Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra performing at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for their Our Nation's Nature Tour Finale. Photograph by Al Golub - courtesy of the National Park Service.


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The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s 18th Season Begins in Spooky Style – Inaugurating our NEW annual schedule with this Autumnal concert in Yosemite!

Two performances: in Mariposa on Saturday, October 19th at 7 PM in the Fiester Auditorium at Mariposa County High School

And:

On Sunday, October 20th at 2 PM in the Great Lounge of the Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park. This concert is a free event, with attendance first come, first seated. Donations are welcome.

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Concert notes by Les Marsden, MSO Founder and Conductor

That’s right! After a decade of annual MSO concerts each spring in the Ahwahnee Hotel – we kick off our 18th Season with a new annual series of THREE concerts in Yosemite each year! We’re greatly indebted to all those supporters of the MSO inside and outside of Yosemite who have been asking for more concerts in Yosemite, and we’re now making it happen – with the great talent and assistance of our MSO musicians.

Of course, it only can happen if we can find sponsored funding for these concerts. Because we play in public spaces in Yosemite, we cannot charge admission for those events – though our expenses remain the same, nevertheless: nearly $3500 PER concert.

So if you, your business – your charitable organization: would be interested in underwriting our annual efforts to bring great symphonic music to a magnificent natural setting, please contact me at MSO (at) sti.net – and ask for our .pdf prospectus for Yosemite Concerts Sponsorship. And of course, those concerts will be named for our sponsors – along with other perks that come with being a very SPECIAL friend of the MSO.

Our appreciation goes out to all those who partner with us in bringing these MSO concerts to you – with special thanks to Yosemite National Park Superintendent Michael Reynolds, his entire staff – and Yosemite Hospitality, concessionaire for Yosemite. Thank you for helping to bring great orchestral music to wonderful people in a spectacular location.


And now: read about just what’s on the program for our first-ever Autumn (Season-Opening) Concert in Mariposa AND also: Yosemite!

The Terrifying Program:

Dvořák: The Water Goblin
Dvořák: The Noonday Witch
Bach/Marsden: Toccata & Fugue in d
Saint-Saëns: Danse Macabre
Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain
Gounod: Funeral March of a Marionette


Antonín Leopold Dvořák (1841 – 1904) Symphonic Poems “The Water Goblin” opus 107 and “The Noonday Witch” opus 108 (both composed in 1896, based upon tales by Karel Erben)

We begin this, our 18th Season of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra – with the music of Antonín Dvořák: one of the most popular composers in the world – and in Mariposa, too. In the past, we’ve performed his 3rd, 8th and 9th (“From the New World”) Symphonies, all 16 Slavonic Dances, his Cello Concerto (with the great Ira Lehn as soloist) and now I’m really pleased to present two of his least-known, but wonderfully evocative, creepy pieces: late- career symphonic poems “The Water Goblin” op107 and “The Noonday Witch” opus 108.

Bohemia-born Dvořák was an extremely modest man who considered himself to the end of his life to be a simple peasant. In many ways, that’s certainly true: he had a child-like love for, and fascination with simple things: nature, trains – and was happiest when he was simply: home. Home with his family, in his house, in his native country, living simply. The reality is that whether he wished it or not, he was also an incredibly complex man with deep intellectual capabilities and remarkable accomplishments. And he’d end up being one of the most influential founders of the nationalist movement or “sound” of Czech music in the concert hall. He was born in the small village of Nelahozeves on the left bank of the Vltava (that’s the Moldau to you) River, north of Prague in what’s now the Czech Republic. In those days: it was part of the powerful Austro-Hungarian empire, and as such the Bohemian-Moravian area was pretty much considered an ethnic enclave. Dvořák was originally destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as an innkeeper and butcher, but he was passionate about music and struggled to make that passion his life. Dvořák’s mother Anna was the daughter of Josef Zdeněk, a local civil functionary for the Prince of Lobkowicz.

The young boy was the first of fourteen offspring – and the entire family was strongly Catholic – a faith the devout Dvořák carried with him throughout his life. I’ve always loved the story of a friend who encountered a distraught, wild-eyed Dvořák on the street just after Dvořák had visited his dear friend and mentor, the lifelong non-believer Johannes Brahms. Dvořák declared over and over (about Brahms) to his friend: “Such a man, such a fine soul–and he believes in nothing! He believes in NOTHING!”

But let’s back up a few decades to Dvořák’s early years. His father played the zither, and quite well – but was convinced that music was no field for a career. Young Dvořák got his hands on a violin and was apparently transfixed by the instrument, even at age six. Despite his own concerns, father František was impressed by his son’s talents – hoping they’d not take hold in the boy. He was sent away to dutifully learn German at the age of thirteen, but aha! That German-language teacher Anton Liehmann was ALSO a musician, and taught the young Dvořák the piano, organ – and violin, along with music theory instruction. He gave the boy grounding in the great composers past and present, feeding the young man’s appetite to the point that finally, father František realized he had lost. He gave his approval for his son to work towards a career as an organist, knowing that it was one of the few possibilities for decently supporting a family as a musician in the mid-1850s. Young Dvořák was accepted into the Prague Organ School in 1857, graduated two years later and: then sought employment. He worked as a musician wherever he could: playing in theatre and social orchestras: performing in restaurants and for balls, branching out onto the viola, which was to become his chief stringed instrument – and doing whatever he could to scrape by. A huge step up came when he became a violist in the Czech Provisional Orchestra – the “house” orchestra for opera productions, which allowed Dvořák the opportunity to learn about THAT art form from the inside out, as it were. He had been an admirer of the revolutionary Richard Wagner from his first exposure to the older man’s music and the opportunity arose in 1863 for Dvořák to actually play under him when Wagner guest-conducted a concert of his own music. All of Prague was apparently wildly anticipating that visit from Wagner, and Dvořák later wrote:

“I was perfectly crazy about him, and recollect following him as he walked along the streets to get a chance now and again of seeing the great little man’s face.”

