PROGRAM NOTES by Wojciech Milewski
Symphonic Suite from “The Lord of the Rings” by Howard Shore, arr. John Whitney
Howard Shore is surely one of the most versatile composers of our time. He has written music for late-night television shows such as “Saturday Night Live,” horror movies including “Silence of the Lambs,” and even comedies such as “Big” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” However, arguably his most prominent and notable achievement is the score and music to the epic cinematic trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.” Shore’s music completely captures the characters, moods and gives us an extremely clear depiction of each part of Peter Jackson’s setting of Middle Earth. Ranging from the Celtic-inspired Shire and Hobbiton, to the medieval, gothic styles of Mordor, to even the folk, nomadic aspects of the Mongolian- and Scottish-inspired Rohan, Shore characterizes each with its own unique music and instruments, and fuses them all together in a seemingly operatic way using leitmotifs made famous by Wagner and John Williams. The music becomes an essential element in telling the story and cannot be separated from it – it is a journey of not only the Ring, but also of Middle Earth itself. Shore captures this throughout the trilogy, constantly evolving his themes and material to match the trajectory of the story and of the settings themselves. For this reason, the score is a unique accomplishment in the world of film scoring and its homage to rustic, folk and pastoral elements have given it a perfect fit to our program tonight.
Highlights include: “The Fellowship Theme,” “The Prophecy,” “Concerning Hobbits,” “Three is Company,” “In Dreams,” “Shortcut to Mushroom,” “A Knife in the Dark,” “Argonath,” “The Breaking of the Fellowship,” and a final reprise of “In Dreams” with solo voice.
Pineland Breeze by Rene Orth (2018)
“When Maestro Milewski first approached me about writing for the Summerville Orchestra, he mentioned that this would be the orchestra’s first commission. I wanted very much to write something specifically for the Summerville community. In my research about the city, I found that Summerville was once referred to as “Pineland Village.” The town’s official motto and seal read “Sacra Pinus Esto” (The Pine is Sacred), and throughout its history it has been thought of as a place for healing because of these pines.
As the piece premieres in early February, I thought about how awfully cold and sad Philadelphia (where I now reside) is, and how a visit to Summerville could be healing (at least to some chapped lips!) for me. I thought about how much I love pine trees – the sight, the smell, and the feeling of a soft breeze rustling through the pine needles. I imagined this same breeze to go on a small adventure, beginning at the edge of the forest and coming upon grander and grander trees, through a majestic forest – all before it softly fades away, leaving us with a sense of contentment and peace.” – Rene Orth
We are honored to have Rene Orth here for the world premiere of Pineland Breeze.
Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” Op. 68
“I love a tree more than a man.” These words spoken by Ludwig van Beethoven will become perfectly clear to us upon hearing tonight’s concert-ending symphony. Clearly a piece that had a lot of personal meaning to the composer, it complements our other selections on tonight’s program perfectly in the way it depicts nature. In Beethoven’s own words, the piece was a “recollection of life in the country,” and he made sure to leave no doubt to that as he gave each movement its own title – which is something he only ever did with the 6th symphony. Today, we remember Beethoven’s 1808 symphony as one of the first instances of programmatic symphonic music ever written, and certainly one of the most famous, but it wasn’t the first of its kind. That position is held by Justin Heinrich Knecht’s 1784 “Le portrait musical de la nature.” (“A Musical Portrait of Nature”) The two symphonies actually share many commonalities in their structure and material: both are in five movements, and both follow the same trajectory through movements of: quiet pastoral life –> storm –> movement of general thanksgiving once the storm passes. Additionally, their instrumentation is similar, and most curiously the same theme (in the exact same key) appears at the beginning of Knecht’s 2nd movement and Beethoven’s 5th movement. Both of these pieces follow the examples set forth in the Baroque/Classical period when composers would write about nature or depictions of nature, i.e. Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” the pastoral movements of Handel’s “Messiah,” Haydn’s two oratorios “The Creation” and “The Seasons,” etc. However, Beethoven’s symphony really began to take us in a new direction entirely. He writes in his own score of the “Pastoral” that this piece is “more an expression of feeling than painting.” It is phrases like these that have solidified Beethoven’s position as the transitionary figure between the Classical and Romantic eras. The phrase has a very Romantic era ideal and the affect of the piece certainly is one of personal experience and memory, yet the way it is written is so traditional in form, structure, instrumentation and development that we cannot see it as anything other than Classical. An evocation of personal emotion and memory about nature, a literal representation of natural events and birds, and descriptive music in some movements; all of these lead us to believe Beethoven strove for something very new in his symphony, which he then achieved by giving us this masterpiece, and subsequently why we probably have never heard of Knecht’s own version! It is probably no coincidence that this symphony was written around the exact same time as his earth-shattering Symphony No. 5, and also unsurprising is the fact that these were premiered on the same exact concert in December 1808 in Vienna. In fact, what is curious is that the “Pastoral” Symphony was actually premiered first on the program and was even labeled “Symphony