Pacific University Philharmonic - May 6, 2018

Program Notes
 
Beethoven - Leonore Overture No. 3

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn (Germany) in 1770. Died in Vienna in 1826 at age 56.

Leonore Overture No. 3 is one of four overtures that Beethoven wrote for his only opera: "Fidelio." Beethoven worked on this opera for about 10 years (!!!), from 1804 (when the composer was 34 years old) to the performance of its final version in 1814. 

Leonore Overture No. 3 has become a very popular stand-alone concert piece, independent from the opera for which it was created. It's a self-contained, highly dramatic piece of music that is fully enjoyable on its own. In other words, it's not necessary to know the plot to "Fidelio" to appreciate this overture. 

However, here is the gist of it: 

 

The setting is a Spanish prison outside Seville in the late 18th century. Florestan, a nobleman, has been unjustly arrested by Pizarro, a rival nobleman who governs over this prison. Florestan's wife Leonore disguises herself as a young man named Fidelio to infiltrate Pizarro's prison and rescue Florestan. The characters learn that an official minister will be visiting the prison the next day to inspect it. Pizarro decides to murder Florestan before the minister's visit. Leonore reveals her identity in the nick of time, just as trumpets announce the arrival of the minister. Does she manage to rescue Florestan?

 

The ending of Leonore Overture No. 3 gives a very clear answer, just as the piece as a whole gives a remarkable portrait of the dramatic arc of the opera itself. 

What to listen for?

 

The very opening of the slow introduction could be a depiction of going down the dark stairs into the prison cells.

The joyous Allegro might represent Florestan remembering his happy days before his unjust imprisonment and his hopes of being released.

Listen for the off-stage trumpet calls representing the arrival of the minister (it happens twice).

Soon after the second trumpet call, a solo flute brings back the main Allegro theme in a jubilant, almost playful manner.

 

The ecstatic coda, which begins with fast violin runs as the rest of the strings gradually join in, very clearly tells the listener how the story ends.

 

Further Reading

 

Chicago Symphony program notes by Phillip Huscher - tap here

Kennedy Center program notes by Richard Freed - tap here

San Francisco Symphony program notes by Michael Steinberg - tap here

Good-ole Wiki article - tap here

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Images grabbed from here and from here.

 
Beethoven - Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano 
in C major, Op. 56

Beethoven wrote his Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano (aka the "Triple Concerto") in 1803, just one year before starting formal work on Fidelio. It is Beethoven's least performed concerto for several reasons, chief among them 1) the fact that it requires not one but three soloists, and 2) the piece has a reputation for being excessively prolix.

According to Beethoven's biographer Anton Schindler, this concerto was written for Beethoven's piano student Archduke Rudolf of Austria, who would have been 15 years old in 1803. The Archduke would go on to become a big supporter of Beethoven's later in life. However, there is no record of him performing this concerto, as the premiere didn't take place until 1808, and by then the piece had been dedicated to somebody else - Prince Lobkowitz.

Archduke Rudolf ↑

 

Regardless of the circumstances of its birth, the Triple Concerto deserves more credit than it gets. First of all, creating a concerto for a piano trio was a highly innovative idea. And in creating it, Beethoven had a structural challenge to overcome: how to give each individual soloist equal "me" time on stage while also featuring the trio as a unit, while balancing that with the role of the orchestra in the piece.

 

To accommodate this, Beethoven ended up with a massive 17-minute first movement, which we are performing tonight on its own. While this single movement is longer than many full concertos before its time, its thematic richness and the clever management of its architecture allow for a very successful and satisfying result. 

What to listen for?

 

The orchestra plays a lengthy "first exposition," where most themes for the whole movement are introduced.

 

When the soloists come in ("second exposition"), listen to how the character of the music changes just by *how* it's presented. It's the same thematic material, but the sparse accompaniment gives the feeling of a chamber piece.

 

Early in the "first exposition" listen for quick ascending scales in the low strings. These scales will later become important in the way the solo parts are developed.

