Deer Valley® Music Festival

History of the Music

History of the Music

Hamilton Park Interiors

By Jeff Counts

Mother Goose Suite

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Duration: 16 minutes in five movements.

Ravel's frustration with the shunning he received from the Parisian musical establishment—namely the magisterial Société Nationale de Musique and the priestly elite of the Schola Cantorum—fueled his leading role in the creation of the Société Musicale Indépéndante. The new group was founded with an open, foreign-friendly ethic that expressly flouted the stodgy authority of the Schola. Their inaugural concert took place in 1910. In addition to new works by Fauré and Debussy, the program included the premiere performance of Ravel's five movement suite for piano 4-hands, Ma Mère l'Oye (Mother Goose ). Drawing on the fairy tales of Charles Perrault and others, each miniature is a touching musical representation of childlike wonder. Fittingly, the suite is both dedicated to children and composed for them to perform. The Polish ex-pat artist Cipa Godebski was a great friend to the Ravels and Maurice was quite close with his family, eventually dedicating his Sonatine to Cipa and his wife Ida. The Mother Goose dedication came just a few years later, but this time for the Godebski's young children, Mimi and Jean. Ravel was hopeful that the two budding pianists would perform the premiere on the Société Musicale Indépéndante concert but the pressure of the event was reportedly too much for them. The honor instead fell to Jeanne Leleu and Geneviève Durony who, if less nervous, were also very young and perfectly suited to Ravel's intentions for the piece. The premiere was very well-received, and demand came quickly for an orchestration. Ravel obliged in 1911, creating the version we know best today, but he also later expanded the music into a ballet on a commission from Jacques Roché and the Théâtre des Arts. Ravel himself devised the ballet scenario, using Sleeping Beauty as the centerpiece and working the other stories in by way of her dreams.

Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K. 364

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Duration: 30 minutes in three movements

For a two-year stretch in 1778 and 1779, Mozart's desire to grow beyond the narrow demands of his day job in the court of Archbishop Colloredo found an outlet in a succession of multiple instrument concerti. Surviving works from this period of experimentation were the Flute and Harp Concerto, the Concerto for Two Pianos and the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. The environment in which these novel compositions were drafted was not a happy one. Mozart had just returned to work after the tour to Mannheim and Paris he had hoped would result in new employment. But, instead of a release from the mounting tedium of his Salzburg professional life, he lost his mother while they were in France. Scholars believe he wrote the Sinfonia Concertante in the last months of his Colloredo period in 1779, and some even suspect his firing shortly thereafter was related to its extracurricular nature. Upon receiving his walking papers, Mozart moved to Vienna immediately and permanently, without his mother but also without the mind-numbing oversight of the Archbishop. In the words of Michael Steinberg, a "Sinfonia Concertante" is "a symphony that behaves like a concerto" in that a surprising richness is pulled from the accompanying ensemble, despite its modest size. Mozart achieves this in part by dividing the viola section into two groups, a unique mechanism through which he establishes the work's color. Mozart was a highly capable violinist, but he loved the viola most, so the solo parts have equal footing in this piece. So much does the composer rely on the virtuosic standing of the violist, in fact, he asks them to tune their strings up one half-step to take advantage of the slightly brighter projection of a D Major sonority. Not many are willing to take on that particular challenge these days.


Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

Duration: 30 minutes in four movements

In a publisher's catalogue of his works, Poulenc is described by author Jean Roy as "daring, but not provocative." He was, according to Roy, a composer who "tried to please" but did so "in his own manner." The essay, which might appear from these limited quotations to be of the damning with faint praise variety, is actually a highly affectionate portrait of the 20th century's most charmingly humble composer. Poulenc was always eager to acknowledge his influences and inspirations before his accomplishments and, when tipping his hat to a forbear like Debussy, he would mention that he did not want anyone to think him "born of an unknown father." As influential for Poulenc as any artist from a former time, however, was his early membership in the irreverent crew known as Les Six. This creative collective included Erik Satie, Darius Milhaud, and Arthur Honneger, and Poulenc took their shared ethos of humor and wit very seriously. "The Six" eventually moved on to other individual things, of course, but Poulenc's compositional voice carried an accent of elegant lightness for the rest of his days. His breezy Sinfonietta was composed in 1947 on a commission from the BBC Third Programme radio show and premiered over the airwaves a year later. Poulenc never did write a symphony and, perhaps in good-natured preemptive agreement with the reviewer at the time who declared the Sinfonietta "too indecently daffy to earn its degree" as one, he gave it a diminutive title and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. It works as well as it does because of the type of person Poulenc was. On that score, Jean Roy gets the last word. Poulenc's music, in Roy's opinion, was "like a self-portrait" through which he could project the best parts of himself. "Sincerity," Roy concludes, "was his greatest quality."

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