“SOUNDS FAMILIAR”

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					Sounds Familiar




                             “SOUNDS FAMILIAR”


              NOTES AND STUDY MATERIAL FOR THE CONCERT OF THE
             SCOTTISH SINFONIA ON SUNDAY, 5 FEBRUARY 2006 AT 7.30pm


    INTRODUCTION

           The fourth and final concert of the year takes place on Sunday, 5 February, at the
    Greyfriars Kirk.

           This concert forms part of the Scottish Sinfonia Programme for 2005-06. The
    works to be performed are: -

    Overture “Oberon” by Carl Maria von Weber;

    The Piano Concerto No. 2 in Bb by Johannes Brahms; and

     Symphony No. 4 in F minor by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky.

            The study material includes notes on composers, concerto and a more in-depth
    look at the Symphony no. 4 in F minor by Tchaikovsky. This work was performed at the
    first concert of the year, by the Russian State Symphony Orchestra in the Usher Hall on
    Sunday, 22 May 2005.


    THE COMPOSER

    Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)

            Weber was an important founder of the Romantic Movement in Germany.
    Through the success of “Der Freischutz” (The Freeshooter) in 1821 he rekindled an
    interest in German opera and was to greatly influence the operas of Wagner.

            He was the son of Franz Anton Weber, whose elder brother, Fridolin, was the
    father of Constanza Weber who became the wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

            Weber was a sickly child and was born with a hip disease which lamed him for
    life. His father had many jobs which included being a soldier, a violinist, a judge, a
    financial counsellor, a roving actor, impresario and director of a town band!

           Weber’s childhood is thought to have been spent playing amongst the stage
    scenery of his father’s theatre company, probably providing an early influence in the
    dramatic world in which his operas were set. He received his first music lessons from an
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    elder half brother, also called Fridolin (the name of his grandfather), which were not
    particularly successful. However, the touring theatre company spent some time in
    Hildburghausen where Weber received better lessons from Johann Peter Heuschkel. This
    established a firm foundation for his future musical development and, as a cathedral choir
    boy, he studied with Michael Haydn (brother of Franz Joseph Haydn) in Salzburg.

            After the death of his mother, Weber’s father gave up his concerts and theatre
    work and pushed his son into becoming a concert pianist and prolific composer. Father
    and son left Salzburg for Munich and Carl gained much knowledge of operatic writing
    and wrote works of his own in this genre. Eventually they moved to Vienna, the
    intention being that Carl should study under Franz Joseph Haydn, but instead he came
    into contact with Abe Vogel, a celebrated musician of the time, from whom he took
    composition lessons.

           Despite the fact that the touring company had been disbanded, father and son
    continued to roam from one place to another, sometimes to escape creditors. Carl
    appeared not to have learned at first from his father’s unstable lifestyle, but rather to have
    been negatively influenced by it. Already in debt, he nearly killed himself by mistakenly
    drinking nitric acid which ruined his beautiful singing voice.

           For a while father and son lived in Stuttgart, where Carl became secretary to a
    nobleman while continuing to compose. Here they were imprisoned and while Carl’s
    innocence was proved they were both banished from the country. At this point Carl
    longed to be away from his father and was determined to put all his efforts into being a
    successful serious concert artist and composer.

            By now he had sixteen years to go before his death. It began with a period of
    concert tours, giving him the opportunity to meet many established musicians of the time.
    Following his father’s death in 1812, Carl spent three years in Prague. It was here that he
    had his first secure job when he took up the position of Kapellmeister (musical director).

           In 1816 he was appointed Master of the German Opera in Dresden by the King of
    Saxony. The following year he began “Der Frischutz” but it was to take four years to
    complete owing to a series of jealousies and intrigues against him. As a result the
    completed opera was not performed there but in Berlin and was very successfully
    received. The success was repeated in Vienna and it was subsequently performed in
    Dresden.

           It was during the remaining period of his life that the opera “Oberon” was written
    and performed. In Dresden Carl finally put behind him all the ups and downs of his
    previous life and married Caroline Brandt. Sadly though nothing could save his ill health
    which had remained with him all his life and he died in London on 5 June 1826, a few
    weeks after the triumphant reception of “Oberon”.

    CONCERT WORK

    Overture “Oberon” by Carl Maria von Weber
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    As with the operatic overtures Weber wrote for “Der Freischutz” and “Euryanthe”, the
    overture (see May 05 notes) foreshadows the dramatic musical elements of the opera in a
    loose sonata structure (see Sonata Form in November 05 notes). Unlike some opera
    overtures, in which composers provide a musical synopsis of the main themes to be heard
    later on, or even more simply, a piece of introductory music aimed at settling down the
    audience before the main performance, Weber weaved his overture into a self-contained
    work of art and prepared the listener for the main dramatic conflicts that lay ahead. The
    overture, in common with the 1st movement of the Brahms concerto, begins with a solo
    French Horn, a fitting start to a romantic fairy-tale opera about Oberon and Titania.

