Augustin Hadelich is one of the great violinists of our time. From Adès to Paganini, from Brahms to Bartók, he showcases a wide-ranging and adventurous repertoire and is often referred to by colleagues as a "musician's musician."
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles.
At the Concert
At the Concert
At the Concert
At the Concert
At the Concert
At the Concert
The French conductor Louis Langrée has been Music Director of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in New York since 2002 and of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since the 2013/14 season. The Mostly Mozart Festival celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2016, in a programme including Così fan tutte with the Freiburger Barockorchester, the latter following performances at the Aix-en-Provence Festival. With Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, recent and future highlights have included a performance in New York as part of their anniversary season of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series, a tour to Asia and several world premieres, including three Concertos for Orchestra by Sebastian Currier, Thierry Escaich and Zhou Tian.
Guest conducting projects over the next two seasons include Louis Langrée’s debut with the Philhadelphia and Konzerthaus Berlin Orchestras and return engagements with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Wiener Symphoniker and Hallé. With the Orchestre National de France he will conduct Debussy’s opera and Schoenberg’s tone poem based on Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande. He will also return to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Wiener Staatsoper and Opéra Comique in Paris.
Louis Langrée has conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Philharmoniker (in concert in both Vienna and Salzburg) and London Symphony Orchestra. He has worked with many other orchestras around the world including the London Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Santa Cecilia in Rome, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Budapest Festival, Sao Paulo and NHK Symphony Orchestras. Festival appearances have included Wiener Festwochen, Salzburg Mozartwoche and Whitsun, BBC Proms and Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He has held positions as Music Director of the Orchestre de Picardie (1993-98) and Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège (2001-06) and was Chief Conductor of the Camerata Salzburg (2011-16).
Louis Langrée was Music Director of Opéra National de Lyon (1998-2000) and Glyndebourne Touring Opera (1998-2003). He has also conducted at La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Opéra-Bastille and Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dresden Staatsoper, Grand Théâtre in Geneva and the Netherlands Opera in Amsterdam.
Louis Langrée's first commercial recording with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra features Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait (narrated by Dr Maya Angelou) and world premieres by Nico Muhly and David Lang. Louis Langrée’s recordings have received several awards from Gramophone and Midem Classical. He was appointed Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2006 and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 2014.
Augustin Hadelich is one of the great violinists of our time. From Adès to Paganini, from Brahms to Bartók, he showcases a wide-ranging and adventurous repertoire and is often referred to by colleagues as a "musician's musician." Recently named Musical America’s 2018 "Instrumentalist of the Year", he is consistently cited for his phenomenal technique, soulful approach, and insightful interpretations in solo appearances around the world.
International highlights of the 2018/2019 season include his debut with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra Munich and engagements with Belgian National Orchestra, Danish National Symphony, Finnish Radio Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Orchestre National de Lyon, Orquesta Nacional de España, and the symphony orchestras of Bournemouth, City of Birmingham, New Zealand, São Paulo, and Singapore. He will also perform in a 10-concert tour of Germany with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, featuring double concertos with violinist Julia Fischer. In the United States, he will return to the symphonies of Cincinnati, Dallas, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, San Diego, and Seattle, as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.
Summer 2018 saw Augustin Hadelich's debut at the Salzburger Festspiele, performing the Sibelius concerto with the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony, as well as return appearances at the Aspen, Bravo! Vail and Colorado music festivals. Other recent festival appearances include his debut at the BBC Proms, as well as performances with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood and the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom. Mr. Hadelich has also performed at the Britt, Chautauqua (where he made his U.S. orchestral debut in 2001), Eastern, Grand Teton, Marlboro, Rheingau, and Sun Valley festivals.
Among recent international performances are the BBC Philharmonic/Manchester, Concertgebouw Orchestra/Amsterdam, Hallé Orchestra (UK), Hamburg Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Mozarteum Orchestra/Salzburg, Munich Philharmonic, Netherlands Philharmonic, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, NHK Symphony/Tokyo, Sapporo Symphony, Seoul Philharmonic, and the radio orchestras of Cologne, Frankfurt, Saarbrücken, and Stuttgart.
