The two overtures that open tonight’s concert are selected from the program of the first performance by the Belleville Philharmonic Society on January 22, 1867. Each concert of the 2016-2017 season will feature works from that concert or from the earliest years of the Society.
Overture to Tancredi by Gioacchino Rossini — Rossini is best-known for his sparkling, witty operas, composed in the first part of the 19th century. And each of his operas was introduced by an exciting and lively overture meant to seize the audience’s attention and whet the appetite for the entertainment that was to follow. Perhaps most well-known are the overtures to his operas The Barber of Seville, William Tell, and The Thieving Magpie, immortalized through use in the “Lone Ranger” television series and numerous Bugs Bunny cartoons.
Tancredi is one of Rossini’s rare dramatic operas. It tells an ancient love story involving a king, a princess, an exiled prince, a war, and much confusion before it reaches its conclusion. But Rossini was a dedicated recycler of tunes; he wrote nearly 40 operas, but only 26 overtures, which means he often reused an overture from a previous opera. Because the Tancredi overture was originally composed for La pietra del paragone in 1812, the music we hear in the overture has nothing to do with the opera that followed it. Nonetheless, it is one of the composer’s most delightful works to captivate the audience.
Overture to The Caliph of Baghdad, by François-Adrien Boieldieu — François-Adrien Boieldieu was a French composer, mainly of operas, sometimes called "the French Mozart.” Beginning as a piano tuner in Revolutionary Paris, he was immersed in the emerging world of Opera-comique and in 1800 earned his first major triumph with the opera The Caliph of Baghdad which enjoyed immense popularity throughout Europe. The Caliph of Baghdad was part of the vogue for operas set on Oriental subjects. The overture makes use of prominent “eastern” percussion (bass drum, triangle and cymbals) to create a sense of local color. In spite of its popularity, the reception was not universally positive. Luigi Cherubini reportedly commented to Boieldieu upon hearing the work, “Aren’t you ashamed of such a great success, and doing so little to deserve it?” after which the composer applied to study compositional techniques with Cherubini.
Violin Concerto #2 in G Minor, Op. 63 by Sergei Prokofiev — Prokofiev, Russian and Soviet composer and pianist, is widely regarded as one of the major composers of the 20th Century. Prokofiev left Russia in 1918 after the Revolution and made his home in New York City and later Paris, while following an aggressive touring schedule as a performer. First performed in 1935, the second violin concerto is the last Western commission before Prokofiev returned to Russia. Homesickness and hoped-for career opportunities drove his decision to return to his homeland.
The soloist opens the Concerto, alone and unequivocally in G minor with a tune suggestive of Russian folk tunes. By the end of this metrically ambiguous phrase, the muted violas and basses enter in the remote key of B minor. The warm second theme enters in the relative major, B-flat. And in the recapitulation, it is the cellos and basses that bring back the opening theme. When they get to the point where the orchestra had redirected the motion to B minor, it is the soloist who now enters in G minor, completing a classical harmonic reconciliation.
Violin Concerto #2 in D Minor Op. 22 by Henryk Wieniawski — Henryk Wieniawski was a Polish violinist and composer noted principally for his virtuosic works for violin. Admitted to the Paris Conservatory at the age of 9, he had a successful performing career before he moved to Russia at the encouragement of Anton Rubenstein where he continued performing and established an extensive teaching studio. His second concerto is notable as one of the finest works for violin of the Romantic era. It combines lush and moving melodies with dazzling virtuosic techniques. The first movement includes a demanding variety of technique, including chromatic glissandi, double stops, arpeggios, sixths, octaves, thirds, chromatic scales, and artificial harmonics, not to mention a myriad of challenging bowing techniques.
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky — The Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, for cello and orchestra was the closest Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ever came to writing a full concerto for cello and orchestra. The style was inspired by Mozart, Tchaikovsky's role model, and makes it clear that Tchaikovsky admired the Classical style very much. However, the Theme is not Rococo in origin, but actually an original theme in the Rococo style.
The piece is composed of a theme and seven variations. Part of the difficulty of the piece lies in this seemingly disingenuous format involving eight sections that follow one another without a break, devoid of the usual extended orchestral tuttis allowing the soloist to rest for a few moments. The soloist is also challenged by mostly having to play in the high register using the thumb position. The variations trace a variety of moods through changes in key and meter, culminating in the dazzling 7th variation and coda.
Symphony #8 in B Minor (“Unfinished”) by Franz Schubert — Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony was started in 1822 but left with only two movements, even though Schubert lived for another six years. Scholars disagree about why Schubert failed to complete the symphony, but the first two movements have taken a permanent place among the most-loved works for orchestra. But was it truly unfinished? A partially-realized Scherzo was discovered that certainly was intended as the third movement, and there is considerable support for the idea that the music commonly known as the Entr’acte from Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde, may have been written as the symphony’s finale. Tonight we present Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony — Finished!
Finishing the Unfinished Symphony
by Robert Hart Baker, October 16, 2016
Wikipedia’s explanation [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._8_(Schubert)] of why the Unfinished Symphony was not completed is terse and a bit on the skeptical side, even with the presence of the manuscript of the third movement (Scherzo) right in front of them. Conductor Robert Hart Baker has a personal (if distant in time) connection with this music, and brings the excitement of a private investigator to the missing movements in his role as conductor.
As an 18-year old traveling through Europe to study conducting, he had the good fortune of meeting the musicologist Christa Landon in London the year before at recording sessions of the English Chamber Orchestra. She was divorced from her husband H.C. Robbins Landon, the world expert on Haydn Symphonies and master sleuth of finding his manuscripts in old monasteries, churches and library archives in Germany, Hungary and Austria among other locations. Christa actually helped him gain entrance to most of those places, but was a silent partner in those discoveries, as was still the practice among scholars in the 1970s. She became friends with Seymour Solomon, the head of Vanguard Records in New York, often called the “quad father” since he invented quadrophonic sound on LP’s, the next great audio innovation after stereo. His brother, Maynard Solomon, wrote one of the definitive biographies of Beethoven (still in print). Seymour was the producer on the London recordings where Robert was a baroque music editor and arranger. Christa invited Robert to Vienna the next year where she would be his mentor, helping him to enroll in German classes at the University, and having him be the summer house sitter at her apartment on of one the streets where Schubert had lived. On the walls were calling cards from the likes of Haydn and Schubert, and on her piano were both manuscripts and early copies of dozens of important works of the 18th and 19th centuries. She and one of her colleagues Gerald Abraham were consultants to major music publishing companies such as Oxford University Press and Barenreiter, and she showed Robert her work on the Schubert Scherzo and explained that the corresponding B minor Rosamunde Entr’acte could only have been meant for Symphony No. 8, with its matching orchestration and musical content that was much more complex than the usual ballet music of the time. She also showed Robert manuscripts to Haydn operas, and he later had the privilege of conducting Haydn’s Overture To An English Opera at the Kennedy Center with the touring Yale Philharmonia Orchestra and later recorded the work commercially with the Asheville Symphony. Robert Hart Baker has conducted the complete Schubert Symphony No, 8 in both York PA and Asheville, and is delighted to have the opportunity to present the complete work to his audience in Belleville.