Program Notes | Oct 11–13, 2019
Elgar: Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1
Graduation isn’t until late next spring, but we are all sure to smile and hum along with this iconic commencement anthem.
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Hiraeth (with film by Mark DeChiazza)
Hiraeth is Sarah Kirkland Snider’s evocative valentine to her ancestral home in Salisbury, North Carolina. The music speaks of “a feeling of homesickness for a land that never existed or one to which you can never return.” Mark DeChiazza’s film complements Snider’s music.
Holst: The Planets—An HD Odyssey
This audience favorite is both a large suite and a series of symphonic poems. One can perceive Holst’s subject matter as character portraits of the Roman gods, an astrological journey or a study in astronomy. Collectively, The Planets comprise a metaphor for the human condition and the progression from birth to death.
ELGAR: Pomp and Circumstance Military March in D Major, Op. 39, No. 1
Born: June 2, 1857, in Broadheath, near Worcester, England
Died: February 23, 1934, in Worcester
World Premiere: October 19, 1901, in Liverpool. A.E. Rodewald conducted.
NJSO Premiere: 1953–54 season. Samuel Antek conducted.
Duration: 5 minutes
When Elgar first played this piece at the piano for his friend Dora Penney, he called its central melody “a tune that comes once in a lifetime.” He wasn’t far off the mark. The English conductor Henry Wood likened it to “a second [British] national anthem.” In fact, the tune universally associated with commencement exercises in America is the middle section of this tripartite march.
Elgar wrote two Pomp and Circumstance marches in 1901, adding two more in 1904 and 1907 and a fifth in 1930. The first has all but eclipsed the others, and it remains Elgar’s most famous theme. On this concert, it heralds the commencement of the NJSO’s exciting 2019–20 classical season.
For those with keen ears, Elgar plays a musical joke at the beginning: eight measures in E-flat major, before he settles into his stated tonality of D major. It is a neat trick.
Instrumentation: four flutes (two doubling piccolo), two oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, two cornets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, triangle, tambourine, sleigh bells, cymbals, bass drum, glockenspiel, two harps, organ and strings.
SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER: Hiraeth (with film by Mark DeChiazza) (NJSO Premiere)
SARAH KIRKLAND SNIDER
Born: October 8, 1973, in Princeton, New Jersey
Currently residing in Princeton
World Premiere: September 26, 2015, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
NJSO Premiere: These are the NJSO premiere performances.
Duration: 27 minutes
For Sarah Kirkland Snider, all her music is autobiographical. “It’s all informed by my life experience,” she has said. When the North Carolina Symphony invited her to write a piece exploring her family history in the state—her father grew up in Salisbury, NC—her imagination took off. “This commission created a uniquely personal, more intensely autobiographical writing space inside my head. I called upon specific childhood memories to trigger musical ideas, something I don’t usually do. I’d take a walk and think about the time my brother and cousin and I were down by the train tracks when I was 8 and my brother said something funny—how it felt when the train whooshed by, how my cousin’s laugh sounded, how the air smelled—and I’d hear a melodic idea. I’d work with that material while thinking about my Dad’s funeral, and I’d conceive of the material in a new way harmonically or rhythmically.”
She describes composing Hiraeth as a process of summoning those memories, then layering and juxtaposing them, the way memory and grief do. Her title is a Welsh word that the University of Wales defines as “homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed; a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness.” Oxford and Merriam Webster define it as “a homesickness for a home you cannot return to, or that never was.”
When the prospect arose of an accompanying film by Mark DeChiazza, Snider was thinking in terms of landscape, architecture and sky. Because her piece focuses on family, DeChiazza suggested she involve her children and her uncle (her father’s twin). Snider recalls, “We set about re-creating some of my father’s, uncle’s and my childhood experiences in North Carolina. The result is something hazy and atmospheric, somewhere between memory and dream.”
Snider was born and grew up in Princeton. She attended Wesleyan University, then earned an M.M. and Artist Certificate at the Yale School of Music. She won the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award in 2013 and is the recipient of many other honors. Her teachers have included Martin Bresnick, Marc-Andre Dalbavie, Aaron Jay Kernis, Ezra Laderman, David Lang and Christopher Rouse. She divides her time between Princeton and New York City.
Instrumentation: piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (vibraphone, slapsick, tenor drum, snare drum, bass drum, large suspended cymbal, small splash cymbal, small tam tam, glockenspiel, caxixi, crotales, triangle, celeste, marimba), piano, harp and strings.
HOLST: The Planets, Suite for Large Orchestra, Op. 32
Born: September 21, 1874, in Cheltenham, England
Died: May 25, 1934, in London, England
World Premiere: September 29, 1918, in Queens Hall, London.
NJSO Premiere: 1999–2000 season. Sergiu Comissiona conducted.
Duration: 51 minutes
Homage to Schoenberg and Stravinsky
When Gustav Holst began work on The Planets in 1914, he had thought about composing a large orchestral suite for some time. This one began with the title Seven Pieces for Large Orchestra, an homage to his contemporary Arnold Schoenberg, whose Five Pieces for Orchestra (1909) Holst greatly admired. Most critics compare The Planets to Schoenberg’s Pieces or to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1913), both of which were certainly influential. In terms of orchestral precedent, the best comparison is to Bedřich Smetana’s Má vlast (My Fatherland), six movements loosely linked by the course of a great river, each of which functions as a discrete tone poem.
A Collection of Contradictions
The Planets is full of paradoxes. One irony is that Holst wrestled with large forms, uncomfortable with the structural constraints that symphonies and concerti presented. Yet in this collection of orchestral movements, he composed one of the most monumental pieces in the literature. Another contradiction is that The Planets was written from 1914 to 1917, and is thus generally classified as a war work. Yet its relentless, menacing first movement—“Mars, The Bringer of War”—was fully drafted before Great Britain entered the war. Thus it is certainly not Holst’s reaction to the horror of military conflict; his daughter and biographer, Imogen Holst, deemed the movement prophetic.
A Journey through Life
We would do better to look at the progression of character that Holst makes through his seven movements: from war (Mars) to peace (Venus), thence to a messenger (Mercury) who ushers in first jollity (Jupiter), then old age (Saturn). Finally we are introduced to magic (Uranus) and mysticism (Neptune). In a way, Holst is taking us as listeners on a journey through life, not only from a temporal standpoint but also from a spiritual one. Thus Venus here is a palliative to war, rather than a symbol of romantic love. She tempers the brutality and violence of Mars’ music, with reminders of beauty and refinement.
In “Mercury,” which functions as a scherzo movement, Holst gives vent again to adolescent energy and enthusiasm. He is herald to Jupiter, whose irrepressible joviality has made this central movement the best known and most popular of the seven. From here we encounter the darker, more abstract side of Holst’s personality. “Saturn” is the consummate mood piece, confronting us with fear of mortality. The sorcerer of Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice clearly had at least a rhythmic impact on Holst’s evocation of “Uranus the Magician.” Mystery and the occult reach their peak in the finale, “Neptune,” which adds a wordless chorus of treble voices to evoke the transcendent boundlessness of the universe.
The Planets abounds in opportunities for every section of the orchestra and most of the instrumental principals, to an extent that rivals a concerto for orchestra. Holst’s extraordinary range of mood, color and expression makes The Planets an engrossing and powerful listening experience.
Instrumentation: four flutes (one doubling piccolo, one doubling bass flute), three oboes (one doubling bass oboe), English horn, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, contrabassoon, six horns, four trumpets, two tenor trombones, bass trombone, two tubas, six timpani (requiring two players), percussion (including side drum, cymbals, bass drum, triangle, tambourine, bells, tam-tam, xylophone, and glockenspiel), celeste, two harps, organ strings and treble chorus.