Paul Dukas – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Camille Saint-Saens – Havanaise | Jennifer Frautschi, violin
Maurice Ravel – Tzigane | Jennifer Frautschi, violin
Erik Satie/orch. Claude Debussy – Gymnopedies
Claude Debussy – La Mer
About the Featured Artist
Avery Fisher career grant recipient violinist Jennifer Frautschi has gained acclaim as an adventurous performer with a wide-ranging repertoire. As the Chicago Tribune wrote, “the young violinist Jennifer Frautschi is molding a career with smart interpretations of both warhorses and rarities.” Equally at home in the classic repertoire as well as twentieth and twenty-first century works, in the past few seasons alone she has performed the Britten Concerto, Poul Ruders’ Concerto No. 1, Steven Mackey’s Violin Sonata, and Mendelssohn’s rarely played d minor Concerto, along with standards such as the Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Berg Concerti. Continue Reading…
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)
Paul Dukas (1865-1935) – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice:
Despite the fact that his legacy as a composer rests on only less than a half dozen works – high in quality though they may be – Paul Dukas is considered one of the most respected masters in France during his time. From 1882 to 1889 he attended the Paris Conservatoire, winning first prizes in counterpoint and fugue in 1886. While there he became close friends with d’Indy and Debussy and took as his musical idols Beethoven and Wagner and as his literary idols Shakespeare and authors including Corneille and Maeterlinck. Dukas was named a chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 1906, and twice served on the faculty of the Conservatoire. While there he taught orchestration (1928-35) and counted as his students the likes of Duruflé and Messiaen.
Intensely self-critical by nature, Dukas allowed only about a dozen of his published works to survive and escape the fireplace. Everything else he burned, in spite of exhortations from knowledgeable friends. Some of the works spared show both brilliance and mastery: the exuberant and superlative Symphony in C (1896); the formidable opera Ariane et Barbe-Bleu based on Maeterlinck, regarded by many to be in fact Dukas’ masterpiece; and the brilliantly scored and exotic ballet, La péri.
But it is solely on the reputation and success of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897) that Dukas is assured a place in music history. This is somewhat sad in view of the composer’s other worthy creations, but there is no question that this work is a masterpiece of orchestration and has to go down as one of the greatest tone poems ever written. And it should be noted that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has been from out of the box one of the most frequently performed of all “modern” compositions. However, it is true that Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia catapulted the work to mass media stardom. With Mickey Mouse in the starring role as the Apprentice, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice formed the core from which the idea for the remarkable Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski collaboration grew into the timeless film Fantasia. Who can ever forget Mickey’s comical adventure with the enchanted broom that won’t stop heaving water around?
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is based on Goethe’s 1796 ballad Der Zauberlehrling, which in turn looks back to the dialogues of the second-century Greek satirist Lucian. The story is as follows: The Apprentice, with his Master away, repeats a spell in order to make a broom go and fetch water. But he has forgotten the incantation to get the spell to stop, and before too long the room is flooded. Frantic, he attempts to chop the broom with a hatchet; but, splintered in two, the broom does double-duty and then so on as more chopping only produces more brooms. Only the timely return of the Sorcerer saves the Apprentice from drowning in his own mischief to bring the tone poem to an abrupt and happy end.
The musicologist Manuela Schwartz believes that Dukas’ setting of Goethe’s poem “owes its resounding success partly to the aplomb with which it illustrates its program, partly to its taut, Beethovenian construction, and partly, inevitably, to its dazzling orchestration, which succeeds in carrying further the excitement engendered by Wagner’s Valkyries.”
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) – Havanaise:
A composer, pianist and organist, in addition to being erudite in other fields (including archaeology, botany, occult sciences, poetry, and, lest we forget, lepidoptery), Saint-Saëns was one of the most significant French cultural figures of the 19th century. His long life and music career encompassed the Romantic era and its transition into the modern age. His style was admired for its technical fluency, clarity of form, elegance and refinement. Although best known for his Organ Symphony and The Carnival of the Animals, Saint-Saëns’s output was vast and versatile, including symphonies, concertos, organ music, operas, secular and sacred vocal music, songs, and chamber works for often unusual combinations of instruments. Music flowed from Saint-Saëns effortlessly; so much so that he claimed to have churned out musical compositions “as an apple tree produces apples.” Across all genres, Saint-Saëns remained consistent in his musical philosophy: “The artist who does not feel completely satisfied by elegant lines, by harmonious colors, and by a beautiful succession of chords does not understand the art of music.”
