Short programs

Short Program Notes (75 – 150 words)

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George Gershwin  (b Brooklyn, NY, September 26, 1898; d Hollywood, CA, July 11, 1937)
Lullaby for Strings

George Gershwin’s life is one of those great and inspirational American stories: the son of a poor immigrant family in Brooklyn who worked his way up from nowhere to becoming one of the most famous musicians in the world and his music hailed as representing America itself. Even in his fame, however, Gershwin made studying music a lifelong pursuit. Thus was born his wonderful Lullaby for Strings in 1919 which was composed as an assignment in harmony and counterpoint while studying with Edward Kilenyi, Sr.  Aside from Lullaby’s gentle hues, its sweet and lazy habanera/swing-like rhythms, and its two infectious and utterly unpretentious themes, one can hear a real glow in this work that emerges from the almost hidden inner voices (the harmonies and counterpoint) running underneath the melodies. Although Gershwin adopted Lullaby into a song in a new show Blue Monday (which flopped), the famous jazz band leader Paul Whiteman heard in it Gershwin’s talent, and commissioned him to write a new piece, which turned out to be Rhapsody in Blue.

 

 

Charles Gounod   (b in Paris, June 17, 1818; d in Saint-Cloud, October 18, 1893)
Final scene from Act V of Faust (1859)

The storyline of Gounod’s Faust follows roughly the plot of Part I of the famous Goethe play but with a few dramatic liberties. That famous story presents an aged Dr. Faust who, in his disillusionment with life and his science, appeals to the Devil, Mephistopheles, for youth and love. The “Faustian bargain” is made – Faust’s soul is sold and the inevitable tragic consequences begin to mount. In Gounod’s opera, the love interest is the innocent and pure Marguerite. With the conquest complete, and the baby born, Faust abandons her in pursuit of more youthful adventures. Shunned by society and shamed to her deepest core, poor Marguerite murders the child and goes to jail. Act V opens with Faust and Mephistopheles partaking in a hellish bacchanal, but Faust, out of guilt and sincere love for Marguerite, persuades Mephistopheles to help him free his tormented lover from prison. The final scene is in the jail cell, with a delirious, and dying, Marguerite repenting her soul to God and shunning Faust and Mephistopheles amidst their pleas for her to escape. Heaven’s choir gathers to bring their dear Marguerite home with them, as Gounod creates an incredibly powerful scene for the trio, chorus, and full orchestra with organ.

 

 

Ottorino Respighi   (b Bologna, Italy, July 9, 1879; d Rome, April 18, 1936)
Gli Uccelli (The Birds) Suite for Orchestra, P. 154
I. Prelude
II. The Dove
III. The Hen
IV. The Nightingale
V. The Cuckoo

Besides the fantastic and colossal orchestral tone poems (the Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome) that Italian composer Respighi is so well known for, he held high regard for older music, especially that for harpsichord and lute from the 17th and 18th Centuries. Several of his best compositions are informed by these old pieces, including this delightful portrait suite of birds, Gli Uccelli. In this work, the melodies are based on actual Renaissance and Baroque pieces about birds, but Respighi creates amazing orchestral worlds around those old melodies. All charm and friskiness, the pieces capture wonderfully the essences of birds – their grace in soaring and their lilting song, their darting movements and even their cantankerousness.