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The Chamber Orchestra, made up of members of the CU Symphony Orchestra, performs smaller-scale symphonies and chamber works by classical and modern composers. This program includes works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” This performance also features members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
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Thursday, Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. MDT
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Coleridge-Taylor: 4 Novelletten for String Orchestra, Op. 52; Mozart: Sinfonia concertante for Winds, K. 297b; Schubert: Symphony No. 3 in D major, D 200Read more
4 Novelletten for String Orchestra, Op. 52
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912)
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born of an English mother and a physician father from Sierra Leone descended from African American slaves. After studying the violin as a youth, he turned to composing when he entered London’s Royal College of Music at age 15. By his early twenties, his compositions had won worldwide attention, in particular Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, the first of what eventually became three cantatas based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem Song of Hiawatha. He was the youngest delegate at the 1900 First Pan-African Conference held in London, and Coleridge-Taylor became fascinated with the idea of integrating traditional African music into his own works. During the first of his three tours of the United States, in 1904, he was hailed as a cultural hero by African Americans and was received at the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt. He was just 37 when he died of pneumonia.
In the wake of the fame attained by his Hiawatha works, Coleridge-Taylor’s life had become extremely busy in the first years of the twentieth century. Along with his composing, in 1903 he became a professor of composition at Trinity College of Music in London, and was appointed music director of the Handel Society. At around this same time, he composed the four Novelletten for strings with optional percussion. (There is also a version titled Haitian Dances that adds a fifth piece, derived from the Scherzo movement of Coleridge-Taylor’s Symphony in A minor, between the second and third of the Novelletten.) The title is unusual, and was probably inspired by Robert Schumann’s solo piano Novelletten, Op. 21 from 1838.
All four of Coleridge-Taylor’s Novelletten are in a fairly simple ABA song form. The first is a gentle, insouciant waltz, punctuated by the tambourine. In its central section, the cellos take the lead with a memorable tune that could have come from Antonín Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings. A heartfelt violin solo is prominently featured in the wistful, vaguely sentimental third piece. A more propulsive, intense central section provides a strong contrast. —Program note by Chris Morrison
Sinfonia concertante for Winds, K. 297b
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
The mysteries surrounding this work are deep and impenetrable. There is no mystery about its charm, its melodiousness or its wide appeal, but there is no solution to the problem of when or for whom it was written, or even whether it is truly by Mozart. Robert Levin has devoted a whole book to this last question without being able to resolve it conclusively. The last edition of the revered Köchel catalog removed it from the list of authentic works. While most listeners’ ears will tell them that this is genuine Mozart without a doubt, those who also enjoy sleuthing historical questions will find the puzzle intriguing.
In short, the problem is to figure out how a work which Mozart said he wrote for four friends in Paris in 1778 who were respectively flutist, oboist, hornist and bassoonist should turn up in Berlin in 1870 in a manuscript copy, not in Mozart’s hand, with solo parts for oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. Could the manuscript be an arrangement for different instruments of the lost concerto? If so, who did the arranging? Listening to the clarinet’s superbly idiomatic writing, we cannot imagine that the work might have existed in a form in which a flute was the soloist and not a clarinet. Assuming that the original autograph, which Mozart said he left behind in Paris, is lost, could he have written a second work for slightly different instruments without leaving any trace other than this mysterious posthumous copy? The rather lame excuse he offered his father for not bringing this manuscript (and others) home from Paris raises the suspicion that he never actually wrote it, a fact he would have reason to conceal from the over-concerned Leopold.
It is sufficient to know that Mozart was much taken by the special problems of composing for more than one soloist. We have a concerto for two pianos and one for three pianos, and we have the beautiful Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola probably composed in Salzburg in 1779, and a promising Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and cello, of which alas only 134 bars were completed. In the 1770s, the French were particularly fond of these multiple concertos, so it was natural that Mozart would think of composing one while he was in Paris, even more natural to imagine him writing another (with clarinet) for his friends in the superb orchestra in Mannheim either before or after they were transferred to Munich, although there is no evidence whatever to link the work as we have it with these, or any other, players.
No composer understood wind instruments better than Mozart, so the solo lines are composed with a fine feeling for their special qualities: the oboe’s expressive, penetrating voice; the clarinet’s liquid fluency over a wide range; the horn’s elegant adventures in its upper octave; and the bassoon’s many functions as bass line, tenor line, or tune. Their interplay is balanced and lucid, and they have a neat cadenza at the end of the first movement, carefully composed, as such cadenzas have to be, not left to group improvisation. The slow movement is, unusually, in the same key, E-flat major, and unusually long. In contrast, the finale is a series of variations on a brief and simple theme. One phrase from this melody is taken directly from the second main melody of the first movement. Ten variations reproduce the outline of the theme with increasingly decorative display from the soloists. Then the tenth variation dissolves into an Adagio before the jolly close in hunting style. —Program note by Hugh Macdonald
Symphony No. 3 in D major, D 200
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
In 1815, the 18-year-old Schubert was working as a full-time, year-round schoolteacher, taking twice-weekly composition lessons with Antonio Salieri, and doing some private music teaching on the side. Yet he somehow managed to compose more than 200 works, including four operas, two masses, two symphonies and 145 songs, a productive explosion that has had music historians shaking their heads for generations. He began his Third Symphony on May 24 and finished it on June 19. He also wrote some songs, liturgical music and an operetta in those 26 days.
The Third Symphony is notably concise, and shorter than Schubert’s first two symphonies. But it also foreshadows ideas that would expand the scale of the symphony. The rushing scale passage of the first movement’s slow introduction is turned into the second theme of the Allegro, contrary to the standard practice of making the Allegro contrast with the introduction by not having them share any musical elements. Schubert would revisit the idea to great dramatic effect a decade later in his “Great” C-major Symphony.
Like the Seventh and Eighth symphonies Beethoven was writing at about the same time, Schubert’s Third has no real slow movement. Instead there is a lightly scored (without trumpets and timpani) Allegretto in ABA form. It has an ambling principal section and a middle section with a jaunty little clarinet tune.
The third movement is marked Menuetto, but the name is rooted more in tradition than reality. The minuet had had a long life—about 150 years—but it was dying. In his late works, Haydn liked to spice his minuets with odd accents that would have flummoxed any dancer. Schubert does the same here, with rudely accented upbeats: the phrases all begin on the third beat, not the first. The middle section, scored for solo oboe and bassoon, and strings without cellos, is more a Ländler, or even a waltz, than a minuet.
The finale, in the rhythm of the tarantella, is marked Presto vivace (quick, lively), about as clear an instruction to avoid dawdling as a composer can write. The sheer fleetness of the themes creates enormous momentum, but Schubert adds a few sly (or dramatic, depending on the performance) pauses to keep us guessing. The movement owes much to the frenetic drive of comic opera overtures. —Program note by Howard Posner
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