Program Notes

Renée Fleming and Rachmaninoff 

FRI JAN, 10 8 pm 

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor | RENÉE FLEMING soprano | BEHZOD ABDURAIMOV pianist

BOULANGER (1893–1918)

D’un matin du printemps (“Of a Spring Morning”)

RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)

Concerto No. 2 in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18

  • Moderato
  • Adagio sostenuto
  • Allegro scherzando
INTERMISSION

HOLMÈS (1847-1903)

La Nuit et l’Amour (“Night and Love”) from Ludus pro Patria (“Patriotic Games”)

R. STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Vier Letzte Lieder (“Four Last Songs”)

  • Frühling (“Spring”): Allegretto
  • September: Andante
  • Beim Schlafengehen (“Going to Sleep”)
  • Im Abendrot (“In the Twilight”): Andante

SAT JAN 11 7 pm 

LOUIS LANGRÉE conductor | RENÉE FLEMING soprano | BEHZOD ABDURAIMOV pianist

BOULANGER (1893–1918)

D’un matin du printemps (“Of a Spring Morning”)

R. STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Liebeshymnus (“Hymn of Love”), Op. 32, No. 3

Cäcilie (“Cecily”), Op. 27, No. 2

Morgen (“Morning”), Op. 27, No. 4

RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)

Concerto No. 2 in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18

  • Moderato
  • Adagio sostenuto
  • Allegro scherzando

FLOTOW (1847-1903)

“The Last Rose of Summer” from Martha (as featured in the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

HARRY WARREN
arr. Alexandre Desplat

“You’ll Never Know” (as featured in the film The Shape of Water)

KANDER & EBB

“Love and Love Alone”/“Winter” from The Visit

MAURY YESTON

“Unusual Way” from Nine

RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel

INSIGHTS

from Music Director Louis Langrée

Renée Fleming is one of the greatest singers of our time, and it will be a special treat for us all to hear her sing Strauss Lieder, as well as selections from the American Songbook, for our Anniversary Gala weekend. We also welcome Behzod Abduraimov for his debut performance with the CSO. In its 125-year history, the CSO has hosted many renowned composer/performers, including Sergei Rachmaninoff who, in 1910, played his second piano concerto with the CSO. It is fitting, then, to bring this piece to life during our anniversary season alongside pieces by Strauss (who conducted some of his Lieder, accompanying his wife, the soprano Pauline de Ahna, in Cincinnati) and two pieces by oft-forgotten female French composers. Lili Boulanger, sister of Nadia, was a prodigy who died much too early at the age of 24. At age 19, Lili was the first female winner of the Prix de Rome in 1913. Augusta Holmès was a pupil of César Franck, and her compositions caught the attention of Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns.

—LOUIS LANGRÉE

Antonio Vivaldi

Born: March 4, 1678, Venice, Italy
Died: July 28, 1741, Vienna, Austria

 

Known for:

  • "The Four Seasons"

D’un matin du printemps (“Of a Spring Morning”)

  • Work composed: 1918
  • Premiere: June 3, 1919 in Paris
  • Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, castanets, cymbal with timpani stick, small drum, snare drum, suspended cymbals, tambour de Basque, triangle, harp, celeste, strings
  • CSO notable performances: These performances are the work’s CSO subscription premiere.
  • Duration: approx. 5 minutes

An Extraordinary Musical Family

“Though Lili Boulanger died in 1918 at the age of 24,” wrote musicologist David Noakes, “hers was a creative life of more than mere promise; it was a life, at least, of partial fulfillment.” The name of Boulanger was indelibly inscribed into the annals of music by Nadia Boulanger, the 20th-century’s most influential teacher and mentor of composers. Despite her seismic impact on modern music, Nadia never considered herself a composer (“not bad, but useless” is how she dismissed her original works), and firmly held that the family’s creative talent had been inherited by her younger sister, Lili. And considerable talent there was to inherit. The girls’ paternal grandfather, Frédéric, taught cello at the Paris Conservatoire; his wife was the well-known soprano Marie-Julie Boulanger. The couple’s son, Ernest, won the Prix de Rome in 1835, became a successful opera composer in Paris and teacher of singing at the Conservatoire, and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1870. In 1877, he married Raïssa Mychetsky, one of his most talented students, when he was 60 and she 19. Among the family’s friends and regular visitors were Charles Gounod, Gabriel Fauré, Jules Massenet and Camille Saint-Saëns. It was into this privileged musical environment that Nadia was born in 1887; Marie-Juliette Olga (Lili) came along six years later.

