Winter Daydreams

Program Notes

SAT NOV 30, 8 pm | SUN DEC 1, 2 pm

JAMES CONLON conductor | LISE DE LA SALLE piano

WAGNER (1813–1883)

Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

SCHUMANN (1840-1893)

Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 54

  • Allegro affettuoso
  • Intermezzo: Andantino grazioso—
  • Allegro vivace
INTERMISSION

TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)

Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 13, Winter Daydreams

  • Reveries of a Winter Journey: Allegro tranquillo
  • Land of Desolation, Land of Mists: Adagio cantabile ma non tanto
  • Scherzo: Allegro scherzando giocoso
  • Finale: Andante lugubre. Allegro moderato

As we celebrate the history of the Orchestra, intertwined with the history of the Cincinnati May Festival, we are honored and thrilled to welcome back James Conlon. Music Director of May Festival for almost four decades, he demonstrated a unique and fertile relationship with the Cincinnati music community.

This weekend’s concerts feature works by monumental figures of composition, but the history of these three pieces demonstrates that not every masterpiece comes easily to the composer. More often a composition is full of hard work, persistence and dedication to an idealized final product. Wagner took 23 years to complete his opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Schumann tried four times to write a piano concerto, but left each one in pieces. On his fifth attempt, Schumann finally completed the beautiful concerto we know today—the version to which pianist Lise de la Salle brings her unique artistry, becoming the “voice” of Schumann. Tchaikovsky revised his first symphony for 22 years until he finally reached the version you will hear this weekend, calling it “the sin of my youth.”

—LOUIS LANGRÉE

Richard Wagner

Born: May 22, 1813, Leipzig, Germany
Died: February 13, 1883, Venice

Known for:

  • Der Ring des Nibelungen (1848-1874)
  • Tristan und Isolde (1857-1859)
  • Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1862)

Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (“The Mastersingers of Nuremberg”)

  • Work composed: 1862
  • Premiere: November 1, 1862 in Leipzig, conducted by the composer
  • Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, triangle, harp, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 40 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: January 1895 (Pike Opera House), Frank Van der Stucken conducting | Most recent: September 2007, Paavo Järvi conducting | The piece also was performed during the first May Festival in 1873, with Theodore Thomas conducting the Theodore Thomas Orchestra; that ensemble performed the work several more times at subsequent May Festivals through 1908.
  • Duration: approx. 10 minutes

Richard Wagner was one of the 19th century’s most influential cultural figures. Though largely self-taught, he developed a heightened musical language that allowed for an unprecedented intensity of emotional expression and an epochal dramatic style that aimed to embrace much of German history, mythology and culture. Wagner’s legacy is principally rooted in his ambitious “music dramas”—The Ring of the Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser—but he also wrote two operatic comedies: the early Das Liebesverbot (“The Ban of Love,” 1836) and the peerless Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, his penultimate creation.

Delving Into German History

The composition of Die Meistersinger was intimately bound to the ebb and flow of the most flamboyant period of Wagner’s life. He first conceived an opera based on the singing guilds of old Nuremberg during the summer of 1845, while he was taking a rest cure at the spa town of Marienbad just after finishing Tannhäuser. A reading of Georg Gervinus’ 1826 History of German Literature yielded ideas for both Die Meistersinger and Lohengrin, and rough scenarios for the two works were sketched by August. Wagner chose to tackle the serious Lohengrin first. Then came his political activism and expulsion from Germany in 1849, and the years of financial struggle and marital distress, and the awesome labor that yielded up the first two, and part of the third, Ring operas, and the composition of Tristan und Isolde—and Die Meistersinger had to wait for them all.

In 1859, with Tristan newly completed, Wagner fled to Paris, still barred from returning home to Germany. The impetus to begin serious work on Die Meistersinger may have come from the lifting of the German edict against him in 1861, a time when he wanted to further his reputation and the performance of his works in his homeland. Once again allowed free travel, he visited Vienna, where he heard Lohengrin for the first time on May 31, 1861. After a thorough study of Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s Nuremberg Chronicle of 1697 and Jakob Grimm’s 1811 Über altdeutschen Meistergesang, he completed the libretto in Paris in January 1862.

