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2017 Program Notes:                            Back to Program Listing=>

Star Spangled Banner   

Arr. O’Loughlin

Please stand for this rousing arrangement of the American national anthem.

Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla  1842

Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)

Mikhail Glinka is considered the father of Russian opera, and was one of the first Russian composers to depart from strictly European technique and incorporate more folk themes.  Glinka was born in Smolensk, in the western Russian empire.  During his early life he was exposed to Russian folk music, but was trained in the European classical tradition as a teenager.  He traveled to Italy and Germany, where he continued to learn western operatic techniques.  After returning to Russia in the mid-1830s, he wrote two operas.  Ruslan and Ludmilla is the second of these.  The opera was based on a Pushkin poem, which tells the story of the abduction of the princess Ludmilla by an evil wizard, and the attempts to rescue her by the brave knight Ruslan. Though the opera itself received a cool reception when it was initially performed, Glinka’s music had a profound effect on other Russian composers.  The Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla dispenses with the ponderous introduction common in Italian overtures, and starts right away with a rousing marching rhythm in the winds interspersed with flying scales in the strings.  This gives way to a lilting melody in the cello.  The melody alternates between major and minor keys, and varies between loud staccato and lyrical legato.  The winds alternate themes with the tympani, followed by the return of the lyrical melody in the cello.  Finally, the brass joins in scales and arpeggios, ending with a spirited finale in the strings.

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Selections from Carmen suites 1 and 2    1875

Danse Bohème, Habanera, Les Dragons d’Alcala, Toréador

Georges Bizet (1838-75)

French composer Georges Bizet showed musical talent at a very young age, and was admitted to the Paris Conservatory just before his 10th birthday.  Bizet was a very talented pianist, but preferred a career in composition.  He was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1857, allowing him to spend several years studying in Italy.  Bizet’s opera Carmen was produced just three months before the composer’s untimely death at the age of 37.  It tells the story of Carmen, a beguiling gypsy, fiercely independent to the end, and the young soldier Don Jose who falls for her.  Despite early criticisms of its gritty subject matter and poor reviews when it was first performed, Carmen has become among the most performed operas of all time, and even strangers to the opera world will recognize many of its themes.   Music from the opera has been arranged into two concert suites.  Selections from both will be performed tonight.  “Danse Bohème” (gypsy dance) is a jaunty movement in 3/4 time, making heavy use of the woodwinds and brass.  The same melody is repeated several times, varying the orchestration, and becoming faster with each repetition.  “Habanera” is a familiar theme.  It starts with a heavy ostinato (repeated) rhythm in the low strings.  The upper strings enter with a descending melody, which is taken up by the winds and repeated several times with varying instrumentation. The full orchestra interjects rhythmic linking segments.  “Les Dragons d’Alcala” is a lighter, more pastoral movement making use of the bassoon, clarinet, and flute in interlocking rhythms.  “Toréador” is another immediately familiar tune, which begins with a processional in the winds and percussion.  It proceeds to the familiar “Toréador song” in the strings, before returning to the winds and percussion for a rousing finale.

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Emperor Waltzes       1899

Johann Strauss, Jr.  (1825-1899)

Johann Strauss, Jr. has been called the “Waltz King” for elevating the Viennese waltz from the ballroom to the concert hall.  His father was a composer who wanted a different life for his son.  He encouraged the younger Strauss to go into banking, and even gave him a severe beating when he discovered him secretly practicing the violin.  The music prevailed however, and Johann Strauss Jr’s reputation went on to eclipse that of the elder Strauss. He wrote more than 500 compositions, of which at least 150 are waltzes. 

The Emperor Waltz was intended as a musical “toast” from Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I to Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II on the occasion of a state visit.  The piece begins with a processional march in 4/4 time, before moving into the expected lilting 3/4 waltz time.  The liberal use of brass instruments lends a regal tone to the waltzes.  Toward the end there is a lyrical cello solo leading to a string passage with an almost lullaby-like quality.  The flute ends the lullaby on a trill, leading into a final waltz passage in the brass.

