Our 57th Season of wonderful music closes with a bang – literally. Sinfonia Allegro join the Lethbridge Symphony for a celebratory opener, before our 2016 Young Artist Competition winner, violinist Yan Li, takes a turn at amazing our audiences. We complete 2017-2018 with a rousing Symphony!
Please click here to download and print these programme notes (pdf version).
Series 6 – Youth & Fireworks
George Frederic Handel (1685-1759): Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351
The Music for the Royal Fireworks is undoubtedly Handel’s most famous orchestral suite. He wrote it for the fireworks display held in Green Park, London on April 27, 1749 to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which brought to an end the War of the Austrian Succession. This bloody conflict pitted on the one side England and Austria against France, Prussia and Spain. It consisted of a series of wars which erupted in 1740 following the death of the Emperor Charles VI of Austria and did not end until 1748, by which time both sides were exhausted by the drawn out, indecisive struggle.
Handel’s orchestral suite, which preceded the fireworks display, was a particularly successful component of the evening of celebration. In fact, an open rehearsal in Vauxhall Gardens the week before had already attracted twelve thousand people and forced the shutting down of London Bridge for three hours due to the crowds and traffic.
The suite begins with a majestic French overture, a type of music developed by the founder of French opera, Jean Baptiste Lully, and quickly taken up by other composers across Europe. Handel has faithfully followed the general outlines of such overtures, beginning with a stately Adagio and then moving to an exhilarating Allegro. This is followed by a light-footed Bourrée, a type of courtly French dance in moderate quadruple time. To represent “La Paix” or the newfound peace, Handel turns to a gentle pastoral Siciliano. An invigorating fanfare in turn expresses “La Réjouissance” (rejoicing), and a noble minuet and trio then round off the suite.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953): Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19
This beautiful early work of Prokofiev’s was begun in 1916 and finished during the summer of 1917 in a village on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. This was a period of great turmoil in Russia, with the country near collapse from the devastation of the First World War. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated under the pressure of the February Revolution in March of 1917 and was replaced by a provisional government, which came to be led by the reformer Alexander Kerensky.
This government in turn lost favour and was overthrown by the Bolsheviks under Vladimir Lenin in October of the same year. A bitter civil war immediately erupted. Due to the dangerous situation, Prokofiev withdrew to the countryside, where he worked on both the Violin Concerto and his first great international success, the Classical Symphony. He finally left Russia in May 1918 for a concert tour of the United States and did not return permanently until 1936.
Although conceived in such threatening times, the three-movement Concerto both begins and ends as if in a tender dream. The final passages of the work are particularly affecting as the solo violin climbs heavenward over the orchestra. In between, however, are both lighter and darker passages of great emotional power and vitality.
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904): Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88
Antonín Dvořák was one of the finest symphonists of the nineteenth century, with his nine symphonies taking pride of place among his orchestral works. His first two symphonies date from 1865 when he was 24, while his last, the justly famous Symphony “From the New World”, was composed in 1893, after which he turned to a series of symphonic poems for the last decade of his life.
The Eighth Symphony is on the same level of beauty and mastery as the “New World”. It was written from August to November of 1889 and premiered in Prague the next year. Dvořák was then at the height of his powers as a composer and his music had earned him an international name that had spread far beyond the borders of his native Bohemia. This lead to his appointment as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York in 1891, a position that launched the short “American period” in his life lasting from 1892 to 1895.
The Eighth Symphony was among the major works he brought with him to the United States. He conducted it in Chicago in August of 1893 at the World Fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of the European Discovery of America. A lyrical work of great optimism and energy, it is never naïve or superficial, but emerges from a profound knowledge of life’s darker moments. In fact, the first movement begins with a sombre theme for the cellos doubled by the clarinets. This theme, though, is immediately answered by a bright lilting melody on the flute and it is the material and rhythms of this melody that eventually win out, despite moments of pure desperation, in the brilliant coda that ends the movement.
Likewise the ensuing slow movement opens darkly with an affecting lament for the strings. But this lament, so tired and resigned, then yields magically to a comforting second theme that builds to a majestic climax for the full orchestra. This contrast is replayed again more urgently before the lament returns for the last time, and at its most intense moment is suddenly transformed into the warm afterglow of reconciliation.
The third movement is a wistful waltz with a playful trio which has the last word in a coda bursting with wit and energy. The finale brings the work to a brilliant close beginning with an aggressive fanfare for the trumpets, followed by one of the noblest melodies Dvořák wrote and passing through a kaleidoscope of emotions that culminates in a blaze of glory for the full orchestra.
Dr Brian Black