Augustin Hadelich has collaborated with such renowned conductors as Thomas Adès, Marin Alsop, Stefan Asbury, Herbert Blomstedt, Andrey Boreyko, James Conlon, Stéphane Denève, Christoph von Dohnányi, Thierry Fischer, the late Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, James Gaffigan, Alan Gilbert, Hans Graf, Giancarlo Guerrero, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Manfred Honeck, Jakub Hruša, Carlos Kalmar, Hannu Lintu, Andrew Litton, Cristian Macelaru, Jun Märkl, Fabio Mechetti, Juanjo Mena, Ludovic Morlot, Andris Nelsons, Sakari Oramo, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Peter Oundjian, Vasily Petrenko, David Robertson, Donald Runnicles, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Lahav Shani, John Storgårds, Yan Pascal Tortelier, Krzysztof Urbański, Edo de Waart, and Jaap van Zweden, among others.
An active recitalist, Augustin Hadelich’s numerous engagements include appearances at Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw/Amsterdam, The Frick Collection/New York, Kennedy Center/Washington, Kioi Hall/Tokyo, the Louvre, and the Wigmore Hall/London. His chamber music partners have included Inon Barnatan, Jeremy Denk, James Ehnes, Alban Gerhardt, Richard Goode, Gary Hoffman, Kim Kashkashian, Robert Kulek, Cho-Liang Lin, Midori, Charles Owen, Vadim Repin, Mitsuko Uchida, Joyce Yang, and members of the Guarneri and Juilliard quartets.
Augustin Hadelich is the winner of a 2016 Grammy Award – “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” – for his recording of Dutilleux’s Violin Concerto, L’Arbre des songes, with the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot (Seattle Symphony MEDIA). A prolific recording artist, Mr. Hadelich’s newest disc – Paganini 24 Caprices for Warner Classics – was released in January. Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote about this recording: “Anyone who masters these pieces so confidently has, so to speak, reached the regions of eternal snow: he has reached the top.” Other recent discs include live recordings of the violin concertos by Tchaikovsky and Lalo (Symphonie espagnole) with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on the LPO label (2017), and an album of duo works for violin and piano on AVIE in collaboration with Joyce Yang (2016). Previous recordings on the AVIE label include the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and Bartók’s Concerto No. 2 with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Miguel Harth-Bedoya (2015), and the violin concertos of Jean Sibelius and Thomas Adès (Concentric Paths) with Hannu Lintu conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (2014), nominated for a Gramophone Award and listed by NPR on their Top 10 Classical CDs of 2014.
Augustin Hadelich’s career took off when he won the Gold Medal at the 2006 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis. Since then, he has garnered an impressive list of honors, including an Avery Fisher Career Grant (2009); a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship in the UK (2011); Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award (2012); the inaugural Warner Music Prize (2015); a Grammy Award (2016); an honorary doctorate from the University of Exeter in the UK (2017); and Musical America’s “2018 Instrumentalist of the Year.”
Born in Italy, the son of German parents, Augustin Hadelich is now an American citizen. He holds an Artist Diploma from The Juilliard School, where he was a student of Joel Smirnoff. Mr. Hadelich plays the 1723 “Ex-Kiesewetter” Stradivari violin, on loan from Clement and Karen Arrison through the Stradivari Society of Chicago.
CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles. With a determination for greatness and a rich tradition that dates back over 120 years, the internationally acclaimed CSO attracts the best musicians, artists and conductors from around the world to Cincinnati. With new commissions and groundbreaking initiatives like LUMENOCITY®, One City, One Symphony, and the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, the Orchestra is committed to being a place of experimentation.
Louis Langrée began his tenure as the CSO's 13th Music Director in the 2013-2014 season with a celebrated program The New York Times said “deftly combined nods to the orchestra's history, the city's musical life and new music.” Over the Orchestra's 120-year history, it has also been led by Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Jesús López-Cobos, and Paavo Järvi, among others.
