Program Notes


4PM Sunday, 6/5/2022

Concordia Chapel of Our Lord

MOZART Piano Concerto No. 27

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791)

Though Mozart likely began composing his last piano concerto (Piano Concerto No. 27 in Bb) sometime in 1788, he would not complete it until January 1791, which was to be the last year of his life. Mozart performed the premiere himself at a concert in Vienna on March 4, 1791. Sadly, it would be his final public appearance as a pianist.

The concerto begins with an orchestral introduction that presents the four main themes of the first movement. The first theme is an elegant conversation between violins and woodwinds; the second is a lyrical melody with echoes from the flute; the third introduces a more humorous tone with its twittering figures in the violins; last is a lyrical, singing theme that occurs after the shadow of the parallel minor key passes briefly over the music. The pianist then enters with a lightly embellished version of the first theme before digressing into a richly chromatic, minor-key episode. The pianist then similarly reinterprets the other themes, except the last; instead, the minor-key shadows send the music into an exquisite developmental section. Changing key 20 times in a mere 60 measures, this development focuses on fragments of the first theme, which are overlapped and recombined with each other to great expressive effect. The orchestra and soloist then reprise the movement’s themes—including the last one this time—leading to the cadenza for the soloist alone. At the premiere Mozart would have improvised the cadenza on the spot, but when he later prepared the score for publication, he wrote down a version of the cadenza that other pianists could use. Mozart’s cadenza primarily revisits the second and first themes before ending with the traditional trill, a signal to the orchestra to bring the movement to a close.

The slow second movement has a simple ternary (A-B-A) structure; it begins with a lovely melody introduced by the piano and then taken up by the orchestra. The pianist introduces a contrasting phrase that leads back to the beginning of the melody. The orchestra’s conclusion of the theme, however, introduces a powerful dissonance before bringing the theme to its conclusion. The contesting middle section introduces a graceful new theme that dreamily slips into a distant key, slowly winding its way back to a reprise of the opening section.

The finale begins with a cheerful theme that Mozart adapted for a song called “Yearning for Spring,” perhaps a reflection of his hopes for the future. This theme alternates with contrasting episodes, including a second cadenza, and brings the concerto to a delightful ending.

MAHLER Rückert Songs

Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911)

Mahler wrote six groups of orchestrally accompanied songs for voice(s) and included the voice in four of his ten symphonies. His song composition often flowed into his symphonic thought; a song composed with piano or orchestral accompaniment sometimes became a symphonic movement.

In his early works (before 1900), Mahler’s chief poetic source was Brentano’s large collection of folk poetry titled Des Knaben Wunderhorn (“The Youth’s Magic Horn”), which also become the title of a Mahler song cycle. However, beginning in 1901, his inspiration came largely from a single poet, the German romantic Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866). Over the next three years, Mahler composed ten songs on Rückert’s verse, and in 1905 he wrote to composer Anton Webern: “After Des Knaben Wunderhorn I could not compose anything but Rückert — this is lyric poetry from the source, all else is lyric poetry of a derivative sort.”

Kindertotenlieder (“Songs of the Death of Children,” 1901-1904) became Mahler’s most famous Rückert orchestral song cycle. While working on that masterpiece, he was also composing some individual settings of Rückert. Lacking a central idea, these songs are related by being based on the Mahler’s own experiences and introspective explorations. The songs that resulted are loosely titled Rückert-Lieder (“Rückert Songs”), and contain some of the composer’s most beautiful, elegant, and intimately lyrical vocal music.

One of Mahler’s means of achieving intimacy is his chamber orchestra scoring. In the first two songs, we hear single winds and limited brass. Contrabasses are missing from the first song, and cellos are missing in the second. Another feature shared by the two songs is a murmuring counter-melody in the strings. Both also have folksong qualities. In Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder (“Do not eavesdrop on my songs”), the opening line returns like a refrain or motto. Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft! (“I breathed a gentle fragrance”) focuses musically on an enchanting folk-like vocal melody. This, in turn, becomes the foil for gently witty word-play from the poet (linden Duft = gentle fragrance; Lindenduft = fragrance of lime) and frequent alliteration, especially on the letter “L.” A somewhat impressionistic quality pervades the music, made possible partially by the bell-like celesta combined with the harp.

