TCHAIKOVSKY FESTIVAL 1812 OVERTURE

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Maison symphonique de Montréal
Ticket Prices
$42* to $200*
Concert dates
Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - 8:00 PM Done
Artists
Oleg Caetani, conductorchef d’orchestre
Mischa Maisky, cellovioloncelle

Presentation of the concert

Tchaikovsky, Suite from The Sleeping Beauty (approx. 13 min.)
Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin, “Lenski's Aria” (arr. M. Maisky) (approx. 6 min.)
Tchaikovsky, Francesca da Rimini, op. 32 (approx. 22 min.)
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Tchaikovsky, Variations on a Rococo Theme, op. 33 (approx. 18 min.)

Tchaikovsky, 1812 Overture, op. 49 (approx. 16 min.)

 

 

Under the direction of conductor Oleg Caetani, the OSM welcomes three of the world’s most dazzling performers to bring the passion and profundity of Tchaikovsky’s music to life.

The larger-than-life 1812 Overture is a perfect foil to the elegant Variations on a Rococo Theme, performed by cellist Mischa Maisky.

The first of the OSM’s three programs in its Tchaikovsky Festival alternates works based on dramatic storylines with works for solo cello and orchestra. The music spans the gamut from restrained classicism to the outrageously sensational, and every one contains a wealth of the composer’s wonderful lyricism.

PIOTR ILITCH TCHAÏKOVSKI
Born in Votkinsk, May 7, 1840 – Died in Saint Petersburg, November 6, 1893
The Sleeping Beauty, op. 66
Excerpts from the ballet chosen by Oleg Caetani

Charles Perrault’s fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty from his Mother Goose stories has stirred the imagination of dozens of composers. But standing head and shoulders above all others is Tchaikovsky’s ballet score, which captures all the beauty, magic and enchantment of Perrault’s tale to perfection. Tchaikovsky himself thought it to be one of his greatest creations. Since its first performance in Saint Petersburg on January 15, 1890, it has been continuously in the repertory, and it remains one of the half dozen most beloved of all full-length ballets.

The numbers in tonight’s Suite all come from the Prolog and Act I. The sprightly “Dance of the Maids of Honor and Pages” takes place immediately after the famous “Rose Adagio,” in which Princess Aurora dances with her four suitors in turn. The “Waltz” in this suite, one of many in the ballet and one of the most beautiful, just precedes the “Rose Adagio.” In the Prologue’s “Pas de six,” each of six fairies does a little solo number as she presents her gift to the infant Princess. (We will hear four excerpts of this scene.) In the “Finale” to Act I, Aurora falls into a trance as the result of machinations of the evil Carabosse, and the Lilac Fairy steps forward to cast a spell of deep sleep over the entire court.

Eugene Onegin, op. 24 (excerpt), “Lensky’s Aria” (arr. M. Maisky)
Of Tchaikovsky’s dozen or so operas, Eugene Onegin (1879) remains the best known. It is based on Pushkin's famous verse novel, the story of a young, sophisticated and bored world traveler (Onegin) who inadvertently causes a simple country girl (Tatiana) to fall in love with him, a love he cannot reciprocate. In the course of the story, Onegin offends his best friend Lensky, who challenges Onegin to a duel. As Lensky awaits the arrival of Onegin at the appointed time and place, he muses melancholically on days of past happiness, on his love for Olga, and whether he will survive the ordeal facing him or die. Lensky’s deeply soulful, lyrical outpouring is perfectly suited for transferal to any tenor-range instrument.

