According to Greek lore, the world started with Chaos, the primeval void. From this, life’s foundations took root and grew with reckless abandon. Embrace the spontaneity with Aguila’s Caribeña swaying you to and fro with its upbeat, spicy sound. Then, pianist Alexander Korsantia embraces order and meaning during our sparkling rendition of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. Finally, life bursts forward with Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 leaving the audience basking in the glow of the new season.
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3
Schumann: Symphony No. 4
Pianist, Alexander Korsantia
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op. 120
BORN: June 8, 1810, in Zwickau, Saxony
DIED: July 29, 1856, in Endenich, near Bonn
WORK COMPOSED: Original version: 1841, Final version: 1851
WORLD PREMIERE: Original version: December 6, 1841, in Leipzig, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Ferdinand David conducting; Final version: December 30, 1852, in Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf Civic Orchestra, Schumann conducting
Composers throughout music’s historical periods have written symphonies and virtually all of them have subscribed to the established form: first movement in sonata allegro form (theme, second theme, development, recapitulation); the second movement is normally andante (slower); the third movement is usually a scherzo or minuet (most likely in ¾ time); and the fourth movement is usually a rondo or something up-tempo. Leonard Bernstein noted that before Schumann the symphony “was really a suite of separate movements which complemented each other but could be (and occasionally were) played and enjoyed in isolation.” Schumann once wrote that compositions in larger forms should possess a “historical dimension.” He may have been reflecting on Beethoven’s great Symphony No. 9 and thinking of how he (and future composers) might further develop the symphonic form. Instead of separate movements that barely belong together, the piece should unfold a coherent narrative from start to finish, reflecting on its own past and driving forward to its end. In a few years Franz Liszt would develop this idea into the symphonic tone poem, which was perfected by Richard Strauss decades later. However, in his Fourth symphony, Schumann himself displays for us exactly what he meant. By basing the symphony on only a couple of main themes and with instructions to the conductor to perform all movements without pause in between, he effectively changed the preconceptions of the symphonic form.
When the original version of the D minor symphony was written in 1841, Schumann had been composing mostly for solo piano and he had done very little composing for large ensembles. It was also a time of transition historically. Beethoven had died only fourteen years prior to this in 1827 and the transition was on from the Classical to the Romantic Period. After Beethoven, composers were challenged to develop lyrical material into dynamic forms and Schumann turned to Schubert as a model. In the Spring symphony Schumann takes a little bit of Schubert, adds some Beethoven and finishes it off with his own flourishing pianistic touches to create an atmosphere that evokes the rebirth of spring. Schumann’s First symphony Spring was extremely popular and challenged the border between absolute (Classical) and program (Romantic) music. Following that success Schumann most likely expected similar results if he applied the same recipe. Unfortunately the D minor symphony was not as wildly popular as the Spring symphony had been when it was premiered at the end of March 1841 and the inability to find a publisher for it probably influenced his decision to set the work aside for the time being.
In 1850 Schumann accepted the post of music director in Düsseldorf and although he was a great composer, he was not as capable on the podium. He quickly earned the opposition of the musicians and he would finally be relieved of this position by the end of 1853. During the first year in Düsseldorf, he composed his Third symphony, known as the Rhenish, (one of his most popular works) and also completed his Cello Concerto, Op. 129. Because of the great success of the Rhenish symphony, Schumann felt confident enough to return to and fix his D minor symphony. The original version of his D minor symphony was composed shortly after his wedding in 1840 to Clara Wieck and the joyous atmosphere it evokes gives us a sense of how he felt after marrying his beloved. Why change the D minor symphony at all? An argument might be that as Schumann grew as a composer, he deliberately sought to create a more rich and full-bodied sound that would match his musical ideas. While the original version is “lighter and more transparent in texture” than the revised (1851) version, the revisions Schumann made resulted in a more somber mood that has been interpreted as a sign of Schumann’s depression and deteriorating mental state. The major changes from the original version are a thickening of texture and a reworking of the transitions between the movements so the work can be performed without pauses in between.
