Born in 1975 in Calgary, Alberta
This work was premiered on May 6, 2012 at St Brigid’s Centre for the Arts by the Ottawa Youth Orchestra conducted by John Gomez. It is scored for strings.
Robert Rival was the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Resident Composer from 2011-2014. His music, written in a contemporary tonal style and inspired by the Canadian wilderness, literature, and classical and romantic musical forms, has been described as “well crafted,” “engaging,” “immediately appealing,” “melodic and accessible,” “sophisticated,” “memorable”—and his song cycle, Red Moon and Other Songs of War, as “an unequivocal hit.” His orchestral works, programmed regularly across Canada, include Lullaby, for the ESO’s Carnegie Hall debut—lauded as an “atmospheric dream world” and “a work of quiet rapture and refined sensibility”; the muscular Achilles & Scamander; the dazzling Whirlwind; Northwest Passage Variations on the Stan Rogers tune; the Renaissance-inspired Delights & Discords for chorus and wind ensemble; and the sweeping Symphony No. 2 “Water”” whose textures and rhythms were suggested by the ocean and rainforest. His diverse catalogue of chamber music is widely performed. Scholarly publications include articles on Shostakovich and Nielsen. He has written liner and program notes for major festivals and record labels. Rival holds a doctorate in composition from the University of Toronto. Based in Kingston, Ontario, where he teaches at Queen’s University, Rival lives with his wife Chantal-Andrée Samson, a realist oil painter and their son.
Rival describes his string orchestra work, Spring, as follows:
“I composed Spring in Edmonton during the winter of 2012, one of the balmiest on record. With temperatures above zero most days and little snow on the ground, spring always felt just around the corner—even in January. Visions of blooming trees, chirping robins and flowing water turned out to be just the inspiration I needed to fulfill a commission for the Canadian Music Centre’s Norman Burgess Memorial Fund, one that required me to write a “vigorous” work with a focus on “rhythm and metre” for advanced youth string orchestra.
The principal theme of this rondo, with its rising fifth motif, staccato accents and gushing runs, establishes the work’s predominantly exuberant tone. I evoke spring’s vitality with syncopation, irregular accents, cross-rhythms and imitation of all types (including fugato and stretto) and the wonder instilled in us by the season’s burgeoning activity with contemplative, lyrical episodes.
I composed Spring for the strings of the Ottawa Youth Orchestra of which I am an alum (violin). John Gomez, still the musical director all these years later, remarked, after leafing through the score for the first time, that he sensed its ‘spring energy: the melt, the softer winds and the growth.’ I hope that listeners are reminded of that giddy feeling that spring brings as well as the heavy rains that accompany the season of rebirth.”
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Born March 1, 1810, in Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, Poland
Died October 17, 1849, in Paris, France
This work was premiered on October 11, 1830, in Warsaw with the composer as soloist. It is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, trombone, timpani, and strings.
Frederic Chopin was the proverbial man without a country. His father was a tutor to the Polish Countess Justyna Skarbek’s son and was well connected in aristocratic circles. As a young child Chopin was able to begin piano studies with the best teachers available. After finishing high school in 1826, he attended classes at the University of Warsaw, specializing in composition – not piano performance. In 1829, having learned all he could in Warsaw, the young Chopin decided to study abroad, but the Education Ministry would not approve his funding request. However, he was able to afford a short vacation to Vienna where he performed to such acclaim that he realized that private funding himself might be his best option. Although there was little certainty in this plan, it was all that he had. On November 1, 1830, just months after returning, he set out for Vienna as the first stop on a planned European tour to seek fame as a composer/pianist. Within a year, he was in Paris. He would never return to his homeland.
Chopin found solace in Parisian musical life, much more suited to his numerous salon pieces than was Vienna’s more elitist musical community. In Paris he could socialize with poets, novelists, and other musicians, while his skills as a pianist were in great demand. Tales of his performances are legendary, but such information is based on accounts of fewer than a dozen appearances. Despite his disdain for the concert hall, he composed hundreds of intimate works for piano solo, most of which have never left the repertoire. He was so dedicated to his instrument that every work he composed included the piano.
After contracting tuberculosis in 1839, Chopin would live the remaining decade of his life in varying degrees of frailty. He avoided balmy weather, spending his summers at the country estate of his lover George Sand (the pen name of female writer Amandine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin), returning to Paris in October. Although his music is often performed with great bombast, the most difficult task for the performer is to refrain from doing so, as one must remember that Chopin’s diminutive size and sickly condition would have precluded such an interpretation on his part. In place of physical power, Chopin’s music has a delicacy of ornamentation and harmonic shading shared by few composers of his day.
