Program Notes | Pictures at an Exhibition

Tuesday, September 26, 2017| 7:30 PM

Program:
Márquez: Danzón No. 2
Stamm: Organ Concerto
Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition

Arturo Marquez
Danzón No. 2
Arturo Marquez was born in 1950 in Alamos, in the Sonora region of Mexico. He composed Danzón #2 in 1994 on a commission from the Mexico City University, and it was first performed the same year in Mexico City under the direction of Francisco Savin. The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, piano, and strings.
*****
Arturo Marquez is a multi-instrumentalist who studied composition in Paris with Jacques Castérède and in California with Morton Subotnik and others. He received his master’s degree from the California Institute of the Arts in 1990.
Most of Marquez’ music is very modern-sounding, and is usually a multi-media affair incorporating dance, theater, and film. But since the early 1990s he has also composed a series of pieces—there are seven in all—each called Danzón and each for a different combination of instruments. (He has even composed one for pre-recorded tape and saxophone.) His Danzón #2 for orchestra is perhaps his best-known work.
The danzón is a formal couple dance that comes from Cuba originally and can trace its heritage back to the habanera and the French contredanse via Haiti. It involves intricate footwork in a restricted space, and at times the couple will freeze in an elegant pose.
Marquez’ Danzón follows the traditional rondo-like form: a recurring section alternates with contrasting episodes. A solo clarinet leads the beginning of the work with a lovely and slightly melancholy melody. As the piece unfolds, the music constantly transforms itself—not even the repeated section appears the same way twice. The mood swings from the dramatic to the suave and from coyness to sultry sensuality; there is color, excitement, and a great deal of fun. What a gem!

*****

Hans-André Stamm
Concerto for Organ and Orchestra
Hans-André Stamm was born in Leverkusen, Germany in 1958. He composed this work in 1998, and it was first performed the same year at the opening concert of the 11th International Organ Academy at the Altenberg Cathedral in Bergisches Land, Germany. The score calls for solo organ, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, and strings.
*****
Hans-André Stamm began studying organ and piano at the age of seven; by the time he was eleven he was touring Germany and abroad as an organ virtuoso. He issued his first recording as a soloist at thirteen, and at the age of sixteen gave a solo recital at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Stamm studied organ with Hubert Schoonbroodt at the Conservatory of Liège, Belgium and later graduated from the Robert Schumann Conservatory at Düsseldorf. He later studied musicology at the University of Bonn.
Stamm has composed a large number of organ works, a piano concerto, works for solo instruments with organ, piano music, chamber music, three fairy tale operas, a mass, and numerous other choral works. He has also composed music for three documentary films.
Stamm writes the following about his Concerto for Organ and Orchestra: “The sub-title of this work is ‘The 23rd Psalm, Set to Music.’ The first movement, Allegro moderato, begins quietly in the strings, increasing to the first fortissimo of the work, in which running figures for the organ proceed to a mighty chord. Further development presents a game between a lyrical, melodious theme and a motoric, figurative one. After a final culmination, the movement closes in a diminuendo.
“The second movement, Andante larghetto (‘he leadeth me to green pastures’), also has two main themes, a chorale-like theme in 3/4 time and a lyrical, more flowing one in 6/8. This movement again closes softly after a climax.
“The final movement, Allegro, begins with a dance-like theme in 5/4 time which returns twice, like a rondo. A grotesque second theme in 4/4 and reminiscences from the first two movements join to form further passages. After a mighty pedal solo, the first main theme of the first movement appears in the tutti like an apotheosis, and the work closes with the dance-like opening theme of the third movement.”

