DECEMBER 9 & 10, 2023: REVITALIZE
Froissart Overture, opus 19
Although Edward William Elgar (1857-1934) is often regarded as a typically English composer, most of his musical influences were not from England but, rather, from continental Europe. He felt himself to be an outsider, not only musically (he was a self-taught composer), but also religiously (he was a Roman Catholic in Protestant England) and socially (he was acutely sensitive to his humble origins). Nevertheless, he married Caroline Alice Roberts, the daughter of a senior British army officer, and she inspired him musically and socially. He continued to struggle to achieve success until his forties, when after a series of moderately successful works his Enigma Variations became immediately popular in Britain and abroad. In his fifties, Elgar composed a symphony and a violin concerto that were immensely successful. His Second Symphony and his Cello Concerto, however, did not gain immediate public popularity and took many years to achieve a regular place in the concert repertoire.
In 1920, Lady Elgar died and with her died much of Elgar's inspiration and will to compose. Certainly, she had been the driving force behind his genius, encouraging him and proclaiming his talents at every opportunity. Throughout the 1920s, Elgar lived in virtual retirement, outwardly content to live the life of a country gentleman in his beloved Worcestershire with his dogs and, occasionally, emerging for a visit to London or for a conducting or recording assignment. As honors began to be conferred on him in the later 1920s, it seemed that he had taken on a new lease of life as he began work on a number of large musical projects. In 1933, he flew to Paris to conduct his Violin Concerto and, while there, took the opportunity of visiting fellow composer Frederick Delius. In October, it was discovered that Elgar was suffering from a malignant tumor which pressed on the sciatic nerve. Further composition became impossible for him, and he died on February 23, 1934.
The concert overture Froissart, opus 19 was inspired by the 14th century chronicles of Jean Froissart. Froissart worked as a merchant and a clerk before he became the court poet and historian to Philippa of Hainault, the consort of Edward III. His Chronicles, written as he travelled round England, Scotland, Wales, France, Flanders, and Spain, are considered one of the most important contemporary records of the period leading up to the Hundred Years’ War. However, Froissart’s value as a reliable historian is disputed, but what appealed to Victorian England was his depiction of the values of chivalry.
Composed in 1890, the Froissart Overture was commissioned by the Worcester Festival for a secular concert during that year's Three Choirs Festival. It received its performance with the composer conducting on September 9, 1890. The earliest of Elgar's three concert overtures is an evocation of the time of chivalry as evidenced by the quotation of poet John Keats (1795-1821) that precedes the score: "When chivalry lifted up her lance on high". The opening is a graphically chivalric flourish, but commentators have found the subsequent working out of the themes too long and discursive. Elgar himself concluded that the work was too long, but even after he had gone on to compose more characteristic and mature compositions, he described Froissart as “good, healthy stuff.” The Froissart Overture is not a programmatic work as it does not tell a detailed story. However, if effectively evokes a mood and manner which will transport the listener in time and place.
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART
French horn Concerto No. 3 in E-flat Major, K. 447
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), as is seemingly universally known, was one of the world’s most amazing prodigies. He was composing at the age of five and the following year performed as pianist before the royal court in Vienna. At age 13, he entered the employment of the Archbishop of Salzburg as concertmaster of the orchestra and court organist. The young Mozart and his father often quarreled with the Archbishop because of their frequent requests for leave to perform in other cities or to apply for situations more in keeping with the younger Mozart’s abilities. The requests angered the Archbishop so much that he was finally dismissed in 1781 with the now-famous kick in the backside from the Archbishop’s secretary.
Mozart left Salzburg happily, hoping to find his fortune in Vienna. No longer a child prodigy, he was still in demand as a performer and was very active as a composer. He wrote mostly in the prevailing stile gallant (gallant style) with its emphasis on elegance, grace, and charm. Save for a few outstanding exceptions, his compositions were essentially designed to please the nobles and church officials who were the principal patrons of his music. As he matured and musical tastes changed, Mozart began composing works of great expressivity, drama, and significant emotional content. He lived during an era when composers traditionally produced large numbers of works, which he accomplished despite his tragically short life. His output included 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos, and 5 violin concertos. Many of these orchestral masterpieces, along with most of his outstanding operas, church works, and chamber music, were created during the decade between the time he left the Archbishop’s employment and his death in 1791.
In 1791, following several years of poor health that was accompanied by a decline in compositional output, Mozart’s productivity rose astonishingly. Subsequent exhaustion may have contributed to his premature death on December 5, 1791. Despite popular stories to the contrary, he died of natural causes, probably rheumatic fever, and was given a simple burial in accordance with the law (not a pauper’s funeral).
Mozart wrote all of his horn concertos for one extraordinary player, Joseph Leutgeb (1732– 1811), who became first horn in the orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg in 1770. Leutgeb was about twenty-five then and was already remarkable for his technical skill on the instrument. In 1777, Leutgeb moved to Vienna, apparently because he had inherited a cheese shop there, and it was there that he and Mozart continued their close friendship. The jocular and, at times, insulting comments that litter the autograph parts of the horn concertos bear witness to the close nature of the friendship between Mozart and Leutgeb.
