Overture to Euryanthe
Carl Maria von Weber
As was his practice, Carl Maria von Weber composed the Overture to Euryanthe after the opera had been completed, weaving together two themes associated with the hero Adolar: the festive, noble aria, “I trust in God and my Euryanthe”, and his love song, “O such bliss I can scarcely grasp.” The overture also includes music from a ghost scene, in which Weber created a haunting color with eight muted violins accompanied by tremolo in the viola section. The overture ends happily, with Adolar and his beloved wife Euryanthe proving their faith in each other despite all obstacles. Euryanthe was first performed in Vienna on October 25, 1823, with the composer conducting.
Tzigane, written by Joseph-Maurice Ravel in 1924, was originally composed for violin and luthéal – a piano attachment that with the stopping of strings and pulling of levers could produce all the unusual colors and tones of a cimbalom, guitar, or harmonica, thus allowing a more authentically gypsy performance. However, due to its extreme sensitivity, the luthéal required constant adjustment and soon fell out of favor.
In a slow opening cadenza, the solo violin captures the spirit of a Hungarian gypsy – his dreams and sorrows, joys and memories – all with a mysterious undertone. To achieve a dark tone color, the first 27 measures are played only on the G string. Finally, under a violin tremolo, the accompaniment creeps in and a new theme is introduced.
Like a dance with variations, this lively second section uses nearly every virtuoso technique in a fiddler’s repertoire. Double stops, artificial harmonics, pizzicato with the left hand as well as the right, glissandos and blazingly fast passages; all abound in this tribute to Hungarian gypsy music.
Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, which premiered in 1877, is based on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. The first section is titled “Introduction: The Gateway to the Inferno [‘Abandon all hope, all ye who enter here’]; Tortures and Agonies of the Condemned.” Tonally ambiguous with tri-tones galore and heavy brass writing, the music seems to sink into the second circle of Hell. A storm builds with syncopated strings and chromatic tuttis but subsides into a plaintive clarinet melody.
The second section, “Francesca Tells the Story of her Tragic Love for Paolo,” features a love theme worthy of Romeo and Juliet, but taking place in Hell.
In “The Turmoil of Hades; Conclusion,” the storm returns with the rage of clashing dissonances and fearsome brass, as Francesca and Paolo are swept back into the tempest.
Pablo de Sarasate
Composed and published in 1883 in Paris, the Carmen Fantasy was performed by Sarasate on his concert tours. Eight years after the premiere of Bizet’s opera, Sarasate debuted the Carmen Fantasy, his rendition of five tunes from the opera.
The violin opens with an Aragonaise, a driving dance with castanets and guitar-like chords. The Habañera, the Song and Melodrama of Carmen, pairs the prominent dance rhythm with a falling chromatic melody. The interlude of Don Jose and Zuniga follows Carmen’s famous aria. The pace quickens with the Seguidille, another rhythmic dance with guitar-like accompaniment. The piece concludes with the Gypsy Dance, dazzling the audience with pizzicato, fingerwork in thirds, harmonics, and all the passion and energy of Carmen.
Pines of Rome
The four movements of Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome, first performed in 1924, depict different scenes at various times of day. In the first scene, Respighi captures the raucous laughs and cries of children pretending to be soldiers and dancing at midday in the shade of the pine grove near the opulent Villa Borghese.
A piano cadenza leads to the pines of the Janiculum, one of the seven hills surrounding Rome – so called for the temple of the Roman god, Janus. The pines are silhouetted against a full moon, calm and serene, with harp and celeste floating above murmuring strings. Respighi wrote “A nightingale is singing,” but as he felt that no instrument or vocalist could render the song of the nightingale, at the end of the third movement he called for a recording of a bird singing, the first instance of electronic music included in a live performance.
Abruptly, the scene changes to the pines lining the Appian Way, the military road of ancient Rome. The Roman army is marching from the morning mists, growing louder as they approach Capitol Hill. The victorious soldiers arrive just as the sun rises behind them, and the bygone era of ancient Rome is glorified by additional brass, organ, and fanfares by all instruments.