A champion of new music, the Orchestra has given American premieres of works by such composers as Debussy, Ravel, Mahler and Bartók and has commissioned works that have since become mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Copland's Fanfare for theCommon Man. The CSO was the first orchestra to be broadcast to a national radio audience (1921) and the third to record (1917). The Orchestra continues to commission new works and to program an impressive array of music. In recent years, the CSO has performed the world premieres of Nico Muhly's Pleasure Ground, David Lang's mountain, Caroline Shaw's Lo and Daniel Bjarnason's Collider as part of the groundbreaking collaboration with the MusicNOW Festival, Cincinnati's premier new music festival, as well as the world premiere of André Previn's Double Concerto. More recent commissions include Gunther Schuller’s Symphonic Triptych, three works set to the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou by T. J. Cole, Jonathan Bailey Holland and Kristin Kuster, as well three new concertos for orchestra by composers Sebastian Currier, Thierry Escaich and Zhou Tian, which will be released on a commercial recording in November of 2016.
The CSO was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and continues to tour domestically and internationally, most recently to Europe in 2008 and to Japan in 2009, including two concerts at Tokyo's Suntory Hall and the CSO's first-ever nationally televised concert in Japan. The CSO has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall 48 times since its debut there in 191, most recently to rave reviews in May of 2014. In January of 2016, the Orchestra performed at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of the invitational Great Performers series.
LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor | AUGUSTIN HADELICH violinist
An American in Paris
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14
• Allegro • Andante • Presto in moto perpetuo
Tzigane, Concert Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra
• Andantino • Scherzo: Vivacissimo • Moderato
This week we explore the works of two great American composers alongside two great French composers, who inspired and influenced one another during the 19th century. We are thrilled to present the first performance of the unabridged version of Gershwin’s iconic tone poem, An American in Paris. Barber’s Concerto for Violin is one of the most beloved violin concertos of the 20th century, and we are honored to welcome back the brilliant violinist Augustin Hadelich, who will also perform Ravel’s virtuosic and hypnotizing Tzigane. In 1918, Edgar Varèse came to Cincinnati to conduct the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and this weekend we will perform the original 1922 version of his unique work Amériques, which will utilize 141 musicians. —Louis Langrée
Born: September 26, 1898, Brooklyn, New York Died: July 11, 1937, New York Work composed: early 1928–November 18, 1928 Premiere: December 28, 1928, New York Philharmonic, Walter Damrosch conducting Instrumentation: 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 saxophones doubling on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, snare drum, crash cymbals, triangle, xylophone, glockenspiel, ratchet, suspended cymbals, tenor drum, wood block, bass drum, 2 tom-toms, 4 taxi horns of different pitches, celeste, strings CSO notable performances: These performances are the world premiere of the critical edition of the unabridged work. The CSO previously performed the 2017 Clague critical edition in March 2017, Louis Langrée conducting | Also under Louis Langrée, the CSO performed the 2017 critical edition on its 2017 Asian (China) and European (Belgium and France) tours. In previous editions, CSO performances date back to 1929. Duration: approx. 20 minutes
Like André Previn but more than half a century earlier, George Gershwin was equally attracted to and accomplished in popular and classical music. Despite his enormous success as a creator of popular songs and musical comedies, and the popularity of the symphonic works Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F, Gershwin was unsure of his abilities as a classical composer. His music had received some criticism for looseness of form, and he was sufficiently insecure at orchestration that he often sought outside advice. He felt what he truly needed was a teacher.
He thought he found the perfect instructor when he met Maurice Ravel, who was in New York at the beginning of a four-month concert tour of the U.S. Ravel had been impressed by Gershwin’s musical Funny Face and wanted to meet the talented American. The two men became acquainted in 1928 at a party in honor of Ravel’s 53rd birthday [see photo on page 51]. Gershwin entertained the party guests by playing his own piano pieces. Ravel was astonished at Gershwin’s technical prowess, artistry and ability to project complex jazz-inspired rhythms with ease.
The two composers became friends. Gershwin took Ravel to Harlem nightclubs to hear authentic jazz, which made a considerable impact on the Frenchman. Gershwin finally screwed up his courage and asked Ravel to give him some composition lessons. Ravel refused, saying that he would just end up writing “bad Ravel” instead of his own spontaneously melodious music. The French composer did, however, offer a letter of introduction to Nadia Boulanger, the great French pedagogue who taught many of America’s most promising composers, including Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Virgil Thomson, David Diamond and Walter Piston.
