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Symphony Orchestra Concert

  • Date: Sunday, November 10, 2013
  • Time: 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
  • Location: Center for Faith and Life, Main Hall

The Luther College Symphony Orchestra will perform a program highlighting faculty member Du Huang on Edvard Grieg's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in A Minor", Op. 16.

Other selections include the Prelude to Act III of "Lohengrin" by Richard Wagner, "Pelléas et Mélisande" Suite, Op. 80 by Gabriel Fauré, and "Les Préludes" by Franz Listz.

The concert is open to the public with no charge for admission.

See program notes by Symphony Orchestra Director, Daniel Baldwin below: 

Wagner; Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin

Richard Wagner was in exile (more or less) in Switzerland while composing Lohengrin.  The composer had fled Germany in 1848 to escape the wrath of the Dresden police after he had gotten involved with a radical political fringe inspired by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin.  To this day, if you visit the Hotel Schwanen in Lucerne, someone is bound to point out the corner of the drawing room where, on August 28, 1850, Wagner sat with watch in hand silently imagining his operaLohengrin, which at that very moment Franz Liszt was conducting at its world premiere at the Staatskapelle Weimar.  When the score to Lohengrin was published in 1852, it included a long and glowing dedication to “My dear Liszt!” “It was you who awakened the mute lines of this score to bright sounding life,” wrote Wagner.  “Without your rare love for me, my work would still be lying in total silence—perhaps forgotten even by me—in some desk drawer at home.”

Fauré; Pelléas et Mélisande Suite, Op. 80

Pelléas et Mélisande, a play by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, exerted an enormous influence on musicians throughout Europe in the years around the turn of the last century.  Performed for the first time on May 17, 1893 (in Paris), Maeterlinck's drama inspired the composition of at least four musical masterworks, written by four distinguished composers.  Of these four pieces, the best-known and largest in scale is the opera by Claude Debussy, who began his project even before the play was produced and who enjoyed the collaboration of Maeterlinck himself.  In 1903, the year after the premiere of Debussy's opera, Arnold Schoenberg, who at that time still pursued a more or less Romantic course in his compositions, and had considered an operatic treatment of Pelléas himself, completed instead the large-scale tone poem that was the first of his works for orchestra (Op. 5).  Two years later Jean Sibelius composed a set of incidental music for the play.  Earlier than all of these was another set of incidental music, composed by Gabriel Fauré at the request of Mrs. Patrick Campbell for her 1898 London premiere of an English translation of the play (which had been presented there in the original French three years earlier). 

Fauré was not Mrs. Campbell's first choice.  When she learned that Debussy was writing his opera, she approached him for music for her production, but he quite understandably declined, and Fauré was approached during his visit to London in April 1898.  "I shall have barely a month and a half to write all this music," he wrote to his wife, adding, "It is true that part of it already exists in my big head!" With help from his pupil Charles Koechlin in orchestrating the score, which included more than a dozen numbers, Fauré had it ready in time for the opening.  A short time later he extracted four numbers which he revised and reorchestrated to form the concert suite, Op. 80, introduced in 1903.

The story told in Pelléas et Mélisande is a dark romance.  During a hunting trip, Prince Golaud happens upon a mysterious maiden, Melisande, alone in the wood.  Touched by her vulnerability, he offers her the refuge of his ancestral castle and his hand in marriage. Although she accepts the Prince's offer, Melisande finds a more sympathetic companion in Pelleas, Golaud’s young half-brother.  Pelleas returns her affection, and with mounting anguish Golaud watches as their friendship grows into passionate love.  Inevitably, Golaud's jealousy leads to their deaths and his ruin.  

Liszt; Les Préludes

In 1848, after years of frenetic touring and concertizing, Franz Liszt accepted the post of musical director to the court of the Grand Duke of Weimar, and cut down on his performing activities in order to give himself more fully to composition.  Up to this time he had written almost exclusively for the piano.  Now he began to experiment with other forms; in fact most of Liszt's large-scale works belong to this period.  These large-scale works include the symphonic poems.  French composer Hector Berlioz had introduced his Symphonie Fantastique in 1832.  Liszt was so enthusiastic about the piece he immediately transcribed it for piano.  Berlioz and (especially) Liszt are credited with the development of a new musical genre—the symphonic poem.

Of all Liszt’s symphonic poems (he wrote at least twelve), only Les Préludes has remained in the active orchestral repertory. Written in 1848, extensively reworked in the six years that followed, Les Préludes was conceived as an introduction (or overture) to the choral composition Les Quatre Eléments.  Les Quatre Eléments was a group of choruses for male voices, a setting of four poems by Joseph Autran.  Unable to find a willing publisher for Les Quatre Eléments, Liszt decided to publish his overture as an independent piece.

 The composer was now faced with the problem of supplying a “program” and a title for the piece.  Eventually Liszt settled on a poem by Lamartine: Les Préludes, from a collection known as Méditations Poétiques.  At the top of the score Liszt wrote these words, drawn directly from Lamartine’s poem:  “What is our life but a series of preludes to that unknown song, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death?”  He then proceeds to describe Les Préludes as being “after Lamartine.”  As a matter of fact, Liszt conceived and composed this music without any thought for Lamartine’s ode.  The main similarity between music and poem is that both place pastoral and warlike elements side by side. 

Grieg; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 16
Edvard Grieg composed his only concerto during a holiday at Sölleröd in the Danish countryside during the summer of 1868; the premiere was given in Copenhagen on April 3 of the following year, with Edmund Neupert as soloist.  The composer was not present at his Concerto's premiere in Copenhagen, but such luminaries as Anton Rubinstein, Niels W. Gade and Emil Hartmann were, and Neupert, who played the solo part, sent Grieg a report three days after the premiere in which he quoted Rubinstein as having declared himself "astounded to have heard a composition of such genius."  The reaction of Franz Liszt, far more dramatic, came later, in an extraordinary meeting in Rome.


An early violin sonata of Grieg's had moved Liszt to write to him, commenting on his “strong, creative, inventive and well disciplined talent” and inviting him to visit.  Grieg called on him in April 1870, a year after the Concerto's premiere, and after performing the violin sonata with Liszt (who played the violin part on the piano and then astounded his visitor by playing both instruments' parts in an improvised setting) Grieg paid a second visit, this time bringing with him the score of the Concerto.  When Liszt asked him to play it for him Grieg said he could not, as he had never practiced the work; Liszt thereupon undertook to play it himself—having never set eyes on it before—and played it brilliantly, giving voice to his enthusiasm as he played.  At one point, near the end, he became so excited that he rose from the piano and strode about the room with his arms raised, singing the theme at the top of his voice, and then, as Grieg reported in a letter home, "he went back to the piano, repeated the whole strophe, and finished off.  At the end he said to me . . . 'You carry on, my friend; you have the real stuff in you.  And don't ever let them frighten you!' "

For further comment, we can do no better than to quote yet another of Grieg's early admirers, his Russian contemporary Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose words, while inspired by more than a single work, seem especially pertinent to the Piano Concerto.  In Grieg's music, Tchaikovsky wrote,

"there prevails that fascinating melancholy which seems to reflect in itself all the beauty of Norwegian scenery, now grandiose and sublime in its vast expanse, now gray and dull, but always full of charm . . . and quickly finds its way into our hearts to evoke a warm and sympathetic response. . . .  Hearing the music of Grieg we instinctively recognize that it was written by a man impelled by an irresistible impulse to give vent by means of sounds to a flood of poetical emotion, which obeys no theory or principle, is stamped with no impress but that of a vigorous and sincere artistic feeling. . . .  What warmth and passion in his melodic phrases, what teeming vitality in his harmony, what originality and beauty in the turn of his piquant and ingenious modulations and rhythms, and in all the rest what interest, novelty and independence!  If we add to this that rarest of qualities, a perfect simplicity, far removed from affectation and pretense . . . it is not surprising that everyone should delight in Grieg."

Questions? Contact Daniel Baldwin, 563-387-1692