Mussorgsky's pictures at an exhibition
Presentation of the concert
HAYDN, Symphony No. 59, “Fire”
PROKOFIEV, Violin Concerto No. 1
GOOD, BERTRAND, RYAN, world premieres – OSM commissions
MUSSORGSKY, Pictures at an Exhibition
One of the most original creations ever conceived, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition serves as an anchor for a concert that will include works from the archives of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts projected on a giant screen. This program, under the direction of Maestro Kent Nagano, also features Haydn’s highly evocative Symphony No. 59, “Fire”; Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 performed by violinist Viviane Hagner (with whom the OSM has recorded an album devoted to the music of Unsuk Chin); and the premiere of miniatures by three Canadian composers who are drawing their inspiration from works in the permanent collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – their inspiration, meaning the works are not necessarily a programmatic representation of the canvases.
One of the most imaginative works ever written for piano, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, serves as the anchor for a program that includes projections on a giant screen of paintings from the Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts. Also on the program will be Haydn’s Symphony No. 59 (faintly suggestive of its nickname, the Fire), Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and three miniatures by Canadian composers all receiving their world premieres. Each of these Canadians – Scott Good, Simon Bertrand and Jeffrey Ryan – has drawn for his inspiration on a painting from the Museum’s permanent collection. These paintings do not necessarily serve as programmatic content for the music, but rather as points of departure, much as Mussorgsky’s piano pieces served Ravel in his orchestration.
Franz Joseph Haydn
Born in Rohrau, Austria, March 31, 1732
Died in Vienna, May 31, 1809
Symphony No. 59 in A major (Fire)
Andante o più tosto allegretto
This symphony dates from the mid-point of Haydn’s life, probably 1767 or 1768. The nickname Fire was not assigned by Haydn. Possibly it came from the symphony’s use as incidental music for a play by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann, Die Feuersbrunst (The Conflagration), given at Eszterháza in 1774 (some sources say 1778). Although it is contemporaneous with Symphony No. 39 in G minor, one of the signposts of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period, it is an outgoing and cheerful work.
The first movement begins with a vigorous, strongly rhythmic subject followed shortly later by a more tranquil second subject. There is an obvious theatrical quality to the second movement. One theme is simultaneously energetic and melancholic, the other beautifully melodious. The theme of the Menuetto is close to that of the previous Andante movement, though now in A major rather than minor. The Trio, however, reverts to the minor tonality. It is scored for a four-part string section though violas and basses play a decidedly subordinate role. In the finale, the wind instruments – oboes and horns – are featured; Haydn even assigns them the opening subject alone, a subject that recurs in varying configurations throughout the movement and brings the symphony to a surprise ending.
Born in Sontsovka, Ukraine, April 27, 1891
Died in Nikolina Gora (near Moscow), March 5, 1953
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19
Scherzo : Vivacissimo
Prokofiev began working on a violin concertino in 1915, but put it aside to concentrate on his opera The Gambler. In 1917, despite the unsettled political climate, he went back to the sketches and completed the work as his First Violin Concerto, which received its first performance in October of 1923 at one of the Concerts Koussevitzky in Paris. While the work was considered too “romantic” for a Parisian audience attuned more to the avant-garde (composer Georges Auric went so far as to call it a “Mendelssohnism”), the Russians liked it when it was first played there. Joseph Szigeti wrote in his memoirs, With Strings Attached, that the concerto fascinated him at first sight for “its mixture of fairy-tale naïveté and daring savagery in lay-out and texture.”
Two slow movements frame a fast central scherzo. In addition to technical brilliance, the concerto also requires from the soloist a clear understanding of the overall structure and unity of purpose.
Born in Toronto, April 8, 1972
Now living in Toronto
Evening, North Shore, Lake Superior
Scott Good studied composition with Samuel Adler, Gary Kulesha, Christos Hatzis, Chan Ka Nin and Joseph Schwanter, and trombone with John Marcellus and Alain Trudel. Among his many prizes and awards are those from the Winnipeg New Music Festival Composers Competition (1996), the SOCAN Young Composers Competition (2000-2001) as well as the John Weinzweig Prize (1999).
Evening, North Shore, Lake Superior was inspired by the painting Evening North Shore by Franklin Carmichael. The composer writes: “This painting has personal significance, as I have been to this place many times. Carmichael’s careful choice of subjects: a thriving landscape and decay, reveals a microcosm of the life cycle. The dying trees reach out in the evening of their life – are they yearning for the last rays of sunshine, or offering an invitation to join?