Of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (“I have lost track of the world”), Mahler later wrote, “It is feeling that rises to the lips but does not pass beyond them! . . . It is my very self!” In this song, we have the clearest instance of Mahler’s autobiographical bent in the Rückert songs. We know that he had time to compose only on vacations in the mountains, where he would seclude himself in a small cabin far away from “the world.” The introspective style of this song has been compared with the Adagietto of the Fifth Symphony, which Mahler was composing at the time.

Scored mainly for a wind ensemble, Um Mitternacht (“At Midnight”) is certainly the grandest and perhaps the most profound of the five Rückert Songs. Framing each stanza with the title phrase, the poet then encapsulates one personal crisis in the four short lines. Beginning quietly (yet with slight tension), the musical style progresses gradually toward the climactic moment, when the poet/composer gives over his life to God.

The most traditional of the songs was the last composed, Liebst du um Schönheit (“Lovest thou but beauty”). It is the most clearly strophic in form, with the four stanzas presented in pairs, with a very brief orchestral interlude in the middle. The first three stanzas are variants of one another. The fourth begins as if it were to continue in the same pattern but underscores the central message of the song by stressing the words “liebe” (love) and “immer” (always) through rhythmic prolongation and emphasis on the upper register in the melody. Love must be for its own sake, not for beauty, youth or treasure.

SAINT-SAËNS Symphony No. 3 in C minor (Organ Symphony)

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns ( 9 October 1835 –16 December 1921) 

Ever since its London premiere in 1886, Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (nicknamed Organ Symphony for the prominent role played by that instrument) has been one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire. It is one of those rare works that instantly entered the canon of masterpieces and has remained there ever since. Its most famous melody, the radiant theme of the finale, has even entered into popular culture: it was featured in the 1995 movie Babe and at Disney World’s Epcot Center, and has even been adapted as the anthem of the would-be micronation of Atlantium.

As a musical form, the symphony had a troubled existence in 19th century France. After the Revolution of 1789, the symphonies of ancien regime French composers were largely forgotten, and during the post-Napoleonic era, it was opera, in both its grand and comic varieties, that constituted the main musical interest of the French public. Despite the valiant efforts of Berlioz to create a new French symphonic tradition with works like his Symphonie fantastique, symphonic music failed to establish strong roots in France, and even in Berlioz’ own lifetime, his music was more often appreciated in Germany than in his homeland. When symphonies were performed at all in France, they were usually symphonies by Austro-German composers, especially those of Beethoven. This began to change after the calamitous Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71, which brought a sobering end to the Second Empire and at least gave its decadent Offenbach operettas some pause. Many felt that France had been somehow weakened by the excesses of grand opera and the frivolity of cancans and champagne. The stage was set for more serious music by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Saint-Saëns began his career as a child prodigy who could famously play any of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas from memory; his career as a composer, however, was slower to take off. By the 1880s, he had written a number of successful pieces which had a foothold in the repertoire, but his early symphonies had failed to stick, and it had been many years since he had attempted one. He then resolved to compose a great symphony that would revitalize the genre, show that the French could write symphonies, and prove to others and himself that he could write a great masterpiece.

When the Royal Philharmonic Society in London commissioned him to compose a new piece (interestingly, the Society had also commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony many years before), Saint-Saëns had found the opportunity he needed. The premiere in London, conducted by Sir Arthur Sullivan, was a great success, and when the symphony premiered in Paris the following year, the reception was ecstatic. Fellow composer Charles Gounod famously paid Saint-Saëns the highest compliment he could think of by declaring him “the French Beethoven.”

Like Beethoven, Saint-Saëns hoped to walk the fine line between absolute music, which has no extra-musical meaning, and program music, which tells a story explicitly indicated by the composer (Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique is one example of the latter). Even though Beethoven never said what his Fifth Symphony was about, listeners throughout the centuries and across the world have heard in it a journey from the darkness of C minor to the light of C major, a story of heroic struggle and triumph. Like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony begins in C minor and ends in C major (a choice Saint-Saëns knew would invite direct comparison), but the journey on which he takes us is rather different. Like Beethoven, Saint-Saëns never provided an explicit program for this symphony, but he did leave clues in his score and the program notes he provided for the Royal Philharmonic Society that point toward a very specific message.

