Richard Wagner – Siegfried Idyll
Richard Strauss – Horn Concerto No. 1 | William Purvis, horn
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Horn Concerto No. 2 | William Purvis, horn
Franz Joseph Haydn – Symphony No. 73 La Chasse
About the Featured Artist
William Purvis pursues a multifaceted career both in the U.S. and abroad as horn soloist, chamber musician, conductor, and educator. A passionate advocate of new music, he has participated in numerous premieres including horn concerti by Peter Lieberson, Bayan Northcott, Krzysztof Penderecki and Paul Lansky; horn trios by Poul Ruders and Paul Lansky; Sonate en Forme de Préludes by Steven Stucky; and recent premieres by Elliott Carter, Retracing II for Solo Horn and Nine by Five with the New York Woodwind Quintet. He is a member of the New York Woodwind Quintet, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Yale Brass Trio, and the Triton Horn Trio, and is an emeritus member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. A frequent guest artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Boston Chamber Music Society, Mr. Purvis has collaborated with many of the world’s most esteemed string quartets, including the Juilliard, Tokyo, Orion, Brentano, Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Daedalus, and Fine Arts string quartets. A Grammy Award winner, Mr. Purvis has recorded extensively on numerous labels including Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical, Naxos, Koch and Bridge. He is currently Professor of Horn and Chamber Music at the Yale School of Music, where he is also coordinator of winds and brasses, and serves as director of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments.
Not known for possessing by any stretch of the imagination a kind demeanor or tender disposition, in his Siegfried Idyll Wagner wrote one of the most beautiful declarations of love any composer has even given a spouse. Although his life was fraught with acrimonious and strained relations with acquaintances and friends, there was never any question of Wagner’s undying love for his wife Cosima.
In a letter to a friend, Wagner himself described 1870 as “the happiest year of my life.” In celebration of his many private and professional joys, Wagner wrote the Siegfried Idyll, dedicating it to Cosima in memory of the birth of their son. Domestic bliss was in full bloom following years of secretiveness and scandal. Richard and Cosima declared their love for each other in 1863 at a time when both were in marriages to others. The work was intended as a birthday surprise and was first performed in the stairwell at Triebschen on Christmas Day 1870 (family practice was to celebrate Cosima’s birthday one day following her actual birthday). All arranged by Wagner, fifteen musicians were engaged and brought in from out of town; the piece was secretly rehearsed by the conductor Hans Richter, and at 7:30 Christmas morning Cosima awoke to a musical present of astonishing and extravagant beauty.
In Siegfried Idyll, Wagner wove together a string of musical references to his devotion and love for his wife and their newborn son Siegfried. The piece begins and concludes in string quartet writing with the winds picking up on the main theme. This theme – and others from the Idyll – takes their genesis from a one-movement string quartet that Wagner had begun for Cosima in the “infant” days of their relationship. Further along in the piece, the oboe plays the lullaby Schalf, mein Kind (“Sleep, my Child”), a German cradlesong expressing a father’s love for his son. Of further interest are delightful birdcalls. The work’s dedication reads, “Triebschen-Idyll, with Fidi’s (Siegfried’s) Bird Call and Orange Sunrise (Cosima’s reference to the moment of Siegfried’s birth). Presented as a Symphonic Birthday Greeting to his Cosima by her Richard, 1870.”
The most moving comments on Siegfried Idyll come from Cosima herself, who wrote the following in the diary she left for her family. “As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears, but so were all the rest of the household.”
Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, op. 11
On the one hand, Richard Strauss is known for his lease-breaking stereo-busting orchestral tone poems – Don Juan, Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Don Quixote, and A Hero’s Life – and opulent and heavily scored operas including Salomé and Elektra. These sometimes over-the-top and larger-than-life works are cast on a grand scale, full of flamboyant and dramatic effects. However, early on and then later in life Strauss steered clear of the larger canvas in favor of smaller scaled works of a more restrained neoclassical style, with a more focused and transparent orchestral sound. Included in this vein are: Divertimento for Small Orchestra (1941), Metamorphosen (1943), and Duet-Concertino for clarinet and bassoon (1948). This untroubled Classical style also applies to the two horn concertos, No. 2 from 1942; and reaching back some sixty years, the Horn Concerto No. 1 (1882-83).
The First Concerto is the work of a young genius and was written while Strauss was a student at Munich University. There is no doubt that he chose to write for the horn because he absorbed from infancy the sound of the instrument; his father, Franz Joseph Strauss, one of the outstanding performers of his day, was highly respected as the principal horn at the Munich Court Orchestra for nearly a half-century. “Strauss is a detestable fellow,” Wagner said of him, “but when he plays the horn you can’t be angry with him.”
