PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade, Op. 48, C Major
JOHANN STRAUSS II & JOSEPH STRAUSS Pizzicato Polka
EDVARD GRIEG Holberg Suite, Op. 40
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“WFSO—Bringing Music to Life”
January 30, 2021
Tonight’s program strives to put a little bounce back into your step during these awkward times by exploring the theme of the dance. In Tchaikovsky, we hear a beautifully flowing waltz harkening back admiringly to Mozart; in Strauss, we turn to a brief, plucky polka; and in Grieg, we look back again to Mozart’s time (and a little before) with a Neoclassical suite celebrating earlier dance tunes from around Europe. So sit back, loosen up your tapping toes, and get your sway on.
Tchaikovsky: Serenade in C major, Op. 48 (1880)
1880 saw Tchaikovsky complete two compositions that couldn’t have been more different—the bombastic 1812 Overture and the more sonorous Serenade for Strings. Of the former, Tchaikovsky wrote: “The overture will be very loud and noisy, but I wrote it without warmth or love, and so it will probably not have any artistic merit.” Conversely, he wrote of the latter: “I am violently in love with this work and can’t wait for it to be played.” Originally intended to be performed outdoors during the nighttime, serenades became popular with 18th century composers, as seen in two of the form’s exemplary works from the Classical era, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusic and the Haffner Serenade. The next century saw the serenade loose its evening and outdoor affiliations as it moved closer in line with the symphony form. Along with Tchaikovsky’s, the late 1800s also saw serenades composed across Europe by the likes of Dvorak, Suk and Elgar. Inspired by Mozart, his favorite composer, Tchaikovsky’s four-movement Serenade opens with a “Piece in the form of a sonatina” which is framed by a slow, sumptuous introduction that returns after the movement’s livelier middle sections. Next is the work’s shortest and most well-known movement, a “Waltz,” followed by a serene “Elegy” which brings back some of the grandeur of the first movement. After a slow, muted opening, the “Finale” quickly morphs into a fast-paced Russian dance tune sub-headed “Allegro con spirit.” In a final tip of the inspirational hat to Mozart’s wit and creativity, Tchaikovsky briefly and unexpectedly quotes from the beginning of the opening movement towards the end of the coda before returning for a few moments to the quickening pace of the Russian-inspired dance as the Serenade comes to a vivacious close.
Johann Strauss II & Joseph Strauss: Pizzicato Polka for Orchestra (1870)
Born in Vienna thirty-four years after the passing of Mozart, Johann Strauss II took the Austrian capital by storm with his prolific output of over 500 dance pieces, as well as 18 light operas and ballets. Following in his namesake’s footsteps—Johann Strauss, Sr.—the eldest Strauss son raised the light, danceable music of the late 19th century Hapsburg Empire to new heights of elegance with works such as the Blue Danube, Emperor, and Vienna Blood waltzes. With his younger brother, Josef (1827–1880), Johann, Jr. wrote the three-minute Pizzicato Polka for one of their concert tours of Russia in 1869. As a musical form, the polka first appeared in Prague in 1837, making its way to the capital city two years later. The Pizzicato Polka is scored for strings and glockenspiel, a German percussion instrument similar to the xylophone. As the title indicates, this unusual polka is performed entirely on plucked strings, which perhaps led to its sustained popularity.
Edvard Grieg: Holberg Suite, Op. 40 (1884-1885)
Similar to Czech composers Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak’s Romantic musical nationalisms, Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) also worked outside the European classical tradition by embracing the warmth and melodies of the folk traditions of his native land. Best known for the Piano Concerto in A minor (1868), as well as his Peer Gynt Suite (1875), Grieg also wrote some of the most endearing short works for orchestra in the late Romantic period. One such work is From Holberg’s Time: Suite in Olden Style, named after Norwegian-born Danish playwright Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754). The work, originally scored for Grieg’s favored instrument, the piano, was composed in celebration of the bicentenary of Holberg’s birth in 1884. The Holberg Suite is an example of what in the early 20th century would become known as Neoclassism, a reactionary style which embraced the more melodic musical tastes of the 17th and 18th centuries. Grieg’s nostalgic backward glance takes the form a five-movement dance suite intended to call to mind the “olden style” of the late Baroque/early Classical periods of Holberg’s day. As is the case with Neoclassicism, Grieg’s own time period and personal style meld together with the earlier forms and sounds of the work’s dance movements, such as the Praeludium, Sarabande, and Rigaudon.