As Gershwin was planning a trip to Paris, he looked forward to meeting Boulanger. In March he set sail first for England, where his show Oh, Kay! was playing in London, and then to Paris. This was the third and, as it turned out, last time Gershwin visited France. He had two specific goals: he wanted to compose an orchestral work called An American in Paris, inspired during his first trip to France, and he wanted to find a composition teacher—preferably Boulanger. As soon as he arrived in Paris, Gershwin had a piano moved into his hotel suite, so that he could compose. Then he set off to see Boulanger, armed with the letter from Ravel.
He played some of his piano compositions for the master teacher, whose reaction was similar to Ravel’s. Not easy to impress, Boulanger was overwhelmed by Gershwin’s natural lyricism. She felt that her academic approach to composition instruction might hamper his effusive talents. She too declined to teach him.
Gershwin next hoped to find a teacher in Stravinsky. When he met the Russian composer at a party, he asked him directly. Stravinsky replied, “How much money do you make in a year, Mr. Gershwin?” Taken aback, the American replied that the sum ran to six figures. “In that case,” Stravinsky replied, “I should study with you!” Stravinsky’s witty refusal marked the end of Gershwin’s search for a teacher in Paris, although he did later try to work with Arnold Schoenberg, who also refused to teach him.
In the meantime, Gershwin was making progress on An American in Paris. One day, he asked his friend Mabel Schirmer where he could purchase some taxi horns like those heard throughout Paris. She took him to some automobile parts shops, where he listened carefully to every available horn. He bought several and brought them back to his hotel room. He planned to use them in his new work, in order to invoke the sounds of Paris in a literal way.
After three months, Gershwin began his journey back to New York—loaded down with mementos of Paris, gifts, the collected piano works of Debussy, two versions of An American in Paris (neither finished), and cartons containing taxi horns. He had by this time received a commitment from conductor Walter Damrosch to premiere An American in Paris with the New York Philharmonic a few months hence. He completed the piano sketch soon after returning home, and the orchestration a few weeks later. The premiere followed at the end of 1928, with four taxi horns among the percussion instruments.
Although the work was intended as pure concert music, its Charleston-like rhythms, jazz-inspired syncopations, blues-like trumpet melody (complete with saxophone accompaniment), and occasional Gallicisms made it a natural vehicle for the dance. Several choreographies were based on Gershwin’s score, most notably in the 1929 Ziegfeld musical Show Girl and in Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 Academy Award-winning film An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Nina Foch.
For these performances, the CSO will be performing an unabridged version of the critical edition of An American in Paris prepared by the Gershwin Initiative at the University of Michigan in 2017. The most significant update to this edition is the tuning of the taxi horns. The new Critical Edition proposes that the letters (A, B, C, D) on Gershwin’s original handwritten score refer to labels of the horns themselves, not their actual pitches. This edition uses A-flat, B-flat, high D and low A, as indicated in a 1929 recording supervised by Gershwin himself. Additional differences can be found in the saxophones, and in the restoration of Gershwin’s original, jazzy intentions. 104 measures of music were also recovered and included in this unabridged edition.
KEYNOTE. After completing the sketch but before orchestrating An American in Paris, Gershwin described the work in an interview:
This new piece, really a rhapsodic ballet, is written very freely and is the most modern music I’ve yet attempted. The opening part will be developed in typical French style, in the manner of Debussy and [the group of composers known as] the Six, though the tunes are all original. My purpose here is to portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere.
The opening gay section is followed by a rich “blues” with a strong rhythmic undercurrent. Our American friend, perhaps after strolling into a café and having a few drinks, has suddenly succumbed to a spasm of homesickness. The harmony here is both more intense and simple than in the preceding pages.
This “blues” rises to a climax, followed by a coda in which the spirit of this music returns to the vivacity and bubbling exuberance of the opening part with its impressions of Paris. Apparently the homesick American, having left the café and reached the open air, has downed his spell of blues and once again is an alert spectator of Parisian life. At the conclusion, the street noises and French atmosphere are triumphant.
