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Gregory Karl has written program notes for various artists and orchestras over the years, including the Tokyo String Quartet and the New York Philharmonic. The sampler below includes two notes from programs of the New York Philharmonic and the texts of several more performed on chamber concerts by members of the Philharmonic.

Prokofiev, Sonata for Two Violins in C Major, Op. 56. Premiere, Moscow, November 27, 1932. Composed for inaugural concert of Triton, December 1932.
The composer Nikolai Miaskovsky, Prokofiev's lifelong friend, had reservations about the music his more famous compatriot was composing during the early 1930s. Though he expressed his opinions with the utmost tact, it was clear he found it forced and overly intellectual. Prokofiev himself later acknowledged that his efforts toward a "new simplicity" in this period often yielded the opposite effect. For whatever reason, a number of Prokofiev's works from the early 30s, including the Fifth Piano Concerto, the Fourth Symphony, the ballet On the Dnepr, and the Sonata for Two Violins have languished in relative obscurity. The sonata certainly deserves to be better known, for it far transcends the limitations Miaskovsky heard in some of its companions.

It was composed in the late summer of 1932 while the then expatriate composer and his wife Lina were renting a remodeled farmhouse in Ste. Maxime on the Mediterranean coast of France. Its immediate inspiration was a poor sonata for the same instruments Prokofiev had heard earlier that year. As he wryly observed: "Sometimes hearing bad compositions gives birth to good ideas. One begins to think: that's not how it should be done, what's needed is this or that." An added impetus was that Prokofiev had recently agreed to sit, along with Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, and Darius Milhaud, among others, on the jury of a chamber-concert organization to be known as Triton, and he wished to compose something for the organization's inaugural concert that December. As it happens, the sonata's intended premiere was preceded by a performance in Moscow during Prokofiev's two-week Soviet tour in the late autumn.

The four-movement sonata follows the slow-fast-slow-fast pattern Prokofiev would later use in his First Violin Sonata. At first glance the opening movement might seem to confirm Miaskovsky's sense of an overbearing intellectuality at work, for it follows a strategy almost geometric in its logic. The relatively short movement is in two parts. In the first part two themes of contrasting character are introduced sixteen measures apart, separated by a dark, halting, and enigmatic transition. The first theme begins in a desultory and wandering fashion, a single violin outlining several harmonies whose relation to one another is as yet unclear. The second violin then enters from below, impinging on the line of the first and forcing it steadily upward. The two phrases of the theme don't quite gel. The second theme, by contrast, sings with a direct and sweet intensity and possesses an unfailing sense of direction and wholeness. At the beginning of the movement's second part, after a full stop, the plan is revealed: unexpectedly, the two contrasting themes sound together, fitting like hand and glove, and we realize that this passage must have been written first and then dismantled to produce the themes. But this is no mere exercise in counterpoint. In combination the themes draw strength from one another, the first gaining a sense of purpose, the second an added depth and intensity. The result is an aesthetic sum that could not have been guessed from the parts. The mysterious, halting transition passage returns near the end, like a single element out of place or an unanswered question.

By contrast to the relative coolness and abstraction of the first movement, the second is all raw intensity. A compact sonata form in G minor, it begins with a theme that is really just a series of violent fragments. Two predominate: the harsh, repeated eight-note chord with which the movement starts and a tense ascending figure coiled tightly within the first three notes of the G minor scale. The second theme is quiet and wide-ranging, though obsessively stuck on a single (dotted) rhythmic figure. After a full stop the development begins with a distinctive two-note motive, the first note plucked, the second bowed. The gradually rising frenzy that follows leads to a partial recapitulation, beginning with the second theme and capped by a frenetic coda.

The raw energy of the second movement gives way, once again, to cooler, more reserved expression in the third—qualities enhanced by the muting of both violins throughout. The first part of this ternary (ABA) movement, like so many other passages in the sonata, comprises two statements of a theme, allowing the players to alternate in a leading role. The theme in this case is built from angular, disconnected, mostly three-note units. The central section, a gentle, lyrical theme in B major, is preceded and followed by a variation on the enigmatic transition passage from the first movement, like a disquieting reminder of an unresolved issue.