Wagner influenced Dvořák’s own developing musical style – though his music at times reflects elements of Beethoven and others – including Brahms, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Schumann and Mendelssohn. The young composer began writing in earnest, with 1865 perhaps being the year of the most accelerated composition efforts by Dvořák – in that year he wrote two symphonies, an early cello concerto (not the famous later one – a youthful first one was lost until being discovered decades after Dvořák’s death) and the song-cycle Cypresses – dedicated to his piano student with whom he had fallen madly in love: Josefína Čermáková. Josefína did not return poor Antonín’s affections in the least, breaking his heart when she married into minor nobility. Dvořák eventually DID marry in 1873: he “settled” for Josefína Čermáková’s young sister Anna. It was a happy marriage, though the composer did carry a torch for his sister-in-law until her death in the 1890s, about which he was informed while he was writing THE famous cello concerto during his sojourn in the United States. The by-now world famous composer in his fifties revised the ending of that concerto with a quotation from one of the songs in the Cypresses cycle – his grieved “good- bye” to the woman he still loved, all those years later.

In the 1860s and 70s – he struggled. At first to support himself, and then to raise his family, while maintaining work as a musician. And composing when he could: string quartets, symphonies, eventually the opera “Alfred” in 1870, piano and chamber music; he began to get public performances of his music as early as 1872 when the A Major Piano Quintet (eventually: opus 5) was premiered – and then, his re-written opera “The King and the Charcoal Burner” was performed in 1874 in Prague. People began to take notice of this Dvořák at home – though Prague was still considered a cultural backwater compared to the “proper” Germanic and Austrian centers of art. Things did begin to pay off in 1875 when he was “discovered” by the aforementioned Brahms. Brahms first came to know the young man’s music via Dvořák’s applications for scholarships from Vienna’s Ministry of Culture and Education; Brahms was on the jury and immediately recognized a great talent. Dvořák, incidentally: won a scholarship.

Brahms was particularly amazed by the younger composer’s deft skill, bottomless pit of appealingly fresh material, and of course: the “ethnic” sound of Dvořák – always attractive to Brahms – who loved Gypsy, Hungarian and other non-traditionally “concert” styles of ethnic or folk music and incorporated them into his own music. Brahms – with great generosity encouraged his own publisher Hans Simrock in 1877 to publish some of Dvořák’s early compositions because “He is certainly a very talented fellow. And incidentally, poor! I beg you to consider that!” They were to become good friends for the rest of their lives (until Brahms’ 1897 death) and the first piece published at Brahms’ insistence by Simrock was Dvořák’s Moravian Duets, which was a huge success. Always looking for the next profitable hit, the canny Simrock suggested Dvořák compose a set of Czech folk-inspired dances, hoping to repeat the popularity and fiscal success which Brahms’ Hungarian Dances had been. The emerging 36-year-old was now in the folk-world of his upbringing and quickly complied with the opus 46 set of eight Slavonic Dances, for piano, four-hands. Simrock asked him to orchestrate them and Dvořák did. The reaction? Dvořák’s music took the staid, know-it-all music establishment OUTSIDE Bohemia by storm. Written up everywhere by serious critics, suddenly people were talking about this man Dvořák and his music. And wanted to hear more.

Simrock was delighted (though the composer received a pittance of commission, thanks to his first contract) and immediately requested another set of eight MORE Slavonic Dances. Dvořák famously responded that to do the same thing twice was “devilishly difficult” and “as long as I am not in the mood for it, I can do nothing.” Perhaps he was only holding out for better recompense from Simrock! In any event, the now world-famous composer eventually complied years later in 1886 with the second set (opus 72) for piano duet, and then orchestrated them at the end of the 1886. They are, if anything: even more remarkable, more varied, more—regional (containing not just Czech, but also Serbian, Polish, Croatian and Wallachian-Slovak-inspired dances) than the first, solely-Czech- Moravian-Bohemian-based set. And it’s important to note that Brahms in his 21 Hungarian Dances: had used existing melodies and folk tunes; Dvořák composed entirely original music in his two sets of dances, based upon the rhythms, tunes, and ethnic styles of various areas. And somewhat remarkably, and despite his own doubts: Dvořák did in fact repeat that success, and brilliantly. And those sixteen remarkable pieces made for a great 16th Season Opening Concert program for the MSO, a couple years ago.

Backing up a bit, though: the symphony was a form which enticed Dvořák early in his twenties – and by the mid 1860’s he began testing the waters. His first symphony, written by the 23-year-old composer, actually disappeared during his lifetime, probably after he submitted the one and only manuscript score to a competition in Germany. Believing it gone forever, he later described it as “destroyed” – and went to his grave mistakenly mis- remembering burning up the score. However – he hadn’t – and it did turn up in a bookstore in Leipzig, Germany – and only after a strange set up circumstances, it became public nearly twenty years after Dvořák’s 1904 death at age 62. His second symphony from 1865 did survive, but only merited a single performance in its composer’s lifetime – in 1888 well after Dvořák had achieved fame and a far greater sophistication. We’ve performed the third symphony (which Dvořák claimed to the end of his life to be his favorite among all his symphonies) as well as the eighth and yes, previously: the most famous 9th Symphony – subtitled “From the New World.”

