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Symphony Notes for Week Seven (Thursday)

Symphony in D Major, Hob. I:101 (“The Clock”)

Joseph Haydn

(Franz) Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau, Lower Austria, on March 31, 1732, and died in Vienna on May 31, 1809. His long and productive career spanned the end of the Baroque Era to the onset of the Romantic. Famed for his incomparable contribution to the development of the symphony and string quartet, Haydn composed an enormous amount of music in other genres, including sacred choral music. His Symphony No. 101 in D major stems from the composer’s second tour of England in 1794-1795, although the movement that gives the symphony its nickname was composed in 1793. Its first performance was in London on March 3, 1794. Its subtitle,“The Clock,” was not given by the composer, but stems from Haydn’s publisher, Johann Traeg, when the work was published in Vienna in 1798. “Hob. I:101” refers to the listing in Antony van Hoboken’s thematic catalogue. It is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.

It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Joseph Haydn in the development of two genres: the string quartet (of which he composed 68) and the symphony (106, although the 19th-century edition accounts for only 104). This account by no means belittles his many other significant contributions (i.e., piano trios and other chamber music, operas, sacred music), but his quartets and symphonies stand apart. Unlike his younger contemporary, Mozart, Haydn developed his style over a long and fruitful career. When he began writing symphonies, these pieces were rather short multimovement works composed exclusively for private patronage by his wealthy employers, the noble Hungarian Esterházy princes. According to Haydn’s initial contract with the Esterházys, all his compositions were their property. Haydn could neither arrange for performances elsewhere nor get his works published without the express permission of his patrons.

Renewal of Haydn’s contracts eventually provided him with greater artistic control over his music. In any event, the man was far too talented to be cooped up in the gilded confines of the Esterházy palaces in Eisenstadt and Fertöd (Esterhazá). By the decades of the 1780s and ’90s, Haydn came to be recognized and loved by a broader international audience that led to the commission of his six “Paris” and 12 “London” symphonies. Indeed, with a few exceptions, his Symphonies Nos. 81-104 (using the old designation) are the most frequently performed and upon which his modern reputation is largely based. As Haydn himself once remarked, “My language is understood by all.”

Symphony No. 101 is a prime example of the master’s maturity. The first of its four movements begins in mystery with an Adagio that explores darker regions of expression before opening up to the exuberance of its main body, a Presto of high spirits in a merry gigue rhythm. As is the case with so many of Haydn’s sonata-form movements, it relies less on thematic contrast than continuing development of its principal idea. One should always be on the lookout (or should one say, listen) for witty surprises of harmony and dynamics. The second movement, Andante, is the one that lends this symphony its nickname, as one can hear the ticking of the clockwork in the bassoons. Lest we get hypnotized by this clockwork, Haydn has a surprise or two hiding up his sleeve that brings drama in close proximity to tunefulness. Even more good Haydnesque humor awaits in the lively Menuetto that forms the third movement. The joke is to be discovered in the central “trio” section, where Haydn “dams up” the repeated tonic harmony, even when the solo flute’s apex demands that the chord change. Lest the performers think this an error, Haydn marked Arabic numerals from 1 to 10 over the measures to assure everyone that this is no mistake. The punch line comes a little later, but I dare not give it away! The finale is another exuberant fast movement (Vivace), bringing this delightful symphony to its joyful conclusion. It begins innocently enough with a theme that the British conductor and analyst, Donald Francis Tovey, liked to call “kittenish.” But as Tovey reminds us, young tigers are kittens, too.

“Four Iconoclastic Episodes”

Steven Mackey

Steven Mackey was born in 1956, to American parents stationed in Frankfurt, Germany. He is regarded as one of the leading composers of his generation and has composed for orchestra, chamber ensembles, dance and opera. He has received numerous awards, including a Grammy in 2012. His first musical passion was playing the electric guitar in rock bands based in northern California. He blazed a trail in the 1980s and ’90s by including the electric guitar and vernacular music influence in his concert music, and he regularly performs his own work, including two electric guitar concertos and numerous solo and chamber works. He is also active as an improvising musician and performs with his band, Big Farm. His “Four Iconoclastic Episodes” was composed in 2009 and is scored for solo violin, electric guitar and string orchestra. It received its first performance on Oct. 29, 2009, at the University Concert Hall, Limerick, Ireland, featuring the composer, Anthony Marwood and the Irish Chamber Orchestra. It was subsequently published by Boosey & Hawkes. — via stevenmackey.com

Mackey’s own program notes for “Four Iconoclastic Episodes” follows:

“Four Iconoclastic Episodes”

  1. Like An Animal
  2. Salad Days
  3. Lost in Splendor
  4. Destiny

In 2003, Anthony Marwood had the idea for a double concerto with strings for he (violin) and I (electric guitar) to play after we performed “Physical Property,” my piece for electric guitar and string quartet. Knowing that “Physical Property,” written in 1992, had brought us together, I began “Four Iconoclastic Episodes” with the idea to check in again, 17 years later, with the sensibility of that work. It is music driven by energy, motion and the joy of playing. “Four Iconoclastic Episodes” is not as irrepressibly exuberant as the earlier work and it explores, from time to time, some darker affects, but I suppose that is to be expected since instead of being 36, I’m 61, I have a bad knee, bags under my eyes, I’ve lost several people close to me and I often have an irresistible urge to lie down. Nevertheless, like the earlier work, “Four Iconoclastic Episodes” is music that lives onstage, not on the page.

“Four Iconoclastic Episodes” is also music that loves music. One of the great benefits of being a composer is the opportunity to interact with interesting music in a more active way than one can as a listener. Like my 9-month-old son, who consummates his relationship with interesting objects by putting them in his mouth, I like to swallow music that interests me in the hope that it will become part of me.