No. 5” in its early days. This is quite intriguing if we compare the two symphonies side by side. They are a perfect complement to one another: the opening of the 5th symphony is violent, turbulent and constantly changing; the opening of the 6th is gentle, docile, static, and doesn’t seem to have any desire to make any profound statements. Similarly, although both final movements represent a glorious thanksgiving and celebration in overcoming obstacles and struggles, they go about it in very different ways. The 5th symphony is a glorious, triumphant grandiose march that features trombones and regal textures, yet the ending of the 6th symphony is a very docile and gentle shepherd’s song; a different way entirely to give praise. Apart from this, the two symphonies share much in common, including forms of specific movements and endless motific development, but also the usage of new instruments. Both symphonies were the first in symphonic music to utilize new instruments: the piccolo and trombones. It was clear that Beethoven was already envisioning new sounds and new timbres that would inspire the development and expansion of instruments of the orchestra by composers of the Romantic era. These new colors helped Beethoven produce new textures and layers that spoke directly to his needs to illustrate the programmatic elements in this symphony. The piece was extremely well received, and has cemented its place in not only the symphonic repertoire, but also in pop culture as well by appearing in numerous films, including Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940) and Soylent Green (1973). Apart from its use in films, it has been transcribed as a suite of jazz music in the 1940s, and most recently was used by the United States Post Office in the 2018 holiday season in their TV commercials. Another way it’s finding a new home is in the realm of dance and rock and roll, as the symphony’s themes have been re-mixed by DJ Herax into a unique dance song, and parts of the first movement have been quoted by numerous rock n’ roll groups.
WHAT TO LISTEN FOR (5 movements):
1. Awakening of happy feelings upon arriving in the country. A placid, cheerful opening gives us an immediate sense of calm and peace. The harmonies don’t change often, and they remain relatively static throughout the movement. In fact, in the development, we stay in the key of B-flat for 50 measures! The opening motifs and themes are developed. Rarely is there a ff moment or crashing sound, which is the polar opposite to its counterpart, the 5th Symphony’s 1st movement. Nice and calm; it really sets us up for a peaceful trip to the country and uses woodwinds extensively.
2. Scene by the brook. A very gentle cascade of continuous notes in the lower strings give us the feeling of slowly moving water. Over the top of this texture, the violins introduce a theme that takes many measures to grow and fully say what it wants to. This time is then extensively repeated and developed. It all seems very improvised and unhurried. The melodies repeat, things don’t change often, and we seemingly hear a lot of the same things here; it’s as if we are simply recalling the melodies that make us the happiest. The movement begins with a brook (in the strings) and ends with an interruption at the very end by three birds. The bird-calls are unmistakable and in the woodwinds. We hear a nightingale (flute), a quail (oboe), and a cuckoo (clarinet). These birds almost have the effect of a wake-up call…we’ve been dreaming and reminiscing and singing to ourselves only to be awoken by the birds. This is a very gentle interruption by nature, but foreshadows another interruption to come…
3. Merry gathering of country folk. A fun, lively dance completely changes the mood and pace of this symphony and injects a different life into it! The trio section in this scherzo (two parts – minuet and trio prior to Beethoven and late Mozart; later scherzo minuet and trio) is a lively dance in 2/4. This is quite rare to switch meters and styles in the middle of a scherzo, and another Beethovenian innovation. Can you hear the change of character in the middle of this short movement? The movement is cut short by a sudden rumbling…
4. Thunder, storm. The dance ends abruptly and we hear the sound of light raindrops moving in quickly in the second violins. It’s a seamless and instant transition – a truly operatic moment. We sense something ominous when the movement begins. All of a sudden in the span of less than a page we are completely shocked by the tremendous power of thunder! We welcome new instruments that have been silent up to this point to help us with that: the trombones, trumpets, and timpani (with the timpani literally representing thunder). The piccolo also joins us specifically to illustrate the whistle of the lightning in the storm. Since this symphony premiered first on that night, this is technically the first time trombones were heard in a symphony! We end with a ten-measure chorale as the storm seems to drift away and passes; an almost undoubtedly religious moment that leads us directly into the 5th movement through the final, rising flute melody.
5. Shepherd’s Song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm. Once the storm passes, we hear the shepherd’s song introduced in the clarinet and horn to signal the beginning of the final movement. This leads to the shepherd’s theme in the violins, which is then developed and repeated throughout this gorgeous, serene fifth movement. It bears a striking resemblance to parts of the second movement of the 5th symphony. It is also a perfect bookend to the energy of the “Pastoral” symphony and mirrors the glorious, majestic and thankful tone of the final movement of the 5th Symphony, yet with a different tone completely. Through both symphonies we have a feeling of resolution and victory over obstacles, yet we are seemingly more at peace when we hear and take in the final chords of the 6th symphony. We cannot help but smile and feel happy, yet accomplished and fulfilled with the day’s activities; just as Beethoven intended.