By the early 1890s the young Dvořák had become older – and world-famous. And I mean MAJOR world-famous, right up there with Tchaikovsky, Brahms and all the other most- celebrated living composers of the time. Throughout the 1880s he had received commission after commission for chamber music, concerti (including the violin concerto) and symphonies – among many other forms of music. He had been widely performed, with his music drawing near-unanimous raves with each new premiere. His fame spread from central Europe – particularly to England, and of course to the music-hungry, culturally- growing and affluent United States. He made the first of eight concert appearances in the United Kingdom in 1884, and that country hungrily lapped up his music and rewarded him with – as he recalled it: the greatest acclaim of his career yet, anywhere. At Tchaikovsky’s influence, Dvořák conducted his own music in Moscow and St. Petersburg in the early 1890s (again, to great acclaim) and in 1891 Dvořák – like his friend Tchaikovsky – was awarded an honorary degree by Cambridge University. Back home, he settled in as a professor at the Prague Conservatory, a quiet – solid job for one of the world’s most famous and celebrated composers.

Until – he was offered the then-incredible sum of $15,000 by the wealthy American Mrs. Jeannette Thurber – who was determined at all costs to hire the great Dvořák as Director of her new National Conservatory of Music of America in Manhattan. That was about ten times the amount he received at the Prague Conservatory, but still: Dvořák initially declined her offer. The simple man just wanted to remain home. But – largely at the influence of his wife Anna, he was eventually persuaded to take the job – and the money! And so, Dvořák came to America, where (aside from short sojourns home) he lived from 1892 – 1895. The National Conservatory of Music was a reflection of Jeannette Thurber’s own convictions: it was open (uncharacteristically for the time) to African-Americans and women.

Homesick though he was, like his friend Tchaikovsky – who had been persuaded to conduct concerts of his own music at the opening of Carnegie Hall in 1891: Dvořák was amazed by this land where they apparently knew and loved his music. He was intrigued by the fact that American composers were trying their best to compose music in the style of the famous Europeans: Brahms, Beethoven, Dvořák himself: but was convinced that America had to develop its own “concert” music or nationalistic style. And during that period, he finally decided to demonstrate to the world what he had been encouraging American composers to do: to find their own national identity and style by looking to the music of the young country itself: the sounds, rhythms and melodies of the native Americans, the former slaves (and as well, their African-influenced music) and finally: the music of the entire immigrant experience from the fiddling of the Irish to the hymns of the Moravians. He composed his final symphony: the ninth, more commonly known as “From the New World” and while I have to say that there’s quite a bit of Bohemia to it, it is also profoundly: American. American in a brand-new way. American as a reflection of those rhythms and modes (especially the pentatonic sound of the native Americans) and the vital energy of America. And that piece – more than any other: served as the basis from which America’s own “classical” sound developed.

While it was Dvořák’s influence which finally inspired Americans to source existing regional new-world folk and ethnic music in the creation of the “American” sound, actually: someone had gotten there first: American Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who created amazing piano and orchestral works as early as the 1840s with rhythms, tunes and other inspiration from the Caribbean, South America – and other Western hemisphere influences; HIS skillfully-crafted music (some of which has been featured on MSO concert programs) caused sensations all over Europe and the Americas – and in that way, he really did predate Dvořák’s recommendation by a half century. But that suggestion didn’t take hold until the 1890s – thanks to Dvořák’s urgings.

After his final return home from America to Bohemia, Dvořák entered a new phase in his compositional career – and raised more than a few eyebrows when he did so. He was known primarily as a composed of “absolute” music: music which exists on its own, without any subtext or story behind it. No explanations; just: the music. His nine symphonies (with PERHAPS the first – subtitled “Bells of Zlonice,” in which he does depict the sound of those bells being the exception,) the concerti, the operas – all really: absolute music. But then, what got those tongues a-wagging? Dvořák, this friend of Brahms, this classicist, this many who wrote to formal structures: was about to go over to the dark side. Dvořák – it was rumored: was composing symphonic poems!

Symphonic poems, or tone poems, or orchestral poems: came into being just before the middle of the 19th century, and had no greater proponent than Franz Liszt. Oh, sure – composers had already told stories or depicted scenes of nature for centuries, but: this was different. Symphonic poems (usually in one movement – with perhaps several episodes or sequences) deliberately represented the telling of a story, or creation of a mood, or illustration through music of a work of visual art or depiction of a time or place (or – a “program”) in music. They were, in many ways: a final rebellion and break with the “classical” era that had ended decisively with Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. Good-bye to Haydn, to Mozart – this was true rebellion. And while some composers (such as Brahms) would continue to work within the classical spirit – this was the time for composers to declare their intentions: you were usually a Lisztian/Wagnerian OR a classicist. Seriously – this was a huge contention in the world of art at that time! And Dvořák – despite his admiration for Wagner, was primarily a classicist, at least into his middle age. Nearly all other great composers HAD chosen the path of new-fangled forms (or even: FREE-forms such as the rhapsody) including Tchaikovsky, who became a master of the symphonic poem by the 1870s. This didn’t mean you totally eschewed absolute forms; symphonies, concerti, string quartets and the like continued to be produced, usually following traditional forms, and usually: with no underlying program. But – the chains had been broken and now programmatic illustration via music had begun to permeate most traditional forms, or – had become an amorphous, adaptable form called: the symphonic poem. Liszt had produced 13 of them; Cesar Franck wrote some particularly great ones. Smetana’s great cycle “Ma Vlast” is a series of six memorable depictions of his homeland’s history; Saint-Saëns – wrote a handful (one of which is on this very program!) and later, Richard Strauss and others would be known for their incredibly imaginative symphonic – or tone: poems. EVERYBODY was doing it! And then, finally – in 1896, Dvořák took the plunge.

For most of his life, he had admired the writings of his fellow Czech Karel Erben (1811- 1870.) Erben’s prose and poetry was nationalistic, largely folklore-derived: and highly imaginative. His masterpiece perhaps: is his 13-tale compilation published as “Kytice” or – in English: “Bouquet.” And it’s filled with tales which are, at times: macabre to the point of near-dementia.

The then-55-year-old Dvořák, a world-renowned master finally back home for good after his great American adventure, after composing that final amazing symphony of his life, after his final concerto – the (arguably) greatest ever written for cello, after his best-known chamber work, the “American” String Quartet: Dvořák set out to compose symphonic poems. And that’s exactly what he did, shocking the musical public which thought it KNEW him. In quick succession, he composed five. This music represents a true return to all- things Czech for Dvořák: he was HOME and he relished it. But at the same time, his compositional technique in these works was progressive – far more forward-looking than anything he had previously composed. In these works, he advanced his own “sound” and in many ways, opened the door to the upcoming 20th century for younger Czech composers who would be inspired by his work, and who would advance it even further. Dvořák’s great fellow (though considerably younger) Czech composer/music theorist Leoš Janáček (no slouch as a composer HIMSELF!) found that Dvořák’s symphonic poems were representative of Czech culture to a far greater extent than any of his other music. And I feel that in many ways that’s absolutely accurate. Janáček particularly admired “The Noonday Witch” – and Dvořák’s daring harmonic progressions, vividly eerie orchestration and use of subject matter that might have been considered to be off-limits to less-bold composers; Janáček thought HE was able, in his own music: to naturally extend the realistic handling of fantastic material Dvořák had pioneered with growth far beyond anything the older composer had shown – including in his nine symphonies – up to that point in his career. (Incidentally, Janáček conducted the world premiere of “The Wood Dove” in 1898.) Though considered a little conservative, though considered perhaps even to be comfortable in his own skin: Dvořák DID courageously push the button when he composed these great, late-career tone poems. Particularly those first four, based upon the Erben tales, themselves drawn from Czech folklore – and with their macabre, Grimm Fairy Tales-like sense of terror frequently directed at children!

Czech through-and-through, and also all infused with Dvořák’s trademark endless fecundity of tunes and new ideas, taken to the next higher level. The first four (“The Water Goblin,” “The Noonday Witch,” “The Golden Spinning Wheel” and “The Wood Dove”) were based upon Erben’s terrifying stories – and the final one: “The Hero’s Song” is from Dvořák’s own tale – and may even be thought of as a bit autobiographical – in the same way Richard Strauss’ slightly-later (1898) “Ein Heldenleben” and “Symphonia Domestica” (1903) certainly were. It’s amazing that Dvořák quickly wrote those five (Opus 107 – 111) in a single year; they’re distinctively different, all evocate the differing moods of their stories with amazing impact (the sounds of the Spinning Wheel, the Wood Dove’s haunting cooing, the waters – and even the demented specific ENDING of the Water Goblin’s story: all amazingly evocative and all distinctly different from one another. And I’m delighted to offer those first two poems as the first half of our 18th Season’s “Spooky” Opening Concert.

The Water Goblin, opus 107: The story of the Water Goblin is wonderfully imaginative and more than a bit graphic. In a nutshell: late one night under the moon, sitting on a poplar branch by his deep, dark lake, the Water Goblin prepares himself for his wedding. The music is nearly playful – strings and woodwinds in a scurrying little scherzo; what danger could this being pose? Well, for one: his bride is totally unsuspecting of the fact she’s betrothed to this fiend. Early the next morning, a young girl, even despite her mother’s warning of an unsettling nightmare she had that very night: decides to stroll down to the lake to do her washing. Her mother warns her not to get too close to the shore, but – of course, that’s exactly what the girl does, shortly thereafter. Peering into its depths, she’s suddenly confronted by a huge swell in the lake – and the goblin grabs the girl and pulls her down with him to the depths of the cold lake. Time passes for the bride of the Water Goblin; eventually: she has a child with him in their underwater world. She mourns the life she left behind and the mother’s advice she ignored; finally one day she implores the Water Goblin to allow her to visit the earthen world and he allows her with one demand: she may visit her mother for one day only, and MUST return to him before the tolling of the evening bells. And to make sure, he’ll keep their child with him while his wife visits her mother. And off she goes. But – of course, when it’s time to return to the Goblin, her mother implores her to stay and they both lock the doors against the monster. In the dark, the Water Goblin draws himself up onto land, into the yard of the mother – and up to her cottage. He demands that his wife return to him as per their agreement. He repeats this demand three times: but the mother refuses to let her daughter return. With this, a tempest suddenly arises, complete with thunder and lightning – a terrifying din – and at the height of this massive storm, the Water Goblin returns to the mother’s cottage and as she – and her daughter, bride of the Goblin watch in horror: the Goblin produces their baby, rips his head off his body – and throws his decapitated son’s corpse at the cottage door.

