Musical Director's notes and sound files for the Summer Term


Ludwig van Beethoven

Click here to hear sound file

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

  1. Allegro con brio (C minor)
  2. Andante con moto (A flat major)
  3. Allegro (C minor)
  4. Allegro (C major)

Beethoven worked on the Fifth Symphony for more than four years, completing it in 1808, and introducing it on December 22 of that year at what must have been one of the most extraordinary concerts in history. The marathon program included the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Choral Fantasy Op. 80, the Fourth Piano Concerto and parts of the Mass in C. Vienna was in the grip of exceptionally cold weather, the hall was unheated, and the musicians woefully under-prepared. As Schindler noted, "the reception accorded to these works was not as desired, and probably no better than the author himself had expected. The public was not endowed with the necessary degree of comprehension for such extraordinary music, and the performance left a great deal to be desired."

Following early indifference, the public only gradually began to come to terms with the Fifth. One of its earliest proponents, the poet and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote: "How this magnificent composition carries the listener on and on in a continually ascending climax into the ghostly world of infinity!...the human breast, squeezed by monstrous presentiments and destructive powers, seems to gasp for breath; soon a kindly figure approaches full of radiance, and illuminates the depths of terrifying night."

Hermann Kretzschmar wrote of the "stirring dogged and desperate struggle" of the first movement, one of the most concentrated of all Beethoven's symphonic sonata movements. It is derived almost exclusively from the rhythmic cell of the opening, which is even felt in the accompaniment of the second subject group. There follows a variation movement in which cellos introduce the theme, increasingly elaborated and with shorter note values at every reappearance. A second, hymn-like motif is heard as its counterfoil. The tripartite scherzo follows; the main idea is based on an ominous arpeggio figure, but we hear also the omnipresent "Fate" rhythm, exactly as it is experienced in the first movement. The central section, which replaces the customary trio, is a pounding fugato beginning in the cellos and basses, and then running through the rest of the orchestra. Of particular structural interest is the inter-linking bridge passage which connects the last two movements. Over a repeated drumbeat the music climbs inexorably toward the tremendous assertion of triumphant C major at the start of the finale. The epic grandeur of the music, now with martial trombones and piccolo added (the Fifth also calls for contrabassoon), has irresistible drive and sweep, though that the eventual victory is still some way off is suggested by the return of the ominous scherzo figure during the extended development.


Georges Bizet: Symphony in C Major

  1. Allegro vivo
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegro vivace
  4. Allegro vivace

Georges Bizet (25 October 1838 - 3 June 1875), registered at birth as Alexandre César Léopold Bizet, was a French composer of the romantic era. Best known for his operas in a career cut short by his early death, Bizet achieved few successes before his final work, Carmen, which has become one of the most popular and frequently performed works in the entire opera repertoire.

The Symphony in C is an early work by Bizet. According to Grove's Dictionary, the symphony "reveals an extraordinarily accomplished talent for a 17-year-old student, in melodic invention, thematic handling and orchestration." Bizet started work on the symphony on 29 October 1855, four days after turning 17, and finished it roughly a month later. It was written while he was studying at the Paris Conservatoire under the composer Charles Gounod, and was evidently a student assignment. Bizet showed no apparent interest in having it performed or published, and the piece was never played in his lifetime. He used certain material from the symphony in later works, however. There is no mention of the work in Bizet's letters, and it was unknown to his earlier biographers. His widow, Genevičve Halévy (1849-1926), gave the manuscript to Reynaldo Hahn, who left it along with other papers to the archives of the conservatory library, where it was found in 1933 by Jean Chantavoine. Soon thereafter, Bizet's first British biographer Douglas Charles Parker (1885-1970) showed the manuscript to the conductor Felix Weingartner, who led the first performance in Basel, Switzerland, on 26 February 1935.

The symphony was immediately hailed as a youthful masterpiece on a par with Felix Mendelssohn's overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, written at about the same age, and quickly became part of the standard Romantic repertoire. It received its first recording on 26 November 1937, by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Walter Goehr.

