About the Artists/Music
Overture to Candide
– Leonard Bernstein
Born August 25, 1918 in Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died October 14, 1990 in New York
This work received its premiere on October 29, 1956, at the show’s first preview in Boston. It is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, E-flat clarinet, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, and strings.
Leonard Bernstein, affectionately known as “Lenny,” was a benevolent taskmaster of a conductor who insisted on a rigorous schedule of intense rehearsals. Lenny knew the capabilities of the orchestra and brought out the best in each player. He conducted all of the world’s major orchestras and served as music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. As a composer, Bernstein’s output was diverse, with three symphonies and numerous other orchestral pieces, including ballets, overtures, and works for soloists. Despite his many chamber works, songs, and two operas (Trouble in Tahiti and A Quiet Place), he remains best known for his Broadway shows, especially Candide and West Side Story.
Candide was the idea of playwright Lillian Hellmann, who suggested the project to Bernstein. The two found particular resonance in Voltaire’s stinging 1759 political satire of the same name, ridiculing German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz’s popular “political optimism,” with its proclamation that “all’s for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” With the 1950s communist witch hunts in the U.S. Congress, led by the overzealous Senator Joseph McCarthy, the two-hundred-year-old novella seemed strangely pertinent.
Hellmann adapted the book, Bernstein composed the music, and a veritable who’s-who of lyricists contributed to the project. Most of the lyrics are by Richard Wilbur, but John LaTouche, Stephen Sondheim, Dorothy Parker, John Wells, and Bernstein all penned smaller sections. In all, there is more than two hours of delightfully witty music, divided into over thirty separate numbers. Candide opened in Boston on October 29, 1956, and enjoyed a short run at the Martin Beck Theater in New York beginning on December 1 of the same year. It ran for just two months and two days, closing on February 2, 1957. Not to be defeated, Candide underwent no fewer than eight revisions before Bernstein’s final “definitive” version was completed, over thirty years after it opened, in 1989 just months before his death.
The Overture to Candide is a boisterous curtain-raiser of the highest order, featuring quotations from four of the operetta’s musical numbers interspersed with an original “overture theme.” Setting the satirical tone for the operetta’s fast-paced romp, it begins with a festive and brassy fanfare, drawn from the song “Best of All Possible Worlds.” The quick scalar principal theme follows in the strings, giving way to a section drawn from the play’s “Battle Music.” As the Overture progresses, two other themes are heard – drawn from Candide and Cunegonde’s love duet “Oh, Happy We,” and Cunegonde’s coloratura jewel-laden lament, “Glitter and Be Gay.” In honor of Lenny, each performance of this work by the New York Philharmonic since Bernstein’s death has been played without a conductor – demonstrating their loss and reverence for this uniquely American musical master of international stature.
©2016 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin
Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26
– Max Bruch
Born January 6, 1838, in Cologne, Germany
Died October 2, 1920, in Friedenau, Berlin, Germany
The premiere of the original version took place in Koblenz, Germany, on April 24, 1866, with Otto von Königslöw as soloist. However, the final revision was first given in Bremen on January 7, 1868, with Joseph Joachim on violin and Karl Reinthaler on the podium. The work is scored for violin soloist, pairs of woodwinds, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.
Max Bruch’s output of instrumental music is sparse. Active primarily in smaller forms – especially art song – he felt less comfortable writing for large ensemble. A German traditionalist, Bruch was drawn to the great Teutonic tradition of choral music. Born in 1836, he came of age during the heyday of virtuoso showmanship and the large number of concertos that resulted from this trend. It is to be expected that Bruch would contribute to the genre, even if such works would not make up the bulk of his catalog.
At the age of 19, he began sketches for a violin concerto, although the work would not be completed until nine years later. Bruch struggled with several aspects of the work. He found that his music did not fit easily into the traditional concerto form. In the spirit of musical conservatism, he entertained the idea of renaming the composition as a fantasia – by definition, a free-form work – but rejected the notion in favor of calling it a concerto. His dilemma stems from the relative unimportance of the first movement, while the second is the emotional heart of the piece. This is a reversal of the usual arrangement. Also problematic to Bruch was the solo part.
Only after the troublesome premiere at a benefit concert for the Evangelical Women’s Society in 1866, did Bruch realize that he required the assistance of a professional violinist. Several virtuosos helped, among them was the concertmaster of the Mannheim Symphony, as well as virtuoso Ferdinand David, for whom Mendelssohn had composed his spectacular concerto. However, it was Joseph Joachim, dedicatee of the Brahms concerto, who assisted Bruch most in reworking the solo part, as well as helping him resolve some of the issues of form. The final version, premiered in 1868, is the one heard on this program.
