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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution
J. S. BACH: Concerto in C Minor
It is difficult to discuss the history of many concertos by Bach, as they are rarely dated. However, research has shown that they emerged in the early 1730s during his Leipzig period. It was during this time that Bach came into the possession of a new concert harpsichord, and immediately began composing pieces designed to exercise the instrument. The only surviving version of this particular concerto is the one for two harpsichords, which is an arrangement by Bach of his previous orchestration for oboe and violin. Simply put, the reconstruction of the Concerto in C Minor for oboe and violin is an approximation of the original score.
The first movement of the twenty-minute piece presents the ritornello, or opening refrain, in many tonalities. The oboe and violin play solo expansions on the theme, constantly bordered by interjections of ritornello material. The Adagio, a duet for the soloists, is a graceful, pacific movement, with a simple rhythmic structure. The final movement gains force as the solo instruments develop accelerating rhythmic figures, while the chords become increasingly sustained. The violin and oboe exchange dazzling passages, followed by the final orchestral ritornello. In a long dominant pedal point, the soloists have one last chance to demonstrate their artistry before the final cadence.
W. A. MOZART: Serenade in Bb
Mozart's virtuosity as a performer has been well recorded. Aside from keyboard antics and showpieces such as playing without mistakes on a cloth-covered keyboard, Mozart's unrivaled skills allowed him to play music at first sight on the piano, harpsichord, clavichord and organ. He was also proficient on the violin and viola. Mozart's large output--more than 600 works--contains a number of brilliant instrumental combinations, powerful concertos, and timeless operatic works. These varied pieces demonstrate that as a child Mozart possessed a boundless command of the technical resources of musical composition as well as an active imagination. Though Mozart excelled in every form in which he composed, there were times when his more aristocratic audiences and contemporaries, conditioned to lighter, superficial styles of music, found the restless ambivalence and complicated emotional content of his music too difficult to stomach. Regardless, Mozart and Haydn perfected the grand forms of concerto, symphony, and opera that marked the latter half of the 18th century.
Mozart's Serenade in Bb was written in 1781, in Munich and Vienna. The Serenade in Bb (K 361) is a strong work that not only highlights Mozart's compositional talents, but reminds the listener that he did write pieces that were not opera.
L. V. BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor
Beethoven developed the forms of sonata, symphony, and concerto, that had all been taking shape during the latter part of the 18th century. In his own music, Beethoven would reshape these forms, and expand their musical boundaries. Like Mozart, Beethoven produced a large number of works--again--about 600. These works include 16 string quartets, 32 piano concertos, and 9 symphonies.
When Beethoven followed the lead of Mozart and Haydn, his elder colleagues had already established a strong tradition of symphonies, sonatas, and string quartets infused with a sense of elegance, clarity, and graceful proportion. Although this excessively ‘classical' style was nearing the end of its reign, it still persists in Beethoven's earliest works, most noticeably in his first two piano concertos and his first symphony.
From the theorist's perspective, the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Minor is in strict accordance with sonata form. Because there are no surviving original manuscripts, some have guessed that the first movement of this symphony might have been initially sketched as a sonata, because of its clear exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda.
BEETHOVEN: Rondino in Eb Major WoO 25
Beethoven is most famous for developing the forms of string quartet, sonata, and symphony that had all been taking shape during the latter part of the 18th century. Beethoven would reshape these forms and expand their musical boundaries in his own work. He wrote nearly 600 works, including 16 string quartets, 32 piano sonatas, and 9 symphonies.
The Rondino in Eb Major is a delightfully thrifty piece whose concision disguises its invention. The seven-minute work could be more properly entitled ‘Rondo', though Diabelli took it upon himself to change the title of the piece to ‘Rondino' upon publishment.
The piece begins with a theme presented by the solo horn that is then separated by a couple of minor key episodes. The work closes with horns alternating with and without mutes, giving an effect of fading off into the distance. It is worth noting that given the nature of the closing bars the Rondino was at one time destined to be a finale for the Octet in Eb.
BEETHOVEN: Octet in Eb Major Op. 103
This twenty-minute chamber work is one of Beethoven's strongest, and certainly most popular. The Octet in Eb Major was not published until three years after Beethoven's death.