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Prince Igor: Polovtsian Dances    1887

Alexander Borodin

(1833-1887)

Alexander Borodin learned cello on his own in childhood, but at the age of 17 he entered medical school, studying surgery and chemistry.  He began to study composition with the famous Balakirev (who also taught Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov) in 1862, but medicine was always his primary career.  He is credited with establishing the first medical program for women in Russia.  Borodin spent the last 10 years of his life working on the opera Prince Igor, which remained unfinished at the time of his death.  The Polovtsian Dances were among the first music Borodin composed for the opera.  They appear at the end of Act 2, when Prince Igor and his son are taken prisoner by a Polovtsian (nomadic Turkish) captor, who calls on his servants to provide entertainment.  The dances are performed in an uninterrupted sequence.  In the opera they are performed with chorus, but the orchestral version has been used in concerts as well as popular culture.  The 1953 Broadway musical Kismet used many of the dance themes, most famously the Gliding Dance of the Maidens, which was transformed into “Stranger in Paradise”.  The dances have also been used in such diverse settings as heavy metal music, rap, videogame sound-tracks, and the opening ceremony to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

---Intermission---

The Sound of Music: A Symphonic Picture   1959

Richard Rodgers  (1902-1979)

Richard Rodgers is one of America’s best-loved Broadway composers.  Rodgers was born in New York City and educated at Julliard.  Rodgers is one of a handful of performers to have won the coveted EGOT---an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award.  Rodgers was also awarded a Pulitzer prize. In partnership with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, Rodgers wrote such familiar musicals as Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and CarouselThe Sound of Music was their last collaboration.  It recounts the story of Maria, an aspiring nun hired as a governess for the children of a widowed Austrian army Captain.  After falling in love with the children, Maria soon falls in love with the captain as well.  Shortly after their marriage, they are forced to flee the Nazis to escape commission into the German Army.  Many are familiar with the musical through the film adaptation, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which was released in 1965.  In addition to the title tune, the musical includes such familiar songs as “My Favorite Things”, “Do-Re-Mi”, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” and “Edelweiss”. 

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens   2015

John Williams  (born 1941)

John Williams is perhaps the best-known film composer of all time.  In addition to the iconic music for the Star Wars saga, he has written music for such films as Jaws, ET, Superman, the Indiana Jones movies, and Schindler’s List.  His music is featured in 8 of the top 20 highest-grossing movies of all time.  His music for The Force Awakens earned him his 50th Academy Award nomination.  In addition to his work for film, Williams served as the Principal Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993.

In writing for the 7th installment in the Star Wars saga, Williams made a conscious attempt to forge new territory and create themes for new characters, while including enough references to the original films to tie the series together.  Throughout his writing for the Star Wars series, Williams has made extensive use of the leitmotif, a concept typically attributed to Ricard Wagner, in which each musical theme relates to a specific character or event and returns in some form each time that character or event recurs.

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Gone with the Wind: Tara’s Theme  1939

Max Steiner (1888-1971)

Max Steiner began as a conductor of operettas while still a teen.  He moved to Broadway as a young man, and then proceeded to Hollywood to become one of the first composers of film music.  Gone with the Wind is a film adaptation of the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell.  It portrays the life of a feisty southern woman through the civil war and reconstruction.  The director initially wanted Steiner to use classical music as the backdrop for the film in order to save time, but Steiner convinced him that original music would better develop the characters.  Steiner wrote the music for the almost 4-hour movie over a frenzied 3-month period.  “Tara’s Theme” begins with a flourish in the percussion, before progressing to a lyrical movement in the strings.  The french horn joins in a melody over the top before giving way to the more demonstrative trumpet.

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Music from Spiderman    2002

Danny Elfman (born 1953)

Danny Elfman is an American singer, songwriter, film composer, and record producer.  In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s he was the lead singer and songwriter for the band Oingo Boingo.  He began writing music for film in 1985, encouraged by his friend and collaborator Tim Burton.  The music for Spiderman is lyrical, using chorale melodies in the strings and brass with electronic elements including synthesized human voices, but is supported by driving rhythms in the percussion.

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Pirates of the Caribbean  2003 

Klaus Badelt (born 1967)

Klaus Badelt is a German-born film composer who has collaborated with Hollywood greats and now owns his own production company.  The theme for Pirates of the Caribbean includes driving syncopated rhythms in the strings evoking travel over the ocean.  Heavy use of percussion supports the forward motion.  Brass and winds alternate between rhythmic punctuation and lyrical themes.

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Notes by Jennifer Meyers.

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