Lili’s musical talent was evident from her earliest years. She could reliably carry a tune by two, and three years later began tagging along with Nadia to sit in on her older sister’s classes at the Conservatoire. Lili studied harp, piano, cello and violin with some of the city’s best teachers during the following years, but steady bouts of ill health, precipitated by a near-fatal attack of pneumonia when she was three, precluded the physical exertions necessary to master any of those instruments. She turned instead to composition, and began serious study of that discipline in 1909 with Georges Caussade and Paul Vidal. Three years later, she was formally admitted to the Conservatoire, but illness prevented her from participating in the Prix de Rome competitions that year. A stay at a sanitarium on the English Channel restored her health sufficiently enough for her to win the Prix in 1913 with her cantata Faust et Hélène, the first woman to earn that coveted honor. That same year, she also received the Prix Lepaulle and the Prix Yvonne de Gouy d’Arsy. Her arrival at the Villa Medici in Rome was delayed by illness until March 1914, and even then, weakened by the trip and the activity of the preceding year, she was confined to her room for nearly a month and could not resume work until late in the spring. Lili was granted special permission for a visit home in July, and she had to remain in France when World War I broke out the following month. She organized an extensive program of letter-writing, communication and support among the Conservatoire students who had been mobilized and their families and friends during the following year, and did not return to Rome until early 1916. There she set to work on an operatic version of Maeterlinck’s La Princesse Maleine, with whose lonely heroine she identified. She worked on this and other projects as much as she could, but her health was in steady decline during the ensuing months. In February 1917, she went to convalesce at Arcachon, on the Atlantic coast near Bordeaux, but she did not improve and was taken to Paris in July for emergency surgery. The procedure brought only little and temporary relief. She next went to the family summer home at Gargenville for several months, and returned to Paris in December, but soon had to leave for Mézy, west of the city, when the capital was subjected to heavy German bombardment early in 1918. She died in Mézy on March 15th.

A Short Life, A Lasting Legacy

Despite her early death and the debilitating state of her health, Lili Boulanger completed a substantial number of compositions in which she demonstrated a highly developed creative personality imbued with the pastel Impressionism so characteristic of turn-of-the-20th-century France: 18 works for chorus, many accompanied by orchestra (notably settings of three Psalms); two cantatas; some 20 songs; a half-dozen orchestral scores, including a Poème symphonique; and pieces for organ, piano, violin and flute. The opera La Princesse Maleine remained unfinished at her death. In a review of a performance of her music in 1921, Louis Vuillemin wrote, “Lili Boulanger brought to music a keen and prodigiously human sensibility, served in its expression by the full range of natural gifts, from grace, color, charm and subtlety to winged lyricism and obvious power, easy and profound. Such virtues, so rarely brought together for the benefit of one single creative temperament, are to be found in her works.”

The complementary works D’un Matin de Printemps (“Of a Spring Morning”) and D’un Soir triste (“Of a Sad Evening”) of 1918 were the last scores Lili Boulanger wrote with her own hand; her Pie Jesu, probably envisioned as part of a complete Requiem Mass, was dictated to her sister. The manuscripts’ labored notation betrays the deteriorating condition of Lili’s health; Nadia had to add the finishing details of dynamics and articulations. The composer conceived each piece in three versions: one for orchestra, another for piano trio, and a third for violin (or flute) and piano (D’un Matin de Printemps), and cello and piano (D’un Soir triste). The two compositions share a common idea for their thematic material, but exhibit the contrasting moods implied by their titles—D’un Soir triste is mournful and painted in somber tones, while D’un Matin de Printemps is bright and festive.

Dmitri Shostakovich

Born: September 25, 1906, St. Petersburg
Died: August 9, 1975, Moscow

Major composer of 20th Century

Known for:

  • Unique Harmonic Language
  • Symphony No. 5 and No. 7
  • The Second Waltz, Op. 99
  • Music to The First Echelon

Concerto No. 2 in C Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 18

  • Work composed: 1900–1901
  • Premiere: Premiered on October 14, 1901 in Moscow, conducted by Alexander Siloti with the composer as soloist.
  • Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 30 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1910, Leopold Stokowski conducting; Sergei Rachmaninoff, pianist | Most recent: November 2011, Mei-Ann Chen conducting; Terrence Wilson, pianist | Among other notable performances of the work, Cincinnati Pops founder Erich Kunzel led the CSO and pianist Van Cliburn at then-Riverfront Stadium July 5, 1971; Arthur Fiedler (of Boston Pops fame) led the Orchestra and pianist Leonard Pennario at Nippert Stadium in August 1967; and Louis Langrée led the CSO and Evgeny Kissin in a May 2016 “special” concert. Also among the many renowned pianists who have performed the concerto with the CSO are Arthur Rubinstein, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Lang Lang and André Watts.
  • Duration: approx. 35 minutes

Drawing Success Out of Failure

When he was old and as mellow as he would ever get, Rachmaninoff wrote these words about his early years: “Although I had to fight for recognition, as most younger men must, although I have experienced all the troubles and sorrow which precede success, and although I know how important it is for an artist to be spared such troubles, I realize, when I look back on my early life, that it was enjoyable, in spite of all its vexations and bitterness.” The greatest “bitterness” of Rachmaninoff’s career was the total failure of the Symphony No. 1 at its premiere in 1897, a traumatic disappointment that thrust him into such a mental depression that he suffered a complete nervous collapse.

An aunt of Rachmaninoff, Varvara Satina, had recently been successfully treated for an emotional disturbance by a certain Dr. Nicholas Dahl, a Moscow physician who was familiar with the latest psychiatric discoveries in France and Vienna, and it was arranged that Rachmaninoff should visit him. Years later, in his memoirs, the composer recalled the malady and the treatment:

[Following the performance of the First Symphony,] something within me snapped. A paralyzing apathy possessed me. I did nothing at all and found no pleasure in anything. Half my days were spent on a couch sighing over my ruined life. My only occupation consisted in giving a few piano lessons to keep myself alive.

For more than a year, Rachmaninoff’s condition persisted. He began his daily visits to Dr. Dahl in January 1900.

My relatives had informed Dr. Dahl that he must by all means cure me of my apathetic condition and bring about such results that I would again be able to compose. Dahl had inquired what kind of composition was desired of me, and he was informed “a concerto for pianoforte.” In consequence, I heard repeated, day after day, the same hypnotic formula, as I lay half somnolent in an armchair in Dr. Dahl’s consulting room: “You will start to compose a concerto—You will work with the greatest of ease—The composition will be of excellent quality.” Always it was the same, without interruption.... Although it may seem impossible to believe, this treatment really helped me. I started to compose again at the beginning of the summer.”

In gratitude, he dedicated the new Concerto to Dr. Dahl.

Dazzling Virtuosity

The C Minor Concerto begins with eight bell-tone chords from the solo piano that herald the surging main theme, announced by the strings. A climax is achieved before a sudden drop in intensity makes way for the arching second theme, initiated by the soloist. The development, concerned largely with the first theme, is propelled by a martial rhythm that continues with undiminished energy into the recapitulation. The second theme returns in the horn before the martial mood is re-established to close the movement. The Adagio is a long-limbed nocturne with a running commentary of sweeping figurations from the piano. The finale resumes the marching rhythmic motion of the first movement with its introduction and bold main theme. Standing in bold relief to this vigorous music is the lyrical second theme, one of the best-loved melodies in the entire orchestral literature, a grand inspiration in the ripest Romantic tradition. (Years ago, this melody was lifted from the Concerto by the tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley and fitted with sufficiently maudlin phrases to become the popular hit “Full Moon and Empty Arms.”) These two themes, the martial and the romantic, alternate for the remainder of the movement. The coda rises through a finely crafted line of mounting tension to bring the work to an electrifying close.

George Frideric Handel

Born: February 23, 1685, Halle, Saxony
Died: April 14, 1759, London

Known for:

  • Messiah
  • Water Music

La Nuit et l’Amour (“Night and Love”) from Ludus pro Patria (“Patriotic Games”)

  • Work composed: December 16, 1847, Paris
  • Premiere: January 28, 1903, Paris
  • Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, 2 harps, organ, strings
  • CSO notable performances: This performance is the work’s CSO subscription premiere.
  • Duration: approx. 6 minutes

"Women Have No Idea of Obstacles, and Their Willpower Breaks All Barriers"

Augusta Holmès, born in Paris in 1847, was a woman of the Victorian Age, though hardly representative of that era’s (not fully justified) prim and proper image of femininity: her birth may have occurred out of wedlock; she never married, but had five children by another woman’s husband; she defied her parents’ express wishes by becoming a composer and made a successful career through sheer willpower and persistence in a society that forbade women a conservatory education; she served as a nurse in the Franco-Prussian War; the giant Ode Triomphale she was commissioned to write for the 1889 Exposition Universalle, staged in Paris in celebration of the centenary of the storming of the Bastille, required 1,200 performers and many thought it inappropriately “virile” and “masculine.” Camille Saint-Saëns observed, “Women have no idea of obstacles, and their willpower breaks all barriers. Mademoiselle Holmès is a woman, an extremist.” Indeed, Augusta Holmès was not a conventional 19th-century woman, but she was a pioneer in asserting the creative, intellectual and social qualities of her gender.