The finale begins as a rondo whose straightforward, energetic theme returns five times in varied settings, each appearance followed by a contrasting episode. Three quarters of the way through, the rondo pattern is abandoned, making way for a full reprise of the first movement's opening theme. It begins dolcissimo in a very high register, the second violin accompanying with nimble, legato figuration. The two-note, plucked-bowed motive that launched the development in the second movement then returns to set the final whirlwind coda in motion. Overall, the cogent reprises of earlier material late in the sonata result in a storied, dramatic quality that anticipates Prokofiev's masterworks of the war years.

Hugo Wolf, Mignon Lieder (1888)

A number of poems appear within the pages of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's novel, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, the best of them as lyrics sung by two enigmatic and deeply troubled minor characters, Mignon and Augustine (a.k.a. "The Harper"). The vividness of the poetry and of the characters who intone it proved irresistible to nineteenth-century composers, inspiring a rich literature of musical settings to which Hugo Wolf's "Mignon Lieder" were a relatively late addition. Now because the meaning of the poetry is inextricably tied to the characterizations and plot of Goethe's novel, it is nearly impossible to make sense of it, much less appreciate the finer points of the psychological realism Wolf brought to his settings, without a brief character sketch of Mignon herself and of her role in the novel.

We meet Mignon as a mysterious young girl of eleven or twelve whom Wilhelm has rescued from her kidnappers, a troop of nomadic rope dancers. Her obscure origins, remarkable feats of dexterity and musicianship, and her gypsy-like appearance captured the imaginations of generations of readers. But she is tormented by secrets of a dark past of which she cannot speak. Long before her adoption by Wilhelm, the Virgin Mary had appeared to her in a vision, and to this apparition she had sworn a rather selective vow of silence: never to confide in mortal-kind in times of need, but to trust wholly to divine succor. This vow and this silence are the subjects of "Mignon I."

What little the other characters know of Mignon's past they learn indirectly through her singing and reciting. In "Kennst du das Land" ("Mignon"), for example, she sings of her homeland, Italy, and her desire to return there with Wilhelm, whom she, in her confusion, regards at once as beloved, protector, and father. Pathological possessiveness and jealousy rooted in her confusion about the nature of her relationship with Wilhelm, along with her self-imposed silence, lead to a physical and spiritual withering and finally to her untimely end. In the novel, Goethe followed this lyric with a detailed account of her performance—one which Wolf obviously studied closely. The strumming chords in the left hand of his setting, suggesting Mignon accompanying herself on the zither, the expressive reduction of the dynamic level at the words "Kennst du es wohl?" ("Do you know it well?"), and the "irresistible longing" at the word "dahin!" (thither) all are faithful to the details of Goethe's description.

Except for its allusions to the south, "Mignon II" has no apparent personal significance for the girl. It is heard by Wilhelm as he falls into a dream state while thinking of a woman with whom he is infatuated. In the novel, Mignon's song accords well with Wilhelm's mood of longing.

The darkest song of the set is undoubtedly "Mignon III" ("So lasst mich scheinen"), in which the girl expresses a premonition of her approaching death. The white dress to which she refers in the poem is part of an angel costume she had worn in a holiday charade while presenting gifts to younger children. From this occasion on, she wore a white dress to maintain the appearance of the heavenly apparition she aspired to be and was soon to become.
Only at the end of the novel do we learn the underlying cause of Mignon's troubles: She was the product of an incestuous union between a priest (Augustine in his younger days) and his sister, a nun. In the world of early-nineteenth-century literature, the fruit of such an unholy union could only wither on the vine.