Each of the four episodes was written in response to some music that excited me. “Like An Animal” is an homage to the jazz/rock fusion music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra: changing meters, satanic harmonies, virtuosic interplay between electric guitar and violin.

“Salad Days” was written in response to some African popular music I heard on the radio one day. (I was in my car and was late for an important meeting, so I never heard what or who it was.) The music transformed plucked instruments indigenous to Africa such as the Kora (something like a Baroque lute) and Mbira (thumb piano) into exotic electric guitar music. I have in turn tried to transform my recollection (based on one hearing) of the bright staccatos and plucky arpeggios of that music into something consistent with my language.

There is a song by the band Radiohead called “Amnesiac” that begins with seemingly arrhythmic piano chords. As the other instruments enter, the context is clarified and the seemingly offbeat chords seem to “swing” comfortably in that meter. “Lost in Splendor” is similarly inscrutable at the outset and then becomes clarified by the context. In this case, the same rhythm can be interpreted in a couple of different meters and tempos. Technically speaking, “Lost in Splendor” is a chaconne, in that there is a repeating pattern that runs continuously throughout the episode. However, the subtle shifts and nuances of this multivalent rhythm slip into the background to become a fragile and restless accompaniment for a tender song without words. I doubt that the obsessive cyclical nature of the chaconne would emerge on a first or second hearing.

“Destiny,” on the other hand, puts its obsessive pattern front and center, bar by bar throughout. There is something of a big slow 12/8 Chicago Blues feel to the groove, but the way the harmony moves in a continuous one-way journey through this unchanging rhythm is in response to some of Schubert’s late chamber music that I have encountered in my “day job” teaching at Princeton University.

Each of the four episodes has its own limited material, distinct personality and there is nothing shared between them except, of course, my sensibility with regard to how music should go. Ultimately, they belong together in my mind because the particular characters and energy flows balance and contrast one another to create an odd but intrinsically expressive shape. I must say that throughout the work on the piece, I was drawn to the archetype of the four seasons: Winter/ “Like An Animal” — stormy, harsh, merciless; Spring/ “Salad Days” — playful, optimistic, innocent; Summer/ “Lost in Splendor” — warm, lush; and Autumn / “Destiny” — bittersweet.

Symphony No. 41 in C major, K. 551, “Jupiter”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born Jan. 27, 1756, in Salzburg. He died on Dec. 5, 1791, in Vienna. The Symphony No. 41, K. 551, composed in 1788, was the composer’s last effort in the genre. The date of its first performance is unknown. The “K” number used for Mozart’s works refers to the name Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who first issued the Chronological-Thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart in 1862. The Köchel catalogue has been updated and revised several times. The “Jupiter” Symphony, whose popular title was not given by the composer, is scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.

Mozart’s last three symphonies were composed over a period of six weeks during the summer of 1788 — an almost unbelievable feat, even for a composer who was famed for working at a breakneck pace. Together they represent the zenith of the 18th-century symphonic process. Their grandeur suggests that they were composed for public performance in Vienna, as opposed to any private function, and it may be that Mozart intended to use them for a series of concerts for his own benefit. Such concerts, however, never materialized, and the great triptych remained unperformed until after the composer’s death. The last of these at some point in the 19th century became identified as the “Jupiter,” although programs featuring this work often identified it as the “Symphony with the closing fugue.” The reason for this title is readily apparent upon hearing it.

The “Jupiter” Symphony is uncommonly rich, even for the melodious Mozart, in its abundance of thematic content. The imposing Allegro vivace first movement reveals at once that here is a symphony of great formal design and dignity. The form of the movement itself is not especially anomalous, but Mozart’s deft manipulation of its many-faceted themes — now martial, now operatic, now lyrical (here Mozart is quoting himself — an aria, “Un bacio di mano,” K. 541, composed to be inserted in the opera Le gelosie fortunate by Pasquale Anfossi), now brilliant — never fails to inspire wonder. Only a composer of great experience and surety could have penned this work. The first movement’s expansiveness hides its remarkable economy of means. A perfect example of this comes at the beginning of the central development section wherein Mozart effects a spectacular modulation from G major to E-flat major in the course of only four notes in the woodwinds. The Andante cantabile shows a lyricism derived from the world where Mozart stood without peer — Italian opera. Even here the composer has succeeded in outdoing himself in intensity of expression. After a superb Allegretto minuet, we arrive at the finale, Allegro molto, that stands as a beacon flashing Mozart’s supreme mastery of form. Despite the appellation given in 19th century programs, this finale is not a formal fugue. It does, however, make considerable use of fugal techniques within the context of classical sonata form. A precedent and parallel for this movement can be found in Mozart’s String Quartet in G major, K. 387, also in the finale. In both works the composer joins, as only he could, the textures of homophony (melody and accompaniment) and imitative counterpoint into a monument never exceeded by his successors. The coda (concluding section) of the finale combines no fewer than five independent themes simultaneously. Mathematically speaking, that presented Mozart with no fewer than 125 possibilities for contrapuntal manipulation. The beauty of all this lies, perhaps, in the fact that none of this sounds contrived, formal or “scientific.” But acknowledgement of the achievement makes us stand in even greater awe of Mozart’s pure genius.

David B. Levy is professor of music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He will present a pre-concert lecture on Thursday’s program at 6:45 p.m. in the Hurlbut Church sanctuary.

Tags : Joseph HaydnSteven Mackeysymphony notesWeek SevenWolfgang Amadeus Mozart
David Levy

The author David Levy

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