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Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
Ludwig van Beethoven
Allegro vivace e con brio
Tempo di menuetto
Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Op. 28, TrV 171
Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony originated from a tumultuous time in his life. Beethoven’s lover, known cryptically as the “Immortal Beloved,” had left his life, and any hope of the two living happily together had ended. It was after this point that Beethoven fell into a long depression, and abandoned the idea of ever finding a true love. In spite of this, his Eighth Symphony remains one of his most joyful-sounding works. Beethoven composed the bulk of his symphony during his stay in a Bohemian spa town in 1812. It received its premiere in Vienna on February 27, 1814, just two months after the premiere of his Seventh Symphony. While the work was certainly not a failure, the audience did receive it rather lukewarmly. This reaction sincerely bothered Beethoven, for according to his student Carl Czerny, Beethoven thought his Eighth Symphony was “much better” than his Seventh.
To this day, Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony is an unloved child placed between his more popular Seventh and Ninth symphonies. Yet we should take Beethoven’s words seriously, as its sense of optimism is perhaps unmatched in any of his other works. Taking just about twenty-five minutes to perform, it is rather short for a mature symphony. Yet it is so rich in content that it can all flash by the unassuming listener much too quickly, and they could miss many of its novel effects.
The symphony begins with an energetic and cheerful opening, followed by a lyrically tender second theme played by the strings. The first movement, like much of the symphony, is full of sharp contrasts in character, in which the woodwinds, playing a lyrically quiet passage, will be interrupted by a furious full orchestral tutti. The second movement, marked “Andante scherzando,” is not a slow movement in the traditional sense: it is better to think of this as an orchestral interlude of sorts, or incidental music for a nonexistent play. The steady woodwind tones that open the movement define its character, giving it a clockwork feel. Many have even suspected that Beethoven was trying to imitate the unwavering pulse of the metronome, which had just been invented. The strings which accompany these woodwind tones quickly take over, transforming the movement to a balletic and song-like melody, before returning to the clockwork opening. The next movement, a minuet, was old-fashioned for the time, more typical of third movements of Mozart and Haydn’s day, and indeed it is yearning, nostalgic and pastoral in character. The fourth movement, which Tchaikovsky once called “one of the greatest symphonic masterpieces of Beethoven,” contains rhythmic complexity, jarring dissonant chords and pure, childlike delight. Here we get the sense of Beethoven enjoying himself, showcasing his virtuosity in orchestral writing. This movement, and the entire symphony, is fun and lively. It is both profound and innocent in character.
–Program Note by Greg Szwarcman
Osvaldo Golijov is one of the world’s most sought-after living composers. Raised by Jewish immigrants in La Plata, Argentina, he spent his youth listening to Jewish liturgical music, klezmer music and Argentine tango. His affinity for these styles led him to study composition at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy with Mark Koytman and later at the University of Pennsylvania with George Crumb. His compositions are rich with a variety of sounds from his influences—in them he explores klezmer and Caribbean music, electronic music, extended vocal and instrumental techniques, and borderless, evocative passages. His compositions range from chamber pieces to operas, orchestral pieces and film scores.
In 2010, Golijov wrote Sidereus, one of his more cinematic orchestral works. It premiered exactly 400 years after Galileo Galilei wrote his treatise of a similar name, Sidereus Nuncius, or Starry Messenger. This treatise comprises a collection of discoveries Galileo made through his newly invented telescope: he reported that the moon had a mountainous surface, the Milky Way galaxy had innumerable stars and Jupiter had four “satellites,” or moons. These discoveries were advancements beyond scientists’ comprehension regarding existence outside planet Earth. It seems Golijov gathered inspiration from these enormous discoveries in order to produce a work like his Sidereus—in many ways it pays homage to Galileo’s treatise.
