LISZT vs SIBELIUS
Saturday 04 August 18:00 & Sunday 05 August 15:00
Conductor: Rik Ghesquière
Liszt Les Preludes – Symphonic Poem
Liszt Piano Concerto no 1 – David Jalbert – from Canada (piano)
Sibelius Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, Op. 47
– Emmanuel Bach from UK (violin)
Saturday 04 August 18:00 & Sunday 05 August 15:00
|Block A (Adult) – R310||Block B (Adult) – R260|
|Block A (Senior) – R260||Block B (Senior)- R210|
|Block C (Row P, Q, R) – R160|
Brooklyn Theatre (012 460 6033)
Greenlyn Village Centre
C/o Thomas Edison and 13th Streets
A virtuoso with a warm, elegant style and a wide-ranging repertoire, pianist David Jalbert has established himself among the elite of a new generation of classical musicians: “Jalbert’s piano playing is remarkable for its sweep, confidence, sensitivity, power and color, what more can we ask?” (Fanfare). Recently named by the CBC among the 15 best Canadian pianists of all time, Mr. Jalbert performs regularly as a soloist and recitalist across North America and Europe. His solo recordings – of the Goldberg Variations, the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, of American and French piano music – have all garnered international praise in venues ranging from Gramophone to France-Culture. An accomplished chamber musician, he has collaborated with artists such as Nicola Benedetti, Jean-Philippe Collard and the Quatuor Alcan and is a member of Triple Forte (along with violinist Jasper Wood and cellist Denise Djokic). A national and international prize-winner, David Jalbert has won four times at the Prix Opus and garnered three Juno Awards nods in recent years. He is a graduate from the Juilliard School, the Glenn Gould School and Université de Montréal and a professor of piano at the University of Ottawa.
Franz Liszt LES PRÉLUDES
Liszt himself declared, after becoming an abbé in the Catholic Church, “The best of me is in my religious music.” However, the composer’s judgment has not coincided with posterity’s, which has set the seal of approval on Liszt’s piano concertos and many of his solo piano pieces, and on a select few of his orchestral works. Les préludes is one of these, being the most famous of his 12 symphonic poems. Liszt had a very strong conviction on the subject of program music, namely, that a given story is a symbol of an idea, and that the expounding of the inherent philosophical and humanistic elements of the idea in pure lyricism should be the goal.
In theory, and most often in practice, Liszt, of all the 19th-century composers of program music, was closer to realizing the sense of Beethoven’s preface to his “Pastoral” Symphony: “More the expression of sentiment than painting.” Of course, Liszt, like Beethoven, with his drenchingly graphic rain and thunderstorm, acceded to certain specific picturesque temptations. But essentially the Lisztian imagery is poetically suggestive rather than concretely descriptive, and it was arrived at in original musical ways that worked a profound influence on all those, including Wagner, prepared to accept a new order.
Liszt’s structural means for attaining his goal was the devising of a free form in which a few basic themes undergo continuous transformations of melody, rhythm, harmony, timbre, dynamics, or tempo (any one, or several, or all of these simultaneously). Thus, for example, a Lisztian love theme can emerge as a blazing march, or vice-versa. The first-mentioned is precisely what happens in Les préludes. In the climactic section, the pair of lyric themes labeled by Liszt “the enchanted dawn of every life” and containing the work’s pervading three-note motif, are transformed into surging battle calls.
Les préludes was composed in 1854 and to it was appended a program note written by Liszt, indicating that the piece is to be considered a musical depiction of a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine.
“What is our life but a series of preludes to that unkown song whose first solemn note is tolled by death? The enchanted dawn of every life is love. But where is the destiny on whose first delicious joys some storm does not break?… And what soul thus cruelly bruised, when the tempest rolls away, seeks not to rest its memories in the pleasant calm of pastoral life? Yet man does not long permit himself to taste the kindly quiet that first attracted him to nature’s lap. For when the trumpet sounds he hastens to danger’s post, that in the struggle he may once more regain full knowledge of himself and his strength.”