The first and most important clue is the specter of the Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”), which haunts every movement of the symphony. Berlioz had adapted the medieval tune for the last movement of his Symphonie fantastique (which depicts a Witches Sabbath that occurs over the grave of the symphony’s hero), and Liszt (Saint-Saëns friend and the dedicatee of the Organ Symphony) also used it in his Totentanz (“Dance of Death”) for Piano and Orchestra. Saint-Saëns does not use the Dies Irae as literally as either Berlioz or Liszt did, but the main theme of his symphony is clearly derived from it.

In his program notes for the London premiere, Saint-Saëns describes the music of the first movement as “sombre and agitated in character,” and the main theme dominates the tempestuous first movement.

Respite comes with the Adagio, the gorgeous theme of which is described by Saint-Saëns as “extremely quiet and contemplative”.

The tranquility of the Adagio is disturbed by a return of the Dies Irae theme, which Saint-Saens describes as “bringing back vague feelings of unrest, augmented by dissonant harmonies”.

The second half of the symphony begins with a scherzo that is by turns both demonic and mischievous, during which the Dies Irae theme also reappears, “more agitated than its predecessors”.

Then comes the great turning point of the symphony. After the unrest of the beginning, the serene yearning of the Adagio, and the vivacious play of shadow and light in the scherzo, the organ (which was heard in a subdued manner in the Adagio), enters in all its glory, followed by the symphony’s most famous melody, which Saint-Saëns describes as a “totally transformed,” major key version of the Dies Irae theme.

The message is clear: death has been somehow redeemed, transfigured. Further adding to the heavenly atmosphere are the glittering piano arpeggios accompanying the theme (interestingly, Saint-Saëns used a piano duet in place of the harp – a more traditionally “heavenly” instrument). Immediately following is a variation of the theme for organ, punctuated by trumpet fanfares. The unconventional use of the organ itself, more often heard in churches than in symphonies, also lends a religious air to the music. The intense struggle that follows includes a return of the Dies Irae theme in its original minor form that is ultimately vanquished by the major version, like the archangel Michael casting the devil out of heaven.

Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony lived up to its composer’s lofty ambitions. Its premiere began a second golden age of French symphony writing, and symphonies by Franck, Chausson, d’Indy and Dukas soon followed in its wake. Furthermore, this symphony can be seen as a landmark in a trend that led to Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony and Richard Strauss’s Tod und Verklärung (“Death and Transfiguration”), in which their composers aimed to depict their respective visions of death and the afterlife.

Celebrate Youth

March 27, 2022  4:00 P.M.

Concordia Chapel of Our Lord

Carmen Fantasy, Op. 25                                                Pablo de Sarasate  (1844-1908)

Elinor Detmer, violin

2021 Concerto Competition Winner

Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in Eb, K. 365        W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)

  1.       Allegro
  2.       Andante
  3.       Rondo:  Allegro

Freya Pang and Emmie Guo, soloists


Scheherazade                                                  Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov (1844-1908)

  1. The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship (Largo e maestoso — Allegro non troppo)
  2. The Kalendar Prince (Lento — Andantino — Allegro molto — Con moto)
  3. The Young Prince and The Young Princess (Andantino quasi allegretto — Pochissimo più mosso — Come prima — Pochissimo più animato)
  4. Festival At Baghdad. The Sea. The Ship Breaks against a Cliff Surmounted by a Bronze Horseman. (Allegro molto — Vivo — Allegro non troppo maestoso)

John Gerson, violin

Jay Friedman, conductor

Pablo Martín Melitón de Sarasate y Navascués, commonly known as Pablo de Sarasate, was a Spanish violin virtuoso, composer and conductor of the Romantic period. His best-known works include Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), the Spanish Dances, and the Carmen Fantasy.

Pablo de Sarasate was the son of a local military bandmaster in the Spanish town of Pamplona, where each July brings the Fiesta de San Fermín and its notorious running of the bulls. He demonstrated musical talent very early and began violin lessons at age five, making his concert debut at eight. His was one of the most exciting and enduring violin careers of the nineteenth century. In addition to his own compositions, several works written for Sarasate have become staples of the violin repertoire, including Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole and F minor Concerto, Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso and First and Third Violin Concerti, and Bruch’s Second Violin Concerto and Scottish Fantasy. 