Dvořák depicts this all beautifully, as only a master could. And though the composer decided to utilize the outline of the story as his musical form, it actually naturally becomes a sonata-rondo of sorts. One hears the three-note motif of the goblin, the daughter’s glib response to her mother’s warning, her eventual abduction and sinking deep into the lake – and then: in the development of all this material: her great sadness at the plight of her life as the bride of the Goblin. And throughout it all, there’s that reminder of the Goblin’s three- note little motif, most frequently tapped out on the timpani. You hear her sing a sad little lullaby to her half-Goblin baby – her only consolation for this terrible underwater life in a cold world. Her husband, annoyed: wants her to sing a goblin song instead. You eventually hear her reunited with her mother; you hear the agitated chromatic water and storm arise. After the evening bells (which are heard in the orchestra depicted by chimes AND orchestral instruments) repeatedly sound, you hear the angry goblin’s three-note motif grow in intensity as it builds throughout the entire orchestra as the storm erupts – and finally, you hear three massive chords – the goblin’s motif grown into an overpowering force – as he rips his baby’s head off – and throws it at the door behind which its mother watches in horror. After this climax, the mood gradually abates away, dying into nothingness as the Water Goblin disappears slowly back into his watery home, the mother and the Goblin’s bride commiserate and try to comfort one another – it’s all over.

The Noonday Witch, opus 108: Yet another opportunity for a mother to do the wrong thing – and be rewarded in a horrifying manner. This is the most free-form, episodic composition Dvořák wrote – though if one reads carefully through the score, there is a roughly four-part structure to this (briefer) work: approximating a symphony and complete with a scherzo movement. This poem opens on a household scene of Czech domestic happiness; a child plays with his toys contentedly while his mother prepares their mid-day meal. The boy’s play grows louder and louder as he delightedly – and repeatedly sounds off with his toy rooster. To his mother’s increasing annoyance. Finally, she tells her son that if he doesn’t quiet down and play less robustly, she’ll call for the Noonday Witch – a Bohemian folkloric villainess – something analogous to the Russian Baba Yaga. But of course, the mother made the mistake of opening her mouth, and we hear a response as the clarinets and bassoons utter the motif of that terrifying figure. The boy quiets down and all is well until his play grows a little too rambunctious yet again, and the rooster’s motif is heard repeatedly until the mother utters her threat AGAIN to call on the Noonday Witch. But hey: you shouldn’t make empty threats – and in response, the Witch actually appears, in full scary form – and she demands the mother give her the boy. It’s a really evocative moment musically: the bass clarinet is heard quietly against tremolo strings: making a focused, intensive and insistent order: give me the boy. The mother, terrified – grabs her son, holding him to her chest and refusing to let go as they then engage in – nearly: a demonic dance (scherzo music) inside the tiny cottage. As it grows more and more frenzied, the mother finally screams and – completely exhausted, she collapses on the floor, guarding her son with a mother’s passion even as she passes out. The noonday bells ring and the Noonday Witch disappears. A little while later, happy Papa returns home for his delicious noon meal with Mama and little son, opens the door and sees his wife lying unconscious on the floor. He flies to her, does all he can to revive his wife – and eventually she does come to as the music modulates to A major – as the flute and clarinet are heard over beautiful harp arpeggiation. But then the mood suddenly shifts to full-out angst as the father discovers his son lying beneath the boy’s mother – crushed to death by her efforts to protect him. The orchestra fully erupts into a dramatic, passionate demonstration of shocked pain – and the Noonday Witch wins.

Dvořák’s symphonic poems based upon the works of Erben – are magnificent – and all four work as perfectly horrifying tales appropriate to this season – the Halloween season. That final one – from Dvořák’s own tale – “A Hero’s Life”? Not so much. But – the composer left these magnificent pieces to us and I’m glad to share them with you. Eight years later, in 1904 after composing some of his greatest operas and final chamber works, Dvořák was plagued by acute kidney pain which then, in April of that year led to a bout of influenza. After a lengthy period of doctor-ordered bed rest, the seemed to recover, but then on May 1st after having a little soup with his family for lunch, said “I feel a bit dizzy, I think I’ll go and lie down.” Which proved to be his final words. He became unconscious, and the immediately-summoned doctor found the composer had actually already died, presumably of a stroke. It’s now believed that the long bed rest ordered as treatment of his influenza case had resulted in a pulmonary embolism, which led to his fatal stroke. In any event, Bohemia’s greatest composer was dead at the age of 62. Fortunately, not the victim of the Water Goblin or the Noonday Witch – but – perhaps: simply bad medical advice.


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) Toccata & Fugue in d minor, BWV 565 – original organ version orchestrated freely by Les Marsden (2005)

One of the most iconic pieces of music associated with early horror films – and especially silent films like Lon Chaney’s 1924 “Phantom of the Opera” – it’s amazing how little is actually known about this piece! For starters, we have no clue when it was actually written by Bach – with the range of 1704-1750 all within the realm of possibility: virtually the entirety of Bach’s adult creative life. And about that life…

Born the very same year as his fellow Baroque composer George Friedrich Handel, Bach BEGAN that life in a nuclear AND extended family overflowing with musicians. The Bach Family’s lineage in music dated back at least to the early 1500s, so there certainly WAS something in the genes. Johann Sebastian Bach was born in Eisenach Germany to the town’s musical director and court trumpeter Johann Ambrosius Bach and Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt, the youngster was taught by his father from a very early age. He learned virtually all aspects of music – including (from his father) the performance techniques of both the violin and harpsichord. He was apparently a very fine boy soprano with an “uncommonly beautiful” voice and there’s a famous story told of the boy walking 30 miles just to hear an organ performance by the virtuoso Renken in Hamburg in 1700; in 1705 (by then employed) he left his post in the hands of his assistant and again embarked on a lengthy foot journey: this time to Lübeck to study with Buxtehude – who apparently offered his own daughter’s hand to Bach at that time. But I’m ahead of my story – so back to Bach’s earliest years.