The haunting Havanaise is one of the outstanding shorter works in the violin repertory. Written in 1887 when the composer was 52 years of age, the work makes use of habanera dance rhythms to virtuosic effect. The Havanaise is reported by biographer James Harding to have had its thematic genesis in a “memory of the crackling of a wood fire that somehow took musical shape in his brain.”
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) – Tzigane:
Although thoroughly Parisian in upbringing, Ravel took great pride in his maternal Basque ancestry, which inspired a lifelong fascination with Spanish music and accounted for Pavane, Bolero, and the Rhapsodie espagnole. He was equally affected by his paternal Swiss lineage, his father excelling as an inventor and engineer and passing on to his son a commitment to precision and craftsmanship. Stravinsky would describe Ravel as “the most perfect of Swiss clockmakers.”
Colorful aural images and exotic musical ideas provided Ravel with an inexhaustible source of inspiration, extending even beyond his Basque roots. Even as a fourteen-year-old student, he thought outside the borders of France as he was exposed to Oriental and Russian music at the Paris International Exhibition of 1889, including Javanese gamelans, Anamite dances, and Gypsy orchestras. It was also his natural predilection: “As a child I was sensitive to music—to every kind of music”; he relished gourmet and rare cuisine; and he cherished fine china and artifacts from ancient times and other cultures. Over the course of his career, Ravel reflected his interest in exotic themes in several compositions, including: Daphnis et Chloé (ancient Greece), Le Tombeau de Couperin (rococo France), Mother Goose (fantasy tales), Shéhérazade (the Orient), and the “Concert Rhapsody” for Violin and Orchestra, Tzigane, which conjures up the Gypsy idioms of Eastern Europe.
The immediate inspiration for Tzigane came to Ravel in England in July, 1922, when he attended a soiré at which the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Aranyi collaborated in a performance of his Sonata for Violin and Cello. Afterwards, he encouraged Mlle. d’Aranyi to play some of the Gypsy melodies from her native land, for which she obliged well into the early morning hours. Ravel was mesmerized and enthralled, promising to compose a new work for the enormously gifted violinist.
It took a few years, but in 1924 Ravel finally completed Tzigane, only days before d’Aranyi gave its premiere in April of that year. It was an immediate success and has become a bench post in the violin canon. Play this, and a violinist can play anything, replete as it is with formidable challenges, among them rapid harmonics and pizzicatos, quadruple stops, and virtuoso passages in perpetual motion. The work begins with unaccompanied violin in an extended, dramatic introduction that grabs our attention. As a rhapsody, Tzigane is episodic in nature, comprised of several distinct sections with varying moods and themes. The concluding section makes several references to earlier material, and accelerates into a whirl of perpetual motion and violin pyrotechnics.
Erik Satie (1866-1925) – Gymnopédies (orch. Debussy):
If “impressionist” is the term most often applied to Debussy, “bohemian” and “eccentric” are the labels most often used to paint the picture of Satie. One musicologist actually wrote that Satie “lived in apparently cheerful poverty in a distant suburb [of Paris],” as if poverty could ever be cheerful. This romantic rendering, notwithstanding, Satie did indeed live the life of a bohemian from when he left home in 1887 and began living in Montmartre, hanging out and playing the piano in cabarets and fancying himself an artiste. In 1898 he moved to Arcueil, on the southern outskirts of Paris, where he lived for the duration of his life in a sparsely furnished apartment surrounded by his beloved cats. Never at home in academia (in boredom, he flunked out of the Paris Conservatoire), Satie was always the free thinker and nonconformist, describing himself as a “medieval musician who had wandered by mistake into the 20th century.”
The Gymnopédies (1888) have become Satie’s most celebrated and cherished work, casting a spell of rarely matched serenity. These three languorous, dreamy waltz-like piano pieces were inspired by a decoration on an ancient Greek vase, recalling the tranquility and restraint associated with Classical civilization as a statement against the emotional flamboyance of his era. The first and third Gymnopédies were orchestrated by Debussy in 1895 and arranged by many others (including Blood Sweat & Tears, Frank Zappa, and Leopold Stokowski). In his biography of Satie, Rollo H. Myers offers this description: “In the Gymnopédies a slender, undulating melodic line is traced thinly over a rocking pedal bass of shifting, delicately dissonant chords. The harmonic texture, modal in character, especially in the final cadences, is light and transparent; and the melody seems to have a strange aerial quality as if traced by floating gossamer threads suspended between earth and sky.”