Georges Bizet’s Carmen may well have been a failure at its premiere in 1875, but by the early 1880s it was well on its way to becoming one of the most famous operas of all time. Sarasate wrote the Concert Fantasy on Themes from Bizet’s Carmen, Op. 25, universally known as the Carmen Fantasy in 1883. It is in four movements with a prelude that in essence amounts to an additional movement. The prelude is an adaptation of the Entr’acte to Act Four of the opera (the Aragonaise), and the first movement adapts the famous Habanera sung by Carmen in Act One (L’amour est un oiseau rebelle). Sarasate expertly crafted the gentle second movement to foil the active music all around it, while the F sharp/D major juxtaposition of the third movement shines every bit as brightly as does in its original guise (the Séguidilla aria of Act One). Sarasate makes a direct link between the third movement and the frenetic Bohemian Dance (from Act Two) that is the fourth. Here, raw virtuosity takes over, providing the violinist an athletic workout not at all unlike the one that Bizet’s original version provides for the dancers and orchestra.

It is not known when Mozart completed his Concerto No. 10 for Two Pianos and Orchestra in E-flat major, but research indicates that it was most likely composed in 1779. It is presumed that Mozart wrote it to play with his sister Maria Anna (“Nannerl”). Years later he performed it in a private concert with pupil Josepha Barbara Auernhammer.

The concerto was originally scored for the two pianos together with two oboes, two bassoons; two horns; and strings. Mozart later expanded the score with pairs of clarinets, trumpets and timpani in E-flat and B-flat. The authenticity of the additions is unclear. Notwithstanding that concern, in today’s concert the augmented orchestration is being used.

The concerto differs from the usual solo piano concerto as it allows for not only the dialogue between solo and orchestra but also a dialogue between the two pianos as they exchange musical ideas. Mozart divides the more striking passages quite evenly between the two pianos. The first movement is lyrical and “wonderfully spacious, as if Mozart is thoroughly enjoying himself and letting his ideas flow freely”, as Ledbetter has noted. The middle movement is slow and refined; the orchestra stays in the background behind the pair of playful pianists. The finale is a rondo filled with rhythmic drive.  After passages of lyrical grace, there is an exuberant return to the main rondo theme.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was the most accomplished of a group of musicians that championed the music of Russia over the Germanic compositions that had previously been the fashion, following in the footsteps of musical nationalist Mikhail Glinka. Dubbed by Russian critic Vladimir Stasov “the mighty handful” (moguchaya kuchka), the group included Alexander Borodin, Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Mily Balakirev, their self-appointed leader. It was Balakirev who encouraged young naval officer Rimsky-Korsakov, in 1861, to pursue a career as a composer, though the latter had no formal training. In 1871 he became a professor of composition at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of music — and then commenced studying the subject himself. Indeed he taught himself orchestration so well that he later wrote a book, The Principles of Orchestration, that is still in use today. His students over the years included Glazunov, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky. Tchaikovsky, also influenced by Balakirev’s circle, wrote to Rimsky-Korsakov: “I am a mere artisan in music, but you will be an artist in the fullest sense of the word.”

Though the subject of Scheherazade is based on Arabian tales, the work is still firmly Russian in its sensibilities and its flavor of “oriental” sound. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that the piece was not meant to be an exact depiction of Scheherazade’s stories, and titles of the movements are meant to “direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path my own fancy traveled.” The piece exhibits his skill in varying orchestral color, using a standard Brahmsian orchestra that has been augmented by piccolo, harp, and extra percussion (snare and bass drum, tambourine, cymbals, and tam tam).

The tales of the Arabian Nights themselves were passed down through the centuries by word of mouth; the oldest tales date to the 10th century. These included the now well-known sagas of Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, and Aladdin and his Magic Lamp. The story of Scheherazade provides the narrative thread between the tales, and runs as follows: Scheherazade was the daughter of the grand vizier to Sultan Shahriyar. The sultan’s first wife had betrayed him, and in anger and grief he not only executed her but vowed to marry a woman each night and kill her the next morning. The sultan’s cruel order was obeyed for three years, until Scheherazade conceived a plan to stop him and convinced her father to offer her as the sultan’s next wife. The clever girl talked the sultan into letting her sister spend the night with them in the bridal chamber, and in the morning, as planned, Scheherazade’s sister begged her to tell a story. Scheherazade began one of the exciting tales but stopped before the story ended, causing the sultan, who had listened as well, to put off killing her until she could finish her story the next evening. Scheherazade, of course, never finished her tales, but kept her husband enthralled with story after story for 1,001 nights. By that time the pair had produced three sons and the sultan, convinced of his wife’s fidelity and wisdom, revoked his death sentence.

