Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 7:00 pm
Sergio and Odair Assad, guitars | Clarice Assad, composer | Timothy Russell, conductor
Online and phone sales are now off. Tickets can only be purchased in person at the Southern Theatre Box Office starting at 5pm.
|2nd Balcony (use password BALC)|
Le Tombeau de Couperin
Joseph Maurice Ravel was born at Ciboure, Basses Pyrénées, France, on March 7, 1875, and died in Paris on December 28, 1937. He composed Le Tombeau de Couperin first as a suite in six movements for solo piano between 1914 and 1917. In 1919 he orchestrated four of these movements. The first performance of the orchestral suite took place in Paris on February 28, 1920, with Rhené-Baton conducting. The score calls for a modest orchestra of two flutes (second doubling piccolo), oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, trumpet, harp, and strings. Duration is about 17 minutes.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, French poets frequently wrote short poems—or assembled collections of such poems—commemorating the death of a notable person. Such poems were called tombeaux (“tombstones”). Usually the deceased person to be so honored was of the high nobility, though occasionally the death of a great poet, like Ronsard, might generate an outpouring of literary tributes. During the seventeenth century the tombeau tradition was adopted by French composers, who wrote their works most frequently for solo lute or solo harpsichord, usually in the form of a slow, stately dance movement. A group of French composers in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, concerned with recapturing some of the history of the French musical tradition, began reusing the neo classical dance forms in their compositions. Ravel was the first to reuse the term tombeau in his tribute to his great predecessor François Couperin (1668 1733), whose music shares with Ravel’s own a characteristic concern for grace, elegance, and decoration.
The original piano solo version of Le Tombeau de Couperin occupied Ravel some three years, on and off, during the devastating course of World War I, which was personally shattering to him. The piano work was a tombeau not only to the Baroque composer Couperin but also to deceased friends—each of the six movements was dedicated to a victim of the war. The piano version contained the following sections: Prélude, Fugue, Forlane, Rigaudon, Menuet, and Toccata. When Ravel decided to orchestrate the work in 1919, he omitted the Fugue and Toccata entirely and reversed the positions of the Menuet and Rigaudon.
The music of Ravel’s Tombeau is not really an evocation of Couperin’s own style—not even in a very extended way. Ravel simply hoped to pay tribute to the entire French musical tradition (then evidently under attack, culturally as well as militarily, from Germany). In its orchestral guise, the Prélude, with its running sixteenth note figurations, makes extended demands on the articulation and breath control of the woodwind players, especially the oboist. The Forlane is fetchingly graceful, delicate, and highly polished. (Oddly enough, given Ravel’s evident intention of commemorating French music, this forlane is an old dance from Italy, not France!) Ravel was especially fond of the Menuet, which was the last music to be seen on his music rack when he died in 1937. And the Rigaudon, with its brassy outbursts, brings the Tombeau to a cheerful and lively conclusion.
ALBUM DE RETRATOS
(Notes provided by the composer.)
ALBUM DE RETRATOS (Family Portraits) is based on my grandmother’s family photo album, as well as framed prints of family members, which hang throughout her house. The piece begins with a movement called “Faded Photos” and tells the journey of my great-grandfather, Jorge Assad, from his original country, Lebanon, to a small town in the state of São Paulo, called São João da Boa Vista. When he first arrived in the town, there was not much happening there. Although the town has grown exponentially by now, there is still a street named after him.
This movement is named for him simply because he was a man of few words. I do know enough to have been inspired to write music about him: he was physically strong and tough. Ironically, he disliked music altogether and did not allow my grandfather to pursue it. (My grandfather played the mandolin all the same, to such a degree that all of his offspring dedicated their lives to music.) I wouldn’t be here today writing this if it were not for him.
My great-grandfather never returned to Lebanon. He started his life anew. He said the reason he never went back was because the trip was so rough on him, that he would think twice about ever boarding a ship again. My musical composition begins with his arrival in Brazil. Allusions to ocean waves and foghorns are made, and then we’re introduced to the sounds of a type of music called “moda de viola,” which is associated with the region he would call home for the rest of his life. The entire movement focuses on the idea of big changes, the passage of time, the difficulty of adapting to a new culture. There is a bittersweet quality to it, but “Faded Photos” concludes with a happy ending, a sign of good things to come.
The second movement, “Courtship,” is inspired by a framed photograph of him with my great-grandmother, Francisca. It is a formal, black-and-white restored headshot that almost looks like a painting. I always wondered what these days of courtship were like. My grandmother Ica told me that meeting your husband-to-be was a very different story back then. There was almost no physical contact between the lovers and 'touching' was only accepted if a couple was dancing. The dance was, naturally, quite proper and ceremonious. This movement portrays the courtship between Jorge and Francisca, featuring Middle Eastern scales and a dance waltz in 4/4 time, which, to me, symbolizes the awkward formality that dating was like at that time.
