Tuesday, May 29, 2018

May 29, 1913: Stravinsky's Rite of Spring premiered

Last updated August 31, 2018.

Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)

Igor Stravinsky (composer)


Composed: 1911-13


First Performance: May 29, 1913


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Genre: classical > ballet


Parts/Movements:

    Part I – Adoration of the Earth

  1. No. 1a, "Introduction"
  2. No. 1b, "The Augurs of Spring" – "Dance of the Adolescents"
  3. No. 1c, "Ritual Abduction"
  4. No. 1d, "Spring Round Dances"
  5. No. 1e, "Games of the Rival Tribes"
  6. No. 1f, "Procession of the Wise Elder"
  7. No. 1g, "Adoration of the Earth" – "The Wise Elder"
  8. No. 1h, "Dance of the Earth"

    Part II – The Sacrifice

  9. No. 2a, "Introduction"
  10. No. 2b, "Mystic Circles of the Young Girls"
  11. No. 2c, "Glorification of the Chosen Victim"
  12. No. 2d, "Evocation of the Ancestors"
  13. No. 2e, "Ritual of the Ancestors"
  14. No. 2f, "Sacrificial Dance"

Average Duration: 33:50

Review:

Initially, The Rite of Spring was not well received by critics. “In understanding early reactions…, it is worth considering that while Stravinsky was at a relatively early stage in his career, a cadre of older, well-known, more traditionally aligned composers – Strauss, Saint-Saëns, Sibelius, Elgar, and yes, Rachmaninov – remained active and retained a good deal of currency with audiences. At the same time, the scenario adopted by the Rite collaborators – Stravinsky, folklorist and artist Roerich, choreographer Nijinsky, impresario Diaghilev – was far from the usual genteel, sentimental, and romantic themes that had theretofore dominated ballet. This collection of ‘Scenes from Pagan Russia’ (the work’s subtitle) concerns itself with an exploration of nature, both human and that of the earth itself, through the rituals of renewal – ultimately, human sacrifice – of an earlier, ‘primitive’ society.” MR

“The titles of the ballet’s two main sections, A Kiss of the Earth and The Exalted Sacrifice, as well as those of their internal divisions, make clear both the ritualistic, sacred, and inviolable progression of events reenacted via music and choreography, and the elements of that progression. Stravinsky skillfully sustains and continually heightens a sense of brutal inevitability over the span of the whole work while encapsulating more specific elements in individual scenes. The Introduction raises the curtain on the earth itself, the distinctive bassoon solo plaintively establishing a hushed, reverent mood. More complex colors – which Stravinsky achieves through extreme instrumental ranges (as in the above instance), special playing techniques, and endlessly changing combinations drawn from his greatly expanded orchestra – gradually emerge and expand, only to be cut off subito by a remnant of the original bassoon theme. The Augurs of Spring begins with one of the most famous chords in music history, a crunching bitonal sonority hammered relentlessly in a constant 2/4 meter metrically undermined by unpredictably shifting accents.” MR

“Comparable instances of such rhythmic and harmonic harshness abound throughout the work, these elements assuming, along with instrumental color, both individual and collective roles in a manner analogous to those of the characters. Like the musical elements Stravinsky uses in their portrayal, the girls, youths, and elders function together within the identity of their society, at the same time assuming and asserting individual roles in relation to one another. The action forges ahead in an increasingly frenzied trajectory, finding culmination – in a sort of primal equivalent of cold logic – in the charged, uncompromising sacrifical dance which ends both the ballet and the cycle of its ritual.” MR


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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

May 22, 1874: Verdi's Requiem Mass performed for first time

Last updated August 30, 2018.

Requiem Mass, for soloists, chorus & orchestra (Manzoni Requiem)

Giuseppe Verdi (composer)


Composed: 1874


First Performed: May 22, 1874


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Genre: classical > choral


Parts/Movements:

  1. Requiem
  2. Dies Irae
  3. Tuba mirum
  4. Liber scriptus
  5. Quid sum miser
  6. Rex tremendae
  7. Recordare
  8. Ingemisco
  9. Confutatis
  10. Lacrymosa
  11. Offertorio
  12. Sanctus
  13. Agnus Dei
  14. Lux aeterna
  15. Libera me

Average Duration: 83:10

Review:

“That Verdi's Messa da Requiem should be infused with the dramatic power of the his operas is no surprise. The text of the requiem is the most dramatic Verdi ever set, allowing him to explore his new ability to compose large sections of music on a ‘symphonic’ scale with powerful passages for chorus and orchestra” (Palmer).

