Paul Wittgenstein – Left-Handed Pianist & WWI POW

Paul Wittgenstein Pianist

Paul Wittgenstein 3 BFMI.jpg Created by Unknown https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Wittgenstein

August 13 is International Lefthanders Day and we’re approaching the 100th anniversary of the WWI armistice. So it’s a good time to highlight a left-handed pianist who also served (and was captured) in the war – Paul Wittgenstein. For any die-hard M*A*S*H fans, this name might sound familiar. In an episode titled “Morale Victory”, Winchester tells a wounded drafted concert pianist the story of Paul Wittgenstein and provides him sheet music for Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand commissioned by Wittgenstein himself.

Paul Wittgenstein was born in Vienna to a wealthy family. He is the older brother of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Growing up, his household was visited by prominent composers including Brahms, Mahler, Josef Labor, and Richard Strauss. Paul would often play duets with these figures. He would go on to study piano and made his public debut in 1913. However, World War I broke out a year later and he was called up for service.

While serving in WWI, Paul was shot in the elbow and captured by the Russians during an assault on Ukraine. His right arm was amputated and he was held as a prisoner of war in Siberia. It was during this time that he resolved to continue his career using only his left hand. He wrote to Josef Labor to request a concerto for left hand. After the end of the war, he studied intensely, learned Labor’s composition, and began to give concerts again. Despite receiving reviews qualified with comments that he played well for a one-armed pianist, he persevered. He didn’t want to be regarded as an oddity or congratulated for not being one. He wanted to be taken seriously as a musician with an artistry all his own. He commissioned additional works from other composers, most notably Ravel. Unfortunately, he made changes to the score for the premiere and Ravel was so angry, the two were never friends again.

Two other commissioned pieces worth mentioning were written by Prokofiev and Hindemith. Paul never performed Prokofiev’s 4th Piano Concerto. He stated about the work, “I do not understand a single note in it, and I will not play it.” It was not performed until 1956 when Siegfried Rapp, who also lost his right arm in war, requested the score from Prokofiev’s widow. As for Hindemith’s Piano Music with Orchestra, Paul rejected it outright not only not performing it, but also refusing to let anyone else play it either. In fact, it was hidden and only discovered in 2002 after his widow’s death.

In 1938, Paul and his wife fled to the US and lived in New York. He spent the rest of his life there, teaching gifted students without charge and playing. He became a US citizen in 1946. In 1942, Britten wrote his Diversions for the left hand and it became one of the last pieces Paul commissioned.

Many of the pieces Paul Wittgenstein had commissioned are still performed today, although most often by two-armed pianists. Two more recent pianists who lost the use of their right hands have also performed these works: Leon Fleisher and João Carlos Martins.

His posthumous reputation as a performer is mixed. Some regard him as a world-class pianist while at the same time noting his harsher playing in later years. His tendency to rewrite and alter without authorization make him a controversial figure in the music world. He often complained about the pieces he commissioned, including the final work by Britten. Still, when you consider all he went through, how he persevered in spite of it, and the contributions he made to new music, he is a remarkable artist and musician.

Why Do Orchestras Need Sheet Music and Soloists Don’t?

Sheet Music

Whether you are an avid orchestral performance attendee or you go to the occasional concert or two, you have probably seen at least one concerto featuring a soloist. You may have even had the opportunity to see a soloist perform with or without an accompanist (which is often a piano). One thing you may or may not have noticed, however, is how orchestras use sheet music while soloists, and even some ensembles, typically do not. Why?

Lack of Time: An orchestra doesn’t have the luxury of a lot of time to learn pieces. Some professional orchestras rehearse as little as two times before performing. Community orchestras usually have about 1-2 months of rehearsals prior to a concert. Still, that is not enough time to memorize 3 or 4 pieces which can span 3-6+ pages each. Orchestras, also, typically only perform the music on one night and then move on to different music for the next concert. The sheer volume of music an orchestra goes through makes it impossible to memorize every part.

A soloist, on the other hand, spends years practicing and perfecting the same pieces, performing them over and over to different audiences and with different orchestras.

