Zarathustra Speaks - November 4 @ 8pm

Written by Ken Meltzer

Arvo Pärt

Fratres (1977, 1983, rev. 1991)

Arvo Pärt was born in Paide, Estonia, on September 11, 1935.  Fratres is scored for percussion (claves and bass drum) and strings. 

Approximate performance time is twelve minutes.

The Estonian-born composer Arvo Pärt has described his method of composition as “tintinnabulation.”  As Pärt explains:

Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers—in my life, my music, my work.  In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning.  The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity.  What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it?  Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises—and everything that is unimportant falls away.  Tintinnabulation is like this.  Here, I am alone with silence.  I have discovered that it is enough when a single note is beautifully played.  This one note, or a silent beat, or a moment of silence, comforts me.  I work with very few elements—with one voice, with two voices.  I build with the most primitive materials—with the triad, with one specific tonality.  The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation.

Pärt first composed Fratres (Brothers) in 1977, for performance by an early music ensemble with which he was associated, Hortus Musicus.  In that original version, Fratres was scored for string quintet and wind quintet.  Over the years, Arvo Pärt has created varied arrangements of Fratres for numerous different kinds of ensembles.  This concert features Pärt’s arrangement of Fratres for string orchestra and percussion.

Fratres opens with a drone bass figure of an open fifth, punctuated by statements from the percussion.  The central hymn-like melody is played over the drone bass, capped by the percussion statement.  The pattern repeats, with the melody transposed downward upon each return.  Ever-darkening instrumental sonorities and elevated dynamics lead to the apex of this musical arch.  From there, Fratres journeys to hushed silence.


Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1 in E-flat Major, Opus 107 (1959)

Dmitri Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on September 25, 1906, and died in Moscow, Russia, on August 9, 1975.  The first performance of the Cello Concerto No. 1 took place in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) on October 4, 1959, with Mstislav Rostropovich as soloist, and Evgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic. 

Approximate performance time is thirty minutes.

Shostakovich finished the score of his First Cello Concerto on July 20, 1959.  The composer notified the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) of the work’s completion.  Rostropovich and his accompanist, Alexander Dedyukhin, then journeyed from Moscow to Leningrad.  There, on August 2, 1959, Rostropovich received the score of the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No. 1.  Four days later, Rostropovich and Dedyukhin performed the Concerto for the composer, who was amazed by the fact that the cellist had already memorized the entire work.  Shortly thereafter, Shostakovich dedicated his First Cello Concerto to Rostropovich.

Mstislav Rostropovich was the soloist in the triumphant world premiere of the Concerto, which took place in Leningrad on October 4, 1959.  The composer’s longtime friend and champion, Evgeny Mravinsky, conducted the Leningrad Philharmonic.  Five days later, Rostropovich again performed the work, this time in Moscow.  Alexander Gauk conducted the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.

Ormandy, Shostakovich and Rostropovich

On November 6, 1959, Rostropovich was the soloist in the Concerto’s American premiere, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  Shostakovich, who was in the United States as part of Soviet-American cultural exchange program, was in attendance.

Two days later, the performers gathered in Philadelphia’s Broadwood Hotel for the first commercial recording of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto.  According to the liner notes for the recording, Shostakovich “was the first Soviet composer to attend an American recording session of his own work and to supervise its progress in close cooperation with conductor and instrumentalists.”  That historic recording was reissued as part of the Sony Classical “Masterworks Heritage” series (MHK 63327).

The Concerto is in four movements.  The first (Allegretto) is, according to the composer “in the style of a jocular march.”  The concluding three movements are played without pause.  The second (Moderato) opens in somber, introspective fashion, but later becomes increasingly agitated.  The third movement, an extended unaccompanied Cadenza for the soloist, features echoes from the preceding movements.  A series of ascending and descending flourishes leads directly to the final movement.  The acerbic tone of the opening movement returns in this whirlwind finale (Allegro con moto), the most overtly virtuoso of the Concerto.  Toward the close, the opening movement’s march theme makes a prominent return, as the Concerto proceeds to an emphatic resolution.

