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Program Notes for the SLSO's first Chamber Music Livestream: Musical Smirks

Updated: Mar 10, 2021


Livestream, March 14, 2021, at 3:00pm

Richard Strauss, arr. Franz Hasenöhrl

Till Eulenspiegel, einmal anders! (1894)

Sergei Prokofiev

Quintet in G minor, op. 39 (1924)

I. Tema con variazioni

II. Andante energico

III. Allegro sostenuta, ma con brio

IV. Adagio pesante

V. Allegro precipitato, ma non troppo presto

VI. Andantino

W.A. Mozart

Divertimento in D major, K. 136 (1722)

I. Allegro

II. Andante

III. Presto


Program Notes

By Caitlin Custer

This is a program of rogue moments, of creators letting loose.

Richard Strauss puts his own spin on an absurd German folktale. Decades later, an arranger filters the piece into something bite-sized.

Sergei Prokofiev commits to finding his voice, wherever it takes him geographically or musically, unafraid of what others might think.

And we get a glimpse of W.A. Mozart at the roguish age of 16, a young musical athlete.

Richard Strauss

Till Eulenspiegel, einmal anders!

Richard Strauss

Born June 11, 1864, Munich, Germany

Died September 8, 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

Richard Strauss’s legacy is one of intense tone poems, dramatic operas, and mammoth orchestras. He sensed a duty to take on the final bursts of German Romanticism. One thing he was not: all work and no play.

At around 30 years old, Richard married Pauline de Ahna, a successful soprano. Rumors around Pauline’s character swirled. Some called her eccentric, turbulent, brash. Richard described her as “very complex, very feminine, a little perverse, a little coquettish…” In any case—she kept things interesting.

It was during the passionate early days with his new wife when Richard gave us his take on the medieval folktale Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks.

Till is a trickster through and through, with a wide repertoire of practical jokes ranging from puns to crass humor to the obscene. As his surname, “Owl-mirror” suggests, in most episodes he provides a mirror for society to wise up. On the other hand, the same surname might be a very crude Low German pun—an indicator that Till always gets the laugh last.

Sixty years later, violinist Franz Hasenöhrl retooled Strauss’s work into a well-intentioned prank of his own. The huge orchestration is reduced to just five instruments, and the duration is cut in half. The mischievous character remains, both musically and in its joking title: Till Eulenspiegel, once more, differently!

First performance, original version: November 5, 1895, in Cologne, Germany, Franz Wüllner conducting

First and most recent SLSO performance: January 23, 1995; George Silfies, clarinet; Daniel Matsukawa, bassoon; Roger Kaza, horn; Elisa Barston, violin; Erik Harris, double bass

Scoring: Clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, double bass

Performance time: Approximately 9 minutes

Sergei Prokofiev

Quintet in G minor, op. 39

Sergei Prokofiev

Born April 23, 1891, Sontsivka, Ukraine

Died March 5, 1953, Moscow, Russia

Sergei Prokofiev, like Richard Strauss, had recently turned 30. Like Richard, he was newly married to a singer, had found some musical success, was poised to carry on his country’s musical story—thanks in part to studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, help from a Russian musicologist in securing a publishing contract, and a boost from contemporary Igor Stravinsky, who said Prokofiev was the greatest Russian composer of their day, after himself.

By 1924, Prokofiev had witnessed war and revolution. He had drifted from the United States, to Germany, to France, where he joined a community of Russian immigrants living in Paris. It was there that he accepted a commission from a roving Russian dance troupe, who asked for a collection of pieces performable by the quintet who accompanied the group.

The first version of the piece, Trapèze, ran into staging problems. Some accounts pin this on a difficult economy; others on Prokofiev’s difficult music. Either way, Trapeze vanished from performance. Prokofiev was resourceful, though, and had always planned to publish the piece as the Quinet, no matter the fate of the ballet.

Prokofiev’s music dazzles us with the bright lights and acrobatic display of the circus. The Quintet is free and unabashed, straddling the line between funny and scary, owning its strangeness. Characters dance together and fall apart; they step forward to solo, then play disappearing tricks.

First performance: Probably in 1924 as the ballet, Trapèze

First SLSO performance: February 24, 1975; Anthony Lucia, violin (subbing for oboe); Robert Coleman, clarinet; Darwyn Apple, violin; Irene Breslaw, viola; Christopher Carson, double bass

Most recent SLSO performance: December 12, 1983; Marc Gordon, oboe; Tina Ward, clarinet; Deborah Bloom, violin; William Martin, viola; Carolyn White, double basss

Scoring: Oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, double bass

Performance time: Approximately 20 minutes

W. A. Mozart

Divertimento in D major, K. 136

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born January 27, 1756, Salzburg, Austria

Died December 5, 1791, Vienna, Austria

Wolfgang Mozart’s Divertimento bounds gracefully onto the stage.

Mozart was on a visit home following a successful tour of Italy, music’s capitol at the time. At 16, he was already a celebrity in Europe, and held a contract to compose an opera—an enviable symbol even today.

This Divertimento was probably party music for the nobility of Salzburg, where he was concertmaster of the court orchestra. The skilled teenager likely wrote it easily and without much second thought—perhaps to take his mind off of more demanding work. He didn’t even title the manuscript (someone added “Divertimento” to the top of the score later).

Whatever his expectations, the piece was immediately popular and has shown its staying power. Its first and third movements fly by, a well-organized flurry of excitement, while the middle movement gently lilts, encouraging a dance.

First performance: Probably winter of 1772, at a party in Salzburg

First SLSO performance: March 7, 1974, Jerzy Semkow conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: May 21, 2008, Benjamin Zander conducting

Scoring: Strings

Performance time: Approximately 11 minutes


Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Communications Manager.

Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.


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