Stellar Finnish (Subscription #4, 2018-2019 Season)

PROGRAM NOTES by Wojciech Milewski   Franz von Suppé – Poet and Peasant (Dichter und Bauer) Overture (1846) We begin our evening with a delightful, Italian-style overture for a Viennese early operetta that features German harmonic language and Italian melodies! Mastering both schools of music through his studies with Gaetano Donizetti and Ignaz von Seyfried, a pupil of Mozart, von Suppé went on to establish himself in Vienna as a successful conductor and composer of light music for the theater. Von Suppé wrote Poet and Peasant in 1846 to accompany a production he called “a comedy with songs.” Writing this music so effectively eventually led von Suppé to establish the genre of “Viennese operetta” that today we associate mostly with the music of Johann Strauss, Jr. This particular early “operetta” (the genre wasn’t truly defined until 1860) tells the story of a broken-hearted poet as he vacations amongst the “country-folk” in the mountains. Some may be familiar with this piece from early cartoons, as it appeared in an episode of “Popeye the Sailor” in 1935, in a Disney short film from 1930, and even in early Looney Tunes cartoons. It has appeared on several film and TV soundtracks, including “The Girl on a Boat” (1962), and more recently in “Playing for Time” (1980) and “Killer of Sheep” (1978). Today, we hear the overture frequently on Pops programs around the world and particularly as a staple of the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Eve concerts.   WHAT TO LISTEN FOR: The piece opens with a slow brass chorale. Shortly after the whole orchestra joins in, we hear a lyrical cello melody (which sounds an awful lot like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” doesn’t it?) accompanied by the harp. This opening is a direct tribute to the composer’s Italian training and studies with composer Donizetti. A heavy string trill announces the fast, turbulent middle section. Now it is clear we have an overture written in a similar style to those of Rossini or Donizetti that features a slow, lyrical introduction followed by a fast middle section in a  minor key. After the famous syncopated melody, the music turns into a light-hearted waltz, and these sections appear back and forth as each tries to establish itself as the main material. The fast, syncopated music wins in the end, and eventually grows into full force in true Rossini style with a fast and energetic ending.   Hans Zimmer – Interstellar: Suite (2014) In 2012, director Christopher Nolan wrote a letter to composer Hans Zimmer  instructing him to write some musical ideas based on a story he attached to the letter that contained the plot of an upcoming movie. Zimmer was quoted as    saying that the story seemed to contain personal information about himself and his children, and spoke to him directly. In one night, Zimmer wrote a four-minute piece that featured piano and organ that explored his feelings of “what it meant to be a father.” This subsequently became the driving force behind the creation of not only the rest of the soundtrack, but also a central theme in the plot for the 2014 movie “Interstellar,” as it also portrayed a complex father-daughter relationship while simultaneously exploring feelings of isolation. It is perhaps these feelings of family and isolation that led Zimmer to utilize very different techniques in creating the soundtrack for this movie. In his own words, the music becomes more abstract and experimental, which lines up with the main premise of the film of getting further away from Earth and from what we know and understand. The score features unique usage of pipe organ, experimental uses of the human voice, extended woodwind techniques that centered around different uses of air, and unique harmonies. Zimmer’s score received high praise and numerous nominations, including for an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA Award for Original Soundtrack. The version we hear today was created specifically for a series of three concerts called “Galaxymphony” in 2017 hosted by the Danish Broadcasting Company. The series included soundtracks from various space and sci-fi movies, and featured this unique version of the original score to “Interstellar.”   Fun Fact: Unlike most soundtracks, Zimmer wrote the music prior to the shooting of the film and had the music ready for Christopher Nolan before the shooting of a scene.   WHAT TO LISTEN FOR: The opening of the piece is very “minimalist” in nature: a solo piano with repetitive rhythms and textures. A few measures in, the main theme appears in the piano; see if you can hear this same theme in the final movement of Sibelius’ 5th symphony! (It’s introduced by the French Horns.)  Shortly after the piano theme is established, the organ appears with more unique textures. Suddenly, the   music shifts dramatically with a new, driving rhythm and energy. Huge, sweeping crescendos call to mind the music of Richard Strauss and are paired with unique percussion instruments and harmonically dense brass chords/fanfares to create an unrelenting pulse. The music finally calms and the organ once again becomes a central point of the final musical build-up that drives towards the end with great intensity!     