Breadth of Works: There is so much orchestral music out there to choose from. Estimates are nearly impossible to make especially since music continues to be written to this day. Even if you just speculate that there have been 10,000 composers throughout history and each one wrote just 100 pieces, the result is 1 million pieces. That is an awful lot of music to memorize as a member of any orchestra – professional or volunteer. And the odds that an orchestra member will play the same piece more than once or twice in their lifetime is slim.

On the other hand, soloists tend to have a memorized, well-rehearsed repertoire ready to go at a moment’s notice. And when they are asked to play something outside of their repertoire or they are asked to play a new composition, they are given plenty of time to prepare and memorize the piece before performing it.

Need For Consistency: Each member of a section needs to play tightly in unison with other members. You can’t have 10 first violins, each playing something slightly different. During rehearsal, conductors will typically give direction about tempos, dynamics (volume), bowings, and breathing and the musicians will note that in the sheet music to remember for future rehearsals and the performance. Memorizing the music and remembering all those directions is not only difficult, but also not useful for future performances where other conductors may ask for something different.

Soloists, however, have a lot more room to interpret the music as they want. The accompanist or orchestra follow the solo performer’s lead.

All of this is not to say that being a soloist is any easier than playing in an orchestra. Soloists have a unique skill set and face different challenges. They are required to perform their best with very few rehearsals – maybe 1 or 2 or at most. They are expected to play from memory but, at the same time, play with a passion that keeps the audience engaged.

The bottom line is that orchestra members and soloists use sheet music differently due to their unique circumstances and requirements.


2018 Denver Area Veteran’s Day Events

 

Updated 8/13/2018

When it comes to Veteran’s Day, Denver does it right. From concerts to parades and more, this coming October-November offers numerous ways to celebrate veterans and active military.

Veteran’s Day 2018 (which is Sunday November 11) is particularly special because it marks the 100th anniversary of the WWI Armistice. The armistice ended fighting on land, sea, and air between the Allies and Germany. It came into force at 11 am (Paris time) on November 11, 1918. Hence the phrase the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” and that Veteran’s Day is also known as Armistice Day in the US.

If you’re looking to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice, recognize veterans and active military, or both, here are some of events to check out.

Denver Area Veteran’s Day Events List:

Salute: A Denver Area Veterans Day ConcertParker Symphony Orchestra: Salute: The Colorado Mormon Chorale and the Parker Symphony join together to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice. This program of music of remembrance and celebration features popular songs of the times, music of consolation, and spirit-rousing anthems. Selections include Battle Hymn of the Republic, Requiem for a Solider (from Band of Brothers), When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Sousa’s US Field Artillery March, a WWI Medley, and more.October 26 at 7:30 at PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker, CO 80138 Tickets available now: https://parkerarts.ticketforce.com

Veterans Salute: An event in Aurora honoring and remembering 100 years since the end of World War I. Held on Wednesday November 7 from 9:30 – 1:30 PM. Tickets will go on sale September 7. Wings Over The Rockies, 7711 E Academy Blvd #1, Denver, CO 80230

Denver Veterans Day Parade: Thousands of spectators will line Civic Center Park and nearby streets to honor local Veterans and enjoy floats, car clubs, marching units, bands, and more. Saturday November 10 at 10 AM. Parade starts at 14th St and W Colfax Ave.

Denver Veterans Day Run 5K/10K: Hosted by Colorado Veterans Project, this is Denver’s official run for Veterans. The memorial 5K/10K fun run is open to runners, joggers, walkers, dogs, and kids of all ages. Register at https://www.denverveteransday.com/run/ Sunday November 11 at 8:00 AM at City Park

Healing Warriors Program Logo for Star Spangled GalaStar Spangled Gala: A fund raising event supporting non-narcotic treatments for pain and Post Traumatic Stress. Will feature Carolyn Strauss as the Master of Ceremonies and the Denver Dolls performing a tribute to the Andrews Sisters. October 20 from 5 PM – 9 PM at the Joy Burns Center Tuscan Ballroom, 2044 East Evans Ave, Denver, CO 80208

Free Meal At Applebees: Applebees is offering veterans and active duty military a free meal on Veteran’s Day (November 11). Find an Applebees near you

 

Stay tuned for more events…

 

Other Colorado Veteran’s Day Resources:

2018 Local Veterans Day Deals for Veterans

Colorado Veterans Project Events

Denver Veteran’s Day Site

Colorado Springs Veteran’s Day Parade

Colorado in WWI

 

Why Cellists (and Musicians in General) Hate Pachelbel’s Canon in D



Ah, Pachelbel’s Canon in D. It’s a staple at weddings. It’s almost always found on “relaxing classical music” playlists. It can even be heard during the holidays both in its original form and as incorporated into Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas Canon.

