TRISTAN UND ISOLDE - by Richard Wagner
"I think that the second act of Tristan, in part of its inspired instrumentation, is one of the most sublime creations of the human spirit in the field of musical invention. I could never quite grasp the fact that [it] had been created by a mere human being"-Giuseppe Verdi
The running time for this opera is approximately four hours and thirty minutes, including two intermissions. "For each human being who feels they have had a mystical experience, or have lived a Tristanesque love, these works need no elucidation, but they may serve for several hours, to put them in direct contact again with those feelings which, after all, as normal human beings, we cannot expect to sustain for all or even most of our lives. For those, who are yearning for this experience, it is well worth the investment of several hours time."-James Conlon, Music Director.
DON GIOVANNI - by Mozart
JANUFA - by Leos Janacek
OUT OF CONTROL- Jenufa and her stepmother -BY LEANN DAVIS ALSPAUGH
As Jenufa moves from immaturity to forgiveness, her stepmother the Kostelnicka-the title refers to her important position as "sacristaness" of the village church (kostel)-takes another path, presuming to think that she understands God's will. In her, the divine spark becomes a force of human ego and the result is disastrous.
Sometimes called the first Moravian national opera, Jenufa is a dramatic vehicle of considerable intensity and economy of plot and character. In adapting the 1890 play Her Stepdaughter by Gabriela Preissova, Janacek turned a story saturated in Moravian style into a parable outside of time and place. The opera circles compulsively around the concepts of will and control: Who is in charge? How are lives to be lived and by whose standards? Can the ego submit to a force greater than itself?
Keeping secrests- The Opera opens which an introduction to a tightly-knit village community. Jenufa, Laca, Steva, Grandmother Buryja and the others depend on each other's industry and honesty-but Jenufa has a secret, one so damaging that she must hide it. In doing so, she violates the village's unwritten rules of openness and trust.
Village life centers around the mill. More than a simple pastoral device, the mill serves as the primary motivation for all the opera's characters. As the river flows past it, the mll wheel truns, and the grain is ground for bread. As it has done for generations, life follows the seasons, linking nature and man. However, the harmony of village life is about to be shatterd by secrets, jealousy, and false pride. A figure in authority will fall and the lowly will rise. The correctives of Christianity will be forgotten and there will be violence and retribution. Ironically, it is the person of highest moral authority in the village who will precipitate this chaos.
Enter the Kostelnicka- From her first lne, the Kostelnicka asserts her power, prediciting Jenufa's future as a beggar, reduced to scraping for coins because her husband is a wastrel. The Kostelnicka speaks from experience, having thrown her love away on such a man. She is a formidable figure, one who cannot be easily dismissed as a bitter old woman. As the village sacristan, she is endowed with the authority of the church. In fact, she really shares top billing with Jenufa as the opera's main character, and it is worth delving deeper into her character.
From ancient times, the sacristan acted as a monastic official in charge of the vestments, the candles, and the sacred liturgical vessels. Originally, the sacristan was a priest, unless there was a shortage of priests, then a layman might step in. In medieval times, the sacristan was often a lay woman. In the sixteenth century, the reforms of the Council of Trent led to a reduction of duties and authority for female sacristans. To what extent parishes observed the rules regarding female sacristans often depended on factors such as the church's remoteness from a diocesan center or political unrest. In 1927, for example, a lay woman sacristan in Vladivostok maintained the Most Joly Mother of God catherdral for several years because the previous pastor had been shot by the cmmunists.
Undoubtedly, the female sacristan, or sextoness, filled an important position in a community of believers. Though she might never intend to impersonate or supplant a priest, the absence of a pastor allowed the sacristaness to assert herself literally and morally. In short, she might be, as Janacek portrays her, the highest moral authority of her village.
The Kostelnicka takes her job quite seriously. It is easy to imagine that she has worked hard to erase the memory of her youthful transgressions and to establish herself as a moral exemplar. When she sees Jenufa yearning for Steva, all those old memories come back, and the Kostelnicka foresees not only her stepdaughter's unhappiness, but also irreparable damage to her own hard-own position. While this is all too human, the Kostelnicka as a representative of the church has an obligation to modesty and humility, yet she has put this aside in favor of an egotistical imperative to change the course of events.