Johannes Brahms showed up unannounced at the Schumann household in September 1853 with a letter of introduction from their friend, violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). Robert and Clara were very impressed with his music and he became a close family friend. Brahms greatly preferred the original version of the D minor symphony saying “everything is so absolutely natural… no harsh colors, no forced effects.” Clara insisted that the revised version of 1851, which is heavier and more regal, was the better one. Despite Clara’s strenuous objections, Brahms had the original version published in 1891. This nearly cost him his lifelong friendship with Clara as she considered his actions a betrayal of her husband’s intentions. (For your own comparison, John Eliot Gardiner has recorded both versions with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique on the Deutsche Grammophon label). Not only did Schumann think he could make his symphony better; the Fourth has become victim to a number of conductors making changes here and there thinking that the composer was not the best orchestrator and that ‘mistakes’ needed to be corrected. One of the most famous conductors (and composers) to edit the Fourth was Gustav Mahler and it is his version that is being performed at this concert. Although he made 466 changes to the score he was very restrained in his editing, most involving dynamics to help build more imposing climaxes.
Schumann suffered from mental disorders, which first manifested in 1833. He complained at times of hearing an ‘A’ one octave above the tuning note ‘A’, a sign of tinnitus, which was to become progressively worse over the years. It was not much more than a year after the premiere of the Fourth Symphony that Schumann would attempt suicide by jumping into the Rhine River from a bridge on February 27, 1854. After being rescued and brought home he asked that he be taken to an asylum for the insane where he would live until his death on July 29, 1856. He was not allowed to see Clara until only two days before his death. After his death Clara devoted herself to the performance and interpretation of his works until her death on May 20, 1896.
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major, Op. 26
BORN: April 27, 1891, in Sontsovka, Ukraine
DIED: March 5, 1953, in Moscow
WORK COMPOSED: 1921 (First sketches date to 1916-17)
WORLD PREMIERE: December 16, 1921, in Chicago; Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Prokofiev, soloist; Frederick Stock conducting
Prokofiev wrote in his autobiography that the 1918 February Revolution took him by surprise and that he “welcomed it joyfully.” He viewed it as a radical break with tradition and was genuinely enthusiastic about it, imagining the artistic shape he could give to the Revolution through his music. Like so many other citizens, he wanted to be useful. His comments about the Revolution are more understandable when we realize that his autobiography was written during the reign of Stalin; he was acting out of self-preservation. In fact, Prokofiev left Petrograd on May 7, 1918, and made his way through Siberia to Vladivostok and then to Tokyo, finally arriving in New York in September 1918.
The American public had already been introduced to Rachmaninoff in 1909 and he also returned to America after the Revolution about the same time as Prokofiev. The only difference was that Rachmaninoff had already been contracted for a number of concerts before his arrival. Prokofiev had no contracts to perform anywhere so he first tried to make his name as an interpreter of his own works. His first piano recital in New York on November 29, 1918, was seen as a success, but his manager suggested that he might also program other composers’ works which might be more accessible to the audience. Over the next few years Prokofiev made a name for himself and also established connections that would later prove fruitful in the performances of his new compositions, including his Piano Concerto No. 3.
Prokofiev wrote a total of five piano concertos. The first two were written between 1912 and 1913 while he was continuing his studies at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. Neither of those concertos was received well. The final two concertos were composed between 1931 and 1932. The fourth concerto was written for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right hand in World War I (Ravel also composed his Concerto for the Left Hand for Wittgenstein in 1930); however Wittgenstein claimed to not understand the inner logic of the work and therefore never performed it. The fifth concerto was not well received when it was premiered in Berlin in 1932.
Shortly after the Parisian premiere of his Scythian Suite, Prokofiev spent the summer of 1921 at St. Brevin-les-Pins in Brittany, where he completed his Third Piano Concerto. It opens with solo clarinet playing the main theme, almost in a retrospective nod to Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. The moment is fleeting as we are soon caught up in an energetic, exuberant movement that bursts with brilliance and complex rhythms. One characteristic of Prokofiev’s compositional style is beginning a melody with one instrument, having another instrument pick it up in mid-stream and finishing it with yet another instrument. Of course he is not the first, nor will he be the last, to utilize this technique, but it is quite prevalent in his compositions and we hear it frequently in this concerto.
The second theme begins with the orchestra and is then expanded upon by the soloist. It is more dissonant and tonally ambiguous, but not overly disturbing as we find comfort hearing the opening theme return with the full orchestra. The acrobatic feats from the soloist bring us to the edge of our seats and this is just the first movement!
