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Violin Legends: Hilary Hahn


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Program Notes


FRI SEPT 23, 8 pm • SAT SEPT 24, 8 pm 

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor • HILARY HAHN violinist

SCHUMANN (1810–1856)

Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120

• Ziemlich langsam. Lebhaft
• Romanze. Ziemlich langsam
• Scherzo: Lebhaft
• Langsam. Lebhaft

INTERMISSION

BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)

Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61

• Allegro ma non troppo 
• Larghetto
• Rondo: Allegro


Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120

Born: June 8, 1810 at Zwickau in Saxony | Died: July 29, 1856 at Endenich, near Bonn

Work composed: May–September 1841, revised
December 13–19, 1851

Premiere: December 6, 1841 in Leipzig (original, as Symphony No. 2)—Ferdinand David conducting; December 30, 1852 in Düsseldorf (revised)—Schumann conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

CSO subscription performances: 26 previous subscription weekends

Premiere: January 1895 (inaugural concert of the CSO, Pike Opera House), Frank Van der Stucken conducting

Most recent: April 2007, Paavo Järvi conducting (Mahler arrangement: February 2012, Xian Zhang conducting)

Duration: approx. 30 min

September 13, 1841 was a special day for Clara Schumann. Not only did she celebrate her 22nd birthday, but also her first child, Marie, was christened. Furthermore, the previous day had been the first anniversary of her wedding. Her husband had presented Clara with a special birthday/anniversary gift, the score of a new symphony, conceived as a portrait of his wife. The symphony, which eventually became known as Number 4 in D Minor, is pervaded by a melody which is a version of what Schumann called his Clara theme. He had previously used it in a number of other works: it first appears in the Davidsbündlertänze, a piano work written when Schumann began to think seriously of marrying Clara.

The early years of Schumann’s marriage were a period of intense compositional activity. He composed over 150 songs in 1840, which became known as his year of the song. 1841 was the year of the symphony; Schumann composed the First Symphony, the D Minor Symphony, and a work that is essentially a symphony without slow movement, the Overture, Scherzo and Finale. The following year he concentrated on chamber music, completing three string quartets, the Piano Quartet and the Piano Quintet.

During 1841 Schumann began the Overture, Scherzo and Finale within days of completing the First Symphony. He went on immediately after finishing that work to what became the first movement of his Piano Concerto. No sooner was that movement completed than Clara recorded in her diary:

Yesterday he began another symphony. I have not heard anything of it so far, but at times I catch the sound of a fiery D minor in the distance, and I can see from the way he acts that it will be another work drawn from the very depths of his soul. Heaven is favorably inclined towards us, and even Robert cannot be more blissfully happy at his work than I am when he finally shows me what he has composed.

Before the year of the symphony had run its course, Schumann had not only completed three symphonies but also sketched another in C minor (which he never completed) and nearly finished a work for chorus and orchestra.

The D Minor Symphony (originally listed as No. 2) and the Overture, Scherzo and Finale were introduced to the public at the same concert. The remainder of the program consisted of two piano works by Franz Liszt, one which Liszt himself played and one in which Clara joined him in a duet. Schumann had been looking forward to this concert, hoping it would help solidify his already growing reputation. But no one could compete with Liszt. Liszt was a commanding stage personality, and his performances of his own virtuoso keyboard works overshadowed Schumann’s symphonies. The public seemed scarcely to notice the two orchestral works. Schumann’s disappointment was made still more bitter by the fact that Clara, by performing the duet, had played an unwitting part in focusing attention on Liszt.

Although aware of his friend’s personal magnetism as a performer, Schumann placed the blame for the public’s indifference not on Liszt but on his own orchestral works. He withdrew the symphony and put it in his desk for a decade. He eventually reorchestrated it and made a few small structural changes. His rescoring procedure was bizarre. He employed someone to recopy the original version of all the string parts, leaving room on the paper for new wind, brass and percussion music, which Schumann then filled in. Thus the rescoring did not affect the strings and did not allow them to respond to changes he made in the wind parts.

