Deer Valley® Music Festival

History of the Music

History of the Music

Aladdin Skylights

By Jeff Counts

Dances of Galánta

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)

Duration: 16 minutes in five sections.

The 1930s provided interesting commission opportunities for Kodály. Many were related to anniversaries. During the decade, the Concertgebouw and the Chicago Symphony would both celebrate their 50th and the Budapest Philharmonic Society would have its 80th. The latter engaged the composer to compose a commemorative work in 1933, and Kodály, a pre-eminent folk scholar and proud native son, had plenty of material to bring to the project. The Slovakian town of Galánta, where Kodály spent several years as a child, was once part of Hungary. Kodály always spoke fondly of his Galánta days and owed much of his adult devotion to folk song collecting to the formative musical experiences he had there. An important element of the city's cultural legacy was the town band, led in Kodály's youth by a fiddle player named Mihók. Though not yet obvious to Kodály as a youngster, Mihók and his fellow musicians were part of a long-standing source of civic pride in Galánta. As famous as Mihók was in his own right, Kodály would later learn that the notoriety he enjoyed was based in part on a century-old custom, preserved in a large collection of old Hungarian dances that quoted the Galánta Gypsy tradition as a primary source. These legendary dances, paired with the sounds of Mihók's more modern Galánta band formed the DNA of Kodály's 1933 tribute to his adopted hometown. Most of the material Kodály chose for the Dances of Galánta was reconstructed in the Verbunkos style. Verbunkos was originally a form of military recruiting music meant to entice young males to enlist in the army, but it became an important 19th century Hungarian folk standard, one also occasionally referred to in the music of Kodály's compatriot Béla Bartók. Kodály handled the conducting duties himself at the premiere in 1934.

Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33

Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Duration: 18 minutes.

Tchaikovsky's famous row with Nikolai Rubenstein over the First Piano Concerto in 1874 led to a rare moment of courage from the composer, who refused to change a single note and withdrew the planned dedication in a huff. Little of that strength of will was present just two years later, however, when a disastrous marriage and ongoing financial woes left Tchaikovsky tentative and eager to please. The next test of fortitude came in the form a new work for cello and orchestra. Tchaikovsky sought the advice of Wilhelm Fitzenhagen and, to the surprise and frustration of his publisher, the composer acquiesced to nearly every suggestion Fitzenhagen offered. Fitzenhagen was a highly acclaimed cellist for whom Tchaikovsky had great respect, but it is difficult to imagine why the composer allowed him such a strong editorial hand. Fitzenhagen made many changes to the Rococo Variations (including the re-ordering of the variations themselves and even the deletion of one) and the sum of their impact altered the score significantly. The Rococo theme Tchaikovsky created for the work was purposefully reminiscent of Mozart and that brief moment in history when music was both Post-Baroque and Pre-Classical. The variations flow with incredible ease and stylistic mastery. Much is demanded of the soloist, but the rewards are equally plenty, with the virtuosity and beauty co-existing in perfect accord. Tchaikovsky was often defensive before questions of his demurrals to Fitzenhagen. Perhaps he found the joyous charisma of the piece too difficult to reconcile, given the turbulent personal issues that were leading him so inexorably toward the late symphonies. Or maybe he just saw it for what it really was—a genial, magnificent relic from a bygone day that was better served by Fitzenhagen's enthusiasm than his own darkening mind.

Élégie, Op. 24

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Duration: 8 minutes.

When Fauré's solo cello Élégie was officially premiered late in 1883, he was only weeks away from the birth of the first of two sons he would have with Marie Fremiet, his new wife as of the previous March. Life as a family man forced Fauré to be financially productive in ways that took time away from his composing, a pursuit he confined now mostly to the summer months. The Élégie actually dates unofficially back to 1880, at which time Fauré still intended it as part of full sonata for cello and piano. Though he found the positive reaction to an early private performance encouraging, he never did finish the sonata. The orphaned single movement did not suffer much though, and soon took on a new life as the highly appealing concert work we know today. Fauré called the "new" piece Élégie and dedicated it in tribute to cellist Jules Loeb, who had passed away in 1883. The piece was first performed that December in its sonata guise—cello and piano—but Fauré would orchestrate it several years later at the request of conductor Éduoard Colonne. For a composer who is remembered more for his many small efforts than his few grand ones, the Élégie represents Fauré's voice as surely as his Requiem. His style would certainly evolve in various ways as he aged (indeed it was already starting to do so by the time the Élégie was orchestrated) and he would prove an innovative link between the declining Romantic era and the rising 20th Century. It is from early distillations of the former aesthetic into simple, often monochromatic mood settings that we know Fauré best, however, and the somber straight lines of the Élégie display his lifelong gift for combining passion with grace.

Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Duration: 34 minutes in four movements.

The latter half of 1806 was productive for Beethoven, a composer for whom the fits of quantity in his professional life were perpetually tethered to the regular variations of quality in his personal life. After a bit of a creative lull, due in large part to the all-consuming work of Fidelio and the ultimately unsuccessful relationship with his beloved Josephine, Beethoven was overdue for a burst of activity.

In a manner not uncommon over the next two years, Beethoven bundled the premiere of the fourth Symphony with other first performances. A private concert was given in March of 1807 at the Vienna palace of Prince Joseph Franz von Lobkowitz and included not only the new symphony but also the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Coriolon Overture. Little was written about the initial reception of the premieres, but later commentary indicates that the symphony made a favorable impression on Viennese reviewers, who found it charming if anachronistic by the standards set forth in "Eroica." The dedicatee of the piece might well provide insight into that frequently voiced opinion. Beethoven completed the piece in late 1806 while in Silesia. He spent some time at the home of Count Franz von Oppersdorff, a man greatly enamored of the composer's Second Symphony. The Count was anxious to commission a new symphony and Beethoven agreeably obliged him with the fourth. Scholars often posit connections between the Fourth Symphony and the earlier, equally "Classical" Second(as opposed to the Third and Fifth) but the fact that this analysis matches so neatly with Count Oppersdorff's original motivation for the commission cannot be a coincidence. The academic grouping of Beethoven's symphonic catalogue into odd and even subsets is a well-worn exercise but, in this specific case, it seems reasonable to imagine that the composer had his patron's ear in mind while he worked.

DVMF Education information