Born: June 17, 1882, Saint Petersburg
Died: April 6, 1971, New York, New York
At a Glance
Duration: 22 minutes
Premiered by: Boston Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Pierre Monteaux in December, 1922
No twentieth-century composer was more involved with dance than Stravinsky. He wrote at least 12 scores specifically for ballet production, and choreographers have used a large number of them for dances.
The original and prime mover of all this Stravinskian dance activity was Serge Diaghilev, the Russian impresario for whom the composer wrote his early (1910-13) triumphant triumvirate of ballets, The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring. Reassembling his company after World War I, Diaghilev searched for a project with which to lure Stravinsky back to ballet. Contemplating the success of The Good-Humored Ladies, danced to music Domenico Scarlatti arranged by Vincenzo Tommasini, he struck upon the music of Pergolesi as a likely prospect for Stravinsky’s manipulation. At first unenthusiastic to the plan, the composer was won over as he read through the many scores by the eighteenth-century Italian master that Diaghilev had gathered – not knowing that most of the pieces were not authentic Pergolesi articles.
Stravinsky chose various pieces attributed to Pergolesi, and from an old manuscript he took a comic episode whose leading character was Pulcinella, the traditional hero of Neapolitan commedia dell’arte.
The plot is a natural for Stravinsky’s sophisticated wit: Pulcinella, sought after by all the girls, is in danger of being killed by their boyfriends. Changing places with his double, who then only pretends to be slain, Pulcinella escapes harm. The would-be assassins disguise themselves as Pulcinella and go to visit their respective sweethearts. Pulcinella, as if risen from the dead, appears. Becoming a magnanimous benefactor, he arranges marriages for the couples and weds Pimpinella.
Maintaining most of the original melodies, Stravinsky “touches up” the music with added notes and ostinatos, which provide harmonic pungency and rhythmic tautness. He subtly adjusts the phrases, breaking up the formal symmetry, and adds color through orchestration exhibiting the composer’s characteristic transparency.
The ballet was introduced in Paris on May 15, 1920, with choreography by Léonide Massine – who also danced the title role – and sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso. The concert suite, consisting of 11 movements of the ballet’s 18, was created in 1922.
Horn Concerto No. 3 in E Flat Major
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
Born: January 27, 1756, Salzburg
Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna
At a Glance
Duration: 15 Minutes
Mozart’s inspiration for his horn concertos (together with the horn quintet) was Joseph Leutgeb (1732-1811) who worked in the Salzburg Court Orchestra during Mozart’s precocious childhood.
Despite his success, the horn player was almost constantly without money and both Mozart and his father supported him financially at various times.
The horn in the time of Mozart was much less sophisticated than the instrument we know today. Having evolved from the hunting horn – only capable of a few arpeggiated notes in the familiar hunting calls – Mozart’s horn used crooks to increase and decrease the length of piping, enabling some changes of key; the range of notes was largely produced by the player with a variety of lip vibrations through the embouchure, filled out by adjustments of a hand inside the bell of the instrument. It wasn’t until approximately 1820 that the invention of valves allowed a complete range of semitones.
K.447 is scored for two clarinets and two bassoons plus strings, giving it a slightly richer and more reflective quality than No. 4, K495 – perhaps the best-known of the four concertos partly because of the Flanders and Swann comic song “Ill Wind,” based on its Rondo finale – which is scored for two oboes and two orchestral horns. In terms of its location in Mozart’s catalogue of works, No. 3 was written only a matter of weeks after his great C minor Mass, K.427. As with all of Mozart’s many concertos, whether for piano, violin, oboe or clarinet, it distils the essence of the solo instrument as he knew it, here exploring the horn’s aristocratic richness and touching lyricism before capitalizing upon the hunting-horn connection in the rollicking and witty finale.
The opening orchestral tutti introduces the work with suave assurance, the two main themes arriving in quick succession, before a series of anticipatory gestures in the strings introduce the solo horn, which reintroduces and expands on the two main themes. The short development throws the key structure into the melting pot orchestrally for a short while before the recap leads to a cadenza for the soloist. The coda rounds the movement off elegantly.
The slow movement, in the key of A flat, is a Romance, a Rondo in all but name, poised and lyrical with the horn leading from the outset. The finale is first cousin to that of K.495, its genial Rondo form – including an episode which reintroduces the main theme of the Romance at double speed.
Overture to l’amant anonyme/The Anonymous Lover, Op. 11, No .2
JOSEPH BOLOGNE, CHEVALIER de SAINT-GEORGES
Born: ca. 1745, near Basse Terre, Guadeloupe
Died: June 10, 1799, Paris
AT A GLANCE
Premiered: March 8, 1790, Paris
Duration: 10 minutes
The Black Mozart. Thus was Joseph Bologne dubbed by early music historians. But that does injustice to this swashbuckling character, who was one of the most colorful and versatile figures of the high Classic era.
He was born in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to a white planter and his African slave Nanon. The father took Nanon and their son with him to France in 1747 for two years, to avoid false charges of murder in Guadeloupe. After the elder Saint-Georges obtained a royal pardon, the three returned to Guadeloupe for a couple of years but moved permanently to France in 1753.