The second performance of the new version was part of Düsseldorf’s equivalent of Cincinnati’s May Festival. In May 1853 the 31st annual Lower Rhine Music Festival assembled an orchestra of 160 and a chorus of 490 to perform excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Gluck’s Alceste. The distinguished violinist Joseph Joachim played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto under Schumann’s direction, and Ferdinand Hiller conducted Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The festival opened with Schumann’s Symphony in D Minor, now listed as Number 4 (Schumann had published two more symphonies since putting the D Minor aside in 1841). The festival closed with a work Schumann had composed especially for the occasion, the Festival Overture on the Rhine Wine Song, for orchestra with chorus.

Although Schumann had acquired many years of experience as a conductor by the time he revised the symphony, in some ways the scoring is less successful than in the original version. It is thicker, less soloistic, and sometimes actually turgid. One Schumann scholar, Brian Schlotel, feels that the thicker orchestration was a direct result of Schumann’s experiences on the podium: since he was not a particularly effective conductor, he may have decided (perhaps subconsciously) to write music that would play itself or even that would not suffer too drastically if various members of the orchestra did not attend rehearsals. On the other hand, there are decided improvements both orchestrational and structural in the new version. Brahms was the first of several musicians to prefer the original version, and he arranged, despite Clara’s disapproval, for its publication 30 years after Schumann’s death. Today most conductors use the final version, possibly incorporating some of the lighter scoring details of the original.

KEYNOTE: The Clara theme, which opens the symphony, returns in many guises throughout the piece. To unify a multi-movement composition in this manner was particularly popular among romantic composers, who took their cue from Beethoven (the four-note rhythmic figure that opens the Fifth Symphony, for example, recurs in all movements in various guises). As Schumann’s slow introduction accelerates in its transition to the faster main portion of the first movement, the eight-note theme (a rising arpeggio followed by a descending stepwise motive) that is repeated again and again contains (notes 5–8) a fragment of the Clara figure. When this idea becomes the main theme of the allegro, a bond is established between the two sections of the movement. Since the secondary theme is virtually the same as the main theme but in another key, all the principal materials of the movement are generated by the opening melodic idea. Even a new lyrical theme which appears during the development section has embedded within it the Clara motive.

Another means Schumann employs to increase unity is having the movements played without pause. The somewhat inconclusive ending of the first movement propels us into the second, marked Romanze. After a plaintive melody in the oboe and cellos, the upper strings present the Clara theme much as it was first played in the first movement. The contrasting middle section features a solo violin decorating a new theme.

The vigorous scherzo theme also contains the Clara motive, this time played in inversion (upside-down). The trio section brings back the solo violin music from the second movement. At its end the scherzo slows down but does not really conclude. It fades into the slow introduction to the finale.

The finale begins with a new version of the end of the first movement’s introduction, which contains the Clara motive. As in the first movement, this material also forms part of the main theme of the allegro. The development section begins with a fugato based on the second theme. In the coda the music gets progressively faster as it drives toward a triumphant ending.

—Jonathan D. Kramer

 

Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61

Born: December 16, 1770, Bonn, Germany | Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna

Work composed: 1806

Premiere: December 23, 1806 in Vienna—Franz Clement, violinist and conductor. 

Instrumentation: solo violin, flute, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

CSO subscription performances: 37 previous subscription weekends

Premiere: April 1895 (Pike Opera House), Henry Schradieck, conductor and violinist  

Most recent: March 2012, Pinchas Steinberg conducting, Midori, violinist

Duration: approx. 43 min.

Violinist Franz Clement was one of the most gifted musicians in Beethoven’s Vienna. He had made his mark as a child by performing at the Vienna Imperial Opera House from the age of nine, and by playing concertos under the baton of Haydn in London two years later. He made frequent international concert tours. When Beethoven first heard the 14-year-old boy perform in 1794, the composer wrote to the prodigy:

Continue along the road on which you have already made such a fine and magnificent journey. Nature and art have combined to make a great artist of you. Follow them both and, never fear, you will reach greatness, the highest goal that an artist can desire in the world. All my good wishes for your happiness, dear child, and come back soon so that I can hear your clear, magnificent playing once again.

Clement fulfilled Beethoven’s hopes. He grew up to become concertmaster and conductor of the Vienna Opera. Beethoven entrusted to him conducting the first performance of the Eroica Symphony.