— Orrin Howard
Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major
Until his 35th birthday, Franz Liszt pursued an active concert career as a virtuoso pianist, visiting every corner of Europe. Universally acclaimed as the greatest pianist of his time, he now aspired to be recognized as a composer, too. He had been writing music all his life (mainly piano music), but now he longed to concentrate on composition, tackle the great orchestral forms and realize the novel ideas that had occupied him for some time. His appointment as music director at the court of Weimar marked the end of extensive travelling and allowed him to spend more time composing. During the ten years of his tenure in Weimar, Liszt wrote his 12 great symphonic poems, his two symphonies (Faust and Dante), his B-minor Sonata for piano, and completed his two piano concertos and his Totentanz for piano and orchestra, which he had begun years earlier.
One of the main ideas Liszt brought to fruition during his Weimar period can be described as the “transformation technique.” This technique, essentially a kind of extended variation, involves a basic theme recurring throughout a work and undergoing fundamental changes in character, tempo, rhythm, etc.
In his symphonic poems, Liszt put the transformation technique in the service of literary programs. In his two piano concertos and in the sonata, he used it to achieve greater structural coherence and a unity of musical form in which everything grew organically out of a few basic cells.
Liszt worked on his E-flat major concerto throughout the 1840s and early ?50s, and first performed it in 1855. The work is in a single movement, but the outlines of a four-movement form (allegro-slow movement-scherzo-finale) are clearly discernible. The opening Allegro maestoso starts with a theme emphasizing half-steps, played by the orchestra before the piano bursts in with a virtuoso cadenza. The opening theme then returns to dominate much of the Allegro.
The slow section (Quasi Adagio) has a lyrical melody in an operatic style. The scherzo, with its constant triangle strokes, is followed by a recapitulation of material from the opening movement. In the finale, some of the Adagio’s themes are brought to new life as the lyrical song is turned into a triumphant march and another cantabile (singing) theme heard earlier becomes a playful and virtuosic etude. The music of the scherzo, too, reappears in the final Presto in which we hear again the chromatic theme with which the concerto began. The work concludes with a cascade of octaves going up and down the entire keyboard in half-steps, in keeping with the concerto’s initial musical idea. © Peter Laki
Sibelius Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D minor, Op. 47
Asked to use the words “Sibelius” and “violin” together in a sentence, most music lovers would automatically add the word “concerto” to the mix. It’s inevitable, really; Jean Sibelius’s D-minor Violin Concerto towers as an icy summit in the instrument’s literature. But Sibelius and the violin are connected in other ways, too. He aspired to become a violin virtuoso himself, but unfortunately fixed on that goal too late for it to be feasible. When he embarked on violin lessons he was 14 years old. By that age many virtuosos-in-training are already seasoned players, and the provincial in- struction available to Sibelius, combined with his tendency toward stage fright, limited his progress. Still, he became accomplished enough to play in the Vienna Conservatory’s orchestra when he was a student there, in 1890–91, and he even auditioned (unsuccess- fully) for a chair in the Vienna Philharmonic.
Sibelius enriched his instrument’s repertoire with quite a few works apart from this concerto. He worked on a second violin concerto in 1915 but abandoned it far from completion, recycling his sketches into his Sixth Symphony. He composed numerous works for violin and piano, including a Sonata (1889) and a Sonatina (Op. 80, 1915), as well as many items grouped into collections of short movements. Sibelius would complete his final composition in 1927 and in his final three decades limited his musical creativity to tinkering with extant pieces and making stabs at works that would never come to fruition. Shortly before he gave up composing, Sibelius was engaged one last time with the violin, though the Suite for Violin and Orchestra he projected would remain a fragmented draft.
