Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic
Thanks to a partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Deutsche Grammophon, Classical Archives is pleased to present two concerts featuring the brilliant young conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic (www.laphil.com), the orchestra he now commands as Music Director.
The first concert features Dudamel leading the Philharmonic in a rousing performance of Hector Berlioz' masterpiece, the Symphonie fantastique, Op.14. The present offering includes the entire work, as a 1-click™ concert for subscribers; it also includes a separate audio track featuring the insightful pre-lecture presentation by noted music historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky, who sheds light on Berlioz' rather dark symphonic narrative. Finally, we here include the Liner Notes from the original Deutsche Grammophon CD release, by noted musical journalist Herbert Glass.
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
6:392.Un bal: Valse
17:583.Scène aux champs: Adagio
6:394.Marche au supplice
9:425.Songe d'une nuit du Sabbat
1830. Paris. Hector Berlioz, aged 26, is experiencing even more intense shocks to his psyche than is normally the case in the anything but placid life of the arch-Romantic composer. "I have just been plunged into an endless, insatiable passion," he wrote to his friend Humbert Ferrand. "She is still in London, and yet I feel her near." The "she" was Harriet Smithson, an Irish Shakespearean actress of reportedly modest professional endowments but considerable personal magnetism.
Smithson, after a period of indifference, which worked its way up to mild curiosity, then qualified interest and presumably a stage well beyond, married her wild-eyed suitor in 1833. The union proved stormy and ultimately intolerable to both parties. (The fact that she never learned to speak more than minimal French and he never learned English may have caused some misunderstandings.)
Berlioz was initially, when still a Smithson observer rather than an intimate, "paralyzed by passion" (his words) for her. He was beginning "a great symphony" when the fit of passion overtook him and froze all creativity. Smithson's arrival in Paris a few weeks later occasioned a thaw and work began on the first version of the Symphonie fantastique, completed in April of 1830.
The premiere had been scheduled, long before the work's conclusion, to take place in May. But the score was still incomplete when the fatal date approached. Thus, the composer "worked in a frenzy" (again, his words), borrowing bits from his other scores and leaving in portions he had planned to revise later.
Nerves were raw from the outset at the first rehearsal, which took place on a stage far too small to accommodate the sizable orchestra. Berlioz, never the most accommodating of colleagues, was especially difficult to deal with in his capacity of conductor. After a few rehearsals all concerned decided to call it quits and the notion of presenting the premiere of the Symphony was shelved.
The delay, until the end of the same year, enabled Berlioz to do some polishing, and the "Episodes in the Life of an Artist," as the score was originally called, made its debut on December 5. It proved a huge success, contrary to what we might expect with a work so eccentric, so forward-looking – and well publicized. Among the audience in the Great Hall of the Paris Conservatoire were Victor Hugo, Niccolò Paganini, Alexandre Dumas (père), Heinrich Heine, and Smithson.
In his "Fantastic Symphony in Five Parts," a literal translation of the composer's final title, Berlioz tells a musical tale with himself as the central character – creating not only a mood (as in Liszt's symphonic poems), but states of mind and precise, physical situations. Nothing like it had been attempted on this scale before.
If Berlioz is to have his way, the program must be read; therefore, here follows an abbreviated version of the composer's descriptive text:
I. Reveries, Passions. The first movement is in two sections, a brief adagio followed by a long allegro. The subject is an artist gifted with a lively imagination. The theme of the beloved [the idée fixe, an obsessively recurring theme in flutes and violins] appears in the allegro for the first time. The artist is subjected to floods of passion, tenderness, jealousy, fury, fear…
II. A Ball. The hero is at a grand ball, but the tumult cannot distract him. "She" appears in oboe and flute among the whirling dancers.
III. Scene in the Country. After great agitation, he finds hope and believes his feelings to be requited. In the country he hears two herdsmen play a ranz des vaches [melody played to gather the scattered cattle]. This plunges him into a delicious reverie, and we hear again the idée fixe. He is again filled with doubt. Silence.
IV. March to the Scaffold. He attempts to poison himself with opium, but is instead subjected to a horrible dream: He has survived his beloved. He is to be executed and even worse, must witness his own execution. At the march's end, she reappears – but her picture is obliterated by the final blow.
V. Dream of a Witches' Sabbath. He finds himself at a witches' revel, surrounded by sorcerers and monsters. The melody of his beloved, which has thus far been noble and full of grace, is transformed into a drunkard's song: It is the beloved coming to the revels, to assist at the funeral of her victim. She is no longer anything but a courtesan, worthy of participation in such an orgy. The ceremony begins. The bells toll. A choir [brass instruments] chants the Dies irae, which is then parodied by the other [instrumental] choirs. The Dies irae mingles with the wild revelry at its height – and the vision comes to an end.
