STL Symphony 17x11

University Concert Series Presents

St. Louis Symphony

September 27, 2015

Missouri Theatre

The 2015-2016 Concert Series season kicks off with a talented performance by the St. Louis Symphony. As the second oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, the St. Louis Symphony is recognized internationally as an ensemble of the highest caliber, performing a broad musical repertoire with skill and spirit.

Ticket Prices: $42 | $37

Set List

Steven Jarvi, conductor

HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 103 in E-flat major, “Drum Roll” (1795)

Adagio; Allegro con spirito Andante più tosto Allegretto Menuet
Finale: Allegro con spirit

–INTERMISSION–

BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 6 in F major, op. 68, “Pastoral” (1808)

Awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the country (Allegro ma non troppo)
Scene by the brook (Andante molto mosso) Merry gathering of country folk (Allegro)— Thunderstorm (Allegro)—

Shepherd’s Song: Happy and grateful feelings after the storm (Allegretto) 

 

THE USUAL STROKES OF GENIUS Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, his penultimate work in the genre he enriched so greatly over his long career, dates from the second of the composer’s celebrated visits to England, in the 1790s. It was heard for the first time during a concert in the King’s Theater on March 2, 1795. The next day, a London newspaper reported that “Another new Overture [symphony], by the fertile and enchanting Haydn, was performed; which, as usual, had continues strokes of genius, both in air and harmony.”

London audiences had come to expect “strokes of genius in the symphonies Haydn wrote for them, and the famous visitor took pains not to disappoint them. His so-called “London” symphonies, the last 12 that he produced, are sufficiently brilliant in thematic invention and orchestral sonority to rank with Mozart’s last symphonies as the greatest compositions of their kind until the 19th century. Moreover, they are replete with original touches. Within the formal and stylistic conventions that he himself had done much to establish for the symphony, Haydn offers myriad surprises: unforeseen turns of melody or harmony, sudden pauses, thematic cross-references, and the like. Indeed, it is the tension between the clarity and accessibility of these compositions, on the one hand, and their avoidance of
the predictable or banal, on the other, that makes them “classical” in the best and broadest sense of the term.

DRUM ROLL, PLEASE The symphony’s first surprise is not long in coming: the timpani roll that begins the work and gives it the title by which it is popularly known. Haydn’s dramatic opening gesture, which seems so simple and so obvious,

was unprecedented when he wrote this work, and it remains practically unique in the symphonic literature. It launches an introductory passage in slow tempo that precedes the main body of the first movement, and whose music returns unexpectedly near the movement’s close.

The second movement takes the form of a double theme-and-variations set, with the peculiar feature of using two closely related melodies in the minor and major modes respectively. Since Haydn varies these themes in an alternating sequence, the tonal complexion of the music continually shifts between dark and lighter hues.

As the distinguished Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon observes, the ensuing minuet is not so much a courtly dance as a broad symphonic movement in 3⁄4 time. The finale, like the Allegro portion of the opening movement, derives much of its character from its initial motif, in this case a horn call that introduces, and then accompanies, the movement’s theme. Haydn develops this single subject in bracing contrapuntal textures, punctuating it at crucial moments with recollections of the horn-call motif.

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 6 in F major, op. 68, “Pastoral”

First Performance – December 22, 1808, in Vienna; Beethoven conducted

Scoring
2 flutes piccolo 2 oboes 2 clarinets 2 bassoons 2 horns

2 trumpets 2 trombones timpani strings

Performance Time approximately 39 minutes

EXPRESSING THE ECSTASY OF THE WOODS Beethoven’s love of the outdoors has been amply documented. “He loved to be alone with nature, to make her his only confidante,” reported one of Beethoven’s closer companions. Another acquaintance confirmed that he “had never met anyone who so … thoroughly enjoyed flowers or clouds or other natural objects.” Each summer Beethoven moved his lodging to a rural area outside of Vienna, where he took long walks through the fields and forests, an activity that rarely failed to lift his spirits. “It seems as if in the country every tree said to me ‘Holy! Holy!’” the composer once confessed. “Who can give complete expression to the ecstasy of the woods?”

Who, indeed, if not Beethoven himself? In 1803 the composer made preliminary sketches for a symphony intended to convey the glories of a sylvan landscape, but he did not complete this, his Sixth Symphony, for another five years. The composer himself devised the title “Pastoral Symphony, or a recollection of country life.” He also provided the descriptive headings that precede each of the five movements. Even without these guides, there could hardly be any mistaking the pictorial qualities of this composition. It draws on a well-established repertory of musical onomatopoeia to convey natural bird calls, a storm, and more.

Yet Beethoven evidently worried that listeners would give too much attention to these pictorial elements. He therefore appended a caveat to the symphony’s title: “More an expression of feelings than tone painting.” The qualification is important. Nature clearly meant more to Beethoven than just a pleasing landscape or woodland sounds that could be imitated through clever musical imagery. It was, rather, a wellspring of purity and beauty, something to be held in reverence. And it is the composer’s great feeling for nature, far more than tonal allusions to brooks and birds and storms, which lie at the heart of the “Pastoral” Symphony.

LANDSCAPE, DRAMA, EMOTION The first movement, entitled “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the country,” seems expansive and unhurried despite its Allegro tempo indication. Certain critics have complained of a static quality in much of this music, and it can seem that very little happens. Harmonies remain unchanged for dozens of measures at a time, and motifs are repeated at length without variation.

But in fact a great deal happens. The repeated figures never lack a strong sense of direction and are dappled with ever-changing orchestral colors. The slow harmonic motion lends each change of chord a heightened significance.

“Scene by the brook” reads Beethoven’s heading for the second movement, and a stream of flowing melody runs through its pages. The hint of bird calls suggested through woodwind arpeggios and violin trills becomes explicit in the final measures. Beethoven, in the score, even identifies his collaborators: a nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (clarinet).

The final three movements—“Merry gathering of country folk,” “Thunderstorm,” and “Shepherd’s Song: Happy and grateful feelings after the storm”—are linked by a continuous dramatic thread. The scherzo third movement has the robust quality of the peasant dances that Beethoven undoubtedly encountered on his rambles through the countryside. But the “merry gathering” is interrupted by an ominous rumbling in the low strings. This is a wonderfully dramatic moment, hushed and perfectly timed. A musical tempest then breaks out in full symphonic fury.

Calls from the clarinet and horn signal the end of the storm and lead to a radiant theme in the strings, the principal subject of the finale. This melody is child-like in its simplicity, entailing almost nothing but the outlines of the most primary chords, yet sublime in its beauty. It conveys innocent gratitude and transcendent joy. Beethoven attributes these feelings to his imaginary shepherd, but they are, of course, his own. And it is these feelings, these very human feelings, which distinguish the “Pastoral” Symphony from countless other musical depictions of nature penned by composers throughout the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. By now, the significance of this composition comes clearly into focus. The traveler arriving in the countryside, the peasants dancing, the shepherd singing after the storm— throughout his symphony, Beethoven, that great humanist, celebrates not just nature but mankind in nature. 


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