The University Symphony Orchestra is planning three interdisciplinary concerts as part of its 2016-17 season. On October 1st, Emeritus Professor Jim Blankenship from the School of Pharmacy will discuss the many ailments which Beethoven and Schubert suffered - and whether we could cure those ailments simply by going to the local drug store. The orchestra will perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto with Trio 180, and Schubert's last symphony, no. 9. On November 5th, Physics Professor James Hetrick will show a spectral analysis of Smetana's Moldau. The orchestra will perform with large monitors displaying the spectral analysis in real time. The goal is to better understand the different growth phases of the river depicted in the music. On April 22nd, Professor Sarah Waltz will help us retrace the remarkable career of Amy Beach, the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony - the Gaelic Symphony, which was premiered by the Boston Symphony in 1896.
Brahms’s great Piano Quintet op. 34 has a convoluted history. Brahms initially wrote the piece as a string quintet. He showed it to Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim, but both found the work problematic and encouraged him to rework it. Joachim, in particular, thought it was too dense and complicated and so Brahms recast the music for two pianos (he destroyed the string quintet version). Still, Clara Schumann was dissatisfied with the two-piano version. She famously concluded that the work was “so full of ideas that it needs an orchestra for its interpretation.”
Brahms did not follow Clara’s suggestion. He chose a compromise between the string quintet and two pianos: the piano quintet (piano, two violins, viola, cello). But what if he had followed her idea? The present orchestration of the Scherzo and Finale, realized as much as possible in the style of Brahms, explores that tantalizing avenue.
On a cold Vienna night in 1808, Beethoven shook the musical world like no composer had, or probably would again. He gave the first performance of his Fifth Symphony - perhaps the most famous symphony ever written. He also gave the first performance of his “Pastoral” Symphony - the work that would inspire a century of Romantic composers. He played the piano part of his Fourth Piano Concerto - the first time this extraordinary work was heard in a public performance. And he wrote a new piece specifically for this concert: the Choral Fantasy, which, like the later Ninth Symphony, gradually incorporates soloists and chorus into the orchestra (it also anticipates the famous theme of the Ode to Joy). To top it all off, Beethoven gave one of his worst performances ever: although he was deaf, he insisted on conducting himself; the orchestra nearly rebelled and, at one point, the performance actually fell apart and the performers had to restart. All in all, the audience was bewildered rather than overwhelmed. One patron commented that “in the bitterest of cold, from 6:30 to 10:30, we experienced that one can easily have too much of a good thing.”
We are proud to present a replica of this event, minus the cold and hopefully the mishaps also. The order of the original concert has been preserved. Both halves start with the famous symphonies, the Fifth and the Sixth - whereas most orchestras nowadays would program them last. The mixture of short and long works is rather curious: it is more usual to start with a short work, then with a concerto and finish with the longest work on the program. The end of the evening makes more sense to us perhaps, since the Choral Fantasy incorporates almost all of the forces of the preceding works. It was meant as the climax of the evening, even if posterity seems to have decided that the climax was really at the beginning of each half. But too bad for posterity! This is a chance to see and hear things as they were, an outrageous display of some of the greatest music ever written, when the ink was barely dry.
Full article here
In its simplest definition, a symphony is an extended orchestral work in several movements. The origins of the genre have been a matter of speculation. Opera overtures in the early 18th century were often called sinfonias. They contributed, together with the ripieno concerto, to the emergence of a simple, striking, and powerful orchestral style meant for the concert hall—hundreds of works that were not always called symphonies or one of its cognates. The new genre took on increasing importance in the latter part of the century with the development of orchestras, concert halls, and concert series in major cities. Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven were all active in Vienna; they had multiple chances to interact, and, by the beginning of the 19th century, their symphonies were published and performed all across Europe. This is how the stylistic notion of the four-movement Classical Viennese symphony came to be. Beethoven’s nine symphonies exerted tremendous influence throughout the 19th century. Schubert, Berlioz, Schumann, Brahms, and Bruckner, among others, felt that they had to measure themselves against those works. They idealized the compositional unity found in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, for instance, and emulated it through elaborate systems of recurring motives (Berlioz, Tchaikovsky) or large-scale harmonic and thematic designs (Brahms, Franck, Bruckner, Mahler). The predominant four-movement scheme (with a scherzo in either the second or the third position) was also in large part a Beethovenian legacy. Toward the end of the century, the influence of Liszt and Wagner came to the fore. Their chromatic language, orchestral palette, and programmatic ideals would inspire an entire generation of composers. The persistent notion that the symphony should be devoid of literary or extra-musical content was much discussed, but rarely observed in practice. With the end of World War I, many composers sought to re-appraise the genre. Not unlike opera, the symphony was seen as emblematic of the political and social order that had brought devastation to Europe. This quest for renewal is demonstrated in the shorter symphonies of Stravinsky and Sibelius, or the chamber symphonies of Schoenberg. In addition, as concert organizers and conductors increasingly favored a small number of great works from the 19th century, many composers shifted their creative attention away from the symphony, toward smaller ensembles and more novel forms. The reaction was less pronounced in Russia, Great Britain and the United States, where Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, and Copland, among many others, perpetuated the tradition of the large-scale four-movement symphony, within their own idiom.