Youth Orchestra Winter Concert February 11 2018

Symphony No. 2, Op. 9 (Antar)
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Second Symphony, or Antar as it was later called, was completed in 1868. It was first performed on March 10, 1869, at a concert of the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Mily Balakirev. The composer said it “found favor as a whole.”

The music was inspired by Osip Senkovsky’s account of the legend of Antar, a sixth-century Arabian warrior-poet. In the story, Antar is alone in the desert, where he saves a gazelle from a giant bird. The gazelle is really the fairy Gul-Nazar, Queen of Palmyra. As a reward, she grants Antar three of life’s greatest joys: vengeance, power and love. He thanks her, and requests that she take his life if any of these joys become tiresome. He duly falls in love with the queen, but eventually tires of her. She kisses him with such intensity that his life slowly ebbs away.

Accordingly, the overall tale is portrayed in the opening movement, which contains motto themes representing Antar and the Queen. These themes recur in the other three movements, which depict each of the three joys.

Rimsky-Korsakov cited Berlioz’s Harold in Italy and Symphonie fantastique as compositions that are both symphonies and program music, because they have symphonic development of their themes and opening movements in sonata form. Antar, on the other hand, he called “a free musical delineation of the consecutive episodes of the story.”

Overture to Egmont, Op. 84
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

“No one lends himself so well to composition as he does,” Beethoven said of Goethe. He was thrilled with the commission to supply incidental music for a new production of Goethe’s Egmont – so thrilled that he refused payment for his work.

Composition continued from October 1809 to June 1810. He wrote to Goethe about “this glorious Egmont which I read so ardently, thought over and experienced again and gave out in music – I would greatly like to have your judgment on it and your blame, too.”

Beethoven wrote ten numbers in all. The Overture was completed last. Egmont opened at the Court Theater in Vienna on May 24, 1810, but without Beethoven’s music, which was not ready until the June 15 show.

When Goethe heard the music four years later, he said, “Beethoven has followed my intentions with admirable genius.”

Goethe’s play concerns the 16th century Flemish patriot Count Egmont, his imprisonment and death at the hands of the Duke of Alba – the evil instrument of the Spanish Inquisition – and the subsequent rebellion of the people. 

Biographer Marion N. Scott writes, “Into the Egmont Overture Beethoven packed the whole scene and course of the heroic story. Perhaps the most astounding example of his compression is the passage immediately following the very softly held chords that denote the patriot Egmont’s death, when Beethoven conveys in eight bars the gathering together and uprising of a nation in revolution.”

Lyric for Strings
George Walker (b.1922)

Born in Washington, D.C., Walker studied at Oberlin College, the Curtis Institute, the American Academy in Fontainebleau, and the Eastman School of Music. His teachers were Nadia Boulanger, Clifford Curzon, Rudolf Serkin, and Gian Carlo Menotti. He has taught at the Curtis Institute, Dillard University, Rutgers University and the Peabody Conservatory.

Originally titled Lament, Lyric for Strings was written in 1941 as a memorial to his grandmother. The music was later used as the second movement of his First String Quartet (1946). Richard

Bales conducted the first performance of the orchestra version at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in 1947. In his notes to Paul Freeman’s recording of the work, Dominique-

René de Lerma writes, “In this moving work, the instruments enter one at a time, establishing the dark warmth of F-sharp major as the key. A richly expressive melody weaves its way through the strings and, after a brief interlude of cadential figures, returns and builds to an intense climax. A varied restatement of the melody is then followed by the cadential figures, providing the conclusion to a work of remarkable expressiveness and simplicity.”

Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in C minor
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
(arr. Müller-Berghaus)

Liszt wrote 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies for solo piano between 1839 and 1885. “By using the word Rhapsody,” he explained, “my intention is to indicate the fantastic-epic nature which I believe this music to possess. Each of these pieces seems to me to resemble part of a series of poems which all express national fervor, that fervor which belongs to only one race, whose spirit and innermost feelings it represents.”

The original piano version of the second Hungarian Rhapsody dates from 1847, with a dedication to Count Laszlo Teleki. When Liszt played it in 1874 in Vienna, Eduard Hanslick reviewed the performance. “This original work,” he wrote, “which begins in real gypsy style, with a free melancholy improvisation, and then goes off into a czardas-like orgy, seemed to awaken his youthful spirits. The Allegro offered many astounding effects exclusively associated with Liszt, such as the hammering with both hands on a single key and the characteristic imitation of the cimbalom. The way he reproduces the sound effects of this favorite and basic Hungarian instrument is quite inimitable…. Liszt brought the Rhapsody to a conclusion in a storm of octaves.”

Numerous transcriptions for orchestra have been done, some by Liszt himself. After one such performance, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “It sparkled, tinkled, warbled, soared, swooped and raced along so that it was impossible to resist the itch to get up and dance.” The present orchestration is by Karl Müller-Berghaus (1829-1907).

A slow introduction and a free cadenza frame the two-section form of the Hungarian national dance, the Csardas, beginning with the round dance of the men (lassú), and then a dance of pairs (friss) with a rhythm suggesting the clicking of spurs.

~ Program Notes by Charley Samson, copyright 2018