top of page

Program Notes: The Heart of the Matter


Anna Clyne

Within Her Arms (2009)

Edward Elgar

Serenade for Strings (1892)

Allegro piacevolte



Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Andante cantabile (1871)

Giacomo Puccini

I crisantemi (The Chrysanthemums) (1890)


Program Notes

By Caitlin Custer

In this program, composers challenged by love, life, and death test their mettle.


Within Her Arms

Anna Clyne

Born March 9, 1980, London, England

Within Her Arms is grief, captured. The opening strings seem to ache, the breath hitching in their chests. Anger wrestles under the weight of sadness. Time becomes meaningless. Then: something changes, softness appears.

Composer Anna Clyne was taken completely by surprise. She was working on an “energetic, chaotic” piece. Then the call came: her mother had unexpectedly passed away.

“I sat at the piano with a candle and a beautiful photo of her from that week,” she says. “And I just wrote this music over the course of the next 24 hours. It was my instinct to process this by writing music. I felt very close to her through that process of writing.”

Clyne says that people often tell her how deeply the work—one of her most-performed—touched them. That connection is powerful to her: “Out of a lot of sorrow came something that I’m able to share with other people.”

Clyne’s own program note includes the following:

Within Her Arms is music for my mother, with all my love.

Earth will keep you tight within her arms dear one—

So that tomorrow you will be transformed into flowers—

This flower smiling quietly in this morning field—

This morning you will weep no more dear one—

For we have gone through too deep a night.

This morning, yes, this morning, I kneel down on the green grass—

And I notice your presence.

Flowers, that speak to me in silence.

The message of love and understanding has indeed come.

—Thich Nhat Hanh

First performance: April 7, 2009, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting

First SLSO performance: February 17, 2012, David Robertson conducting

Scoring: Strings

Approximate performance time: 15 minutes


Serenade in E minor, op. 20

Edward Elgar

Edward Elgar

Born June 2, 1857, Broadheath, England

Died February 23, 1934, Worcester, England

Edward Elgar was surrounded by music as a child. His father owned a sheet music and instrument shop and was involved in the local scene as a choral director and organist. The young Elgar excelled at violin and studied scores to learn music theory.

He yearned for more. Elgar spent what money he earned on a weekly trip to London, for his own instruction in violin and composition. He also became the bandleader at a nearby mental institution, honing his compositional craft.

To advance in the music world, Elgar needed a publisher or impresario. But he was unpalatable to the British establishment: Catholic and from a working-class background.

Enter Caroline Alice Roberts, a published poet, daughter of a Major-General, and student of Elgar’s (she was his elder by eight years). To her family’s horror, the two married in 1889, and she proudly took on the role of Elgar’s champion and manager, allowing him more time to focus on composing.

Elgar shows off his skill in writing for his own instrument family—it’s all in the bow. The Serenade opens with a rhythmic pulse that broadens into sunny, lyrical lines. Its central Larghetto combines passion and vulnerability. Finally, a sunset walk in the countryside, complete with sweet remembrances of the piece’s earlier themes.

First performance: 1892, private concert by the Worcester Ladies’ Orchestra Class, the composer conducting

First SLSO performance: October 22, 1972, Leonard Slatkin conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: April 30, 2017, David Robertson conducting

Scoring: Strings

Approximate performance time: 12 minutes


Andante cantabile

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikosky

Born May 7, 1840, Votkinsk, Russia

Died November 6, 1893, Saint Petersburg, Russia

Before Piotr Tchaikovsky became a musical hero of Russia, he trained for a career in civil service. After three years in the Justice Ministry, the call of music proved too strong to ignore any longer. He enrolled in the inaugural class at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and upon completing his studies, landed a teaching gig at the brand-new Moscow Conservatory.

Tchaikovsky’s friend and founder of the Moscow Conservatory, Nikolai Rubinstein, convinced him to present a concert of his chamber music. He hammered out the First String Quartet, one of his earliest mature works, in a matter of weeks.

The Quartet was a hit. According to Tchaikovsky’s diary, it even brought esteemed Russian author Leo Tolstoy to tears.

The Andante cantabile, its second movement, is frequently performed on its own. Tchaikovsky arranged it for cello and string orchestra for cellist Anatoly Brandukov, a former student and close friend. Though Tchaikovsky teased Brandukov in letters, calling him “an extremely feeble and bad cellist,” it’s clear he had great respect for his skill, asking him to “ruin the cello part” he had written for another piece. Likewise, Brandukov was a proponent of Tchaikovsky’s works, promoting them in his solo career.

Tchaikovsky was staying with his sister on her idyllic estate when he got the idea for the tune from a craftsman whistling a Russian folk song. The movement is sweet and serene with tender, muted strings. The first theme gives way to a sprightly, dancing section, and a gentle “amen” brings the work to a close.

First performance: March 16, 1871, by members of the Russian Musical Society

First SLSO performance: March 13, 19905, Alfred Ernst conducting

Most recent SLSO performance: July 18, 1998, Emil de Cou conducting

Scoring: Strings

Approximate performance time: 7 minutes

Giacomo Puccini

I crisantemi (The Chrysanthemums)

Giacomo Puccini

Born December 22, 1858, Lucca, Italy

Died November 29, 1924, Brussels, Belgium

Giacomo Puccini came from a long line of church musicians, but he never quite fit the profile. His secular hijinks ranged from complicated romantic affairs to stealing organ pipes. Then, he found opera.

A performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aidi was a thunderclap for Puccini. He enrolled in conservatory, and his first opera, Le Villi, caught the attention of the top Italian music publishing house, which supported the rest of his career.

Puccini dabbled in instrumental works, like today’s Chrysanthemums. He wrote this short elegy in one night following news of the death of a friend. The work, originally written for string quartet, is named for the flower of mourning and lament.

The work pours out of the strings, first delicate, then austere. A rhythmic, moving pattern arrives—time pressing on while bittersweet memories float above. The first theme returns, ending quietly, deeply.

First performance: Probably in early 1890 by the Campanari Quartet at the Milan Conservatory

First SLSO performance: January 17, 2002, David Amado conducting

Scoring: Strings

Approximate performance time: 6 minutes


Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Communications Manager.

Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.


bottom of page