Program Notes – October Concert

Light Cavalry Overture

Franz von Suppe

Born – April 18, 1819, in Split, Croatia
Died – May 21, 1895, in Vienna, Austria

This overture from the operetta, Leichte Kavallerie, was debuted on March 21, 1866 at the Carltheater in Vienna.   

Born to Belgian and Czech parents in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz von Suppe was raised Italian.  With opera giants Rossini, Verdi, and Donizetti as inspiration, he composed over 30 light operas, nearly one per year during the 1850’s and 60’s.

With its military title and the debut a little too soon after a major Austrian military defeat, this comic opera never became popular, though the overture was a hit.  Featured in a Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Symphony Hour,” in 1942, it has since motivated many similar themes on television.

The overture opens with a triumphant fanfare of trumpets. Muted French horns enter in a minor key, suggesting a darker character.  Harmonic tension and nervous tremolo in the strings leads to a full display of military bravado, although something ominous lingers. Staccato brass and busy strings set a quicker tempo, eventually developing into an exuberant gallop. After a few clashes the tempo winds down and a clarinet cadenza introduces a distinctly Magyar theme. The cavalry marches across the plains of Hungary, and the piece concludes with a victorious restatement of the gallop.


Violin Concerto, Op 47 in D minor

Jean Sibelius

Born – December 8, 1865 in Hämeenlinna, Finland
Died – September 20, 1957 in Järvenpää, Finland

Sibelius conducted the first version of this concerto on February 8, 1904 in Helsinki, with violinist, Victor Nováček, and the Orchestra of the Helsinki Philharmonic Society.

The revised version premiered in Berlin the following year with Czech virtuoso, Karl Halir, and Richard Strauss conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. 

Sibelius dreamed of becoming a great violin virtuoso but realized that he’d begun studying the instrument far too late (at age 14), so he turned to orchestral composition.Perhaps nostalgia for his lost dream contributed to the dark and somber mood of this singular concerto.

Although this is one of the few works by Sibelius that does not reference a specific Nordic scene, it glows with “the sonorous half-lights of autumn and winter”, and the tremulous opening strain of the solo violin against the rustle of wind in the strings evokes the glassy tundra.

Unlike other Romantic concertos, there is not much dialog between the soloist and the orchestra. Sharp contrasts in the first movement accentuate the continuous nature of the concerto, and the cadenza is a pivotal structural moment, not merely an opportunity to demonstrate virtuosity.

The second movement is more serene – though melancholy, with notes of longing in drawn out octave passages.  The jagged, aggressive third movement finishes with a flurry of double stops and ever-present timpani.


Symphony No.1 in G Minor

Vasily Kalinnikov

Born – January 13, 1866, Oryol, Russia
Died – January 11, 1901, Yalta, Ukraine

Kalinnikov established his reputation with this symphony on February 20, 1897 at a Russian Musical Society concert in Kiev, conducted by Vinogradsky. 

The music of Kalinnikov is not often performed outside his native Russia.

Unable to afford the tuition at the Moscow Conservatory, Kalinnikov completed his music studies at the less prestigious Moscow Philharmonic Society Music School.  In 1892, impressed with Kalinnikov’s conducting at the Italian Opera in Moscow,Tchaikovsky secured a conducting position for him at the Maly Theater; but due to deteriorating health, Kalinnikov left after only a few months. Relying on the good will of friends to help with expenses, he moved to the milder climate of coastal Yalta in Crimea and continued to compose. He died of tuberculosis just twodays before his 35th birthday.

Reminiscent of Tchaikovsky and Borodin, the first symphony has a truly Russian sound. With a striking unison of strings at the beginning and a surprising fugue in the development, the first movement bursts withenergy.  A sleepless night, when “the silence itself seems to vibrate,” inspired the second movement, wherein a repeating theme for violin and harp forms a misty backdrop for a simple, lonely melody.  The third movement blends folk-tunes in the style of a Dvorak Slavonic dance; and like a long-awaited homecoming, the finale calls to mind the previous movements, with bits and pieces of melodies masterfully woven together.

Program notes by Caroline Faflak


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