—Jonathan D. Kramer
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14
Born: March 9, 1910, West Chester, Pennsylvania Died: January 23, 1981, New York Work composed: 1939–1940 Premiere: February 7, 1941 in Philadelphia, Eugene Ormandy conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra. Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, snare drum, piano, strings CSO notable performances: 9 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: April 1978, Leonard Slatkin conducting; Jaime Laredo, violin | Most recent: February 2016, Louis Langrée conducting; Simone Porter, violin | The CSO also performed this work under the direction of Jesús López-Cobos on its 1995 tour of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Canary Islands, with violinist Alyssa Park. Duration: approx. 25 minutes
It has come to the CSO’s attention that the program note describing Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Op. 14) is outdated. Recent research has brought to light new information about the so-called “scandalous” history of the Concerto’s commissioning. The Fanfare notes written by musicologist Jonathan Kramer, PhD (1942–2004), reflect the early 1980s scholarship of Nathan Broder (Barber biographer) and Don A. Hennessee (Barber bibliographer). But a recent discovery of letters and other primary source materials tells a different story, one that is more benign and reflects the work-a-day nature of music commissions. In short, after receiving the first two movements of the concerto, which violinist Iso Briselli liked very much, Briselli encouraged Barber to consider a more virtuosic third movement. Barber took this suggestion to heart, however without further collaboration or input from Briselli. In the meantime, Briselli’s coach/teacher Albert Meiff reviewed the first two movements of the concerto. Meiff was overtly critical of them to the point of strongly discouraging Briselli from premiering the concerto in its current state and, believing he was protecting Briselli’s best interests, writing to the concerto’s patron Samuel S. Fels to share his criticism while suggesting that he advise Barber on revisions to the violin part and the completion of the third movement. When Barber returned the third movement, without input from Meiff, in late November of 1939, Meiff’s efforts to convince Briselli that premiering the concerto would damage his reputation had already succeeded. Ultimately the work was not premiered until February 1941 by violinist Albert Spalding and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
KEYNOTE. The concerto was premiered by still another violinist, Albert Spalding. When people heard the work, they were struck by the stylistic differences between the first two and the last movements. The consonant lyricism of the earlier parts is replaced by a more angular dissonance in the finale. It then seemed that Barber was turning away from his conservative tonal style toward a more experimental idiom, but in retrospect it appears more that he was expanding his range of expression to include the aggressive alongside the gentle. He never stopped writing lyrical music.
It was tempting to understand the dissonances in the third movement as a response to the war. Perhaps critics were subliminally influenced by knowledge of Stravinsky’s Symphony in C, in which two dissonant movements follow two consonant ones. Stravinsky attributed his symphony’s change of style in part to the war. Listening to Barber’s concerto today, we hear only an integrated work. The differences between the movements no longer seem enormous, and the idea that the war might have provoked a change of style in the work of a composer who never personally experienced the horrors of armed combat seems naïve.
The first movement is quite traditional. It is unabashedly tonal and thoroughly lyrical. It is cast in a sonata form based on two themes—a long line introduced at the very beginning by the solo instrument and a perky figure first heard in the clarinet. Notice the use of the piano, a rare instrument in the orchestra of a violin concerto. It plays the very first chord and is then silent until the second theme. The biting, non-blending sound of the piano cuts through the orchestra so that we always know whether or not it is playing; it is thus a major source of contrast in the concerto.
The lyricism of the first movement expands in the second, which is based on a beautifully arching long line. The finale, by contrast, is a fast moto perpetuo. For almost the entire movement someone—usually the soloist—plays an unending chain of triplets. Considerable drive and energy are built up in this way. The few places where the triplet obsession is broken are refreshing, if not surprising—the second statement of the second theme (in flute and bassoon, accompanied by snare drum and low piano), the accelerando of the triplets to sixteenth notes in the coda, and the dramatic fermata where, just before the end, the music seems to pause momentarily for a final gasp of breath.
