Musical Director's Notes for Summer Term 2017

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No 3 Op. 55 Eroica


Ludwig van Beethoven

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Eroica Symphony

Beethoven began work on the Eroica shortly after the premiere of the Second Symphony, and completed it in 1804. It was first performed in private at one of the residences of Beethoven’s patron Prince Lobkowitz, and publicly premiered on April 7 1805. The work was originally titled “Bonaparte,” but after Napoleon had himself crowned emperor in 1804 Beethoven scratched the dedication out on his manuscript. It was published (in 1806) under the title (in Italian) “Heroic Symphony… composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.”
One of the most significant works in the history of the classical symphony, Eroica begins with two emphatic tonic chords (Allegro con brio), announcing a cello melody that is soon derailed by the unexpected note C sharp. The motivic, metric, and harmonic surprises continue throughout this movement, which is of extraordinary length. A "new theme" (in fact related to the opening) appears during the development that has elicited much comment. There are other unexpected details: the French horn seems to enter prematurely just before the recapitulation, an effect that Beethoven’s contemporaries initially thought to be a mistake.
The second movement (Adagio assai) is a funeral march and one of the most influential pieces of music Beethoven ever composed. Schubert alluded to it in two late works, and Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Mahler and others would also write symphonic marches, often funereal in character, that can in many ways be traced back to Beethoven. The C minor opening presents the somber theme in the violins, over a drum-like bass, that is taken up by the oboe. The tone brightens at moments in the movement, notably in sections in major keys, but also becomes more austere with a fugal passage of extraordinary intensity. The opening theme returns at the end, deconstructed so that only fragments remain.
An energetic scherzo (Allegro vivace) changes the mood but not the intensity. Beethoven plays with metric ambiguities - is the movement in duple or triple time? - and also gives the French horns a chance to shine in the middle trio section. (The use three horns instead of two was a novelty.)
The composer employs another formal innovation for the finale (Allegro molto), which he casts as an unusual set of variations. The theme takes some time to emerge, with initially only its harmonic skeleton given in the bass. For the theme proper Beethoven returned to a melody he had already used in three previous pieces: in one of his 12 contredanses (WoO 14, No. 7), in his ballet music for The Creatures of Prometheus, and as the theme for the Piano Variations in E-flat, Op. 35. A fugal episode leads to a substantial Coda (Poco Andante) which brings the symphony to a suitably heroic conclusion.

There is a film on YouTube about the first performance of the Eroica. Here’s the link:

Entertaining and informative.

Amilcare Ponchielli: Dance of the Hours

Amilcare Ponchielli

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Dance of the Hours


Dance of the Hours (Italian: Danza delle ore) is the short ballet which forms the Act 3 finale of Ponchielli's most successful opera La Gioconda. Alvise, the head of the Inquisition, has invited the Venetian nobility to his palace, where he entertains them with this ballet depicting the eternal struggle between good and evil. It is structured in five parts, each representing a portion of the day: dawn, day, dusk, night, and the return of the morning. After a brief introduction, shimmering string chords herald the arrival of the dawn. Playful outbursts from the woodwinds punctuate these chords before introducing the familiar Dance of the Hours of Day. A new staccato figure from the winds signals the setting of the sun and the transition to the evening hours. The daytime tune plays once more before a legato melody in E minor is given by the cellos, which feature prominently throughout the night section. After an F major sunrise from the strings, daytime returns as a boisterous can-can which brings the Dance of the Hours to an energetic conclusion.

Arthur Sullivan: Overture Di Ballo

Arthur Sullivan

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Overture di Ballo


The Overture di Ballo, written for the 1870 Birmingham Festival, quickly established itself as one of Sullivan's most popular instrumental works. It is the most recorded of his non-operatic compositions, and the only such work of his to retain any real measure of popularity. The piece consists of a short introduction, followed by three distinct but thematically linked sections: a slow opening section in polonaise rhythm, a longer waltz section with the first subject played by the woodwinds and the second (syncopated) subject by the strings, and a lively galop as a finale. It has the inventiveness and lightness of touch so often found in Sullivan's Savoy Operas. The piece was well received at its premiere; reviewing a performance of the overture at the Crystal Palace a month later, the critic for The Times wrote, "A more sparkling and animated orchestral piece of its kind it would be difficult to name."






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