The Third Concerto, K. 447, was composed sometime between 1783 and 1791. Oddly enough, we know nothing about first performances of any of the concerti, which is surprising in view of Leutgeb’s renown and the fact that Mozart was also enjoying substantial success during the period in which they were composed.
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Symphony No. 6 in F Major, opus 68 “Pastoral”
Born in the German city of Bonn on or around December 16, 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven received his early musical training from his father, Johan. As a teenager, the Electorate of Cologne granted him half of his father's salary as court musician in order to care for his two younger brothers after their father succumbed to alcoholism. Beethoven played viola in various orchestras, becoming friends with other players such as Anton Reicha, Nikolaus Simrock, and Franz Ries, and began taking on composition commissions. As a member of the court chapel orchestra, he was able to travel and meet members of the nobility, one of whom, Count Ferdinand Waldstein, would become a great friend and patron. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 to study with Franz Josef Haydn and, despite the prickliness of their relationship, Haydn's concise humor helped form Beethoven's style. His subsequent teachers in composition were Johann Georg Albrechtsberger and Antonio Salieri. In 1794, he began his career as a pianist and composer, taking advantage whenever he could of the patronage of others. Around 1800, Beethoven began to notice his gradually encroaching deafness, and his growing despondency only intensified his antisocial tendencies. However, the Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" of 1803 began a sustained period of groundbreaking creative triumph. In later years, Beethoven was plagued by personal difficulties, including a series of failed romances and a nasty custody battle over his nephew, Karl. Beethoven died in Vienna on March 26, 1827.
The Symphony No. 6 in F Major, opus 68 "Pastoral" has often been cited as the starting point of 19th-century “program music.” Program music refers to music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the form of program notes or movement titles which invite imaginative correlations with the music. Absolute music, in contrast, is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to the outside world. There is an important distinction to be made between Beethoven’s “program music” and the programmatic works of Romantic Era composers such as Hector Berlioz, Franz Liszt, and Robert Schumann. In the works of the latter, it was often a literary program that motivated the musical structure whereas with Beethoven the extra-musical elements were typically derived from his life experiences and, in the process, became another element of the musical structure rather than creating the structure.
Beethoven enjoyed long walks in the countryside surrounding Vienna and he spent his summers in country towns such as Heiligenstadt, Döbling, and Gneixendorf. He was a great admirer of Nature and was a disciple of the Swiss philosopher, writer, and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).
As early as 1803, Beethoven became fascinated with the musical recreation of sounds and even notated a musical rendition of the sound of water in a stream in one of his composition notebooks. In his Heiligenstadt Testament (1802), the tragic document in which he first wrote about his encroaching deafness, he wrote "What a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing." His love for the sounds of Nature became inseparable from the pain that he felt at not being able to hear them, and it is his personal drama that receives musical treatment in the Sixth Symphony. In this sense, each movement is symbolic of both nature and of Beethoven’s emotional state as he reconciles himself with his ever-increasing loss of hearing.
Although Beethoven gave each movement a precise descriptive title and even noted the types of birds the woodwinds represented, he also admonished that “The listener should be allowed to discover the situation. All painting in instrumental music, if pushed too far, is a failure."
The Symphony No. 6 was premiered on a program at the Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808 that included the Symphony No. 5 in c minor, the Piano Concerto No. 4, the Choral Fantasy, two movements of his Mass in C Major, the concert aria Ah! perfido, and one of his well-known solo improvisations at the piano. By the time the finale (the Chorale Fantasy) was performed, the under-rehearsed musicians were exhausted, the audience was ready to leave (undoubtedly, in part, due to the fact that the heating in the building was not functioning), and the performance, by all reports, had completely fallen apart. Hence, Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony was not initially met with the critical praise that it so justly deserved.
Emily Whittaker is a Canadian freelance horn player and educator based in the Chicago metropolitan area. Throughout her time in Chicago, Emily has performed with several orchestras and ensembles, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Music of the Baroque, Omaha Symphony Orchestra, Victoria Symphony Orchestra, Civic Symphony Orchestra, and many more. In the summer, she has taken part in the Blackburn Music Academy of Festival Napa Valley and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Summer Institute. Emily holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Toronto and holds both a Master of Music and a Performance Diploma from DePaul University. Her primary teachers include David Cooper, Oto Carrillo, James Smelser, Gabriel Radford, and James MacDonald.
Emily maintains a private horn studio in the Chicago area, catering to middle school, high school, and adult students. In addition to this, Emily actively presents masterclasses and clinics and adjudicates middle-school and high-school performances across the Chicagoland area. During the summer of 2023, Emily was the faculty at both the Summer Music Society and the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.
Away from music, Emily loves to run and spend time in the outdoors and is a self-published author of two children’s books, "Ted Loves to Sing" and "Ted Loves His Mask". More information about Emily can be found at www.emilywhittakerhorn.com.