Program Notes

by Dr. Marcia Fountain

January 2019


Johannes Brahms
Born May 7, 1833, Hamburg, Germany
Died April 3, 1897, Vienna, Austria

Symphony No. 2 in D major, op. 73

All of Brahms’s symphonies are mature works; the first symphony was written when Brahms was in his early 40s and premiered in 1876. The Second Symphony followed very soon after, premiering on December 30, 1877, in a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under Hans Richter. It was enthusiastically received, and the third movement was repeated in response to encore requests. The Second Symphony seems sunny, bright, and open, and it is often called his "Pastorale" Symphony from the similarity in mood to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the "Pastorale."

Brahms did most of the work on the symphony during the summer of 1877 at Pörtschach, a summer resort village on Lake Wörth in Austria. He wrote to friends: "Pörtschach is an exquisite spot, and I have found a lovely, and apparently, pleasant abode in the Castle! You may tell everybody just this; it will impress them. But I may add in parentheses that I have only two rooms in the housekeeper's quarters. They could not get my piano up the stairs, it would have burst the walls." The beauty of the setting perhaps had some influence on the mood of the work. Brahms said that in the village the air was so full of melodies that he had to "be careful not to tread on them." However, Malcolm MacDonald, one of Brahms' biographers, views this "sunny" nature as only a surface, saying, "The Symphony's very broad designs, the intricately forking paths of development, allow a constant play of light and shade; and we glimpse the light as if from the heart of a forest, where we must perforce stray through some very tenebrous regions."

The Symphony's simple three-note opening in the low strings is the motive that generates almost everything else. But it does so in ways so subtle that they are rarely revealed on a first listening. What is likely to stand out more is the beauty of the lyrical melodies, particularly in the first and second movements; the lovely folk-like melody of the third movement; and the obvious joy of the last movement.

In writing about the Symphony to friends Brahms was coy, sometimes characterizing his new work as frothy, at others speaking of it as tragic and lugubrious. The trombones play an important role in the moments when darkness comes into play, and Brahms himself said of a trombone passage in the first movement, “I would have to confess that I am, by the by, a severely melancholic person, that black wings are constantly flapping above us….”

Though the success of the Symphony in its premiere in Vienna was gratifying to Brahms, the performance that occurred the following year in Hamburg, Germany, was probably the most satisfactory for him. Hamburg was his hometown, and the Hamburg musical community had always regarded Brahms with some disfavor. Twice Brahms had applied for the post of conductor there and twice he had been passed over. He initially had refused to return for the celebration; but at the last minute he changed his mind and went to enjoy an especially sweet total success with this symphony.

Antonin Dvořák
Born September 8, 1841, Nelahozeves, Czech Republic
Died May 1, 1904, Prague, Czech Republic

Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B minor, op. 104

There is general agreement that the Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor is the greatest cello concerto ever written. It is also perhaps Dvořák's best work. He had written another cello concerto some years before and been very unhappy with it, and he had been heard to say the cello was difficult to write for because of the "nasal quality of the high notes and the mumbling of the bass."

He certainly had no intention of writing another cello concerto until, during his stay in the United States, he heard Victor Herbert perform one of his own concertos in 1894. Hearing this performance, along with the fact that cellist Hanus Wihan, a close friend, had been requesting a concerto for some time, inspired Dvorak to start another cello concerto. Most of the work on the Concerto was done during Dvořák's last months in New York. During this time, he received word that his sister-in-law was extremely ill and chose one of his songs that had been a favorite of hers as the theme of the slow movement. Soon after he returned to Czechoslovakia, she died. He altered the ending of the last movement to recall the slow movement theme as his requiem for her.

