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Programme Notes 15 June 2019
Tancredi Overture Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868)
Rossini’s gift for melody and understanding of characterisation and stagecraft made him the most popular Italian composer of the early nineteenth century. He composed 39 operas in total. Rossini’s opera Tancredi was first performed in Venice in 1813 where it had been commissioned by the famous opera house La Fenice. It is based on Voltaire’s play Tancrède, about an exiled soldier during wars between Byzantium and Syracuse. Rossini had already composed several comic operas, but Tancredi was his first on a serious subject. The overture had originally been composed for a previous opera, La pietra del paragone. It is a typical Rossini overture, with slow introduction leading into a light-hearted, fast and sprightly main section featuring woodwind solos and Rossini’s characteristic crescendo passages, where the excitement builds to a cheerful climax.
A selection of tenor arias
Many operatic arias have become so popular that they have become concert works in their own right. Tonight we will hear some of the most beloved arias for the tenor voice, and one famous orchestral interlude
La Donna è Mobile (from Rigoletto) Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Like Rossini’s Tancredi, Rigoletto received its first performance in La Fenice, Venice, though some years later, in 1851. The Duke of Mantua, himself flirtatious and unreliable, sings this aria, a lighthearted complaint about the fickleness of women, at the beginning of Act 3. Rehearsals for La Donna è Mobile took place in secrecy, and after the first performance the song soon became a hit with Venetian gondoliers.
Ombra Mai Fu (from Xerxes) George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Handel wrote Xerxes in 1738, but unfortunately the opera was unsuccessful, only receiving five performances after it opened in London. The aria Ombra Mai Fu was rediscovered during the nineteenth century and has become extremely popular, sometimes known as “Largo from Xerxes”. The Persian King Xerxes sings this aria “Never was any shade” in praise of the shade of a plane tree.
E Lucevan le Stelle (from Tosca) Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
First performed in Rome in 1900, Tosca is a melodramatic tale of political violence in 1800 Rome. In E Lucevan le Stelle, “The stars were shining”, the painter Cavaradossi is writing a letter to his love Tosca just before his execution, and sings a grief-stricken lament recalling their time together. The aria is introduced by a sombre clarinet solo.
Intermezzo Sinfonico (from Cavalleria Rusticana) Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)
The one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana was first performed in Rome in 1890, and is often shown as a popular double bill with the opera Pagliacci. The setting is a Sicilian village where an adulterous love affair ends tragically in murderous revenge. The famous Intermezzo Sinfonico is a purely instrumental interlude between the first and second acts, evoking the atmosphere of Easter day.
Un’ Aura Amorosa (from Così fan Tutte) W A Mozart (1756-91)
Così fan Tutte, roughly translated as “All women are like that”, is a comic opera first performed in Vienna in 1790. Two officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, each attempt to seduce
the other’s fiancée in an attempt to disprove a bet that no woman can be faithful. The women do not succumb, and Ferrando sings the aria Un’ Aura Amorosa “A loving breath” in praise of his fiancée.
Dies Bildnis is Bezaubernd Schön (from The Magic Flute) W A Mozart (1756-1791)
The Magic Flute was first performed in 1791, and has a German, rather than Italian, libretto. Tamino is charged by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter Pamina from Sarastro, but he chooses initiation into Sarastro’s community, undergoing trials which are said to have overtones of Freemasonry. Tamino sings this aria “This image is enchantingly lovely” on first seeing Pamina’s portrait.
Una Furtiva Lagrima (from L’Elisir d’Amore) D G M Donizetti (1797-1848)
Dating from 1838, L’Elisir d’Amore (“The Elixir of Love”) is Donizetti’s most popular opera. The story is a comic romance, in which the peasant boy Nemorino wins his love Adina with the aid of a love potion, which is actually cheap red wine sold by a charlatan doctor. The aria Una Furtiva Lagrima, “A furtive tear”, is sung by Nemorino when he realises the “potion” has been successful.
Symphony No. 3 (Rhenish) Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Robert Schumann was born in Saxony, and began to study music at the age of seven. He composed as a child, but also developed a love of literature, including the great Romantic works of writers such as Goethe, Schiller and Byron. Although his interest in music continued into early adulthood, he was not initially encouraged to follow a musical career and was in fact obliged to study law in order to obtain his inheritance. However, after hearing the celebrity violinist Paganini play, he wrote to his mother "My whole life has been a struggle between Poetry and Prose, or call it Music and Law." He abandoned law to commence music lessons with Friedrich Wieck, and after suffering a hand injury devoted himself to composition rather than piano playing. In 1840 Schumann married Wieck’s daughter Clara, a renowned composer and concert pianist.
Most of Schumann’s early works were for the piano, though he later wrote lieder, chamber music, choral works and four symphonies. In 1850 he was appointed as music director in Düsseldorf on the river Rhine. He composed the Rhenish, or Rhineland, Symphony very shortly after arriving in Düsseldorf; Schumann conducted the first performance in 1851, and the symphony was immediately popular.
It is clear that Schumann intended the symphony as a broadly programmatic work which described his feelings for the Rhine valley area, though it is not specific. He wrote to his publisher Simrock that the symphony “perhaps mirrors here and there something of Rhenish life.” The work is unusual in having five, rather than four, movements.
1.Although marked lebhaft meaning “lively”, the first movement has a broad, expansive mood, sometimes pensive. The elegant triple time signature with syncopation is unusual in a first movement, though somewhat reminiscent of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.
This is a lilting, gentle movement whose main melody is introduced by cellos and bassoons. It is moderate and restrained in character, in comparison with conventional Scherzo movements. Schumann used the melody of the Rheinweinleid, a popular song about Rhine wine, in this movement.
3.The lyrical slow movement begins with an long, expressive melody on clarinets and bassoons.
4.Marked feierlich, “solemnly”, the fourth movement was originally indicated to be played "in the manner of an accompaniment to a solemn ceremony", and it may have been inspired by a ceremony the composer witnessed in Cologne Cathedral. It has a liturgical character, with dark and sombre orchestration and a declaratory section for brass (including trombones for the first time); the final chords are reminiscent of church bells tolling.
5.Again marked “lively”, the final movement has the lightest touch of the symphony, with a rising main theme. The melody from the fourth movement reappears briefly near the end, after a brass chorale section, before the movement’s boisterous conclusion.