—Jonathan D. Kramer
Tzigane, Concert Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra
Born: March 7, 1875, Ciboure, Basses Pyrénées, France Died: December 28, 1937, Paris Work composed: 1922–1924 Premiere: (violin and piano) April 26, 1924 in London, Jelly d’Aranyi, violinist and Henri Gil Marchex, pianist; (violin and orchestra) November 30, 1924 in Paris, Gabriel Pierné conducting the Colonne Orchestra; Jelly d’Aranyi, violinist Instrumentation: 2 flutes (incl. piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, crash cymbals, orchestra bells, suspended cymbals, triangle, harp, celeste, strings CSO notable performances: 6 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1929, Fritz Reiner conducting; Jelly d’Aranyi (for whom the work was composed), violin | Most recent: May 2003, Jesús López Cobos conducting; Gil Shaham, violin Duration: approx. 9 minutes
Ravel’s spirit had been shattered by World War I. It was only with great difficulty that he returned to writing music. Painstakingly he completed his one compositional effort of the war years, Le Tombeau de Couperin, which had occupied him from 1914 to 1917. Then for two years he composed nothing substantial. He subsequently came out of his depression only long enough to write a cynical picture of pre-war Europe—La Valse (1919–20). After that it took him two full years to compose the wonderful Sonata for Violin and Cello, which is only 16 pages long.
Ravel was depressed not only because of memories of war horrors but also because his mother, to whom he had been deeply devoted, had died in 1916. The composer never fully accepted her death. Furthermore, Parisian society, which Ravel enjoyed immensely but which had been devastated by the war, returned to its former vitality only after a difficult period of adjustment. Ravel was still at the center of musical activities. He was vice president and then president of the Independent Musical Society, which presented concerts of contemporary music of all countries. But things had changed. He found that he no longer represented the avant garde, as he had before the war. He saw his position as a leader in new music taken over by a new generation—Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Prokofiev, and others. “The new sounds in the air,” explains Ravel’s biographer Arbie Orenstein, “were those of jazz, polytonality, and atonality, as the lush velvet of impressionism gave way to the hard steel which had been prophesied in The Rite of Spring.”
Ravel was an active member of a group of artists and intellectuals that spent countless hours in Parisian cafés, exchanging lively opinions. The composer had a lot to think about: the cultural ramifications of the war, the new music he heard in the concerts his Society put on, the aesthetic implications of the new avant garde style, and the heady ideas picked up in cafés. With great effort he managed to complete the Sonata for Violin and Cello, which had been “dragging on,” as he put it, for a year and a half. After that, he settled into a long period of creative inactivity. He was supposed to be working on an opera, L’Enfant et les sortilèges, but instead he composed nothing other than a few small pieces and orchestrations of other composers’ works (including Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition).
One evening in July 1922, Ravel attended a private concert where he heard the superb Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi perform his Violin and Cello Sonata. Later that evening Ravel asked d’Aranyi to play some authentic gypsy melodies. She obliged, and he kept asking to hear more. The “evening” continued until 5 a.m. Ravel, like such composers as Liszt, Brahms, and Dvořák before him, was fascinated by both gypsy folk music and the gypsy manner of violin playing. (Coincidentally, it was for d’Aranyi that Bartók was at this time writing his two folk inspired violin sonatas.) The idea for Tzigane was born that night. A few days later Ravel sent a telegram to another violinist, Hélène Jourdan Morhange, who had advised him while he was composing the sonata and who had recently premiered that work: “Come quickly and bring the Paganini Études with you.” He wanted to learn as much as he could about violin virtuosity.
Ravel’s mental block against composing did not disappear. It was two years before he actually completed his modest gypsy work for violin and piano, and then only two days before its first performance. Thus D’Aranyi had to learn the fiendishly difficult solo part in an amazingly short time, yet she succeeded in dazzling critics and listeners alike at the London premiere. A few months later Ravel orchestrated the work, and d’Aranyi again impressed the audience when she premiered the new version.
Ravel made a third version of Tzigane, for violin and an instrument called a luthéal. This now forgotten instrument was attached to a piano to make it sound like a cimbalom, a Hungarian folk instrument similar to a hammered dulcimer. The luthéal soon lost what small appeal it had had, and this version of Tzigane is no longer played.