The Horn Concerto No. 1 follows the traditional concerto layout of three movements (fast-slow-fast). The opening grabs our attention with an arresting fanfare-flourish from soloist (after just one tonic chord in the orchestra), which becomes the main theme of the first movement. Following an orchestral tutti, the horn returns with a more lyrical theme, complementary to the more assertive opening theme. Following another dramatic horn entrance and contrasting lyric episode, another energetic orchestral tutti gradually softens and transitions without pause into the Andante. Again, the orchestra grabs our attention with a passage, marked patetico, which gives way to a more relaxed pace and sweet, sad melodies placed in an exquisite orchestral context. The finale (Allegro) begins by hearkening back to the “hunting” themes of the Mozart horn concertos. This bouncy and vigorous rondo takes as its first theme a transformation of the fanfare/principal melody of the first movement. The finale ends with the marking con bravura, bringing the concerto to a brilliant and virtuosic close.
Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat major, K. 417
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- Allegro maestoso
“I tell you before God, as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or be repute.”
~ Joseph Haydn, Letter to Leopold Mozart, 1785
Three years prior to Haydn’s famous letter, around 1782, Mozart wrote his Quintet for Horn and Strings, K. 407. It was composed for Ignaz Leutgeb, known personally as a family friend since childhood and professionally from his tenure as a horn player in the Salzburg orchestra from 1763 to 1777. He preceded Mozart in moving to Vienna in 1777, opening a cheese monger’s shop financed in part by a loan from Leopold Mozart. Leutgeb is best known as the inspiration for the delightful four horn concertos. He also somehow managed to bring out Mozart’s basest sense of humor. For example, over the solo part of the Horn Concerto No. 1, Mozart scribbled a text that matched the melody, with ridicule including: “For you, Mr. Donkey,” and “For you-beast-what what a dissonance-Oh! -Woe is me!!” Although the butt of Mozart’s crude sense of humor, the composer must have had great respect for Leutgeb and it is thanks to him that we have the four horn concertos.
On this program, we will hear the Horn Concerto No. 2, which was actually the first of the four completed, in May 1783 (the numbering is screwy). In the opening Allegro maestoso, Mozart sets a lively and majestic tone with writing that exploits the lyrical nature of the horn. The melodic line is almost operatic, moving at the pace of a coloratura singer. Although a good horn player makes the music seem effortless, Mozart makes many demands, including: hand-stopped notes, fiendishly difficult rapid runs, and ventures into the horns treacherous upper-reaches cantabile range.
The melodious Andante indulges with proto-Romantic lines, perfect to bring out the burnished and warm sonority of the solo horn. The finale (Allegro) is a merry and exuberant rondo that is built on a simple fanfare-like theme. It imitates the traditional hunting signals reminiscent of the hunting horn. In the work’s autograph inscription, the composer sarcastically joked: “Wolfgang Amadé Mozart took pity on that ass, ox, and fool of a Leitgeb.” What pity?
Symphony No. 73, La Chasse
Franz Joseph Haydn
- Menuetto e Trio: Allegretto
- La Chasse: Presto
As Kapellmeister to Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, Haydn was not only simpatico with his employer musically; they also shared an ardent love of the outdoors and the hunt. In the 1760s, the Prince turned a small family lodge on the banks of the Neusiedler Lake on the Austrian-Hungarian border, into a magnificent palace. The construction of what was to become known as the “Hungarian Versailles” stemmed from the Prince’s love of hunting. The hunting grounds around this new castle were reported to have been exceptional. With the addition of two new horn players who joined the Esterházy musical establishment in 1765, Haydn, himself an avid hunter, composed a symphony that would at the same time show off his new orchestra members and bring delight to his hunting-enthusiast Prince; namely, the Symphony No. 31, The Hornsignal, in which he employed a quartet of horns to summon up the “thrill” of the chase. He returned the hunting idiom in 1781 with the Overture for La fedltà premiata, which became one of the Prince’s favorites. Later, in 1782, to celebrate the Prince’s return from Paris after an extended stay, Haydn penned another “hunting” symphony with his Symphony No. 73, La Chasse, (“The Hunt”).
This symphony opens with an extended, pastoral mood Adagio, based upon a pulsating four-note figure that becomes the foundation for the following high-spirited Allegro. Haydn based his second movement, Andante, on one of his songs, Gegenliebe (“Mutual Love”), shaping it into a series of variations concluding in a lively and rousing manner. The third movement is an attractive Menuetto with a trio featuring the oboe and the bassoon. The finale, La Chasse, is the orchestral version of the Overture to La fedltà premiata, and includes the horn calls, which so enamored Prince Esterházy. It is a joyous and rollicking affair that paints the picture of baying hounds, blaring hunting horns, and horses champing at the bit. After a bold, loud false ending, the movement then winds down following a horn call to a quiet ending; the hunting party appears to disappear over the horizon.
Notes provided by: David R. Glerum, Music Director – WMFE-FM/NPR, Orlando, FL (1990-2009); Music Director – WXXI-FM/NPR, Rochester, N.Y. (1980-1990)
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