His uncles were also all musicians – including the famous composer Johann Ludwig Bach. Most of those musician uncles were performing musicians and music teachers – but were predominantly organists and it was therefore quite natural for young JS Bach to gravitate towards that “King of Instruments.” For the extended Bach clan, music WAS their life, music defined who they WERE – and they were quite famous as master musicians locally and throughout Thuringia. When the boy was nine, his father died – and a few months later, his mother followed her husband to the grave, leaving this youngest of their offspring – as well as all their children: orphans.

The lad consequently moved in with his older brother Johann Christoph in the city of Ohrdruf, and there studied organ with him. His formal education continued as well – and he eventually moved to Lüneburg as an older teen. By the time he turned 18, Bach was so accomplished on the instrument that he was hired as organist in Arnstadt (1703-1707) and then in Mühlhausen (1707-1708.) But his life wasn’t only the existence of an organist: in addition to his professional duties, he also composed, taught – and performed on the side, while also becoming fascinated with the fine art (and a VERY fine art it is) of organ building. Moving on from Mühlhausen, Bach next became court organist to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar – and by 1714 also as concertmaster to the court. He would stay in the Duke’s employ until 1717 and it was during this time he composed prolifically: he was expected to come up with a full cantata once a month, and it was also at this time that some of his greatest organ compositions literally flowed from him. Until: his next job radically shifted the focus of his work AND composing. Bach – from1717 to 1723: was music director for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen – whose court (and chapel) followed Calvinist doctrine of the day. Calvin’s principles had been strongly compelled/influenced to be the opposite of ANYTHING associated with the Catholic church. Calvin’s clear antipathy toward the Roman Catholic Church and its practices therefore, including the use of instrumental music – caused him to decide that (bear with me here) musical instruments were tantamount to icons; in his strict interpretation of the Ten Commandments’ admonition against the worship of graven images (icons) Calvin therefore essentially banned musical instruments (icons!) from his conception of religious practice. “Music” was generally okay to early Calvinists (even as late as the time of Bach) but NOT musical instruments – and so psalmody was fine as long as the songs of worship were sung a cappella. And so: Bach no longer had to create church compositions while employed by Prince Leopold – and while there were organs in the Prince’s court, they weren’t used for religious practice. Bach did apparently teach organ technique on court organs, and continued to practice his OWN technique on them, but – that was about THAT, and during this period he began to compose far more secular works, including those for solo instruments (keyboards other than organ) and ensembles. It’s the time we see his output for the harpsichord and “clavier” – by which he meant simply “keyboard” – increase dramatically, and give rise to some of his most famed (today) compositions for solo or ensemble keyboard. Those would include the 1721 Brandenburg Concertos, the first volume of “Das wohltemperirte Clavier” (“The Well-Tempered Clavier”), the “French” and (PROBABLY) the “English” Suites for harpsichord and most of the sonatas and suites for other instruments. He did compose a few cantatas during this time, but they weren’t for religious use – only for special occasions including birthdays and celebrating the New Year.

And just a brief word on those secular cantatas produced throughout his lifetime. When Bach comes up, we tend to think of a bewigged, scowling, overly-serious workaholic pouring out religious compositions like all those masses and chorales and the church cantatas or highly academic, technically-obsessed preludes and fugues, or the Goldberg Variations – but there was a somewhat humorous side to him, of course. And I think that’s best typified by his “Coffee” Cantata – which is less a cantata and more a brief, comic chamber opera. Some things never change: even back then, in the early 1730s (it was PROBABLY composed between 1732-35) there were jittery java addicts and Bach’s “Coffee” Cantata – composed as “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” – or in English: “Be still, stop chattering,” (BWV 211) playfully mocked them. Among his many undertakings during the 1730s upcoming: he directed a musical ensemble in Leipzig’s Zimmermann’s coffee house; that group was a collegium musicum, originally organized by Georg Philipp Telemann in 1702. It’s believed the “Coffee” Cantata was premiered at Zimmermann’s and its libretto’s (by Christian Friedrich Henrici) central character Schlendrian (whose name means “Stick in the Mud”) earnestly confesses that “if I couldn’t, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shriveled-up roast goat” – and other such witty jousts at coffee drinkers. So – when he wished, old J. S. Bach COULD have a little fun. And one last personal observation: when I was a child my own piano teacher was a wonderful then-elderly, very proper and kindly lady named Agnes Amos. Never was there anything but respect for the great masters – but I DO recall once Mrs. Amos – in her eighties – nearly giggling like a schoolgirl when she confessed to me that in HER youth (she had been born in 1890) she and her friends had referred to the very prim-and-proper J. S. Bach as “Jackass Bach”! If only she had known that Jackass Bach wasn’t ALL that serious ALL the time! But back to Bach’s career line.

