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Program Notes: Korngold and Dvořák (November 17-19, 2023)

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Program

November 17-19, 2023


Christian Reif, conductor

Randall Goosby, violin



Vítězslava Kaprálová

Rustic Suite, op. 19


Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Violin Concerto in D major, op. 35

Moderato nobile

Romance: Andante

Finale: Allegro assai vivace


Randall Goosby, violin


Intermission

Antonín Dvořák

Symphony No. 7 in D minor, op. 70

Allegro maestoso

Poco adagio

Scherzo: Vivace

Finale: Allegro


 

Program Notes



Program Notes

This program is bookended by music that is firmly rooted in the folk songs and dances of Czech-speaking lands. In between is a transatlantic jaunt to 1940s America, courtesy of a dazzling violin concerto that embraces concert-hall tradition and the then-new sounds of Hollywood film scores.


Conductor Christian Reif, making his SLSO debut, brings an SLSO first: the Rustic Suite of Vítězslava Kaprálová, a promising Czech composer who died at the all-too-young age of 25. Though not widely known outside her homeland, Kaprálová’s colorful and imaginative works are beginning to get their due, thanks most recently to their appearance in the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle.


Following this is a work for which the SLSO gave the world premiere in 1947: Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in the 1930s, Korngold, like many other European refugees, fled to Southern California where he had already begun to forge a reputation in the Hollywood film studios. In the Violin Concerto he blends two worlds by borrowing melodies from his film scores and brilliantly reimagining them into a pyrotechnic display.


Our “there and back again” musical adventure ends with a return to the Czechoslovakia of Antonín Dvořák. Though much darker in character than his Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, Dvořák’s dramatic Seventh Symphony is no less remarkable, brimming with rich melodies and a rhythmic energy that lovingly takes its inspiration from Czech folk music. In a perhaps-not-coincidental turn of events, the young Kaprálová would later take lessons with Vítězslav Novák, who himself had studied with Dvořák, thus bringing the journey full circle.

 
Vítězslava Kaprálová

Rustic Suite

Vítězslava Kaprálová

Born 1915, Brno, Austria-Hungary

Died 1940, Montpellier, France


Vítězslava Kaprálová’s Rustic Suite presents a snapshot of a vivid musical imagination. It incorporates folk songs and dance melodies from the composer’s native Czechoslovakia, at times taking on the rhythmic, hard-edged character of contemporaries like Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók before veering into lush, more Romantic stylings akin to her compatriots Antonín Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana. The folk themes were a request from the music publisher Universal Edition, who commissioned the work in 1938 following the London success of her Military Sinfonietta. The Stravinskian gestures in the Suite reflect her fascination with his Petrushka ballet, while its romanticism suggests the influence of her teacher at the Prague Conservatory, Vítězslav Novák, a former pupil of Dvořák’s.


The resulting stylistic back-and-forth is apparent from the beginning of the first movement, Allegro rustico, when a brash orchestral introduction gives way to a lyrical melody from Moravia (“The nightingale flew over Javorník”). A second, folksier tune from Slovakia—first heard in the oboe—provides an exciting contrast and drives this short movement to its conclusion.


The second movement (Lento - Vivo - Lento) is framed by a tender Silesian folk song (“I had a little pigeon hidden in my wooden trunk”), presented in a lush setting for strings and winds. Its center is a spirited dance from Bohemia—a furiant, which Kaprálová adapted from Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride.


A rhythmic pulse from low strings and brass jumpstarts the final movement (Allegro ma non troppo), which morphs into a cheery folk tune from Bohemia (orchestrated in the manner of a scrappy village dance band). A nostalgic Slovakian melody provides a calmer contrast before a musical surprise. After the Bohemian tune is heard again, Kaprálová reimagines it as a short fugue written in the “strict” manner of Bach. The raucous, folksy energy wins out, though, and—after a musical nod to the first movement—the Suite ends with a joyful shout.