Hounded by creditors and eager to return to Germany, Wagner left Paris early in 1862, and found a small house along the Rhine at Biebrich. It was there, in March, that he began the music for Die Meistersinger. Just when his fortunes were at their nadir (he sneaked out of Vienna early in 1864 to avoid being thrown into debtors’ prison), he received a summons from the 19-year-old Ludwig II of Bavaria, who had mounted the throne only two months earlier. At their meeting in Munich on May 4, 1864, Ludwig, nearly insane with his worship of Wagner and his music, informed the composer that he wanted to be his patron. Wagner pounced on the offer. In November 1865, Wagner, with munificent financial support from Ludwig, went to Geneva, where the first act of Die Meistersinger was completed in February 1866; the rest of the opera was finished early in 1868, more than two decades after the idea was conceived. The opera’s premiere, conducted by Hans von Bülow in Munich on June 21, 1868, was a triumph.

A Musical Fresco

The plot of Die Meistersinger centers on a song contest held in 16th-century Nuremberg on St. John’s Day (June 24th). The winner is to marry Eva, daughter of the goldsmith Veit Pogner. Walther von Stolzing, a young knight from Franconia who has fallen in love with Eva, vows to win the contest and her hand, even though he is not a member of the guild of Mastersingers. He is granted permission to compete despite the attempts of Sixtus Beckmesser, the town clerk and also a contestant, to discredit him for not knowing the ancient guild rules governing the composition of a song. Eva and Walther communicate their love to the wise cobbler Hans Sachs, who remains their friend and adviser despite his own love for the girl. Sachs helps Walther shape his musical and poetic ideas, which bring a new freshness and expression to the staid ways of the guild. Beckmesser, having stolen Walther’s poem, gives it a ludicrous musical setting, and makes a fool of himself at the contest. Sachs invites Walther to show how the verses should be sung, and the young knight is acclaimed the winner.

The Prelude, written between March and June 1862, was the first part of the score to be completed, and served as the thematic source for much of the opera. It opens with the majestic processional of the Mastersingers intoned by the full orchestra. A tender theme portraying the love of Eva and Walther leads to a second Mastersinger melody, this one said to have been based on The Crowned Tone by the 17th-century guild member Heinrich Mögling. The Prelude’s first section closes with the development of another love motive and phrases later heard in Walther’s Prize Song. The central portion is largely devoted to a cackling, fugato parody of the first Mastersinger theme that anticipates Beckmesser’s buffooneries. The Prelude is brought to a magnificent ending with a masterful weaving together of all of its themes.

Robert Schumann

Born: June 8, 1810, Zwickau, Germany
Died: July 29, 1856, Endenich, near Bonn

Known for:

  • Carnival (1834) 
  • Fantasie in C (1836)
  • Kinderszenen (1838) 

Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 54

  • Work composed: 1841 and 1845
  • Premiere: December 4, 1845 in Dresden, Ferdinand Hiller conducting; Clara Schumann, the composer’s wife, pianist
  • Instrumentation: solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 37 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: March 1897, Frank Van der Stucken, conductor; Adèle aus der Ohe, pianist | Most recent: January 2016, Louis Langrée conducting; Kirill Gerstein, pianist | Several notable pianists have performed the Concerto with the CSO: Myra Hess (1929 and 1953), Arthur Rubinstein, Alicia de Larrocha, Misha Dichter and others. Hélène Grimaud was soloist for the work during the CSO’s 2004 European tour, Paavo Järvi conducting.
  • Duration: approx. 31 minutes

Robert Schumann began his creative career with compositions for the piano, his own instrument, that perfectly suited the intimacy, trenchant personal expression and referential qualities of German Romanticism. He devoted the year 1840, when he and Clara Wieck were married, to songs, and, challenged by her to explore the more ambitious genres, began writing symphonies and a piano concerto in 1841, and followed that with a flurry of chamber works in 1842. The pivotal work in Schumann’s creative development was the Piano Concerto, whose formal daring puzzled listeners at first before it became one of the most beloved compositions in the pianist’s repertory.

