November 13, 2022
St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra
Norman Huynh, guest conductor
Suite in A major, op. 98b, “American” (1895)
Dance of the Paper Umbrellas (2013)
The Firebird Suite (1919)
The Firebird and Its Dance; Variation of the Firebird
Round Dance (Khorovod) of the Princesses
Infernal Dance of King Kastchei—
This concert centers on dance. Emmanuel Chabrier and Antonín Dvořák were inspired by folk dance in their travels, letting the same rhythms flow in their music. Elena Kats-Chernin brings dance to our imaginations, inviting us to join her playfulness and wonder. And Igor Stravinsky ties folklore and dance together in his ballet that flickers one moment and blazes the next.
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—so much so that you might 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 himself to 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. A young Gustav Mahler even called it “the start of modern music.”
First public performance: November 4, 1883, in Paris, Charles Lamoureux conducting
First YO performance: This concert
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
Born 1841, Nelahozeves, modern-day Czech Republic
Died 1904, Prague, modern-day Czech Republic
By his 30s, Antonín Dvořák had attained international acclaim as a composer. He was known for capturing his own Czech culture, especially its folk tunes and dances, in his music. This ability to represent a culture in sound was a massive selling point to the National Conservatory of Music of America, which offered Dvořák a position as Director of the school. They believed Dvořák was the person who could codify the American sound.
From the beginning, Dvořák held firm that Native American and African American music would be the cornerstone of all American music. On both sides of the pond, his views—which he published in New York newspapers— were seen as radical. True to his ideals, he made sure that a quarter of the students at the conservatory were African American. One student in particular, Harry Burleigh, would introduce Dvořák to African American spirituals that influenced much of his later work.
Dvořák cast a wide net when he began familiarizing himself with the sounds already occurring in the U.S. Music from international and domestic immigrants surrounded him in New York. He made a point of seeing a cross-section of America, visiting Boston, Chicago for the World’s Fair, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Omaha, and the Czech village of Spillville, Iowa.
Dvořák created his American Suite for piano, but later returned to the work to arrange it for full orchestra. Its five movements are warm and embracing.
I. Andante con moto – The work awakens in warm, embracing light. An interlude evokes
Dvořák’s famed Slavonic Dances.
II. Allegro – A fast, twirling dance. Rhythmic drive and a glowing oboe solo hint at his
Symphony “From the New World.”
III. Moderato – Marked “Like a Polonaise,” this movement is cheerful and upbeat.
IV. Andante – A glimpse at Dvořák’s Iowa: “It is very wild here, there are only endless acres
of field and meadow…You don’t meet a soul. And so it is sometimes very sad, sad to
V. Allegro – The final movement is action-packed. Triplet rhythms hint at Native American
dances, pushing forward to a brilliant, lush conclusion.
First public performance, orchestra version: March 1, 1910, in Prague, by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Karel Kovarovic conducting
First YO performance: This concert
Instrumentation: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, strings
Approximate duration: 19 minutes
Dance of the Paper Umbrellas
Born 1957, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Elena Kats-Chernin is one of today’s foremost Australian composers. Born in Soviet Uzbekistan, she trained in Russia, Germany, and Australia, and has dozens of works to her name ranging from operatic and orchestral music to music for dance, film, and theater.
Dance of the Paper Umbrellas was commissioned by the Hush Foundation, an Australian nonprofit that commissions artists in order to transform the culture of healthcare through the arts. They write that “The Hush music collection transforms the environment through the use of carefully curated music from some of Australia’s foremost musicians and talents, and is now played in hospitals, homes and shared spaces across the globe.”
Kats-Chernin’s Dance of the Paper Umbrellas is a joyful listen—light and airy, with plenty of playfulness. “The idea for it started,” she writes, “when I visited the leukemia ward at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and witnessed what wonderful work Dr. Catherine Crock (the head of HUSH Music Foundation) and her team do. That experience was still with me, when a few days later I sat at my piano. I wondered what kind of piece I could write that would be uplifting. I wanted to enter the world of magic and dreams. I imagined a cake adorned with multi-colored umbrellas. A dance formed in my head, starting with a pattern in harp, marimba, plucked strings and flutes."
First public performance: December 7, 2013, by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Benjamin Northey conducting
First YO performance: This concert
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, 2 trombones, percussion, harp, piano, celesta, strings
Approximate duration: 4 minutes
The Firebird Suite
Born 1882, St. Petersburg, Russia
Died 1971, New York, New York
Just a few years before The Firebird premiered in Paris, Igor Stravinsky was an undistinguished law student in St. Petersburg wishing he was a composer instead. By chance he met the son of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who was the reigning tsar of Russian composers, and soon was taking lessons with the man himself.
Meanwhile, Sergei Diaghilev had established the Ballets Russes in Paris and began developing an ambitious new ballet with the choreographer Mikhail Fokine. They based it on two Russian folk characters—the magical Firebird and the evil Kashchei the Deathless. At least three established composers turned down the project before Diaghilev took a risk on the 27-year-old Stravinsky. He was the last choice.
Every good ballet deserves its music retooled into a suite, and Stravinsky revisited the piece three times (1911, 1919, and 1945) to adapt it for concert performance. He selected his favorite numbers and reduced the scoring from Diaghilev’s opulent orchestra—which included an overflowing brass section, unusual percussion, and three harps—to a more practical size.
The music emerges from the dark in the lowest depths of the orchestra, setting the stage as Kashchei’s cursed domain. Then the first magical effect: sliding harmonics in the strings, and the Firebird itself appears for its dance (glittering violins, chirping clarinet and flutes). Soon the Prince encounters the 13 princesses (Ronde des princesses), who dance a khorovod—a Russian circle dance, warmly accompanied by solo violin, winds, and cello. But it is a trap—in a sudden eruption of timpani, brass, and xylophone, Kashchei appears for his infernal dance. He is subdued by the return of the Firebird and its lullaby (Berceuse), sung mostly by the bassoon. Peace is restored in the Finale, which slowly builds from the glow of a horn solo into a magnificent full-orchestra celebration.
First performance (ballet): June 25, 1910, at the Opéra de Paris
First YO performance (suite): December 1, 1976, Gerhardt Zimmerman conducting
Most recent YO performance: June 3, 2016, Steven Jarvi conducting
Instrumentation: 2 flutes (second doubling piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, strings
Approximate duration: 22 minutes
Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Communications Manager.
Benjamin Pesetsky is composer and writer. He serves on the San Fransisco Symphony staff and contributes program notes for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Program Notes are sponsored by Washington University Physicians.