SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONY NO. 5
NJSO Concertmaster Eric Wyrick steps into the spotlight with Strauss’ heartfelt and inventive violin concerto, an early work by the acclaimed master. Romantic-era composer Goldmark’s carefree overture promises to be a delightful discovery, while Shostakovich’s stirring Fifth mingles tragedy and triumph in an unforgettable creation.
GERARD SCHWARZ conductor
ERIC WYRICK violin (pictured)
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Classical Conversations with NJSO Associate Conductor Gemma New and guest conductor Gerard Schwarz begin one hour before the concert on March 21, 22 & 23 (free to ticketholders).
NJSO Food Drive
Non-perishable food donations will be collected at these concerts to benefit The Community FoodBank of New Jersey. More information.
The March 23 concert is sponsored by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.
BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2014
For Music Director Jacques Lacombe’s perspective on these pieces and the way the program fits together, click here for a PDF of the notes as they appear in the printed program book.
This weekend marks the vernal equinox. The days are now as long as the nights, and the promise of the spring season is rich: warmer temperatures, trees budding, lawns sprouting fresh green, the pleasures of outdoor activities. What could be more appropriate than opening the program with Karl Goldmark’s
In Springtime? The first half pairs this work with another discovery, this one a violin concerto by the more mainstream 19th-century composer Richard Strauss, performed here by NJSO Concertmaster Eric Wyrick with his characteristic elegance and style. Guest conductor Gerard Schwarz rounds out the program with what may be Shostakovich’s greatest orchestral composition, his Fifth Symphony.
GOLDMARK: Im Frühling (In Springtime), Op. 36
Born: May 18, 1830, in Keszthely, Hungary
Died: January 2, 1915, in Vienna
Premiered: December 1, 1889, in Vienna
NJSO premiere: These are the first NJSO performances.
Duration: 10 minutes
Unable to be a pioneer and unwilling to be a fellow traveler, I went my own way.
– Karl Goldmark’s motto, according to the critic and author Max Kalbeck
When we think of music in the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the last decades of the 19th century, a short list of names comes immediately to mind. Johannes Brahms was the éminence grise of living composers. Although Richard Wagner had died in 1883, his influence remained profound, not only in the German-speaking countries but throughout Europe. Anton Bruckner was a major force in sacred and symphonic music; Johann Strauss II and his younger brother Eduard continued to delight audiences with their popular polkas, galops, quadrilles, marches and—of course—waltzes. Rising stars included Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss.
Beyond these deservedly famous luminaries, a thriving community of musicians enriched Vienna’s culture. They included a Hungarian Jew named Karl Goldmark, born in the picturesque resort town of Keszthely on Lake Balaton. One of 20 children, Goldmark left his homeland at age 14 to join an older brother in Vienna. There he learned violin and, in 1847, began formal study at the Vienna Conservatory.
The revolutions of 1848 disrupted Goldmark’s education. For three years he divided his time between political activism in the Hungarian uprisings and work as a theater orchestra musician in Hungarian towns. By 1851, he was back in Vienna. Although he spent most of the rest of his career there, Goldmark retained strong bonds to his homeland and visited Budapest regularly. (Ironically, he never learned to speak Hungarian; his mother tongue was German, the official language of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.)
He is best remembered today for his six operas. The first of them, The Queen of Sheba, was a great success at its Viennese premiere in 1875. Productions soon took place all over Europe and in the Americas; the opera remained in the standard repertory of the Budapest Opera until the 1930s.
Among Goldmark’s orchestral works, the most popular are his early overture Sakuntala, Op. 13 (1865), the so-called “Rustic Wedding” Symphony (Ländliche Hochzeit, Op. 26; 1876), and the overture that opens this program.
Goldmark’s conservative harmonies and respect for traditional form make him the heir to Schumann and Mendelssohn; however, the influence of other contemporaries is also discernible in In Springtime. Certain chord progressions suggest that Goldmark was familiar with Wagner’s operas. His occasional use of hemiola (the temporary superimposition of three beats against two, as in Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story) may be emulating Brahms, who favored that rhythmic device. The exuberant brassy flourishes are reminiscent of the early Strauss tone poems.
Instrumentation: three flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani and strings.
STRAUSS: Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 8
Born: June 11, 1864, in Munich, Germany
Died: September 8, 1949, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria
Premiered: December 5, 1882, in Vienna
NJSO premiere: These are the first NJSO performances.