“As much as Verdi lamented the death of Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), he was more moved by the death of novelist Alessandro Manzoni in 1873. When Rossini died, Verdi felt that only Manzoni remained of Italy's great tradition. After Manzoni died, Verdi wrote to Contessa Maffei, ‘Now all is over! And with him ends...the greatest of our glories.’ When Verdi and Manzoni met in 1848, Verdi described the experience as one of being in the presence ‘of a saint.’ It was for Manzoni that Verdi composed his requiem.” JP

“From the very beginning, Verdi's Requiem was intended for the concert hall, not the church. This gave the composer some freedom when setting the text, although he remained much more faithful to the standard liturgy than did Berlioz in his setting. Verdi's Requiem was first performed on May 22, 1874, in Milan, on the first anniversary of Manzoni's death.” JP

“Verdi conveys the solemnity of the Requiem Mass through the opening cello line, a muted, descending phrase. The orchestra has the thematic material in the first part of the Introit, Requiem aeternam, as the chorus sings the text in snatches. To balance this, the central part of the movement, Te decet hymnus, is for unaccompanied chorus. After the return of the Requiem aeternam the Kyrie begins, introducing the soloists.” JP

“The Dies irae, opening the Sequence, is the most famous part of Verdi's Requiem. Brass and bass drum make their first appearance in this tumultuous outburst depicting the ‘day of wrath.’ Distant trumpets sound and are joined by the rest of the brass before the Tuba mirum. Quietly, the solo bass begins the Mors stupebit (Death is struck), accompanied by pizzicato basses and bass drum. After the solo mezzo-soprano delivers the ‘liber scriptus proferetur,’ the chorus bursts in with a reprise of the ‘Dies irae,’ an event dictated by musical considerations that has nothing to do with the requiem mass text. For the Lacrimosa, Verdi extended and rewrote a duet for Don Carlos and King Philip he had cut from Don Carlos before its premiere. Like Cherubini, Verdi unites the Sanctus and Benedictus.” JP

“Verdi composed the concluding Libera me, for soprano, chorus, and orchestra in 1868-1869 as his part of a collaborative requiem for Rossini, the remaining sections of which were to be set by other Italian composers. The project came to nothing, but Verdi kept his ‘Libera me’ and eagerly seized the opportunity to use it as part of a complete requiem. After the solo soprano begins the movement, the chorus again intercedes with the ‘Dies irae,’ which is followed by a beautiful reprise of the ‘Requiem aeternam’ and a closing, fugal setting of the ‘Libera me.’” JP


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Monday, May 7, 2018

May 7, 1824: Beethoven premieried his 9th symphony

Last updated August 28, 2018.

Symphony No. 9 in D minor (“Choral”), Op. 125

Ludwig van Beethoven (composer)


Composed: 1818-1824


First Performed: May 7, 1824


Sales: --


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Genre: classical > symphony


Parts/Movements:

  1. Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Molto vivace
  3. Adagio molto e cantabile
  4. Presto – Allegro assai
  5. Recitative – Allegro assai

Average Duration: 68:10

Review:

“On May 7, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven experienced what must certainly have been the greatest public triumph of his career. The audience which gathered at the Hoftheater adjacent to the Vienna Kärtnertor heard not only the abridged local premiere of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and Gloria were given) and Op. 124 Overture, but also the first performance of the composer’s ‘Choral’ Symphony. The event was a rousing success; indeed, one of the most moving accounts of Beethoven’s final years describes how the profoundly deaf composer, unable to hear the colossal response of his admirers, had to be turned around by one of the soloists so that he could see the hundreds of clapping hands!” AMG

“Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 started life as two separate works – a symphony with a choral finale, and a purely instrumental work in D minor. He labored on these sporadically for almost 10 years before finally deciding (in 1822) to combine the two ideas into one symphony, with Friedrich von Schiller’s Ode an die freude (Ode to Joy) – a text he had contemplated setting for a number of years – as the finale.” AMG

“The finished work is of visionary scope and proportions, and represents the apogee of technical difficulty in its day. There are passages, notably a horn solo in the slow movement, which would have been almost impossible to play on the transitional valveless brass instruments of Beethoven’s time. As Dennis Matthews writes: ‘As with other late-period works, there are places where the medium quivers under the weight of thought and emotion, where the deaf composer seemed to fight against, or reach beyond, instrumental and vocal limitations.’” AMG

“The Ninth also personifies the musical duality that was to become the nineteenth century – the conflict between the Classic and Romantic, the old and new. The radically different styles of Brahms and Liszt, for instance, both had their precedents in this work. On one hand, there was the search for a broader vocabulary (especially in terms of harmony and rhythm) within the eighteenth century framework; on the other, true Romanticism, embracing the imperfect, the unattainable, the personal and the extreme – qualities that violate the very nature of Classicism. When viewed individually, the first three movements still have their roots distinctly in the eighteenth century, while the fourth – rhapsodic, and imbued with poetic meaning – seems to explode from that mold, drawing the entire work into the realm of program music, a defining concept of musical Romanticism.” AMG

“Beethoven’s Ninth represents a fitting culmination to the composer’s symphonic ouvre – a body of work that is still unmatched in its scope and seminal ingenuity – and remains a pillar of the modern symphonic repertoire.” AMG


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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May 1, 1786: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro premiered

Last updated August 27, 2018.

Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (composer)


Composed: 1786


First Performed: 5/1/1786


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Genre: classical > opera


Average Length: 161:30


Parts/Movements:

  1. Overture, Presto

    Act I:

  2. Duet ("Cinque dieci")
  3. Duet ("Se a caso madama la notte ti chiama")
  4. Cavatina ("Se vuol ballare, signor contino")
  5. Aria ("La vendetta, oh, la vendetta")
  6. Duet ("Via resti servita, madama brillante")
  7. Aria ("Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio")
  8. Trio ("Cosa sento! tosto andate")
  9. Chorus ("Giovani liete, fiori spargete")
  10. Aria ("Non piu andrai farfallone amoroso")

    Act II:

  11. Cavatina ("Porgi amor qualche ristoro")
  12. Arietta ("Voi, che sapete che cosa e amor")
  13. Aria ("Venite, inginocchiatevi")
  14. Trio ("Susanna or via sortite")
  15. Duet ("Aprite presto, aprite")
  16. Finale ("Esci omai, garzon malnato, sciagurato, non tardar")

    Act III:

  17. Duet ("Crudel! perche finora")
  18. Recitative & Aria ("Hai gia vinta la causa! Cosa sento!... Vedro, mentr'io sospiro")
  19. Sextet ("Riconosci in questo amplesso")
  20. Recitative & Aria ("E Susanna non vien! Sono ansiosa... Dove sono i bei momenti")
  21. Duet ("Sull' aria... che soave zefiretto")
  22. Chorus ("Recevete, o padroncina")
  23. Finale & Chorus ("Ecco la marcia, andiamo!... Amanti costanti, seguaci d'onor")

    Act IV:

  24. Cavatina ("L'ho perduta... me meschina!")
  25. Aria ("Il capro e la capretta")
  26. Aria ("In quegl' anni, in cui val poco")
  27. Recitative & Aria ("Tutto e disposto: l'ora dovrebbe esser vicina; io sento gente... Aprite un po quegl' occhi")
  28. Recitative & Aria ("Giunse alfin il momento... Deh vieni non tardar, o gioja bella")
  29. Finale ("Pian, pianin le andro piu presso")

Review:

The Marriage of Figaro is a comic opera in four parts. “It tells how the servants Figaro and Susanna succeed in getting married, foiling the efforts of their philandering employer Count Almaviva to seduce Susanna and teaching him a lesson in fidelity. The opera is a cornerstone of the repertoire and appears consistently among the top ten in the Operabase list of most frequently performed operas.” WK

Initially, however, it received “fewer than ten performances in Vienna immediately after its première at the Burgtheater on May 1, 1786.” JH “At the time of the opera’s composition and first performances, there was a climate of antagonism among factions of Italian musicians and poets living in Vienna, among whom was counted Salieri,” JH and they tried to have Figaro banned from the stage. JH However, the opera had “tremendous success in Prague…before spreading to other parts of Europe and becoming a classic of the opera buffa repertory.” JH

“Mozart admired Pierre Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais’ politically radical play Le mariage de Figaro (1781), the second play in what would become a trilogy based on the autobiographical character Figaro. Beaumarchais’ Le barbier de Séville had been performed in 1775 and the third play of the trilogy, La mère coupable, would be premièred in 1793. In his Figaro plays, Beaumarchais, who himself was a participant in the Revolution, working towards anti-aristocratic revolutionary ideas, sharply spoofs pre-Revolution French society.” JH

“Mozart’s music for Figaro consists of conventional dry and accompanied recitative, aria, and ensemble pieces. The overture, despite having no development section, is essentially in sonata form. Mozart musically conveys the range of Figaro’s perturbation in his Act One cavatina, Se vuol ballare, by whimsically changing the character of his music to correspond with Figaro’s machinations. Mozart also imbues Figaro’s rondo-form aria, Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso, with colorful musical depictions of Cherubino’s forthcoming military service through dotted rhythms and trumpet arpeggio fanfares. The Countess’ cavatina, Porgi amor, conveys the character’s elevated social status through its graceful melodic language. The duet (Aprite, presto, aprite) between Susanna and Cherubino in Act Two bristles expectantly with its moto perpetuo string writing and nervous, patter vocal declamation.” JH

“In the Count’s and Susanna’s Act Three duet (Crudel! Perchè finora), the minor mode conveys the Count’s initial grief and a shift to major mode, after Susanna agrees to come to the garden, confirms a sense of momentary resolution. Later, in the Count’s accompanied recitative (Hai già vinta la causa!), the orchestra adds an extra emphasis to his verbal expression of anger and agitation through impetuous dotted rhythms and string tremolos. Through furiously rapid-scale passages and trills, the orchestra maintains this angry intensity in the Count’s vengeance aria (Vedrò mentr’io sospiro). Barbaina’s Act Four cavatina, L’ho perduta...me meschina! introduces a minor mode melody of classic Mozartean pathos. The finale of Act Four brings the principal characters to beg the Count’s forgiveness and the music swells from a pious hymn-like ensemble to a triumphant fanfare-laden exultation.” JH


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