Program Notes

by Dr. Marcia Fountain

February 2018

A Night of Requiems

Ludwig van Beethoven
Born December 16, 1770, Bonn, Germany
Died March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92



Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was written in an atmosphere of war in 1811-12. Napoleon was nearing the end of his path and in fact reached it before the first public performance of this work on December 8, 1813. The concert was for the benefit of Austrian and Bavarian soldiers and included Beethoven's "Wellington's Victory," a bombastic crowd-pleaser to help draw in audience. The Seventh Symphony was also immediately successful, particularly the second movement.

The first movement unfolds gradually with a lengthy slow introduction that leads into the fast main part of the movement. Like the rest of the Symphony, this movement is characterized by strongly-marked rhythms, which are physically very challenging to the players. At the first rehearsals, there were complaints from the orchestra that Beethoven was demanding the impossible, but the composer persuaded them to take it home and go over it. By the next rehearsal, all was well. The composer Carl Maria von Weber said of the first movement that Beethoven was “quite ripe for the madhouse.” Fortunately, history has revised that judgment!

The second movement is the "slow" movement of the cycle, yet it too moves fairly rapidly. The third movement is a scherzo that seems unable to stop itself – it goes through an extra repetition of both the first and middle sections before being interrupted abruptly and ended. The last movement is again very fast with insistent rhythmic figures. Wagner called it "the apotheosis of the dance." Reactions to the symphony have been varied over the years. Usually thought of as joyous and exuberant, the Symphony evoked very different emotions in the young Hector Berlioz: “... this inconceivable product of the most somber and reflective genius is placed exactly among all that the most intoxicating, the most tender and naivest joy, can offer. It has only two ideas: 'I think, therefore I suffer,' and 'I remember, therefore I suffer more.' Oh, unhappy Beethoven! He too had in his heart an ideal world of happiness into which it was not given him to enter.” In the year following Beethoven's death the violin virtuoso, Niccolò Paganini, is said to have sat rigidly with tears rolling down his cheeks as he heard the Seventh Symphony at a concert. Obviously, as with all great works, this Symphony speaks differently to different persons. Beethoven himself apparently considered the Eroica and the Ninth Symphony his greatest works, but, at the same time, he called the Seventh “one of the happiest products of my poor talents.”

Beethoven's Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies have been thought of as a consistent progression of strong, extroverted, emphatic expression, particularly when contrasted with the gentler Second, Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth. In the early 20th century, the composer Ferruccio Busoni envisioned a monument to Beethoven as follows: “I have a beautiful idea for a Beethoven monument .... The uppermost group shows Beethoven on a throne-like chariot, drawn by four horses. These horses symbolize the Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies. The first horse (Eroica) is all in armor; the second one (Fifth Symphony) is bare, very vigorous, with uplifted head; the third horse (Seventh Symphony) is slender and passes on with a dance-like gait; the fourth one (Ninth Symphony) is entirely covered with cloth, including the head, though holes are cut in for the eyes.” Members of tonight’s audience can look forward to creating their own images.

REQUIEMS

For all living beings, death is inevitable, and we humans have created rituals connected with death throughout recorded history (and no doubt long before). The Catholic Latin Requiem Mass is perhaps the best-known ritual for death in the Western world, and tonight we will hear a wide variety of musical settings of portions of the Requiem. The moods and emotions of the various texts that make up the traditional Requiem Mass range from grief and acceptance to the terrors of facing death for the non-believer. The first musical settings were unaccompanied chant, but over centuries, settings have ranged from unaccompanied choral versions to dramatic solo, choir and orchestral settings. The music heard tonight comes from the 18th to 20th centuries.

The Requiem Mass takes its name from the first words of the opening introit, “Requiem aeternam dona eius Domine” (Lord grant them eternal peace). Several parts of the Ordinary of the Mass are included. These are the “Kyrie eleison” (God have mercy, Christ have mercy), the “Sanctus” (Holy, holy, Lord God of hosts), and the “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God).

Many of the texts come from the long “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath); this was removed from the Catholic Requiem liturgy as one of the revisions from the Second Vatican Council during the 1960s, but it is easy to understand the attraction this text has held for composers. The portions heard tonight include the “Dies irae” and “Tuba mirum” by Verdi. The texts speak of the day of judgment on which the trumpet summons all to the throne of God. Also part of this long section are the “Rex tremendae” and “Recordare,” which will be heard in the Mozart setting. The text consists of appeals to God and Jesus to be merciful. Another part is the “Confutatis,” which will be heard in Dvorak’s setting. Here the plea is that on the day of judgment the deceased will be called to be among the saints. Yet another part is the “Lacrimosa,” in Mozart’s setting. It asks that on the day of mourning God will spare the person.

The movements from the Fauré Requiem include the “Pie Jesu,” also part of the “Dies Irae,” which asks Jesus, the all-pitying, to grant rest to the dead. The “Libera me” and “In Paradisum” are sung after the Mass as the coffin is being taken out of the church. These texts again ask that the person not be condemned to eternal death, but rather delivered into paradise.

The word “requiem” also is often used to identify a tribute or a mourning that does not use the liturgical Latin text. Brahms’ German Requiem is an example. For this work, Brahms chose texts from the Luther translation of the Bible. “Wie lieblich sind” is from the Psalms. The text speaks the Lord’s dwelling and the desire to reside there with him. Tonight’s performance will provide a unique survey of music for mourning over two centuries.

April 2018

KURT WEILL FESTIVAL

APRIL CONCERT PROGRAM NOTES
by Joseph Horowitz




With immigration so much in the news, it’s timely to recall the transformational impact of immigrants on the American performing arts. I’m thinking especially of the 20th century of refugees from the Russian Revolution, and from Hitler and World War I.

To a remarkable degree, these Russians and Germans fall into distinct patterns of assimilation. The “Russians” – loosely defined to include certain Georgians and Armenians – resituated their cultural affinities. The “Germans” – from Germanic Central Europe – retained a Germanic pedigree.

Think of George Balanchine, born Georgi Balanchivadze in St. Petersburg. He did not import Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty to the New World. Rather, he created an American variant of classical ballet; the composers he set included Ives, Sousa, and Gershwin. Serge Koussevitzky, born near Moscow, took over the Boston Symphony; unlike his Germanic and Gallic predecessors, he prioritized a quest for the Great American Symphony. He predicted that the next Beethoven “would from Colorado come.” Rouben Mamoulian, born in Tblisi, became the Broadway director of Porgy and Bess, Oklahoma!, and Carousel.

The Germans, by comparison, were a belated colonizing presence. George Szell treated his Cleveland Orchestra musicians as New World Calibans to be taught Mozart and Beethoven; he also told them when to cut their hair. At the Marlboro Festival and the Curtis Institute, Rudolf Serkin inculcated a pantheon beginning with Bach. Of the composers from German-speaking lands, Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg retained the weighty musical baggage with which they arrived. So did Erich Korngold, who – incredibly – discovered that sugary Viennese sound confections were just what Hollywood wanted for films with Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan.

In this story, Kurt Weill is the exception who proves the rule – no “Russian,” not even Balanchine – was more “American.” Weill’s caustic Threepenny Opera, with Bertolt Brecht, had in 1928 proved the very embodiment of Weimar Germany. But the United States he encountered in 1935 was a world removed from Berlin culture and politics. The Threepenny Opera had already failed in 1933; New York critics found it dreary and perplexing. Not one of the ten other theater works Weill composed in Germany was professionally mounted in America until after his death. And Weill made no effort to promote these Old World entertainments. With his finely attuned cultural antennae, he was off and running in new directions. Both he and his wife, Lotte Lenya, testified that New York felt “like home” from day one. According to Lenya (who would not pronounce her late husband’s name auf Deutsch as Veill): “The oldtimers were always talking about the past. And Weill never did. Never. Because they would always talk about how marvelous it was in Berlin. Kurt was always looking ahead.”

Though Weill’s German field of operation had included the opera house, it was obvious to him that in New York he could only compose for Broadway. 20th century Americans understood opera less as theater than as a glamorous foreign-language entertainment epitomized by the cavernous Metropolitan Opera House, with its “golden horseshoe” of boxes and starry international casts.

The pace and variety of Weill’s Broadway output were breathtaking. The musical “fable” Johnny Johnson (1936) and the “operetta” Knickerbocker Holiday (1938) led to a couple of smash hits: the “musical play” Lady in the Dark (1940) and a “musical comedy,” One Touch of Venus (1944). The Firebrand of Florence (1944), another operetta, was a failure. Street Scene (1946), a “Broadway opera,” and Lost in the Stars (1949), a “musical tragedy,” were Weill’s most earnest Broadway undertakings. He also produced a much-performed “college opera” Down in the Valley (1948) and a “musical,” Love Life (1947), before a heart attack felled him in 1950 when he was all of 50 years old.

No ventriloquist could rival the alacrity with which Weill assimilated the lexicon of American voices flavoring these scores. His Berlin affinity for jazz, was of course, put into play. He absorbed blues, jitterbug, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hammerstein. At the same time, his American pieces were, all of them, mediated by commercial considerations unknown abroad. Time and again, he would cut or revise a number others believed did not fit. Europe, he thought, had succumbed to “an almost diseased passion for musical originality.” “It would be much healthier for an American musical theater to make certain concessions to Broadway showmanship,” he believed, “than to cater to a traditional opera form which is European in concept and purpose.”

Weill’s adaptation to Broadway has elicited a cacophony of opinion. Today’s leading Weill scholar (and a participant in our El Paso festival), Kim Kowalke, emphasizes that if Weill’s American output was stylistically eclectic, the same was true of his European output. Weill’s concomitant attunement to audience sharply separates him from Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and other pedigreed modernists of his generation. Weill himself wrote in 1940: “I’m convinced that many modern composers have a feeling of superiority toward their audiences . . . I write for today.” Kowalke summarizes:

In privileging stylistic diversity over individual subjectivity, the . . . the audience over the composers-critic, . . . Weill made no apologies: “I want to use whatever gifts I have for practical purposes, not waste them on things which have no life, or which have to be kept alive by artificial means. That’s why I’ve made that theater which exists without benefit of subsidy my life work.” Music could not afford to be only “in and of itself.” Weill required that it aspire to extrinsic value and serve as a means to moral or political impact on an audience expecting to be pleased and entertained as well as edified.

Tonight’s concert juxtaposes Weill in Europe with Weill in America. Please join us in the post-concert discussion.

(This essay is adapted from the author’s Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts [2008].)

Texas
El Paso Museums & Cultural Affairs Department

Programs and artists are subject to change without notice. The El Paso Symphony is made possible with the support of the City of El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department and the Texas Commission on the Arts.