Duration: 30 minutes
What was Richard Strauss’ instrument? He married a singer, the soprano Pauline de Ahna, and remained enamored of the female voice his entire career. But a singer he was not. Like most composers, he played more than a smattering of piano and could acquit himself quite creditably at the keyboard. Strauss took violin lessons from the age of 8 with Benno Walter, a colleague of his father in the Munich Opera Orchestra (Franz Strauss was principal horn of that orchestra for decades). By the time he reached his teens, young Richard was an excellent violinist. When he was 19, he began work on this violin concerto, clearly enjoying the opportunity to incorporate every new technical trick he was learning through his own study of the instrument.
The result is a traditional concerto, classic in structure and romantic in spirit. It is a somewhat undisciplined work from the standpoint of formal control, yet one that is excellently written for the soloist, with a surprisingly mature balance between violinist and orchestra. Strauss’ themes are strong, from the muscular opening fanfare, through the rapturous strains of the slow movement to the joyous romp of the finale. The orchestration is masterful, clearly heralding the gifts that were to flower even more brilliantly in the tone poems of the late 1880s and 1890s.
Strauss’ achievement is all the more impressive if we consider that he had only completed one prior work for solo instrument and orchestra, a Romance for clarinet. He wrote the concerto between 1880 and 1882. At its completion, young Richard, by then a student at the University of Munich, was not yet 20. The sketches for the concerto are scrawled in his mathematics notebook.
The premiere of the concerto took place at Vienna’s Bösendorferssaal, as part of a recital by Strauss’ teacher Walter and pianist Eugenie Menter. Strauss took Menter’s place at the piano for the performance of his new piece in the violin/piano reduction. The eminent Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick was quite taken by the concerto. Other critics found it superficial. In retrospect, their opinions are moot. The concerto was fresh then and is astonishingly fresh now, the more so because of its unfamiliarity. Listeners who know Strauss’ violin sonata will sense a kinship between these two works, but the debt is greater to the German titans of earlier in the century. The influence of Mendelssohn is particularly noticeable in the sprightly rondo-finale, but the glorious melodic sweep of the first two movements is Strauss’ own.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, strings and solo violin.
SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47
Born: September 25, 1906, in St. Petersburg, Russia
Died: August 9, 1975, in Moscow
Composed: April 18 to July 20, 1937
Premiered: November 21, 1937, in Leningrad; Evgeny Mravinsky conducted.
NJSO premiere: 1966–67 season; Kenneth Schermerhorn conducted.
Duration: 46 minutes
Dmitri Shostakovich was the greatest symphonist the 20th century produced. His contribution is important not only because he left 15 examples (more than any other symphonist of his stature), but also because they are musically so substantive. There are striking parallels to Beethoven in Shostakovich’s career, including the role that a Fifth Symphony played in each of their output. In both cases, the Fifth is considered to be a pivotal work, one that delineated a major shift in his music. Shortly before his Fifth Symphony’s premiere in 1937, Shostakovich wrote in an article:
The theme of my symphony is the development of the individual. I saw man with all his sufferings as the central idea of the work, which is lyrical in mood from start to finish; the finale resolves the tragedy and tension of the earlier movements on a joyous, optimistic note.
Listeners who know Beethoven’s Fifth will immediately sense a kinship. Beethoven’s symphony deals with the struggle against Fate, in which man emerges triumphant in the finale. Another factor the works have in common is their unification by a concise musical motto that recurs in almost every movement. In Beethoven’s symphony, it is the famous “fate knocking at the door” that opens the symphony; in Shostakovich’s, it is an anapest (short-short-long) rhythm.
Political disaster, professional crisis
Shostakovich wrote his Fifth Symphony on the heels of a major musical and political setback: Joseph Stalin’s adverse reaction to Shostakovich’s opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Stalin’s subsequent attack in the Soviet newspaper Pravda in January 1936. The following year, 1937, was the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution. For that occasion, Shostakovich composed his Fifth Symphony.
The new work put him back in official good graces. With this symphony, Shostakovich responded successfully to Stalin’s political directive for music with a mission. He composed, as it were, a Soviet symphony; this was the piece that won governmental approval, becoming Shostakovich’s passport to official “rehabilitation.” The symphony also did a considerable amount to build Shostakovich’s reputation outside the Soviet Union. And yet, in spite of its surface compliance with the party line, it is still a work of passion and heartfelt emotion, managing to be personal without sacrificing power.