Francesca da Rimini, op. 32
Forbidden love, love unfulfilled and love crushed by Fate are all prevalent themes in Tchaikovsky’s music (Eugene Onegin and Romeo and Juliet are perfect examples). The tragic tale of Francesca da Rimini, one of the most famous in Dante’s Divine Comedy, also ranks among these, and is presumably based on fact. Tchaikovsky’s musical portrayal takes place in the second circle of Hell, where souls of lustful sinners are eternally tormented by cruel, howling winds. When, in the course of his journey, Dante arrives at the second circle, he encounters Paolo Malatesta and Francesca, who approach and tell of their doomed love. Beginning with the words “There is no greater pain than happiness remembered in time of misery,” Francesca relates how she was betrothed to Gianciotto Malatesta of Rimini, who, being old and unattractive, wooed the beautiful young woman by proxy, his own younger and handsome brother Paolo. But Paolo and Francesca fell madly in love with each other, and when Gianciotto caught them, murdered the couple.

Tchaikovsky first considered writing an opera based on this tempestuous story. Instead he wrote a symphonic fantasia, employing his masterly orchestrative skills and theatrical flair to the fullest. The premiere performance, given in Moscow on March 9, 1877, received considerable critical acclaim, and the work has established itself as one of the most successful transformations of literature into music.

The composition opens with a gruesome sound invoking the smoldering pits and agonies that afflict the damned. In the Allegro vivo section, raging winds buffet the unhappy denizens, just as storms of passion possessed them in their former lives. In a contrasting quiet passage, introduced by a tender solo clarinet, Francesca tells Dante her tragic story. After its climax, the tempest returns, sweeping away the lovers in a turmoil of driving, screaming winds.

Variations on a Rococo Theme, op. 33
The Variations on a Rococo Theme grew out of the admiration Tchaikovsky held for music of the mid-to-late 18th century, especially that of his favorite composer, Mozart. The term “rococo” refers to a style common in mid-18th-century Europe characterized by delicacy, grace, charm and elegance, hence, expressive of a spirit of artificiality and lighthearted sentimentality. Tchaikovsky’s homage to a bygone era was written in 1876, more than a century removed from the period it nostalgically evokes.

The theme, presented by the solo cello after a short orchestral introduction, does indeed breathe a Mozartian air, and is followed by seven variations. The first two are lively, at times even virtuosic for the soloist. A brief passage for woodwinds announces the end of each variation. With the third variation, the mood and tempo change. The writing is more chromatic, the spirit more yearning, the mood more romantic than rococo. At the end, the cello climbs to its uppermost range. The fourth variation is marked by passages of great technical flair for the soloist, often unaccompanied by any orchestral support. A flute presents the theme for the fifth variation, to an accompaniment of cello trills. A wide-ranging cadenza for the soloist leads into the D-minor sixth variation, where we momentarily leave the rococo world for a mournful, deeply touching passage. The final variation returns us to high spirits, gaiety, and perhaps just a touch too much exuberance for the rococo age, betraying its composer as a true romantic.

1812 Overture, op. 49
The 1812 Overture was written as a pièce d’occasion to honor a page in Russian history: the victory of Russia over Napoleon’s invading forces during the winter of 1812. Nearly seventy years after Napoleon’s withdrawal, the Cathedral of Christ the Redeemer was erected in Moscow to commemorate this event. Tchaikovsky was asked to write music for the consecration of the cathedral. An outdoor performance was planned for the square in front of the Cathedral. Brass bands, cannon fire, shotguns and the pealing of every church bell in Moscow were to be incorporated. But as it happened, the church festivities took place without Tchaikovsky’s music. The first performance was delayed until an all-Tchaikovsky concert conducted by Ippolit Altani at the 1882 Russian Art and Industrial Exhibition in Moscow.

The musical content can only be described as a potpourri: the Russian hymn God preserve Thy people (the opening passage for eight solo cellos) opens the Overture 1812. Quotations from the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, describe the French progress in their campaign. Russian opposition comes in the form of two Slavic melodies Tchaikovsky lifted from earlier works of his. During the final assault of the French to the Marseillaise tune, Russian artillery fire effectively sends them into retreat, and the Russian forces triumph to their own hymn accompanied by bursts of cannon fire and the tintinnabulation of giant bells.

© Robert Markow

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