Program Notes

by Rachael Fischer and David Schiller

Poema III, Op. 94, No. 3 – Marlos Nobre (b. 1939)

Instrumentation: cello and piano

Brazilian composer Marlos Nobre was born in February, 1939 to music-loving parents. At the age of five Nobre began his musical studies at the Music Conservatory of Pernambuco in Recife, his hometown. At 19, he won first prize for his Concertino Op. 1 for Piano and Strings, launching his compositional career and prompting critics to declare Nobre “the worthy successor to Villa-Lobos.” Today his huge output and distinctive musical personality are enough to make Nobre one of today’s leading composers. Poema III (2002) is the third in a long series of pieces for a solo instrument and piano. Each Poema iteration recycles the same melodic material. Nobre improvised this particular melody as a love song for his wife, Brazilian pianist Maria Luiza Corker.  Nobre found the melody “too romantic” at first, but eventually stated, “I’m a contemporary composer still capable of writing a beautiful melody!” The piece opens with a short piano introduction, and the cello begins to play the tender, lyrical melody in a lower register. Poema III gains momentum as the cello soars into its most powerful range; the piece recovers its serenity as it concludes.

Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759, “Unfinished” – Franz Schubert (1798-1827)

Instrumentation: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings.

At the age of 19, Schubert left his job as a teacher and the security of middle-class existence for the uncertainties of a life devoted to music, sustained largely by the camaraderie of his friends. His bohemian lifestyle helps explain, or at least provide context for, the extraordinary history of the “Unfinished.” Though now universally regarded as one of the priceless treasures of the symphonic repertoire, its manuscript, dated October 30, 1822, was given to Schubert’s friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, who held on to it for over 43 years before it received its first performance on December 17, 1865. The great Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick said of the first performance: “When, after the few introductory measures, clarinets and oboes in unison begin to sound their sweet song above the peaceful murmur of the violins…then every heart rejoices, as if Schubert were standing alive in our midst after a long separation.”

Despite the absence of a Scherzo (some sketches do exist) and a Finale, the two existing movements of the “Unfinished” seem complete in themselves. Both are in sonata form, with the familiar signature tune of the symphony providing the second theme of the Allegro moderato first movement. By contrast, the opening theme is dark and brooding. In the second movement, Andante con moto, this pattern is reversed. Although the Andante begins and ends with the utmost serenity, its second theme (introduced by the clarinet in the exposition and by the oboe in the recapitulation) suggests a lingering sadness. “At the close of the Andante,” wrote Hanslick, “Schubert’s flight seems to lose itself beyond the reach of the eye; nevertheless one may still hear the rustling of his wings.”

Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65 – Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826), orch. Hector Berlioz

Instrumentation: piccolo, flute, two oboes, two clarinets, four bassoons, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones, timpani, two harps, and strings.

One of the most influential contributors to the Romantic movement in German music, Weber is perhaps best known for the mysterious Wolf Glen scene in his opera Der Freischütz. His charming Waltz Rondo, Invitation to the Dance, dates from the same period of creativity, but it is drama of the ballroom, not the forest. Written originally for piano, it was orchestrated by Berlioz for use as ballet music in an 1841 Paris production of the opera. In the dialogue in music that opens the work, the cello assumes the role of the gentleman, the clarinet that of the lady. As Weber himself explained it, the music describes the “first approach of the dancer to whom the lady gives an evasive answer; his more pressing invitation, her acceptance of his request. Now they converse in greater detail; he begins; she answers; he with heightened expression; she responds more warmly. Now for the dance!” Weber skillfully combines classical rondo form with the romantic whirl of the waltzes, as the vivid D major rondo theme that opens the dance returns three more times, then the dance is over.

Les Préludes (Symphonic Poem No. 3) – Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, harp, and strings.

Piano virtuoso and pioneer of the Romantic movement in music, Franz Liszt is best known for his piano compositions and a select few works for orchestra. Les Préludes (completed in 1854, published in 1856) is arguably the most celebrated of his symphonic poems, a genre Liszt himself introduced around 1853. A staunch advocate for program music, Liszt used the term “symphonic poem” to describe single-movement works for orchestra that are intended to depict or relate to a story, historical event, work of art, or some other extra-musical idea. Rather than straightforward musical storytelling or visualization, however, Liszt was more influenced by Beethoven’s idea of program music as “more the expression of sentiment than painting.” Many of Lizst’s symphonic poems have literary associations – Tasso, Orpheus, Mazeppa, and Hamlet among them – and Les Préludes is no exception. Rather than having the program in mind before writing the piece, however, Liszt found a text that resonated with his musical ideas after the piece was completed. French writer Alphonse de Lamartine’s collection, Nouvelles meditations poétiques, includes Les Préludes, an introspective poem about life’s constant sequence of beginnings, conflicts, and reflections. Liszt added his own prose interpretation of the poem to the published score:

“What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song whose first solemn note is tolled by death? The enchanted dawn of every life is love. But where is the destiny on whose first delicious joys some storm does not break? . . . And what soul is thus cruelly bruised, when the tempest rolls away, seeks not to rest its memories in the pleasant calm of pastoral life? Yet man does not long permit himself to taste the kindly quiet that first attracted him to nature’s lap. For when the trumpet sounds he hastens to danger’s post, that in the struggle he may once more regain full knowledge of himself and his strength.”

Structurally, Les Préludes is composed in a free form that very loosely resembles sonata form. The piece begins with a slow introduction, but as it continues, the thematic material first heard in the introduction is continuously transformed. Over the course of the piece, one may notice familiar motivic material reappearing, but with a different melodic contour, rhythm, harmony, or timbre. At some points, Liszt has manipulated several musical elements at once to create an entirely contrasting character or mood from earlier statements of the musical material. For example, the gentle, mysterious introductory melody quickly transforms into a bold statement of the theme played by the brass, which returns at the rousing conclusion of the piece.