by Jane Rausch
For the music lover, a great advantage of living in the twenty-first century is the ability to hear beautiful music in the distinctive styles that have slowly evolved from pre-classic works of the sixteenth century to atonal compositions of our own times. Our program today offers a sampling of these varying styles and demonstrates that no one musical era has a monopoly on miniature masterpieces.
Winner of the 2014 Holyoke Civic Symphony Composition Competition
Dominic Dousa, a native of Rochester, Minnesota, holds degrees from Ball State University (D.A., Music Theory & Composition), Central Michigan University (M.M. Music Composition), Harvard University (A.B. summa cum laude, Music) and Iowa State University (M.A. Statistics). He also studied composition in Prague in 1995-96. Dousa joined the faculty of the Music Department of University of Texas at El Paso in 2004 where he teaches courses in 2nd year theory and aural skills, seminars on specialized topics in theory, and all levels of composition. Dr. Dousa’s compositions have received successful performances at conferences and concerts in the U.S., China, Finland, Mexico, Peru, and the Czech Republic. Highlights included the premiere of his piano quintet “Evocations from the Plains” by the Blava String Quartet and pianist Doris Stevenson, a work commissioned for the 2009 El Paso Pro Musica Chamber Music Festival, and performances of his “Two Pieces for Flute and Piano” with flutist Melissa Colgin-Abeln at the American Ambassador’s Residence in Paris and at the American Church in Paris for the Atelier Concert Series in May 2008. His works have been published by TRN Music and Dorn, and Blue Griffin has released With a Song in My Heart, a CD featuring two of Dousa’s song cycles performed by baritone Gerald J. Banchard who is accompanied by the composer at the piano.
Today the Holyoke Civic Symphony will present one of Dousa’s orchestral works, the New Era Overture.
Dominic Dousa composed the New Era Overture in 2010 for Dr. Lowell Graham, conductor and chair of the Music Department at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), in honor of Graham’s first concert with the UTEP Symphony Orchestra. In a note to Maestro Kidwell, Dousa explained “that while the piece was written for a specific occasion, it is intended to convey the general spirit of celebration, optimism, reflection, and anticipation that comes with any new era.” Chosen out of 140 entries, the New Era Overture is the winner in the 2014 Holyoke Civic Symphony Composition Competition.
Symphony No. 35 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart carries the nickname “Haffner” because Mozart originally wrote it in the summer of 1782 as a six-movement serenade at the request of Sigmund Haffner, the head of a prominent family in the composer’s native city of Salzburg. Herr Haffner wanted to include the piece in a celebration marking the elevation of his son to the ranks of minor nobility. Since Mozart had already moved to Vienna, he relied on his father Leopold who was still in Salzburg to act as go-between to deliver the finished work. Some months later in March 1783, while busy creating a new academy of music, Mozart wanted to organize a concert for which he needed a new symphony. Remembering the serenade he had so quickly rushed to his father, he asked Leopold to return the score. Upon receiving it, he wrote: “My new Haffner symphony [serenade] has positively amazed me, for I had forgotten every single note of it. It must surely produce a good effect.” He then proceeded to refashion it, dropping the march and one of two minuets and revising the instrumentation by adding flutes and clarinets. The four remaining movements became the “Haffner” Symphony which was performed with great success at its premiere. Described by Mozart’s biographers Wallace Brockway and Herbert Weinstock as “miniature in size and perfect from beginning to end,” the symphony has rightly retained its place throughout the centuries as an audience favorite.
A majestic and bold theme opens the first movement, Allegro con spirito with an unusual two-octave leap in its initial notes. Rather than the typical contrasting second theme, the composer makes only minor changes to the main tune, though the development section is rich in contrapuntal devices learned through diligent study of Handel and Bach. The second movement, a serene and gracious Andante is followed by a brief Minuet with a tender Trio section at its core. Mozart suggested that the last movement, a rondo marked Presto, be played “as fast as possible.” It bubbles over with comic opera vivaciousness for the main theme is a close variation of the jovial aria “Ah, how I shall triumph,” from Mozart’s comic opera The Abduction from the Seragilio.
Classicism and modernity come together in a unique way in the Viola Concerto in B Minor as there are two schools of thought regarding the provenance of the work. According to our soloist, Delores Thayer, one explanation argues that Georg Frideric Handel left a sketch of the piece which was discovered by the gifted French violist and music publisher, Henri Casadesus (1879-1947), who realized the figured bass and orchestrated it in the style of Handel. The alternate and more recent theory maintains that Casadesus actually composed the entire piece himself and attributed it to Handel. The same two schools of thought apply to the J.C. Bach Viola Concerto in C Minor. Was it, as is written in the part, realized and harmonized by Henri Casadesus and orchestrated by his brother Francis? Or did they write it and attribute it to J.C. Bach? Apparently another Casadesus brother, Marius, wrote a violin concerto (the “Adelaide”) and attributed it to Mozart. The brothers were all members of an Ancient Instrument Society founded in Paris that was dedicated to discovering long-lost works by dead composers. When they first debuted these “discoveries”, critics accepted the pieces at face value, but stylistic analysis since has revealed that the works were entirely the skillful composition of the Casadesus brothers, an assertion the family never denied. The Concerto in B Minor is especially suspicious since it is very unlikely that Handel would have written a piece featuring the viola which was still an obscure instrument in his time.
Despite the above caveat, the concerto is a solid, delightful work that displays well the skill of the performer. The first movement, Allegro moderato, is technically very challenging due to its disjointed rhythms, fast scale passages and full use of the viola’s range from low C to harmonics high on the A string. It is arranged in an almost rondo form with the distinctive viola theme returning again and again, occasionally echoed by the orchestra. The Andante ma non troppo provides a restful interlude with flowing melodies and graceful harmonies. The light and lively Allegro molto energico closes the concerto in happy fashion. Skipping through the viola’s range allows the performer to have a great deal of fun, while the orchestra plays a fully second-hand role. As critic Robert Markow has observed, the fact that the concerto may not have been written by Handel “need not deter us from enjoying Monsieur Casadesus’s observant taste for eighteenth-century elegance and his own modest inventive powers.”
At the end of the nineteenth century Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov enjoyed great fame as a wizard of orchestration and a great teacher in addition to his eminence as a Russian composer. This success developed out of an unusual personal background, for in childhood young Nikolai developed a passion for the ocean as well as a fascination with orchestra music. The result was that he combined composition and teaching with a career in the Russian military – at first as an officer in the Imperial Russian Navy and then as the civilian Inspector of Naval Bands. Love of the sea probably influenced him to write one of his best-known orchestra works, Scheherazade, and as Inspector of Naval Bands, he expanded his knowledge of woodwind and brass playing, which enhanced his abilities in orchestration.
Rimsky-Korsakov composed the Russian Easter Festival Overture in 1888 when his powers of form and orchestration were at their height. It reflected one of his most vivid memories of his childhood in Tikhvin, a village in Novgorod province where the sound of the nearby monastery bells rang out over the town. Each year the arrival of Easter brought an explosion of joyous celebration after the long, rough winter, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s overture portrays this colorful observance. It was the first work by a Russian composer to be based entirely on themes from the obikhod, a collection of canticles of the Orthodox Church, and as such offers a vivid first-hand account of an Eastern morning service as conducted by several priests in a cathedral thronged with people from every walk of life. Rimsky-Korsakov incorporates three of the original chants in the overture. The first two, “Let God arise!” and “An angel wailed,” appear in the contemplative opening section, and the third, “Christ has risen from the dead,” can be discerned amid the trumpet blasts and tolling bell in the triumphant coda.