Taking Control-Sealed in her cottage at the opening of the second act, it is now the Kostelnicka who has a secret-she has spread the rumor that Jenufa is in Vienna since the truth is too painful. She presides over a bleak, closed interior, shuttered against sunlight and prying eyes. The mood is set by a grim duet in which Jenufa coos to the sleeping baby, while the Kostelnicka wishes God would take the child away.
Fighting to maintain control of the situation, the Kostelnicka administers a sleeping draught to Jenufa and summons Steva, hoping to convince him to marry her stepdaughter. He declines, prompting the Kostelnicka to utter the chilling line, "if only I could kill the baby and throw it at his feet to reach his conscience." Certianly, no one could accuse Steva of an overly-active conscience, but where is that of the Kostelnicka?
Loaca enters next and the Kostelnicka challenges him to hear the truth: "I will tell you everything and test your love." At this moment, the Kostelnicka's sould is in the balance, and it is she who is being tested. Instead of trying to persuade Laca that he could love the child as he loves its mother, the Kostelnicka presumes to play God. The child that she has helped into the world, that she has named and baptized, is then condemned to death-first in word, then in deed.
As the Kostelnicka rationalizes her intention, she struggles with her clamorous ego, forgetting the Christian principles on which she has based her life and reputation. The desire to control loves is so strong that she is willing to commit a sin merely to save face. She temporizes, contending that by sending the boy to God she will keep him pure. This is sheer hypocrisy made even more reprehensible by her position as a woman of the church. In her fallen state, she convinces herself that she understnads God's plan and can interpret it to direct the lives around her.
Like Lady Macbeth, the Kostelnicka screws her courage to the sticking place and takes the child to the icy millrace. That this place so closely associated with life sould be the site of death shows just how lost she is. However, murder will out and at the first thaw of spring, the baby is discovered. At this point, the Kostelnicka has lost complete control of herself; she is ill, weak, "fading away." Just as she prepares to bless Jenufa and Laca, villagers announce the grisly discovery. It is fitting that the Kostelnicka's moral abasement should be exposed at just this moment. She has failed in virtually every aspect of her duty as a sacristan, not to mention her arguably more important role as a mother and grandmother.
Her confession-"The deed was mine"-stops the mov from charging Jenufa with the infant's murder. Just as her words restore order among the villagers, so they lift the Kostelnicka from her degradation. She ends with the realization of her selfishness and turns back toward Jenufa and the others. From standing alone in false pride, the Kostelnicka rejoins the community. Though she sill be tired and sentenced to death, she has the forgiveness and love of Jenufa. The Kostelnicka's genuine contrition also restores her to the love of God.
The Tragic Kostelnicka- A paradox lies at the heart of the Opera. Jenufa, pregneant and unwed, has sinned against the morality of the village, yet it is she alone who can forgive the Kostelnicka and restore to her the strenght to accept the law's punishment and thus gain redemption. In classical tragedy, the dramatic tension must be resoved in favor of underatnading and order rather than incomprehension and chaos (the latter would be the province of the moderns). The Kostelnicka embodies this tragic model, and her return to the will of the law and the community restores ofder and, in turn, illuminates Jenufa's true character.
Leos Janacek- by paul Griffiths
Though older than Mahler and groomed in the tradition of Dvorak, Leos Janacek belonged musically with the younger generation of Bartok and Stravinsky. He came to prominence, as they did, around the time of the First Would War, when they were in their thirties and he in his sixties. He also shared his junior contemporaries' zest for materal encountered in the raw: fold music and, in his case, the speech patterns he would hear around him in his native Moravia, the south-eastern part of the Czech lands, which for most of his life formed part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. What he heard from village singers and from people on the street went into his music, to create its energetic repetitions, strongly characterized motifs and tangy instrumental combinations, counterbalanced by what was part of his older, Romantic inheritance: the ability to come up with moments of almost shocking radiance.