Sidereus envisions its listener looking through Galileo’s telescope—ethereal oscillations pass through the upper string and woodwind sections that evoke imagery of some starry messenger from the heavens. All the while, the listener hears a duality of a triumphant brass motif, reflecting Jupiter’s highness and majesty, and a soaring melody passing through the strings and woodwinds. While these celestial elements unfurl, the listener is struck with urgency—the upper strings and woodwinds consistently play fast sixteenth note passages and tremolos, or rapid reiterations of the same or two notes to create a tremulous effect. The listener may find themself on the edge of their seat, waiting for some sort of extraterrestrial climax.
–Program Note by Sarah Files
Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
Richard Strauss took inspiration for his tone poem, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, from a mythical trickster character of 16th century German folklore. The piece lasts a mere 16 minutes, but tells a vivid story of Till’s “Merry Pranks” at the expense of the wealthy and powerful. In German folklore, Till Eulenspiegel sowed confusion and chaos wherever he went, targeting most often those in upper society and so acting as both entertainment and subtle social commentary.
Strauss provided a few lines of annotation in his score for Till Eulenspiegel, beginning with the violin’s opening first theme: the pleasant, cheerful melody easily brings to mind Strauss’ words, “Once upon a time there was a rogish jester…” A second theme immediately follows in the horn part, full of cheek and jaunty rhythms and under which Strauss wrote “whose name was Till Eulenspiegel.” Finally, the D Clarinet blows a musical raspberry that Strauss emphasizes with “That was a rascally scamp!”
Listeners will note the vast difference in character between the two themes introduced at the opening, but later on Strauss sometimes shifts their character tremendously. Till’s horn call, played softly the first time, gets repeated a bit louder, and then like an infectious troublemaker is caught up by the oboes, the clarinets, the bassoons, and so on until the whole orchestra is in Till’s grip. The excitement of the first section ends with Till metaphorically sticking out his tongue at the audience; the orchestra is silent as the D clarinet plays a rather irreverent seven-note phrase. The next section is full of Till looking for trouble and finding it. A fragmented Till theme in the lower strings evokes images of tip-toeing, until a cymbal crash interrupts, which Strauss accompanies with the words, “Hop! On horseback straight through the market women.” The chaos and shrieks Till elicits from the market women is clearly heard with flutter-tongue trumpets.
The end of Till Eulenspiegel takes an unexpected twist as Strauss deviates from the typical legend of Till, where he always escapes. Instead, Till is caught and graphically hanged, depicted by a strangled clarinet. The calmer music from the opening returns as if to remind the audience it’s best to behave. However, Till’s mischievous motives have the last word, suggesting his rebellious spirit lives on.
–Program Note by Lauren Palfreyman
Sometimes, you go to a classical music concert, and without even knowing a piece, you can hum along with the tune. The melody is predictable, the harmonies are easy to follow, and the beat remains steady. You can probably sense when you’ve reached the peak of the movement and can, for the most part, predict what is coming next.
Till Eulenspiegel isn’t one of those pieces.
Richard Strauss is well-known for his ability to create expansive soundscapes and paint musical pictures with his compositions. These types of compositions, in which the composer sets a story, painting, or other non-musical medium to music are referred to as “tone poems.” Other famous tone poems by Strauss include Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration and Also sprach Zarathustra. The latter two are fairly serious works, focusing on topics of philosophy and morality, with Also sprach being inspired by the existentialist writings of Nietzsche.
About Till Eulenspiegel, on the other hand, Strauss once said, “I just wanted to give the people in the concert hall a good laugh for once.” Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche) was written in 1894–95 and premiered in 1895 in Cologne, Germany. The piece is based on the medieval German folktale rogue, Till Eulenspiegel, who, much like Strauss, was known for his intense individualism, great drama, and resistance to convention. Strauss was drawn to this puzzling character and wished to use Till Eulenspiegel as his second chance at an opera after the disastrous premiere of his first opera. However, Strauss soon realized that this sort of superficial and scattered personality did not lend itself well to traditional storytelling; the opera would end up running in circles without much of a cohesive narrative.
