Fifth Ave Chamber
Monday, March 5th, 2012 8pm
William Noll, Music Director & Conductor
Fifth Ave Chamber Orchestra
Mendellssohn - Symphony #4, The
Saint-Saens - Piano Concerto #2 in G minor
Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90,
– Felix Mendelssohn
Born February 3, 1809, in Hamburg,
Died November 4, 1847, in Leipzig,
This work was first
performed on May 5, 1833, by the Philharmonic Society of
with the composer conducting.
It is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons,
horns, trumpets, with added timpani and the customary strings.
Much attention is given to
the remarkably young age at which Mozart composed his earliest works.
This has overshadowed the equally amazing talents of the young
Felix Mendelssohn. Mozart
was forced to tour Europe as a young
child, playing for kings, popes, and princes.
Mendelssohn showed his talent at a similarly young age, so his
banker father invested in the best music teachers available for Felix
and his musically gifted sister Fanny (who also became a composer
despite the social expectations of the time).
As the young Felix composed, he regularly heard his music
performed by a private orchestra that played in the Mendelssohn’s Berlin home every Sunday.
This invaluable advantage allowed the composer to develop musical
identity and adeptness for orchestration before his age reached double
digits. Thirteen early
“string symphonies” date from this period – all written before he
composed his first numbered symphony at the age of fifteen.
Felix’s thirst for travel was nearly as
great as his love of composition.
In fact, he regularly chronicled his journeys in his works.
Mendelssohn’s visit to the British Isles
in 1829 resulted in the Hebrides
Overture and the Scottish Symphony.
During a year and a half stay in Italy
beginning in 1830, Mendelssohn started composing his Fourth Symphony.
He completed the work when the London Philharmonic Society asked
him for a new symphony to be performed in May of 1833.
Although he was never quite satisfied with the final two
movements, he allowed the symphony to be given several times in London.
The work did not reach publication until 1851 – four years after
Mendelssohn’s untimely death at age 38.
Since then, it has become his most frequently performed symphony.
This sunny and delightful symphony reflects
Mendelssohn’s impression of Italian life.
The first movement, in sonata form, is a vigorous
The energetic opening springs forth with a burst of orchestral
second theme relies more on the woodwinds than does the string-dominated
opening theme. Both melodies
intertwine in the brief development section before they return in the
recapitulation to bring the movement to a brilliant conclusion.
(Cologne New Philharmonic – music
begins after the opening credits at about 1:30
The introspective D minor Adagio,
sketched in Naples, is noble and graceful.
As the movement opens, the orchestra intones an almost chant-like
figure that leads to an extended arching melody of admirable richness.
As the section progresses, the woodwinds provide a lovely
major-key middle section features dialogue between the strings and
winds. The opening
material returns at the end.
(NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by
Arturo Toscanini -
Mendelssohn’s third movement leaves
behind the usual quick and lighthearted Scherzo, which had become the
third movement norm since Beethoven first used it three decades before,
in favor of the reserved and dignified minuet and trio
of the Eighteenth Century.
This movement begins with a statement of the minuet theme in the
strings with minor reinforcement from woodwinds and brass.
The graceful and elegant music continues uninterrupted until the
trio, which begins with a fanfare-like figure in the horns and trumpets.
In contrast to the opening, the trio relies more heavily on the
winds. Mendelssohn closes
the movement with the expected return of the minuet.
(1953 recording of the New York Philharmonic
conducted by Leonard Bernstein –
presto finale is set in the guise of a saltarello – an Italian dance
characterized by leaping motions – although it more closely resembles a
tarantella, whose steps were prescribed as a folk cure for the bite of
the tarantula. Beginning
with the saltarello rhythm as an introduction, the main theme soon
appears in the flutes. The
movement builds in intensity until it reaches the development section.
Then the entire process begins anew from a quiet beginning and
builds in intensity as the themes are fragmented and reassembled against
a swirling accompaniment. At
the peak of activity, the recapitulation begins.
The final measures wind down until the orchestra is almost
silent, just in time for a final energetic flourish.
9,1835, in Paris, France
16,1921, in Algiers, Algeria
The concerto received its premiere on
May 13, 1868, at the Salle Pleyel in Paris with Anton Rubinstein
conducting and the composer at the piano.