It is perhaps one of the most famous baroque pieces that almost anyone – classical music fan or not – can hum without help. And yet, it is also one of the most hated by musicians themselves, particularly cellists. But why?

That Terrible Bass Line

Pachelbel’s Canon, as it is commonly known, is one part of his Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo. In simple terms, a canon is similar to a round – like Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Typically, one instrument or voice starts the melody and other parts then join in. Unlike a round, however, the parts in a canon don’t have to be exactly identical.

Pachelbel uses the techniques of the canon with 3 voices engaged in the “round”. He adds a basso continuo (bass line) which is independent – making the piece more of a chaconne than a canon. This bass line is the cello part. The same 8 notes that repeat throughout the entire piece with no variation. This is why cellists cannot stand playing this piece. As everyone else in the room enjoys the lovely sounds of the canon, the variations of the melody that travel through the violins and viola, the cello is stuck playing the same two-bar line – one that is so simple it can be played by beginning students. Musically speaking, this is definitely not challenging or fun for cellists.

Canon In D Bass Line

…or is it? The Piano Guys have a wonderful rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon that plays on this common cellist complaint and takes the piece to new heights.

Incidentally, I describe the bass line as the cello part, but it can be played by other instruments (as is the case in wind ensembles).

It’s Overexposed

It’s not just the bass line that is played over and over again. The entire piece itself seems to be overplayed. Weddings, parties, relaxing CDs, holidays, etc. It’s everywhere.

In addition to its original form, the piece’s chord progression can be heard in numerous other places including in popular music. Green Day’s Basket Case, Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger, and Vitamin C’s Graduation are all based on the same chords. Some songs even incorporate samples of the original, as is the case in Coolio’s C U When You Get There.

One could argue that that’s evidence of the simple genius of the piece. Comedian Rob Paravonian would disagree with that.

There Are Many, Many Better Pieces

Perhaps one of the most common reasons musicians give for why they dislike (or even hate) Pachelbel’s Canon is because there is plenty of “better” classical music out there to choose from. One Google search for “relaxing classical music” or “classical wedding music” will return numerous options that are NOT the famous canon. Debussy’s Clair de Lune, Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, and Elgar’s Salut d’Amour just to name a few.

Musically, Pachelbel’s Canon also doesn’t offer much. For those who were taught to listen closely to minute details in music, the piece falls far short from anything written by Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s unsophisticated and highly redundant.

But its simplicity is effective. The unvarying melody at the root of the composition and the repeating basso continuo line are designed to sustain a mood. Unlike other pieces that use a chord structure that gives the music forward momentum (dynamic harmony or chord progression), Canon in D uses a chord structure that does not vary much (static harmony). So unlike music that creates moments of tension and relaxation to tell a story, the canon’s repeating chords serve to prolong the same calm feeling throughout the entire piece.

When It’s Played Badly, It’s Awful

Because the piece is so well-known, mistakes and intonation issues stick out like a sore thumb. One lazy performer – including the musician falling asleep while playing the bass line – can ruin the entire piece.

So while the piece may be the bane of your existence for any of the reasons mentioned above, if you have to play Pachelbel’s Canon, be sure to play it well and in-tune or everyone will notice.


Parker Symphony Orchestra Announces New Concertmaster



Cindy Carrier Announced as Parker Symphony ConcertmasterMusic Director René Knetsch and the Parker Symphony Orchestra announce the appointment of Cynthia Carrier as the orchestra’s new concertmaster. Ms. Carrier succeeds former concertmaster Nadya Hill.

