Spring Concert Series Program Notes

 

Friday, April 27, 2018, 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, April 29, 2018, 2:00 p.m.

 

Paul Ben-Haim

Serenade

 Born Paul Frankenburger in Munich, this composer received his training in his native city and held conducting posts there and in Augsburg. After the Nazi seizure of power in Germany he moved to Tel Aviv and changed his name to a Hebrew form. In Israel he devoted his activities primarily to composition, teaching, and the study of the folk music of the Near East, which in turn strongly influenced his compositional style. Ben-Haim remained a major figure in Israeli musical life until his death and is probably the most widely known Israeli composer of his generation.

This Serenade for flute and strings from 1952 is a pleasant work in a style that may remind listeners of Debussy. The first movement is in a moderate tempo. The second movement is just a bit slower, and the last movement a little faster, suggesting a jig or perhaps a hora.

 

Alfredo Casella

Serenata

A native of Turin, Alfredo Casella trained at the Paris Conservatory, where he studied piano, conducting, and composition, the last under Gabriel Fauré. He settled in Rome, where he taught at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, but he had an active international career in the interwar years, becoming known as a writer on music as well as a composer and performer. In the 1920s he made many appearances in the United States. His American debut in 1921 was with the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he appeared as pianist, conductor, and composer. He conducted several other major American orchestras and was musical director of the Boston Pops from 1927 to 1929 as the immediate predecessor of Arthur Fiedler.

The Serenata has a strong American connection, specifically with Philadelphia. In 1927 the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia announced a competition for a new piece of chamber music with a first prize in the unprecedented sum of $10,000 (worth many times that today, of course). Casella composed the Serenata in Rome in six weeks and sent it across the Atlantic with a friend who happened to be traveling in the proper direction. Later he learned from a newspaper that his work had tied for the first prize with Béla Bartók’s String Quartet no. 3 and that the two composers would divide the money. The scores and parts submitted by the composers passed from the Musical Fund Society to the University of Pennsylvania Library, which still holds them.

While Casella had cultivated an aggressively modernist approach in some of his earlier music, by this point his style had mellowed to a Neoclassicism that often sounds like Poulenc with an Italian flavor. The Serenata is a sunny, cheerful piece in six short movements. (The contrast with Bartók’s quartet, perhaps his most “difficult” composition, could scarcely be greater.) Perhaps the unusual scoring of the Serenata has kept it from becoming better known; Casella also produced an arrangement of the piece for small orchestra that may be played more often than the original. The chamber version has its own interest, however. By adroitly recombining the instruments and making good use of the contrast between the upper and lower registers of the clarinet, Casella makes it sound as if there are several more instruments playing than just the five required.

The Serenata opens with a jaunty little march. Following a minuet comes a nocturne, the longest movement in the work and the most serious in tone. A gavotte restores the lighter mood of the opening. The Cavatina, another slow movement, begins somberly but ends in a more relaxed and lyrical mood. The Serenata concludes with a Neapolitan tarantella that includes a few recognizable snatches from more traditional examples of this lively dance.

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Divertimento in D major

Mozart composed this work in such haste that he did not write a title or date on the original score; his father Leopold supplied the designation Divertimento for seven instruments and the date July, 1776 on the first page. Possibly Wolfgang composed it either for the 25th birthday of his sister Maria Anna (July 30) or, more likely, for her name-day (July 26), and it may have received its first performance on the eve of one of those occasions. Undoubtedly it was intended as chamber music for an ensemble of seven or eight solo performers (the bass part can be performed by cello, by double bass, or, as we are hearing it, by both), with the horns serving primarily to fill out the sound. Both violins have passages that are clearly solos (most likely one part was intended for Leopold and the other for Wolfgang himself), and it would have been downright bizarre of Mozart to have composed an orchestral piece requiring only one oboe unless it was a concerto featuring that instrument. Mozart, however, may have let the work be performed orchestrally at a later date; certain passages, particularly in the first movement, are more effective with a larger group.

The Divertimento opens with a theme in bare octaves for the whole ensemble—harder to contrive than it might seem because the valveless horns of Mozart’s day had only a limited number of good notes. After the first movement runs its cheerful course, there follows a minuet with a middle section featuring a first violin solo accompanied by the other strings while the winds are silent. In the slow movement that follows the winds are present, but while the oboe has some important solos, the horns have only a small role because this is the one movement in the piece not in D major (it is in A major) and the horns have fewer usable notes.

In a standard divertimento the next two movements would be a set of variations and a minuet, but evidently Mozart was working in such a hurry that he combined the two into a minuet with variations. In the score he writes out the theme in full, but in the variations he writes in

only the parts that are varied and an indication of which instruments are resting (the horns play only in the theme), leaving the other parts to be recopied verbatim. As the theme returns in full after the three variations, the viola and cello/bass parts contain the same music to be played five times in succession. The first variation features the oboe; the second, the first violin; and the third, the second violin.The jolly Rondeau that follows is a perfectly satisfactory finale for the piece. Nevertheless, for reasons not transmitted to posterity, Mozart includes at the end a little march in the French style.

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Andantino

The Andantino played as an encore to the Divertimento comes from a Parisian ballet. Mozart had become acquainted with the great choreographer Jean Georges Noverre in the early 1770s, and when he came to Paris in 1778 he was hoping Noverre could help him make his way into the musical scene there. As a favor to Noverre he composed a series of numbers for a ballet called “Les petits riens”—“The Little Nothings”—which was performed on June 11.  Mozart was hoping this would lead to a commission for a ballet, or, even better, an opera, but nothing was to come of it—the Parisians liked Mozart’s music well enough, but rarely well enough to pay him for it. A score of a ballet entitled “Les petits riens” survives, though with no mention of any composer’s name. It is generally accepted that this is the Noverre ballet and that the more inspired musical numbers are by Mozart, including this brief lyrical moment.