*****

Modest Mussorgsky
Pictures at an Exhibition, Orchestrated by Maurice Ravel
Modest Mussorgsky was born in Karevo, Russia in 1839 and died in St. Petersburg in 1881. He composed Pictures at an Exhibition for solo piano in 1874. Ravel orchestrated the work in 1922 and this version was first performed in Paris the following year with Serge Koussevitzky conducting. The work is scored for 3 flutes, piccolo, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, alto saxophone, timpani, percussion, 2 harps, celeste, and strings.
*****
One of Modest Mussorgsky’s closest friends was Victor Hartmann, an architect, designer, and artist of great talent and even more promising potential. When Hartmann died suddenly of a heart attack at age 39, Mussorgsky was devastated. A retrospective of the artist’s works was organized shortly after his death, and Mussorgsky was deeply moved by what he saw there. A few weeks later he began his own tribute to Hartmann, Pictures at an Exhibition.
Mussorgsky composed a piano work of colossal proportions, so immensely difficult that performances are still quite rare. The piece is a collection of short movements, each representing one of Hartmann’s works, with a recurring “Promenade” that represents Mussorgsky strolling through the “gallery.” Many assume that all of the pictures described by the music had been on display at the Hartmann retrospective, but this is not so. Three of the pictures did hang there, but the rest Mussorgsky knew from having seen them at Hartmann’s home. Unfortunately, most of Hartmann’s art has been lost over the years; by the time Ravel’s 1922 orchestration revived interest in his work, it was too late.
The piece unfolds as follows:
Promenade: A trumpet leads as we enter the exhibition. Mussorgsky said that the uneven eleven-beat phrase in this music represented his own “unusual physiognomy.”
Gnomus: This is Hartmann’s design for a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a gnome.
Il Vecchio Castello: A painting of an unknown Italian castle, with a lute-playing troubadour included to provide a sense of scale. One of Ravel’s many brilliant strokes was assigning the troubadour’s lugubrious song to the alto saxophone.
Tuileries: A watercolor showing children at play in a corner of the famous Parisian garden.
Bydlo: “Bydlo” is the Polish word for “cattle.” The painting was a watercolor of oxen pulling a peasant cart with enormous wooden wheels.
Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells: A sketch of a child’s ballet costume in the shape of an egg, with the wearer’s head and limbs poking out through holes.
“Samuel” Goldenburg and “Schmuyle”: These portraits of two Polish Jews—one rich, one poor—were drawings owned by Mussorgsky himself. The quotation marks around the Yiddish name “Schmuyle” and its Germanized derivative “Samuel” seem to indicate that two different sides of the same personality were being described, neither of which was particularly pleasant.
The Marketplace at Limoges: This was Hartmann’s drawing of the cathedral at Limoges, but Mussorgsky depicted the banter of the market women in the picture’s foreground.
Catacombae, Sepulchrum Romanum: “Roman Burial Place.” This drawing showed Hartmann himself studying a pile of skulls in the catacomb by the light of a lantern.
Con Mortuis in Lingua Mortua: “With the Dead in a Dead Language.” This is a continuation of the previous piece. Mussorgsky wrote in the score: “The creative spirit of the departed Hartmann leads me to the skulls, calls out to them, and the skulls begin to glow dimly from within.”
The Hut on Fowl’s Legs: Hartmann’s drawing was a design for a clock in the shape of Baba Yaga’s hut, which stood on chicken feet. Baba Yaga was a cannibalistic witch of Russian folklore; Mussorgsky depicts her wild ride through the sky in the giant mortar she used to grind up the bones of her victims.
The Great Gate of Kiev: Hartmann once entered a design competition for a commemorative gate. A drawing that survives shows that Hartmann’s entry was a weighty structure with a cupola in the shape of a Slavonic helmet and enormous columns that appeared as if they had sunk deeply into the ground. The gate was never built.
Pictures at an Exhibition has been orchestrated more than a half-dozen times—the piano score fairly cries out for it—but by far the most popular version has been Ravel’s. When Serge Koussevitzky commissioned the project Ravel was pleased, for he had been suffering the composer’s equivalent of “writer’s block” and he hoped that the job would free his creative logjam. That was not to be, but Ravel’s brilliant work here has performed a great service to posterity: Pictures at an Exhibition has gone from a rarity to a concert hall staple. Russian composers always seem to have had a flair for colorful orchestration, and Mussorgsky surely did. To his credit, Ravel’s work does not make Pictures sound like a piece by Ravel, but instead is a superb recreation of how it might have been realized by Mussorgsky himself.

—Mark Rohr
Questions or comments?
markrohrprogramnotes@gmail.com

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