The Concerto was dedicated to Hanus Wihan, who also assisted Dvořák with editing the cello part. But the two had major disagreements about some details. Dvořák wrote his publisher: "I have had some differences of opinion with Friend Wihan over a number of places. I don't like some of the passages -- and I must insist on my work being printed as I wrote it. The passages in question can be printed in two versions, and easier and a more difficult version. I shall only give you the work if you promise not to allow anybody to make changes – Friend Wihan not excepted – without my knowledge and consent…. and also not the cadenza that Wihan has added to the last movement. There is no cadenza in the last movement either in the score or in the piano arrangement. I told Wihan straight away when he showed it to me that it was impossible to stick such a bit on. The Finale closes gradually diminuendo, like a sigh, with reminiscences of the 1st and 2nd movements – the solo dies down to pianissimo, then swells again, and the last bars are taken up by the orchestra and the whole concludes in a stormy mood. That is my idea and I cannot depart from it."

As it turned out, though the Concerto was dedicated to Wihan, it was Leo Stern, an English cellist, who gave the work its premiere performance in London on March 19, 1896, with Dvořák conducting. It was not the quarrel between the two friends, but Wihan's concert schedule with the Czech Quartet that caused the change in soloist. Wihan later performed the Concerto with Dvořák conducting several times. Dvořák was lucky in both soloists. Wihan was described by contemporaries as playing with "technical perfection, refined musical taste, brio and verve" and a "powerful and robust tone." At the debut, Leo Stern, a student of Piatti, Klengel, and Davidoff, three great cellists, "played the solo part with much expression and faultless intonation."

At the first performance critics did comment that the orchestra seemed to almost overpower the soloist, pointing to what remains the difficulty of the work in performance. The orchestra and soloist are equal partners, and the orchestra is the largest Dvořák ever used in a concerto. It is not easy to handle the balance between orchestra and cello in many of the areas, but when it is done well, the results are magnificent.

February 2019


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

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in E-flat major, op. 73 "Emperor"

Beethoven was a pianist as well as a composer and well-known as a performer until deafness put a stop to his public appearances. Of his five piano concertos, he played the premiere of all but the last, which will be heard tonight. It was finished in 1809, but not premiered until November 28, 1811, in Leipzig, rather than in Vienna, his home. The delay in the premiere and the place as well probably were the result of the Napoleonic occupation of Vienna at the time. The work was finally presented in Vienna in 1812; Beethoven's student, Carl Czerny, who had studied with Beethoven from the age of 10, was the soloist.

Happily for music historians, Czerny left fairly detailed impressions of Beethoven as a pianist and as a teacher. Czerny's early lessons were spent exclusively on scales and hand position with emphasis on the legato at which he said Beethoven was excellent. He describes Beethoven's piano playing as "...notable for its tremendous power, character, unheard-of bravura and facility." Though, again according to Czerny, some criticized Beethoven as "maltreating the fortepiano," and said that "his playing was devoid of purity and distinctness, that his employ of the pedal produced only a confused noise," Czerny remained an admirer. The style of the Piano Concerto No. 5 probably gives us a real idea of Beethoven's manner of playing; it is so typically his that it is quite impossible to imagine anyone else having written it.

The Concerto includes only Beethoven's cadenzas; he specifically tells the soloist not to insert a cadenza of his own making, though this was the custom of the time. The powerful first movement gives the piano sweeping opening passages before the long orchestral statement of themes. The beautiful slow movement is linked directly to the last movement. The source of the nickname "Emperor," which is attached to this Concerto, is unknown, but it was not so-named by Beethoven himself.

The first performance in Leipzig was a success—the Leipzig critic said, "It is without a doubt one of the most original, imaginative, most effective but also one of the most difficult of all existing concertos." However, it cannot be said that the Vienna premiere, which followed, was a success. According to a critic there, "Beethoven, full of proud self-confidence never writes for the crowd; he wishes to be understood with the intelligence as well as with the heart, but the difficulties he insists on introducing into his work result in his being able to obtain the support only of connoisseurs who, in this case are the minority." The fact that the concert was a benefit given by the Society of Noble Ladies for Charity may have something to do with this — the rest of the program was in a much lighter vein.

The feeling that Beethoven’s music creates for the listener is well described by Theodore Adorno as one of “exultation.” It evokes in the listener “an expression of pride that one is allowed to be present at such an event, to be its witness.”

