As a disciple of Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian composer Anatol Liadov might have rivaled his teacher in composing wondrous orchestral music if his notoriously poor work ethic hadn’t slowed him down. (Liadov is perhaps most famous for the gig he missed out on; he was supposed to compose The Firebird, but when he faltered the young Stravinsky got his big break.) One avenue that suited Liadov very well was adapting existing material, as in the Eight Russian Folksongs that he arranged for orchestra in 1906, reduced here into a transcription for wind quintet. His well formed ideas of harmony, counterpoint and timbre enrich these folk materials into attractive art music, from a time when Russian composers were eager to clarify the national identity that set them apart from mainstream European music.
Anatol Liadov ©1906
Until the age of 12, Martinů lived in a small apartment atop a Bohemian church tower, where his father was responsible for ringing the bells. He never shed that isolated, wide-angle perspective he developed in his youth, neither during his brief time as a student at the Prague Conservatory nor in his decades of exile in France, the United States, Italy and Switzerland.
Martinů moved to Paris in 1923 to study with Albert Roussel, who exposed the Bohemian expatriate to France’s music du jour: the bright and sharpedged neoclassicism of Stravinsky and the younger “Les Six” composers, including Milhaud and Poulenc. Those influences never lost their hold on Martinů, as can be heard in one of his last compositions, the Nonet from 1959.
Not to be confused with Martinů’s incomplete Nonet from 1925 that included piano, this late Nonet celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Czech Nonet, an ensemble of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass. Martinů’s approach treats the instruments like nine soloists in a collective concerto, not unlike Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto and other works for small orchestra that reinvigorated Classical and Baroque procedures. Fans of Martinů’s vast orchestral catalog will recognize his unmistakable voice in this work that manages to sound unusually full with its nine-piece ensemble, building those spacious chords and motoric rhythms that characterize his expansive adaptation of neoclassical style.
Bohuslav Martinů ©1959
Through his own compositions and his long career teaching at the Budapest Academy of Music, Ferenc Farkas played a vital role in the musical life of his native Hungary in the middle of the twentieth century. The years he spent studying in Rome with Respighi helped Farkas infuse bright instrumental colors and reverence for historical forms into his musical language, qualities that shine through in the Serenade he wrote for the Budapest Wind Quintet in 1951. After a tidy first movement in the Classical era’s standard sonata form, and then a songlike slow movement tinged with Hungarian modes, the brisk finale takes its bouncing rhythm from an old Italian folk dance, the saltarello.
Ferenc Farkas ©1951
As a young man, Dvořák’s musical career involved him in all manner of music-making in Prague: He accompanied church services from the organ, played viola in a dance band and in the local opera orchestra, taught piano lessons, and kept up his composing on the side. He might have spent the rest of his life as a cash-strapped freelance musician had it not been for the intervention of a most influential champion, Johannes Brahms, who set Dvořák up with his publisher.
Dvořák composed the Serenade for Winds in 1878, the same year his Slavonic Dances became his first international hit. As in his previous Serenade for Strings from 1875, the title referenced those light-hearted works from Mozart’s time that functioned as entertainment at evening gatherings.
Dvořák’s Serenade opens with march-like music, a fitting tribute to the outdoor origins of the wind ensemble, which traditionally entered and exited a performance playing a march. The minuet that follows is full of playful echoes and melodic counter-lines, making the most of a quick descending motive in the outer sections and an even quicker shaking gesture in the contrasting trio section.
The third movement, marked Andante con moto (At a walking pace, with motion), rolls out beautiful, patient melodies over a lively accompaniment. Operating in the middle ground for most of the movement, the three horns almost steal the show with their infectious offbeats and regal commentaries. The finale features the most overtly “Slavonic” music of the Serenade, showing off Dvořák’s calling card in the early stages of his international career. A momentary return to the opening march music rounds out the form of the Serenade and clears the way for a joyous culmination in D major.
Aaron Grad ©2016
About This Program
The technically skilled and expressive wind section of the SPCO is featured in large chamber works by Central and Eastern European composers, including Bohuslav Martinů, Farenc Farkas and Anatoly Liadov. The program is capped off by Dvořák’s stunning Serenade for Winds, displaying the Czech composer’s skill in melding stately classical melodies with the folk music of Moravia and Bohemia while successfully employing the varied and fascinating timbres of the wind section.