This attractive and spirited music—composed in just three weeks by a composer who was about to turn 24—should have pointed to a flourishing career, but it was not to be. In 1940, a year after the Suite’s premiere in her native Brno, Kaprálová joined the list of composers who’ve died far too young— Mozart, Schubert, Gershwin, and Lili Boulanger, to name a few. Even so, she was strikingly prolific during her short life, and left an impressive catalog of works ranging from art songs to orchestral pieces.


A (short) life in music

Vítězslava Kaprálová’s middle-class parents encouraged her musical talents—her mother was a voice teacher, her father a respected composer, pianist, and educator—and hoped she would take over the family business (a music school), but her heart was set on composing and conducting. She was the first woman to graduate from the Brno Conservatory, before starting advanced coursework at the Prague Conservatory. In 1937 Kaprálová moved to Paris on a scholarship from the French government. There, she met Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. (The two quickly became friends and, later, lovers.) Short on funds and unable to return home following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, Kaprálová tried to obtain a scholarship to Juilliard in 1939. This did not pan out, and she was forced to remain in Paris, relying on financial assistance from friends and aiding the city’s Czech community in the war effort. In April 1940, she married writer Jiří Mucha, but just two months later, she died as a result of complications from typhoid. In 1946 she was posthumously honored with membership in the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Arts.

Kevin McBrien © 2023

First performance: April 16, 1939, with Břetislav Bakala conducting the Radio Brno Orchestra

First SLSO performance: These concerts

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings

Approximate duration: 16 minutes

 
Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Violin Concerto


Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Born 1897, Brno, Moravia

Died 1957, Hollywood, California


The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra has given the first performances of numerous compositions over its 144 years. Many of these are recent works commissioned by the orchestra. But one, which has entered the standard orchestral repertoire, dates back nearly seven decades. This is the Korngold Violin Concerto.


Erich Wolfgang Korngold was the son of a prominent music critic. That middle name was no accident, and, like Mozart, he was a composer child prodigy. Gustav Mahler extolled the boy’s “unbelievable talent.” Richard Strauss reacted to Korngold’s early orchestral scores by declaring: “One’s first reactions to the knowledge that these compositions are by an adolescent are feelings of awe and fear.” Korngold’s music soon was being performed by leading orchestras and soloists. The composer sealed his early reputation with a highly successful opera, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), composed when he was 20.


In the years that followed, Korngold continued to write in a variety of theatre and concert genres. Then, in 1935, the celebrated director Max Reinhardt lured him to Hollywood, inviting him to adapt music by Mendelssohn for his famous film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The success of that project resulted in him dividing his time between Vienna and Los Angeles, before Hitler’s annexation of Austria compelled him to remain in California. He soon became the most respected film composer in Hollywood, much to his father’s disapproval. Among the movies for which he wrote scores were Anthony Adverse and The Adventures of Robin Hood (both of which won him Academy Awards), Juarez, The Sea Hawk, The Prince and the Pauper, and Of Human Bondage.


Korngold’s musical outlook was unapologetically Romantic. A rich harmonic palette and an effusive style of orchestration impart a late-19th-century ripeness to his music, and his sweeping melodic lines recall those of Richard Strauss. These qualities led Korngold’s music to be dismissed and neglected after his death, in 1957, when Modernism was at its zenith in compositional circles, but a recognition of these same qualities has recently given his work a second life. The past four decades have seen a renewed interest in and appreciation of Korngold’s music, and performances of Die tote Stadt, as well as his Violin Concerto and other concert works, have established Korngold as perhaps the last important Romantic composer.

Korngold composed his Violin Concerto in 1945 at the request of the great Hungarian violinist Bronisław Huberman. By the time of its completion in 1945, however, Huberman was exhausted and ailing and keen to return to Europe. The premiere was given instead by Jascha Heifetz, who played it with the SLSO in 1947.