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) – La Mer (The Sea):
- From Dawn to Noon on the Sea
- The Play of the Waves
- Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea
Claude Debussy was one of the most important figures in the transition from late Romantic (the nineteenth century) into Modern (the twentieth) music. To some he is even seen as the founding spirit of twentieth century music. Pierre Boulez went so far as to say that in essence it began with the publication of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. Over the course of his career, Debussy created a body of works whose innovative treatment of sonority and imaginative approach to form, harmony, and texture paved the way for a new century of musical possibilities. Old forms such as symphonies, concertos, or overtures gave way to “sketches” or “images” or “preludes.” And as he brought ambiguity to form, so did he treat harmony. Debussy said goodbye to the tonal center – the practice of feeling obliged to start in a particular key and therefore feeling the need to end in that same key, to satisfy the ear – and by so doing opened the door to a new way of looking at music.
It was a mature Debussy who brought this controversial new aesthetic to his greatest orchestral masterpiece, La Mer (“The Sea”). Given the amorphous and ever-changing nature of the sea, with its deep and hidden waters suggesting the ineffable and mysterious, the subject was certainly a wonderful fit for the composer. And looked at from an historical point of view, it seems inevitable that Debussy would eventually turn to the sea for inspiration. In September of 1903, Debussy announced to the composer Andre Messager that he had begun work on La Mer: “You may not know that I was destined for a sailor’s life and that it was only quite by chance that fate led me in another direction. I have always held a passionate love for the sea.” For a time Debussy’s father was a sailor and his tales of vast oceans and exotic lands sparked his son’s imagination and left the boy spellbound.
Debussy’s first experience with the sea came when he was only seven on a family vacation to Cannes. The trip ignited a life-long fascination for the sea, with the thoughts and moods evoked by moving water. These were halcyon days for the young composer and before his life was through he would have many more fond memories of the Mediterranean. But not all of his memories of the sea were placid ones. In 1889, he discovered aspects of the sea quite different from the relaxed ones he had seen on the resort beaches. The story goes that in June of that year, he was traveling with friends along the coast of Brittany. Their plans included passage in a fishing boat from Saint-Lunaire to Cancale, but when they were set to leave a threatening storm approached and the captain advised canceling the trip. Debussy would hear nothing of it and insisted that they set sail as planned. As predicted, the journey turned out to be a dramatic, tossed-about-the-waters voyage that posed significant danger to crew and passengers. But while his comrades must have been terrified, Debussy professed to relish the experience. “Now there’s a type of passionate feeling that I have not before experienced – Danger! It is not unpleasant. One is alive!” All of these experiences were to figure into the magnificent tonal panorama that would become La Mer.
I. From Dawn to Noon on the Sea. The quiet and sustained opening of this first sketch suggests the immensity and mystery of the sea. The music takes us through an exploration of the sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic changes of atmosphere and lighting that shapes and transforms the sea’s character as the sun kisses the water in the morning and then blazes across it in the midday. The form is built around the play of thematic and rhythmic fragments rather than conventional melodies. Debussy is masterful in painting a mosaic full of the interplay of color. These musical brush strokes and endlessly varied orchestral textures are perfectly suited to the sea, always the same yet continually changing.
II. Play of the Waves. Opening with delicate little sprays of water that seem to disappear in the air, the music mounts in intensity to become huge waves powerfully crashing down until the music quiets again and the water gently ripples across a calm surface. A scherzo like contrast to the outer sketches, this middle section impresses with its brilliance of orchestral color. As Debussy biographer Oscar Thompson put it: “On the sea’s vast stage is presented a trance-like phantasmagoria so evanescent and fugitive that it leaves behind only the vagueness of a dream.”
III. Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea. In this final sketch, the music is
more ominous and urgent than anything that has gone before. We get a strong sense of the sea’s awesome power and majesty. Seldom does Debussy permit himself to be as unleashed as he is here. He allows himself to make full use of the resources of the orchestra, with brasses blaring. One feels close to the sea’s danger – so appealing to Debussy – as the orchestra heaves and swells in tremendous washes of sound. We hear strong gusts of wind bearing down on the water, whipping it into raging crests and waves. Fragments of themes from the first sketch are recalled to add symmetry to this magnificent tonal seascape by a composer who believed that “[Music] is a free art, gushing forth – an art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea!”
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