ZUKERMAN DELIGHTS WITH BACH & BEETHOVEN
2016–17 Winter Festival
PINCHAS ZUKERMAN conductor and violin soloist (pictured)
NEW JERSEY SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
A thread of bold innovation runs through these remarkable works, bridging three musical eras. Pinchas Zukerman is the soloist in Bach’s brilliant concerto.
BACH Violin Concerto No. 2
Touched with divine inspiration. Like many composers of the time, Bach loved to “recycle” and used much of this music in his Harpsichord Concerto in D Major.
SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night)
Brooding and wildly expressive, Schoenberg’s late Romantic masterpiece recalls Wagnerian drama through its gorgeous melodies.
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”
This powerful work was initially dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. Upon learning that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor, Beethoven angrily tore off the title page and rededicated it to “the memory of a great man.”
2016–17 Winter Festival: Pinchas Zukerman—Performer. Mentor. Legend.
This year’s Winter Festival focuses on the pure and glorious musicianship of the legendary Pinchas Zukerman. Learn more.
Riffs—Sat, Jan 28, after the concert
NJSO French horn player Chris Komer’s other musical love is jazz. Showcasing marvelous versatility, he performs a set of smooth jazz tunes. Free for ticketholders.
BY LAURIE SHULMAN, ©2016
BACH: Violin Concerto No. 2 in E Major, BWV 1042
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH
Born: March 21, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany
Died: July 28, 1750, in Leipzig, Germany
Composed: before 1730; the exact date is uncertain
World Premiere: Undocumented, but probably in Leipzig in the 1720s
NJSO Premiere: 2000–01 season. Zdenek Macal conducted; Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg was the soloist.
Duration: 19 minutes
Bach’s E-major Violin Concerto is a companion piece to the well-known A-minor Violin Concerto, BWV 1041. The chronology of both works is uncertain: possibly from 1717–23, the years during which Bach worked for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen; but perhaps a bit later: from his early years in Leipzig. Technical challenges in both concertos attest to Bach’s own mastery of the violin.
E major is an extremely bright key for violin, a factor that Bach exploited fully in this concerto’s jubilant outer movements. An assertive ascending triad anchors the opening Allegro, introducing 11 measures of material rich enough to provide the motivic basis for the entire movement. The structure parallels the da capo aria: a repeat of the opening section after a contrasting middle episode.
Melodically, the slow movement is the most elaborate. Bach anchors it by use of a repeated, chaconne-like figure in the lower strings. Rhythmic steadiness finds a foil in the capricious, ornate and expressive violin line. The simultaneous precision and grace of his writing takes one’s breath away.
The finale is a concerto-grosso movement with a French accent, pointing to the later 18th-century rondeau. Solo violin dominates the episodes between the full orchestra ritornello passages. A lively 3/8 meter keeps our feet tapping, and the introduction of rapid triplets, 32nd notes and virtuosic passagework gives the soloist a final opportunity to shine.
Instrumentation: strings, continuo and solo violin.
SCHOENBERG: Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4
Born: September 13, 1874, in Vienna, Austria
Died: July 13, 1951, in Los Angeles, California
Composed: Original for string sextet, September 1899. Orchestrated 1917; revised 1943.
World Premiere: March 18, 1902
NJSO Premiere: 1992–93 season; Pinchas Zukerman conducted.
Duration: 32 minutes
Schoenberg was only 25 when he composed Verklärte Nacht. Considering his astonishing influence on 20th-century music during the remaining 52 years of his life, Verklärte Nacht is a fascinating youthful work. Schoenberg abandoned tonality in 1908, and listeners correctly identify him with the invention of the 12-tone system. Verklärte Nacht is thus an aural surprise, for it is firmly entrenched in the 19th century. Its harmonic language is rich and lush—in many places unabashedly Wagnerian—and the thematic material highly expressive and impassioned.
The piece was inspired by a romantic poem of Richard Dehmel, which describes a conversation between a man and woman walking together in a moonlit forest. She confesses that she is carrying another man’s child, having sought fulfillment in motherhood, if not happiness, prior to meeting her present lover. He responds with forgiveness, asserting that their love will transfigure the child, making it issue of their union.