Ms. Carrier is an established violinist and music teacher. She was the assistant concertmaster of the Lone Tree Symphony and performed with the Parker Symphony last year. She has also previously performed with the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra dell’Università di Firenze in Florence, Italy, the Lakeshore Symphony Orchestra in Chicago, the Midwest Chamber Ensemble, and the Lee’s Summit Symphony Orchestra in Missouri. As a soloist, she performed in the Kansas City and Chicago areas including at the Gospel Fest in 2005 in front of an audience of over 3,000. She is currently also an elementary school music teacher in Castle Rock. She earned a Bachelor of Music Education from Wheaton College and a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

“In my heart I know that the decision to choose Cindy is the best one for the PSO,” said Mr. Knetsch. “She has such maturity in her sound, and a command of her instrument. She exudes confidence, and has such poise….. an impressive young woman.”

Ms. Carrier’s first appearance as concertmaster will be at the Parker Symphony Orchestra’s season opening concert on Friday October 26, 2018 at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center in Parker.

The Best Classical Music Inspired By Shakespeare

Shakespeare Music - photo courtesy of http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/shakespearelang/2017/06/13/music-in-shakespeare/

Image from http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/shakespearelang/2017/06/13/music-in-shakespeare/

It is a well-known fact that Shakespeare’s influence spread well beyond his plays and far beyond idyllic Stratford-upon-Avon. He gave us new words like “fashionable” and “softhearted”. He inspired figures like Freud, Dickens, and George Washington, to name a few. His reach can even be seen as far as the planet Uranus – 25 of its 27 moons are named for Shakespearean characters. A bit closer to home, however, are the numerous orchestral and vocal works that were written about Shakespearean storylines and characters. From A Midsummer Night’s Dream to The Tempest, here is a rundown of the best classical music inspired by Shakespeare.

Mendelssohn – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Mendelssohn wrote music for Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream on two separate occasions. He first wrote a concert overture in 1826 and then in 1842 he incorporated the overture into incidental music he wrote for a production. The exclusively instrumental movements, the Overture, Scherzo, Intermezzo, Nocturne, and Wedding March, are typically played as a suite in both concerts and recordings and they remain among the most famous of all Shakespearean classical music. In fact, the Wedding March is the traditional music you hear when the just married couple exits the ceremony.

Gade – Hamlet Overture

Like Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky wrote both an overture and incidental music about Hamlet. Liszt also wrote a symphonic poem titled Hamlet. But it is Danish composer Niel Gade’s Hamlet Overture that made our list because of its emotionally dramatic nature that is truly evocative of Shakespeare’s play. A symphonic poem of sorts, it begins with a funereal march that foreshadows tragedy followed by an animated, angry theme in a minor key that eventually leads to a pulsating theme in a major key (perhaps a Hamlet and Ophelia love theme). The piece then returns to the funereal march in a unified conclusion. The Parker Symphony will be performing Gade’s Hamlet Overture on May 11!

Dvořák – Othello Overture

Critics sometimes note that Dvořák’s Othello Overture has a “New World Symphony” quality to it, but for anyone who has heard his In Nature’s Realm Overture, the similarities in some of the melodies are indisputable – and with good reason. The work is the third part of a trilogy called “Nature, Life, and Love”. The other two overtures are In Nature’s Realm and the Carnival Overture. Othello is by far the most emotional of the three works with sweet moments woven in between intense and even ominous parts. Dvořák called it “the most substantial and the most subtle, touching emotions not engaged by its more outgoing companion works.”

Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet

You’ve no doubt heard parts of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet in popular culture – most recently “The Dance of the Knights” as ominous music in The Apprentice. But there’s more to this ballet and its music than just that one melody. Love, quarrels, fights, and the balcony love scene all offer amazing musical moments. Note: Tchaikovsky also wrote a Romeo & Juliet overture worth listening to.

Verdi – Macbeth

Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play that Verdi adapted for the operatic stage (he also wrote Otello, Falstaff, and Re Lear). It is also one of only a handful of Shakespeare-inspired operas that have made their place in standard repertory. When he set out to write, Verdi wanted to make Macbeth one of his best scores. He was truly inspired by Shakespeare’s play calling it “one of mankind’s greatest creations.”

Schumann – Julius Caesar Overture

It was not only inspired by Shakespeare’s play, but Schumann’s Julius Caesar was also heavily influenced by Beethoven’s Egmont overture. It shares the key of F minor with Beethoven’s work as well as the sonata form and a code in a major key. A known musical cryptogram enthusiast, it has been suggested that there is a cipher for “C-A-E-S-A-R” in this work’s opening chords.

Schubert – An Sylvia

From the title, it’s difficult to see how this fits the Shakespeare music theme. However, An Sylvia was inspired by a scene in Two Gentlemen of Verona. It is a German lied (an art song in which a German poem is set to music). The text is a German translation of the poem, “Who is Sylvia” from Act 4, Scene 2 of the play. Schubert wrote this at the height of his career and while it seems simple, it also has an elegant and witty quality that is perfectly aligned with the tone of the play.

Walton – Suite from Henry V

Before the times of John Williams were numerous film score composers you may not know. And like some of today’s compositions, some of this film music can truly stand on its own. William Walton’s music for the 1944 film Henry V can be counted in this category. He manages to achieve dramatic effect that delivers a top-notch musical adventure. The music was arranged into a suite and recorded in 1963.

Korngold – Much Ado About Nothing

Korngold is another name known for his film scores (although he also wrote an amazing violin concerto). In 1918, prior to his time as a film composer, he was asked to write incidental music in Vienna for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The result was music with imaginative melodies, rich tones, and lush harmonies that help it stand on its own as an independent work.

Sibelius – The Tempest (Stormen)

The Tempest is considered by many to be among Sibelius’ greatest achievements. Written as incidental music to the play, Sibelius strove to represent individual characters through specific instrumentation. Critics note that his use of harps and percussion to represent the ambiguity of Prospero is a truly inventive choice. This along with another work titled Tapiola were the last of Sibelius’ works. After that he spent his remaining 32 years writing almost nothing else.

 

7 Interesting Facts About The Grieg Piano Concerto

Grieg at the Piano

This May, DU Lamont School of Music’s Heidi Leathwood will join the Parker Symphony in performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. It’s one of the composer’s most popular works and one of the most loved and performed of all piano concerti. Whether you recognize the opening notes or have heard the whole thing numerous times, chances are you don’t know all there is to this to this stunning piece. Here are 7 interesting facts about the Grieg Piano Concerto.

  1. It was Grieg’s only completed concerto. When he was just 25, Grieg wanted to make his mark on the world. This was his first work to employ an orchestra and it was an instant success. Many expected the composer to write a second, but one never came. He began work on a second concerto in B minor, but he never completed it. Several pianists have recorded the sketches and in 1997 the Oslo Grieg Society held a competition in which one contestant elaborated a full concerto from the sketches. Grieg also started work on a violin concerto that also was not completed.

  2. It is often compared to Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Not only did Grieg and Schumann each write only one piano concerto, they both wrote theirs in A minor. Both works also begin on a similar descending flourish on the piano. Schumann wrote his first and Grieg heard Clara Schumann perform it about 10 years before writing his own. It is said that Grieg was greatly influenced by Schumann’s style having been taught piano by Schumann’s friend.

  3. Grieg did not perform it at the premiere. Some sources say that Grieg was the intended soloist but he was unable to attend the premiere due to previous commitments in Christiania (now Oslo). Anton Rubinstein, however, was in attendance and he even provided his own piano for the occasion. Danish composer Niels Gade (who wrote the Hamlet Overture which the PSO is also performing in May) was also in the audience.

  4. It was the first piano concerto ever recorded. German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus recognized the importance of the gramophone. His 1909 recording of the Grieg Piano Concerto was not only the first recording of that work, but the first time any concerto had been recorded. Due to the technology of the time, however, it was a heavily abridged performance that lasted only 6 minutes.

  5. A pianist died while performing it. On April 2, 1951, pianist Simon Barere collapse on stage while playing the first few bars of the Grieg Piano Concerto. The performance was with conductor Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York. Unfortunately he died backstage shortly after collapsing.

  6. Grieg revised the work at least 7 times. Most of the updates were subtle, but they add up to over 300 differences from the original orchestration. The final version was completed only a few weeks before Grieg’s death and this is the version we know today.

  7. The concerto contains Norwegian folk music influences. This isn’t surprising since Edvard Grieg was from Norway and like other composers including Dvorak and Sibelius, he sought to pay tribute to his homeland in much of his music. The opening flourish of the concerto is a motif typical in Norwegian folk music while the last movement contains imitations of the Norwegian folk fiddle and halling (a Norwegian dance).


Don’t miss Heidi Leathwood’s performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor along with other Scandinavian pieces at the Parker Symphony Orchestra concert on May 11 at PACE. Tickets are on sale now.


Heidi Leathwood Joins The PSO For A Denver Area Mother’s Day Weekend Concert

Parker Symphony May Concert Grieg Piano Concert - Denver Mothers Day EventThe Parker Symphony and Parker Arts present the final concert of the 2017-2018 season on Friday May 11 (Mother’s Day Weekend) at 7:30 PM at the PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker. The concert is titled “Grieg Piano Concert and Other Scandinavian Favorites” and will feature Heidi Brende Leathwood from the University of Denver Lamont School of Music on the piano.

Ms. Leathwood has performed with members of the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Colorado Symphony. Since moving to Colorado in 2001, she has performed regularly with leading musicians in the Front Range area. She was a prize winner in the Stravinsky Awards International Piano Competition and the Ruth Slenzynska National Piano Competition among others. She is currently part of the Lamont School faculty teaching the Alexander Technique and Piano.

In addition to Ms. Leathwood’s performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, the Parker Symphony will also be playing Sibelius’ “Karelia Suite”, Alfven’s “Midsommarvaka”, and Gade’s “Hamlet Overture”.

Tickets for this Denver area May concert are available now at the PACE Center online box office (https://parkerarts.ticketforce.com/), by phone at 303-805-6800 or in person at the PACE Center. And they make excellent Mother’s Day gifts!!


Established in 1994, the mission of the Parker Symphony Orchestra is to perform orchestral music that will educate, entertain, and inspire the people of Parker, Colorado and the surrounding communities. Under the direction of René Knetsch, the PSO is an all-volunteer orchestra, seventy five members strong, dedicated to continual excellence and growth. They perform with the goal of offering interesting and entertaining performances to tempt everyone’s musical palate.

Karelia Suite Captures The Spirit of Finland



Karelia, Finland

Since the Karelia Suite was composed by Jean Sibelius, a Finnish composer, you can imagine he infused a lot of his homeland into the piece. What you may not know, however, is that the piece is more than just inspired by Finland – it is entirely all about Finland. From the title, which refers to a region made up by southeast Finland and parts of Russia, to the premiere in Vyborg, this work captures the spirit of Sibelius’ country and was not only popular during his time, but remains one of his most performed works today.

The Karelia Suite is actually music that was commissioned by students from the Helsinki University in Vyborg for a historical tableau – a set of scenes from the history of Karelia. The original work was called Karelia Music and was an intensely patriotic work, incorporating Finland’s main folk legends from the Kalevala (a 19th century work of epic poetry based on Finnish mythology). It consisted of an overture, 8 tableau movements, and two intermezzo movements. Sibelius created the suite we know today using 3 of the movements.

The three movements of the Karelia Suite are:

  • Intermezzo: Sibelius borrowed the brass theme from the middle of the 3rd tableau to create this lively movement. It is a jaunty movement intended to depict the procession of Karelian laborers paying taxes to Duke Narimont of Lithuania.
  • Ballade: This was based on tableau 4 of the original music. It tells the story of 15th century Swedish king, Karl Knutsson, feeling reminiscent while listening to his bard singing in the castle.
  • Alla Marcia: This exhilarating march is very similar to the last half of the 5th tableau in the original music. The original tableau, however, depicted a violent city siege. This movement in the suite, however, is light, sunny, and jolly.

When the original Karelia Music premiered in 1893, it was not performed in the best of circumstances. The audience, made up of students from the university, was so loud that many could not hear the music at all. Sibelius himself remarked, “You couldn’t hear a single note of the music – everyone was on their feet cheering and clapping.”

Finnish author Ernst Lampén, who was in the audience, recalled:

The noise in the hall was like an ocean in a storm. I was at the opposite end of the hall and could not distinguish a single note. The audience did not have the patience to listen and was hardly aware of the music. The orchestra was actually there, behind the pillars. I thrust my way through the crowd and managed to reach the orchestra after a good deal of effort. There were a few listeners. Just a handful. I arrived just when they were playing the march. What a extraordinarily charming and varied melody! What a springy rhythm!

Despite this initial performance, Sibelius went on to conduct a very popular concert that included the Overture plus the three movements that would become the Karelia Suite and thanks to its wonderful reception, the composer decided to sell the pieces for printing. Many of the original tableaus may have been lost to fire (Sibelius burned many of his manuscripts in 1945), but the Karelia Suite survived.

Today, critics note that this suite combines rustic melodies with grand, noble moments to reflect both the rough, simple life and the deep patriotism of the Karelian people. Listening to the various movements (particularly the opening of the Intermezzo and the Alla Marcia), one cannot help but think of the beautiful wilderness, the vast tundras, and the proud people of Finland.

If you’d like to hear the Karelia Suite performed live, join the Parker Symphony on May 11 at the PACE Center when we perform this and other Scandinavian works.


Legends of The Abduction from the Seraglio

Abduction from the Seraglio
Mozart was just 26 years old when he was commissioned to write the opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail or The Abduction from the Seraglio and it was not only a huge success, but also a trendy work the likes of which hadn’t been seen before. Everything Turkish was all the rage and not only did Mozart set the opera in a Turkish harem, but he also flavored the music with unconventional instruments like cymbals, triangles, and big drums to evoke the Janissary bands of Turkey. The poet Goethe said that it “knocked everything else sideways.” But it was the words of the Emperor Joseph II (who commissioned the work) that are forever associated with the opera.

In the movie “Amadeus”, the Emperor said of the opera, “Too many notes. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.” While there are many aspects of the film that are at the very least, exaggerated, this quote is actually based somewhat in truth (although disputed). Reportedly, the Emperor complained to Mozart that the work was “too fine” for his ears, remarking that “there are too many notes” to which Mozart replied, “There are just as many notes as there should be.” The exchange was recorded in Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes, but some scholars doubt the authenticity of the story because the reference book contained the original German and the translation was dubious. Still, whether true or not, the legend has stuck with the work and certainly comes to mind when listening to even just the overture (which you can hear us perform on February 23!).

Another interesting legend around “Abduction” is the similarity between the story in the opera and Mozart’s personal life, almost like he purposely infused his own experiences into the work. At the time he was commissioned to compose it, Mozart was trying to take his life into his own hands. He had just moved to Vienna after being dismissed by his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg Hieronymus Colloredo, a man he was said to have “hated to the point of madness”. He rented a room from the Weber family, and fell in love with the family’s daughter Constanze. Much like the the opera’s female protagonists who wish to be rescued from their harem, Mozart himself knew the feeling of being confined and wishing for freedom.

During this time, Mozart was also waging a battle via letters with his father. His father continued to try to exert influence over him while he attempted to convince his father to agree to his marriage with Constanze Weber. This is very much like the hero, Belmonte, who struggles against Pasha Selim to win freedom and the right love Konstanze. It’s also worth noting that the opera’s heroine bears the same name as the composer’s love interest (and future wife). Perhaps the composer was making a statement about his own life in writing “Abduction” or maybe he was just drawing on it for inspiration.

The Abduction from the Seraglio was a triumph from its opening night, becoming Mozart’s most popular and legendary work in his lifetime. It greatly raised Mozart’s standing with the public as a composer. The first two performances brought in a large sum and the work was repeatedly performed in Vienna throughout the rest of his life. It is firmly ensconced in the opera repertoire today and there are at least 52 complete recordings in circulation.

Be sure to hear us perform the Overture from The Abduction from the Seraglio on February 23 at 7:30 PM.