Spreading His Creative WIngs

Schumann’s Piano Concerto occupied a special place in his loving relationship with his wife, Clara. In 1837, three years before their marriage, Schumann wrote to her of a plan for a concert work for piano and orchestra that would be “a compromise between a symphony, a concerto and a huge sonata.” It was a bold vision for Schumann who had, with one discarded exception, written nothing for orchestra. In 1841, the second year of their marriage, he returned to his original conception, and produced a Fantasia in one movement for piano with orchestral accompaniment. That memorable year also saw the composition of his Symphony No. 1 and the first version of the Fourth Symphony, a burst of activity that had been encouraged by Clara, who wanted her husband to realize his potential in forms larger than the solo piano works and songs to which he had previously devoted himself. The Fantasia seemed to satisfy the desires of both husband and wife. Clara ran through the work at a rehearsal of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on August 13, 1841, and Robert thought highly enough of the piece to try to have it published. His attempts to secure a publisher for the new score met with one rejection after another, however, and, with great disappointment, he laid the piece aside.
In 1844, Robert had a difficult bout with the recurring emotional disorder that plagued him throughout his life. After his recovery, he felt a new invigoration and resumed composition with restless enthusiasm. In May 1845, the Fantasia came down from the shelf with Schumann’s determination to breathe new life into it. He retained the original Fantasia movement, and added to it an Intermezzo and Finale to create the three-movement Piano Concerto, which was to become one of the most popular of all such works in the keyboard repertory.

Integrating a Musical Form

Schumann’s Piano Concerto is memorable not only for the beauty of its melodies and the felicity of its harmony, but also for the careful integration of its structure. Were the manner in which the work was composed unknown, there would be no way to tell that several years separate the creation of the first from the second and third movements. The Concerto’s sense of unity arises principally from the transformations of the opening theme heard throughout the work. This opening motive, a lovely melody presented by the woodwinds after the fiery prefatory chords of the piano, pervades the first movement, serving not only as its second theme but also appearing in many variants in the development section. Even the coda, placed after a stirring cadenza, uses a double-time marching version of the main theme. The second movement is a three-part form with a soaring melody for cellos in its middle section. The movement’s initial motive, a gentle dialogue between piano and strings, is another derivative of the first movement’s opening theme. The principal theme of the sonata-form finale is yet another rendering of the Concerto’s initial melody, this one a heroic manifestation in triple meter; the second theme employs extensive rhythmic syncopations. After a striding central section, the recapitulation begins in the dominant key so that the movement finally settles into the expected tonic major key only with the syncopated second theme.

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Born: May 7, 1840, Kamsko-Votkinsk, Russia
Died: November 6, 1893, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Major composer of the 19th century.

Known for:

  • Romeo and Juliet (1872)
  • 1812 Overture (1880)
  • The Nutcracker (1892)

Tchaikovsky is known for a composing a vital catalog of music. This is merely a tiny list of popular selections in comparison to the breadth of his work.

Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 13, Winter Daydreams

  • Work composed: 1866, revised 1874
  • Premiere: (complete symphony) February 15, 1868 in Moscow, Nikolai Rubinstein conducting; Rubinsten had conducted the second and third movements in St. Petersburg on February 11, 1867.
  • Instrumentation: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, crash cymbals, strings
  • CSO notable performances: 7 previous subscription weekends | Premiere: March 1930 (Emery Auditorium), Fritz Reiner, conductor | Most recent: November 2011, Pinchas Steinberg conducting
  • Duration: approx. 44 minutes

Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer to gain an international reputation, but he began his career as an underpaid teacher at the newly established Moscow Conservatory. To make some money and to foster his reputation, he wrote his Symphony No. 1, with vague references to the country’s imposing winters, which was one of the earliest symphonies by a Russian composer and his first attempt at a genre with which he became inextricably associated.

