Overture to The Tsar’s Bride
Born – March 18, 1844 in Trikhvin, Russia
Died – June 21, 1908 in Liubensk, Russia
The premiere of this opera took place at the Solodovnikov Theatre, Moscow, on November 3, 1899, conducted by Mikhail Ippolotov-Ivanov.
Rimsky-Korsakov is known for his orchestral pieces; however, his true talent was opera, with much of his best writing occurring in overtures and opera scenes.
The Tsar’s Bride, his tenth opera, was a departure from the romance and Russian folklore typically found in his work. This dramatic opera takes place during the reign of Ivan the Terrible and has no happy ending. The overture reflects a dark, restless mood, with dramatic Russian folk themes that morph into an ardent love song and eventually resolve to a calm waltz.
Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21
Born – January 27, 1823 in Lille, France
Died – April 22, 1892 in Paris, France
This concerto was premiered on February 7, 1875, in Paris, with Pablo de Sarasate as soloist and Edouard Colonne conducting.
In 19th century France, orchestral pieces and operas with a Spanish flair were in demand. Traditional dance rhythms that evoke finger-snapping and castanets – flamenco and the habañera – and impassioned themes with heroic leaps and sultry slides make Lalo’s music idiomatically Spanish. An adept violinist and violist himself, Lalo was inspired by Sarasate, who performed with a natural Spanish flair.
After a brief orchestral introduction, the solo violin explodes onto center stage with a bold leap of a fifth, a 3+2 rhythm evocative of a tango, and gypsy-style virtuosity. A swooning second theme changes the mood, but the stern intentions return in full Iberian color at the end of the movement.
“Romance” from Violin Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 22
Born – July 10, 1835 in Lublin, Poland
Died – March 31, 1880 in Moscow, Russia
This concerto was premiered on November 27, 1862, in St. Petersburg, with Wieniawski playing the violin and Anton Rubinstein conducting.
Wieniawski entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of eight and became recognized as a world-class violin virtuoso at eleven. Tragically, his demanding touring schedule led to poor health and eventually heart failure at age 44. He was described as a superb story-teller, and in addition to great technical demands and unforgettable melodies, his intelligence and wit shine through all of his works.
Combining the appeal of Russian and French writing with Paganini’s virtuosity, this concerto was dedicated to Pablo de Sarasate. The second movement, titled “Romance”, features one of the most beautiful melodies ever written for the violin.
Zapateado, Op. 23, no. 2
Pablo de Sarasate
Born – March 10, 1844 in Pamplona, Spain
Died – September 20, 1908 in Biarritz, France
This piece was published as a part of a collection of Spanish dances in 1880 and frequently performed by Sarasate during his tours around the world.
Sarasate began his career as a violinist at the age of six, and was sent to study at the Paris Conservatory at twelve. On tours throughout Europe, North and South America, he dazzled audiences with his technical mastery, pure tone, and his natural Spanish style.
Due to a rotation of foreign rulers, Spanish musical tradition was influenced by Italian opera, Gypsy and Jewish music, West African rhythms, and even Middle Eastern and Asian traditions. This mix of cultures resulted in a Spanish idiom that was markedly different from anything else in Europe.
Zapateado is extracted from Sarasate’s four books of Spanish dances, a set of encores showcasing music considered too provincial by classical Spanish composers.
Valse-Scherzo for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 34
Peter Illich Tchaikovsky
Born – May 7, 1840 in Votkinsk, Russia
Died – November 6, 1893 in Saint Petersburg, Russia
This piece was debuted by Polish violinist Stanisław Barcewicz on September 20, 1878, with Nikolai Rubinstein conducting the Russian Symphony Concert at the Trocadéro in Paris.
In the latter half of the 19th century, there was no dance more popular than the waltz; and although many composers were fervent admirers, none could orchestrate and provide as much variety to the dance as Tchaikovsky.
The Valse-Scherzo was the last work for violin that Tchaikovsky completed before the violin concerto. Following a brilliant opening theme in double stops, a melodic section foretells the coming concerto. An extended cadenza of violin fireworks leads back to the first theme with even greater energy and dazzle.
Symphony no. 6 in D Major, Opus 60
Born – September 8, 1841 in Nelahozeves, Bohemia
Died – May 1, 1904 in Prague, Czechoslovakia
Adolf Čech conducted the premiere of this symphony with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on March 25, 1881 in Prague.
Always in the shadow of his contemporaries – Brahms, Liszt, and Wagner – Dvořák struggled many years for recognition. When at 31 he submitted a few piano pieces to a scholarship panel, Brahms, one of the jurors, was greatly impressed with the young Czech composer. Thus began the lifelong relationship between Dvořák and Brahms.
Enabled by a commission from the esteemed conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic, Hans Richter, the sixth symphony proved Dvořák’s complete mastery of the symphonic tradition, with just enough folksy Czech flair to remind Viennese audiences of the composer’s Bohemian origins.
There are several similarities between Dvořák’s sixth symphony and Brahms’ second symphony: both are in D Major, pastoral in nature, have first movements in triple meter, and are intensely expressive yet contained within formal structures. However, there are many elements that are uniquely Dvořák’s: the contour of the cello melody in the first movement; the nocturnal quality of the second movement; the unabashedly Czech furiant (a brisk dance characterized by rhythms of 2-against-3 ) in the third movement; and a fourth movement that is harmonically structured like Brahms and Beethoven, but with Dvořák’s own contributions, including a brass chorale and playful syncopations in the coda.