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Concert of March 17, 2013, at 3:00p
Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra
Jere Flint, Conductor
Michael Palmer, Guest Conductor
Tom Haynes, Narrator
Catherine Xie, Piano
Crescendo Concert
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, “The Young Person’s Guide to the
Orchestra,” Opus 34 (1946)
Tom Haynes, Narrator
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Concerto No. 1 in G minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 22 (1868), First
Movement
I. Andante sostenuto
Catherine Xie, Piano
Intermission
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Opus 88 (1889)
I. Allegro con brio
II. Adagio
III. Allegretto grazioso
IV. Allegro ma non troppo
Michael Palmer, Conductor
Catherine Xie is one of the winners in the annual ASYO Concerto Competition. The
other two winners, Cassie Pilgrim, oboe, and Myrtil Mitanga, cello, will appear in the
ASYO Finale Concert, May 12.
Notes on the Program by Ken Meltzer
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, “The Young Person’s Guide to the
Orchestra,” Opus 34 (1946)
Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, England, on November 22, 1913, and died
in Aldeburgh, England, on December 4, 1976. The first performance of “The Young
Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” took place on October 15, 1946, with Sir Malcolm
Sargent conducting the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. “The Young Person's
Guide to the Orchestra” is scored for narrator, piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two
clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani,
harp, xylophone, tambourine, triangle, bass drum, gong, side drum, castanets, whip,
cymbals, suspended cymbal, Chinese blocks and strings. Approximate performance
time is eighteen minutes.
“I have a small film to write for the Board of Education,” Benjamin Britten informed
Mary Behrend, a friend who had commissioned the composer’s Second String Quartet
(1945). The educational film, commissioned by the Crown Film Unit, was designed to
introduce children to the various instruments of the orchestra. Britten began composition
of the work in mid-December of 1945. At the stroke of midnight, New Year’s Eve,
Britten put the finishing touches on the “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”
In his dedication of the score, Britten states: “This work is affectionately inscribed to the
children of John and Jean Maud—Humphrey, Pamela, Caroline and Virginia, for their
edification and entertainment.” Britten first met John Maud, a civil servant, and his
concert pianist wife, Jean, in 1944. Britten was particularly charmed by the Mauds’ 11year-old son Humphrey, who was a budding cellist. In the Mauds’ personal copy of the
score, Britten inscribes: “For Humphrey and his sisters with much love from Ben.”
The premiere of the educational film, entitled Instruments of the Orchestra, took place on
November 29, 1946. Sir Malcolm Sargent served as conductor and narrator. During the
previous month, Sargent conducted the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in the first
concert performance of the “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” Sargent also
delivered the text, authored by Eric Crozier.
“The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” proved to be a success from its inception.
“I’m glad that the Min. of Ed. chaps approve,” Britten told a friend. “I never really
worried that it was too sophisticated for kids—it is difficult to be that for the little
blighters!”
The “Young Person’s Guide” remains one of the most popular compositions of its kind—
and for good reason. As with any superior educational experience, Britten’s “Young
Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” simultaneously informs, stimulates and entertains
students (of all ages).
Musical Analysis
The composer’s subtitle for the “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” is
Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Henry Purcell. The piece begins with a grand, tutti
declaration of a melody that was originally a hornpipe, featured in British composer
Henry Purcell’s (1659-95) Incidental Music to the play, Abdelazar, or The Moor’s
Revenge (1695). Statements of the melody by each of the four instrument families
(woodwind, brass, strings and percussion) lead to a reprise of the orchestral tutti. A
series of thirteen variations follows, each designed to highlight particular instruments.
The variations are succeeded by a lively fugue, with the instruments making their
entrances in the same order as the preceding variations. In the grand climax, the brass
majestically proclaims the original Purcell melody, while the remainder of the orchestra
continues the fugue. A brief, spirited coda rounds out “The Young Person’s Guide to the
Orchestra.”
Camille Saint-Saëns was born in Paris, France, on October 9, 1835, and died in
Algiers, Algeria, on December 16, 1921.
In addition to his genius as a composer, Camille Saint-Saëns was renowned as an organ
and piano virtuoso of the highest order. At the age of ten, Saint-Saëns made his formal
concert debut at the Paris Salle Pleyel, in performances of piano concertos by Beethoven
and Mozart. For his encore, the young Saint-Saëns offered to play—from memory—any
of Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas. His incredible ability to assimilate scores upon first
glance, impressive technical facility and superb musicality, earned Saint-Saëns the
praises of such discriminating musicians as Richard Wagner and Hans von Bülow.
Throughout a great portion of his life, Saint-Saëns continued to concertize successfully in
both his own repertoire and that of other composers. During a particularly renowned
series of concerts in London, Saint-Saëns performed all of Mozart's Piano Concertos.
Saint-Saëns also was the soloist in the premieres of each of his own Five Concertos for
piano and orchestra.
Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 22 (1868)
The first performance of the Second Piano Concerto took place at the Salle Pleyel in
Paris on May 13, 1868, with the composer as soloist and Anton Rubinstein
conducting. In addition to the solo piano, the Concerto No. 2 is scored for two
flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani,
cymbals and strings. Approximate performance time of the first movment is eleven
minutes.