The first movement is in sonata form, and built around a rather delicate theme first presented by the oboe. This motive is repeated, and set against other longer passages requiring larger breaths. The Andante is scarcely more than a duet between the oboe and bassoon. Although the third movement is marked as a Minuet, it is a true Beethovenian scherzo, as it contains angular octave leaps, and arpeggios fluttering through the entire ensemble. In the final section one finds Beethoven at his wittiest. The last movement is full of frisky virtuosic writing, particularly for the french horns.
Passages like the one that concludes the Octet ultimately illustrate not only the demands Beethoven would place on his performers, but also the quality of players of he would need to elect.
SIBELIUS: Valse Triste Op. 44
Many musicologists agree that it is quite easy to recognize the specific musical style of a large number of the greater symphonic composers. Beethoven is unmistakably classical, Debussy is immediately impressionist, and Rachmaninoff is intensely romantic. However, a problem arises in then deciding where Sibelius belongs. Romantic? Neo-Romantic? Nationalist? While the Finnish composer was all of these from time to time, he was truly none of them. Upon analyzing his themes and unique tonal color one hears only "Sibelius."
Sibelius' smaller works have had a rough ride. As Sibelius was such a master of the symphony, a number of his shorter works have suffered an amount of neglect, and have subsequently fallen out of the repertoire.
The Valse Triste was written to accompany the play Kuolema. It portrays a dance of death between a dying woman and the grim reaper. The work is a gem of a miniature masterpiece as it uses its small orchestra evocatively and effectively. Its central melody is memorable and the passages for muted strings that bookend the piece are both haunting and poignant.
BRITTEN: Simple Symphony Op. 4
Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, England, on November 22, 1913. He began his study of composition at the age of thirteen, writing music while waiting for breakfast at the kitchen table. Four years later he entered the Royal College of Music to study piano and composition under Harold Samuel and Arthur Benjamin. Though Britten lived in an age of atonality, he insisted on composing music that was rich with harmony. Quite fittingly, he was criticized by a majority of theorists but beloved by a majority of audiences.
Britten's Simple Symphony is a modest work but one that gained him a large amount of popularity very quickly. The piece also brought Britten critical acclaim and essentially launched his compositional career. Britten wrote the piece in 1934 at the age of 20. The years that have followed have seen the piece become a useful element in string orchestra repertoire.
Most interesting are the third and fourth movements. The Sentimental Saraband preserves a leisurely 3/2 time, while the Frolicsome Finale is reminiscent of Haydn.
FAURÉ: Masques et Bergamasques Op. 112
Gabriel Fauré was a pupil of Camille Saint-Saëns at the Ecole Niedermeyer and served as organist and church musician at a number of Paris churches including the Rennes and the Madeleine. He had no formal teaching position until he was 53, when he finally taught at the Conservatoire, where he would later become Director. His pupils included Enescu and Ravel.
The early styles of Fauré's music tend to mirror the times in which they were written. This point is best made by the Grove Dictionary Of Music: Fauré's stylistic development can be traced from the sprightly or melancholy song settings of his youth to the bold, forceful late instrumental works, traits including a delicate combination of extended tonality and modality, rapid modulations to remote keys, and continuously unfolding melody.
In 1918, towards the end of his role as Director, came Fauré's best known orchestral work, Masques et Bergamasques. It allowed Fauré to use not only his vivid musical imagination, but also material that he had previously composed. The suite contains four contrasting sections, each with a large helping of the flowery and romantic style that Fauré had practiced many years earlier as a student.
Fauré's arching melodies were sometimes modeled after Gregorian chant. As a result, they retain a certain archaic charm. This trait is most noticeable in the work's final movement, the Pastorale.
HAYDN: Symphony No. 100 in G Major "Military"
Haydn's career took off in 1761 when he came under the employment of the powerful Prince Paul Esterhazy and suddenly found himself armed with an orchestra more than two dozen strong. He would spend nearly thirty years at the Esterhazy palace advancing all facets of his music. During this time Haydn's over achieving pen would ink nearly 75 symphonies, 21 operas, 50 string quartets, and numerous other works. Haydn--along Mozart and then Beethoven--brought both the symphony and the string quartet to enormous heights of expression and creativity.
