Journey across our great country with the small singers of École Agnes Davidson School, and then experience the dark. dramatic, and impassioned piano before cruising down the romantic Rhine!
Please click here to download and print these programme notes (pdf version).
Series 5 – Cruisin’ with Mozart
Agnes Davidson Canadian Medley
Canadian poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen took two years to write HALLELUJAH, and originally penned 80 verses that he eventually narrowed down to the six appearing in the final version. Cohen said about his hymn, “The song explains that many kinds of hallelujahs do exist, and all the perfect and broken hallelujahs have an equal value. It’s a desire to affirm my life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm; with emotion.” Songstress k.d, lang, who recorded one of many popular covers, reflected that it describes, “the struggle between having human desire and searching for spiritual wisdom. It’s being caught between those two places.”
Joni Mitchell composed BIG YELLOW TAXI for the 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon. She was inspired to write it on a trip to Hawaii where she was struck by the beauty of nature and how the encroachment of urban development affected it. The lyrics address political, environmental and personal concerns. It has gone on to become one of the most culturally significant Canadian songs of all time.
MON PAYS was written by Gilles Vigneault, who was commissioned by the National Film Board to write a theme song for the film La Neige a fondu sur la Manicouagan in 1964. The lyrics about the cold, solitude, and the virtue of solidarity are seen by some as a metaphor for cultural isolation although the composer has denied any political motivation in the song’s writing. The song has received numerous awards and is so well known that some consider it to be a Québécois anthem.
Mozart: Piano Concerto No 20
Mozart finished the composition of his twentieth piano concerto on February 10, 1785. He performed it the following evening for the first of a series of subscription concerts at Vienna’s Mehlgrube Casino. If completing a concerto and premiering it himself at the keyboard the next day didn’t make him busy enough, Mozart also had to supervise the music copyist, attend to business with the Vienna Composers Society, and prepare for the arrival that afternoon of his father, who would stay with Wolfgang and his wife for the next two and a half months.
In fact, as the audience arrived at 6PM, the parts were still being prepared. His father later spoke of the performance in a letter to Mozart’s sister: “Then came a new superb piano concerto by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still writing out when we arrived, and your brother had not even found time to play through the Rondeau because he had to supervise the copying.” The concert that evening prevented Mozart from attending the ceremony at which his friend and mentor Joseph Haydn was sworn in as a freemason on Mozart’s recommendation.
Notable as one of only two piano concertos that Mozart wrote in a minor key, this intense and impassioned work was admired by Romantic-era composers, including Beethoven, Brahms, and Clara Schumann, all of whom composed cadenzas for it, and it is thought to be forward-looking towards this next major era in Western music. The opening Allegro is dark and restless, followed by a tender and melodic Romanze in B-flat Major. The third movement is stormy and agitated and begins with a piano technique known as the ‘Mannheim Rocket’: a quick ascending arpeggiated melodic line with a crescendo. Instead of closing the work in D Minor, Mozart chose to follow the custom of the day and finished in the parallel key of D Major to give it the ‘happy ending’ his audience would have expected.
Schumann: Symphony No 3, RHENISH
1850 seemed like it might have been a time of renewal for Robert Schumann, who had been struggling for many years with physical and psychological ill-health. After an unsuccessful experience with concert life in Dresden, Schumann accepted the prestigious position of music director in Düsseldorf, located along the Rhine river in Germany. In September of that year, Schumann and his family moved, and after a tour of the area, Robert was inspired to compose his Symphony. He completed it between November and December, 1850, almost exactly one month. Although he composed four symphonies in his lifetime, his fourth symphony was a revision of one he had composed ten years earlier, making his third the last original one he would write.
Inspired by the trip around the area with his wife Clara, many of the sights they witnessed are incorporated into the piece although Schumann hesitated to acknowledge the ‘programmatic’ nature of some of the work. It is also heavily influenced by many technical and stylistic elements of Beethoven’s symphonies and exhibits the influence of his late friend Felix Mendelssohn in the incorporation of song-like forms. The home key of the symphony, E-flat, is the same key as that of Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, and had religious connotations at the time.
The first movement is heroic and sees the soaring melodies move through numerous keys with the spirit of momentum and triumph. The second movement is a Scherzo with themes from German folk dance music. In this movement, Schumann created flowing lines similar to the second movement of Beethoven’s sixth symphony, Scene at the Brook, in order to depict the sounds of a flowing Rhine. Schumann later removed the titles and markings that revealed the various sources of his imagery. The third movement features longer themes interspersed with a recurring motif of chromatic sixteenth notes. This movement was highly influential on Brahms and he borrowed aspects of it for the second movement of his third symphony.
Schumann’s fourth movement was intended to depict a solemn procession that Robert and Clara witnessed at the Cologne Cathedral and features haunting low brass elements. The fifth and final movement is inspired by a Rhenish festival and marked forte and dolce (loud and sweet) and features a lively dance. Schumann conducted the premiere on February 6, 1851, before he continued his decline into severe mental illness and poor health, which would eventually lead to his institutionalisation and death.