The piece adheres to the traditional concerto form of three movements and each movement borrows themes from film scores that Korngold was writing in the late 1930s, when he conceived the work. The lyrical and noble first movement quotes Another Dawn in its first theme and Juarez for its gentle second subject. The Romance establishes a love scene for violin and orchestra, and its lavish outpouring of melodic ideas is drawn from Anthony Adverse. The Finale provides a decisive change of mood and a rousing conclusion with a set of variations on the opening theme from The Prince and the Pauper.

Adapted from a note by Paul Schiavo © 2014

Premiere and first SLSO performance: February 15, 1947, Vladimir Golschmann conducting the SLSO, with Jascha Heifetz as soloist

Most recent SLSO performance: January 15, 2017, David Robertson conducting, and Gil Shaham as soloist

Instrumentation: solo violin, 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes (2nd doubling English horn), 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons (2nd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, strings

Approximate Duration: 24 minutes

 
Antonín Dvořák

Symphony No. 7

Antonín Dvořák

Born 1841, Nelahozeves, Bohemia

Died 1904, Prague, Czech Republic


On December 13, 1884, Antonín Dvořák wrote to a friend from his home in the Czech countryside: “I am occupied at present with my symphony, and wherever I go I think of nothing except my work, which must be such that it will shake the world—and with God’s help it will.” The composition Dvořák referred to was his Symphony No. 7 in D minor, which he completed in March 1885. His ambitious, world-shaking intent is born out by the music. This is a dramatic, powerful, at times sternly tragic work, and it is regarded by many authorities as the greatest of Dvořák’s nine symphonies. Its creation was prompted by Dvořák’s triumphant visits to England in the mid-1880s, which initiated a steady crescendo of international acclaim for the Czech composer and his music. During the first of these trips, in the spring of 1884, performances of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater and other works generated such enthusiasm that the Philharmonic Society of London decided to commission a new symphony from him.


The importance Dvořák attached to this request partly explains the seriousness with which he approached the work. (His draft of the score reveals a high number of false starts and revisions, and his correspondence concerning it suggests an unusually arduous labor.) But there were other factors. Chief among these was Dvořák’s now firmly established friendship with Johannes Brahms, who was widely considered the foremost living musician, and his desire to live up to that composer’s expectations. A letter Dvořák wrote to his publisher in February 1885 indicates that he had discussed this symphony with Brahms: “I have spent a long, long time on my new symphony, but I want to justify Brahms’s words when he said ‘I imagine your symphony will be quite unlike this one [the placid Symphony No. 6 in D major].’ There will be no grounds for thinking him wrong.”


We can detect Brahms’s influence in the sober tone and expansive scope of Dvořák’s symphony. Yet there are more concrete signs of the affinity between the two composers. The opening moments of Dvořák’s symphony, with their stormy principal theme, sustained low D bass note, and restless meter, recall those of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, in the same key of D minor. And the second theme of this movement, a gentle melody given to the woodwinds, corresponds for its first nine notes exactly with the famous cello solo that begins the slow movement of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, which had been published in 1882.


This is not to accuse Dvořák of plagiarism, nor to imply that his work lacks originality. On the contrary, he handles his melodic materials in a style distinctly his own, one that entails something that Brahms would never have ventured: a certain veiled but undeniable Czech character. The initial theme hints at Bohemian folk music; and throughout the first movement, rustling figures in the strings, together with woodwind calls apparently inspired by birdsong, evoke the Czech countryside where Dvořák composed this symphony.


Dvořák’s early training was not as a composer but as a church organist, and he had once served in this capacity at a modest church in Prague. The initial phrase of the slow second movement, a simple hymn-like melody in the low woodwinds, seems a remembrance of that experience. From this unassuming beginning, the movement unfolds with richness and depth of feeling, as indeed it must to balance the symphony’s substantial opening.


