J STRAUSS II – DIE FLEDERMAUS OVERTURE
TCHAIKOVSKY – SWAN LAKE SUITE
FRANCK – SYMPHONY IN D MINOR
Our Winter Concert showcases the work of three great nineteenth century composer contemporaries whose renown quickly spread beyond their Austrian, Russian and Belgian homelands.
The concert will open in lively fashion with the Overture to Die Fledermaus (Opus 362) by Johann Strauss II (1825-1899). The full operetta, premiered in Vienna in 1874, followed soon after by performances in New York, London and Berlin, remains popular to this day along with the familiar dance tunes by ‘the Waltz King’. Having studied violin from an early age, necessarily behind his disapproving father’s back, he avoided a prescribed career in banking to blossom instead as a successful composer. His accessible music, later described as “so German”, was eagerly ‘adopted’ in the 1930s by the Nazis, who subsequently strove to conceal Strauss’s Jewish heritage. The rather unlikely storyline of the operetta itself centres on a bat costume, a drunken prank and some light-hearted revenge-taking, but there’s no disguising the wonderful tunes which emerge.
On account of his mastery of melody and orchestration, combined with a responsiveness to the atmosphere of theatre rarely noted at the time, it has been said that “Tchaikovsky was made for ballet”. Well, his ballet Swan Lake – featuring a young girl who has been turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer’s curse and the prince who falls in love with her – was the first of three such masterpieces by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). Although the Swan Lake Suite (Opus 20a), certainly intended and possibly sketched by the composer himself, did not emerge until 1900, the collection of six numbers not only encapsulates the wonderful story, but entrances the listener. The oboe solo associated with Odette and her swans has certainly become one of the composer’s best-known themes and, indicative of its instant appeal, the suite’s earliest noted performance was in 1901 in the Queen’s Hall (London’s top concert venue until its destruction in the Blitz).
The Symphony in D minor (Opus 48) by César Franck (1822-1890) is the Belgian born, naturalised French organist and composer’s best-known orchestral work. Importantly for musicologists, it employs the ‘cyclic form’ in which the main themes recur in all three movements, but for the wider audience its inherent tunefulness has sufficed to keep it firmly in the concert hall repertoire since the 1899 premiere. Initially criticised in the conservative Parisian academic circles of the day for the inclusion of a cor anglais part (alongside the oboes) and cornets (in addition to trumpets), the distinctive symphony quickly and regularly appeared in programmes across Europe and the USA thereafter, its popularity even rivalling that of Beethoven symphonies. Franck’s personal humility, simplicity and industry made him revered among his students, and his symphony was admired by the new generation of French composers including Debussy and Ravel. A conservatoire professor and the organist at the basilica of St Clotilde for much of his life, Franck also laid the groundwork for the influential symphonic organ style developed by Widor, Vierne and Dupré.