Sergei Prokofiev
Born April 23, 1891, Sontsovka, Ekaterinoslav
Died March 4, 1953, Moscow, Russia

Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, op. 100

Sviatoslav Richter, the well-known Russian pianist, in later years vividly recalled the night of December 23, 1945: "I shall never forget the first performance of the Fifth Symphony in 1945, on the very eve of victory. It was Prokofiev's last appearance as a conductor. I was sitting up close, in the third or fourth row. No doubt the Bolshoi Hall of the Moscow Conservatory was lighted as usual; but when Prokofiev appeared, it seemed as if the light streamed directly on him from somewhere above. He stood like a monument on a pedestal. And then, just as he stepped on the podium and the hall fell silent, an artillery salvo suddenly thundered. His baton was already raised. He waited, and until the guns were stilled, he did not begin. Somehow, there was something terribly significant, symbolic in that. It was as if we all had reached a kind of turning point in our lives. And Prokofiev, too, had reached it." Prokofiev's official biographer, Nestyev describes the occasion only slightly differently: "The opening bars of the Symphony were heard against the thunderous background of an artillery salute. Prokofieff's compelling music perfectly suited the mood of the audience. The critics commented on this in their glowing reviews of the new composition."

The artillery salvo came in celebration of the news of the Russian victory in crossing the Vistula River in Poland as their army successfully gained ground against Nazi Germany in the final months of World War II. There was a sense that the tide of the war had turned, which lent the special atmosphere to the premiere. Though he had sketches for the work from earlier, the majority of the Fifth Symphony was written in the summer of 1944, making it a product of this war time. Prokofiev was living in Ivanovo, fifty miles outside Moscow, where he had been evacuated by the government along with several other composers.

Prokofiev refused to offer any but the most general program for the Symphony, saying, "I conceive it as a symphony of the grandeur of the human spirit." It had been fifteen years since his previous Symphony, and he had not been content with his work in this form. But the Fifth was instantly successful. The composer Kabalevsky called it "the embodiment of man's courage, energy and spiritual grandeur." Its American premiere under Koussevitsky later in 1945 was also successful.

The work follows the standard symphonic form, used since the time of Mozart and Haydn, with only slight variance. The first movement is slower than usual but is a fully worked-out sonata form. Its ending expresses strongly the "glorification of the strength and beauty of the human spirit" spoken of above. The second and third movements are reversed from their "normal" order to counterbalance the slower first movement. The second movement is a scherzo, both light-hearted and mocking. The third movement is a lyrical slow movement in which the clarinet in particular stands out. The last movement opens with a reminiscence of the first movement, but soon becomes a typically energetic finale.

April 2019

Mariachi & Orchestra

Leonard Bernstein
Born August 25, 1918, Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died October 14, 1990, New York City, New York

Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

West Side Story ranks among the most influential musicals of the last 100 years and for good reasons; among those reasons is the importance of dance in the production. The dance music became the basis of this orchestral work, which was created while the film score, a collaboration of Bernstein, Sid Ramen, and Irwin Kostal, was being written. Included in the score are several contrasting dance sections, but they are played with no pause between them. The first performance of this orchestral version was for a New York Philharmonic concert, which was a fund raiser for the orchestra’s pension fund. Lukas Foss was the conductor; glad as he was to accept the opportunity, he noted in a letter to Bernstein that the “West Side Story score arrived….Love it more and more…But when can I get the definitive (final) version? And when is that one and only rehearsal?” At the performance the score was still in somewhat rough form, but it has become a popular addition to orchestral programs.

Arturo Marquez
Born December 20, 1950 Alamos, Sonora, Mexico

Danzón No. 2

Born in the Mexican state of Sonora, Arturo Marquez studied in Mexico City, Paris, and the United States. Asked about sources for his musical style, he has said: “Traditional Latin-American and Mexican music mixed with academic or classic techniques.” The danzón was originally a Cuban dance, usually fairly slow with elaborate cross-rhythms. It has origins in a French dance form which came into Cuba via Haiti. During the 20th century it also became popular in Mexico and can still be found there. Marquez says it is a dance “full of sensuality and qualitative seriousness.”