    THE COMPOSER

    Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

    Think of German music spanning nearly 200 years and, therefore, think of the three
    giants who rose head and shoulders amongst their contemporaries: J.S. Bach, Ludwig
    van Beethoven and, finally, Johannes Brahms. Brahms’s emotionally wayward music
    typifies that of 19th century Romanticism (see May 05 notes) but also contains within it a
    strong traditional sense of form and structure (see also May 05 notes), which clearly lie
    within the lineage of German music. In this sense Brahms is seen as something of a
    conservative, living at a time when the Symphonic, or Tone Poem, were being created
    (ref. May and August 05 notes) by many composers. His reactionary use of classical
    form contrasts sharply with the more radical works of his contemporaries, such as Liszt
    and Wagner (see also Motif in August 05 notes).

           His father’s side of the family had been farmers. Indeed his father, Johann Jakob
    Brahms, had been the first member of the family to take up music as a career. This was
    met with opposition, so he moved from Heide to Hamburg in 1826. In 1830 Johann Jakob
    married Johanna Henrika Christaine Nissen, seventeen years his senior, who came from a
    respectable, but impoverished, middle class family.

            Johann Jakob started out as a street and dance musician in Hamburg and later
    joined the Hamburg City Orchestra as a double bass player. It is likely that Johannes
    received his earliest musical training from him, but he was soon to take formal piano
    lessons and at the age of ten took part in a public recital. His musical training continued
    and, as his family were quite poor, Johannes often recommended his father as a suitable
    musician to be hired for both private and public functions

             Brahms’s first solo concert as a pianist was given in 1848. It was suggested that
    he send some of his works to Robert Schumann, but the package was returned to him
    unopened! That year, a large number of Hungarians passed through Hamburg, intending
    to sail from the port there to America, escaping from the suppression of their country by
    the Austrians and Russians after a nationalist uprising (see Nationalism in music: May
    05 notes). Some of them instead stayed in Hamburg, thus exposing the young Brahms to
    Hungarian music (he was later to write a number of Hungarian Dances) but at this stage
    in his youth he experienced first hand the irregular rhythms and use of triplet figures
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    which became the hallmark of his future compositions.

            Brahms befriended one of these refugees, a violinist by the name of Eduard
    Hoffman, otherwise known as Remenyi (the Hungarian for Hoffman). He had studied in
    Vienna and captivated Brahms with his virtuoso performances. After a trip to America,
    Remenyi went on tour with Brahms and the latter was to meet Joseph Joachim, another
    violin virtuoso, who immediately recognised Brahms’s tremendous musical talent.

            It was also on this tour that Brahms encountered Liszt. During a six week stay in
    Weimar Brahms came to realise that his musical ideas were in opposition to that of Liszt
    and the “New German School”. Brahms and Remenyi then parted company; Brahms
    taking Joachim’s advice to visit Clara and Robert Schumann in Dusseldorf. Despite the
    apparent early disinterest in Brahms’s works, Schumann now hailed Brahms as a budding
    composer and concert pianist.

            Brahms returned to Hamburg, but a few months later went back to Dusseldorf
    upon receiving news of Schumann’s nervous breakdown from which he was never to
    recover. At this time Brahms developed a great passion for Clara Schumann which was
    to continue for some years.

            In 1858 Brahms wrote his 1st Piano Concerto in D minor Op.15. Four years later
    in 1862, he visited Vienna, little realising that he was to remain in the European capital of
    music for the rest of his life. There he found friends from Hamburg and met others
    through Clara. Soon he was accepted into musical circles and met Wagner, who seven
    years later attacked Brahms in a magazine article intended to do his apparent rival
    considerable harm. And so the “war” between both men began – one fought by their
    respective followers rather than by the composers themselves due to great restraint on
    Brahms’s part.

             Brahms is best known for his symphonic writing. It was Schumann who first
    tried to interest him in writing a symphony and in 1854 Brahms sketched out three
    movements but was dissatisfied with the work. Instead he incorporated the 1st two
    movements into his 1st Piano Concerto. It was not until 1876 that his own first symphony
    appeared, which was nicknamed “The Tenth” as it was considered to be the successor of
    Beethoven’s Ninth, and final, Symphony. Brahms was to write four symphonies in total.