None of these works rivals the Violin Concerto in combining Sibelius’s unique musical lan- guage with the capabilities of the solo instrument. This, in effect, was the central challenge confronting the composer. Already in such works as his first two symphonies and his Lemminkäinen tone poems he had defined his dark, sober sound, and these were not characteristics that would easily be melded with the more ex- troverted, even flashy tradition that surrounded most violin concertos of the 19th century. Sibelius was not naturally drawn toward composing concertos at all, and this would prove to be the only one, for any instrument, that he would see through to completion. Still, a concerto needed to have a certain degree of flashiness or else a soloist could hardly be expected to perform it. Sibelius solved this problem by creating what some historians have viewed as a deepening of the tradition.
The section of a traditional concerto most at odds with Sibelius’s predilection for profundity would be the first-movement cadenza, in which soloists are given the greatest opportunities to demonstrate their technical prowess. Sibelius meets the challenge head-on: he provides a solo cadenza but instead of presenting it as a sort of pendant to the proceedings he gives it immense structural importance, moving it to the middle of the movement and essentially making it fill the role of a development section. (A second cadenza, playing a more traditional function, originally stood at the end of the movement, but Sibelius eliminated it when he tightened the concerto in his 1905 revision.) Also non-traditional is the lack of real dialogue in this concerto, the sort of back and forth conversation between soloist and orchestra that listeners are more accustomed to hearing in the concertos of, say, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms.
The vast breadth of the opening movement is mirrored in the still beauty of the slow move- ment, melancholy in a way that perhaps recalls Tchaikovsky. Although this concerto is not a prime example of Sibelius’s occasional penchant for folk inspiration, the finale does seem to be a dance of some sort. The musical commentator Donald Francis Tovey called it “a polonaise for polar bears,” a description so perfect that few program annotators can resist quoting it.
By James M. Keller
Sibelius Finlandia, Op. 26
by Phillip Huscher
Sibelius composed Finlandia in 1899 for performance at a political demonstration in Helsinki on December 14 of that year. He revised it the following year. The score calls for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones and tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and strings. Performance time is approximately eight minutes.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first subscription concert performances of Sibelius’s Finlandia were given at Orchestra Hall on April 11 and 12, 1913, with Frederick Stock conducting. Our most recent subscription concert performances were given on December 4, 5, and 6, 1997, with Leif Segerstam conducting. The Orchestra first performed this work at the Ravinia Festival on July 11, 1936, with Hans Lange conducting, and most recently on July 20, 1997, with Erich Kunzel conducting.
In the 1890s, Sibelius was recognized by Finland as its greatest composer; after 1900 he became world famous. Finlandia marked the turning point. Its popularity surprised no one more than Sibelius, who had agreed to contribute some music for a political demonstration in Helsinki. But 1899 was a time of heightened political tensions, as the Russian hold on Finland was growing tighter, and so a simple and brief, but stirring composition called Finland Awakes, crowned by a big singable tune, struck home like a thunderbolt. The following year, Sibelius revised the score and gave it the title Finlandia, before the Helsinki Philharmonic, then only eighteen months old, took it on its first major tour, carrying Sibelius’s name and music throughout Europe (the tour ended at the Paris World Exposition). Despite the narrow political circumstances of its creation, Finlandia turned out to have universal appeal, and in very little time it made Sibelius the best-known living Finn in the world.
Like other works of great musical patriotism, such as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Finlandia does not necessarily represent the composer’s finest hour. As a musical achievement, it is scarcely more advanced than Sibelius’s model, the tone poems by Franz Liszt. Yet that is irrelevant in light of the personal fame, sweeping popularity, and national pride that these few minutes of music inspired. Just as Boléro eventually hounded Ravel, the success of Finlandia came to irritate Sibelius, particularly when it overshadowed greater and more substantial works. Still, this is highly effective music, richly scored and imaginatively colored—those dark clouds at the top are particularly unforgettable. Best of all, it boasts one of music’s great melodies, although, as in Elgar’s most famous Pomp and Circumstance march, it sometimes catches audiences by surprise, coming at the very last minute.
Finland gained its independence from Russia shortly after the Russian Revolution; its autonomy was officially recognized in October 1920.