One of the most meaningful parts of Chopin’s farewell concert in Warsaw in October of 1830 was the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1. In March of that year, he had given his Piano Concerto No. 2 (written and premiered first) at his first public appearance in that city. The new work was received with great adulation and allowed the twenty-year-old pianist and composer to set off for Vienna with great hope of success.
Historians are quick to state that Chopin’s musical tastes were quite conservative. Nearly all of his music for solo piano is written in a compact form – nocturne, mazurka, waltz, etc. However, many of these forms were quite new and their use for salon music was quietly revolutionary. In his concertos, Chopin saw the orchestra as a means of conveying his piano solos on a grand scale. He has also been criticized for a lack of orchestrational skill as compared to Wagner or Berlioz (both of whom he vilified as being too cutting-edge), but Chopin created suitable and functional accompaniments that serve to enhance the decidedly progressive piano writing, which was his sole purpose in composing for orchestra.
Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 opens with a long orchestral introduction in ¾ meter that expertly sets the tone for what is to follow. When the piano enters, it is with the nobility and delicacy we have come to expect from this master of miniatures. As the first movement progresses with the usual drama and interplay between piano and orchestra, Chopin gives the soloist the lion’s share of responsibility, filling nearly every measure with dazzling pianistic figurations.
The second movement is designated as a Romance, but is really an extended nocturne for piano and orchestra in all but name. After a brief evocative introduction, the piano enters with a meltingly beautiful theme that repeats with the delicious ornamentation that is Chopin’s trademark.
After an interrupted beginning, the final rondo commences with its polka theme that returns throughout the movement between more elaborate episodes. This perfect showpiece for the piano grows more complex as it progresses, in turn, through tender and virtuosic sections. The final pages of the concerto contain some of the most difficult and exciting pianistic devices of the nineteenth century. After a final statement of the polka theme, a brisk coda races to the end with blazing scales and arpeggios that leave the audience as enthralled as the soloist is exhausted.
©2015 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60
Ludwig van Beethoven
Born December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany
Died March 26, 1827, in Vienna, Austria
This work was first performed in March of 1807, at a private concert in the palace of Prince Joseph Lobkowitz in Vienna. It is scored for flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings.
Although Ludwig van Beethoven was rarely accused of being cheerful, the period during the composition of the Fourth Symphony, 1806-07, was among the least traumatic of his adult life. Beethoven spent the autumn of 1806 at the Czech estate of Prince Carl Lichnowsky. During his visit, he made the acquaintance of Count Franz von Oppersdorf who was such a great lover of music that he only hired servants who could play certain instruments. In this way, he maintained a full orchestra at his Polish estate.
Oppersdorf commissioned Beethoven to write two symphonies for his ensemble. Since the composer was already hard at work on the piece known today as the Fifth Symphony, he decided to postpone its completion so he could begin writing another and offer both at the same time. The Count paid a deposit and assumed that he would be receiving two works. However, after sending the Fourth Symphony to Oppersdorf, Beethoven sold the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies in 1808. In addition, the Count did not realize that the work he received had already been premiered at the home of Prince Lobkowitz, Beethoven’s patron, in March of 1807.
The lightness of this symphony, described by Robert Schumann as a “slender Greek maiden between two giants from the North,” is conspicuous between the monumental “Eroica” and the majestic Fifth Symphony. Although hardly a work of simple technical demands, the symphony is more joyful and nimble than most of Beethoven’s works.
The first movement begins with a mysterious introduction, completely out of character as compared to the rest of the work. The listener’s expectation of a dark and somber symphony is thwarted when the playful Allegro vivace suddenly enters. The mood is among the sunniest in all of Beethoven. The development section gradually envelops the orchestra in a musical mist, as the character slowly turns more serious. As gradually as it arrived, the fog dissipates as the recapitulation arrives. As with all of the movements in this symphony, it concludes with a masterful coda.
The Adagio is a broad, singing movement of sentimental melodies. Hector Berlioz called it “angelic and of irresistible tenderness.” The Scherzo frolics with melodies that jump around the orchestra from one instrument to another. The trio relies heavily on woodwind instruments, often dividing them into small chamber groups within the orchestral textures. Beethoven repeats the Scherzo and trio, as he would do later in the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. The witty finale, a la Haydn, is lighthearted fun from beginning to end. Especially amusing is the bassoon solo, just before the recapitulation, in which the comic instrument seems to scurry back into the texture of the full orchestra as the new section begins.
©2015 Orpheus Music Prose & Craig Doolin