The orchestra plays the main theme at the opening of the second movement followed by five exciting variations that show a rather sarcastically witty side of Prokofiev. The third variation totally deconstructs the theme and the ethereal atmosphere of the fourth variation is hauntingly beautiful. There is a story-like characteristic to this movement that bodes well for the ballets foreshadowing his genius in that genre. There are shades of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff at work here, but considering when this was written it is more likely that Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff got their ideas from Prokofiev.
According to Prokofiev the third movement is an ‘argument’ between soloist and orchestra. The bassoons and pizzicato strings state the main theme, which is interrupted with a conflicting theme by the soloist. Once again we are treated to some sarcasm and reflections of the ethereal Rachmaninoff-esque atmosphere heard in the second movement. There is a propulsive spirit throughout the final movement that builds its momentum steadily to the final notes.
During his summer in Brittany Prokofiev frequently socialized with the poet Konstantin Balmont (1867-1942). After introducing his Third Piano Concerto to him, Balmont wrote his own impressions, ending with:
But the tide foams wildly on, over all:
Prokofiev! Music and youth blossom,
In you the orchestra yearned for musical flight,
And the invincible Scythian strikes the tambourine of the sun.
Prokofiev was the soloist at the premiere in Chicago on December 16, 1921, with Frederick Stock conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Although the Third was not an instant hit, the following year it was highly praised after a performance in Paris with the composer as soloist and the orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky.
MIGUEL DEL AGUILA
Caribeña, Op. 105
BORN: 1957 in Montevideo, Uruguay
WORK COMPOSED: 2012, commissioned by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra
WORLD PREMIERE: 2012 in Boston, Boston Landmarks Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Wilkins
Two-time Grammy nominated American composer Miguel del Aguila was born in 1957 in Montevideo, Uruguay. In more than 100 works that couple drama and driving rhythm with nostalgic nods to his South American roots, he has established himself as one of the most distinctive and highly regarded composers of his generation. His music has been performed by some 60 orchestras, by hundreds of ensembles and soloists, and recorded on 30 CDs. Worldwide performances or broadcasts of his works take place virtually every week of the year.
Del Aguila’s training and early professional experience took place in both the U.S. and Europe. After graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music he traveled to Vienna, where he studied at the Hochschule für Musik and Konservatorium. Early premieres of his works in Vienna won him praise from audiences and press who described his music as “dancing with incendiary rhythms,” with “near to obsessive vitality” (Wiener Zeitung). While still living in Vienna, he introduced his piano works in New York’s Carnegie Recital Hall. Days later, Lukas Foss led the U.S. premiere of Hexen with the Brooklyn Philharmonic. CDs containing five of his works were released on KKM-Austria and Albany Records in 1989 and 1990.
Del Aguila returned to the U.S. in 1992, settling in the Los Angeles area. Soon thereafter the Los Angeles Times described him as “one of the West Coast’s most promising and enterprising young composers.” He received the prestigious Kennedy Center Friedheim Award in 1995, and was music director of Ojai Camerata from 1996 to 1999. In the 1990s his works were first performed at Lincoln Center, London’s Royal Opera House, and in Moscow, Vienna, Zurich, Budapest, Prague, Tokyo, and Rome. From 2001 to 2004 del Aguila was Resident Composer at the Chautauqua Music Festival, where he performed as pianist, contributed new works, and wrote a weekly music column for the Chautauquan Daily.
In 2005 he began a two-year Composer in Residence position with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, made possible by a Meet the Composer/Music Alive Award. His residency culminated in the fully-staged premiere of his third opera Time and Again Barelas, commemorating Albuquerque’s tricentennial. He was honored with a Meet the Composer Magnum Opus/Kathryn Gould Award in 2008, resulting in the orchestral tone poem The Fall of Cuzco, which has been performed by The Buffalo Philharmonic, and by Nashville, Virginia, São Paulo State, and Winnipeg symphony orchestras.
In 2010 he was honored with two Latin Grammy nominations, for the CD Salón Buenos Aires (five chamber works on Bridge Records) and for the composition Clocks from that album. Other labels that have recorded his works include Naxos, Dorian, Telarc, New Albion, Albany, Centaur and Eroica.
Biographical notes © www.migueldelaguila.com