Clement had a phenomenal musical memory. The composer Ludwig Spohr recalled how Clement perfectly reproduced long stretches of an oratorio having heard only two rehearsals and one performance. Clement made a piano reduction of Haydn’s large oratorio The Creation—from memory! And, when the first version of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio was a failure and a group of musicians met to decide how to salvage the work, Clement sat at the keyboard and played the entire score from memory.

Clement decided to give a benefit concert in December 1806. He asked Beethoven to contribute a violin concerto, and the composer readily agreed, for Clement was one of the few musicians in Vienna he respected—and from whom he would accept criticism. The numerous changes in the manuscript bear witness to their frequent editorial sessions. Since the composer was not himself a violinist, he had to rely on Clement’s expertise in practical matters.

As was often the case with Beethoven, the work was completed only at the last minute. Clement had often gone over the solo part with the composer, but there was not enough time for even a single full rehearsal with orchestra. Miraculously, the performance was not a fiasco—Clement’s keen memory of the sketches compensated for the lack of practicing time. But it could not have been a completely convincing performance either, as the unfavorable reviews would seem to indicate. The situation was furthermore not helped by Clement’s tendency to show off. He actually played a sonata of his own between the first and second movements of the concerto, and, in order to keep the audience’s interest, he played it on only one string of a violin held upside down!

The audience reaction was lukewarm. Even if the performance had been well rehearsed and not interrupted by Clement’s silly display of ego, the concerto still might have puzzled its original listeners. It was far longer and more complex than any previous violin concerto. The concertos of Mozart, for example, are modest in comparison. But Beethoven’s work is expansive and symphonic. One critic, while praising Clement’s performance, wrote of the concerto, “The musical argument is often quite loose, and the unending repetition of certain rather ordinary passages might easily become wearisome.”

There was a second, somewhat more successful performance a year later, but in the following 30 years there were no more than a half dozen performances. It was not until another boy, Joseph Joachim, played the concerto in 1844 (at the age of 13) under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn that the work was fully appreciated. Henceforth it entered the standard repertoire of every concert violinist.

KEYNOTE: The critic’s “unending repetition of certain rather ordinary passages” no doubt refers to the principal motive of the first movement. Heard quietly at the outset in solo timpani, this figure is the simplest possible musical gesture—five evenly played repetitions of the same note. The simplicity of the motive allows it to be used in a variety of contexts, lending an undercurrent of tension to this otherwise gentle movement. Beethoven unifies the movement by the pervasive use of this figure. There is scarcely a page of the score that does not contain this motive—whether blatantly orchestrated as at the recapitulation, tucked away within a melodic line as in the second theme, speeded up as in repeated 16th-note passages, or hidden in an accompanimental line.

The first movement creates inner tension in another manner. It makes us wait as long as possible before the violin enters. We must wait even longer before hearing the entire lyrical second theme played by the solo instrument: it comes directly after the cadenza, with a wonderfully peaceful feeling.

These undercurrents of tension subtly disturb the beautifully melodic, wonderfully lyrical, almost pastoral melodies of this movement. Despite these tensions, though, the movement moves at a leisurely pace. Notice, for example, how long the music remains on one harmony (the dominant) when the soloist first enters. It is almost as if Beethoven stops time for a moment, to let the violin slowly assert itself.

The slow movement is a dialogue between the solo instrument, which usually plays florid figures, and the orchestra, whose music is generally unadorned. At the end, the music turns suddenly almost operatic in what turns out to be a direct transition into the finale.

The finale opens with a straightforward rondo tune for the solo instrument. Beethoven instructs the soloist to play this melody solely on the G string, the lowest string on the violin, despite the tune’s frequent rise into the registers of the D and A strings. The result, besides being difficult to perform well, is a special nasal timbre which lends this folk-like tune its special character. The movement presents contrasting ideas but returns inevitably to this main theme.

The ending is particularly clever. The music seems to have nothing more to say. It simplifies and seems about to die away, when the solo instrument returns for one final quiet suggestion of the main tune. Then, at the last possible moment, the full orchestra plays two loud, short concluding chords.

—Jonathan D. Kramer