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Classic Series

Tchaikovsky & Beethoven

9.26.20

2:00 PM & 7:30 PM

9.26.20

7:30 PM Live Stream

9.27.20

2:00 PM

Location: Lockwood Performing Arts Center

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Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Serenade
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 7

The BSOC’s 70th anniversary begins by celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

In addition to our live concerts at Lockwood Performing Arts Center, the BSOC will offer a live stream option on Saturday night so that all who wish to can attend.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky | Serenade

Premiered on October 30, 1881, in St. Petersburg. Conducted by Eduard Nápravník.

Tchaikovsky’s Serenade brings love and joy to the listener with its extravagant display of strings. Inspired by Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and having just completed the boisterous 1812 Overture, Tchaikovsky was ready to compose a more serene piece.

Program Notes

Tchaikovsky’s Serenade was composed concurrently in the Fall of 1880 with the most unlikely of bedfellows: the 1812 Overture. In a letter to his patron and mentor, Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky wrote, “You can be assured, dear friend, that my muse has been benevolent lately when I tell you that I have written two long works very rapidly: a festival overture for the upcoming Exhibition and a serenade in four movements for string orchestra. The overture will be very noisy. I wrote it without much warmth and enthusiasm—therefore it has no great artistic value. The serenade, on the other hand, came from an inward impulse. I felt it, and I venture to hope that this work is not wholly lacking in artistic qualities.” Despite his usual tendency to underestimate even his best works, Tchaikovsky seems to have had a special fondness for this score.

Straightforward and (mostly) sunny in temperament, the Serenade overflows with memorable melodies in all four movements, with strong thematic connections between the first and the last movements. Descending and ascending scale patterns figure prominently in its themes, unifying the work in often-subtle ways. The opening Pezzo in forma di Sonatina—an overt homage to Mozart in both form and character—begins with a slow introduction, in the manner of an 18th-century string serenade. This warm hymn-like melody gives way to a buoyant and joyful middle section set in the lightest of Classical forms: the sonatina. After minimal development, Tchaikovsky returns to the opening theme.

The lilting and graceful second movement, Waltzer, is a delightful palette-cleanser after the austere chorale, reminding us of Tchaikovsky’s particular gifts as a composer of ballet. It is significant to note that there are no repeats; all material is written out freshly, and seemingly recurrent sections have in fact been subtly altered.

In the third movement, Elégie, Tchaikovsky subtly manipulates what is essentially a simple scale to create one of the most moving, heartfelt statements in music. In another letter to von Meck: “It is often said that good actors never perform for a whole audience. They choose one person in the theater who appears to be a compassionate soul and perform the entire piece with the aim of pleasing only him or her.” There are not too many scores that can rival this elegy as a medium to address “a compassionate soul.”

For the opening of the Finale (Tema Russo), Tchaikovsky borrows a Volga “hauling song,” passing it from the upper strings to the lower. The main theme of the movement, marked Allegro con spirito, is a popular balalaika dance tune from Moscow, and this is pitted against a more songlike melody of distinctively Russian character. Tchaikovsky skillfully weaves these themes together until the very end, when he brings back the very opening music of the first movement. After this reminiscence, the tempo quickens gradually for a lively coda.

Completed on November 4, 1880, and first performed at a private concert by Moscow Conservatory students just a month later, the Serenade received its premiere public performance in St. Petersburg, under the direction of Eduard Nápravník on October 30, 1881. It was an immediate success. Tchaikovsky’s former teacher Anton Rubinstein—who six years earlier had devastated the composer by summarily pronouncing his First Piano Concerto as “ill-composed” and “unperformable”—had nothing but praise for the work, declaring it “Tchaikovsky’s best piece.” Since then the Serenade has been continually acclaimed for its poise and lyric beauty.

Surprisingly, this is the Billings Symphony’s first complete performance of this work. Founding conductor Robert Staffanson led a performance of the second movement in May 1952.

