Written by Ken Meltzer
Michael Torke was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on September 22, 1961.
The first performance of Javelin took place at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 8, 1994. Yoel Levi conducted the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Approximate performance time is nine minutes.
American composer Michael Torke’s brief and exhilarating orchestral work, Javelin, was commissioned by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The commission was a dual celebration of the Atlanta Symphony’s 50th anniversary, and the upcoming 1996 Olympic Games.
The composer provided the following commentary on Javelin:
I had three goals for this Atlanta Symphony’s anniversary piece: I wanted to use the orchestra as a virtuosic instrument, I wanted to use triads (three-note tonal chords), and I wanted the music to be thematic. I knew I would welcome swifter changes of mood than what is found in my earlier music. What came out (somewhat unexpectedly) was a sense of valor among short flashes and sweeps that reminded me of something in flight: a light spear thrown, perhaps, but not in the sense of a weapon, more in the spirit of a competition. When the word javelin suddenly suggested itself, I couldn’t help but recall the 1970s model of sports car my Dad owned, identified by that name, but I concluded, why not? Even that association isn't so far off from the general feeling of the piece. Its fast tempo calls for 591 measures to evoke the generally uplifting, sometimes courageous, yet playful spirit.
Violin Concerto No. 1 (1917)
Sergei Prokofiev was born in Sontsovka, Russia, on April 23, 1891, and died in Moscow, Russia, on March 5, 1953.
The first performance of the Violin Concerto No. 1 took place at the Opéra in Paris, France, on October 18, 1923. Marcel Darrieux was the soloist, with Serge Koussevitsky conducting.
Approximate performance time is twenty-two minutes.
Prokofiev composed his First Violin Concerto in 1917, while Russia was in the grips of the Revolution. In 1918, Prokofiev left his native land for the United States. He later relocated to Paris, where on October 18, 1923, the First Violin Concerto premiered as part of the Concerts Koussevitsky. Serge Koussevitsky led the performance, with his concertmaster, Marcel Darrieux, appearing as violin soloist.
The Concerto is in three movements. The first (Andantino) opens with divided violas offering a quiet tremolo figure. This serves as the accompaniment for the soloist’s introduction of the lovely principal theme, which the composer directs be played sognando (in a “dream-like” fashion). A vibrant episode leads to the soloist’s presentation of the more angular second theme. The second-movement Scherzo (Vivacissimo) is based upon a scurrying theme, first stated by the soloist after a brief introduction by the flute, harp, and strings. The theme alternates with contrasting episodes. The final movement (Moderato) opens with a repeated staccato “tick-tock” rhythm in the clarinet and strings that serves as the basis for a series of varied episodes by the soloist. The hushed final section (Più tranquillo) offers ethereal trills by the soloist and a pianissimo resolution.
Tzigane, Concert Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra (1924)
Maurice Ravel was born in Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, France, on March 7, 1875 and died in Paris, France, on December 28, 1937.
The first performance of Tzigane took place in London, England, on April 26, 1924, with Jelly d’Arányi as violin soloist.
Approximate performance time is ten minutes.
Maurice Ravel wrote his showpiece, Tzigane, Concert Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra, for the Hungarian-born violinist Jelly d’Arányi (1895-1966). The grandniece of the legendary Austro-Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, d’Arányi was a famous virtuoso in her own right who inspired works by such composers as Béla Bartók and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Ravel completed Tzigane only two days before the work’s premiere. Despite the almost impossibly brief preparation time for a work violinist Hélène Jourdan-Morhange called “that violinists’ minefield,” d’Arányi gave the first performance in London as scheduled, on April 26, 1924.
Ravel created three versions of Tzigane. Each features a solo violin, accompanied by (1) piano, (2) luthéal, a keyboard attachment that makes the piano sound like a cimbalom, or (3) orchestra (performed at this concert).
Tzigane is a single-movement work in two principal sections. The first (Lento, quasi cadenza) is an extended, slow-tempo violin solo. A mysterious passage for the soloist, harp, cymbals, and muted horns and strings, leads to the second principal section (Moderato), and the soloist’s introduction of a plaintive, dance-like melody. The spirit of the dance continues throughout the remainder of the work, as Tzigane rushes headlong to its breathless conclusion.