“The music is written to evoke this kind of contemplation. The bulk of the orchestra paints the trees through the intoning of intervals of the perfect fifth, establishing the mood, harmonic rhythm, and color. The English horn comments as the observing protagonist, reflecting emotionally on what the landscape offers. The cymbals wash throughout, gently intoning the wind moving through the branches and caressing the observer.”
Born in Montreal, November 27, 1969
Now living in Montreal
Simon Bertrand plays clarinet and saxophone in a variety of symphony orchestras and jazz ensembles. He found his calling as a composer while studying analysis with Gilles Tremblay. He also studied briefly with André Prévost, and then with Henri Dutilleux and Claude Ballif in Europe. He was nominated for the Opus Prize for Best New Work of the Year in 2011-2012, and in January 2013 he received the Opus Prize for Composer of the Year.
Bertrand thinks of Gravité, inspired by Riopelle’s 1956 painting Gravity, as a cross between Messiaen and Dutilleux on the one hand and the American minimalism of John Adams on the other. He explains:
“Rather than attempting to create a simple musical interpretation of Riopelle’s eponymous painting, I tried to imagine the thought processes that gave birth to it as well as the physical work the artist underwent in the painting process. Also, when an observer sees a canvas for the first time, there are several stages in the viewing process: first impression, standing back for another look, focusing on details, a last glance before moving on, etc.”
To depict in sound how a viewer might come to terms with the painting, Bertrand has divided his composition into five continuous sections, which he entitles as follows: “Strolling around while thinking about nature,” “An idea of what the painting will look like,” “Musing before applying brush to canvas,” “Riopelle at work,” and “A final look at the result.”
“It is interesting,” continues Bertrand, “that one can already discover birds concealed in the wonderful chaos of this painting (at least as I see it), an intriguing thought when one considers how important birds were to Riopelle in his late work. I couldn’t resist incorporating this element into my musical tribute to this great Quebec artist, one who could be modern while also being “one of us.” I also made a small bow in the direction of Bolduc, who liked Riopelle’s work and who paid tribute in a painting.”
Born in Toronto, February 24, 1962
Now living in Toronto
Jeffrey Ryan has been composer in residence with the Vancouver Symphony, affiliate composer of the Toronto Symphony, and guest composer with the Winnipeg Symphony’s New Music Festival. He has been nominated three times for a Juno Award. Moving, Still is dedicated to the memory of Betty Goodwin.
“The work of Canadian artist Betty Goodwin (1923-2008) expresses duality: fragility with strength, surface with depth, individuality with collectivity. Two dimensions create the illusion of three. Solid black from a distance reveals flashes of colors up close. The still form of a nest belies the inner movement of countless twigs that weave around each other and seek to escape. Moving, Still reflects these qualities in sound: layer upon layer, color upon color, tempo upon tempo, the sustained tones of a single large chord enclosing constant activity.”
Born in Karevo, March 9, 1839
Died in St. Petersburg, March 16, 1881
Pictures at an Exhibition (orch. Ravel)
Pictures at an Exhibition was originally written for piano in 1874, a few months after Mussorgsky had attended an exhibition of more than four hundred works by Victor Hartmann. This had been organized by the important music critic Vladimir Stassov at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Mussorgsky’s score sets forth in ten musical portraits an imaginary visit to a museum. The composer explained his idea in a letter to Stassov:
“My dear generalissimo, Hartmann is bubbling up in me like Boris did. Sounds and ideas have been hanging in the air; I am devouring them and stuffing myself. I barely have time to scribble them onto paper. I am writing the fourth number. The links are good (the Promenade). I want to finish it as quickly and securely as possible. My physiognomy can be seen in the interludes. Up to this point I think it is turning out well.”
The connecting link in the music is a short, easily identifiable theme (the “Promenade”). Included in Mussorgsky’s Pictures are musical descriptions of a grotesque gnome, the hut on chicken legs belonging to Baba-Yaga (the witch of Russian folk tales), and a medieval castle. In “Catacombs,” Hartmann himself, lantern in hand, explores the catacombs of Paris. Ravel’s magnificent orchestration, done in 1922, doubles the listening pleasure of Mussorgsky’s imaginative score.
Translated by Robert Markow
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