Program Notes

by Rachael Fischer & David Schiller

Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Instrumentation: two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.

Beethoven worked on his Symphony No. 5 in C Minor from 1804 to 1808. He was in his mid-thirties, vexed by deafness, and discouraged about the state of the world (understandably so, since Europe was in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars). The premiere, in December 1808, went badly, but in the summer of 1810, E.T.A. Hoffmann heard the symphony and grasped its essence: “radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing…Beethoven’s music evokes terror, fright, horror, and pain, and awakens that endless longing that is the essence of romanticism.” Hoffmann’s insight helps explain, if an explanation is needed, the enduring power of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In no other work, not even the Ninth Symphony, are radiance and darkness so clearly audible.
In the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Beethoven follows the standard four movement structure, but with some important innovations. The first of these is the infusion of the famous short-short-short-long motive from the opening into each of the symphony’s movements. The motive occurs nearly incessantly in the first movement, providing rhythmic and dramatic drive. Even in the lyrical second theme, the famous motive lurks beneath the melody. The second movement, Andante con moto, is a set of variations on not one, but two themes. The first theme is presented by violas and cellos, and is charming and lyrical, while the second theme, heard in the horns and trumpets, is more heroic in character. The movement unfolds by alternating variations on these two themes. Beethoven’s freedom with the theme and variations form here proved significant as the symphonic slow movement evolved in the Romantic era. The short-short-short-long motive returns in a more obvious way in the Scherzo, followed by a string fugato in the Trio. When the Scherzo returns, however, it is an echo of itself as the opening theme is performed pizzicato by the strings. This sets the stage for the seamless transitional crescendo from pianissimo to the spirited fortissimo of the Finale. Not only does this transition serve to connect these two movements, but it also dramatically moves the listener from darkness into light. In order to sustain this victorious mood, Beethoven added trombones (for the first time in symphonic music), piccolo, and contrabassoon to the orchestral forces. The Finale is joyous and brings the piece to a triumphant end.
Those things said, this piece is one of the most well-known and moving pieces in the canon of Western art music. Perhaps Robert Schumann said it best, “let us be silent about this work! No matter how frequently heard, whether at home or in the concert hall, this symphony invariably wields its power over people of every age like those great phenomena of nature that fill us with fear and admiration at all times, no matter how frequently we may experience them.”

The Hebrides Overture, Op. 26 (Fingal’s Cave)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.

It was Felix Mendelssohn’s father, Abraham, who proposed and arranged a “grand tour” for Felix. Between 1829 and 1832 he visited England, Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and France, and he documented his travels through letters, drawings, diaries, and sketches for musical compositions, many of which he transformed into major works. Mendelssohn arrived in London in April 1829, where he connected with his friend Karl Klingemann. In mid-July, following the end of London’s concert season, the pair set off on a tour of Scotland. It was here that Mendelssohn found inspiration for both his Symphony No. 3, “Scottish” and The Hebrides Overture. Mendelssohn and Klingemann visited the Hebrides islands off the western coast of Scotland in early August, and while there, Mendelssohn wrote the opening of the overture with the note, “On one of the Hebrides, 7 August, 1829.” Despite the publishing convention of including “Fingal’s Cave” as part of the piece title, Mendelssohn didn’t actually visit the famous cave until the day after sketching the overture’s opening. Following his return to Berlin in December 1829, work on the pieces inspired by Mendelssohn’s Scottish vacation dwindled. While he completed The Hebrides Overture in Rome in 1830, the piece continued to undergo revisions for the next two years, and it was finally published in 1834. The piece is considered an early and exceptional example of a tone poem, and is one of the most influential musical settings of imagery associated with the sea. The piece is centered around two themes: the first of which comprises the opening notes from his trip to the Hebrides played by the violas, cellos, and bassoons, and the second theme depicts movement at sea.

Karelia Suite, Op. 11
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Instrumentation: two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings.

The Karelia Suite is among the earliest of Sibelius’s published works, but it already shows clearly two of the traits which characterize his career as a whole: a close identification with the spirit of Finnish nationalism and a thorough mastery of the orchestral medium. The suite was assembled from music that Sibelius wrote for a historical pageant presented by the students of Viborg University, in the Karelia region of Finland. The picturesque Intermezzo opens with the contrasting sonorities of open and muted horns against a murmuring accompaniment in the strings, and it showcases Sibelius’s skillful writing for brass and percussion. The instrumentation in the Ballade is drastically reduced to include pairs of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, English horn, and strings. The clarinets introduce the opening theme of the movement, which leads to full chorale-like treatment of the melody by the strings. In the English horn solo toward the end of the Ballade, Sibelius incorporates the melody of an old Swedish folksong, “The Dance in the Flowering Grove.” In the March, the sprightly opening strain is presented first by the violins and later, on its return, by the flutes and piccolo, while the forceful second strain is built around a majestic trumpet fanfare.

Zampa Overture
Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833)
Instrumentation: flute, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, and strings

Ferdinand Hérold grew up in a musical household. His father, François-Joseph Hérold was a pianist and composer who had studied with C.P.E. Bach. The family settled in Paris in 1781, where Ferdinand began to study piano and compose from a very young age. Just before he turned 16, Hérold entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied piano and violin. Hérold’s compositions were performed in public for the first time in 1812, and he won the Prix de Rome that same year. From Rome, Hérold made his way to Naples, where he met established operatic composers Zingarelli and Paisiello, and received his first commission to write an opera in 1814. His professional life included a mixture of operatic successes and failures, but Zampa (1831) is considered one of his masterworks. Zampa received its premiere on May 3, 1831 at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, and became one of the most popular operas of the 19th century. Although the opera’s popularity has not endured, the overture continues to be a staple of the orchestral repertoire. The overture clearly illustrates how heavily Hérold’s orchestration techniques are influenced by the likes of Rossini and Weber. Its five contrasting themes are a wonderful display of Hérold’s flair for dramatic and musically expressive ideas.