Early in his career, Beethoven shied away from Joseph Haydn’s two signature genres: the symphony and the string quartet. Beethoven finally wrote his first quartets, a set of six grouped as Opus 18, between 1798 and 1800. As for symphonies, Beethoven made an attempt in 1795-96 (after hearing Haydn’s London symphonies), but he did not complete one until 1800. The work had its first performance on April 2 on Beethoven’s first benefit concert at the Burgtheater, the same venue where Mozart had presented his own popular concert series. Besides the First Symphony, Beethoven offered his Septet (Opus 20), a Mozart symphony, excerpts from Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, a piano concerto, and some improvisations from the keyboard.
Beethoven’s First Symphony honors the Viennese tradition of Haydn and Mozart, and yet it also contains a germ of independence. The most striking departure comes in the very first sonority, an unstable chord that resolves away from the home key. It cycles back to the proper tonal center of C major only after a drawn-out, tantalizing introduction. When the main theme enters in the new Allegro con brio tempo, it plays with a figure that repeatedly confirms the proper home key, its rise (which spans the interval of a perfect fourth, from G to C) answering the opening move that traveled the same harmonic distance (from C to F, also a perfect fourth).
In a sign of the interconnectivity that distinguishes all of Beethoven’s symphonies, the second movement starts with the same ascending interval of a perfect fourth—once again C to F—which in this case ushers in the new keynote. A distinguishing characteristic of this slow movement is its rich and independent writing for winds, with a scoring that includes trumpets and timpani.
The third movement, though labeled a minuet, is closer in spirit to the wild scherzos of the later symphonies. The contrasting trio section reveals Beethoven’s sense of humor, with scampering runs in the strings popping up between chorale phrases in the woodwinds. The finale brings this fledgling symphony full circle, with a slow introduction setting up a tonal resolution that solves the riddle posed by the symphony’s opening chords. The violins test an ascending scale, adding a note at a time; when they reach the top of the octave, they launch a bright and hearty valediction.
Aaron Grad ©2014
It seems I am always making memorials, or trying to process tragedy through my writing. Falling Dream (2001) is a musical fantasy on the devastating film I saw of a couple leaping hand in hand from one of the burning towers of 9/11; Clarinet Concerto (2008) was written after seeing a documentary on mourning families at the grave sites of the recently fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the case of How Wild the Sea, I was compelled by news footage of an elderly Japanese man sitting helpless on the rooftop of his house as it is carried away by the powerful tsunami tide of 2011. His wife had been swept under, minutes before. I was reminded of the earthquake of 1995 that destroyed much of Kobe, a city I visited in 1997 for the Japanese premiere of my Marimba Concerto. The efficiency and speed at which the city had been rebuilt was remarkable.
The solo string quartet opens the work with a four-voiced texture of rising arpeggios and falling scales. The orchestra quickly washes over the quartet like a sonic wave, from which the quartet emerges, only to be engulfed once again. For the most part, the quartet acts as a protagonist in this movement, the orchestra as the force of nature.
The second movement (Saisei = “rebirth” in Japanese) recalls the toccata-like final section of my trio And Legions Will Rise, a work premiered in Kobe in 2003. For me, this music has always evoked resiliency, courage, the summoning of fortitude. The oppositional dichotomy between solo quartet and orchestra has dissolved in this final movement, and the two often cooperate in melodic and rhythmic counterpoint, spinning forth with neo-Baroque energy.
How Wild the Sea is dedicated in warm friendship to the Miró Quartet. It was commissioned by Texas Performing Arts at The University of Texas, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Society, City Music Cleveland Chamber Orchestra, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus and the Naples Philharmonic. Additional support was provided to Texas Performing Arts by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The premier took place on December 4, 2013 with the Miró Quartet and The University of Texas Symphony Orchestra led by Gerhardt Zimmerman.
Kevin Puts ©2014
Steven Schick and I were having dinner together. I was just beginning work on a large-scale piece for the Seattle Symphony. So when Steve asked me if I might be interested in composing a new piece for The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, I must have hesitated.
Deftly, Steve asked me to tell him a little about the Seattle piece.
I went on at length about the music I’d begun to imagine, finally concluding:
“It’s called Become Ocean. The title comes from a poem that John Cage wrote in honor of Lou Harrison.”
Cage observed that the breadth and variety of Harrison’s music make it “resemble a river in delta.” He concluded that:
LiStening to it we becOme oceaN.
“So you’re already composing a symphonic ocean,” Steve said. “Maybe for a smaller orchestra you could go ahead and compose that river in delta.”
Steve had me, and I knew it. Within a week I’d begun work on Become River.
From a single high descending line, this music gradually expands into a delta of melodic streams flowing toward the depths.
I now imagine this river and its related ocean, as part of a larger series of pieces encompassing desert, mountain, tundra, and perhaps other landscapes and waterscapes.
John Luther Adams ©2013
Gioachino Rossini was the greatest opera composer of his generation. From his first farsa comica written at age eighteen to his crowning work for the stage, William Tell, he dashed off an astounding 39 operas in nineteen years. Then, at the height of his fame and creative powers, Rossini withdrew almost entirely from composing, never writing another opera in his remaining forty years.
Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) takes its characters from the same trilogy by the French playwright Beaumarchais that also inspired Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In this first installment of the comedic trilogy, the mischievous barber, Figaro, helps the wealthy Count of Almaviva scheme to win over a beautiful girl, Rosina, who is kept cloistered in her guardian’s house.
For the overture, Rossini recycled music that he had used in two previous operas, both tragedies. The opening section, in a mild Andante maestoso tempo, sets the stage with conversational exchanges and a seductive melody over guitar-like plucks. The Allegro vivo body of the Overture introduces an unforgettable E-minor melody, beginning with five quick notes, the last two rising and falling a half-step in a nervous twitter. It is a testament to the universal appeal of Rossini’s themes that the overture, almost entirely intact, served as the foundation of The Rabbit of Seville, a Warner Bros. cartoon from 1950 that introduced opera to new generations of music lovers.
Aaron Grad ©2014
About This Program
Please note: The concert on Friday morning, April 4 at 10:30am will go on as scheduled. Please use caution when traveling and parking this morning.
COMPOSER CONVERSATION SERIES
Composer John Luther Adams, featured on this program, will join us for a Composer Conversation at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in Saint Paul on Wednesday, April 2 at 7:00pm. Composer Conversation Series events are FREE but reservations are required. More at thespco.org/composer-conversation-series.