Born in 1854 into a line of village teachers and musicians, Janacek began his long apprenticeship in the choir of the Augustinian monastery in Brno, the Moravian capital, form which he went on to the city's teacher-training college. Apart from brief periods of further study in Prague, Leipzig and Vienna, he remained in this distinctly provincial city as a teacher and choirmaster. In 1881, recently married, he was appointed director of the new organ school in Brno, a post he retained until 1919. Neither his composing nor his marital life was so settled. Apart from his first opera Sarka, not performed at the time, his creative achievements in his twenties and thirties consisted mostly of small choral pieces and folksong arrangements, and his harsh treatment of his young wife-not yet 16 when they married-resulted in a long period of separation. Even when they were back together their relationship was strained, and after the deaths of their young son (in 1890) and 20-year-old daughter (in 1903) they lived as strangers.
During the decade of work on his third opera, Jenufa (1894-1903), he discovered all the thems and means of his operatic maturity-not least the tight drawing of an inevitable tragedyt and then, at the last moment, the outburst of optimistic hope in youth and love. But though the work was a success in Brno, it was not seen elsewhere, and its composer was left directionless again. He worked in trun on two troublesome if striking operatic projects, the semi-autobiographical Osud (Fate) and the satirical fantasy The Excursions of Mr. Broucek, of which the latter again occupied ten year (1908-17). Other works of this period include further choruses and a violin sonata.
Various circumstances then released his creative energy. Jenufa was at last staged in Prague in 1916, and form there began its international career. Janacek was feed from administrative and teaching obligations at the organ school, though he continued to give master classes. His patriotic hopes were fulfilled with the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918. And in 1917 he fell in love with Kamila Stosslova, a married woman less then half his age. Henceforth she was his confidante (in a voluminous correspondence) and his muse. Transmuted she became the heroines of three operas he wrote in quick succession-Katya Kabanova, The Cunning Little Vixen and The Makeropulos Case-and the boy who radiates and reflects humanity in the prison of his last opera, From the House of the Dead. She was also the deductress of his dramatic song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared. He wrote the Glagolitic Mass for their imaginary marriage, and two string quartets that told their story with reference to a Tolstoy novella (The Kreutzer Sonata) and to his letters to her.
His achievement, at what was an advanced age for the time, was astonishing: four operas completed in under a decade, besides these other works. Moreover, the operas range widely in subject, from the family drama of iron rule and the heart in Katya Kabanova to the lives of forest animals in The cunning Little Vixen, the continuing life and allure of a three-century-old woman in The Makropulos Case, and the prisoners' tales of From the House of the Dead, based on a novel by Dostoevsky.
Hindered by Nazism and war, these works were slow to make their way into wide circulation. Charles Mackerras's recordings, in the 1970s, hastened them on their way, but only now are they being accepted as part of the central operatic repertory. Music for which this composer waited so long it still new.
Beethoven Sonata cycle
A NOTE BY GRANT HIROSHIMA
A live performance of the Beethoven Sonata cycle is an event of special significance for both the pianist and the audience. The musician maust demonstrate execution, understanding, and mastery in the face of the most demanding body of work in the genre. And the listeners, in a relatively short span of time, experience.. well, how indeed can that experience be described?
We will hear Beethoven's first adult piano sonata, composed nearly five years before the publication of his First Symphony, and we will hear his final piano sonata composed at the same time as his Ninth Symphony: a musical span of some 30 years. We will observe, in musical terms, the tectonic cultural and artistic shift from the Classical to the Romantic age as the 18th century gives way to the 19th century. And we will hear an emotional expression more varied and dense than in any other body of instrumental music. Whether we are conscious of it or not, it is the music of Beethoven which largely has formed our standards of what is good and great in Western music. Yes- there are times when hyperbole is appropriate.