Alberto Ginastera
Born April 11, 1916, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died June 25, 1983, Geneva, Switzerland

Estancia Four Dances, op. 8a

Ginastera’s ancestry was Spanish and Italian, but he was a third generation Argentine and was one of the most important Argentine composers of the 20th century. Though his style changed considerably in later years, his early music is strongly nationalistic both in programmatic content and sound. The ballet, Estancia, is one of the works that reflects this nationalism. It was commissioned in 1941 by the American Ballet Caravan, a predecessor of the New York City Ballet, but because the dance company went broke before the ballet could be brought to production, it first became known from the orchestral suite that Ginastera extracted from it.

The commission specifically requested a work based on life in the Argentine country areas known as the pampas. The general theme is the fairly universal one of a city-bred young man trying to prove himself on the ranch in order to win the girl he wants. The first movement, “The Land Workers,” clearly means to demonstrate the hard labor needed from the men on the ranch. The slow “Wheat Dance” provides a lyrical respite, but the third movement, “The Cattlemen,” once again is full of propulsive rhythms. The fourth movement, the “Malambo,” is a dance only for men and the ultimate expression of machismo. In a gaucho (cowboy) tournament, two men dance one at a time, opposite each other, in competing displays of skills. Such dances could go on for hours. The tempo the Ginastera calls for is actually faster than the traditional folk dance of this name.

Jose Pablo Moncayo
Born June 29, 1912 Guadalajara, Mexico
Died June 16, 1958 Mexico City, Mexico


One of the most popular Mexican works for orchestra is Moncayo’s Huapango. Written in 1941, the premiere was given by the Orquesta Sinfónica de México conducted by Carlos Chavez, Moncayo’s teacher and mentor. Moncayo himself was a pianist and percussion player and, eventually, conductor of that orchestra. Huapango is dedicated to the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Quirino Mendoza Y Cortés
Born May 10, 1862, Tulyehualco, Mexico
Died November 9, 1957, Mexico City, Mexico

Cielito Lindo

Jose Rios, arranger of this and the next work on our program, kindly provided these notes.

Quirino Mendoza Y Cortés grew up in the Mexican city of Tulyehualco, Xochimilco, where he learned music from his father, the local church organist. His compositions therefore later included plenty of religious music, as well as a series of a popular waltzes, and short songs that became popularized and gained fame; his most famous songs include Jesusita en Chihuahua polka, which he wrote whilst serving as a lieutenant in the Mexican Revolution in 1916. The other, and without dispute, most famous composition was Cielito Lindo. The piece was written in 1882 for his wife, and is unofficially considered Mexico’s “second national anthem”. The song quickly gained popularity. In 1947, it was used in the movie Los Tres Garcia, starring Mexican icon Pedro Infante, and the song spread like wildfire. Although primarily performed by mariachis, this song has been interpreted all over the world by artists of all genres, including Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti, as well as in sporting events by audiences of thousands. Tonight’s rendition features three men serenading and vying for the love of the same girl! Sing along to the famous “Ay! Ay! Ay! Ay! Canta y no llores!”

Mexico En Mi Corazón (Medley)

This medley is composed of three (or four) different songs that all paint a vivid scenery of the beautiful landscapes of Mexico and allude somehow to the ‘creation’ of Mexico and Mexico City. The songs are also all in the most colorful style of the joropo: compared to rancheras, boleros, and sones Jalicienses, the joropo is often considered amongst the most difficult of the mariachi styles to learn, due to its intricate strum patterns, colorful harmony, and quasi-virtuosic playing. It is closely related to a faster version of the huapango jarocho¸ but also has adopted plenty of influence from the Venezuelan joropo llanero.

The first song featured is Que Bonita Es Mi Tierra, or “how beautiful is my land,” and compares the Mexican charro, or cowboy, to the landscape (such as the boot spurs being forged from the stars and moon). It is followed by Mi Ciudad, or “my city,” which relates the Aztec legend of the formation of Mexico City upon a small island in the middle of a lake. This medley of songs ends with El Viajero, or “the traveler,” which takes us on a journey through Mexico’s valleys, to the pyramids, and the sights and sounds of this beautiful country. All throughout, you can also hear small appearances of La Bikina, which is one of Mexico’s most popular tunes.

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.