A Little Romance
Felix Mendelssohn: Overture for Winds
The Overture for Winds, Op. 24 by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was composed in July of 1824 for the court orchestra of Bad Doberan near Rostock, where the young musician was accompanying his father. Writing for the Boston Symphony, George Marke remarks, "Some artists develop their craft slowly, others seem to being at the top. There is little difference between Mendelssohn's early and his mature works."
The original score was lost but recopied by Mendelssohn in July of 1826. These two scores were entitled "Nocturno" and were written for the instrumentation of one flute, two clarinets, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, one trumpet, and one English bass horn (a conical bore upright serpent in the shape of a bassoon).
In his correspondence to the publisher Simrock, Mendelssohn mentions his desire to have this eleven-instrument version published, but apparently could not locate the score, as he never mentions it again to Simrock after March 4, 1839. Mendelssohn did send Simrock and Ouverture fur Harmoniemusik (Overture for Wind Band) scored for twenty-three winds and percussion along with a four-hand piano score on November 30, 1838. The 1838 composition is a re-scoring of the Nocturno for German Band of that era and was not published until 1852 following the death of Mendelssohn.
It has been suggested by musicologists that the 1838 re-scoring was an effort to imitate the orchestral color of Weber's Preciousa Overture. In Weber's overture, a gypsy melody is introduced by a small wind band with percussion accompaniment. At this time, however, Mendelssohn was also negotiating for the publication of the overture by Mori in London. It is quite possible that the re-scoring was an attempt to acquire greater performance opportunities for his work by making it available in settings for British and German band along with a proposed edition for orchestra.
Several editions for modern instrumentation have appeared, all using the 1838 score as their source. However, the rediscovery of the 1826 autograph makes possible this edition based on the most authentic source known to date.
Program Note by John P. Boyd
Trauersinfonie (Trauermusik) by Richard Wagner
On December 14, 1844, the remains of Carl Maria von Weber were moved from London, where he had died, to Germany. Wagner composed Trauersinfonie for the torch-light procession to Weber’s final resting place, the Catholic Cemetery in Friedrichstadt. As part of his musical remembrance, Wagner arranged several portions of Weber’s opera, Euryanthe, for a large wind band. This wind band was accompanied during the funeral procession by 20 drums. The first part of Trauersinfonie is an arrangement of music from the overture to Euryanthe which represents the vision of Emma’s spirit in the opera. The main section of the work is taken from the cavatina Hier dicht am Quell, the text of which contains numerous references to death. The coda comes from a passage in Act II that recalls the opening “spirit music.” Wagner amassed all of the military bands around Dresden for the occasion, and was gratified by the effect. He remained fond of the work throughout his life and in Mein Leben, he wrote, “I had never before achieved anything that corresponded so perfectly to its purpose.”
Concertpiece No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn
In September 1831 Mendelssohn arrived in Munich as one stop on his two-year grand tour of Europe. There he composed and premiered his G minor Piano Concerto, and also visited with Heinrich Bärmann and his two clarinet-playing sons, Carl and Heinrich Jr. In October Mendelssohn made an arrangement of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F, Op. 18, No. 1 for two clarinets, basset horn, and bassoon for a musical party at the Bärmanns, and it succeeded so well that he was inspired to write two original Concertpieces for clarinet, basset horn, and piano for Heinrich Sr. and Carl the next year, published posthumously as Op. 113 (F minor) and Op. 114 (D minor). Both works are disposed in three movements (fast-slow-fast) and require a masterly technique that serves as testimony to the highly developed skills of the Bärmanns. The opening Presto of the Concertpiece No. 2 is the most dramatic movement in either work; the Andante is animated by an incessant, wide-ranging broken-chord accompaniment; and the closing movement is a scintillating showpiece for the paired clarinets.
Richard Strauss: Serenade in Eb, Op. 7
Richard Strauss’s father, Franz, was the principal horn player of the Munich Court Orchestra and was recognized as Germany’s leading virtuoso of the instrument. His mother came from the prominent brewing family of Pschorr. Although he enjoyed a conventional education as a boy, Strauss still devoted most of his time and energy to music. When he left school in 1882, he had already composed more than 140 works.
Through his father’s connections, Strauss met the leading musicians of the day, including the conductor Hans von Bulow, who commissioned Strauss’s Suite for 13 Winds in B flat, Op. 4, for the Meiningen Orchestra and invited Strauss to conduct the work’s first performance in Munich in November 1884. Following this successful conducting debut, von Bulow offered Strauss the post of assistant conductor at Meiningen. Had the young Strauss not written his first wind serenade (Op. 7) three years earlier, the success of his Op. 4 (errantly listed before Op. 7 due to its publication date) would likely have been in question, and his career most certainly could have developed along a different path.
Composed in 1881, exactly 100 years after Mozart’s Serenade No. 11 in E flat, the Op. 7 Serenade was, in Strauss’s own words, “nothing more than the respectable work of a music student.” Strauss scored the work for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, along with four horns and contrabassoon (or tuba). Upon hearing a performance of the work in 1900, he would remark, “double woodwinds are impossible against four horns.”
The Serenade premiered in Dresden on November 27, 1882, and has aptly been explained as representing the young Strauss’s filtering and distillation of the influences of Mozart and Mendelssohn into something remarkably original. The contour of the melodies easily identifies the seventeen-year-old as the future composer of works filled with moments of the beautiful lyricism found in Der Rosenkavalier and, especially, his late opera Daphne with its rich wind scoring.
Strauss moves from calm waters one moment to surges of great intensity in the next, and his choice of orchestration throughout the Serenade embodies a depth rarely exhibited by a 17-year old composer. One particularly notable choice can be found in the recapitulation, which begins with perhaps the most evocatively beautiful moment in the Serenade as the horns play the first theme with great warmth—an eight-bar phrase which surely must have put a smile on his father Franz’ face.
Berlioz: Grand Funeral and Triumphal Symphony
The Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale—or Grand Funeral and Triumphal Symphony—was Hector Berlioz’s fourth and last symphony, first performed in 1840. The French government for the 10th anniversary of the July Revolution that brought King Louis-Phillipe to power commissioned the symphony, and the government constructed the July Column in the Place de la Bastille to commemorate the anniversary. What an honor for a composer to write a piece for such a ceremony—except that Berlioz did not like the regime. However, 10,000 francs made up for those feelings, and helped him work fast! He claimed to have finished the entire piece in just 40 hours by plucking material from his collection of unfinished works. Originally scored for wind band, Berlioz later added an optional part for strings and a final chorus. Upon hearing a performance of this revised version, Richard Wagner said that he found passages in the last movement of Berlioz's symphony so "magnificent and sublime that they can never be surpassed."
Dr. David Whitwell (Professor emeritus CSU Northridge) prepared this performing edition of the Grand Symphony.