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Madison Symphony Orchestra Program Notes
May 4-5-6, 2018
92nd Season / Subscription Concert No.8
Michael Allsen

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The closing concert of this season opens with Mozart’s brilliant and subtle overture to Don Giovanni.  We then feature two works played for the first time at these concerts. Our performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.22 marks the welcome return of pianist Christopher O’Riley. Mr. O’Riley last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra over two decades ago, playing Beethoven’s first concerto in 1995. We then turn to Janáček’s weighty Glagolitic Mass—one of the great choral masterworks of the early 20th century. Joining the orchestra and Madison Symphony Chorus are four fine vocal soprano Rebecca Wilson, mezzo-soprano Julie Miller, tenor Roger Honeywell, and bass Benjamin Sieverding.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)  

Overture to Don Giovanni, K.527


Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni was completed on October 28, 1787, and premiered in Prague the next day.  Its overture has been performed many times by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, most recently in 2003. Duration  6:00.


Mozart’s operas usually met with modest success in Vienna, where he spent much of his career, but audiences in Prague received productions of works such as Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Le nozze de Figaro with nothing short of adulation.  While Mozart was visiting Prague in January of 1787, the impresario Pasquale Bondini approached him about a new work for Bondini’s Prague Theater.  Mozart returned to Vienna to consult with his librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, about possible subject matter, and da Ponte suggested the story of the licentious and blasphemous Don Juan.  With parts of the libretto and some of the opera’s music in hand, he returned to Prague in September.  Don Giovanni was performed a month and a half later, and was a tremendous success.  (Mozart’s activities in Prague are still celebrated by annual productions of Don Giovanni.)


The overture begins in dark and ominous D minor, with references to the final act: the scene in which the Commendatore’s statue comes to life to demand vengeance for Don Giovanni’s sins.  Ponderous flourishes in the flute and the first violins signal the end of this slow introduction, and give way to a brighter Molto allegro.  The movement continues in sonata form, with two main themes:  a syncopated melody in D Major and a lighter, ornamented eighth-note line.  It may seem strange to our modern operatic sensibilities to begin a drama such as Don Giovanni—with its somber overtones of sin and damnation—with a mostly happy major-key overture such as this one.  However, in writing Don Giovanni, Mozart was working within the conventions of the light opera buffa of his era:  set-pieces, the finale, and the brilliant overture.  However, Mozart’s musical genius is evident in the subtle shadings of darkness he injects into even the most outwardly cheerful moments of this overture.

Concerto No.22 in E-flat Major for Piano and Orchestra, K.482


Mozart completed this work on December 16, 1785, and was soloist in the premiere in Vienna just ten days later. Duration 34:00.


Mozart’s reputation and success in his early years in Vienna came largely through his private recitals, and public “subscription” performances of his own works. His piano concertos are all works written for this setting—Viennese audiences demanded new concertos at every concert, and Mozart responded with an amazing series of fifteen concertos written during his first five years in Vienna. The winter of 1785-86 was a particularly busy time: his main concern was the opera The Marriage of Figaro, which would premiere in Vienna in May 1786, but he was obliged to take time in February to dash off a one-act Singspiel, The Impresario, for a commission by the Emperor. He also revised his Idomeneo for for a performance on March 13. In the midst of these operatic projects, he also managed to find time to complete three piano concertos: No.22 in December, No.23 on March 2, and No.24 just three weeks later on March 24. The bulk of Viennese public concerts occurred during Advent and Lent, and No.22 was played on December 26, at the annual fundraising benefit for Vienna’s Society of Musicians. One innovation he introduced in these three concertos was the use of a pair of clarinets, substituting for the usual oboes in the first two, and as part of relatively large scoring in No.24. He seems to have been inspired by his friendship with the clarinetist Anton Stadler, and used clarinets conspicuously in Figaro as well.