 

 

Ludwig van Beethoven | Symphony No. 7

Premiered on December 8, 1813, in Vienna. Conducted by Beethoven.

The BSOC celebrates Beethoven’s 250th birthday with his Symphony No 7. An immediate success in the concert hall, Beethoven himself declared, “(it) is one of my most excellent works.”

The raw power and drama of the second movement Allegretto has landed this classical masterpiece in numerous Hollywood’s blockbuster films such as The King’s Speech, Mr. Holland’s Opus, and X–Men: Apocalypse.

Program Notes

Though he began sketching ideas for a new symphony almost as soon as his Sixth had been completed in 1808, Beethoven’s main work on the Seventh Symphony occurred during the winter of 1811-1812, while the Napoleonic Wars were approaching their final stages. By the time of the symphony’s first performance on December 8, 1813, Napoleon’s bold eastward thrust had ended in disaster and further disaster had befallen him at the opposite end of Europe, thanks to Wellington.

The Seventh Symphony shared its premiere program with Wellington’s Victory. Although Beethoven’s bombastic orchestral account of the June 1813 Battle of Vitoria was the hit of the evening, his new symphony was well received, and the second movement Allegretto (even today one of Beethoven’s most popular works) was encored on the spot. Many of Europe’s musical luminaries, including Salieri, Spohr, Moscheles, Hummel, Meyerbeer, Romberg and Dragonetti played in the orchestra, lending an extra air of celebration to the concert, and the popularity of the new works was no doubt bolstered by patriotism in the wake of France’s defeat.­

Despite the turbulent times of its composition, the Seventh looks forward to the postwar Congress of Vienna: it dances. Rhythm is the driving force of the work, and each movement grows out of a rhythmic figure that characterizes the whole movement in much the same way that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is dominated by its well-known opening rhythmic four-note motto. Beethoven seems to have limited the use of melody—at times there is no melody at all, but simply the repetition of a single pitch—allowing listeners to concentrate on the rhythmic force.

The work opens with a lengthy Poco sostenuto—the longest of any symphonic introduction yet written. A single repeated note leads directly into the headlong rush of the lively, dancing Vivace, with strong dotted (jig-like) rhythms and sudden dynamic and harmonic shift. Brimming with vitality and vigor, it is easy to hear why Wagner regarded this symphony as the “apotheosis of the dance.”

Beginning with what Berlioz called a “profound sigh,” the second movement is a lovely, varied processional, both peaceful and solemn. Sometimes billed, and used, as a funeral march, Beethoven’s Allegretto tempo marking indicates otherwise, and what should typically be a slow movement is only relatively relaxed in comparison to its neighbors. A quiet, distinctive rhythmic stamp (long, short-short, long, long) becomes the basis on which Beethoven builds a rich web of countermelodies, before easing back into the sigh with which it began.

The third movement is, in all but name, a scherzo of expansive proportions. The first section is a scampering Presto followed by the broader hymn-like theme of the Trio. The first part returns quietly, almost an echo if its former statement. Again, the Trio is heard, and the first section appears for a third time. With characteristic humor, Beethoven threatens to present the Trio a third time (“What, again?” is the expected reaction from the listener), but suddenly dismisses it with five brusque chords from the full orchestra (“That’s e-nough of that!”).

The final Allegro con brio completes the revelry, engaging players and listeners alike with its swirling patterns and foot-stomping rhythmic drive, concluding with a coda matching the introduction of the first movement in its length and complexity. In disagreeing with a critic who thought that Beethoven was drunk when he composed the finale, French writer and Beethoven biographer, Romain Rolland, remarked, “It was indeed the work of an intoxicated man, but one intoxicated with poetry and genius.”

The Billings Symphony has previously performed Beethoven’s “apotheosis of the dance” three times: in February 1980, led by George Perkins; in October 1989, led by Uri Barnea; and in April 2008, led by Anne Harrigan.

 

*Programming subject to change