and Paraphrase Finale on the work. Apparently he originally intended some sort of declamation of the text, along with the music.
What finally emerged in 1894 was the orchestral Prelude only. The first performance of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun took place on December 22, 1894 in Paris.
In his preface to the score, Debussy described the music as “a very free illustration to Stéphane Mallarmé’s beautiful poem. It does not follow the poet’s conception exactly, but describes the successive scenes among which the wishes and dreams of the Faun wander in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the fearful flight of the nymphs and naiads, he abandons himself to the delightful sleep, full of visions finally realized, of full possession amid universal nature.”
The Fountains of Rome
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)
“Take your umbrella and galoshes” was Respighi’s advice to listeners of The Fountains of Rome. The work is the first of the so-called “Roman trilogy” of symphonic poems, the others being The Pines of Rome and Roman Festivals. The première was given on March 11, 1917 in Rome, with Antonio Guarnieri conducting.
Respighi was fairly specific about the program of the work. In the preface to the score, he wrote: “In this symphonic poem, the composer has endeavored to give expression to the sentiments and visions suggested to him by four of Rome’s fountains, contemplated at the hour in which their character is most in harmony with the surrounding landscape, or in which their beauty appears most impressive to the observer.
“The first part of the poem, inspired by the Fountain of Valle Giulia, depicts a pastoral landscape. Droves of cattle pass and disappear in the fresh, damp mists of a Roman dawn. A sudden loud and insistent blast above the trills of the whole orchestra introduces the second part. It is like a joyous call, summoning troops of naiads and tritons, who come running up pursuing each other and mingling in a frenzied dance between the jets of water.
“Next there appears a solemn theme, borne on the undulations of the orchestra. It is the Fountain of Trevi at midday. The solemn theme, passing from the wood to the brass instruments, assumes a triumphal character. Trumpets peal; across the radiant surface of the water there passes Neptune’s chariot, drawn by sea-horses and followed by a train of sirens and tritons. The procession then vanishes, while faint trumpet blasts sound in the distance.
“The fourth part is announced by a sad theme which rises above a subdued warbling. It is the nostalgic hour of sunset. The air is full of the sound of tolling bells, birds twittering, leaves rustling. Then all dies peacefully into the silence of the night.”
~ Program Notes by Charley Sampson, copyright 2022