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José Luis Gomez, conductor
Actors from the University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film, and Television
Prof. Brent Gibb, director

Felix Mendelssohn: Incidental music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 9, “Great”

José’s Take:

I wanted our Orchestra to star in the last concert of the season, bringing to life two of the most magical compositions ever written. You all know Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” and that’s just one of so many delightful pieces in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I’m particularly fond of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, which certainly deserves its nickname of “Great.” You’ll never forget hearing it to close the season, especially as performed by the excellent players of your Tucson Symphony Orchestra.

Program Notes

Mendelssohn: Incidental Music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream2022-04-02T17:43:47-07:00
Felix Mendelssohn Born February 3, 1809, in Hamburg, Germany
Died November 4, 1847, in Leipzig, Germany
Instrumentation 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
Performance Time 34 minutes
Premiered October 14, 1843 in Potsdam, Germany by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by the composer
Last Performed by the TSO 2004
A prodigious pianist and composer in her own right, Fanny Mendelssohn recalled how as children she and her brother Felix were enraptured with the works of Shakespeare, in particular his comic play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They enjoyed not only reading them but acting them out as well, and the young Felix, a mere 17 years of age, wrote a concert overture reflective of the play. The miraculous result was a work that blended classical sonata form with romantic pictorialism; the menacing woodwinds represent the mischievous fairies, while the braying of Nick Bottom is represented in the strings.

Seventeen years later, the mature Mendelssohn was commissioned by King Frederick William IV of Prussia to compose incidental music for the play. This music would either be played between acts (such as the sprightly Scherzo) or would punctuate the drama (such as the Fairies’ March which accompanies Oberon’s arrival). Fanny Mendelssohn later remarked that “Felix especially has made it his own, almost recreating the characters which had sprung from Shakespeare’s inexhaustible genius…. All and everything has found its counterpart in music, and his work is on a par with Shakespeare’s.”

Mendelssohn retained his youthful Overture for usage in the incidental music. The Scherzo, acting as an intermezzo between Acts 1 and 2, introduces us to the elf Puck, pictured through chattering winds and nimble strings. Oberon’s arrival is accompanied by the Fairies’ March, dominated by high woodwinds, cymbal, and triangle. The fairies’ lullaby to their queen Titania is set by Mendelssohn as a charming chorale, “Ye spotted snakes.” Between Acts 2 and 3 Hermia’s anguish at Lysander’s desertion is depicted in the feverish Intermezzo. The march-like Allegro sets the entrance of the Mechanicals, while the melancholy Nocturne lulls the four lovers to sleep.

The intermezzo between Acts 4 and 5, the famous Wedding March, accompanies the triple wedding of the two mortal couples alongside King Theseus and Queen Hippolyta. The wedding festivities continue with the Dance of the Clowns, depicting the artisans’ inept performance of the myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. The clarinet, bassoon, and drum mourn the death of Thisbe in the Funeral March. At daybreak, as Puck gives his famous soliloquy “If we shadows have offended,” dawn is depicted with a return to the opening chords of the Overture, launching the Finale. The woodwinds pictorialize the fairies blessing the newlyweds, and the piece ends with songlike violins and the enchanting opening chords of the Overture.

Benjamin P. Skoronski
Schubert: Symphony No. 9, “The Great”2022-04-01T13:49:30-07:00
Franz Schubert Born January 31, 1797, in Vienna, Austria
Died November 19, 1828, in Vienna, Austria
Instrumentation 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings
Performance Time 55 minutes
Premiered March 21, 1839
Last Performed by the TSO 2014
Schubert’s creative life was but 18 years long, extending from his early teens to his death at age 31. Although his catalog of works numbers close to 1000, the vast majority were written for amateur performers at small concert gatherings or in the homes of friends (solo songs and male choruses, piano solos and duets, small chamber works, sets of dances) along with a few popular stage works and instrumental interludes for Viennese “song plays” (Singspiel). This work made Schubert famous locally and allowed him to become one of the comfortable living writing music. As he did not have to worry about paying the rent, he had time to write more serious and extended chamber music and orchestral symphonies. With rare exceptions, none of these works were performed while he was alive. If this were the end of his story the name of Franz Schubert would have been little more than a footnote in music history, and we would not be hearing this symphony at all if it weren’t for a few people who knew of his larger works and suspected how extraordinary they were. Fortunately, his manuscripts were deposited into the library of Vienna’s Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Friends of Music Association) in whose auditorium some of Schubert’s music had been performed.The C major symphony (called “The Great” to distinguish it from an earlier, shorter, and more compact C major symphony) was shown by Schubert’s brother Ferdinand to Robert Schumann when he came to call in Vienna in 1838. Taking away a copy, Schumann studied it and after the premiere wrote a review of it in the music journal he had started in 1834. It was in this journal, the New Journal for Music, that Schumann promoted Frédéric Chopin to the world with the famous phrase, “Hats off gentlemen, a genius.” For Schubert’s great symphony Schumann coined another famous phrase in describing its “divine length.” Thus began the resurrection of music by Schubert a decade after his death, music he never had the opportunity to hear. Schubert had effectively no influence on the wider world of music during his lifetime, but after his death he had much, providing a path toward renewal of the symphonic form for Robert Schumann and later composers through to Anton Bruckner.

Length, of course, is not necessarily divine, so what did Schumann mean? The symphony in the nineteenth century can be thought of as being to music what the novel is to literature, a longer construction in sections (chapters and movements) that tells a story or transforms one idea into another; in other words, a kind of drama. Beethoven’s symphonies are dramatic, a progression of ideas economically focused on telling of a hero’s life and death, a day in the country, or more often a story only music can tell. Schubert inherited this symphonic tradition, carrying (literally) a torch for Beethoven at his funeral. Since much of Schubert’s life was introspective, a short, quiet 31 years in one place, he introduced introspection into the symphony. His symphonies are dramas too, but just as we pause when reading a novel to consider what we have just read, Schubert pauses to consider what we have just heard. In a very 21st century way, he can’t help commenting on how he feels about the story he is telling us. This introspection frequently leads him into areas quite foreign to his inherited symphonic tradition: long song-like melodies; meanderings into tonalities far from the one the music starts in; and sections of hypnotic stasis where forward motion stalls, and he and we just enjoy the sound for what it is. This is how he came to write at divine length.

David Gilbert
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