Glazunov, Two pieces for horn and strings. Idyll; Serenade No.2

By the time Alexander Glazunov had composed his Serenade no. 2 for Horn and String Orchestra (1884) at the age of nineteen, some of his larger works, including his First Symphony and his First String Quartet, had already been performed and had earned praise from the likes of Franz Liszt and Peter Tchaikovsky. It was two composers from his native St. Petersburg, however, who had first recognized and cultivated his prodigious talent. Mili Balikirev, famous as the leader of The Five (a.k.a., The Mighty Handful, Kuchka), a group of Russian nationalist composers, had discovered him and sent him as a young teen to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff, another member of the Five, for private instruction in composition and related subjects. His progress over his two years with Rimsky-Korsakoff was remarkable, and he graduated to the rank of professional composer with the completion of his first symphony at the age of sixteen. This symphony and his First String Quartet, composed shortly thereafter, caught the ear of one Mitrofan Belyayev, a fabulously wealthy individual who would soon become famous as a patron of the arts and a promoter of Russian music by, among other things, organizing the Russian Symphony Concerts series in St. Petersburg and founding his own publishing house in Leipzig. Before dedicating his energy and wealth to these public endeavors, however, Belyayev made a personal project of Glazunov by providing material support, promoting his music, and funding his travel. It was on a trip to Western Europe with Belyayev in 1884 that Glazunov found the inspiration for his Serenade No. 2.

After a stop in Weimar and an introduction there to the aged Liszt, the two traveled to Spain where Glazunov was deeply impressed by the indigenous folk culture. In a letter to Rimsky-Korsakoff he wrote: "I wanted the chance to listen to folk music in Spain . . . I now happily listen to nothing but folk music." The Serenade is one of a number of Glazunov's works from the 1880s reflecting his impressions of this music. Its first version, composed late in the summer of 1884 shortly after he returned to Russia, was for horn and string orchestra. It was subsequently re-scored for small symphony orchestra and published in this form by Belyayev as Op. 11. In addition, there is a manuscript arrangement of the work for horn or viola and piano. The version of the Serenade being performed on this concert is the original one for horn and string orchestra adapted for a chamber ensemble of horn and string quintet.

The title Serenade suggests a relatively light kind of music, often in a dance style with few formal complications. Glazunov's Serenade No. 2 is in binary (two part) form, the most common form for dance music in the Western classical tradition, but it is not without a few unusual twists. The introduction, for strings alone, begins away from the home key and in the minor mode, forecasting the main theme under a cloud, so to speak. This heightens the drama of the solo horn's entrance, for with its statement of the main theme in the home key of F major it simultaneously dispels the cloud and establishes tonal order. The Serenade's folk flavor derives in part from the theme's ubiquitous short-long rhythm emphasizing the usually weak second beat (in triple meter), its symmetrical phrases, and its continual circling around the home pitch F. A second more sinuous theme with pizzicato accompaniment and a closing passage based on the introduction round out the first part. In the second part the two themes are varied and re-scored, the closing passage blossoming into a lengthy coda.

Following its usage in literature, the title Idyll signifies a musical work of a simple, pastoral character. Spacious scene painting and solos for instruments with pastoral associations like members of the oboe family, which Berlioz and Wagner used to represent shepherd's pipes, and horn, ever on call for sylvan and alpine scenes, are characteristic of the genre. Glazunov's Idyll for horn and strings was completed in 1887 and, paired with another piece, was published as Op. 14 and dedicated to composer and critic Cesar Cui. At this time the young Glazunov was a prominent member of what had come to be called the Belyayev circle, a group of composers who gathered every Friday evening at Belyayev's home to discuss music, play for one another, critique one another's latest compositions, and to socialize. It is not unlikely that Idyll was previewed in this setting. The autograph of the score bears the title: Idylle religieuso.

Glazunov's Idyll begins in D major with a gentle, tentative phrase for horn alone, its last note, F-sharp, hanging expectantly in the air. Muted strings respond more quietly still, echoing the horn's phrase, extending it in dialogue, and then bringing the theme to a close. The pattern is immediately repeated, but with the strings responding in the remote key of F-sharp major. The work then begins to unfold in an idiosyncratic fashion, though overall it falls into two clear parts introduced by the horn phrase in its original form. After the initial section, however, there are no wholly new melodies, but rather several transformations of the opening phrase, each more distantly related to the original, each less distinct in profile. It is as though a process of diffusion is at work, like light fading from a landscape as evening approaches. The tempo and expressive indications in the second half of the score encourage this effect, calling for an ever more sustained (poco a poco più sostenuto) and tranquil (tranquillo) style of performance. At the close we hear once again the opening theme with its pattern of statement and response, but in reverse. While the strings play the original response the horn sustains the lowest note in the passage, D, for twelve measures. The string's final chord then becomes a backdrop for the horns nostalgic reprise of the opening phrase.

Rachmaninoff, Sonata for Violoncello and Piano, Op. 19

In the first few years following his graduation in 1892 from the Moscow Conservatory, Rachmaninoff's prospects for a successful career in composition could scarcely have been better. Tchaikovsky, the preeminent Russian composer of the day, had taken an active interest in his advancement, having arranged a performance of his one-act opera Aleko early in 1893. Rachmaninoff had meanwhile secured a contract with the publisher Gutheil, and had begun publishing songs, short compositions for orchestra, chamber and choral works, and piano pieces with this firm. One of the latter, his Prelude in C-sharp minor, quickly won him international recognition. Though gratified by this success, he knew that the reputation of a major composer could not be made on such trifles, and in January of 1895, at the age of twenty two, he began his first large-scale orchestral work, a symphony in D minor.

Few composers of any era have approached a first symphony with the daring and ambition of the young Rachmaninoff, who devised for his a unifying scheme on the grandest of scales. The three themes of the first movement are the basis for nearly all of the music of the succeeding movements, deployed throughout the symphony according to a systematic plan. The first theme becomes the basis of the scherzo, the second is reinterpreted throughout the slow movement, and then all three themes are reunited in the finale. The night of the premiere, in early 1897, found the composer stopping his ears against a cacophony for which he was entirely unprepared, wondering how he could so thoroughly have miscalculated the aesthetic effect of his music. In short, the symphony bombed, and its failure was devastating to Rachmaninoff, who sank into depression and composed virtually nothing for three years. Finally, his relatives persuaded him to seek medical help, and under a program of hypnotherapy and autosuggestion supervised by Dr. Nikolai Dahl, he regained his confidence and will to work.

Among the first fruits of Rachmaninoff's creative rebirth were the Sonata for Cello and Piano and its better-known companion, the Second Piano Concerto, both completed in 1901. As one might expect, he turned away in these works from the treacherous artistic path he had explored in the First Symphony, eschewing grandiose systems of organization, densely interrelated networks of themes, and heavy textures. In their place we find a classical simplicity of form, clarity of texture, and the effusive, unrestrained flow of melody that defines Rachmaninoff's first mature works. Though many, the composer included, believe that his best music was still to come, the freshness, vigor, and technical mastery of the Cello Sonata and its companion pieces has won for these works an enduring popularity.

i. Lento; Allegro moderato; G minor; sonata form with slow introduction
The slow introduction (Lento) and the movement proper (Allegro moderato) each begin with a crucial melodic kernel, the former a rising half step from the cello, the latter a repeated anapest (short-short-long) that proves ubiquitous in the piano part. As in nearly all of Rachmaninoff's first movements, the two main themes, which follow, contrast in every way. The first is in the minor mode, unstable, searching, with asymmetrical phrases and a faster tempo than its counterpart; the second is in the major mode, calm, balanced, idyllic. After generating a great deal of tension in a development section built largely on the rising half step and anapest figures, Rachmaninoff executes a dramatic strategy he learned from his mentor, Tchaikovsky: When the two main themes are recapitulated, he exaggerates the unsettled qualities of the first, which follows its original course for only a few measures before it is caught up in a frenzied crescendo. Then, through a change in register and transposition to the home key, he in turn stresses the contrary qualities of its counterpart, making the second theme even more stable and idyllic than on its first sounding. From his writings, we know in general terms what Tchaikovsky meant to convey when he used this kind of intensifying contrast (as in the first movements of his fourth, fifth, and sixth symphonies): a growing rift between the real and the ideal. Rachmaninoff rarely discussed the meaning of his music. Nevertheless, the centrifugal tendencies of his two themes convey a sense of things falling apart; an imbalance that must be corrected later in the sonata.