Even more vividly than in the opening movement, the music of the ensuing scherzo has about it an unmistakably Czech flavor. Its music conveys the spirit of a Bohemian country dance and exalts this through symphonic textures. The central section brings more pastoral impressions. (Once again, the winds evoke birdsong.) This prepares a dramatic finale that begins with stern music in D minor but turns, in the final measures, brightly to D major, allowing a triumphant conclusion.


Paul Schiavo © 2012


First performance: April 22, 1885, St James’s Hall in London, the composer conducting

First SLSO performance: February 24, 1911, Max Zach conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: April 23, 2016, Nathalie Stutzmann conducting

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

Approximate Duration: 35 minutes

 
Christian Reif

Christian Reif

Artist


The 2023/2024 season marks Christian Reif’s inaugural season as Chief Conductor of the Gävle Symphony Orchestra in Sweden. He has also served as Music Director of the Lakes Area Music Festival in Minnesota since 2022. In addition to making his SLSO debut, other 23/24 season highlights include subscription concerts with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as summer festival appearances at Grand Teton and Interlochen. He will also conduct El Niño: Nativity Reconsidered, his own chamber music arrangement of John Adams’s opera-oratorio, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and with the American Modern Opera Company on tour.


Active in both North America and Europe, he has also conducted the symphony orchestras of San Francisco, Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Colorado, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and Louisville, as well as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Previous season highlights include appearances with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, and the International Contemporary Ensemble in the Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. In Europe, he has performed frequently with Orchestre National de Lyon, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Munich Radio Orchestra, Hallé Orchestra, and Stavanger Symphony Orchestra.


As an opera conductor, he has led productions of The Merry Wives of Windsor (Juilliard Opera), Pagliacci (Opera San Jose), and Ariadne auf Naxos (Lakes Area Music Festival).


His recordings include the 2022 debut album of St. Louis soprano Julia Bullock, Walking in the Dark, conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra and accompanying on the piano. In 2020 he and Julia Bullock (who is also his wife) had recorded a series of at-home virtual “Songs of Comfort,” and were featured in a special quarantine edition of NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts.

Christian Reif was born in Germany and is a conducting graduate of the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Juilliard School.

 
Randall Goosby

Randall Goosby

Artist


American violinist Randall Goosby regards music as “a way to inspire others” and is committed to being an artist who makes a difference. He is acclaimed for the sensitivity and intensity of his musicianship alongside his determination to make music more inclusive and accessible, as well as bringing the music of under-represented composers to light.


A former student of Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho, he is a graduate of the Juilliard School, an alumnus of the Perlman Music Program, and has also studied with Philippe Quint. In 2018 he was the first prize winner in the Young Concert Artists International Auditions; in 2019 he was named the inaugural Robey Artist (Young Classical Artists Trust in partnership with Music Masters in London); and in 2020 he became an Ambassador for Music Masters, mentoring and inspiring students in schools throughout the U.K. That same year, aged just 24, he was signed exclusively to Decca Classics.


In addition to making his first appearance with the SLSO in these concerts, highlights of the 2023/24 season include debut performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons, National Symphony Orchestra and Thomas Wilkins, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Manfred Honeck, and the Seattle Symphony, also with Christian Reif. He will tour Europe with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, as well as making debuts with the Danish National Radio Symphony and Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Oslo Philharmonic and Ryan Wigglesworth, and Lahti Symphony Orchestra with Roderick Cox.


He will also be Artist in Residence at the Southbank Centre in London, which will include a return to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, performing Mozart under the direction of Gemma New, as well as recital and chamber concerts. Other recital appearances include Chamber Music Cincinnati, Emory University in Georgia, Elbphilharmonie Recital Hall in Hamburg, Perth Concert Hall in Scotland and La Società dei Concerti in Milan.


Randall Goosby plays the Antonio Stradivarius “ex-Strauss” (1708), on generous loan from the Samsung Foundation of Culture.

 

Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.

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