Georg Philipp Telemann – Horn Concerto in D major, TWV 51:D8 (1708-1714) An instrument that plays a central and vital role in the melodies and music of both Hans Zimmer and Jean Sibelius is the French horn, and we are excited to feature that instrument tonight with Georg Telemann’s concerto for solo “hunting horn,” or “corno da caccia.” Composed between 1708 and 1714, it is Telemann’s only piece for solo horn (out of his body of work comprising nearly three thousand pieces). Interestingly enough, Telemann wrote no fewer than six concertos for two horns and strings, which makes this solo concerto a curious stand-alone. It is certainly not a matter of inability, as Telemann knew how to write for the instrument given the advanced techniques (for their time) that he features in each of these pieces, particularly in each movement of this Concerto in D major. More specifically, the usage of chromatic notes in the upper register and use of “hand-horn” techniques, where players use their hands in the bells of the instrument to stabilize intonation, or lower/raise certain pitches. Can you see that technique being used tonight? It is a charming piece in three movements that showcases the early horn’s range and lightness in the upper registers.   Jean Sibelius – Symphony No. 5, Op. 82 (1915-1919) Our final piece of the season is a heroic symphony that encompasses the spirit and energy of a young Finland celebrating its young existence as a sovereign nation. A symbol of national identity, and critical to the success of the formation of a Finnish state, Jean Sibelius was commissioned by the Finnish government in honor of his own 50th birthday in 1915. The piece was in fact premiered by the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra with Sibelius as its conductor on his 50th birthday. However, shortly after its premiere, Sibelius began to re-write it and eventually revised it heavily before settling on a final version in 1919 that is most commonly performed today. Among the many changes in the piece was the fusion of the first and second movements. Tonight, we hear this as one movement, but originally the waltz of the second half of the first movement was a stand-alone movement. Additionally, Sibelius brightened up some of the music, while keeping many of the same devices that we recognize him for as a composer: rich melodic development, pedal bass tones that create tension, woodwind lines in intervals of 3rds or 6ths, etc. Most famous in this piece is the final movement’s “swan theme” that is introduced by the French horns. Sibelius wrote in his own diary that this theme came to him as he witnessed sixteen swans flying over him at his home one day. The theme became synonymous with Sibelius’ rich melodic writing, and was used extensively by other composers, modern bands, film scores, etc., including Beach Baby by The First Class (1974), the main song in the movie The Small One (1978), the song “Since  Yesterday” by Strawberry Switchblade, and most recently “Oh What a Life” by Play People in 2008 and in “On Melancholy Hill” by the Gorillaz.   WHAT TO LISTEN FOR: Movement 1 (Tempo moderato – Largamente – Allegro moderato – Presto – Piu presto): This movement evolves slowly and is built on the opening French horn theme; once the theme is presented, woodwinds in harmony (3rds and 6ths) present chords in a repetitive rhythm, which will become a central point of the movement. Notice that the opening of this symphony is only woodwinds; the color and timbre of Sibelius’ music is now established. Much of the remainder of the movement is based on the development of these two ideas: the French horn theme and the following rhythmic motif. Can you hear these throughout the movement? Once this initial section is complete, the woodwinds introduce a new theme with sharp, dissonant intervals and an anxious quality over tremolo strings. There is a feeling of uncertainty here as the music slowly evolves. Major sections and new keys are introduced by the timpani, which plays a vital role in this symphony through its “flams,” or informally the “da-da-DUM” rhythm; listen for this rhythm for major points in the movement. Following the evolution of all these themes, the music begins to speed up and take us immediately into the Presto, a light waltz that uses the same melodic material as the opening of the movement. This charming dance also grows and evolves and eventually rushes towards the finish of the movement with great energy.   Movement 2 (Andante mosso, quasi allegretto): The second movement also begins with woodwind chords and colors, much like the first. Shortly after a brief opening chorale, the five-note rhythmic motif that the movement is based on is introduced by the violas and cellos. The rest of the movement is a set of variations built on this five-note rhythm that plays with tempos, character and colors. We hear a light dance, a heavier Russian-style lyrical string melody, and other variations on the theme. It ends calmly.   Movement 3 (Allegro molto – Largamente assai): Completely breaking the calm character of the end of the second movement, the third movement begins with great energy and intensity and is now introduced by the strings. From the very first measures, we feel that something is being set up and something is on its way. This opening energy is taken up by different sections of the orchestra before finally giving us what we’ve been waiting for: “the swan theme”! This gorgeous and arguably most famous Sibelius melody is introduced by the French horns after a lengthy and tense development. Can you hear the similarity between this motif and the Hans Zimmer theme in the piano? Eventually the mood changes (again introduced by a timpani “flam”) and settles into a slower, typical Sibelian 3/2 meter (the second movement is in the same meter).  Eventually, from the depths rises a brass color and we reach our home key with the “swan theme” now gloriously and heroically called out by the brass. A last timpani flam drives home the final enigmatic chords, daringly spaced out with long pauses between them, until two final sledgehammer blows from the full orchestra bring the symphony to the most emphatic possible close. What a way to end the season.