Magic & Mystery
A Night on Bald Mountain
Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881)
Overture to Merlin
Karl Goldmark (1830-1915)
Toccata And Fugue in D Minor
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Arr. Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977)
“In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
“Puttin’ on the Ritz”
Irving Berlin (1888–1989)
From A Tribute to Irving Berlin
arr. Bruce Healey (b. 1950)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
Concert Program Notes
by Lucinda Mosher, Th.D.
A Night on Bald Mountain
by Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881)
When, in 1867, he created this spooky tone poem, Modest Mussorgsky had in mind a Russian legend. It was said that, each year on St John’s Night (June 24th), atop a hill near Kiev, a demon and his associates would emerge from the underworld and would dance frenetically until dawn! Skittering violins and shrill woodwinds create the mood. Low winds intone a melody signaling the emergence of the demonic revelers. A Russian folk melody gives way to another and another. The dance becomes increasingly frenzied, ebbs, then expands again. Listen for chimes imitating the bells of a village church. They signal the rising of the sun, which causes the demonic dancers to retreat—until next year! The pensive concluding section was added by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who orchestrated this composition after Mussorgsky’s death. The Rimsky-Korsakov version was premiered in Russia on October 27, 1886. When, in the late 1930s, Walt Disney (with the help of symphony conductor Leopold Stokowski) created his film masterpiece Fantasia, which combined animation with performances of great musical compositions, Mussorgsky’s A Night on Bald Mountain was chosen to conclude it.
Overture to Merlin
by Karl Goldmark (1830-1915)
An opera overture’s purpose is to give the audience a hint of the drama about to unfold. Karl Goldmark, a Hungarian Jewish composer whose late-Romantic style has been compared to that of Wagner, composed Merlin, the second of his six operas, in 1886 (and revised it in 1904). The setting is medieval Wales. Drawing upon the King Arthur legend, the opera tells the story of how Merlin loses his magical powers to a demon. Goldmark filled Merlin’s overture with musical clues that things may not end well for the character for whom it is named. A lugubrious motif played by the low brass establishes an ominous mood—to which low woodwinds contribute additional weight. Strings do their part, both to heighten the tension and to lighten the atmosphere. The music becomes majestic, then pensive, then once again foreboding.
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) arr. Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977)
In 1708, 23-year-old Johann Sebastian Bach, whose skill as an organist was already legendary, took up a prestigious post as a court musician in Weimar, Germany. His seven years in that position gave him opportunity to compose in a flamboyant style that was not so suitable for church music. His exuberant Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ comes from this period. In 1902, twenty-year-old Leopold Stokowski became the organist at St James Church in London’s Piccadilly Square. He had already distinguished himself as a virtuoso organist. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor was a piece he loved to perform. In 1909, Stokowski became the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He went on to lead the Philadelphia Orchestra and several other major symphonies. He had a knack for making symphonic orchestral transcriptions of music composed originally for other genres. Not surprisingly, he chose Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for this treatment. Also not surprisingly, the Stokowski arrangement has always been a crowd-pleaser!
This piece opens with three attention-grabbing flourishes followed by a low rumble, out of which the entire orchestra emerges. Organ toccatas are pieces that show off the rapid finger technique of the performer. Stokowski spreads these figures all around the orchestra. Listen for short scale-passages that are tossed from one instrument to the next.
A fugue is a composition in which a tune (the “subject”), played at the beginning, is brought in several times more, in a manner similar to singing a round, like “Row, row, row your boat.” Each entrance of the subject comes at a different pitch-level. For this fugue, Bach provided a relentlessly bouncy subject. Stokowski passes it from one section of the orchestra to another. Eventually, even the orchestra’s lowest instruments get their turn with it! The piece concludes with sparkling swirls and heavy chords.
In the late 1930s, Walt Disney asked for Stokowski’s help in creating a feature-length film combining animation and great classical music compositions. The result was Fantasia, which premiered in November 1940. Stokowski proposed the film’s name. His transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is the movie’s opener.