Before we embark, let's pause for a consideration of terminology. While the word "cycle" is often applied to the performance of the complete sonatas, there is a certain misleading connotation in ther term that should be addressed. Coming as it does from the Greek work for wheel or circle (kyklos), "cycle" has about it a sense of enclosure and intent something meant to be a set. Wagner's Ring Cycle certainly qualifies under that definition, as would Schubert's song cycle Winterreise. Both were composed as entities, with beginnings and conclusions.
While the term "cycle" will be used freely in the context of these concerts, we should also keep an alternate image in mind. Each of us can summon up our own, but perhaps something along the lines of "trajectory" or "journey" would be apt; a motion away and outward from the point of striving and development as much as anything, and we can't think of them as individual creations in fulfillment of a plan.
By deciding to perform the sonatas in chronological order, Andras Schiff has reversed one of the standard dynamics of the recital program. Schumann, Bartok, and Liszt appearing on the same program encourage us to find connections and sympathies across what seem to be wide divergences. We listen for what binds the program together while reveling in the juxtaposition.
Playing the sonatas of a single artist in the seemingly homogeneous context of chronological programs (the first program of four sonatas covers less than two years of the composer's career) focuses our attention on the diversity rather than the unfining traits of the series. In very general terms, let's look first at the close-up, then move out to the panorama.
We can begin with the variety to be found from movement to movement within a single sonata, often violently contrasted expressions. Then we can compare the overall differences of mood between the sonatas themselves. The individual characters of the ghree sonatas of Op. 2, published as a triptych in 1795, are starkly different from one another. The entire series of 32 sonatas can itself be distributed into the ghree great eras of Beethoven's compositional career. Traditionally, the first period covers Beethoven's early adulthood and his arrival in Vienna in 1972. It includes his first ten piano sonatas and his first two symphonies. The middle period, covering his exploding popularity and musically experiemental controversy, runs from approximately 1802 untill 1816 and includes the third through eighth symphonies. And the final period, the period of both his grandest and his most intimate musical works, includes his Ninth Symphony and the final five piano sonatas.
Beethoven was barely 22 when he first journeyed to Vienna. His friend and patron Count Ferdinand Waldstein wrote: "You are going to Vienna in fulfillment of your long-frustrated dreams. The genius of Mozart is still mourning and weeping over the death of her pupil. She found a refuge but no occupation with the inexhaustible Haydn; through him she wishes once more to form a union with another. With the help of assiduous labor you shall receive Mozart's sprirt from Haydn's hands."
Clearly, the legacies against which the young Beethoven would be measured were formidable. But he carried with him a reputation for being a formidable performer and improviser at the piano - and there is much that must be unpacked from this simple statement.
First, the piano, or fortepiano, was only beginning to settle into a standardized form as a musical instrument. The harpsichard and clavichord were the instruments of Beethoven's childhood. Haydn's earliest sonatas were written for the harpsichard, as were Mozart's. The new instrument, in which strings were struck by leather-covered hammers rather than plucked by the jacks of the harpsichord, had the advantage of being able to sound a note with varying degrees of volume - hence the name, forte-piano, loud-soft. The fortepianos available to Beethoven at the beginning of his career had a span of five and a half octaves and an incisive and intimate tone, a far cry from the lush and ringing sounds of the modern concert grand.
Second, there was no real distinction between the roles of pianist, performer (of other people's music as well as one's own), and improviser. To be thought of as one meant to be thought of as all three. Contemporary accounts record encounters with Beethoven performing as soloist in Mozart concertos or extemporizing for a half hour or more, holding audiences rapt with the narrative drama of his improvisations. This sotry-teller's instinct for drama, the sequencing of episodes, the mysteries and revelations of holding back or pouring forth, had made Beethoven a rising star even before the publication of his first formal compositions.
Shortly after his arrival, Beethoven was in contact with Haydn. Studies with the older composer would go on for about a year, during which time Beethoven became dissatisfied with his master's tutelage. Despite any ill feeling, Beethoven' first three piano sonatas, published as the set of Op.2 (Op. 1 was a set of piano trios), were dedicated to Haydn. We might wee this now as an act of clever PR, a gesture of public respect before a Viennese public who still treasured Haydn as the leading composer after the early death of Mozart. In any case, the series was underway.