Antonín Dvorák: Legends for Orchestra, Op. 59

  1. Allegretto non troppo, quasi andantino (D minor)
  2. Molto moderato (G major)
  3. Allegro giusto (G minor)
  4. Molto maestoso (C major)
  5. Allegro giusto (A flat major)
  6. Allegro con moto (C sharp minor)
  7. Allegretto grazioso (A major)
  8. Un poco allegretto e grazioso (F major)
  9. Andante con moto (D major)
  10. Andante (B flat minor)

The composition of ten short pieces for four-hand piano dates from Dvorák's so-called Slavic period. The first mention of his intention to write a cycle entitled "Legends" came in a letter to the composer's publisher Simrock, dated 14 October 1880. Dvorák at the time was completing his Sixth symphony in D major, and the Legends could, in fact, be regarded as a kind of more intimate postscript to its idyllic atmosphere. The work is also sometimes seen as a counterpart to the Slavonic Dances, in contrast to which the Legends are more subtle and lyrical in character, a fact reflected in the subsequent orchestral version in the use of a smaller orchestral roster. Also typical of the pieces are their somewhat archaic, epic character: although the individual parts of the cycle carry no specific story, Dvorák still managed to convey the idea of a continuous narrative.

It is conceivable that Dvorák's primary inspiration for writing the composition was Erben's poetry. Not only does the balladic character of certain parts of the cycle support this theory, but also a fact uncovered by English musicologist Gerald Abraham: according to Abraham's findings, Dvorák possibly applied a principle he later employed in his symphonic poems, namely, the derivation of motivic material directly from the rhythm of the verse. The main theme of the first Legend could be precisely superimposed onto the introductory lines of Erben's poem The Daughter's Curse from the collection Bouquet, and the beginning of the fourth Legend is rhythmically analogous to Erben's poem describing the Hussite victory at the Battle of Domazlice (Song of the Victory at Domazlice).

Dvorák wrote the entire Legends cycle during the first third of 1881 and dedicated it to leading Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick in recognition of the latter's enduring interest in his work. The cycle was published by Berlin firm Simrock in the summer of that year. Johannes Brahms, conductor Hans von Bulow and other eminent figures from the music circles of the day expressed their great admiration for the Legends, and so Simrock requested, as he had done before in the case of the Slavonic Dances, that Dvorák write an instrumental arrangement as well. Dvorák readily agreed and orchestrated the entire cycle in late November and early December 1881.

Gioachino Rossini

Click here to hear sound file

Gioachino Rossini: Overture to The Barber of Seville

Gioachino Antonio Rossini (29 February 1792 - 13 November 1868) was an Italian composer who gained fame for his 39 operas, although he also wrote many songs, some chamber music and piano pieces, and some sacred music. He set new standards for both comic and serious opera before retiring from large- scale composition while still in his thirties, at the height of his popularity.

The Overture to The Barber of Seville was originally composed in 1813 for the opera Aureliano in Palmira, then employed for the 1815 premiere of Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra in Naples before being used for the present opera, which has been its chief association ever since. It starts with the customary slow introduction. There follow two examples of the 'Rossini crescendo' and the piece concludes with a brief coda in a faster tempo.

The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution is an opera buffa in two acts with an Italian libretto by Cesare Sterbini. The libretto was based on Pierre Beaumarchais's French comedy Le Barbier de Séville (1775). The premičre of Rossini's opera (under the title Almaviva, o sia L'inutile precauzione) took place on 20 February 1816 at the Teatro Argentina, Rome, with designs by Angelo Toselli. It has proven to be one of the greatest masterpieces of comedy within music, and has been described as the opera buffa of all "opere buffe". Even after two hundred years, it remains a popular production.

The opera's overture and its best known aria have been famously parodied in animated cartoons starring Woody Woodpecker (The Barber of Seville), Bugs Bunny (Rabbit of Seville and Long-Haired Hare), Porky Pig and Daffy Duck (You Ought to Be in Pictures), Sylvester (Back Alley Oproar), Tom and Jerry (The Cat Above and the Mouse Below), as well as in Tex Avery's Magical Maestro, Warner Bros' One Froggy Evening and 20th Century Fox's Mrs. Doubtfire.

© 2024 Saturday Morning Orchestra