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program notes
Les Violons du Roy
with Alexandre Tharaud
Friday, April 15, 2016
NOTES ON THE PROGRAM
Overture to Olympie
J. M. Kraus (1756-1792)
Joseph Martin Kraus was a composer in the Classical Era who was born on
June 20, 1756 in Miltenberg am Main, Germany. He moved to Sweden at age
21, and died on December 15, 1792 at the age of 36 in Stockholm. He has been
referred to as "the Swedish Mozart”, and had a life span, which was very
similar to that of Mozart. King Gustav III of Sweden had a deep love for the
fine arts; this quickly became known throughout the rest of Europe and
attracted musicians from many countries. It took Kraus three bitter years,
often spent in extreme poverty, before the king noticed him. Gustav III himself
drafted the opera libretto Proserpina, which the poet Johan Henric Kellgren
versified. Kraus’s music to this libretto was successfully premiered at Ulriksdal
Palace on June 6, 1781, before the king and the royal household. Kraus was
appointed vice-Kapellmeister of the Royal Swedish Opera and director of the
Royal Academy of Music. This breakthrough meant a tremendous amount to
Kraus and after receiving the news, he wrote back to his parents: "Immediately
after the music ended, the king talked to me for more than a quarter of an
hour...it had simply given him so much satisfaction. Yesterday I was engaged
by him. Of course I was not granted any great title, but quite simple that of
Kapellmeister. What is worth much more to me than 600 guilders is the favour
I have been granted, which is that I am to undertake a journey to Germany,
France and Italy at the King's expense.” The King was also a great admirer of
the French Enlightenment and especially Voltaire, whose tragedy Olympie
(1763) was adapted for the Swedish stage by the eminent writer Johan Henrik
Kellgren. The Olympie of the play is the daughter of Alexander the Great, with
whom two kings, fighting over the deceased Alexander’s legacy, are in love.
Kraus supplied seven pieces of incidental music for the play, of which the first
is the present overture in D minor. The overture is a splendid example of the
so-called ‟Sturm und Drang” (‟storm and stress”) style in 18th-century music,
characterized by frequent dramatic syncopations and a melodic writing that
expresses great emotional turmoil, underscored by the D minor tonality. It
opens with a slow introduction that returns at the end, following an agitated
Allegro.
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K 271 “Jeunehomme"
W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
The period between October 1773 and January 1777 marked Mozart’s musical
coming-of-age. He was no longer on the road, traveling with his father and
sister from one European capital to the next to astonish audiences as a child
virtuoso. By this time, he had settled back in his hometown of Salzburg, and
devoted himself to composing and performing in his capacity as
Concertmaster to the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. It's one thing to begin
writing music at the age of 5, as Mozart did; it’s another thing to compose a
full-length piano concerto the month you turn 21, and in doing so, create a
masterpiece that is still performed more than 200 years after your death. The
Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, K. 271 is classified as an "early" concerto,
but it marks a clear break from the earlier piano concertos. The maturity of
the writing, the technical demands of the solo part, and the emotional depth
of the music all combine to affirm this as the work of a young man, not an
amazingly gifted child. This concerto is also, surprisingly, Mozart's longest
piano concerto, but one hardly notices the time passing. The music is full of
quintessentially Mozartean invention and sparkle. The opening Allegro begins
with an original stroke – where listeners would have expected a lengthy
orchestral introduction of the movement’s themes, Mozart instead prefaces
this with a little orchestral flourish answered by an amiable rejoinder from the
soloist. The minor key Andantino, itself another innovation, departs from
purely instrumental writing. Mozart, as he often did in later works, borrows
recitative style from opera to create an intimate, moving declaration of
sadness, which the piano emphasizes with a series of downwards
appoggiaturas, or "sighs," that suggest weeping. Mozart contrasts the
Andantino with a finale of high-spirited comedy. In this movement he again
experiments with structure. The main theme, strongly akin to Monostatos's air
'Alles fült' from The Magic Flute, is punctuated twice, first by a dramatic
cadenza, and secondly by a stately and melodious minuet. This lovely and
quite unexpected interlude - a theme with four elaborate variations - is
enriched by some of Mozart's most poetic touches. Here we find all the
shimmering brilliance and buoyancy we expect in a Mozart piano concerto, as
the solo passages fly up and down the keyboard, but still maintaining the great
combination of whit and elegance.
Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K 550
W.A. Mozart (1756-1791)
Late in Mozart’s very short life, his financial circumstances were not at all
comfortable. By mid-1788 he had moved from the center of Vienna to the
suburb of Alsergrund in search of cheaper rental rates. There is a sad
selection of surviving letters from this period written by Mozart to a fellow
Mason in which he pleads for loans and other financial assistance.
Personal difficulty did not lead to writer’s block in these last years, thankfully,
as Mozart remained productive right to the end of his life. Mozart's last three
symphonies were all written in the summer of 1788 in a period of exceptional
productivity, even by his standards. The three may have been conceived as a
set since they are complementary in style. Each of the three shows a high
degree of individuality and originality and all contain major innovations in
symphonic construction that were to influence the works of Haydn and
Beethoven and indeed generations of later composers. One of the most
striking features of the symphonies is the use of counterpoint within the
musical texture. Mozart had become very interested in the works of Bach at
this time, but rather than copy his great predecessor, he found innovative
ways to incorporate contrapuntal writing in his own style. There is also much
of Mozart the opera composer in his late symphonies and in the Symphony
No. 40, we hear some of his most dramatic, emotionally charged music. The
opening theme of symphony is one of the most know passages in the
symphonic genre. It opens with a short and steady accompaniment in the
violas, followed by a hushed, nervous introductory melody in the violins. This
sets the tone of urgency and anxiety that pervades the entire work. The
second movement Andante is the only movement in a major key. But while it
begins serenely enough, it, too, turns dark and intense in the course of its
development. Even the Minuet, usually the most lightweight movement in a
Classical Era symphony, retains the original key and is characterized by a
series of phrases ending on successively higher and higher notes, ratcheting
up the emotional tension. Restatements of the theme in imitative
counterpoint pile on top of each other in their agitation. The Trio, at least,
provides an emotional break, however slight. The theme of the finale is a
musical portrayal of hysteria, a shrill arpeggio ending in a sighing figure,
followed by a pounding motive in the orchestra that closes with an echo of the
sigh in the lower register. Despite a lyrical second theme, the movement is in
constant nervous motion. Finally, Mozart subverts the custom of ending
symphonies in minor keys in the major, and stays in G minor to the end. Grace
and charm are indeed present, but Mozart offers obsessive energy and
passion, too, in a very captivating way.
Notes by Kedrick Armstrong ’16, BM History and Literature
Les Violons du Roy
Bernard Labadie, Music & Artistic Director
Violin I
Pascale Gagnon
Maud Langlois
Nicole Trotier
Véronique Vychytil
Valérie Belzile
Benoit Cormier
Violin II
Noëlla Bouchard
Angélique Duguay
Michelle Seto
Marjolaine Lambert
Édith Pedneault
Viola
Isaac Chalk
Jean-Louis Blouin
Annie Morrier
Marina Thibeault
Double Bass
Raphaël McNabney
Flute
Marie-Andrée Benny
Oboe
Marjorie Tremblay
Kirsten Zander
Bassoon
Mathieu Lussier
Julia Harguindey
Horn
Erin Cooper-Guay
Xavier Fortin
Cello
Benoit Loiselle
Raphaël Dubé
Mariève Bock
For Opus 3 Artists
David V. Foster, President & CEO
Leonard Stein, Senior Vice President, Director, Touring Division
Sarah Gordon, Manager, Artists & Attractions
Irene Lönnblad, Associate, Touring Division
Tim Grassel, Tour Manager