Liner notes by long-time Los Angeles Times music critic, Herbert Glass, for the Deutsche Grammophon release, DG Concerts Presents Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Our second complimentary concert features Maestro Dudamel leading the L.A. Philharmonic in a performance of Béla Bartók's culminating orchestral tableau, the Concerto for Orchestra, written in 1943, just two years before his premature death from leukemia. This offering once again includes the entire work, as a 1-click™ concert for subscribers, as well as the original CD Liner Notes by L.A. Times music critic Herbert Glass.
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra
10:321.Introduzione: Andante non troppo. Allegro vivace
6:362.Giuoco delle copie: Allegretto scherzando
7:493.Elegia: Andante non troppo
4:274.Intermezzo interrotto: Allegretto
10:185.Finale: Pesante. Presto
At the beginning of 1943, while he was delivering a series of lectures on folk music at Harvard University, Béla Bartók's already fragile health took a drastic downturn, necessitating a battery of medical examinations. When these proved inconclusive, "the Harvard people persuaded me to go through another examination," the composer wrote, "led by a doctor highly appreciated by them and at their expense. This had a certain result as an X-ray showed some trouble in the lungs which they believed to be [tuberculosis] and greeted with great joy: 'at last we have the real cause!' (I was less joyful at hearing this news.)"
After the composer returned to his home in New York, ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), "somehow got interested in my case," he continues, "and decided to cure me at their expense... They sent me to their doctors who again took me to a hospital. The new X-rays, however, showed a lesser degree of lung trouble... maybe not tuberculosis at all! ... So, we have the same story again, doctors don't know the real cause of my illness."
While in the New York hospital, however, he was visited by Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony, who – at the behest of two of Bartók's fellow Hungarian expatriates, violinist Joseph Szigeti and conductor Fritz Reiner – came with a commission for a work in memory of his recently deceased wife, Natalie Koussevitzky. Bartók accepted and produced the Concerto for Orchestra, his last completed work save for the Sonata for Solo Violin of 1944.
It was shortly after the meeting with Koussevitzky that leukemia, which was to prove fatal two years hence, was diagnosed; but the composer was kept in the dark. A wise decision, as it turned out, since during the subsequent months he regained strength and, obviously, creativity.
The score was written in only two months at the health resort of Saranac Lake in upstate New York and completed on October 8, 1943. The first performance, an enormous success with audience and critics, was given by the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky on December 1, 1944.
The composer, in Boston for the premiere with his wife, Ditta Pásztory, reported: "We went there for the rehearsals and performances – after having obtained the grudgingly granted permission of my doctor for this trip... The performance was excellent. Koussevitzky says it is the 'best orchestra piece of the last 25 years' (including the works of his idol, Shostakovich!)."
Bartók provided the following brief program note for the occasion:
"The general mood of the work represents, apart from the jesting second movement, a gradual transition from the sternness of the first movement and the lugubrious death-song of the third, to the life assertion of the last one... The title of this symphony-like orchestral work is explained by its tendency to treat the single orchestral instruments in a concertantor soloistic manner. The 'virtuoso' treatment appears, for instance, in the fugato sections of the development of the first movement (brass instruments), or in the perpetuum mobile-like passage of the principal theme in the last movement (strings), and especially in the second movement, in which pairs of instruments consecutively appear with brilliant passages."
A charming, seldom-quoted story about that second movement is related by the late conductor Antal Dorati, who studied piano and composition with Bartók in Budapest and would occasionally visit his old teacher in New York:
“Once when we were alone, Bartók asked me, 'Do you know what the interruption in the [Concerto's] intermezzo interrotto is?'
'Of course I do, professor. It's from The Merry Widow.'
'And who is that?'”
"Momentarily nonplussed, I then established that he did, after all, know who Lehár was, and had heard of The Merry Widow. But because its music was quite unfamiliar to him, and had no conceivable bearing on what he had been thinking of, he had not grasped what I was referring to.
"So, evidently it was not a quote from there. What was it then? Having extracted my solemn promise that I would not tell anyone while he was still alive... he confided that he was caricaturing a tune from Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, the "Leningrad," which was then enjoying great popularity in America, and, in Bartók's view, more than it merited. 'So, I gave vent to my anger,' he said."
The "Leningrad" punch line is familiar from recollections by other members of the Bartók circle; the Merry Widow reference, less so. The coincidental resemblance to the operetta's famous "Da geh' ich zu Maxim" (you know, 'Lolo, Joujou, Zsazsa,' etc.) is at least as apparent as is the intended resemblance to the latter part of the egregious "crescendo theme" in the first movement of Shostakovich's Symphony. The Concerto for Orchestra follows the palindromic form Bartók employed in his Fourth String Quartet (1928), in which the core slow middle movement is surrounded by two scherzos, which are in turn surrounded by two larger movements.
Not least among the many attractions of this, the composer's most popular orchestral work, is his splendidly achieved end of allowing each section of his hundred-headed virtuoso to shine and, finally, to exhibit his virtuosity in a spectacularly complex fugue (in the finale's development), prior to the delectably rabble-rousing conclusion.
Liner notes by long-time Los Angeles Times music critic,
Herbert Glass, for the Deutsche Grammophon release,
DG Concerts Presents Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra