Program Notes: A Family Affair – March 13, 2021

Concerto for two cellos and orchestra, RV 531, g minor

Instrumentation: strings, continuo

Duration: 10 minutes

The Composer

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

The History

The Concerto in G minor, catalogued as RV 531, is the only double concerto for cello that Antonio Vivaldi ever wrote. Though its completion date is still debated, it is probable that he finished it around 1720. Today it stands out as one of Vivaldi’s most popular works.  It was probably written, like so many of his concertos, for the all-girl orchestra of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, with which he was associated for some four decades. The tone color of the paired cellos and the minor key help to account for the relatively somber sound of the work. The cellos announce their presence at the very beginning of the energetic opening Allegro, which also features a particularly attractive interlude in the major mode. The solo instruments sometimes harmonize with one another, at other times respond to one another in canonic imitation. After a songful Largo of rather grave beauty, the work concludes with an extroverted Allegro.

The World – 1720

“Pirate” Calico Jack” Rackham is brought to trial at Spanish Town in Jamaica; he is hanged at Port Royal two days later.

The Treaty of the Hague, signed between Spain and the Quadruple Alliance (Britain, France, the Netherlands and Austria) on February 17, goes into effect. Spain renounces its claims to the Italian possessions of the French throne, and Austria and the Duchy of Savoy trade  Sicily for Sardinia.  


Instrumentation: strings

Duration: 14 minutes

The Composer

Ondrej Kukal (b.1964)

The History

The Clarinettino Op. 11, subtitled Concertino for Clarinet and Strings, was written in 1990. The piece was performed for the first time at the festival Mladé pódium (Young Podium) in 1994, and won the Classic award that same year. The work was chosen as a competition piece for the 60th Prague Spring International Music Competition in 2008.  First performed at the Festival “Junges Podium” in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic in 1994, it has become a popular repertoire piece. It’s a playful, virtuoso twelve-minute sequence, through-composed as a single movement, with variations in tempo coming from contrasting faster and freer parts. A characteristic syncopated rhythm and the repeated return of the figurative basic theme in different variations run through the whole piece. In the slower sections, the writing for violin as well as the solo instrument is predominantly expressive, and both instruments outdo each other in cantilena passages. The clarinet part demands a technically well-versed player, but the composer writes using traditional instrumental technique, without experimentation. 

The World – 1990

Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison, near Cape Town, South Africa, after 27 years behind bars.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill:  Exxon and its shipping company are indicted on 5 criminal counts.

East Germany and West Germany merge their economies, the West German Deutschemark becoming the official currency of the East also.

Symphonic Variations

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings, solo piano

Duration: 15 minutes

The Composer

Cesar Franck (1822-1890)

The History

The work was dedicated to Louis Diemer, who had premiered Les Djinns, a symphonic poem for piano and orchestra that brought Franck one of his rare critical successes. He promised to reward Diémer with “a little something”, and the similarly scored Symphonic Variations was the result.  Franck started work in the summer of 1885, and completed the piece on December 12.

While there is no doubt that it demonstrates Franck’s mastery of variation form, the overall structure of the Symphonic Variations has been a matter of debate. Donald Tovey called it “a finely and freely organized fantasy, with an important episode in variation form”.  It has three broad parts, played without a break: introduction, theme and variations, and finale. These parts resemble the fast–slow–fast layout of a three-movement concerto. While the whole piece is thematically unified, the proper variations occupy only the central third of the work.  The introduction has reminded many commentators of the theme of the slow movement Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. 

The World – 1885

Charles Dow publishes the first edition of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The index stood at a level of 62.76, and represented the dollar average of 14 stocks: 12 railroads and two leading American industries. 

Karl Benz produces the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, regarded as the first automobile.

The Statue of Liberty arrives in New York Harbor.

Symphony No. 3, Op. 55, E-flat Major (Eroica)

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 French horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings

Duration: 47 minutes

The Composer

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

The History

One of the composer’s most celebrated works, the Eroica symphony is a large-scale composition that marked the beginning of Beethoven’s innovative middle period. Composed mainly in 1803–1804, the work broke boundaries in symphonic form, length, harmony, emotional and cultural content. It is widely considered a landmark in the transition between the Classical and the Romantic era. It is also often considered to be the first Romantic symphony.

The Eroica is perhaps the first great symphony to have captured the romantic imagination. It’s not as openly suggestive as the later Pastoral, with its bird calls and thunderstorm, nor as specific as the Ninth, with its unmistakable message of hope and freedom. But to the Viennese audience at the first performance, on April 7, 1805, Beethoven’s vast and powerful first movement and the funeral march that follows must have sounded like nothing else in all music.

The “Eroica” Symphony represents a turning point not only in Beethoven’s career, but also in the history of music, a stature shared by few other works, such as Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. The “Eroica” raises fascinating issues: the personal circumstances of its genesis at a crucial juncture in Beethoven’s life; its relationship to the political events of the day, specifically to Napoleon; and the ways in which audiences of his time first received what many found to be a “horribly long” and “most difficult” piece of music.

It is striking that early listeners and critics, those writing during the initial 10 years or so of the work’s existence, did not talk about the issues most discussed today: The Symphony’s relation to Beethoven’s life or to Napoleon. They viewed the “Eroica” more as a bizarre but original composition, more sublime than beautiful. Its unprecedented length, technical challenges, and uncompromising aesthetic stance seemed to aim beyond entertainment, forcing Beethoven’s contemporaries to rethink what a symphony should be and do.

The World – 1803

The Louisiana Purchase is made from France by the United States.

The proposed twelfth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, requiring that electoral ballots distinctly list the choice for president and the choice for vice president, is approved by Congress for submission to the states for ratification. 

Marbury v. Madison: The Supreme Court establishes the principle of judicial review.