           Both piano concertos and his violin concerto are considered to be practically
    orchestral works rather than works written for solo instrument with orchestral support
    and they are all of symphonic proportion.

    CONCERT WORK

    The Piano Concerto No. 2 in Bb – Johannes Brahms

            Trips to Italy and Hungary inspired the 2nd Piano Concerto in Bb, and its first
    performance was given in Budapest with the composer as soloist. It is the most popular
    of the two piano concertos, and contains overtones of his song writing, in particular the
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    slow movement. The work reflects Italian springtime turning to summer as experienced
    during his travels. The Scherzo is thought to have been written originally for his violin
    concerto, but was omitted on Joachim’s advice. The finale is imbued with Hungarian
    atmosphere.

            Unlike the structure of the classical concerto (see ahead for notes on Concerto)
    the piano soloist enters close to the start of the first movement. Other than the piano,
    there are also some prominent instrumental solos, a particularly Romantic gesture. A
    French Horn announces the first theme soon to be taken up by the piano. Brahms favours
    the French horn in much of his writing, assigning to it a lyricism requiring considerable
    agility by the player hitherto foreign to the instrument. Its register is akin to that of the
    tenor voice, and therefore that of the Romantic operatic hero. The third movement
    begins with a melodious cello solo of great beauty. It is interesting to note that not only
    does Brahms innovatively introduce a Scherzo movement into this concerto, but has
    placed it second, while the slow movement, which would normally follow the first,
    comes third. The serene quality of the third movement contrasts perfectly with the
    exciting and adventurous Scherzo preceding.

    INFORMATION

    Scherzo

           This literally means “a joke”. The word first appears within a jovial musical
    context in 1628 in the time of Monteverdi, who wrote some light-hearted and popular
    choral pieces entitled “Scherzi Musicali” (musical jokes). However, earlier than that, in
    1614, Cifra published a set of Scherzi Sacri in Rome; the description here apparently
    meaning brightness rather than humour within a religious context.

            The word is later applied to purely instrumental music, sometimes these are
    independent pieces (e.g. pieces that stand alone rather than forming part of a bigger
    work) but, nevertheless, it is more commonly associated with a movement, usually the
    third, of a sonata, string quartet or a symphony. Originally, the Minuet, a dance in three
    time, filled the bill here, a hangover from the dance-like movements of the Baroque
    Suite. In the hands of Franz Joseph Haydn the minuet tempo was quickened, (hardly
    surprising since he is known as the master of musical jokes!) and thus adopted the word
    Scherzo in place of Minuet. Still they retained the characteristic three beats to a bar,
    although in the works of Beethoven the Scherzo underwent further changes becoming
    fast and bustling pieces of music, and although still with three beats in a bar, they go so
    fast that the conductor and performers can only concentrate on the strong 1st beat of each
    bar, therefore creating a “one-beat-in-a-bar” feel.

            Each composer adds his own characteristics to the scherzo. One feels in Brahms
    the inheritance of Beethoven, in Mendelssohn a whispy fairy-like dance, while Chopin’s
    lively scherzos for solo piano are paradoxically somewhat gloomy in character.

    Concerto
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           These days the term is applied to a solo, often virtuoso display, in combination
    with an orchestra. Originally though, in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was used to
    describe a composition in which several performers provided contrasting forces, in a
    concerted effort to make music.

           In the 17th century the term was adopted by the Italian violinist-composer school
    of Corelli, Torelli and others, and described a type of composition known as the Concerto
    Grosso in which a small body of solo strings was heard in alternation with a larger body.

            The virtuoso Concerto came into existence in the early Classical period. Here,
    the concerto had the same general plan of other instrumental music of the time i.e. an
    important, first movement in “sonata form” (ref. November 05 notes), a middle slow
    movement of a lyrical nature and a lively, faster moving final movement. Unlike the
    sonata, string quartet and symphony, concertos had three movements, possibly because
    the third, a minuet-like movement, was not considered suitable for the antiphonal
    treatment necessary for a concerto. However, as we have seen, Brahms’s 2nd Piano
    Concerto does have four movements – with the advent of the Scherzo it would seem that
    in the hands of a Romanticist, with such strong structural convictions the wayward
    rhythms of the Scherzo are ripe for inclusion in a work of this kind.

    ASSOCIATED LISTENING

    Piano Concerto in A major, K488, 1st movement by W.A. Mozart

    From the Classical period onwards, the concerto was, therefore, an elaboration of the
    sonata principal (ref. Sonata Form in November 05 notes). The solo element, however,
    brings to it greater scope for variety. Think in terms of an Exposition which is normally
    repeated in the Classical period. The first time the exposition is heard in the concerto it
    is played by the whole orchestra, but in the repeat, the soloist enters in a leading capacity,
    taking up the ideas presented by the orchestra and embellishing these. An area of
    musical development follows in which the soloist and orchestra voyage together through
    modulatory passages (visiting different keys) sharing and exchanging musical material.
    The opening material is predictably recapitulated by the orchestra and soloist until, nearly
    at the end of the movement, the music comes to rest on a I c chord, (the 2nd inversion of
    the key chord) and through classical convention sets up a moment of anticipation: it is
    time for the soloist to have free range in the Cadenza section of the movement. In
    essence, this is a spectacular time of improvisation, where the soloist does not only show
    off his technical prowess but also his ability to elaborate upon the themes already heard.
    This was a widely admired skill, but gradually it became the custom for composers to
    write their own cadenzas to maintain the high quality of the musical material, rather than
    running the risk of a soloist indulging in purely shallow showiness. The movement is
    then rounded off by an orchestral tutti.

    REVISION

    Symphony no. 4 in F minor by P.I. Tchaikovsky
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              Either download or buy a recording of this work and listen to it in its entirety.

    Exercise

    -       Refer to the themes of the 1st movement as given on manuscript in the May notes.
    See if you can identify the introductory Fate motif and the first and second themes.
    Remember that Tchaikovsky uses a big canvas on which to work and the 1st and 2nd
    themes take up large chunks of music in which to unfold. You will recall that after the
    introduction at the very start of the movement, its role is that of intruding, upsetting and
    reminding the listener of its over-shadowing power and provides the fundamental
    programme upon which the whole symphony and, especially this movement, is
    constructed.

    -      Listen to the 1st movement and whilst doing so follow its ground plan as set out
    below. You will need to do this a few times to become familiar with the material.

    EXPOSITION

    FATE MOTIF . Note how the brass is reserved mainly for this. The motif is reiterated
    several times, gradually dissolving into an echo effect which leads to the 1st THEME.
    This rises to a crescendo and is alternately dramatic, brooding and imitative in short
    thematic snatches, which overlap each other and work towards a big orchestral tutti. The
    theme is then handed round different sections of the orchestra and another tutti occurs
    which contrasts with solo woodwind playing variants of the theme. The music unravels
    into the 2nd THEME which is given out first as the Cor Anglais (see May 05 notes) and
    other solo woodwind enter into a kind of dance together against a backdrop of strings.
    The theme is “chopped up” between the strings and woodwind. The temperature rises
    and the orchestra enters into an excitable discussion with one another. This builds up to a
    frenzied climax with French horns entering the arena at one point.

    DEVELOPMENT

    FATE MOTIF. Again given out by the brass, it now heralds a wistful pot pourri of
    motifs which increase in strength and purpose as the 1st THEME makes its presence felt
    more distinguishably. The orchestra builds to another climax.
    FATE MOTIF. This returns and the orchestra is like an overpoweringly stormy sea in its
    bid to stay intact. Splashes of brass can be heard amid this crazy cacophony, determined
    to retaliate with a further burst of the FATE MOTIF. After some orchestral flourishes the
    1st THEME returns which has now, in the light of recent events, taken on a sinister
    quality. As before it disintegrates into the 2nd THEME. The bassoons play it this time
    with echoing woodwind and a brooding background of brass and string producing an
    extensive interplay of musical ideas. The 1st THEME returns briefly, engaging with the
    2nd THEME. A big orchestral tutti rounds up this section.

    RECAPITULATION

    FATE MOTIF. The motif supports the different structural sections of the movement like
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    pillars. (Beethoven uses a similar device with his fate motif of the 5th Symphony – ref.
    November notes and listen again). Its rhythm is momentarily taken up by the orchestra
    as though reluctantly accepting its power. The music gathers momentum building up to a
    demonic ending. The FATE MOTIF keeps on interrupting as it did in the Development
    session, stabbing back at the orchestra more fiercely than ever. The 1st THEME is played
    by the strings, followed by a brass fanfare, which pulls together the FATE MOTIF into a
    final and conclusive ending.

    -         Do this a few times until the movement not only sounds but feels familiar!

    -      Now return to the notes on the Symphony, which can be found in the May notes.
    Evaluate the 1st movement in the light of your more detailed study.

    -       When you are comfortable with this you could try a similar exercise with the 2nd
    Piano Concerto by Rachmaninov. To do this you will need to refer to the descriptions of
    all three movements in the November notes.

				
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