January 21 • Mozart and Beethoven • Nashua
Mozart and Beethoven
January 21, 2017 | 8:00 pm | Keefe Center for the Arts (Parking and Directions)
Jonathan McPhee, conductor
Max Levinson, piano
Featuring New World Chorale
Holly Krafka, New World Chorale Artist Director
MOZART Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
SCHOENBERG Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night)
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Toward the Unknown Region
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4
Mozart’s comical overture to The Marriage of Figaro contrasts with Schoenberg’s lush Verklärte Nacht in sound but not in the theme of love. These great works express complex human emotions, one through a lens of humor, the other in a darker scene. Vaughan Williams' stirring Toward the Unknown Region performed by New World Chorale expresses a musical quest, similar to Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, a musical journey in itself.
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Listen to the Works
Overture to Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) K 492, 1786
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
The Marriage of Figaro is the first of the three great operas composed by Mozart in collaboration with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. It is an adaption of Beaumarchais’ politically charged comedy of the same name. While the Mozart and Da Ponte reinterpretation remains humorous, the magnificent music and libretto give this work more emotional complexity and weight than the original.
There are many apocryphal stories concerning Mozart. One such tale suggests he composed a major symphony en route to the city of its premiere. In the case of The Marriage of Figaro, legend has it that as the opening performance approached he was locked in a room until the overture could be completed. In reality we know little except that the opera was composed rapidly over a six-week period.
Unlike most overtures, the bulk of the music was not drawn from the opera but rather written specifically for this brief work, and it is commonly performed as a standalone piece. It was initially conceived as a longer composition that was to include a slower contrasting middle section but Mozart shortened the work and kept all the music in a bright, up-tempo major key. The three memorable themes in this overture are introduced quietly by strings and winds. Horns enter next and are followed by the full orchestra. The overture is a compact, magnificent example of Mozart at his best.
Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), op. 4 (1943 version), 1899
Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Arnold Schoenberg was largely self-taught and composed Transfigured Night early in his career in 1899 for string sextet and later arranged it for string orchestra. This early work caught the attention of leading composers Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, both of whom recognized the significance of this piece and went on to champion the young composer.
Transfigured Night is based on a poem of the same name by Richard Dehmel. The narrative describes a couple’s nighttime walk through a forest, and in this dark setting, the woman reveals to her new lover that she is pregnant with another man’s child. After a period of reflection, the man forgives and fully accepts her and the child she carries. Schoenberg’s music conveys this complex series of emotions in two major sections. It begins quietly in a minor key, reflecting the dark forest and the woman’s anguished mental state. Descending lines in the basses and cellos are countered by ascending lines in the violins reflecting her conflict. The music becomes more agitated as she reveals her secret. About halfway through the work, new thematic material signifies the man’s acceptance of the woman and her unborn child. After a brief pause, the music shifts to a major key and the nervous unsettled mood largely disappears. The music becomes more uplifting, reflecting the warmth of love and its ability to transfigure a difficult situation.
Toward the Unknown Region, 1906
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Toward the Unknown Region was Vaughan Williams' first major choral piece and despite its intermittent Wagnerian echoes (Wagner was an influence that he did want to get over, and it took him quite a time to do so) its obvious inspirational qualities—not to mention its technical savoir faire in terms of the handling of massed voices—made it a success from the first. Toward the Unknown Region was the work of a comparatively young man. But the music, no less than the text, has a transcendent timelessness that relates to any, and every, period in life.
Piano Concerto No. 4, op. 58 in G major, 1806
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto is part of a cluster of major works from the middle period of his creativity. At a private premiere in 1807, it was joined by the Coriolan Overture and the Fourth Symphony. A year later its public premiere included the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies as well as the Choral Fantasy for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra. It was not surprising at that time for concerts to last as long as 4 hours! Beethoven himself was the soloist, but it would sadly be his last appearance in that role.
This concerto is one of the pieces bridging the gap between the classical sensibilities of Haydn and Mozart and the romanticism that Beethoven did much to launch. The first movement begins with the solo piano quietly stating the main theme - this is a break with the tradition of classical era concertos in which the piano waits for an orchestral exposition. Throughout the movement, the main motif and two other rhythmic gestures alternate: triplets (or three notes to each beat) and dotted rhythms (long-short, long-short). The second movement is a dialog between power (the strings) and lyricism (the piano).
The final movement, a Rondo (a form in which at least one theme returns multiple times), is the most lighthearted of the work. At first the piano and strings quietly continue their dialog, but soon the winds enter and the theme is repeated very loudly (fortissimo). Eventually the music heads toward a restful state to a very quiet chord held by the piano. Still quietly, the players shift gears to a Presto (very fast) section and quickly get louder and more energetic, bringing the concerto to a rousing close.
Mozart and Beethoven is sponsored by
Programs are subject to change. Tickets are nonrefundable. Group rates are available. Children age 5+ are welcome. Youth aged 5-15 are admitted free with an adult paying regular price, but all children must have a ticketed seat. Free youth tickets must be reserved by calling our box office Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Exchanges can be made up to 24 hours before the originally scheduled concert date for a fee of $5. Handling fees are waived for subscribers. Online ticket sales are available until 4 p.m. on the day of the concert. The box office at the concert venue opens two hours before the concert.