The "Military" symphony, named for its use of bass drum, triangle, and cymbals in the second and fourth movements, was written for Haydn's second visit to London in 1794. The piece was undoubtedly more successful than a number of his earlier symphonies. A London newspaper noted that the rapture it gave cannot be communicated by words, while a surviving program from the premier bears the note "grand but very loud" across the top.
The second and fourth movements are the most notable. Some scholars have suggested that the Allegretto, with its sudden introduction of the military instruments, might represent Haydn's response to the revolution in France, which was at its height in 1794. The Finale begins with a playful rondo where Haydn repeatedly toys with the listener via abrupt silences, unexpected reprises, and even a timpani solo. Finally, the initially threatening military instruments return, bringing the piece to a zesty close.
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 3
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797 and died there in 1828, when he was 31. Schubert's vast musical production, unbridled sexual promiscuity, but otherwise rather uneventful short life, have all worked to secure both his place in history and in the debates of music circles.
Schubert was one of a small group of composers--others might include Mozart and Mendelssohn--to write fully developed music before the age of 20. His third symphony was completed in 1915, when he was 18. The symphony, like so many of Schubert's other works, was not performed during his lifetime. The piece was premiered in London more than fifty years after his death. The symphony was written at the peak of Schubert's teenage creativity, and it demonstrates the influence of his musical role models of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, most probably in that order, but also offers young Schubert's own approaches to music.
The direction the crisp opening movement takes with respect to modulation is all Schubert's own. The piece begins in D major, but before it ever reaches the dominant of A major, Schubert leads the listener to Bb major, via a flat-submediant modulation. This particular modulation is characteristic of Schubert's unique harmonic style. The second movement allegretto in ABA form breaks from the drama contained within the first movement, and affords the audience a moment to catch their breath. The third movement has strong accents on the third beat of each bar, not unlike Austrian folk-dances of Schubert's time. The final movement brings the audience more submediant modulations, an impression of the music of Rossini, and because it sometimes appears to use material left-over from the opening movement, a lesson in recycling.
MENDELSSOHN: Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra
Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg in 1809 and died in Leipzig in 1847, at the age of 38. Mendelssohn was one of the most versatile of all who stood in the front lines of German music during the 1830s and 40s. He was a committed conductor, a brilliant performer, and above all, a talented composer.
Although Mendelssohn was moved by the music of Beethoven and Weber, his own musical style can certainly be seen as much more at home with the intricate devices of fugue and counterpoint of the previous century, rather than in keeping with the blossoming programmatic and romantic styles of his own time. When Berlioz and Wagner were uncompromisingly stretching the limits of the orchestra, Mendelssohn sought to restrict his own orchestral means, typically preferring to score for Classical double wind ensembles.
The clear-cut beginning and middle of the Concerto in E Minor for Violin and Orchestra attempts to first showcase the violinist before impressing the audience with Mendelssohn's contrapuntal complexity. The final movement, written in rock-solid "call and answer" form, finds the soloist and the orchestra happily swapping ideas and trading challenges.
MOZART: Overture to Don Giovanni
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756 and died in Vienna in 1791. Mozart turned out more than 600 works in his short life, including masses, concertos, symphonies, sonatas, and operas. Unlike Haydn or Beethoven, Mozart excelled at each and every medium of his time. For this reason he may be comfortably considered as the most universal composer in the history of Western Music.
Don Giovanni was premiered in 1787, the same year the U.S. constitution was signed. It is one of art's true masterpieces and one of Mozart's best operas.
The character of Don Juan is one of literatures oldest standards, and when Da Ponte's libretto was coupled with Mozart's music, the two worked concurrently to create a perfect scoundrel that audiences delight in wondering whether to love or to hate. Mozart's music mimics the very character of Don Giovanni and his intended prey--always changing from scene to scene--never static. This is can be clearly heard in the Overture.
SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor
Born in 1835, Camille Saint-Saens is considered by most scholars to be the best example of the child prodigy. He began piano lessons at three, and at ten he made his formal debut at the Salle Pleyel, performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto in C minor and Mozart's Concerto in Bb. Saint-Saens' tremendous early skill won him many friends, including Gounod, Rossini, and Berlioz, who commented, "He knows everything, but lacks inexperience."
