Program Notes

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Program Notes for October 28, 2022

PROGRAM NOTES – By Dr. Geoffrey Pope

THE HEBRIDES OVERTURE (FINGAL’S CAVE)

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 – 1847)

Responsible for inspiring some of the most vivid orchestral works, the “Grand Tour” of Europe was a trip undertaken by young men from England and Protestant countries on the continent to broaden their understanding of western culture. Italian destinations were emphasized, with travelers taking part in the Carnival of Venice, but Paris and Geneva were often included, and London was the westernmost city of the trip. In 1829, Felix Mendelssohn was sent to England on a first such trip by his parents, and summered three weeks in Scotland, spending time in Edinburgh, and west visiting the Hebrides islands. A trip to the Isle of Staffa was the inspiration for the Hebrides Overture. Unlike a traditional overture, it does not precede a larger work. Rather, it is an early example of the “concert overture” genre—a self-contained opening work for a concert but usually not as expansive as the “symphonic poems” or “tone poems” that followed in later decades.

The Hebrides Overture evokes stark landscapes—waves, windswept islands, and Highland vistas. Much of the thematic material for this work was actually sketched before Mendelssohn reached Staffa, perhaps in anticipation of visiting the Hebrides while still immersed in the Highlands. He originally named the piece The Lonely Island Overture, and his publisher, Breitkopf and Härtel, released an edition of the work titled Fingal’s Cave, which still sometimes causes puzzlement. The piece goes beyond evoking just an island or a cave, but a region, and Mendelssohn’s true title seems more befitting than these others. The piece follows a fairly traditional form, developed from two contrasting themes: a tense opening motif in B minor whose repetition in various tonalities brings the listener through what feel like sudden shifts of the wind; and a warm, expansive D major melody. The interplay between these happens through very regimented compositional means—both Mendelssohns were austere in this regard!—yet the Overture comes across as a very fluid work whose formal sections coalesce effortlessly.

The original 1830 version of was revised in 1832, shortening the work and removing part of the middle section. Felix Mendelssohn described this section as “very stupid,” in a letter to his sister, composer Fanny Mendelssohn, and that the section “savours more of counterpoint than of oil and seagulls and dead fish, and it ought to be the very reverse!” A testament to the (revised) work’s intrinsic qualities, according to one biographer, Brahms allegedly said “I would gladly give all I have written, to have composed something like the Hebrides Overture.” 

HORN CONCERTO NO. 2 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, K. 417
I. Allegro Moderato
II. Romance (Andante cantabile)
III. Rondo (Allegro vivace)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

We perform this concerto in remembrance of Bob Peterson, beloved founding member of the Beach Cities Symphony, horn player, and longest-serving musician and board member.

K. 417 is the second of Mozart’s four horn concertos, the first horn concerto Mozart completed, and the first of the horn concertos he composed in Vienna for his close friend Joseph Leutgeb. Written for natural horn, prior to the adoption of valved horns, it nonetheless challenges performers playing the work on modern instruments through its wide leaps, fleet passagework, and range of expressivity within the Classical style. The orchestra is small, and the soloist is typically accompanied by a reduced-size string section, two oboes, and two additional horns. These additional horns, or “ripieno horns,” function chiefly as units within the orchestra; there is no real interaction between the orchestral horns and the horn soloist. (Neither does Mozart have the soloist double the ripieno horn music in tutti passages, which was often done.) The effect of this instrumentation is not of disconnect, but of intimacy.

The range of expression in K. 417 provides opportunities for the horn’s strengths to be demonstrated. The first movement is declamatory, with the horn performing intricate passagework and wide leaps in an energetic but measured conversation with the orchestra. The second movement is cast as an aria, and as with much of Mozart opera, the orchestra and soloist parts tend to converge and diverge, impacting one another and blurring distinctions between solo and accompaniment. The final movement, the most iconic, is in the style of a hunting horn call. Its joviality and pomposity come in contrast to the second movement, and some of the humor used—sudden pauses—recall Haydn. As it happened, both Haydn and Mozart composed for and worked with Joseph Leutgeb, to whom Mozart dedicated this challenging piece with the following inscription: “Mozart has taken pity on Leutgeb, ass, ox, and simpleton, at Vienna, March 27, 1783.”

Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”
I. Allegro moderato
II. Andante con moto

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Schubert died six years after beginning his Symphony No. 8 in B minor, leaving the world with two complete movements, the full piano score for a third, and some fragmentary orchestration work. He completed this work rather expeditiously, though, and its “unfinishedness” seems to have resulted from conscious abandonment rather than death. Explanations for this abandonment fall into two categories. The first is circumstantial: Schubert’s first syphilis outbreak occurred in late 1822, at which point he was working on the scherzo movement, and it is suspected that this association pained him. Another is that he became consumed with work on the Wanderer Fantasy and simply put Symphony No. 8 aside. A different, and more musically-interesting angle, is that Symphony No. 8 was such a formal oddity that it could not possibly fulfill Schubert’s symphonic goals in a completed, four-movement form. A combination of these factors is likely to have put him off further work on the piece.

Schubert is often considered the first well-known Romantic era composer, but he conjoined eras—and as with Mendelssohn, the expressivity in his work is delivered through technical means developed throughout the Classical era. (For context, the year Schubert began work on the “Unfinished,” Beethoven was beginning his Ninth Symphony.) The traditional model for a Classical symphony was certainly evolving, but the usual four contrasting movements—fast, slow, minuet/trio/scherzo, fast—persisted on the whole. Having made the compositional choice to write the first two movements of Symphony No. 8 in triple meter at similar speeds—and having started a third movement also in triple meter—it is possible that Schubert felt immobilized at this point in the composition process. A further theory is that Schubert did write a fourth movement to Symphony No. 8, but used it instead as the incidental music entr’acte for Rosamunde.

The foreboding opening of the first movement, an asymmetrical melodic line played in octaves by the cellos and basses, leaves the listener suspended in ambiguity. The rest of the strings enter pulsing quietly, but relentlessly, in B minor. A lyrical, melancholic theme is played by the oboe and clarinet together above this, a distinctive color combination whose edginess in the oboe is subdued by the roundness of the clarinet. Quickly, as does Mendelssohn in The Hebrides Overture, Schubert moves between B minor and D major. After more machinations, Schubert modulates to G major for the famous melody played by the cellos. This is taken up by the violins, and then fragments of this melody are passed between members of the orchestra in increasing intensity. The foreboding opening music returns, and the orchestra may either repeat or move onward. The development section is fairly short, and Schubert further draws upon small fragments of earlier material, propelling the orchestra through several keys and moods. Schubert draws upon the opening sections once more, ending the movement resoundingly in B minor.

The second movement, in E major, begins with the basses plucking a descending scale below major chords in the bassoons and horns. The coloration could hardly be more different from the opening of the first movement. The rest of the strings enter with a warm, major-key theme whose character has an open, innocent quality. Through an unsettling transition effected by a series of four lone pitches, Schubert moves to the minor, introducing a second, contrasting theme in the clarinet. (Listeners may recognize the accompanimental rhythm played in the strings here as coming from the first movement.) Further into the movement, this contrasting theme is played in the major—a contrast to the contrast—and later juxtaposed with the first, innocent theme. This is another example of Schubert creating a complex narrative from fairly concise musical materials.

While neither movement is self-standing, nor intended to be, both together form a compelling symphonic work, even if “unfinished.” This is in spite of the shared triple meter, similar tempo, and techniques of musical development that could have resulted in the movements sounding “undifferentiated.” In parallel, neither movement, nor their combination, falls neatly within Classical or Romantic era music. Were it necessary for this work to have been completed or rewritten in a traditional four movement structure in order to be performed, humanity would be the poorer.

— Program notes by Dr. Geoffrey Pope

BIOGRAPHIES

MELIA BADALIA, Horn soloist

Melia Badalian, Horn soloist
Melia Badalian, Horn soloist, performed with the Beach Cities Symphony Orchestra on Friday, October 28, 2022

A Los Angeles native, Melia Badalian is an active freelancer in her home state. She is principal horn of the Long Beach and Modesto Symphonies, and holds section positions with the Santa Barbara Symphony, Symphony San Jose, and the Stockton Symphony. Melia has also performed with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Pacific Symphony, New World Symphony, Danny Elfman, and Josh Groban, among others. She has spent her summers performing as a fellow with the National Repertory Orchestra and at the Aspen Music Festival. Melia earned degrees from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (BM) and the University of Southern California (MM), where she studied with Robert Ward and Dr. Kristy Morrell, respectively.

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