Saturday May 4, 2019 7:30PM, at St. Stephen's Church - buy tickets
- Still - Summerland
- Rossini - William Tell Overture
- Szőnyi - Organ Concerto
- Kaeren Steele Fouts, organ
- Vaughan Williams - A London Symphony
William Grant Still - Summerland
William Grant Still’s prolific and extremely varied compositional output, in the years since his death, has been finally receiving its due. Still’s list of ground-breaking achievements is most impressive, and even more so for an African-American composer during the first half of the twentieth century.
Summerland is the second of three Visions, written in 1935. Originally composed for solo piano, this short, intensely expressive work has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments and combinations. The piece is essentially an elegy - dreamy and atmospheric, suggesting the summer of its title, with hints of the blues and a nod to his fellow composer Debussy.
Gioachino Rossini - Overture to Gillaume Tell (William Tell)
Rossini’s decision to abandon opera, after nearly 40 successful productions and barely halfway through his life, continues to puzzle historians. William Tell was Rossini’s final opera, very much a contrast to his previous and mostly lightweight works. A staging of Schiller’s play about the legendary Swiss patriot and archer, it is a sweeping, four-act opera in a beautiful and elaborate style, and rapturously received at the time.
The programmatic overture, approximately twelve minutes in length, contains four distinct and easily recognizable sections: At Dawn, The Storm, The Calm and Finale – the celebrated Lone Ranger theme. The work opens with solo cellos which suggest the calm of dawn, a compositional technique described by Berlioz as “the solemn silence of nature when the elements and human passions are at rest.” A storm in the mountains erupts, suggesting both violent weather and the political chaos Schiller was suggesting in his original play. This is followed by the serene and beautiful Alpine section played by the English horn, leading directly to the finale - a thrilling gallop full of infectious energy which, as Berlioz said “invariably excites the transports of the house”.
Erzsebet Szonyi - Concerto for Organ
Erzsebet Szonyi grew up with parents who loved music and literature, and who encouraged and supported their daughter’s musical interest. She was composing for the piano by the age of 13 and soon began studying theory and harmony. Interest in the choral works and folksongs of her compatriots Bartok and Kodaly influenced her own first works in these forms. Her association with Kodaly led to her lifelong interest in music education, particularly that of children.
Following the war, Szonyi studied with Messiaen and Boulanger in Paris. Upon her return to Hungary, she continued her association with Kodaly and in shaping the Hungarian educational system, especially with respect to children’s music education. At the same time, she began finding her own compositional voice, composing a children’s ballet in 1949, and her first opera in 1953. Szonyi’s works in the last decades of the twentieth century are primarily orchestral and choral, often based on literary or religious themes.
Erzsebet Szonyi’s organ concerto on tonight’s program dates from 1958.
Ralph Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 2, A London Symphony
Despite his young assertion that he’d never write a symphony, Vaughan Williams ultimately joined that mythic group of composers with nine such compositions to their credit, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak and Mahler among them. The nine Vaughan Williams symphonies span nearly sixty years, and each is individual, not repeating either the structure or music of the previous ones. Vaughan Williams was highly influenced by Tudor music and by the folksongs of his native England, as evidenced by his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, his most revered orchestral work. With the deaths of compatriot composers Elgar, Delius and Holst, all in 1934, Vaughan Williams assumed the mantle of foremost British composer, a putative title he held until his death in 1958.
A London Symphony, composed just prior to World War I, was subjected to revisions in 1918, again in 1920, and finally in 1933. It is this final version that is performed today. The work is in four movements:
- Lento – Allegro risoluto
- Scherzo (Nocturne)
- Finale – Andante con moto – Maestoso alla Marcia – Allegro – Lento – Epilogue
Despite Vaughan Williams’ insistence that the symphony is not programmatic (he insisted that a better title might have been Symphony by a Londoner), there are many suggestions to the contrary.
A few bars into the quiet first movement, the Westminster chimes are heard on the harp. Vaughan Williams himself wrote that the Lento second movement was intended to suggest “Bloomsbury Square on a November afternoon”. He goes on to say, regarding the third movement Scherzo, that “if the listener will imagine himself standing on Westminster Embankment at night, surrounded by the distant sounds of the Strand, with its great hotels on one side and the New Cut on the other with its crowded streets and flaring lights, it may serve as a mood in which to listen to this movement”.