ii. Allegro scherzando; C minor; ABACABA
The opening theme of the scherzo is dark and rhythmically propulsive, generally quiet but with explosive outbursts. Frequent tremolo (quickly repeated notes) in both instruments contributes to an air of hushed tension. The "B" theme arrives as a brief moment of relative calm. Beginning brightly in E-flat major, it drifts gently but steadily down to the inevitable return of the opening. The central section, C, offers a more sustained contrast, its sweeping theme in A-flat major anticipating the big second theme of the finale. But after its dreamy dissolution, there is a sudden upwelling and then a tumultuous fall into the reprise of the first section (ABA).

iii. Andante; E-flat major; ABA
If the first two movements are plays of contrast, the third is about concord and cooperation. After the piano introduces the theme, the two instruments pass its phrases back and forth in perfect sympathy. It sounds bittersweet, perhaps because the accompaniment's characteristic motion is to rock back and forth between the major and the minor modes. The central section becomes passionate and the conclusion contains some marvelous and unexpected harmonic twists.

iv. Allegro mosso; G major; sonata form
Unlike the themes of the first movement, those of the finale are expressively complementary and closely linked by common contours. Both are in the major mode, the first recklessly exuberant, the second quietly exultant. A high point of the sonata comes when their deep affinity is sealed during the repetition of the second theme: While the cello sounds the melody, the piano supports it with variations on the first theme, the fusion a symbol of wholeness and reconciliation. In the development section the exuberance of the principal theme turns to extreme tension when it is reinterpreted in the minor mode. But in the end these few dark moments only place the triumphant conclusion in higher relief.

Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 3 in D Major, Op 29 "Polish" - Premiere: Moscow, November 7, 1875 under Nikolai Rubinstein.

Traditionally, Tchaikovsky';s symphonies are classified in two groups, the early symphonies, comprising numbers 1, 2, and 3, and the mature ones, including numbers 4 through 6 and the unnumbered "Manfred" Symphony. Given that the Third and Fourth symphonies were composed only two years apart, in 1875 and 1877 respectively, the aesthetic gulf separating the two works and the disparate stylistic periods they represent is striking. Certainly Tchaikovsky's craftsmanship—the fluency of his melodic invention, his mastery of form, his command of the orchestral palette—had developed over these two years. But the differences between these two symphonies do not neatly reduce to matters of mere technique. Rather, they reflect a sea change in the composer's artistic temperament and, indeed, a new (new for Tchaikovsky, that is) conception of the relation between his symphonic music and life itself. Beginning with the Fourth, Tchaikovsky wrote of his late symphonies as though they symbolically embody life's essential conflicts in a deeply personal way. Both the first movement and the finale of the Fourth, for example, are overshadowed by a theme representing "Fate, that inexorable force that checks our aspirations toward happiness . . . hanging over our heads . . . and embittering the soul." Other themes embody attempts to sustain "fleeting dreams of happiness" against the onslaught of Fate. Overall the symphony takes on the character of a unified drama which Tchaikovsky ever after would associate with the psychological crisis he endured while composing it. For years he had been experiencing a growing sense of social isolation, anxiety, and depression associated in complex ways with his life as a homosexual, while living in constant fear of exposure and censure. Naively seeking to resolve these issues in a single stroke, he entered into a sham marriage in 1877. The consequences of its almost immediate dissolution were disastrous: scandal, temporary flight from Russia, and, some believe, an attempted suicide.