It was another great piano virtuoso, the Russian Anton Rubinstein, who provided the
impetus for Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Rubinstein wanted to conduct an
orchestral concert in Paris, and asked Saint-Saëns to assist in organizing the event. Given
that three weeks would elapse before the Salle Pleyel would become available, SaintSaëns offered to compose a new piano concerto for the concert. Saint-Saëns always
composed with remarkable facility, and he completed his Second Piano Concerto in just
seventeen days. The premiere of the G-Minor Concerto took place at the Salle Pleyel on
May 13, 1868, with Rubinstein conducting, and the composer as soloist. The work’s
arresting synthesis of virtuoso writing, wit, contrasting moods and sheer visceral
excitement, has made the Second the most popular of the Saint-Saëns Piano Concertos—
for audiences and performers alike.
I. Andante sostenuto—The Concerto opens with an extended and impressive cadenza for
the soloist, featuring arpeggios, cascading figures and crashing fortissimo chords. The
orchestra briefly enters with an emphatic statement, to which the soloist responds with a
haunting, lyrical theme. The movement proceeds in the form of an extended fantasia, in
which the pianist clearly plays the central role. Toward the close, the soloist offers
another lengthy cadenza. The movement concludes with a restatement of orchestra’s
opening statement, joined by the soloist.
Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Opus 88 (1889)
Antonín Dvořák was born in Mühlhausen, Bohemia (now Nelahozeves, the Czech
Republic), on September 8, 1841, and died in Prague on May 1, 1904. The first
performance of the Symphony No. 8 took place in Prague on February 2, 1890, with
the composer conducting the Prague National Theater Orchestra. The Eighth
Symphony is scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets,
two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba,
timpani and strings. Approximate performance time is thirty-six minutes.
“The melodies simply pour out of me”
While working on his Piano Quartet, Opus 87, Czech composer Antonín Dvořák told his
friend, Alois Göbl: “It’s going unexpectedly easily and the melodies simply pour out of
me.” On August 26, 1889, one week after finishing the Piano Quartet, Dvořák began
work on his Symphony in G Major. And it appears a similar level of inspiration attended
the new orchestral work. Dvořák began to note ideas for the Symphony, and started the
composition sketch on September 6. Dvořák completed the sketches for all four
movements by September 23, and finished the orchestration on November 8.
On February 2, 1890, Dvořák conducted the Prague National Theater Orchestra in the
premiere of his Eighth Symphony. A few months later, the composer again presented the
Symphony in honor of his election as Member of the Franz Josef Academy for Science,
Literature and Art in Prague. On June 16, 1891, the University of Cambridge bestowed
an honorary Doctorate of Music upon Dvořák, who again offered his G-Major Symphony
in commemoration of the event.
The Eighth Symphony proved to be the source of an unfortunate rift between Dvořák and
his German publisher, Simrock. Dvořák had previously granted Simrock the right of first
refusal for publication of all his works. Despite the success of Dvořák’s Seventh in
London, Vienna and Berlin, Simrock was not convinced that the Czech composer’s
Symphonies were profitable. Simrock offered 1,000 marks to publish the Eighth
Symphony, one-sixth of the fee paid for the Seventh. Dvořák interpreted this low offer as
an outright refusal. Novello in England published Dvořák’s G-Major in 1892. Because
of the Cambridge performance and publication by Novello, the G-major has, from time to
time, been referred to as Dvořák’s “English” Symphony.
Of course, there is nothing particularly English about the music of Dvořák’s Eighth
Symphony. As with most of his works, the G-Major Symphony is brimming with the
influence of Czech folk melodies and rhythms. It is also in many ways highly innovative,
suggesting new possibilities for traditional symphonic forms. According to Dvořák
biographer, Otakar Sourek, the composer (by his own admission) consciously strove to
create “a work different from his other symphonies, with individual thoughts worked out
in a new way.” This, Dvořák achieved in the context of energetic and optimistic music,
bursting with unforgettable melodies.
Musical Analysis
I. Allegro con brio—The Symphony begins with a somber introduction, played by the
winds and cellos. This music serves as a unifying force throughout the movement,
returning as a bridge to the development and recapitulation of the principal themes. Out
of the shadows emerges the sprightly main theme, first played by the solo flute and soon,
triumphantly, by the full orchestra. The flutes and clarinets, over triplet string
accompaniment, play the minor-key second theme. The woodwinds then introduce a
pianissimo, chorale-like melody, played with great force by the entire orchestra. A
stormy, contrapuntal development leads to the English horn’s recapitulation of the initial
theme. The other themes return in sequence. The movement concludes with a brief,
dramatic coda, prominently featuring the brass and timpani.
II. Adagio—The slow movement, in rather free form, presents a series of episodes
essentially based on upon the opening four-note motif, consisting of rising sixteenth-note
triplets and a quarter note. Especially captivating is an extended C-Major episode with a
shimmering espressivo violin solo. The Adagio explores a variety of moods and colors
before achieving its peaceful conclusion.
III. Allegretto grazioso—Instead of the scherzo then in fashion, the third movement is in
the character of a melancholy waltz. The first violins sing the principal melody, closely
related to its counterpart in the Adagio. The lilting, major-key trio prominently features
the woodwinds. The traditional repeat of the waltz leads to an unexpectedly joyful Coda
(Molto vivace) in 2/4 time, serving as a bridge to the finale.
IV. Allegro ma non troppo—A trumpet call heralds the opening of the final movement.
The cellos introduce the theme that serves as the basis for a series of diverse and often
thrilling variations. In the midst of the variations, the trumpet-call motif returns. A series
of lyrical variations finally yields to a jubilant coda (Tempo I), as the G-Major Symphony
dashes to a rousing close.