Andras Schiff, in interviews which can be found on a program insert, talks in great detail about the individual sonatas which constitute these programs. But as with the bonus features on a DVD, the listener may want to experience the program first before learning about the individual pieces. In a sense, listening to the sonatas in sequence teaches one how to listen from one sonata to the subsequent sonata. As it was for the Viennese listener, the surprise of what comes next is part of the attraction. Along the way, the unforgettable events are many. From the tense air of anticipation which opens Sonata No. 1 in F mior, to the genial mood of Sonata No. 2 in A Major, to the majestic stillness of the great Largo, con gran espressione of the Sonata No. 4 in E-flat, Op. 7, this is a journey of discovery.
FIDELIO - by Beethoven
A NOTE FROM JAMES CONLON, MUSIC DIRECTOR
Ludwig van Beethoven, the colossus who bestrode classical music, whose magnificent shadow stretched across the entire 19th century, and whose music has been treasured, loved and admired through the 20th into our won time, wrote one opera: Fidelio. This master of symphony, piano sonata, trio and string quartet abandoned his predilection for so-called "absolute music" and entered the profane theater.
He disdained the Italian Mozart/DaPonte operas (which he did not like) but turned rather to the Singspiel (a popular form of musical theater in the vernacular with alternating music and dialogues). Mozart had transformed this popular genre from the purely comic to the sublime when he produced The Abduction from the Seraglio (whose two great humanistic themes are fidelity in love and the power of magnanimous forgiveness) and The Magic Flute (whose Enlightnment and Masonic themes cross ove into contemporary political ideas of human dignity and of society's responsibility to protect it through reason, wisdom and truth).
Beethoven took these themes and developed themcombining his own political convictions (inspired by the French Revolution) and his idealization of marriage and feminine virtue. He was often disillusioned with the political events of his time, and was never to realize any lasting personal relationship at all. But he poured this striving for a perfect world and a perfect union into the form of the now more enlightened Singspiel, and produced a unique masterpiece in the form of Fidelio. The developing form demends enhanced content, which in turn will exert even more influence on that form.
Great moral themes require great moral characters. None is greater than that of the heroine, Leonore. She goes one step beyond Mozart's heroine of Seraglio, Konstanze (representing Constancy). Steadfast in her love, she resists and renounces until her beloved rescues her. Leonore, disguised as a young man, Fidelio (Faithful), does more. It is she who rescues her husband. Beehtoven created a new and unique heroine. This "drama set to music" is borrowed from the fashionable French "rescue opera" of the time. Beethoven turned this form into high art in the same manner in which Mozart had shown the way with the Singspiel.
But there is no precedent to this "modern" woman who rescues her noble and honest husband, unjustly imprisoned for speaking out against injustice. She exemplifies ingenuity, courage, moral determination, invention, boundless personal devotion and commitment to justice. Unlike the vast number of operas based on romantic love, where reason and passion are antagonists, Fidelio's Portagonist shows us that the demand of heart and brain can be integrated and placed in the service of the "Other" and the "Greater Good."
The first act descends from light to dark, and the second in contrary motion. Leonore, like Orpheus, metaphorically goes into the underworld to rescue her beloved, offers him bread in a Eucharistic act of compassion, and literally frees him from the shackles of tyranny.
Heroism, the Ideals of the French Revolution, Humanism, Triumph over Political Tyranny and Evil, the Rights of Man, Idealized Conjugal Love: all of these are Beethoven's great themes. Like Napoleon, Beethoven invaded the operatic terrain from a foreign land, so-called absolute music. The meditative character of the Act One vocal quartet directly reflects the string quartets and piano works. The protean power of the symphonies is distilled into theatrical and lyrical form: the celebration of the great statesman of the Eroica, the triumph over conflict of the Fifth, the eulogizing of the fallen soldiers of the Seventh. The Ode to Joy of the Ninth parallels the choral finale of Fidelio which celebrates its heroine and the idealized jumanistic world that Beethoven sought, and succeeded in capturing, in the perfection of his music.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN-by Paul Griffiths
Beethoven, in his one work for the opera house, carries the din of all his great other works with him. Through the piece he moves opera from the world of family drama on stage to that of universal cantata. Moreover, the themes of Fidelio--freedom and, indeed, fidelity--are those implicit in his symphonies and sonatas. All his life of struggle and triumph is here.