A Change of Scene
The psychological turmoil that was brought into focus by the crisis of 1877 was already at work in more diffuse forms in the months preceding Tchaikovsky's work on the Third Symphony in the late spring and early summer of 1875. Throughout the preceding school year he had been depressed for a number of reasons beyond those mentioned above, including what today would be called seasonal affective disorder. The dark, cold, Moscow winters weighed more heavily on him with each passing year, as did his teaching duties at the Moscow Conservatory, which he increasingly found to be an impediment to his creative work. Moreover, he faced chronic financial difficulties and the humiliation of continually borrowing money from friends and acquaintances. Overshadowing all of these chronic problems, however, was an incident that left its mark on his professional pride. On Christmas eve of 1874 he played the first movement of his newly composed Piano Concerto for Nikolai Rubinstein, the director of the Moscow Conservatory, a respected older composer, and a virtuoso pianist. Rubinstein unleashed a torrent of criticism bordering on abuse, claiming that the work "was impossible to play, that the passages are hackneyed, clumsy, and so awkward that there was no way even to correct them, that as a composition it was bad, vulgar." Tchaikovsky, deeply hurt and angered, retorted that the concerto would be published exactly as it had been written. It was, and within a year's time Rubinstein became a supporter and champion of the work, both as conductor and pianist. Nevertheless, his abusive critique had undermined the younger composer's confidence and exacerbated his feelings of social isolation. All of the pressures of this stressful year found expression for Tchaikovsky in a single desire: "to have a change of place and surroundings," to escape from Moscow at the earliest opportunity. This he did toward the end of May, visiting with friends and relatives throughout the provinces, making three extended stops in all. The changes of scene obviously were conducive to creative work, for in spite of his peripatetic life style, Tchaikovsky managed to complete his Third Symphony in a little over two months.

Unlike the later symphonies, in which Tchaikovsky confronts and works through the essential conflicts of life in musical terms, the Third Symphony is curiously untouched by the anxiety and depression of the year in which it was composed. In fact, it seems to faithfully reflect the composer's ardent desire for escape. Two of its movements, after all, visit distant lands by using the foreign dance styles of the ländler and the polonaise respectively; the fourth movement evokes a fairy-tale world, while the Andante elegiaco, the emotional center of the symphony, reflects a pastoral setting not unlike that in which it was composed during Tchaikovsky's happy and productive summer of 1875.

Evoking Germany, Russian, and Poland
The Third is exceptional among Tchaikovsky's symphonies in at least two ways. It is the only one of the seven in the major mode and, like Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique and Schumann's "Rhenish," it contains a fifth movement, an extra scherzo preceding the slow movement. The unauthorized subtitle "Polish" derives from the finale, whose principal theme is written in the style of a polonaise, a traditional Polish dance.
i — Introduzione e Allegro
The introduction in the minor mode with which the first movement begins bears the tempo indication "Moderato assai (Tempo di marcia funebre)." Its dark solemnity, however, far from evoking the funereal gloom one might expect, proves to be a classic ploy of misdirection practiced in slow introductions since the days of Haydn. Its tension and foreboding draw the listener in only to set the explosive brilliance of the Allegro that follows in higher relief. Unlike the fateful openings of his later symphonies, the music of this introduction is not heard from again. The first theme of the Allegro brillante starts loudly and with a martial flavor. After sixteen measures, a series of contrasting phrases leads away from and then inexorably back to the opening, which is reprised with greater intensity by the entire orchestra. The second theme, in the relative minor (B minor) begins quietly and at a slower tempo. Uncharacteristically for Tchaikovsky, who usually eschews such machinations, the plaintive descending motive of its first phrase, heard from the oboe, precisely inverts an ascending motive from the first theme.  From this point on it is sonata form by the book: frenetic closing material in A major, a development section in which all of the principal motives are woven together, and a full recapitulation of the themes.

ii — Alla tedescaAllegro moderato e semplice
The title Alla tredesca indicates a German dance in triple meter of the Waltz or Ländler type. The movement begins in B-flat major, but the theme has the quirk of sounding the home pitch only on the weak third beat of any given measure. This, along with an unusual emphasis on G minor harmonies, gives the dance an off-kilter, desultory quality. The hushed and mysterious Trio section in G minor features nearly continuous triplet figuration and a pattern of dialogue between winds and strings.    