“In the Hall of the Mountain King”
from Peer Gynt
by Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
As goes the story of Peer Gynt, our hero falls and hits his head on a rock. What he experiences next may really have happened—or it might be a figment of his imagination, due to the concussion he has suffered. In either case, he finds himself in a great hall in the domain of the trolls. The troll-king sees in him a prospective spouse for his daughter. Peer presumes becoming a troll himself would be a necessary part of that arrangement—and that does not appeal to him. So, with his anxiety rising steadily, he searches for an escape. As he finds it, the trolls’ domain collapses upon them.
This is the Norwegian folk tale illustrated with sound by Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” It is one of 26 short pieces he composed in 1875, as incidental music for Henrik Ibsen’s play, Peer Gynt. Later, Grieg repurposed it as one of four movements of Peer Gynt Suite No, 1, Opus 46.
The horn plays the first note, perhaps indicating that our hero is orienting himself to a strange environment. Very low-pitched instruments introduce the sneaky/creepy main theme, then hand it off to higher instruments. Strings play it pizzicato (by plucking). When, at last, bows are put to the strings, the tempo increases—and the music becomes more menacing. A new tune signals that the situation has changed. With a series of chords, this brief, exciting piece comes to an emphatic conclusion. Has our hero escaped? Has the mountain collapsed on the troll hall? Or has Peer Gynt simply awoken with a terrible headache?
“Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Irving Berlin (1888–1989) From A Tribute to Irving Berlin,
arr. Bruce Healey (b. 1950)
American composer, arranger, and orchestrator Bruce Healey (who served The Walt Disney Company for more than thirty years) is a master at crafting orchestral works that can keep audiences in touch with great melodies written for shows in a previous era. In today’s concert, you hear Healey’s arrangement of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” by Irving Berlin—composer of more than 1000 tunes for movies and Broadway shows. Berlin wrote this stand-alone song in 1927, but delayed publishing until 1929. In 1930, “Puttin’ On the Ritz” became the basis of a musical movie of the same name. It has been incorporated into several other movies since. Fred Astaire tap-danced as he sang it. We hope our performance sets your toes to tapping, too! Notice that, as if our hands and fingers were not busy enough playing our instruments, the score calls for all of us in the orchestra to stomp our feet!
by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
A single note played twelve times on the harp indicates that it is midnight on All Hallows Eve (October 31st)—an annual opportunity for spirits to emerge from graves and the underworld with the ability to roam and revel until dawn. So opens Danse Macabre, the third (and best known) of four symphonic tone poems by Camille Saint-Saëns—having been introduced to the genre by Franz Liszt.
Written in 1874 and first performed in January 1875, Saint-Saëns drew inspiration for his symphonic composition on the poem Danse Macabre by Henri Cazalis. Listen for the brittle tone of the xylophone, which Saint-Saëns uses to suggest the rattling of skeletons’ bones. A solo violin represents the devil. Listen for his raucous fanfare. The spirits begin their dance and invite the living to join them!
This dance is an infectious waltz. (Can you keep yourself from counting “ONE two three, ONE two three”?) The main tune is grand, expansive, and a bit eerie. Midway, woodwinds and harp slip in a melody associated with chanting “dies irae” (day of wrath)—during the Catholic Church’s Latin funeral liturgy. With the full orchestra involved, the sound grows; the tempo accelerates. The waltzing must now be feverish indeed! But then, in an instant, it ceases. A fanfare by the oboe represents the crowing of a rooster at daybreak. The now subdued violin/devil soloist has one last say. Quiet chords by the full orchestra dismiss the remaining spirits. The strange night is over.
Chris D’Avilar *CONCERTMASTER
Nov 3rd, 2022 • Gala at Epping Forest • 6-8:30pm
Tickets on sale until October 25th
Dec 11, 2022 • Ritz Theater • 5-6pm
March 12, 2023 • Sensory Sensitivity Concert
North Florida School of Special Education • 5-6pm
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