Born in 1770, the son of a court singer in the relatively minor German city of Bonn, Beethoven received his early training from his father and other local musicians. In 1787 he went to Vienna, where almost certainly he met Mozart. However, he came back after two weeks to be with his ailing mother before her death. His father was already drinking heavily, and Beethoven at eighteen took charge of the family. He returned to Vienna in 1792 to study with Haydn, but the relationship was not good, and both may have been glad to part when Haydn left for England after little more than a year.
Beethoven then studied counterpoint with Johann Georg Albrechtasberger while continuing to establish him self as a virtuoso pianist and composer in Viennese high society. He seems to have set himself to completing, before the end of the century, works in the two genres Jaydn had made his own: the string quartet and the symphony. His six quartets (Op.18) were published in 1800, and his First Symphony was introduced at a concert he gave that year. But his ability to enjoy these triumphs was limited, for by now he was aware of increasing deafness.
In 1803 he started an opera, Vestas Feuer, which he soon abandoned in favor of his Third Symphony, the "Eroica." This greatly extended the length and power of the form, and helped initiate a period of startling achievement. Within the next few years he produced major piano sonatas, string quartets, concertos and symphonies (Nos. 4-6), the first version of Fidelio, and his most important score for the spoken theater, incidental music for Goethe's Egmont.
The two men met in 1812, when he was dismayed by Goethe's courtliness, which he found unbecoming in a poet; Goethe found him "an utterly untamed personality," whose scorn for the world caused difficulties for himself and others. Such comments give us the image of him as a bear of a man, unruly but lovable, and loving, though with an irascibility that deafness surely intensified. He had a passionate moral sense: he was loyal to his friends, dutiful to his brothers, and intolerant of sexual frivolity. Marriage to him was an ideal as high as heroism, and similarly a sacrifice that raised human dignity. For himself, music was the only partner with whom he could live.
From that relationship by now had come his Seventh Symphony (followed shortly by the Eighth), and he was now near the end of what is conventionally known as his "middle period," the period of stalwart, affirmative works initiated by the "Eroica." He revised Fidelio for its 1814 revival. That was also the year when, his deafness increasing, he made his last important public appearance as a pianist, and when he acquired parental responsibilities in caring for his nine-year-old nephew Karl, after the death of his brother Caspar Carl.
Following a period of uncertainty, he devoted himself to piano music, string quartets and two immense scores: the Missa solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. In the late piano music, certain traits come to the fore: contrapuntal textures, musical characters strikingly defined in miniature, and a sense of vast range and potential opened up by variation form. The Ninth syphony was the recapitulation of a lifetime's work--characteristically a developing recapitulation. Lasting over an hour, it extended and elevated each of his movement categories: the sonata allergro whose conflict sets up the space and tension for the entire work, the rapt slow movement, the bounding scherzo and the culminative finale, this time incorporating voices singing Schiller's Ode to Joy.
Warmly pressed by his friends and admirers to let Vienna hear his latest works, he presented his Ninth Symphony and other compositions at a concert in 1824. Now totally deaf, he had to be alerted to the fact that behind him the audience was cheering. Afterwards he answered a commission for quartets from a Russian prince, Nikolay Golitsin, composing at remarkable speed five works that have always been regarded as among music's Himalayas.
His funeral was a public event: an actor stood at the graveside to deliver an oration by the poet-dramatist Franz Grillparzer. The contrast with Mozart's unceremonious burial in the same city, thirty-five years or so before, could hardly have been more marked. A new age had come, and, as the crowd knew, this lonely man had provided its first music.
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