Bruch’s first movement, designated Prelude, is really more of an introduction to the second movement than a separate entity. Opening with a timpani roll, a chorale follows, giving way to the first solo entrance. The timpani provide a sense of foreboding, while imparting a feeling of pulse, a heartbeat heard throughout the first movement. A cadenza links to the second movement without pause. Marked adagio, this central movement is the core of the concerto, both physically and emotionally. The violin plays some of the richest, most lyrical melodies in the whole of the repertoire. The familiar finale, allegro energico, has everything one could wish for in a rousing last movement – Gypsy-inspired melodies, brilliant runs, cascading arpeggios, and all the pyrotechnics.
©2016 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin
Symphony No. 4 in F Minor – Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Born May 7, 1840, in Votkinsk, Russia
Died November 6, 1893, in St. Petersburg
This work was first performed on February 22, 1878, in Moscow, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein. It is scored for piccolo, woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, percussion, timpani, and strings.
An overwhelming belief in the power of Fate has influenced some of the most profound works of music. Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana celebrates and laments the fickleness of the Wheel of Fortune. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony opens with a theme that is often said to represent Fate knocking at the door. Tchaikovsky, in his many bouts of depression, certainly felt as if Fate was a driving force in his life. Suffering from Bipolar Disorder with its characteristically elevated ‘highs’ and profound ‘lows,’ Tchaikovsky walked a very thin emotional line. When Tchaikovsky married a former student, Antonina Ivanovna Milyukova, who had become obsessed with the composer while in his class, he hoped Fate would shine upon him in the guise of domestic bliss. He proposed to Antonina, although he was secretly homosexual and feared professional rejection if he was found out. Instead of bringing happiness, the disastrous marriage lasted all of nine weeks.
The Fourth Symphony, one of his most soul-searching scores, is perhaps most accurately described in a letter Tchaikovsky wrote to his benefactress, Nadezhda von Meck, shortly after the premiere. This description was never meant to serve as a program for the work, but the insight it provides to his mindset at the time is unparalleled. Tchaikovsky wrote:
“The introduction is the kernel, the chief thought of the whole Symphony. This is Fate, the fatal power that hinders one in the pursuit of happiness from gaining the goal, which jealously provides that peace and comfort do not prevail, that the sky is not free from clouds — a might that swings, like the sword of Damocles, constantly over the head, which poisons continuously the soul. This might is overpowering and invincible. There is nothing to do but to submit and vainly complain. The feeling of desperation and loneliness grows stronger and stronger. Would it not be better to turn away from reality and lull one’s self in dreams. Deeper and deeper the soul is sunk in dreams. All that was dark and joyless is forgotten . . .
“No — these are but dreams: roughly we are awakened by Fate. Thus we see that life is only an everlasting alternation of somber reality and fugitive dreams of happiness. Something like this is the program of the first movement.
“The second movement shows another phase of sadness. How sad it is that so much has already been and gone! And yet it is a pleasure to think of the early years. One mourns the past and has neither the courage nor the will to begin a new life. One is rather tired of life. One would fain rest awhile, recalling happy hours when young blood pulsed warm through our veins and life brought satisfaction. We remember irreparable loss. But these things are far away. It is sad, yet sweet, to lose one’s self in the past.
“There is no determined feeling, no exact expression in the third movement. Here are capricious arabesques, vague figures which slip into the imagination when one has taken wine and is slightly intoxicated. Suddenly there rushes into the imagination the picture of a drunken peasant and a gutter song. Military music is heard passing in the distance. There are disconnected pictures that come and go in the brain of the sleeper. They have nothing to do with reality; they are unintelligible, bizarre.
“As to the finale, if you find no pleasure in yourself, look about you. Go to the people. See how they can enjoy life and give themselves up entirely to festivity. The picture of a folk holiday. Hardly have we had time to forget ourselves in the happiness of others when indefatigable Fate reminds us once more of its presence. The other children of men are not concerned with us. How merry and glad they all are. All their feelings are so inconsequential, so simple. And do you still say that all the world is immersed in sorrow? There still is happiness, simple, naive happiness. Rejoice in the happiness of others — and you can still live.
“There is not a single line in this Symphony that I have not felt in my whole being and that has not been a true echo of the soul.”
© 2016 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin