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Program Notes: Slatkin Conducts Strauss (April 22-23, 2023)


April 22-23, 2023

Emmanuel Charbrier

España (1883)

Anthology of Fantastic Zoology (2015)


Richard Stauss

Don Quixote (Fantastic Variation in a Theme of Knightly Character) (1897)


Variation I: The Adventure with the Windmills—

Variation II: The Battle with the Sheep—

Variation III: Dialogue of the Knight and the Squire—

Variation IV: The Adventure with the Penitents—

Variation V: The Knight's Vigil—

Variation VI: The False Dulcinea—

Variation VII: The Ride through the Air—

Variation VIII: The Adventure with the Enchanted Boat—

Variation IX: The Combat with the Two Magicians—

Variation X: The Defeat of Don Quixote by the Knight of the White Moon

Finale: The Death of Don Quixote

Joshua Roman, cello

Beth Guterman Chu, viola


Program Notes

by Caitlin Custer

This program is steeped in Spain, the Spanish language, and those eager to explore. Emmanuel Chabrier was inspired by a trip to the Spanish coast. Richard Strauss and Mason Bates were inspired by literature—one by a legendary Spanish comedy of errors, one by an Argentinian fantasy.

Emmanuel Chabrier
Emmanuel Chabrier


Emmanuel Chabrier

Born 1841, Ambert, France

Died 1894, Paris, France

Emmanual Chabrier’s España opens with unassuming plucked strings, drawing you in to a piece that is charmingly upbeat—you might even find yourself dancing in your seat. Its six-some minutes are full of punchy rhythms, whimsical flourishes, and quick conversations between instrument groups.

Chabrier was a middle-class civil servant with no formal musical training, but he didn’t let that stop him from composing. His love for the arts was obvious, as he spent much of his free time engulfed in Paris’ cultural scene. He was a regular at salons with some of his day’s most noted creatives: composers Gabriel Fauré and Ernest Chausson, artists Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, and writers Stéphane Mallarmé and Émile Zola. After traveling to Germany to see Richard Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde, the 39-year-old Chabrier dedicated himselfto composing full time.

A different trip—this time to Spain—inspired Chabrier to write España. Here he shares in music the folk tunes and dances, notably the jota and malaguena, he witnessed while blending them seamlessly with his own voice. The piece was immediately successful and praised by Chabrier’s contemporaries. Ayoung Gustav Mahler even called it “the start of modern music.”

First performance: November 4, 1883, by the Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris, Charles Lamoureux conducting

First SLSO performance: March 13, 1906, Alfred Ernst conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: May 8, 2015, David Robertson conducting

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

Approximate duration: 8 minutes

Mason Bates
Mason Bates

Anthology of Fantastic Zoology

Mason Bates

Born 1977, Richmond, Virginia

By day, Mason Bates calls himself a symphonist. He’s held residencies with the Kennedy Center and Chicago Symphony, and is one of the most[1]performed living composers of our time. When the sun goes down, you can find him at nightclubs, working as DJ Masonic. A central tenet of his work is the “magical intersection” between music and technology.

When he came across Jorge Luis Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, the potential for that magical intersection was obvious. “A master of magical realism and narrative puzzles, Borges was the perfect writer to create a compendium of mythological creatures,” Bates has said. The 1957 book hosts descriptions of more than 100 creatures from legend and literature. In the preface, Borges writes, “A small child is taken to the zoo for the first time. This child may be any one of us, or, to put it another way, we have been this child and have forgotten about it.” Bates gives us a musical reminder of what it is to be that child with, what he calls, “a psychedelic Carnival of the Animals.”

The Composer Speaks

“Imaginative creatures provoke new sounds and instrumentation, with a special focus on spatial possibilities using a variety of soloists. For example, the opening ‘Sprite’ hops from music stand to music stand, even bouncing offstage. ‘The A Bao A Qu’ is a serpentine creature that slithers up a tower, gloriously molts at the top, then slides back down. The entire movement— like the life cycle of the animal—is an exact palindrome. ‘Nymphs’ features two frolicking clarinets, while ‘The Gryphon’ uses timpani and brass to conjure a flying lion that hunts horses (in this case, the violins). The lyrical core of the piece, ‘Sirens,’ features offstage violins that lure the rest of the strings, one by one, to an epiphany. But it is short lived, as the island they approach devours them in ‘The Zaratan,’ an island-sized animal conjured by tone clusters. The sprawling finale occurs at the witching-hour moment between midnight and dawn (‘Madrugada,’ from the Spanish). This movement collapses the entire work upon itself, as all the animals fuse together in the darkest, deepest part of the forest.”

First performance: June 18, 2015, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,

Riccardo Muti conducting

First SLSO performance: These concerts

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (3rd doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (3rd doubling English horn), 3 clarinets (2nd doubling E-flat clarinet, 3rd doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets (1st doubling piccolo trumpet), 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, celesta, strings

Approximate duration: 35 minutes


Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss

Don Quixote

Richard Strauss

Born 1864, Munich, Germany

Died 1949, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

For another set of fantastic variations and an earlier look at magical realism, we turn back the calendar more than a century with Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote.

Strauss was a musician from the start. His life was immersed in music— piano lessons by age four, composing by age six, and conducting by his teens. In his 20s, he met and married Pauline de Ahna, a soprano whose voice inspired him for the rest of his life. It was in his 30s that things really took off. With an appointment as conductor of the Bavarian State Opera and line of successful tone poems—Till Eulenspiegel, Also sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote, and Ein Heldenleben—his already popular career catapulted to that of a superstar.

Strauss did his best work when he was inspired by a story he could mold into musical form. Tone poems—pieces that aim to set a particular scene— were a hot-button topic during Strauss’ time. While they frequently won popularity with audiences, a fair share of critics found them distasteful. Strauss, for his part, once said that he wanted to “depict a glass of beer so accurately that every listener can tell whether it is a Pilsner or Kulmbacher!”

But back to Don Quixote. Miguel de Cervantes’ epic, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, was an ideal source for Strauss—and the best-selling novel of all time. Originally titled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, it follows the misadventures of an aging knight who, according to Cervantes, “dried up his brains in such sort as he lost wholly his judgement.” His character is ever-changing: powerful one moment, innocent and pathetic the next, then courtly and chivalrous.

The piece includes ten variations, flanked by an introduction and epilogue. Strauss created a cast of characters for us to follow, whom Leonard Bernstein described expertly in a 1968 broadcast. “…the dear old mad man of La Mancha has acquired a new self-image: a man of vision and purpose… sorrowful at all the world’s evil that must be destroyed, yet burning inside with a zeal to destroy it.” Through the solo cellist Strauss gives us “a perfect little portrait—sad, noble, gallant.” And he does the same thing for Sancho Panza, who is heard primarily in the solo viola, but also in the tenor tuba and bass clarinet. Bernstein describes Sancho as “his master’s complete opposite: down-to-earth, practical, talkative, full of cliches, but with a certain wisdom—a perfect straight-man for the old Don, who is forever off on cloud nine.” One more important character remains: the imagined love interested, Dulcinea, represented by the oboe.

The Introduction is in three parts: Don Quixote loses his sanity after reading about knights and decides to become a knight-errant; Don Quixote knight of the sorrowful countenance; and Sancho Panza. Each theme is beautiful, but together they reflect the uncertainty of the story. Is this a fairy tale, a tragedy, a farce, a social commentary, all of the above, or something else entirely?

Variation I: The Adventure with the Windmills

The Don makes a run at an evil giant (in reality, a windmill), collapsing.

Variation II: The Battle with the Sheep

A “great emperor” turns out to be a field of sheep—they can be heard bleating in the winds and brass.

Variation III: Dialogue of the Knight and the Squire

Sancho tries to be helpful while the Don waxes poetic.

Variation IV: The Adventure with the Penitents

The Don attacks a band of robbers. A chantlike motif—which might remind you of the dies irae—reveals them to be a harmless religious group.

Variation V: The Knight’s Vigil

Don Quixote licks his wounds. He longs for an object of desire and courtly love—someone who would appreciate his feats—and he daydreams of Dulcinea.

Variation VI: The False Dulcinea

The pair takes off in search of Dulcinea. Sancho tries to trick the Don by convincing him that she is the first woman they come across. The Don is only further confused, believing sorcery to be at work.

Variation VII: The Ride through the Air

A sweeping theme in the winds and strings—aided by a wind machine in the percussion—lifts the Don and Sancho into the air as they ride flying horses. A constant low note in the double basses tells us that they’re imagining things again, and are in fact still on solid ground.

Variation VIII: The Adventure with the Enchanted Boat

The imagined air ride turns into a water voyage. Their boat capsizes, but they make it to dry land. Abrupt pizzicato illustrates them beating their clothes on a rock to dry out. A woodwind chorale briefly accompanies their prayer of gratitude.

Variation IX: The Combat with the Two Magicians

The Don sights the evil wizards who have kept Dulcinea locked up. In reality, the two are gentle monks, heard in a hymnlike theme in the bassoons.

Variation X: The Defeat of Don Quixote by the Knight of the White Moon

A battle against another knight, who is actually his neighbor attempting to get him back to safety. The neighbor succeeds, “defeating” him and convincing the Don and Sancho to return home. On their march back, the Don considers a quiet life as a shepherd.

Finale: The Death of Don Quixote

The Don arrives home, along with much of his lucidity. He recounts his life, ready for his final and most peaceful journey.

First performance: March 8, 1898, in Cologne, Franz Wüllner conducting, with Friedrich Grützmacher as the cello soloist

First SLSO performance: March 1, 1929, E. Fernández Arbós conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: September 26, 2015, David Robertson conducting, with Daniel Lee as cello soloist and Beth Guterman Chu as viola soloist

Instrumentation: solo cello, solo viola, piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (2nd doubling E-flat clarinet), bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 6 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tenor tuba, bass, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, strings

Approximate duration: 38 minutes


Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.


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