“Picture Collage,” the third and final movement, is a juxtaposition of photos spanning three generations, told through the eyes and the memories of a child, i.e., myself. The collage features many motifs, collages, citations and fragments of compositions I heard as a youngster: memories of my grandfather strumming his mandolin relentlessly as he performed one of his favorite songs, a chorinho called “Enigmatica”; allusions to my first trip to France to be with my father, during a time when he was arranging Milhaud’s “Scaramouche,” coupled with a movement from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition called “Limoges.” There are also references to a Brazilian folk tune “Escravos de Jó,” which represents childhood games that I played by myself and also with my brother and cousins. The citation I hold most dearly to my heart is a song that my grandfather and grandmother used to sing together as a duet. What inspired me to write this work was the death of my grandfather. When he passed away in June of 2011, I was hit by an enormous sense of loss. For the weeks that followed, I carried with me several pictures of him. These photos had been taken at different times in our lives, and I could see clearly how much we had changed throughout the years; how time had done its insatiable job. Photos have a way of freezing thousands of memories and moments, which we recall in a split second from looking at a single print. But a picture is just a picture.
More important are the memories and the events that took place when a picture was taken. But what happens when too much time goes by and following generations can no longer remember or identify who the person in the photo is? I myself have looked at pictures of unrecognizable faces of people who were related to me, but because I don’t know much about them, their images and stories will eventually fade into oblivion. This thought, and the fact that this piece was written for two very special members of my family—my father and uncle Sérgio & Odair Assad—led me to the idea of preserving some of these memories in the form of music.
Although the memories I speak of might only make sense to me and to my family, I know that when translated into music, the meaning becomes something entirely different for someone who is purely listening to the music itself. Ultimately, no one even needs to know what inspired a musical composition to be created in order to feel something. And this is what is so wonderful and amazingly powerful about music: it can stand on its own and is able to convey many emotions, detached from everything else.
ALBUM DE RETRATOS was commissioned by ProMusica Chamber Orchestra with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, The State Auto Group, and members of the ProMusica New Music Network. Clarice Assad’s appearance funded in part through New Music USA’s MetLife Creative Connections program.
| AARON COPLAND
Appalachian Spring, Ballet for Martha
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 14, 1900, and died on December 2, 1990. He composed Appalachian Spring in 1943 44 as a ballet score for Martha Graham. The work was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation and was first performed in the Coolidge Festival at the Library of Congress on October 30, 1944. The score calls for an ensemble of thirteen instruments: flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, four violins, two violas, two cellos, and double bass.
American composers’ urge to write in a nationalistic, “American” style ran deeply before Aaron Copland created one way of doing so in the 1920s. His desire to become recognizably “American” led at first to an encounter with jazz elements (though never with actual jazz composition) in the Organ Symphony, Music for the Theater, and the Piano Concerto. Though these works marked Copland as a man to watch and hinted at the course of things to come, they were regarded by many as “difficult” scores. And his style became still more complex at the beginning of the 1930s with the Symphonic Ode, the Short Symphony, and the granitic Piano Variations.
But the social changes of the 1930s brought a general interest among the artists and thinkers with whom Copland was friendly in attracting a wider audience than ever before, in addressing the common man and expressing his hopes, dreams, and desires through artistic means. Copland was one of a generation of composers who shared this desire; he accomplished the change of viewpoint with notable success, simplifying his style for greater accessibility, yet never ceasing to be utterly individual in sound or approach. The simplicity heightened certain elements that had not been apparent in his music earlier—most notably an extraordinary tenderness that never becomes sentimental. At the same time, Copland’s music retained its energy and verve and its sense of space and color in laying out orchestral lines; thus his music is instantly recognizable as proceeding from the same musical imagination, no matter what its style.
Copland had already written two popular ballets based on western themes—a striking achievement in imagination for a composer city born and city bred. Both Billy the Kid, composed for Eugene Loring, and Rodeo, composed for Agnes de Mille, had been notable successes, so it could have been no surprise when Martha Graham asked him to compose a ballet for her. Graham presented him with a scenario to which he invented his music, scoring it for thirteen instruments because that was all that could be accommodated in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, where the premiere was to take place.
Copland had no title in mind as he composed; Graham suggested Appalachian Spring, which was a phrase she had liked from a poem by Hart Crane. The scenario is a simple one, touching on primal issues of marriage and survival, on the eternal regeneration suggested by spring. It is set in the Pennsylvania hills early in the nineteenth century.
The bride to be and the young farmer husband enact the emotions, joyful and apprehensive, their new domestic partnership invites. An older neighbor suggests now and then the rocky confidence of experience. A revivalist and his followers remind the new householders of the strange and terrible aspects of human fate. At the end the couple is left quiet and strong in their new house.
Shortly after the premiere, Copland prepared a version for full orchestra that contains the substance of the ballet, omitting a few passages that Copland felt were of interest only when accompanying the danced story. For many years that was the only way one could hear the music of Appalachian Spring, except in the performances of the Graham company. But in the last decade or two, many performances have chosen to feature the original scoring for thirteen instruments, though still using the shortened form of the orchestral version. This evening’s performance will include the entire ballet score as Copland wrote it for Martha Graham. The score has no feeling of restraint from its necessary limitation to thirteen instruments. Even when writing for full orchestra, Copland had always tended to produce a lean sound, lithe and athletic; the use of the smaller ensemble simply highlights that tendency in his work.
All of Copland’s three major ballet scores make use of old folk melodies, but Appalachian Spring uses the least; the only tune to pre date the composition is the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” which serves as the basis of a series of variations near the end of the ballet. But the tune also plays a background role in unifying the entire score; from the introduction onward, we frequently hear a three note motive that is easily recognizable as the first five notes of “Simple Gifts” in outline form.
From this motive comes the entire triadic “sound” of the ballet. It employs a harmonic style often referred to “white note harmony” (so called because its elements can be found by playing on all the white notes of the piano keyboard); this diatonic sound, even when employed in chords dissonant by traditional harmonic standards, seems fresh and clean compared to the endless, sometimes overheated, chromaticism of late romantic music. When used here to evoke a new world—an open frontier being settled by hardy individuals—Copland makes it by turns strong, assertive, even acerbic, or delicate and tender. Through all its changing moods, Copland’s score calls up a sense of the optimism and courage, the vigor and energy, and the deep wellspring of faith and hope that we like to regard as characteristic of the American experience.
Ancient Airs and Dances #1
Ottorino Respighi was born in Bologna, Italy, on July 9, 1879, and died in Rome on April 18, 1936. He composed three sets of Ancient Airs and Dances—in 1917, 1923, and 1931, respectively. The first suite calls for two flutes, two oboes and English horn, two bassoons, two horns, trumpet, harp, harpsichord, and strings. Duration is about 16 minutes.
Respighi wrote music of extraordinary color and orchestral brilliance, partly, no doubt, a consequence of his having studied orchestration with Rimsky Korsakov during the years he served as principal violist in the orchestra of the St. Petersburg opera. He continued to perform even after returning to Italy and making composition his principal activity. Though his best known works are the three large suites celebrating various facets of life in his native Rome (The Fountains of Rome, The Pines of Rome, and Roman Festivals), Respighi also wrote eight operas. Moreover he was interested in early music, and this led to a number of “archaizing” works like the Piano Concerto in the mixolydian mode, and a Concerto gregoriano for violin. Some of his energetic attention to early Italian music was turned to the act of arranging older works in a more modern guise. The best known of these hybrids between musicology and composition are arrangements of Italian Renaissance and Baroque music under the titles Ancient Airs and Dances and The Birds, derived from compositions for lute and harpsichord, respectively.
They represented both a cheerful updating of the past and an assertion of nationalist pride, since each set drew upon the large body of Italian solo lute music published in the sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries.
The first movement of Suite 1, the courtly Balletto de “Il Conte Orlando,” is a dance piece published by Simone Molinaro in 1599; the “Count Orlando” referred to is probably the title character of Ariosto’s great epic Orlando furioso, which became a source of operas and other musical settings for more than a century.
The Gagliarda was a dance in a moderately quick triple meter; this one was composed by Vincenzo Galilei, an amateur lutenist and composer who was also the father of the great astronomer Galileo. For the movement’s gentler middle section, Respighi draws upon an anonymous Italiana.
The third movement is based on an anonymous Neapolitan Villanella, composed about 1600. The “villanelle” (“street song”) was a popular song form, often with a somewhat rough humor, more vigorous than the refined madrigal. The pizzicato strings suggest a lute that accompanies a longing serenade.
The final movement combines two different dances, both anonymous, from about 1600: a Passamezzo (literally, a “step and a half,” suggesting the rapid dance figure), interrupted by an energetic Mascherata, a type of villanella sung at a masked ball.
© Steven Ledbetter (www.stevenledbetter.com)