Program Notes for July 14th, 2008

Program Notes By Ed Rutschman


J. S. Bach

J. S. Bach

Cantata #82 “Ich habe genug” (1727)
Johann Sebastian Bach (b. Eisenach, 1685; d. Leipzig, 1750)

Bach composed his Cantata #82 in 1727 for the Feast of the Purification, known also as Candlemas because of the blessing of candles on the occasion. Celebrated on February 2, the feast commemorates the presentation of the young Jesus in the Temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary.
When Bach accepted the position of Cantor of the Leipzig Thomaskirche in 1723, he devoted much of his musical energy to composing cantatas for Sunday services and major feast days, numbering about sixty occasions in the church year. With characteristic thoroughness, he composed music for five yearly cycles, producing more than 300 cantatas.

Cantatas, performed between the reading of the Gospel and the reciting of the Creed, were usually limited to a maximum of 30 minutes. Within the scope of a three-hour service, the cantata served as meditation and commentary. By the time Bach composed “Ich habe genug” (“I have enough”), he was well along in his third cycle of cantatas. [Note: the numbering system of the Cantatas is not based on chronology.]

Cantata #82 is scored for bass solo, oboe, strings and continuo. In the opening aria, the oboe provides eloquent introduction, commentary and epilogue for the bass soloist, whose refrain is “Ich habe genug.” The following recitative recalls the Gospel figure of Simeon, who found his life’s fulfillment when he saw the Lord with his own eyes. The lullaby-aria “Slumber now, weary eyes,” elegant and expressive, illustrates the attraction of “sweet peace and quiet rest.” In the second recitative there is more desperation, concluding with the words “world, good night!” A final, sprightly aria states the goal: “with joy I await my death.”

Richard Strauss Photographed by Franz Hanfstaengle in 1912

Richard Strauss
Photographed by Franz Hanfstaengle in 1912

Metamorphosen (1945)
Richard Strauss (b. Munich, 1864; d. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 1949)

Strauss’ Metamorphosen is his moving elegy on the destruction of the cultural world that had sustained him for eight decades. The composer had spent his earliest years listening to the Munich Court Orchestra, where his father was the solo horn player. Strauss became a polished composer in his late teens, a virtuoso conductor in his mid-twenties, a superb teller of tales in his tone poems and a keen observer of the human condition in his fifteen operas.
In 1943 an Allied bomb destroyed the opera house in Munich, where Strauss’ Capriccio had premiered the year before-with the usual precaution of ending performances and turning out the lights before 10:00 P.M., the standing-appointment time for Allied air raids. Ironically, his one-act opera Friedenstag (“Day of Peace”) had premiered there in 1938.

In February 1945, bombs destroyed the city of Dresden, site of most of the composer’s operatic triumphs, including Salome, Elektra and Der Rosenkavalier. Soon the opera house in Vienna fell, too. Worse was to follow, when Strauss underwent postwar exile and a de-Nazification investigation.

Mourning, Strauss responded with Metamorphosen. He enriched his musical language in Metamorphosen, writing for 23 solo strings in the glowing harmony that characterizes his late works. He created a tragic aura by alluding unmistakably to Beethoven’s Funeral March movement from the “Eroica” Symphony, placing the marking “In memoriam!” in the score where the Funeral March theme appears for the last time. Now, six decades later, the reconstructed opera houses in Munich, Dresden and Vienna regularly present Richard Strauss Festivals.

Marurice Ravel in 1912

Marurice Ravel in 1912

Don Quichotte à Dulcinée (1933)
Maurice Ravel (b. Ciboure, France, 1875; d. Paris, 1937)

Texts by Paul Morand (1888-1976) Ravel intended his song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée for a film based on Cervantes’ great seventeenth-century Spanish novel El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (“The Clever Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha”). In his Don Quichotte songs Ravel displayed two of his greatest compositional gifts, a convincing approach to emotional expression and an ability to etch musical details with precision. Perhaps these traits were simply the logical product of his parentage, a Basque mother and a Swiss father.
In “Chanson Romanesque,” Quichotte addresses his best chivalric rhetoric to his idealized Dulcinée, promising to stop the world’s turning and the shining of the stars, if either of these circumstances should offend her. But, if she should reject him, he says, he will die. The orchestra accompanies in a “big-guitar” style. In “Chanson épique,” Quichotte invokes the blessing of Saint Michael and Saint George in the defense of his lady. Here the orchestra plays the role of the cathedral organ. As for the concluding “Chanson à boire” (“Drinking Song”), the music says it brilliantly: “Pleasure is the only goal.”

Because of illness and other factors, Ravel did not complete the film score; the musical commission was redirected to Jacques Ibert. The three Don Quichotte songs were Ravel’s only contribution toward the project, and his music did not appear in the final cut. Don Quichotte à Dulcinée was his last completed composition.

Felix Mendelssohn painted by James Warren Childe ca. 1839

Felix Mendelssohn
painted by James Warren Childe ca. 1839

Symphony #4, op. 90 (“Italian”) – 1833
Felix Mendelssohn (b. Hamburg, 1809; d. Leipzig, 1847)
Mendelssohn composed his “Italian” Symphony at the age of twenty-four. Published as Symphony #4, the symphony was actually the third in order of composition-not counting a dozen youthful symphonies for string orchestra.
Formidably gifted and born into a culturally supportive milieu, Mendelssohn was well educated and widely traveled. By his early twenties he could boast an impressive résumé: a preteen debut as a pianist, numerous compositions-including the string symphonies and the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, the publication of his own translation of a classical Latin play, and remarkable skill in the visual arts, particularly in making drawings. When he was twenty, he jump-started the nineteenth-century revival of Bach’s music.

At twenty-one Mendelssohn declined a music professorship at the University of Berlin, in order to broaden his horizons. He spent several months in Italy, absorbing the atmosphere and the music of several Italian geographical regions. There he sketched his “Italian” Symphony.

From the very beginning, the symphony shines with the sunlight that northern Europeans still seek in the south. Although Mendelssohn left no descriptive program for the symphony, the second movement may well suggest a procession of religious pilgrims, a sight the composer reported having observed in Rome and Naples. In the graceful third movement, modeled on the form and style of a minuet, the particularly memorable central (trio) section returns poignantly at the end. The final movement, labeled “Saltarello,” after a traditional Italian leaping-dance, also contains a strong dose of an even more vigorous dance, the tarantella.

Mendelssohn completed his Symphony #4 in London in 1833, tempering Italian memories with English weather. Although he conducted the work that year, he was never quite satisfied with it, and it was not published until 1851, four years after his death.

Ed Rutschman’s musicological articles have been published in the U.S. and Europe, and his compositions have been performed on four continents. A member of the Music Department faculty at Western Washington University, he is a recipient of the Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award and of WWU’s Excellence in Teaching Award. He holds academic degrees in musicology, composition and piano performance.