In 1723, he returned to the swing of his former focus with a passion – literally – when his next (and final) employment period began. In the busiest and most prestigious duties of his career, Bach was appointed Cantor at Leipzig’s prestigious St. Thomas Church and School – and was also named Director of Music for the city of Leipzig. This was a big job: Bach was tasked with responsibility over the music for Leipzig’s four most prominent, important churches and as well, had to organize official municipal music performances for the city. He pulled his musicians from the city’s best professionals, university attendees and his own pupils from the St. Thomas School. Though he had no official duties as organist in his new positions, he did manage to continue to compose for the instrument and also performed recitals both in Leipzig and on tours. For Leipzig, he created four major choirs (one for each church) from the best available singers – and himself was music director/conductor for the one considered the city’s “best” – in its alternating performances between St. Nicholas Church and Bach’s own St. Thomas. He established an ensemble balance of 16 singers in each choir, with a counterpart of 18 instrumental musicians. On major occasions, he’d increase the size of the overall ensemble. It was during this last major compositional/employment period of his career that Bach really blossomed: he composed four yearly cycles of religious cantatas and also the Passion According to St. John – and the St. Matthew Passion. As well as an astonishing number of concerti for various instruments including those for one, two, three – or even four harpsichords and orchestra. Compositions from his final years include the second book of “Das wohltemperirte Clavier” (“The Well-Tempered Clavier”), A Musical Offering, the great b-minor Mass and The Art of the Fugue.

His personal life included two marriages. In 1707 he received an inheritance of 50 gulden from an uncle – about half his annual salary at that point. The inheritance allowed him to marry his second cousin Maria Barbara Bach in Mühlhausen; she bore the first seven of his children (only four survived infancy) in what was apparently a happy marriage. In 1717 Bach – sometimes described as a difficult person: grumbled just a bit too much about his employment conditions under Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar and according to the court secretary’s report there, was thrown into jail for almost a month before being summarily fired. Which is why the family then up and left for his next (largely secular) position as music director for Prince Leopold – in Anhalt-Köthen. In 1719 Bach traveled to Halle to meet his counterpart George Freidrich Handel, but Handel was – by then – becoming an Englishman and had returned to London; the two never met despite being the two greatest composers of the late Baroque. In 1720, Prince Leopold was off to the spa at Carlsbad for two months, and of course his court musician had to accompany him; Maria Barbara stayed home to tend to their children. But while Bach was at Carlsbad, Maria Barbara suddenly, unexpectedly died. The cause of death was unrecorded. When Bach left Köthen, his wife was completely fine but imagine his surprise when he returned to learn that she had not only died but had been buried weeks earlier. Maria Barbara’s older unmarried sister had lived with the family for some time and cared for the children in her brother-in-law’s absence – as she continued to do until her own death in 1729. In December 1721, some 17 months after the death of his first wife, the 36-year-old Bach married for the second and final time: to the 20-year-old singer Anna Magdalena (Wilcken) Bach.

Anna Magdalena was an official court singer in Leopold’s retinue, which is where she came to know her husband. Theirs was ALSO a very happy marriage as his first had been – with the added bonus of their shared love of music and musical ability. Their modest home – after they relocated there in 1723: became a center of Leipzig’s musical life. Anna Magdalena was able to help augment the family income by serving as her husband’s music copyist – and in fact, played a critically important role near the end of his life, as I’ll explain below. In 1722 and 1725 Bach produced the two “Anna Magdalena Bach Notebooks” which contain various compositions – some in his hand, some in hers – notated from his dictation or notes – with one of his most famous compositions in the 1725 book being the “Minuet in G” from the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook – or IS it really by Bach!? Though thought for centuries to have been written by Johann Sebastian Bach, it’s now believed more likely to be the work of his contemporary Christian Petzold. The 1722 book contains only Bach’s compositions, while the 1725 book contains about 42 compositions by Bach and many by other compositions of the region; they’re believed to be favorite pieces enjoyed within the Bach household. Some are notated by two of Bach’s sons, as well as his wife.

As I’ve written above, this period of his second marriage was a particularly fruitful time in Bach’s compositional output – but was amazingly so in his personal attempts to populate the world, too. With Anna Magdalena, he had ANOTHER 13 children – though only six survived to adulthood. The combined family struggled on with Bach’s fairly meager income. Throughout the remainder of the 1720s, 30s and 40s Bach diligently served Leipzig but by 1749 his eyesight had begun to fail. Anna Magdalena became his amanuensis – as her husband’s eyesight deserted him entirely and he became blind. In 1750 he underwent eye surgery (yes, they DID do that sort of thing that long ago) but it’s believed the British surgeon who performed both of Bach’s operations in March and April of that year: was a total quack. John Taylor apparently bilked hundreds of desperate people out of their money, and in the process, left them totally blind. Following the second surgery, Bach had a stroke and died. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery of Leipzig’s Johanniskirche – grounds which had become the public cemetery for the city. His grave was lost for nearly 150 years until being rediscovered during excavations in 1894. At that point, his bones were interred in a vault beneath the floor of the church.

After Bach’s death, the family fractured – with some of his burgeoning-composer sons going to live with other family members. As was the unfortunate practice of the time, his daughters were never educated, but were married off. Bach’s widow Anna Magdalena was left alone – with only her two youngest daughters (as well as the sole daughter from Bach’s first marriage) remaining with her, but without any means of supporting them. Bach’s sons from his first marriage were now achieving success as musicians/composers – and stepson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach DID help her out regularly. Anna Magdalena became dependent upon charity and handouts from the city council and sadly, finally was reduced to public begging to feed herself and the three girls. Tragically, she died on the public street on February 27, 1760 at the age of 58, completely destitute. She was dumped unceremoniously in an unmarked pauper’s grave at one of the churches her husband had once served – the same Leipzig’s Johanniskirche – or St. John’s Church where her husband had been buried in an unmarked grave nearly ten years earlier. The final insult? Though Bach’s bones had been re-discovered and placed in a vault of honor beneath the church, on December 4, 1943 the Johanniskirche was targeted and destroyed during an Allied air raid. Totally obliterated. Though the one remaining, weakened structure of the church’s tower was spared, after 20 years of hopes, the tower was finally demolished in 1963.