 

There are several "deceptive cadences" in this movement: big build-ups to expected harmonic resolutions, but Beethoven tricks the listener and makes hard left turns which propel the music to further momentum in different keys. See if you can identify those moments.

 

Beethoven remained active as a teacher in addition to his busy composing and performing career. His students ranged from royalty like Archduke Joseph and Prince Lobkowitz, to future music giants like Czerny and Liszt (in drawing above).

 

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Further Reading

 

Minnesota Orchestra program notes by Paul Horsley (scroll down to find the Triple Concerto) - tap here

 

Emmanuel Music program notes by Ryan Turner - tap here

 

Kennedy Center program notes by Richard E. Rodda  - tap here

 

Wiki article - tap here

 

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Images grabbed from here, here and here.

 
Manuel de Falla - El Sombrero de Tres Picos
(The Three-Cornered Hat), Suite No. 1.

Manuel de Falla is one of the most important Spanish composers in history. He was born in Cadiz, Spain in 1876 and died in 1946 (age 70). 

El Sombrero de Tres-Picos (The Three-Cornered Hat) is a ballet commissioned by the famous ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, with choreography by Léonide Massine and music by Falla. It premiered in 1919, with set design by Pablo Picasso.

 

Tonight we perform what's known as the "Suite No. 1," which contains most of the music from the first act of the ballet.

Plot

 

El Sombrero de Tres Picos tells the story of a miller, his wife, and the town's "corregidor" (like a sheriff), who tries to seduce the miller's wife (unsuccessfully), but several comedic misunderstandings fill the plot with entertaining dramatic effects. 

 

The corregidor's hat (a three-cornered hat) plays an important role in the action (Act 2).

 

The dramatic action contained in the music we are performing tonight is below:

 

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Afternoon (at the mill): the miller and his wife are happily working at the mill. A procession including the grotesque-looking corregidor had just gone by, and the corregidor noticed the miller's wife as they passed. Now, as the couple continues working, a beautiful girl carrying a water pitcher on her head walks by, and the miller makes her a low bow and kisses her hand. His wife becomes annoyed and jealous and starts crying. The miller asks for forgiveness and swears his eternal love, and eventually, the happy couple gets back to work.

 

Now, steps are heard approaching. It's the corregidor [bassoon solo], who comes to seduce the miller's wife. The couple secretly makes fun of the corregidor's appearance as he approaches. The miller's wife tells her husband that she only loves him. To prove it, she asks him to hide while the corregidor talks to her.

 

With the miller out of sight, the miller's wife starts dancing the Fandango, pretending she doesn't notice the corregidor approaching. Suddenly, she feigns surprise as she notices the man. He makes a low bow to the ground, and she responds with a long and ceremonious curtsey. 

 

The miller's wife offers the corregidor some grapes, holding a bunch in each hand as she dances in front of him. He tries to catch a grape in his mouth while trying to kiss her, but she removes the grapes from his reach each time. Eventually, the corregidor stumbles and falls to the ground. 

 

As the corregidor falls, the miller suddenly appears armed with a stick, pretending he thought his mill was being sacked. The corregidor thinks he's been caught red-handed, but the miller rushes to help him up, as his wife explains he's slipped on a grape.

 

The miller and his wife help the corregidor up. They begin swatting at his clothes with an apron and shaking him with the pretext of cleaning him up. Soon, the corregidor discovers that the couple has been just making fun of him the entire time, and departs with threatening gestures. 

 

With the corregidor gone, the couple joyfully dance the Fandango together. But they don't know that the corregidor's deputy (the alguacil) was watching the entire scene the whole time, and he will assist the corregidor in seeking revenge in Act 2.

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Picasso's costume designs for the 1919 premier of "Sombrero"

 

Further reading

 

Full ballet plot - tap here

 

Program Notes by J. and E. Khan for the HHSO - tap here

 

"Sombrero" wiki article - tap here

 

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Images from here , here and here.