iii — Andante elegiaco
The slow movement, unsurprisingly, is in "slow movement form," that is, sonata form without a development section. Like the central slow movement of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique, Tchaikovsky's Andante elegiaco evokes a pastoral setting. Its opening section, after a brief introduction, features a melody in D minor for solo bassoon strongly suggestive of Russian folk song, interrupted by a peculiar passage in which flutes and clarinet incessantly repeat a single rising and falling figure. The very strangeness of this latter passage seems to beg for an explanation in pictorial terms (bird calls?; bells in the distance?). The second theme, in B-flat major, is a characteristic Tchaikovskian melody for strings, unfolding slowly and then rising in a series of passionate waves before ebbing away. After a serene closing theme, the recapitulation begins immediately, its pattern, however, significantly varied. Most important, the elegiac folk theme for bassoon and horn is reserved for the very end.  

iv — Scherzo (Allegro vivo)
The second scherzo, in B minor, is fantastic and mercurial, aligning itself stylistically with a long tradition of fairy-tale scherzos that includes Berlioz's "Queen Mab" and Mendelssohn's scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The main theme alternates passages of string pizzicato with skirling lines passed between the violins and clarinets. Its two statements are linked by passages in which the strings descend eerily by the steps of the whole tone scale—a traditional way of evoking an atmosphere of the supernatural in Russian music. The Trio section is distinguished by the pitch D which is sustained from its beginning to its end by a tag-team of horns.

V — Finale (Allegro con fuoco)
Its tempo and a characteristic rhythm mark the principal theme of the finale as a polonaise. The movement is laid out as a seven part rondo (ABACABA) with coda, each of the four main statements of the polonaise theme sounding in the home key of D major. The second theme, a solemn hymn-like affair, provides the movement's climax when it is reprised by the full orchestra shortly before the exuberant coda.

André Jolivet, Pastorales de Noël for Flute, Bassoon and Harp (1943)

Music was a big part of Jolivet's early life but his path to a career as a composer was slow and indirect. He had trained as a teacher and was already working in various schools in Paris before undertaking a systematic course in composition with Paul Le Flem. After five years of study, and under the influence of Verèse, whom he had met in 1930, he began to produce important works and to define his position with respect to the major musical trends of his day. As a member of a group known as Jeune France (along with Messiaen, Lesur and Baudrier) he helped draft a manifesto advocating "a living music," while rejecting the putatively dry and abstract experiments of the serialists (Schoenberg, Webern, et alia) and Stravinsky.

Jolivet wished to ground his own experiements with complex harmonies in nature, linking them to the overtone series and other manifestations of natural law. More central still to his aesthetic views was linnking music to its deep cultural past and its role in the evolution of human society. Specifically, he hoped to restore "music's original ancient sense, as the magical and incantatory expression of the religiosity of human communities." This concern is apparent in such titles as "Mana" (1935), "Cinq incantations" for solo flute (1936). and "Cinq danses rituelles" (1939), works evoking ancient and exotic cultures. Understood in this light, his Pastorales de Noël are not mere Christmas music, but rather treat the deepest magical symbols and mythology underlying the religiosity of one particular community. They, like other works Jolivet composed during the Second World War, are in a direct and accessible style, free both of his arcane, pre-war harmonic complexities and the extreme technical demands of his well-known concertos from the fifties and sixties.

The first movement, "L'Etoile," concerns the Star of Bethlehem, that celestial harbinger of Christ's birth beloved of Christian mythology. In its opening bars, simple duets for flute and bassoon are followed by rising arpeggios in the harp that draw the eye metaphorically upward to a final high harmonic, ringing out like a cold and distant point in the heavens. In the central section the simple language of the movement is broken three times by a hint of the exotic mode that will be the basis of the second movement, "Les Mages" ("The Magi"). It is as though each of the three kings spots the star from his respective land and is called to follow it.

