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Gift of Dreams

October 19, 2024

Tchaikovsky’s riveting "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy Overture is paired with the provocative Rautavaara Concerto “Gift of Dreams" performed by pianist Andrew Staupe.

Program

Prelude to Hansel and Gretel .......Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921)

Piano Concerto NO. 3 "Gift of Dreams" ....Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016)
     I. Tranquillo
     II. Adagio assai
     III. Energico 
                      Andrew Staupe, piano 

INTERMISSION 

Romeo and Juliet: Fantasy Overture.....Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
 
 

Program Notes

Piano Concerto No. 3 (Gift of Dreams, 1998) by Einojuhan Rautavaara (1928-2016)
 
Although most audiences have never heard of him, after Jan Sibelius (1865-1957), Einojuhani Rautavaara is probably the best-known Finnish composer of the twentieth century.  He was born in Helsinki and studied at the Sibelius Academy, after which he studied composition in Vienna, Germany, and the US with Aaron Copland.  Among his many influences are Gregorian chant, Gustav Mahler, twelve-tone music, and of course Sibelius.  Critics often refer to his style as “mystical” because of his many musical references to religion and spirituality.
 
Rautavaara's third piano concerto was commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenazy in 1998. This score has an inner logic and spiritual power, enhanced by the radiant coloristic palette that makes Rautavaara's music so atmospheric.
 
There are three movements, though the opening movement almost equals the length the next one. Gently expressive string writing is complemented by that for the soloist, then the latter moves the discourse onto a higher emotional plateau. Brass and bells imperiously sound out the basic melodic motif before the close in a mood of distanced calm. The second movement, marked Adagio assai, opens with ruminative piano writing, the orchestra providing an expressive backdrop. Piano, strings and timpani engage in a more rhetorical discourse, brass injecting an ominous note, then the piano continues in a tranquil dialogue with solo winds. The initial mood finally returns, leading to an ending of spellbound depth. The finale, Energico, opens brusquely, proceeding, by way of several alternately lively and reflective episodes, to a heightened exaltation in which themes from the earlier movements are recalled and transformed. The ending is somewhat inconclusive, the soloist fading into the distance against gently uncear harmonies from brass and strings.  (This note was adapted from the Rautavaara biography by Barbara Blanchard Hong and an essay by Richard Whitehouse.)
 
Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (1870) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
 
Many composers, from Berlioz to Verdi, have been fascinated with the ageless work of Shakespeare.  And in that list, Tchaikovsky is one of the very few whose music speaks with the elemental passion and strife that grip us as do the words of Shakespeare.  Tchaikovsky was just twenty-nine years old when he finished the score, almost the same age as Shakespeare when he finished writing Romeo and Juliet. 
 
The slow hymnlike introduction recalls the calm of Friar Laurence’s cell, and the friar himself is presented by a soulful, organlike passage for woodwinds.  The mood is shattered as the feud between the Montagues and Capulets rages through the orchestra in a fiery Allegro.  There is a long pause until the love theme sounds in the muted violas and English horn.  Next, in the development section, the lovers are rudely interrupted by street brawls.  Love music, the prayers of the good friar and the sword fight music, all mixed together, rise to a great outburst of orchestral fury but this climax is overwhelmed by the love music, only to die away in a despairing lament.  As the star-crossed lovers die in each other’s arms, the overture closes with a series of dark, tragic chords.
 
Overture to Hansel and Gretel, an opera in 3 Acts by Englebert Humperdinck (1854-1921)
 
Humperdinck composed his first opera at the age of 14.  Against the advice of his parents, he attended the Cologne Conservatory and later won a scholarship to study composition at the Royal Music School in Munich.  He won the Mendelssohn Prize of Berlin (similar to the Paris Conservatory’s Prix de Rome) and traveled to Italy where he met Richard Wagner, whose music was to have a significant influence.  Wagner asked for his help in producing the first performance of Parsifal and Humperdinck spent most of 1881-2 at Bayreuth, copying the score and composing extra music for Act 3.  After working with Wagner, Humperdinck took up an appointment in theory and composition at Barcelona, Spain.  He resigned because of the “laziness and ignorance of the pupils and staff” and returned to a teaching job at the Cologne Conservatory, where he was the mentor of Wagner’s son Siegfried.
 
His most famous work, Hansel and Gretel (from the Grimm’s fairy tale) began as a song setting for his sister and moved from a Singspiel into a full opera by 1893.  Richard Strauss conducted the first performance, which was a resounding success.  It was produced at over 50 theaters in its first year.  The overture begins with the moving “family” motive richly orchestrated with horns and bassoon.  This is interrupted by a “dancing theme” (one of the two folk songs actually quoted in the score) and leads to “the lost children theme.”  This is followed by a rather dark melody (the witch enticing the children into her gingerbread house) and the music of the children’s subsequent escape.  The overture closes with the family motive transformed into a solemn hymn of thanksgiving for the safe recovery of the children.  (For more information about
about Humperdinck the composer, not the singer, see Humperdinck:  A Life of the Composer, by Und Gretel.)