Saturday, June 29, 2013
Party in the Park
THE DREAM OF AMERICA
Saturday, September 29, 2012, 8pm, Morris
Ellis Island The Dream of America
Overture: The Roman Carnival, Op. 9
Hector Berlioz was born in La Côte-Saint-André, France in 1803 and died in Paris in 1869. He composed this work in 1843, and led the premiere in Paris the following year. The Overture is scored for 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, and strings.
The premiere of Berlioz’ first opera, Benvenuto Cellini, was a flop. The audience loved the Overture, Berlioz said, “but the rest was hissed with admirable energy and unanimity.” The proto-romantic composer was getting used to this: he was ahead of his time, and he knew it.
Some years later, Berlioz revisited the music of Benvenuto Cellini in The Roman Carnival. The new overture was composed as a concert piece, though some say Berlioz intended to make it the introduction to the opera’s second act. It surely was not meant to replace the original overture, which had been the only highlight of the disma premiere.
Roman Carnival begins with a feint, as if someone has inadvertently opened the wrong door. Berlioz closes the door abruptly and makes a new beginning, with the English horn singing Benvenuto’s Act I love aria, “O Teresa, I adore you.” The whirlwind saltarello that follows comes from Act II’s carnival scene. This is brilliant, rambunctious, and devilishly hard to play. The love theme reappears, and while at first the lovers seem oblivious to the carnival around them, they eventually join in the merriment. The ending, with rhythms teetering on the very brink of chaos, is as exciting as music gets.
Benvenuto Cellini had a rocky first reception, but Roman Carnival, born of the same themes, was instantly popular. This isn’t so unusual when you consider Berlioz’ unique capacity to delight and enrage his audience in the same concert program. Not everyone could cope with his angular melodies, jolting rhythms, forbidden harmonies, and hyperbolic passion. But those are the very qualities that make him sound so fresh—and fun—today.
Symphony in C major
Georges Bizet was born in 1838 in Paris and died in 1875 in Bougival, France. He composed this symphony in one month in 1855 but probably never heard it performed. The symphony remained undiscovered until 1933; it was first performed in Basel in 1935 under the direction of Felix Weingartner. The symphony calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Most music lovers know Georges Bizet as the composer of Carmen, one of the world’s most beloved operas. What most people don’t know is that when Bizet died—in the middle of Carmen’s first run—he considered both the opera and himself a failure.
Bizet had been a child prodigy in the Mozart and Mendelssohn class, entering the Paris Conservatoire at age nine and winning every prize in sight. But as an adult he found the critics cool (if not hostile) to his music; his operas closed after only a few performances and he often had to make his living as an accompanist and arranger. He died young, convinced that Carmen, too, had been a failure.
When he was a young man Bizet was heavily influenced by Charles Gounod, who was one of his teachers at the Conservatoire. Like most young composers Bizet sometimes modeled his student works on those of the masters. When he decided at age seventeen to compose a symphony he looked to Gounod’s First Symphony for such a model. As with most good composers about to become great ones, Bizet’s modeling was not slavish: Bizet already spoke with his own musical language. But certain touches—such as the highly unusual fugato in the middle of the slow movement—may be easily traced back to Gounod.
The symphony begins with an Allegro vivo that sounds more motivic than melodic—that is, until the appearance of the exquisite second subject in the oboe. The Adagio is sheer operatic beauty despite the oddment of a central fugato—perhaps not one of Gounod’s better ideas! The third movement is a rustic scherzo with lovely melodic interludes. The Finale is a good-natured romp, fueled by the enthusiasm of its seventeen year-old composer.
Bizet probably never heard his symphony performed. He never mentioned it in his letters and even his early biographers were unaware of it. It was only discovered in the archives of the Paris Conservatoire in 1933 and first performed two years later. Many composers suppress (or try to suppress) what they consider to be juvenilia and Bizet probably feared the inevitable comparisons to Gounod. Ironically, Gounod’s First is seldom played anymore, while Bizet’s symphony has been a lively part of the repertory since its discovery. If you listen for the Gounod in this work you will surely hear it, but it is much more fun to listen for the operatic master that Bizet was about to become.
Ellis Island: The Dream of America
Peter Boyer was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1970. He composed this work in 2001-2002 on a commission from the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, and led the first performance by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2002. The score calls for seven actors (optionally two actors), 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, celeste, and strings.
Peter Boyer earned his Bachelor of Music degree at Rhode Island College, which also awarded him an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 2002. He received his Master’s degree from the Hartt College of Music, where he studied with Larry Alan Smith and Harold Farberman. He has since studied composition with John Corigliano, Elmer Bernstein, David Raskin, and Buddy Baker. Boyer holds the Helen M. Smith Chair in Music at the Claremont Graduate University, where he has taught since 1996. He has composed a wide variety of works for film, television, and the concert hall which have been performed by over 70 orchestras across the country. He currently makes his home in La Viña, California.
Boyer writes: “Ellis Island: The Dream of America celebrates the American immigrant experience and the American Dream. The work brings elements of the theater and multimedia into the concert hall, employing actors and projected historical images from the Ellis Island archives.
“The spoken texts for the work come from the Ellis Island Oral History Project, a historic collection of interviews with actual immigrants about their experiences emigrating to America. After extensive research into the archive, I chose the stories of seven immigrants who came to America through Ellis Island from disparate nations between 1910 and 1940. I fashioned short monologues from the actual words of these immigrants and wove them into music that frames and comments on their stories—by turns poignant, humorous, moving and inspiring. The work concludes with a reading of the Emma Lazarus poem The New Colossus (‘Give me your tired, your poor . . . ‘), providing an emotionally powerful ending to this celebration of our nation of immigrants.”
Questions or comments?