Although Ravel never fully recovered from his compositional lethargy, he was finally, after the composition of Tzigane, able to undertake and complete a number of major works.
KEYNOTE. The title Tzigane means “gypsy.” It refers both to the work’s typically Hungarian rhythms and melodic figures and to its stylization of gypsy violin playing. The extraordinary demands on the soloist far exceed what a folk violinist could manage. Still, the flavor of folk music is always present. Ravel subtitled the piece Rapsodie en Concert, and he described it as “a virtuoso piece in the style of a Hungarian rhapsody.”
The piece owes its style equally to its two inspirations: folk music and the spectacular violin writing of Paganini. For example, the opening unaccompanied cadenza, which occupies more than a third of the piece, explores the typically Hungarian harmonic minor scale while it exposes the violinist to ever greater technical demands. The melodic line moves gradually upward, although Ravel directs the soloist to remain on the lowest string (the G string) for a considerable time. Thus the sound gets more and more intense as the melodic line rises. When the other strings are finally used, it is for spectacular multiple stopping (playing several notes at once). After the orchestra enters, the work becomes an incredibly virtuosic concerto, in which all manner of violin tricks—perpetual motion, rapid harmonics, left hand pizzicati in the midst of bowed arpeggios, quadruple stops, extremely high writing—are accompanied by Ravel’s typically imaginative orchestration.
—Jonathan D. Kramer
Born: December 22, 1883, Paris Died: November 6, 1965, New York Work composed: 1921 (it is referred to as the 1922 version, however) Premiere: April 9, 1926 in Philadelphia, Leopold Stokowski [former CSO Music Director] conducting The Philadelphia Orchestra; Varèse revised the work in 1927 and the premiere of the new version occurred May 30, 1929 in Paris, Gaston Poulet conducting the Orchestre des Concerts Poulet Instrumentation: 4 flutes, 3 piccolos, alto flute, 4 oboes, English horn, heckelphone, 4 clarinets, E-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 4 bassoons, 2 contrabassoons, 8 horns, 10 trumpets, 8 trombones, 3 tubas, 2 timpani, bass drum, boat whistle, castanets, crow call, crash cymbals, glockenspiel, lion’s roar, low rattle, rute, siren, siren whistle, sleigh bells, snare drum, 2 suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tambourine, triangle, whip, xylophone, 2 harps, celeste, strings CSO notable performances: These are the first CSO performances of the original 1922 version of Amériques; the CSO has performed the 1929 version on four previous subscription weekends between 1982 and 2015 | Varèse conducted the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on March 17, 1918 (shortly after he moved to this country), in a program that included Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin, Bizet’s “Pastorale” from L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2, Verdi’s “Ah fors’ è lui/Sempre libera” from La Traviata, Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia, Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies, Charpentier’s “Depuis le jour” from Louise, Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Duration: approx. 26 minutes
We all wonder sometimes what it would be like if we could (or had to) start our lives all over. Yet few people—at least, few composers—have ever done so more completely and more uncompromisingly than Edgard Varèse.
Born in France and raised in part in Italy, Varèse studied at the Schola Cantorum in Paris and later at the Conservatoire. As a young man he mingled with such luminaries as Picasso, Max Jacob and Fernand Léger. Among composers, Claude Debussy and Erik Satie noticed his talents and became his friends. In 1908 Varèse went to Berlin where he spent the better part of the next seven years, receiving encouragement from Richard Strauss and Ferruccio Busoni. His orchestral work Bourgogne was performed in Berlin thanks to the personal support of Strauss. Varèse later destroyed the score of Bourgogne; the rest of his works perished in a warehouse fire in Berlin. So when Varèse arrived in New York in December 1915, he quite literally had to start over both personally and professionally. (“He had $90 in his pocket and knew only two words of English,” asserts biographer Fernand Ouellette.)