Angular and severe, the opening gesture suggests the harshness of life in Soviet Russia. Triumph after struggle prevails in the mighty finale. While the two outer movements have become the Fifth Symphony’s best-known segments, the inner two better reflect Shostakovich’s emerging style. The scherzo, a quasi-Schubertian country dance tinged with Mahlerian satire, shows the dry, sardonic side of Shostakovich’s personality to perfection; it relieves the Russian tension, introducing a whisper of warmth akin to Schubert or Mahler. And the slow movement, a showcase for the string section, embodies the tragedy and poetry inherent in the human condition. The Fifth Symphony is usually regarded as the window looking into Shostakovich’s middle period, but its music has such consummate maturity that it more than foreshadows the rich masterpieces that would follow during and after the Second World War.
PERSONAL STATEMENT OR POLITICAL AGENDA?
The degree to which the Fifth Symphony remained personal to Shostakovich emerges in his later writings. In particular, Solomon Volkov’s Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, first published in 1979, includes the following remarkable passage:
I discovered to my astonishment that the man who considers himself its greatest interpreter [the Russian conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky] does not understand my music. He says that I wanted to write exultant finales for my Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, but I couldn’t manage it. It never occurred to this man that I never thought about any exultant finales, for what exultation could there be? I think that it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat, as in Boris Godunov. It’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, “Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing,” and you rise, shaky, and go marching off, muttering, “Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing.”
What kind of apotheosis is that? You have to be a complete oaf not to hear that. [The author Alexander Alexandrovich] Fadeyev heard it, and he wrote in his diary, for his personal use, that the finale of the Fifth is irreparable tragedy. He must have felt it with his Russian alcoholic soul.
Shostakovich’s trenchant and bitter remarks imply a layer of irony in the finale that encourages thoughtful listening. Even those who know the Fifth Symphony well are likely to hear it with fresh ears in the context of these comments. It is only fair to note that Volkov’s Testimony is highly controversial and that scholars and musicians have challenged its authenticity. In her landmark 2000 biography, the American scholar Laurel E. Fay noted, specifically with respect to the last movement:
The “finale problem” in Shostakovich’s symphonic works was an issue that would crop up again, notably in connection with his Tenth Symphony. In the light of comments attributed to the aging, embittered composer in Testimony, the suggestion has gained wide currency that Shostakovich may have deliberately set himself up to fail in crowning the Fifth Symphony with a genuinely jubilant finale, intending instead to convey the sense of rejoicing under duress.
It is food for thought. Nevertheless, as Fay observes, the musical substance of Shostakovich’s symphony ultimately contributed to its acceptance and acclaim by musicians and audiences worldwide, regardless of any overt or implicit political agenda.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, E-flat clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, bells, cymbals, bass drum, tam-tam, xylophone, two harps, celeste, piano and strings.
GERARD SCHWARZ, conductor
Internationally recognized for his moving performances, innovative programming and extensive catalog of recordings, American conductor GERARD SCHWARZ serves as music director of the All-Star Orchestra and the Eastern Music Festival and conductor laureate of the Seattle Symphony. The All-Star Orchestra, Schwarz’s latest project, features a handpicked ensemble of star players from America’s leading orchestras coming together for an eight-episode American Public Television series designed to encourage a greater understanding and enjoyment of classical music.
His considerable discography of nearly 350 recordings showcases his collaborations with some of the world’s greatest orchestras including Philadelphia Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, London Symphony, Berlin Radio Symphony, Orchestre National de France, Tokyo Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, New York Chamber Symphony and Seattle Symphony, among others.
Schwarz began his professional career as co-principal trumpet of the New York Philharmonic and has held leadership positions with Mostly Mozart Festival, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and New York Chamber Symphony. As a guest conductor, he also has worked with many of the world’s finest opera companies.
ERIC WYRICK, violin
Violinist ERIC WYRICK is concertmaster of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and has been an Orpheus Chamber Orchestra member and frequent leader since 1988.
Born in New York City, Wyrick started playing the violin at 4 years old. He attended the Juilliard Pre-College Division and later The Juilliard School, studying with Dorothy DeLay. His varied orchestral career began with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic at the age of 14. He has been concertmaster of the American Symphony, Eos and Opéra Français de New York, as well as the Christmas String Seminar under the direction of Alexander Schneider.
Wyrick has appeared as a soloist with the Danish Radio Orchestra, Orchestre de Toulouse, Hudson Valley Philharmonic and San Angelo Symphony Orchestra. An active chamber musician, Wyrick can be heard frequently with the NJSO Chamber Players and is a founding performer at the Bard Music Festival.
He has recorded for Bridge Records, Vanguard and, with Orpheus, Deutsche Grammophon. He is the soloist on a recording of composer Darryl Kubian’s 3-2-1 Concerto for Acoustic and Electric Violin with the Orquesta Sinfonica of Michoacan, available online.