The folktale does, however, lend itself perfectly to a tone poem with recurring themes. The opening theme in the strings sounds like a welcoming invitation; in his score, Strauss writes below the introduction, “Once upon a time there was a roguish jester…” It is not long until the jeering French horn melody, from off in the distance, introduces you to the mischievous Till. Throughout the piece, different sections of the orchestra represent the rogue—first the French horn, followed by a spectacularly theatrical clarinet theme with fluttering, explosive outbursts in the winds and strings.
Nothing about this musical setting is predictable. It seems each idea exists only to tease or interrupt another (well, except for the prominent viola variation––representative of morality and conventionalism––which exists only to be mocked). There are many moments where familiar tunes return, almost as if Till Eulenspiegel has taken a second to pop out and reveal his hiding place to us, only to be lost again soon after. You can see why this would not be so successful as an opera! Strauss himself did not even provide comprehensive program notes to help the audience understand the piece’s plotline. Instead, he preferred to “leave it to [his] hearers to crack the nut the rogue has presented them.” I invite you to do the same.
–Program Note by Anna Luebke
Recently described by Opera News as "a ninja warrior with a baton" for his performance of Berg's Wozzeck, David Neely maintains an active career in concert, opera and higher education. Previously serving on the conducting faculties of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, the University of Kansas and the University of Texas, Neely was named Kansas Artist-Educator of the Year for 2016–17 by the Kansas Federation of Music Clubs. He is currently the director of orchestral activities at the University of Maryland School of Music.
As music director and principal conductor of Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO), a post he has held since 2012, Neely continues to elevate the company’s musical profile with acclaimed performances of a wide range of repertoire such as Queen of Spades, Turandot, Billy Budd, Manon, Falstaff, Elektra, Peter Grimes, Dead Man Walking, Macbeth, Don Giovanni, La fanciulla del West, Rusalka and Flight. His performances have been praised in publications such as Opera News, Opera Today and the Chicago Tribune. Neely’s televised Manon and Billy Budd, produced by Iowa Public Television for DMMO, were awarded Emmys by the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Next summer, he will conduct the world premiere of Kristin Kuster and Mark Campbell’s A Thousand Acres, based on Jane Smiley’s 1991 Pulitzer-winning novel.
Neely is equally at home in concert, opera, musical theater and ballet settings. He has appeared as conductor with numerous orchestras, including the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Portland Symphony Orchestra, Bochumer Symphoniker, Dortmunder Philharmoniker and the Symphonieorchester Vorarlberg. He has led productions with Atlanta Opera, Sarasota Opera, Bonn Opera, Halle Opera, Dortmund Opera, Saarland State Opera, St. Gallen Opera and the Eutiner Festspiele, among others. He was associate music director of Chicago for the Munich and Basel runs of the current Broadway production. He has collaborated with such instrumentalists as Joshua Roman, Bella Hristova, Benjamin Beilman, Rainer Honeck, Nicholas Daniel, Delfeayo Marsalis, Phillippe Cuper, Ben Lulich and Ricardo Morales, in addition to countless singers of note, including Joyce Castle, John Holiday, John Osborne and David Adam Moore. Neely conducted the German premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage's The Silver Tassie, the North American premiere of David Dzubay’s Sijo for orchestra, Robert Orledge's reconstruction of Debussy's The Fall of the House of Usher as well as world premieres of Arthur Gottschalk's Four New Brothers, Billy Childs' Concerto for Horn and Strings, Alexandre Rydin's Clarinet Concerto and, at the University of Maryland School of Music, Maria Newman’s Our Rights and Nothing Less in celebration of the 200th birthday of Susan B. Anthony and the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, with Carmen Balthrop as narrator. He was recently music director of three new operas with Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative at the Kennedy Center and of a new opera for American Lyric Theater in New York.
University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra
Manager of Orchestral Activities
Anna Luebke, Concertmaster (Beethoven)
Myles Mocarski, Concertmaster (Golijov, Strauss)
Amir Nasseri, Principal 2nd (Beethoven, Strauss)
Eugene Liu, Principal 2nd (Golijov)
Rohan Joshi, Principal
Emily Doveala, Principal
Chad Rogers, Principal
Omar Martinez Sandoval
T. J. Wible