Holmès was born into the family of an Irish military officer who had retired to a small town in France and a French woman of Scottish-Irish descent; the couple had been married 20 years before Augusta came along. Captain Holmes was scholarly and his wife was skilled in poetry and painting, and they moved to Paris soon after the wedding to participate in the city’s rich cultural life. Among their Parisian friends was the poet Alfred de Vigny, who became close enough to the couple that they named him Augusta’s godfather, and who was, perhaps, even her biological father. (Augusta did little to dispel the rumor.) Despite Madame Holmes’ artistic leanings, she forbade her daughter to pursue her interest in music so decisively that the girl once stabbed herself with a small dagger.

It was not until her mother died, when Augusta was eleven (by which time her father was ready to give in to his head-strong daughter), that she began piano and voice lessons and serious music study. Within two years, she was an accomplished pianist and singer and had begun to compose (and, in her spare time, paint and write poetry in the four languages she spoke). She became a French citizen in 1871 (and added an accent grave to her family name), was welcomed into Parisian artistic circles, had her first public performances in 1873, began studying with César Franck in 1875, and devoted herself largely to the most ambitious musical genres in defiance of the prevailing notion that “lady composers” should confine themselves to songs and salon pieces—her first major work was the 1875 opera Héro et Leandre, followed by two others, all to her own librettos (La Montaigne Noire was produced at the Paris Opéra in 1895), a dozen large-scale secular cantatas, four symphonic poems, many songs, choruses and piano pieces. In 1869, she met the poet Catulle Mendès, with whom she shared a passion for Wagner, and traveled with him and his wife the following year to meet the composer at his home near Lucerne. Soon thereafter, she and Mendès began the 20-year affair that yielded their five children. (In a sort of karmic recompense, Madame Mendès later had a brief affair with Wagner.) After their separation, Holmès continued to compose and teach until her death in 1903 at the age of 55. Streets in Paris and Versailles, her childhood home, were named in her honor.

A Work of National Pride

Ludus pro Patria (“Patriotic Games”) was the last of four works Holmès composed on nationalistic themes during the decade after 1878, perhaps her delayed response to the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871: Lutèce (1878, titled after the ancient Roman name for Paris), Irlande (“Ireland,” 1882, after her ancestral homeland), Pologne (“Poland,” 1883) and Ludus pro patria (1888). Ludus pro Patria, a “symphonic ode” for speaker, choruses and orchestra to her own text, was inspired by and named for a painting by the French artist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. The painting is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, whose web site gives this description:

Puvis’ evocation of ancient France shows young athletes training with pikes (piques in French), the traditional weapon of the Picardy region and reputedly the origin of the province’s name. This work is a replica, reduced in size, of the central panel of a mural that Puvis completed in 1882 and installed in the Musée de Picardie in Amiens. The exhibition and sale of such “reductions” helped publicize the artist’s monumental decorative commissions and boost his income.

Ludus pro Patria was so successful at its premiere, at the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire on March 4, 1888, that it had to be repeated the following week.

Holmès headed La Nuit e l’Amour (“Night and Love”), the work’s instrumental interlude, with the following verses: “Love! Divine word! Creator of worlds!/Love! Inspiration of fruitful ecstasy!/Love! Conqueror of Conquerors!”

Richard Strauss

Born: June 11, 1864, Munich
Died: September 8, 1949, Garmisch, Germany

Major composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Known for:

Vier Letzte Lieder (“Four Last Songs”)

  • Work composed: 1948
  • Premiere: Premiered on May 22, 1950 in London, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler with Kirsten Flagstad as soloist
  • Instrumentation: solo soprano, 3 flutes (incl. piccolo), piccolo, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons (incl. contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, celeste, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 4 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: February 1964, Max Rudolf conducting; Mary Costa, soprano | Most recent: May 2002, Paavo Järvi conducting; Barbara Hendricks, soprano | Soprano Eileen Farrell was first to sing the piece with the CSO, at Carnegie Hall in November 1951, but a planned repeat at Music Hall did not occur because the soprano cancelled due to illness.
  • Duration: approx. 24 minutes