The Piano Concerto No.22 is the largest of the three concertos Mozart wrote during the winter of Figaro, and also the boldest in character. Writing a decade later, Francesco Galeazzi identified E-flat Major as “a heroic key, extremely majestic, grave and serious,” and that character is on display from the opening bars of the Allegro. The orchestral introduction begins with a bright fanfare, and lays out the main group of ideas, making prominent use of paired woodwinds. The strings introduce a second, gentler theme. After a solo transition, the piano works with this same material, through in constant conversation with the orchestra, and also introduces surprising harmonic twists. An intense development section focuses almost exclusively on material from the opening group of themes. The piano continues to decorate these themes in the recapitulation, before the movement ends with a solo cadenza and a brisk coda


The Adagio was a particular success when Mozart performed it in 1785—one account of the concert reports that the audience demanded that this movement be immediately encored. It is solemn and dignified music—rather uncharacteristically in a minor key—and set as a theme and variations. The theme, introduced by strings, is one of Mozart’s typically beautiful slow movement melodies, picked up and varied by the solo piano. The piano sits out for the next variation, a pastoral version of the tune led by the woodwinds, before the piano explores the theme in a more serious way. Another orchestral variation follows, with a delicate duet between flute and bassoon. This is followed by a conversation between orchestra and soloist, and a final version of the theme that returns to the solemn character of the opening.


The closing movement (Allegro) begins with a sharp change in character. Set in rondo form—where a main idea appears throughout in alternation with contrasting material—it begins with rollicking main theme played by the piano. Rondos are often rather lightweight movements, but this concerto’s sizable finale includes a generous number of contrasting ideas—one of the most notable is an almost hymnlike idea introduced by the woodwinds in the center of movement—and intense development. The movement ends with a solo cadenza and a final full statement of the main theme. The short coda is particularly remarkable: short solos by the principal woodwinds, and a surprising reference to the hymnlike mood from the middle of the movement are inserted before the crisp closing measures.


Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)

Glagolitic Mass


Janáček composed his Glagolitic Mass in 1926. It was premiered in Brno on December 5, 1927. Duration 40:00.


Janáček was the most important Czech composer of his generation. Born in the province of Moravia, he studied to become a music teacher, and briefly studied composition in Germany and Austria. Beginning in the 1880s, Janáček worked as teacher at the Organ School in Brno, but his activities also included editing a music journal, conducting, and intense study of Moravian folk music. He was increasingly taken up with choral music and opera, and his reputation as a composer grew gradually: his first truly successful work, the opera Jenufa (“Jealousy”), was not completed until he was 50 years old. By the beginning of World War I, he was among the most respected musicians in Czechoslovakia, though he remained largely unknown outside of his homeland. Always a fervent patriot, Janáček was deeply affected by the war, which Czechs saw a means to escape from the repressive control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A number of nationalistic works, including Taras Bulba, grew out of the war experience. The years after Czech independence in 1918 were among the most rewarding of his life, with international fame and financial success. Several of his most famous works were in fact completed after his 70th birthday, and his two most important works, the Sinfonietta and the monumental Glagolitic Mass heard here, were written when he was 72.


According to one of his students, Janáček first conceived of writing a large-scale Mass set in Old Church Slavic in 1921, when he complained to the Archbishop of Olomouc about the “feeble” quality of some church music he had heard. The Archbishop replied “Well maestro, you should compose something worthwhile.” They apparently discussed a newly published edition of the Mass in Old Church Slavic that might be used as the basis for such a piece. However it would be five years—five very busy years that saw the revision of one of his early operas, the composition of two entirely new operas, and the Sinfonietta—before he returned to the Mass.


The first problem at hand was the text—a devoted musical nationalist, Janáček wanted to compose a Mass in a Slavic language rather than using the more familiar Latin text. “Glagolitic” refers to the script invented in the ninth century to write Slavic. (It is the predecessor of modern Cyrillic script.) Once a means of writing it down was created, the language itself, now known as Old Church Slavic, became a literary and liturgical language throughout the Slavic world. After the Great Schism of 1054 between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, most of Catholic Eastern Europe (including Poland and Czechoslovakia) followed the Latin liturgy while Russia, the remnants of the old Byzantine Empire, and the Balkans used Old Church Slavic in various dialects. Janáček was working not from the original Glagolitic script, but from a pair of versions that transcribed the Old Church Slavic into the Latin alphabet...while also injecting some aspects of the modern Czech. When he revised the score for publication, Janáček made several revisions to the text based upon the advice of an expert in Old Church Slavic.