Symphonie Fantastique, Opus 14 (1830)
Hector Berlioz was born in La Côte-Saint-André, Isère, France, on December 11, 1803, and died in Paris, France, on March 8, 1869.
The first performance of the Symphonie fantastique took place at the Paris Conservatoire on December 5, 1830, with François-Antoine Habeneck conducting the Orchestra of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire.
Approximate performance time is forty-nine minutes.
Hector Berlioz composed his pathbreaking Fantastic Symphony while in the grips of an unrequited love for the beautiful Irish actress, Harriet Smithson (the two finally wed in 1833). The premiere of the Symphonie Fantastique took place at the Paris Conservatory on December 5, 1830, with François-Antoine Habeneck conducting the Orchestra of the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire.
The drama, innovation, and sheer audacity of the young composer’s vision stunned the audience. Composed just three years after Beethoven’s death, the Symphonie Fantastique suggested entirely new paths for aspiring composers. The work’s five (rather than the traditional four) movements are unified by a central and repeated motif, known as the idée fixe. Whereas symphonies of the 18th and early 19th centuries are, in the main, abstract works, the Symphonie Fantastique attempts to relate a specific (and patently autobiographical) tale. Berlioz portrays that tale on a canvas that radiates the most daring and brilliant orchestral colors. To this day, the Fantastic Symphony remains one of the most compelling works in the orchestral repertoire.
Berlioz, a gifted and prolific writer, provided the following program notes for his Symphonie Fantastique.
A young musician of morbidly sensitive temperament and lively imagination poisons himself with opium in an attack of lovesick despair. The dose of the narcotic, too weak to kill him, plunges him into a deep slumber accompanied by the strangest visions, during which his feelings, his emotions, his memories are transformed in his sick mind into musical images. The Beloved herself becomes for him a melody, a cyclical theme (idée fixe) that he encounters and hears everywhere.
(Annotator’s note: The idée fixe is introduced approximately five minutes into the opening movement by the flute and first violins.)
I. Reveries, Passions (Largo; Allegro agitato e appassionato assai)—At first he recalls that sickness of the soul, those intimations of passion, the apparently groundless depression and intoxication he experienced before he met the woman he adores; then the volcanic love that she inspired in him, his delirious anguish, his furious jealousy, his return to tenderness, his religious consolation.
II. A Ball (Valse. Allegro non troppo)—He meets his beloved again in the midst of the tumult of a glittering fête.
III. Scene in the Country (Adagio)—On a summer evening in the country, he hears two shepherds piping back and forth a ranz des vaches (the traditional melody of Swiss shepherds for summoning their flocks); this pastoral duet, the peaceful landscape, the rustling of the trees gently rocked by the wind, some prospects of hope he recently found—all combine to soothe his heart with unusual tranquility and brighten his thoughts. But she reappears, he feels his heart tighten, he is smitten with sad foreboding: what if she were to prove false?…One of the shepherds resumes his simple tune; the other no longer responds. The sun sets…distant roll of thunder…solitude…silence.
IV. March to the Execution (Allegretto non troppo)—He dreams he has murdered his Beloved, that he has been condemned to death and is being led to the scaffold. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is now somber and agitated, now brilliant and solemn, in which the muffled sound of heavy steps is suddenly juxtaposed with the noisiest clamor. At the end, the idée fixe returns for a moment like a final thought of love, suddenly interrupted by the death blow.
V. Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath (Larghetto; Allegro)—He imagines himself at a Witches’ Sabbath, among a hideous throng of ghouls, sorcerers and monsters of every kind, assembled for his funeral. Ominous sounds, groans, bursts of laughter, distant cries that other cries seem to answer. The Beloved’s melody reappears, but it has lost its noble and timid character; it has become a vulgar dance tune, unworthy, trite and grotesque: there she is, coming to join the Sabbath…A roar of joy greets her arrival…She takes part in the infernal orgy…The funeral knell, a burlesque parody of the Dies irae…the witches’ round…the dance and the Dies irae are heard together.