Richard Strauss

Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spake Zarathustra), Opus 30 (1896)

Richard Strauss was born in Munich, Germany, on June 11, 1864, and died in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on September 8, 1949.  The first performance of Also sprach Zarathustra took place in Frankfurt, Germany, on November 27, 1896, with the composer conducting the Museums-Orchester of Frankfurt-am-Main. 

Approximate performance time is thirty-three minutes.

During the years 1895-97, Richard Strauss composed three orchestral tone poems based upon famous literary characters.  The first, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (1895), is a rollicking tour-de-force depicting the exploits of the medieval jokester.  The last, Don Quixote (1897), is a witty and often affecting musical portrayal of the misadventures of Cervantes’s beloved “Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.”  Strauss’s inspiration for the middle work in this trilogy was of a far different nature—Friedrich Nietzsche’s epic philosophic poem Also sprach Zarathustra  (Thus Spake Zarathustra) (1883-5).

The protagonist in Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra is based upon the ancient Persian prophet, also known as Zoroaster.  In Thus Spake Zarathustra, the prophet leaves the solitude of his mountain refuge to share his wisdom with mankind.  During the course of the poem, Nietzsche, in the person of Zarathustra, denounces the very foundations of society—organized religion, democracy and civilization—that he believes inhibit man's ability to reach his greatest potential.

Strauss was first drawn to Nietzsche’s masterwork during the composer’s preparations for his opera Guntrum (1894).  He began composition of the score on February 4, 1896, and completed the work on August 24 of that year.  The composer led the Museums-0rchester of Frankfurt-am-Main in the November 27, 1896 premiere.  Prior to the first performance, Strauss provided this brief program:

First movement: Sunrise, Man feels the power of God.  Andante religioso.  But man still longs.  He plunges into passion (second movement) and finds no peace.  He turns toward science, and tries in vain to solve life’s problem in a fugue (third movement).  Then agreeable dance tunes sound and he becomes an individual, and his soul soars upward while the world sinks far below him.

Nietzsche, an ardent music-lover and amateur composer, once remarked to his friend, Peter Gast, of his Also sprach Zarathustra: “I almost believe it belongs among the symphonies.”  Gustav Mahler quoted a portion of Zarathustra's text in his Third Symphony (1896), as did Frederick Delius in A Mass of Life (1905).

By contrast, Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra is a purely orchestral representation of Nietzsche’s work.  From the time of the premiere, commentators have attempted to find a direct relationship between the music of Also sprach Zarathustra and Nietzsche’s text.  Strauss understood the difficulty, perhaps even the futility, of attempting a musical depiction of Nietzsche’s philosophy.  At the time of the tone poem’s December, 1896, Berlin premiere, Strauss confessed:

"I did not intend to write philosophical music or portray Nietzsche’s great work musically.  I meant rather to convey in music an idea of the evolution of the human race from its origin, through the various phases of development, religious as well as scientific, up to Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman.  The whole symphonic poem is intended as my homage to the genius of Nietzsche, which found its greatest exemplification in his book Thus Spake Zarathustra."

Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra opens with the famous “Sunrise” Introduction, followed by eight sections, performed without pause.  Each has a title taken from a chapter in Nietzsche’s book.

I. Sunrise (Sonnenaufgang)

II. Of the Backworldsman (Von den Hinterweltlern)

III. Of the Great Longing (Von der grossen Sehnsucht)

IV. Of Joys and Passions (Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften0

V. Song of the Grave (Das Grablied)

VI. Of Science (Von der Wissenschaft)

VII. The Convalescent (Der Genesende)

VIII. The Dance Song (Das Tanzlied)

IX. Night Wanderer’s Song (Das Nachwandlerlied)