The personal and the professional aspects, of course, were merely reflections of one another. Varèse’s move to the United States during World War I was but the outward manifestation of the important intellectual development that had begun during the last European years. In general, Varèse felt that Western music was too restricted by constraints imposed by traditional patterns of form and metric rhythm, as well as the tempered system of twelve chromatic notes. As he put it in a lecture given during the last years of his life, “my aim has always been the liberation of sound—to throw open the whole world of sound to music.” His innovations, far more radical than those of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Ives or Bartók, were aimed at discovering sounds that had not been used in musical works before. He heard these sounds clearly in his head, and strove to realize them with the technical means at his disposal. Many of Varèse’s ideas could only materialize after the advent of electronic music. He was in his seventies when he was finally able to write a Poème électronique (1958) for Le Corbusier’s Philips pavilion at the World’s Fair in Brussels.
Amériques, the first composition Varèse wrote in the United States, and thus his earliest surviving work, embodies the composer’s vision with uncommon imaginative power. The orchestral forces are among the largest ever assembled; they allowed Varèse to achieve the variety of timbres as well as the sheer “critical mass” required for a true “liberation of sound.” Percussion writing has never been this complex: the polyrhythms are perceived as an intricate tapestry of sound color. Of particular importance is the siren, which Varèse included in several of his scores, not because of any emotional associations but because it provided a continuum of pitch (a glissando of sorts) going beyond the twelve-tone system. The instruments playing regular pitches, dominated by the 21 brass players, project what Varèse called a “pure sound” that “does to harmonies what a crystal prism does to pure light. It scatters it into a thousand varied and unexpected vibrations.”
The title Amériques has given rise to many speculations about a possible program behind the piece. Varèse did say that his first impressions of New York were not visual but aural ones:
For the first time with my physical ears I heard a sound that kept returning in my dreams as a boy—a high whistling C-sharp. It came to me as I worked in my West Side apartment where I could hear all the river sounds—the lonely foghorns, the shrill peremptory whistles—the whole wonderful river symphony which moved me more than anything ever had before....
Yet Amériques is not a programmatic piece in the narrow sense. Varèse pointed out that the title, emphatically in plural, had to be understood as “symbolic of discoveries—new worlds on earth, in the sky, or in the minds of men.”
KEYNOTE. Varèse’s music makes as few references to music from the past as possible. There is, perhaps, only one work by another composer to which Amériques owes a tangible debt: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. (Varèse was present at the famous scandal during the ballet’s 1913 premiere.) The Rite had just begun to make the transition from icon of barbarism to established modern classic when Varèse appropriated certin melodic and rhythmic elements from it and took them to a considerably higher level of abstraction and complexity. The folk melodies that are readily discernible in The Rite are gone in Amériques, but are occasionally alluded to in some melodic fragments and ostinatos (pattern repetitions). Yet Varèse was not writing ballet music and thus could afford to divest himself of the last remnants of any “constraints imposed by the traditional patterns,” which are still present in Stravinsky.
Amériques negates the very concept of musical form based on a gradual unfolding of events, in which each section builds upon the previous one either by continuation or by contrast. It is not a “linear” piece but rather one proceeding in complicated zigzags and surprising fits and starts. Yet the work does not lack its internal logic and coherence: the sinuous alto flute solo at the beginning and the violent eruptions at the end make for a compelling structural arc. The framework is not unlike, once more, The Rite of Spring, with its opening bassoon solo and concluding wild “Sacral Dance,” but it is filled in quite differently. There are numerous changes of texture and tempo, but one never knows what the next change will be or when it will occur.
Despite all this unpredictability, there are a few constants in the piece. A number of recurrent melodic fragments, heard in different instrumental guises and rhythmic shapes, are always recognizable by a certain succession of intervals. Toward the end of the piece, in a fast and rhythmic section that is the equivalent of the “Sacral Dance,” the three piccolos and two flutes play a long theme consisting of repeated notes, scalar segments, and a characteristic formula where a rise of a perfect fifth is immediately followed by a return to the original pitch (D-A-D).
All of these elements, heard separately at different moments earlier, are finally brought together in a configuration that, although lacking the symmetrical shape of a classical melody, is a melody nonetheless. It ushers in a climactic ending that is just about the only traditional feature of the piece.