The first movement, The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, opens with two opposing themes: a stern and solemn tune dominated by the brass, and a sinuous violin melody introduced by a woodwind choir. The former is the stern sultan; the latter is Scheherazade, weaving her tales. Rimsky-Korsakov described the two themes, which wind throughout all movements of the work, as “purely musical material … appearing as they do each time under different moods, the self-same motives and themes correspond each time to different images, actions, and pictures.” In this movement, the themes ebb and flow over a third rocking melody like the ocean’s waves. The Story of the Kalendar Prince — a royal prince who disguised himself as a member of a tribe of wandering dervishes called Kalendars — features an “oriental” melody played in turn by both the full orchestra and different solo instruments, including bassoon, oboe, flute, and horn. The theme is offset by a brisk martial tune introduced by the brass, which in turn is interrupted by a clarinet solo that whirls like the dervishes of the title. The lyric sweep of The Young Prince and the Young Princess is colored by a rising and falling counterpoint from woodwinds, harp, or upper strings against lower. Romantic melodies weave in and out, and the movement ends with a series of rapid, quiet figures that seem to dance into the distance. The solo violin of Scheherazade heralds the final movement, which bursts into a vigorous dance accented by cymbal and tambourine, The Festival in Baghdad. The dance becomes wilder, punctuated by snare and bass drum, and a brass fanfare announces a return to some of the themes of Sinbad and The Sea. The music rises and falls with the swell of the ocean until The Ship Goes to Pieces on a Rock (the full title notes that the rock is “Surmounted by a Bronze Warrior”).With a mighty crash, the music segues into a sweeping recapitulation of the Sultan’s theme from the first movement, which then subsides as if the Sultan has been mollified. Scheherazade’s violin ends the tale on a series of harmonics over a broad, sustained chord.

Elinor Detmer
Elinor Detmer

Elinor Detmer
, 17, is a scholarship Fellow at the Music Institute of Chicago’s Academy, a training center for advanced pre-college musicians. She studies violin with Almita Vamos and Davis King. Elinor won first prize in the DePaul Concerto Festival, Peoria Symphony Young Artist, and Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest competitions in 2021. She was also named a YoungArts Merit Winner in Classical Music. She won numerous awards with her chamber group the Omaggio String Quartet, including the Bronze and Audience awards at the St. Paul String Quartet Competition. She also plays piano, studying with Ms. Angela Wright for 14 years, and received a high school performance diploma and the Paderewski Gold Medal from the National Guild of Piano Teachers.  Elinor is in 12th grade and is home-schooled. In addition to her musical interests, Elinor loves reading, gardening, dancing, and travel.

Freya Pang began her piano lessons at 4 years old with Sueanne Metz. She is a prize winner of several national and international competitions. She is the First Place Winner at Chicago International Music Competition, New Star International Competition, Aloha International Piano Competition (Hawaii), American Protégé International Piano and Strings Competition, NWSMTA Piano Competition, Chopin International Competition at Hartford, Carmel Klavier International Competition (Indiana) for solo, concerto and duet divisions. Freya has had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall at the age of 5. As the winner of the DePaul Concerto Competition, she performed with the Oistrakh Symphony Orchestra. Freya enjoys swimming and is a member of the local swim team, Hinswood. She is also on the Beyond the Star dance company and in her spare time, she loves to play with her sister, Kaleia and her kitten, Cookie.

Emmie Guo has performed with Kostroma Orchestra in Russia and with Oistrakh Symphony in Chicago. She was the proud winner of the Grand Prix at Carmel Klavier International piano Competition, and the 1st Place and Judges’

Distinction Award at The American Protégé International Competition of Romantic Music. Emmie has been invited to perform at XXII Miedzynarodowy Chopin Festival in Busku-Zdroju in Poland, Chicago Culture Center, Booth Tarkington Theatre in Indiana, and Illsley Ball Nordstrom Hall in Seattle and at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. Emmie loves tennis, swimming, reading, and cartoon animation.

Emmie & Freya are both 13 years old and study piano with Sueanne Shimabuku Metz. Freya is an 8th grader at Cass Junior High in Darien and Emmie is a freshman at Whitney Young High School Academic Center in Chicago.  We met them a few years ago at one of our concerto competitions and have been fans of theirs ever since.