It is scored for solo piano, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets,
and bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and
eighty-six years of Camille Saint- Saëns’
life comprise one of the longest of any composer.
Born in 1835, only eight years after Beethoven's death, he lived
until 1921, three years after Leonard Bernstein’s birth.
However, it was not his longevity that makes him memorable, but
the enormously creative works he composed during the eighty-two
productive years of his musical life – beginning at age four.
Also a pianist, Saint-Saëns
gave many concerts and was praised by critics for his elegance and
described music as "a formal combination of pleasing sounds, purity of
style and perfection of form.... elegant lines, tasteful coloration, and
beautiful succession of harmonies."
This was not idle pontification, but a perfect description of
style. His works fit into a
strict formal structure, sometimes innovative but never avant-garde.
His approach is direct, but never harsh.
A distinct French flavor is ever-present with a melodic and
As a strict French nationalist in musical matters, Saint-Saëns became
one of the leaders in what would become a French musical renaissance in
This eminently important composer directly
influenced several generations of musicians, not only through his own
music, but also through his contact with young composers throughout his
life, spanning from Berlioz to Stravinsky.
Unlike many composers of the Romantic period, Saint-Saëns did not
make his living as a teacher, and held only one official teaching post.
From 1861 to 1865 he taught at the Ecole Niedermeyer – a Parisian
school for the education of church musicians – and proved himself an
effective teacher, counting Gabriel Fauré among his students.
Perhaps his most influential institutional association began in
1871 when he co-founded the Société Nationale de Musique, an
organization devoted to fostering the composition and performance of
music by young French composers.
Completely devoted to the French cause, he resigned from the
Société in 1886, when they began including music by foreign composers.
In his fifteen years with the Société, Saint-Saëns helped promote
the music of Cesar Franck, Edouard Lalo, and Claude Debussy – all
without setting foot in a classroom.
In the years before his short-lived teaching career,
Saint-Saëns had become known as a formidable pianist.
His situation was very similar to that of the Russian
composer-conductor Anton Rubinstein.
The two composers had forged a friendship in the 1850s and often
performed on the same programs.
They gave a successful series of concerts in 1868, of which
“After that magnificent season we happened to be at
some concert or other in the Salle Pleyel, when he [Rubinstein] said to
me, ‘I haven’t conducted an orchestra in Paris yet. Let’s put on a
concert that will give me an opportunity of taking up the baton.’
‘With pleasure.’ We asked when the Salle Pleyel would be free and
were told we should have to wait three weeks.
‘Very well,’ I said, ‘in those three weeks I will write a
concerto for the occasion.’
And I composed the G Minor Concerto, which accordingly had its first
performance under such distinguished patronage.”
This concerto is full of soloistic
fireworks, but is unique in its reversal of tradition, placing the slow
movement first. Saint-Saëns’
opening andante sostenuto begins with a dazzling cadenza that
lends a lyrically rhapsodic air to this most unusual of first movements.
Atmospheric and pensive, there is no hint of the fireworks to
come. The orchestra finally
enters and the threat of storminess is never far away.
Arpeggios and runs are heard throughout, including a second
cadenza in the usual position near the end of the movement before a
final fortissimo flourish.
(Artur Rubinstein and the Philadelphia
Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy --
The allegro scherzando second
movement is nimble, light, and virtuosic.
Saint-Saëns infuses it with his typically dry humor by opening
the proceedings with solo timpani.
Fleet-footed and mercurial, the movement features the soloist in
alternation with the orchestra.
The second theme begins with a rollicking left-hand pattern that
gives way to a tantalizing melody in the right hand.
After the usual development and recapitulation, the movement ends
with a subdued coda.
(Same personnel as above –
Perhaps the most difficult for the
soloist is the presto finale – a brisk tarantella that features a
compendium of dazzling pianistic devices.
Calculated touch and exacting precision are required to master
the fiery passages of this movement.
Saint-Saëns’ second theme is less florid, but the development
section focuses almost exclusively on its dotted rhythms.
After a triumphant return of the opening material in the
recapitulation, an extended coda erupts with pianistic fireworks.
The final measures are among in the most enthralling in the
(Same personnel as above –
©2012 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig