Ever since William Shakespeare wrote them in the 17th century, his plays have been providing inspiration for musicians. Especially during the 19th century Romantic Era, the overwhelming and irrational passion in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had a special fascination for composers. Our program today includes two works expressly inspired by Juliet’s words in Act-II, Scene-II, “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,” and romance is the dominant theme in the remaining selections as well.
CHARLES-FRANCOIS GOUNOD was born on June 17, 1818 into an artistic and musical family living in Paris. He studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and won France’s most prestigious musical prize, the Prix de Rome. His studies took him to Italy, Austria, and then Prussia. He was deeply religious, and after his return to Paris, he even considered becoming a priest. Instead, he composed prolifically, writing church music, songs, orchestral music, and operas, but few of his works remain in the regular international repertoire.
Of some twelve operas that he completed before his death in 1893, only two are regularly performed: Faust (1859) and Roméo et Juliette (1867). The latter, with a libretto that follows Shakespeare’s play fairly closely, was a success from the outset and was staged in major opera houses in continental Europe, Britain, and the US.
The “Wedding Procession,” also known as “Marche apres le ballet” which we play today, takes place in Act 4 scene 2, when the two lovers visit Feire Laurent’s cell and are married.
ANTONIN DVOŘÁK grew up in the small village of Nelahozeves in Bohemia. He was one of seven children of the local butcher who also kept the village inn. As a youth he showed considerable musical talent, performing on piano, organ, and viola while studying counterpoint. From 1857 to 1859 he studied music in Prague, after which he became a professional violist. At first Dvořák played in a band, but between 1866-1873 he was a member of the Prague National Theater’s orchestra.
A romance is a very old musical genre—originally vocal— with a lyrical melodic style and a text that emphasizes love, gallantry, simplicity, and naturalness. Dvořák’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 11 takes much of its material from the second movement of his String Quartet in F minor Op. 12, which was composed in 1873 but never publicly performed in the composer’s lifetime. The version for viola and orchestra was published in 1879. It is not an arrangement of the quartet movement but rather a free reworking of the same three motifs.
The first is a song-like melody, heard high in the violins at the outset and then freely elaborated by the soloist who weaves intricate melodic patterns around the other orchestral players. The second idea is again a romantic melody, less elaborate than the first, with the soloist soaring high above a running orchestral accompaniment. The more dramatic middle section is punctuated by outbursts from the orchestra while the soloist performs virtuoso figures. The piece moves into the tonic major when the second idea returns, and a brief coda draws it to a close.
It is interesting to observe that the reworking of the string quartet movement into a romance was done at a time of great tragedy in Dvořák’s life, for in 1877, he lost three of his children, one pre-natal, one through an accident, and the third to smallpox. Perhaps these events contributed to the emotional intensity of the piece, the rending harmonies, and the lyrical beauty of the violin writing.
FREDERICK DELIUS was an English composer who resisted the efforts of his prosperous mercantile family to carve out a commercial career for himself. Sent to Florida in 1884 to manage an orange plantation, Delius returned to Europe in just two years to study music in Germany, but not before he had become greatly influenced by African-American music. In 1886 he began a full-time career as a composer in Paris, where, except during the First World War, he lived the rest of his life. After 1918 Delius suffered the effects of syphilis. As the disease progressed, he became paralyzed and blind but was able to complete some later compositions between 1928 and 1932 with the aid of an amanuensis, Eric Fenby.
Delius’ musical compositions cover numerous genres in a style that, after absorbing influences from the works of Edvard Grieg and Richard Wagner, he developed into a voice that was uniquely his.
Among his numerous compositions were several operas, including A Village Romeo and Juliet first staged at Covent Garden in 1910.
The orchestral intermezzo “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” (a tone poem in its own right) is included in the opera just before the final scene. Sali and Vrenchen, the “Romeo and Juliet” of the opera village, walk hand in hand to the “Paradise Garden”— a beautiful garden run wild belonging to a dilapidated country house with a high veranda. The music that accompanies them is shot through with poignant contemplation as the orchestra recapitulates earlier thematic material of the opera with the glorious principal melody reaching a climax of great beauty.