Although Saint-Saens wrote pieces in every 19th century musical genre, his most successful are those centered around the traditional Viennese models of the sonata, concerto, and symphony.
The single-movement Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor is representative of Saint-Saens' usual style of integrating recognized structures. The cellist's principal theme of sprinting triplets is heard throughout the work, serving as both a dashing phrase for the soloist, as well as a point of general familiarity for the audience.
BERNARD: Divertissement for Winds
Emile Bernard was born in Marseilles in 1843 and died in 1902. His study of music brought him to the Paris Conservatoire where he was a student of the piano and organ. Later, from 1887 to 1895, Bernard served as the organist of the Paris church of Notre Dame des Champs. He was an active member of Parisian musical society in the late 1800s.
Bernard's largest works include two suites for orchestra, as well as a piece for piano and orchestra, Concertstuck. His other works include a violin concerto, some vocal pieces, and ample keyboard music. Today, a large part of his output has fallen out of the repertoire and into obscurity.
The three-movement Divertissement for Winds is for doubled quintet. The work demonstrates Bernard's command of melody and employment of harmony. The Divertissement for Winds, like most of Bernard's works, has a somewhat reflective temperament.
HOLST: St. Paul's Suite
Born in Cheltenham in 1874, Gustav Holst served as an organist and choirmaster at Gloucestershire churches, until neuritis in his right hand forced him away from the organs of western England. Instead, he turned to the trombone. Holst studied composition at the Royal College of Music, where he would go on to teach for a few years. In October of 1905, he was appointed as the Director of Music at the St. Paul's Girl's School in Hammersmith, a small town outside of London. Holst would hold this position until his death, in 1934.
Holst completed the St. Paul's Suite, in 1913. The piece was written in gratitude to the St. Paul's Girls' School for having provided him with a large soundproof room for his work. Holst's new studio sported double windows, two pianos, and central heating. During the week the studio enjoyed classes, lectures, and interviews. But on Sundays, when the college was quiet, the room was all his own. The St. Paul's Suite was the first piece he wrote there.
The piece was initially scored for strings, but Holst provided wind parts to allow more of his pupils to participate. The St. Paul's Suite consists of four movements: a Jig, an Ostinato, an Intermezzo, and a Finale. The first movement achieves a degree of metrical complexity with its alternation between 6/8 and 9/8 meters. Additionally, the wide range of dynamics in the third movement, (labeled "Dance" in the original manuscript) coupled with the recurring use of pizzicatos, is worth noting.
MOZART: Non Piu Andrai (from The Marriage of Figaro)
Mozart was at the peak of his reputation as a composer and performer in 1785 when he began work on the first of three masterful operas with Italian librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte. The Marriage of Figaro, was completed in April of 1786, but only received nine performances that year. While the three-hour-long opera received great acclaim in Prague, it was considered to be a partial failure in Vienna.
As the first act closes, the Count orders Cherubino to leave and join the Seville regiment for being infatuated with his wife. Figaro then tells Cherubino that he must give up his easy life, and his women, and become a warrior. While the overture of the opera has become famous by itself, there are other hit tunes, perhaps the most famous of which is Non Piu Andrai, where Figaro colorfully describes the exciting life of a soldier.
DE FALLA: Ritual Dance of Fire
After the death of composer Tomas Luis de Victoria at the beginning of the 17th century, Spanish art music slumbered. It wasn't until the close of the 1800s that three Spanish musicians, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, and Manuel de Falla began to reverse this long drought. Musicologists have said that of the three, Falla demonstrated the greatest musical versatility and durability.
Manuel de Falla's first substantial stage work was the lyric drama La Vida Breve (The Short Life), completed in 1905, and first staged in 1913. The ballet El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician), premiered in Madrid two years later. El Amor Brujo is a ballet in one act based on a ghostly story of gypsy jealousy. The work is considered demanding, because it requires the ballerina to sing as well as dance. Shortly after the completion of El Amor Brujo, Falla wrote that music is not, and should not, be made to be understood, rather it is made to be experienced.
The Ritual Dance of Fire is the best known short movement in El Amor Brujo.