Program Notes
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Program Notes - Winter Concert

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Indra, Op. 13 (1903)
Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

The son of a successful pianist and organist, young Gustav suffered from asthma and neuritis and did not have the stamina to become a concert pianist himself. So he studied composition at the Royal College of Music, writing pieces first influenced by Grieg, Dvořák, and most notably Wagner, whose works the young Holst never missed when performed at Covent Garden. It was there that Holst made the acquaintance of fellow student Ralph Vaughan Williams, with whom he forged a lifelong friendship. When in 1903 Vaughan Williams began collecting English folk songs, Holst took them up as well, finding a source of inspiration that transformed his music into a more "English" style, and that led him to discover his own straightforward idiom. At the beginning of the 20th century, English music had become somewhat stilted, composers still requiring a "bridge passage" between one musical idea and the next. Holst's goal was to speak as directly as possible through his music. Composers such as Benjamin Britten acknowledged a lasting debt to Holst's directness of expression.

Holst developed his interest in Indian philosophy at the turn of the twentieth-century. Scholars suggest that this was perhaps through his father's second wife who was a theosophist. This interest resulted in a number of important works including the well-known songs from the Rig Veda, the operas Savitri and Sita and the present work Indra, Symphonic Poem, Op. 13.

This impressive tone-poem was composed in 1903 and is based on the legend of the Indian god of the heavens, of rain and storm (Indra) and his conflict with the demon Vritra. Vritra had been brought to life by the Brahman Tvashtri to avenge the death of his son. The legend relates how the demon was eventually defeated by Indra with the help of Vishnu. The drought that had been caused by Vritra is finally ended - and as the rain falls the people rejoice.

What is most remarkable about this work is the sheer brilliance of the orchestration. Imogen Holst noted the contrasts between the quieter sections and the more 'bombastic' music. It is a score that was certainly ahead of its time - at least in British music. It can be listened to without reference to the myth and can be seen as a contrast between cool, impressionistic music and aggressive passages that are more Wagnerian or perhaps Straussian than the music that Holst would come to write in later years. It is a stunning work that does not deserve its obscurity. [Excerpts from Barbara Heninger and John France, edited and adapted by TB]


Fantasía para un gentilhombre (1954)
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999

The music of Joaquin Rodrigo is steeped in the music and culture of his native Spain, including Baroque music of the early Spanish church as well as folk melodies and traditional Spanish folk instruments, especially the guitar. Born in Sagunto, Valencia, in 1901, Rodrigo was blinded at the age of three by diphtheria, which he said turned him early to a life of music. After winning early honors at the Conservatoire in Valencia, he studied in Paris with Paul Dukas at the École Normale de Musique, adding French influences to his style. He spent the Spanish Civil War exiled in Paris, but returned to Spain in 1939 and became the leading composer of his country. He is best known for his concerti, especially the haunting Concierto de Aranjuéz for guitar.

The Fantasia para un gentilhombre (Fantasia for a Gentleman) was written in 1954 for Andrés Segovia, the "gentleman" of the title. The thematic elements are based on short works by a 17th-century Spanish baroque guitarist, Gaspar Sanz, who wrote the first Instruction Book of Music for Spanish Guitar in 1674. The melodies compiled by Sanz were based on still older, traditional dance tunes. Rodrigo expanded on these short melodies, in some cases completing themes from the older composer's original sketches, and said he orchestrated the work to produce a sound in the "manner of strong spices that were so popular in the victuals of the period." Segovia premiered the work in 1958 with the San Francisco Symphony.

The first movement, Villano y Ricercare, opens with the villano, a 17th-century dance with song popular in both Spain and Italy. The violins state the main theme and the solo violin elaborates, then the soloist leads the fugue of the ricercare, while various sections of the ensemble follow. Throughout the interweaving of the fugal theme, the orchestration never overwhelms the guitar.

Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballería de Nápoles combines the slow, lilting dance of the españoleta with a fanfare for, as the title states, the cavalry of Naples, which was under Spanish rule in Sanz's time. The brisk fanfare includes a col legno section for the strings, where the players use the wooden side of the bow against the string.

The fast, rhythmic Danza de las Hachas is a "hatchet dance" meant to be performed with torches. Soloist and orchestra trade roles, each accompanying and then leading the dance.

The lively Canario is a folk dance from the Canary Islands in 6/8 time, in which orchestra and soloist compete in brilliant figures that grow in intensity until the soloist breaks free in a virtuosic cadenza. [Notes by Barbara Heninger, edited and adapted by CJ]


Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, Op. 26 (1867)
Max Bruch (1838-1920)

Although he was born five years after Johannes Brahms, Max Bruch hit his stride much sooner. At eleven he was writing chamber music; in 1852, at the age of fourteen, he tossed off his first symphony. (Brahms was forty-two when he finished his, after nearly a quarter century of intermittent work.) Bruch's first violin concerto was begun in 1864 and first performed, to considerable acclaim, in 1868 - before A German Requiem put Brahms on the map (and more than a decade before his own celebrated violin concerto). The irony of Bruch's career - particularly in light of the current admiration for art that is, above all, accessible-is that by writing music to please the audience of his day, Bruch lost the interest of succeeding generations.

The G minor violin concerto, however, has withstood time, and it makes a most persuasive case for the composer. Soloists keep concertos before the public, and violinists have always loved to play this piece. Bruch studied violin for several years, and he wrote for the instrument with enormous affection and skill.

Bruch had difficulty writing this concerto, his first major work. There was even a public performance of a preliminary version, but Bruch was dissatisfied. The celebrated violinist Joseph Joachim offered important suggestions (he would later play the same role in the creation of Brahms's concerto), and Bruch was smart enough to take his advice. When the concerto was presented in its final form in 1868, Joachim was the soloist (Bruch also dedicated the score to him).

Bruch planned to call the concerto a fantasy, which helps to explain the disposition of the three movements. The first is a prelude in title and mood, rather than the weightiest movement of the work. Even though the violinist works as hard as in any of the great virtuoso concertos, and the dialogue between solo and orchestra is heated and extensive, the tone is anticipatory. When, without a pause, we reach the slow movement, we find the heart of the concerto: a rich, wonderfully lyrical expanse of music that shows Bruch at his best and offers melodies custom-made for the violin. The finale begins in quiet suspense, broken by the entrance of the violin with a hearty dance tune and more fireworks. [Excerpts from notes by Phillip Huscher]


Czardas (1904)
Vittorio Monti (1869-1922)

Monti, an Italian born in Naples, composed ballets, operettas, pantomimes, as well as instrumental, vocal and violin pieces. Today, Monti is best remembered for writing Czardas. Monti studied violin at the conservatory in San Pietro at Majella, and composition with Paolo Serrao. He went to Paris in 1886 and became the concertmaster in the Lamoureux Orchestra. Later, he became a conductor in Paris.

The Czardas (Csárdás) is a representative Hungarian dance tune originating from the popular music that was danced in the csárda, which is a tavern or inn in farming villages. The present piece consists of two sections; a slow lassü section and a fast friss (literally "fresh") section, creating a piece rich in flavor with equal portions of lyricism and technical brilliance.

Hungarian folk music has made itself felt in the world of classical music. Great composers such as Haydn, Beethoven, Liszt, Dvořák, Brahms and Bartok have used the unusual rhythms, scales, and harmonies, in their compositions, often in final movements. The distinctive soulfulness of the music, a yearning quality, even a pathos, has intrigued and inspired great musical minds for more than 200 years. It's interesting that most gypsy orchestras know and play the Czardas of Monti, a Neapolitan composer. Moreover, these dances are singularly the cause of Monti's fame. [Notes by Horace Work and Jiro Kondo adapted and edited by CJ]