The boy demonstrated unusual athletic talent. He took up fencing at age 13 and rapidly developed formidable skills that earned him a position as a member of the King’s guard in 1764, at age 19. That appointment also carried the title of Chevalier. His personality, legendary swordsmanship, and good looks made him popular with the Parisian nobility.
Little information survives about Saint-Georges’ early musical training, but some dedications to him of works by the composer François-Joseph Gossec and the Italian violinist and composer Antonio Lolli indicate he likely studied with both of them. We do know that he joined Gossec’s orchestra in 1769 and was soon promoted to be its concertmaster. He began performing as a soloist in the 1770s, including performances of his own concertos. Those works attest to his superior technique, and to the advantage he found in the newly developed Tourte bow. By the mid-1770s, he was directing the Concert des Amateurs, which was soon acknowledged to be one of Europe’s finest orchestras.
For much of the last 25 years of his life, Saint-Georges earned a living as a musician, both performing and composing. His two sets of string quartets were some of the first to be published in Paris. From 1776 on, he focused more on composing operas, enjoying the patronage of Mme. de Montesson and the Duke of Orléans. Saint-Georges was a founder of the Concert de la Loge Olympique. He was directing that orchestra when it commissioned Haydn’s “Paris” Symphonies.
The overture was published in 1779 as Symphony Op. 11, No. 2. Saint-Georges repurposed it the following year as an opera overture. L’amante anonyme (The Anonymous Lover) was a comédie-ballet in two acts, first performed at the Paris Opera in 1780. As the original title implies, the overture is really an opera sinfonia, an important precursor to the Classical symphony that was popular in eighteenth-century Italian opera. It comprises three discrete movements arranged fast-slow-fast and played without pause; the concluding segment was usually in a dance rhythm.
Saint-Georges’ overture begins with a resolute, ceremonial movement in D major, replete with oboes and horns to reinforce its dramatic opening. Saint-Georges shows a secure command of sonata form, with delicate dialogue between violins and oboes for the contrasting second theme, and a well-thought-out development section with some surprising harmonic turns.
The Andante switches to D minor and is limited to strings. A miniature three-part form, it provides respite between the livelier outer segments. The overture concludes with a zesty Presto in tarantella style. A brief interlude in D minor relates it to the Andante, before a reprise of the Presto music. It is easy to imagine this attractive overture as a curtain-raiser for a comic opera.
Le Boeuf sur le toit (The Bull on the Roof)
BORN: September 4, 1892,
DIED: June 22, 1974, Geneva
AT A GLANCE
Premiered: February 1920
Duration: 15 minutes
A native of Provence in Southern France, Darius Milhaud retained throughout his life the sunny atmosphere of his native region. His parents were both musically gifted, and from age three he played piano duets with his father. At seven he started the violin and at 13 began harmony lessons and discovered composition, his true vocation. In the aftermath of World War I he joined composers Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc, and Germaine Tailleferre in what became known as Le groupe des six, disciples of composer Eric Satie and author/painter Jean Cocteau, who were preaching an anti-Romantic credo. The only thing uniting them was their insistence on the right to express themselves musically in their own personal way. They resisted what they considered the “phony sublimity” of the Impressionists and the other art movements in vogue at the time.
Milhaud became one of the most prolific composers of the twentieth-century, composing in every genre, reaching Op. 443 in 1973. He experimented with new musical idioms and was a proponent of bitonality – the use of two keys simultaneously; he even composed two string quartets that could be played simultaneously as an octet. In 1940 he was among the few fortunate French Jews to escape the Nazi invasion of France. Settling in the United States, he spent the rest of his life teaching at Mills College in Oakland, CA, and at the Aspen, Colorado Summer School.
During 1917-18, diplomat, poet, and dramatist Paul Claudel served as French minister to Brazil, engaging Milhaud, by then a promising composer, as his secretary. While in Brazil, Milhaud spent a good part of his time soaking up the native music, and on his return to Paris declared his intention “…to write a ballet about the carnival in Rio, which will be called Le Bœuf sur le toit, from the name of the samba that the band was playing this evening while the negro women, dressed in blue, were dancing.”
He undertook the project in 1919, amusing himself merging folk tunes, tangos, maxixes (a kind of Brazilian syncopated polka), sambas, and even Portuguese fado music (a style of popular dance music that combined Portuguese and Brazilian traditions). He transcribed them with a recurring theme between each tune.
Milhaud conceptualized the music as accompanying an imaginary Chaplin film, at first calling it cinéma fantasie, but Jean Cocteau decided to turn it into a ballet-pantomime. Since it was to open just as the 18th Amendment went into effect, Cocteau set it in a Manhattan speakeasy, with sets by Raoul Dufy. The pantomime featured three clowns – the famous Fratellini brothers – and included: cross-dressing; the beheading of a policeman by a ceiling fan; and the display of his head à la Richard Strauss’s Salome. It became a succès de scandale, and soon thereafter a Paris nightclub called Club Gaya changed its name to Le Bœuf sur le toit, presenting Milhaud with a lifetime membership.