Russian Musical Pioneers

In 1859, Anton Rubinstein established the Russian Musical Society in St. Petersburg; a year later his brother Nikolai opened the Society’s branch in Moscow. Since one of the important aims of the Society was to encourage musical education in Russia, it instituted classes almost immediately in both cities. St. Petersburg was first to receive an imperial charter to open a conservatory and offer a formal curriculum of instruction, and Tchaikovsky, who had quit his job as a clerk in the Ministry of Justice to devote himself to music, was in the first class of students when the school was officially opened in 1862. By January 1866, he had completed his studies in theory and composition, principally with Rubinstein and Nikolai Zaremba, and was in need of a job. On the basis of his academic work, which included a cantata for the graduation examinations courageously based on the same Ode to Joy text by Schiller that Beethoven had set in his Ninth Symphony, Rubinstein recommended Tchaikovsky to his brother as a teacher for the music classes in Moscow. The official opening of the Moscow Conservatory was still some months off, so Nikolai was running the program from his own home and was able to pay his instructors only a pittance. Though reluctant to leave the rich cultural milieu of St. Petersburg for more provincial Moscow, Tchaikovsky accepted the much-needed position.

As soon as his St. Petersburg studies were completed in mid-January, Tchaikovsky departed for Moscow, where he was greeted at the train station like an old friend by Nikolai Rubinstein. Nikolai immediately took the young musician under his wing, lending him clothes (including a frock coat left behind by violin virtuoso Henryk Wieniawski on a recent visit), introducing him to his wide circle of acquaintances, offering him a room in his home, and lavishing upon him every hospitality. (Rubinstein also included Tchaikovsky in his nightly rounds of tavern-hopping, during which each impressed the other with his capacity for alcohol.) Nikolai encouraged Tchaikovsky to supplement his teaching duties by continuing his creative work, and the first project he suggested was a revision for full orchestra of the Overture in F Major written at the end of the preceding year. Tchaikovsky had conducted the original chamber orchestra version of the work as a student in December, shortly before he left the St. Petersburg Conservatory. The success of the revised version when it was conducted in Moscow by Nikolai on March 4 (the first public performance of one of Tchaikovsky’s compositions) was such that he was motivated to begin writing a symphony that same month. Though working on such a large scale was a daunting challenge for the young composer, the new symphony was completed by November, and premiered by Nikolai in Moscow on February 15, 1868 “with great success,” reported the composer to his brother Anatoli. The work was inscribed “Winter Daydreams.” The first two movements were called “Reveries of a Winter Journey” and “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists”; the closing movements are without sobriquet. There is no specific program apparent in the music, though Tchaikovsky may have intended that this be his contribution to the many depictions of the harsh Russian winters that have always been popular subjects in that country’s literature and art.

A Musical Personality Finds Its Voice

The Symphony’s first movement opens as the flute and bassoon present the doleful main theme above the murmurings of the violins. The complementary melody, more lyrical in phrasing and brighter in mood, is sung initially by the clarinet. The development section, typically Tchaikovskian in many of its orchestral techniques, combines true motivic elaboration with a certain amount of boisterous, newly invented figuration. The recapitulation returns the themes of the beginning and ends with the hushed whispers of the first measures.

A chorale-like passage for strings opens and closes the second movement. Within this frame are set two folkish melodies: the first, a plaintive tune, intoned by the oboe, has hints of the “Volga Boatmen”; the other is a more flowing song given first by the flutes and violas. The nimble Scherzo, indebted to Mendelssohn for its effervescent writing, is based on a movement from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Sonata in C-sharp minor, composed in 1865; the lovely central trio is the first of the succession of great waltzes Tchaikovsky wrote for orchestra. The finale is a gloriously noisy display of orchestral color and rhythmic energy. It begins with a slow introduction (“lugubrious,” notes the score) during which the violins present the Russian folk song “The Gardens Bloomed.” A vivacious main theme in fast tempo is hurled forth by the full orchestra before the folk song returns to serve as the second theme. Twice the tempo is increased in the closing pages so that the ending of the Symphony is filled with whirling vitality and high spirits.
—Program Notes by Dr. Richard E. Rodda