As a student at the Budapest Academy in his native Hungary, Bartok was educated in mainstream German and Austrian styles, and he graduated in 1903 writing music heavily influenced by Wagner and Strauss. The next year, while at a resort in what is now Slovakia, Bartok was so captivated by the singing he overheard from a Transylvanian-born maid that it launched him on one of the central pursuits of his life: to record and transcribe as many regional folksongs as he could find. Bartok became a pioneering scholar in the field of ethnomusicology, and over time he supervised the collection of some 14,000 distinct melodies, many of which he recorded himself using primitive wax cylinders.
In works like the Romanian Folk Dances from 1915, Bartok did not try to sanitize the authentic folk melodies by adding generic Western harmonies, nor did he pretend that his transcriptions for concert instruments would precisely recreate the nuanced inflections he captured on recording. Instead he developed a personal approach to these folksong arrangements that wrapped them in sparse and surprising accompaniments, blurring the line between composition and arrangement.
Aaron Grad ©2019
Mozart spent much of his youth traveling through Europe and performing in circumstances arranged by his enterprising father, Leopold. Their last major trip together took them through Italy for over a year, until they returned to Salzburg in December of 1771. This period marked a turning point for Mozart, for at fifteen he was getting a little old to be paraded around by his father as a child prodigy. During the next years in Salzburg, despite tensions with a new Archbishop (who controlled the court’s musicians) and an uncertain professional future, Mozart composed mountains of music, and in the process he matured from a precocious youth to the genius we now recognize.
About half of Mozart’s symphonies dated from the period between 1771 and 1774, including the Symphony No. 29 in A that he wrote near the end of that surge, at the age of eighteen. To begin the Allegro moderato first movement, a distinctive theme built around downward leaping octaves glides over a gentle chorale accompaniment at a piano dynamic. As might be expected, this material repeats at a firm forte dynamic, but the surprise is that it adds a layer of contrapuntal complexity, with the low strings chasing the violins on the same material but delayed by two beats. This heightened focus on layering and counterpoint runs throughout the symphony, as in the Andante second movement, which waits only four measures before adding a bouncing countermelody to the dignified violin theme.
After the slow movement’s hush of muted strings, the Minuet turns more playful, incorporating dramatic dynamic changes and tongue-in-cheek fanfares. To close the symphony, the Allegro con spirito finale re-integrates ideas from the opening movement, including a new theme constructed from octave leaps. Call-and-response phrases and melodic imitation add to the work’s abundance of sophisticated counterpoint, signaling a new summit in Mozart’s symphonic craft.
Aaron Grad ©2019
I’ve been smitten with the Enesco Octet since the first time I performed it and I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to arrange for the SPCO — with the composer’s consent even! Georges Enesco himself wrote, “This work can be played with a full string orchestra on condition that certain singing parts be entrusted to soloists.” It’s exciting to imagine how we will be sculpting our own version of this vast magnificent work. I can imagine the entire crowd being swept away (performers included) once we reach the rousing Finale!
Maureen Nelson ©
About This Program
For all of Mozart’s brilliance, there may be nothing more awe-inspiring than this sparkling symphony that he composed at eighteen, when the boy wonder transformed into a superhuman conduit for order and beauty in its purest form. Romania’s George Enescu also attained immortality at eighteen with his expansive Octet, a masterful score of symphonic dimensions that becomes even grander with full string sections. Bartók’s artful transcriptions attune your ears to Romania’s alluring folk melodies.