Concert II Program Notes

by Robert Hurwitz

Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Overture to La Scala di Seta

The Overture to Rossini's "Silken Ladder" is typical of the many overtures Rossini composed. During his years as a successful opera composer Rossini developed a virtual formula for overture composition. This involved the creation of a tuneful introduction in slow tempo, often with prominence given to the horns, followed by a spirited allegro section in sonata form. Rossini's well-known technique of taking a closing passage three times, with ever increasing dynamics (the so-called "Rossini crescendo") is a usual occurrence.

With this formula in place, Rossini composed a very large number of overtures with ease, efficiency and speed. He himself did not hold his efforts in high regard, and was known to say of his overtures: "If you've heard one, you've heard them all!"

Despite the composer's casual attitude toward his overtures, they have remained in the standard repertoire even when the operas to which they were connected have been forgotten (as is the case with La Scala di Seta). This is no doubt due to their constant good humor, delightful melodies, and appealing musical content.

Manuel de Falla (1876–1946)
El Amor Brujo (Love, The Magician) Ballet Suite

n his early thirties, Manuel de Falla spent seven years in Paris, where he became friendly with Debussy, Dukas and Ravel, composers who aided and encouraged him and whose music influenced him greatly. When he returned home to Spain in 1914, it was with a thoroughly honed compositional technique that incorporated French Impressionism into a personal and Spanish national style.

One of the first products of Falla's return to Spain was El Amor Brujo, a piece originally conceived as a gitanería, or Gypsy scene with singing, which was completed in 1915, written to a text by María and Gregorio Martínez Sierra, whom he had known in Paris. In this form, it included sung and spoken parts and numerous dances. In 1916 Falla re-orchestrated the work, omitted the vocal parts, and had it performed in a concert version. Still later, he converted the work into a ballet and restored the vocal sections.

Here is a brief synopsis of the action:

Candelas, a young and beautiful woman, once loved a wicked gypsy. After his death she is plagued by his memory, which haunts her every thought. Carmello, a handsome youth, falls in love with Candelas, despite her obsession with her past relationship. When Carmello professes his love, the specter of Candelas' former lover returns to force them apart. Carmello resolves to break the spell that keeps Candelas from him. He was once acquainted with the evil gypsy whose specter now haunts his love, and he knows of the evil gypsy's taste for beautiful women. He determines to strike at this weakness by recruiting Lucia, a young and pretty gypsy girl who is a friend of Candelas, to beguile the specter. While the specter is thus distracted, Carmello returns unnoticed and kisses Candelas, breaking the spell. The specter immediately perishes, vanquished by love.

Franz Schubert (1797–1828) (arr. Mahler)
Death and the Maiden, D. 810, in D Minor

In the late nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth many conductors saw fit to produce orchestral arrangements of well-known pieces of chamber music to play with their orchestras. As both a conductor and a composer, Gustav Mahler was well suited to this task. During the course of his lifetime, he produced many arrangements of works by Bach and Beethoven, as well as the arrangement of Schubert's string quartet Death and the Maiden for string orchestra. Mahler worked on the arrangement of Schubert's masterpiece in 1894, but he did not complete it, and it was only published in 1984 after the manuscript was discovered by the composer's daughter Anna.

In making his arrangements, Mahler took into account not only the original score, but also the unique sound the full orchestra was capable of making. For instance, his arrangement of Beethoven's Eroica symphony expands on the massive quality of the music. Whereas Beethoven's original orchestration calls for a fairly small orchestra, Mahler's requires huge forces. The result, although true to the message of the music, sounds somewhat more like Mahler than Beethoven.

Mahler's arrangement of Death and the Maiden departs much less from the original score. The original parts are maintained, augmented only by the addition of the string basses. The urgent and tragic quality of the music comes through, and the music sounds like it was written for the larger forces Mahler requires, a sure sign of a successful arrangement.

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