The journey of the Magi is the subject of the second movement. Here a mysterious ostinato pattern marks the travelers' steady progress. It sounds in nearly every measure of the harp part while the melody in flute or bassoon sings in the accents of an exotic mode, employing a characteristic augmented step from E-flat to F-sharp. one striking detail of the orchestration is a slow, steady pulse on middle C punctuating the downbeat of each measure, sounded by flute and harp harmonics in alternate measures. The final goal of this pilgrimage, the Maiden and Child in Bethlehem ("La Vierge et l'enfant"), is the subject of the third movement. The language here is simplicity itself: every note falls within a C natural-minor scale; the harmony consists only of minor chords on C, F and G. The tender dialogue between flute and bassoon and the equal sharing of material between the winds and the harp evokes a sense of peace and total concord.

The finale, "Entrée et danse des bergers" ("Entrance and Dance of the Shepherds"), as the title suggests, is in two parts, a slow introduction and a lively dance. The latter has some piquant harmonic and rhythmic effects, adding a subtle edge of roughness to its air of rustic gaiety. The dance accelerates at the close and ends with a sweeping glissando on a thoroughly unexpected E mojor chord with added sixth (C-sharp).

Mendelssohn, Octet in E-flat, Op. 20 (1825)

Felix Mendelssohn grew up in a wealthy and well-connected family whose Berlin home was a center of culture, its regular visitors a who's who of the city's intellectual and artistic life. As a child his friends included leading lights in the theater, literature, science, philosophy, theology, the fine arts, and, of course, music. He had excellent teachers in piano, music theory, and painting, and he himself contributed substantially to Goethe's musical education. Many of his early works, including the Octet, were heard at weekly Sunday performances in his home, the instant feedback an inestimable boon to his development as a composer. Throughout his formative years he loved and drew inspiration from the music of Bach, Handel, and Mozart, and at the age of twenty directed a revival of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the event a milestone in the modern cultivation of Bach's music.

The Octet for strings, Op. 20, composed when Felix was sixteen, is the earliest of Mendelssohn's works to hold a firm place in the repertoire. To this day it is the best-known work for its particular ensemble (essentially, a double quartet; 4 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos). By the time he set to work on it, however, he had already composed several concertos, thirteen symphonies for strings, a symphony for full orchestra, psalm settings, a Magnificat, several Sinspiels, and numerous chamber works.

In the Octet's substantial opening movement, the young Mendelssohn demonstrated not just a sure mastery of classical sonata form, but a keen dramatic and expressive sense as well. Particularly striking, for example, is the way he follows the storm and stress in the first part of the development with a forlorn transformation of his second theme in the minor mode—an unmistakable case of emotional cause and effect that is thoroughly Romantic in sensibility. Touches like this notwithstanding, the movement is relatively conventional in form. The other three movements, by contrast, give no evidence of conventional formal mastery. Instead we are treated to something far more compelling and rare: each is idiosyncratic and organized by its own inner logic, each a remarkable flight of pure imagination defying traditional formal categories.

The slow movement (Andante) is pastoral in character with three contrasting themes. The first spends as much time in the remote region of D-flat major as it does in the home key of C minor, lending it an unsettled quality that belies its calm demeanor. The second theme is tense and yearning, the third idyllic and brimming with contentment. These two latter ideas are freely restated and developed throughout, whereas the opening theme returns only at the very end where its problematic D-flats undercut any sense of stability or finality.

We know from the composer's correspondence that the third movement (Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo) was inspired by the witches' Sabbath scene in Goethe's Faust, particularly its images of flying clouds and mists in the moonlight, wind in the leaves and rushes. Its music is nocturnal and mercurial. After the repeat of the first section it is remarkably free in form with relatively little literal repetition.

The final Presto is a contrapuntal extravaganza recalling the finale of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony. Like the Mozart, its contrasting thematic fragments—one paraphrases a motive from Handel's Messiah ("For he shall reign forever and ever…")—are piled up in ever more complex combinations as the movement unfolds. The scherzo theme even makes an appearance. Once again literal repetition is eschewed in favor of headlong forward progress, this time to an energetic and throughly satisfying conclusion.


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