A Creative Farewell

Strauss largely withdrew from public life after 1935 to his villa at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in the lovely Bavarian Alps. He lived there throughout World War II, spared the physical ravages of the conflict, but deeply wounded by the loss of many friends and by the bombing of Dresden, Munich and Vienna. In October 1945, under the threat of being called before the Denazification Board, he moved to Switzerland, where he lived for the next four years. He was cleared by the Board in June 1948, but chose to stay in Switzerland for medical treatment that winter, returning to Garmisch in May 1949. Though increasingly feeble during his Swiss sojourn, his mind was clear, and he continued to compose—a Concerto for Oboe, the Duet Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon and Strings, and the surpassingly beautiful Four Last Songs.
At the end of 1946, Strauss read Eichendorff’s poem Im Abendrot, in which an aged couple, having moved together through the world for a lifetime, look at the setting sun and ask, “Is that perhaps death?” The words matched Strauss’ feelings of those years, and he determined to set the poem for soprano and orchestra. The first sketches for the song appeared early in 1947, and the piece was completed by May 1948. During that time, a friend sent Strauss a volume of poems by Hermann Hesse, and from that collection he chose four verses to form a five-song cycle with the Eichendorff setting. The Hesse pieces were composed between July and September 1948, making them the final works that Strauss completed. (He never finished the last of the Hesse songs.) He died quietly at his Garmisch home exactly one year later.

Reflections at Life’s Sunset

Each of the magnificent Four Last Songs treats metaphorically the approach of death—through images of rebirth in spring, autumn, rest and sunset—by returning one final time to the soprano voice, for which he had written so much glorious music throughout his career. In these moving compositions, Strauss left what British musicologist Neville Cardus described as “the most consciously and most beautifully delivered ‘Abschied’ [‘farewell’] in all music.” As though bringing round full the cycle of his life’s work, Strauss quoted in the closing pages of Im Abendrot a theme from his tone poem Death and Transfiguration, written six decades earlier, in 1889.

Richard Strauss

Born: June 11, 1864, Munich
Died: September 8, 1949, Garmisch, Germany

Major composer of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Known for:

Liebeshymnus (“Hymn of Love”), Op. 32, No. 3
Cäcilie (“Cecily”), Op. 27, No. 2
Morgen (“Morning”), Op. 27, No. 4

  • Work composed: 1891–1896
  • Instrumentation: (combined for all three songs) soprano solo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, harp, strings
  • CSO notable performances: The CSO premiere for all three songs was April 8–9, 1904, Richard Strauss conducting; his wife, Pauline Strauss de Ahna, vocalist | The premiere was the only previous performance of Liebeshymnus at these concerts; Morgen has been performed here 10 other times, most recently by Kathleen Battle in 2010, Paavo Järvi conducting; Cäcilie has been performed here 3 additional times, most recently in May 1980 by Grace Bumbry, Jerzy Semkow conducting.
  • Duration: approx. 9 minutes

The Culmination of a Romantic Tradition

The great tradition of the 19th-century German Lied came to its end with the songs of Richard Strauss. Though he wrote songs throughout his long life—his first piece, penned at age six, was a Christmas carol; his last was the magnificent Four Last Songs—he composed most of his Lieder before he turned from the orchestral genres to opera at the beginning of the 20th century. Much of his inspiration for song composition during his early years came from his wife, Pauline de Ahna, an excellent soprano who had performed at Bayreuth and taken part shortly before they were married in the premiere of Strauss’ first opera, Guntram. Like Schubert, Strauss was not especially discriminating in his selection of the texts for his songs (he was, curiously, just the opposite with his opera librettos), choosing his verses from minor contemporary poets as frequently as from the more esteemed classic German writers. His songs correspondingly vary in quality, a situation for which the composer himself offered a surprisingly candid explanation:

Musical ideas have prepared themselves within me—God knows why—and a song appears in the twinkling of an eye when I come across a poem more or less corresponding to the subject of the imaginary song…. If I find no poem matching the subject that exists in my imaginary mind, however, then the creative urge has to be re-channeled to the setting of some other poem which I think lends itself to music. It goes slowly, though. I resort to artifice.

The best of Strauss’ songs are imbued with a soaring lyricism, a textural and harmonic richness, and a sensitivity to the text that place them among the most beautiful and enduring works of their type, the culmination of the most intimate musical genre of the legacy of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms.

The poet and publisher Karl Friedrich Henckell (1864–1929) became known for espousing socialist causes as well as for such tender verses as Liebeshymnus (“Hymn of Love”), of which Strauss made a rapturous setting to include in his Op. 32 songs of 1896.

John Henry Mackay (1864–1933) was born In Scotland but spent most of his life in Germany, where he gained notoriety for his anarchistic writings and his support of what was then known as “homosexual emancipation.” He also wrote passionate lyrical poetry, and in 1894 Strauss included two of his verses (Morgen and Aufforderung) in the set of four songs (Op. 27) he wrote as a wedding gift for his bride, the gifted soprano Pauline de Ahna. Also included in the Op. 27 set was a setting of Cäcilie by the German poet, drama critic and literary journal publisher Heinrich Hart (1855–1906).