Janáček had composed several sacred works early in his career—mostly settings of Latin texts and Czech hymns—and in 1908 he worked on an unfinished setting of the Latin Mass for chorus and organ, but never anything approaching scope of the Glagolitic Mass. He worked quickly on the new work, completing most of it, save the organ solo movement, in less than three months during August-October 1926. (Some of the material from his unfinished 1908 Mass was reworked in the Glagolitic Mass.) The organ solo was composed sometime in late 1926, though Janáček continue to tinker with the entire score (and the text) until days before the premiere performance in December 1927.


Janáček was not conventionally religious, and he clearly wanted to create an unconventional sacred work. In a newspaper interview, he described the Glagolitic Mass as a work “without the gloom of the medieval monastic cells in its themes, without the same lines of imitation, without the tangled fugues of Bach, without the pathos of Beethoven, without the playfulness of Haydn.” One Czech reviewer, writing after the premiere, thought he had it figured out, writing: “Janáček, an old man, and now a firm believer, feels with increasing urgency that his life’s work should not lack an element of expressing his relationship to God.” The composer was notorious for replying, sometimes crankily, to reviews he disagreed with (Janáček would’ve loved Twitter...). and he sent a terse reply: “No old man, no believer! You young pup!”


The work begins with a bright orchestral Úvod (Introduction). This movement—a kind of ceremonial processional to begin the Mass—contains the same kind of short ostinato figures and fanfares that dominate the Sinfonietta, also written in 1926. This sets the stage for the much more serious Gospodi pomiluj (Kyrie eleison – “Lord have mercy”). The movement begins with dark, ominous music and a pensive English horn solo that sets up the first choral entrance. The soprano add her own impassioned plea (“Christ have mercy”) before a short orchestral epilogue.


Solo soprano begins Slava (Gloria - “Glory to God in the highest”) with an invocation sung over bells and a clarinet countermelody. The soprano leads off the laudatory middle section as well (“God the Father almighty...”), but it is the tenor and men’s chorus leave the supplicative final section (“Have mercy on us...”). The bells return, together with brass and organ, for the joyful closing “Amens.” The following movement, Vĕruju (Credo – “I believe in one God”), is the longest and most complicated text in the Mass—the familiar Nicene Creed. It’s worth pointing out one small detail in this large piece that perhaps reflects Janáček’s own spiritual vision in the Glagolitic Mass: the opening entrance is an odd, unsettled melody based on whole tones, setting what are really the most important words of the movement: “I believe in one God, father Almighty...” According to Janáček’s biographer Jaroslav Vogel, this represents “more of a longing for faith...than of the demonstrative swearing of allegiance.” This unsettled passage (“Vĕruju, vĕruju” – “I believe, I believe”) becomes a kind of refrain for this movement, reappearing several times at important moments. The tenor carries the statements of belief regarding Jesus (“And in one Lord, Jesus Christ...”) before strident brass chords begin a long orchestral interlude, culminating in a tempestuous organ solo introducing the crucifixion. The ending is forceful, but retains some of the same ambiguity as the opening passage.


Svet (Sanctus – “Holy, holy, holy”) is much quieter in character, beginning with a gently lilting background and a lovely violin solo that introduces the soloists. The tempo quickens for a more upbeat choral version of the next section (“Blessed is he comes in the name of the Lord”), though the soloists then enter with a more uneasy setting of the same words, an uneasiness that continues even under the closing “hosannas.” An edgy choral passage opens Agneče Božij (Agnus Dei – “Lamb of God”) followed by the soloists singing in the same troubled mode. The last passage is a hushed choral prayer for mercy.


The Glagolitic Mass ends with a pair of brief instrumental movements. Any peace found at the end of the previous movement is shattered by the stormy Varhany sólo (Postludium – organ solo), which returns to the mood of the crucifixion from the Vĕruju movement. The closing

Intrada (Exodus) returns to the same kind of texture as the opening of the mass—now serving as a joyful recessional.


program notes ©2017 by J. Michael Allsen