MAX BRUCH was a German romantic composer, violinist, teacher, and conductor who wrote more than 200 works, including three violin concertos, the first of which has become a prominent staple of the standard violin repertoire. After studying philosophy and art in Bonn in 1859, Bruch had a long career as a teacher, conductor, and com- poser, advancing along musical posts in Germany. His complex and well-structured works in the German Romantic musical tradition places him in the genre of Romantic classicism exemplified by Johannes Brahms rather than the opposing “New Music” of Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. At the height of his career, he spent three seasons as conductor of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society (1880-1883).
Bruch composed the Romanze for Viola and Orchestra in 1911 for Maurice Vieux, the principal viola player of the Paris Opera and Conservatoire Orchestra. Within this single movement marked Andante con moto, Bruch makes the viola express a variety of moods that become more and more agitated through the use of mixed rhythms, triplets and dotted notes, and a series of fast arpeggios and abrupt chords. The first theme remains recognizable throughout the piece, played by one of the orchestra instruments, while the viola elaborates. Then there is a serene, new theme all in triplets presented by the viola and taken by the whole orchestra. After much tension the first theme returns, initially only mentioned by the viola with the other instruments replying to it, and then played nearly as completely as it was at the beginning. The other musical ideas are also repeated here, as a summary of the whole work that ends with less and less energy in a pianissimo long chord.
PYOTR ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY was the first Russian composer/ conductor to make a lasting impression internationally. By the end of his long and fruitful career he had composed symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets, and chamber music—some of which are among the most popular theatrical music in the classical repertoire. In 1860, Russian composer Mily Balakirev suggested to Tchaikovsky, who was only 29 at the time, that he try using Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as a theme. Tchaikovsky took his friend’s advice and began to work on an overture incorporating a Friar Laurence introductory section, the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues, and Romeo and Juliet’s love theme. The work was difficult and painstaking, for Tchaikovsky polished and scrutinized the piece for several years before arriving at something he could make public. He premiered an early draft in March 1870 to a less-than-enthusiastic audience. After several more revisions the final version was ready, and it would become his first major masterpiece.
Tchaikovsky used traditional sonata form for his overture. A slow introduction describes the matchmaker Friar Laurence, using wood- wind chords. A heavy martial theme follows in the Allegro giusto section, describing the conflict between the feuding families. Tension builds, and the low woodwinds transition listeners to the lovers’ theme. The development section explores the violence between the families while Friar Laurence tries to make peace. We then hear a recapitulation of the love theme featuring the horn. The battle is interrupted, and woodwind chords point to the deaths of the two lovers. An insistent drumbeat accompanies the love theme and resolves in the closing bars.
Sunday, March 12, 2023 at 3:00 p.m.
Holyoke Community College
Romeo and Juliet: Wedding Procession – Charles Gounod
Romance, Op. 11 – Antonín Dvorák
Ronald Gorevic, violin
The Walk to the Paradise Garden – Frederick Delius
Romanze, Op. 85 – Max Bruch
Ronald Gorevic, viola
Romeo and Juliet, Overture–Fantasy – Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
- 2022–2023: A World of Romance
- 2021–2022: A Season of 4 Celebrations
- 2020–2021: Expect the Unexpected!
- 2019–2020: The 51 Percent
- 2018–2019: What the ❤️ Wants
- 2017–2018: Plus One
- 2016–2017: We’re Golden
- 2015–2016: 49 and Counting
- 2014–2015: Location, Location, Location
- 2013–2014: Masters in Miniature
- 2012–2013: A First Time for Everything
- 2011–2012: Maestro’s Favorites
- 2010–2011: Local Legends, Rising Stars
With Our Thanks for Their Support:
This program is supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council; the Holyoke Cultural Council, and the South Hadley Cultural Council, both of which are supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.