Cast in a single extended movement, Schoenberg’s music subdivides into five sections that are closely related to the poetic structure. The slow introduction, for example, depicts the somewhat foreboding natural beauty of the forest at night. The exquisite coda illustrates the ecstasy of love and forgiveness inspired by nature’s radiance. In between, the woman’s agitated confession, an animated transition and the man’s generous response give Verklärte Nacht its logic and formal continuity.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 (“Eroica”)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Born: December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany
Died: March 26, 1827, in Vienna, Austria
Composed: Summer 1802 to early 1804
World Premiere: probably privately in 1804, in Prince Lobkowitz’s palace. Beethoven conducted the first public performance on April 7, 1805, in the Theater an der Wien.
NJSO Premiere: 1928–29 season. Philip James conducted; Mischa Elman was the soloist.
Duration: 47 minutes
During the 18th and 19th centuries, certain keys were associated with specific ideas. Nobility of spirit—specifically the nobility of heroism—was a quality linked with the key of E flat. When Beethoven began his Third Symphony, Napoleon Bonaparte was First Consul of France and embarking upon the political expansion that was to place his name among the greatest military leaders in history. Beethoven idealized Napoleon, perceiving him as the hero of revolutionary France, and planned to dedicate the symphony to the French leader. The work’s original subtitle was “Bonaparte.”
When Napoleon declared himself Emperor in May 1804, Beethoven exploded in protest. According to his assistant Ferdinand Ries, he cried out: “Is he then, too, nothing more than an ordinary human being? Now he, too, will trample on all the rights of man and indulge only his ambition. He will exalt himself above all others, become a tyrant.”
He then tore the title page of his new symphony in pieces. When he recopied it, he wrote “Sinfonia eroica.” Vienna’s Bureau des Arts et d’Industrie published it in 1806 with a dedication to Prince Lobkowitz and the subtitle “To celebrate the memory of a great man.”
“Eroica” means “heroic” in Italian, and the symphony is monumental in every sense. When Beethoven completed it in summer 1803, it was the longest symphony ever written. The “Eroica” was pivotal in Beethoven’s development not only as a symphonist but also as a composer. With this one work, he divested many 18th-century conventions and vaulted forward into uncharted territory.
Two fortissimo chords announce immediately that we are to sit up and take notice; this is not background music. More than two centuries later, their effect is still electrifying, setting the tone for the entire work. Several features distinguish the sonata form first movement from its predecessors. The development section is exceedingly long—the longest in Beethoven, in fact—and, directly after its climax, introduces an entirely new theme for flute and oboe, in the remote key of E minor. (Beethoven recalls that theme in the recapitulation, where it becomes the subject of a coda so extensive that it nearly matches the development in length.)
Just prior to the recapitulation, when we expect the restatement of the main theme, pianissimo violin tremolos make the very air pregnant with anticipation. Perhaps the most famous “wrong note” in all Beethoven then occurs: French horn states the opening triadic figure. Beethoven, however, has fooled us: the horn entrance is intentionally premature. Full orchestra drives home his cadence with two measures of decisive, fortissimo dominant-seventh chords before resolving to the home tonality of E-flat major. The horns’ false entrance, a sort of acoustic pre-echo, is clearly marked in Beethoven’s hand in the autograph. Yet many listeners assumed that it was an error. The more we hear this symphony, however, the more certain we are that Beethoven knew precisely what he was doing. Every note of this symphony is calculated for maximum effect.
The English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge referred to the famous slow movement march as “a funeral procession in deep purple.” It salutes the unnamed deceased hero of the title and contains one of the great oboe solos in the orchestral repertoire. Beethoven also provided rich material for bassoon and flute. In the quasi-military section in major mode, we can hear intimations of the Fifth Symphony, which would follow the “Eroica” by four years. Timpani is a powerful presence in this slow movement, functioning both as bass and even occasionally as a melodic instrument, rather than mere punctuation.
After a whirlwind scherzo that reduces three beats to one per measure (and features the entire horn section in its Trio), Beethoven ices his cake with variations. The theme, actually a double theme consisting of bass line and melody, was familiar to Viennese audiences from Beethoven’s ballet score, The Creatures of Prometheus (1800). Nobility of spirit, capricious humor, funeral march, fugue, poignant tenderness: all these and more find their way into Beethoven’s cosmic finale, his ultimate tribute to the unnamed hero.
Instrumentation: woodwinds in pairs, three horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings.