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MSO: Green Bay; 5/11/13…Notes by Roger Ruggeri © 2013
Ludwig van Beethoven
Shortly after Napoleon’s second invasion of Vienna in the spring of 1809, the Vienna Court Theaters hired Josef Hartl as its new director. Taking advantage of a general relaxation of censorship, Hartl scheduled two revolutionary plays: Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell and Goethe’s Egmont. Beethoven expressed an interest in the Schiller play, but in the way that these things frequently happen, Wilhelm Tell was assigned to the now obscure Bohemian composer, Adalbert Gyrowetz. Thus, the task of composing incidental music for Goethe’s Egmont, a play “supposed to be less adaptable to music,” fell to Beethoven. The composer completed the overture and nine other numbers in time for the first performance on June 15th, 1810.
The Count of Egmont (1522-1568) was a Flemish statesman who began his career as an officer in the Spanish Army. In this capacity he gained the admiration of the people of Flanders by ridding their country of French rule. Unfortunately, the Spanish eventually became as oppressive as the French. Although Egmont was a devout Catholic and a loyal subject to Philip II of Spain, he opposed the Spanish when they began their persecution of Dutch Protestants. Arrested by order of the Duke of Alba, Egmont was given a politically influenced trial and sentenced for beheading. Upon his execution, Egmont became a martyr-figurehead for the open rebellion that soon erupted.
With his Egmont Overture, Beethoven utilized one of his favorite procedures, the transformation of initial turmoil and strife to concluding triumph.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 36
By the time that Beethoven was in his early thirties, he had risen to the forefront of musical life in Vienna. He had long been respected for his forceful piano performances and was now in a strong enough position as a composer to name and usually receive his fee for commissioned works. All seemed to be on the ascendant for Beethoven; only one who knew him well might have noticed that he was becoming somewhat more reclusive and that he was making frequent visits to various physicians. By 1802, his associates began to suspect that his hearing was impaired, but did not dare to say a word. In the summer of that year, Beethoven, on the recommendation of one of his doctors, went for a sort of rest cure to the small village of Heiligenstadt, near Vienna.
Among the most amazing aspects of this bleak period in Beethoven’s life is that upon his return to Vienna from Heiligenstadt, he brought the score of his Second Symphony; a sunny work that gives little hint of the personal turmoil within its originator. Of historical significance is the fact that the speeded-up minuet (third movement) of this work was the first to be dubbed a “scherzo.”
Perhaps because the Symphony No. 2 is a happy, relatively light-hearted work, it is sometimes considered to be a “lesser” composition. It is with this work that the pattern of lyric even-numbered and dramatic odd-numbered symphonies begins.
Prelude and Liebestod, from the opera Tristan und Isolde
To the extent that any one work can epitomize an era and a composer’s achievement, Tristan und Isolde is the central icon of 19th-century German Romanticism and Wagner’s music; the Prelude and Liebstod is a distillation of that opera. In brief, the dark psychological message of the Tristan legend is that the ultimate goal of lovers’ passion is the deepest night of death. Impressed by his perceived parallel between this legend and his own affair with Mathilde Wesendonck, Wagner first conceived his opera in 1854; he began actual work on this project in 1857 and ultimately completed it on August 6, 1859. While working on it, he wrote to Mme. Wesendonck: “This Tristan is turning into something terrifying! I’m afraid the opera will be forbidden–unless it is turned into a parody by bad performances. Only mediocre performances can save me!”
In an ancient Celtic tale, Tristan was sent to woo Isolde for his uncle, King Marke of Cornwall. Soon realizing that they are caught in a web of forbidden love, Tristan and Isolde see night/death as their only haven and resolve to be together by drinking poison. When the poison turns out to be a love potion, the emotions of the young pair are momentarily allowed to blossom at the moment that they are within sight of Marke’s castle. The pair is later discovered by the King and his entourage during a castle garden meeting; Tristan is severely wounded by one of the knights. Isolde follows Tristan to his castle, where he has returned to die. As the Love-Death (Liebestod) music swells to a climax, Isolde joins Tristan in the hereafter.
Manuel de Falla
Three Dances from Part II of “The Three-Cornered Hat”
Around the beginning of the First World War, the famed impresario of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Serge Diaghilev, became interested in the possibility of a Falla ballet. Falla suggested a work based upon a novel, El Corregidor y la molinera (“The Corregidor and the Miller’s Wife”), by the Spaniard, Pedro del Alarcon (1833-1891). Having gained permission to use the story, the composer wrote a chamber orchestra score. The success of Falla’s sophisticated “translation” of authentic Spanish music into an international style culminated in a 1919 version with full orchestra.
The one-act ballet revolves around the activities of a young miller, his attractive wife and the wearer of the three-cornered hat, an aging and lecherous Corregidor. The second part takes place on the evening of the same day; the miller and his wife are giving a feast for their neighbors in celebration of St. John’s Eve. First heard is the Neighbor’s Dance, a vital seguidilla. The host then amazes everyone with a virtuosic farucca (Miller’s Dance). The Final Dance begins when the miller returns to the stage with a jubilant chuffa. The neighbors then join in a jota as they toss an effigy of the foiled Corregidor in a blanket.