As for that famed “Toccata & Fugue in d-minor (cataloged as BWV 565) – well, it’s anyone’s guess when he wrote it. What’s a toccata? The word “toccare” means “touch” in Italian and signifies merely a display piece in which the performer’s virtuosity may be demonstrated. Usually fast, with rapid iterations of notes – a flashy demo piece. And a “fugue”? Well, again – the Italian word there is “fuga,” from the Latin “fuga,” meaning: to chase or flee. And that’s apt, because a fugue, at its most basic: is simply a tune – which chases itself. The form of the fugue has changed over the centuries – it was first a part of musical structure in the 1300s, but by the time of the Baroque in which Bach lived and wrote, the fugue morphed – and had become elevated as a cornerstone of the compositional art. And its form during the Baroque could take on many different structures – one- or two- or three- part fugues, inverted fugues, permutation fugues – but for our purposes, this one, the fugue from Bach’s BWV 565 for organ: is a relatively simple, yet brilliant demonstration of a four-part fugue in all its glory – with the tune consisting of (primarily) rapid 16th notes. The tune is initially stated in d minor, with the tune beginning on the dominant note of the key (a) before leading to the countering statement of the tune, a fourth above the initial statement (in g minor, beginning on its dominant: d) and we’re off and running. There are a few surprises along the way (including an interlude in c minor) and a REALLY cool coda which was a little daring for a Baroque fugue. And that ending? That final resolution from a minor fugue to – at the very last chord: a MAJOR chord? That’s called a Picardy Third. Now you can dazzle your friends with your musical knowledge at your next cocktail party. And make mine a double – a Double Fugue…

The piece wasn’t really known at all until the 1800s after being published by composer- performer-conductor-musical genius Felix Mendelssohn in 1833. Its ONLY manuscript – its ONLY form and the only reason we know the piece today – and how Mendelssohn came to discover it? Was from a hand-written manuscript by Johannes Ringk (1717-1784), from some time in the 1700s. That’s it. I’ve seen facsimiles of it; it’s attributed to Bach but – there are some who question whether the piece was – in fact: actually BY Bach. The piece’s fame grew slowly over the ensuing century or so after 1833 – and then REALLY hit the public sensibilities when it first began to be used in silent film houses, played by imaginative organists who discovered what fun that piece IS to perform – and how wonderfully well it works to depict mad scientists, or mad scientists who like to play the organ – it was probably the most famous piece associated with the great Lon Chaney’s “Phantom of the Opera” from 1924 – a brilliant work of film. And so: there it was, and it became nearly a PARODY of film horror music.

And now: what have I done to it?! The tradition of orchestrating baroque keyboard pieces really took off with the growth of the symphony orchestra into a behemoth of 80 to 100 musicians in the late Romantic era – and as well, with the proliferation of orchestral COLORS via the additions of new instruments including the Wagner tuba, English horn, clarinets in E, saxophones – multiple harps – Wagner probably started the tradition, and it really took off during the compositional life of Richard Strauss. All those colors, all the temptation – and orchestrating Baroque works – and particularly those for the multi- voiced, multiple-stopped ORGAN was just too great to resist. Elgar, later on Respighi, and particularly the conductor Leopold Stokowski – as well as Eugene Ormandy – and so many others: delighted in bringing Bach’s organ works out of the Baroque and into the lush, full- throated, technicolor, bombastic orchestra of their DAY. With little to no regard for historical interpretations appropriate to Baroque music; this was a REINVENTION of Baroque music. Stokowski’s imaginative orchestrations of Bach’s organ pieces were so far removed from the original integrity of Baroque sound that they were usually referred to as “Bachowski” and incidentally: Stoky’s terrifically inventive orchestration of Bach’s same Toccata and Fugue in d-minor on our MSO program – albeit in my own disgraceful clothing: is featured in the 1940 Disney film “Fantasia” – with Stoky himself seen conducting – after an introductory handshake with Mickey Mouse!

And so that’s what I’ve done – with no apologies. I’ve loved the piece since I was a kid; I’ve enjoyed playing it on the piano (and on rare occasions, playing AROUND with it on cathedral organs) and I created this horror-film-inspired orchestration in 2005 for the MSO, with a deliberate disregard for the Baroque – but with great love for silent horror films. I’ve orchestrated the piece for full symphony orchestra, with an important organ obbligato included. And so – here it is: Bach – reinterpreted by me some 269 years after his death with affection – as an orchestral piece which should live on – even in death – proudly with a Romantic-era silent-film legacy to shroud its Baroque origins. And I hope Bach doesn’t attempt to haunt ME from HIS now-demolished final resting place for having defiled his work; now wouldn’t THAT make a great horror film scenario?


Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) Danse Macabre (1874)

I’ve always been amazed by the span of this man’s life. He was born a mere eight years after Beethoven died. And yet, had he lived just three more years, he could have experienced Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” 1835 to 1921. Think of that: a lifetime encompassing a stunning range of social change, cultural transformation and geopolitics. His life stretched on through wars from the Texas Revolution against Mexico to the Crimean War, the American Civil War, Spanish-American war, and yes, to World War I and beyond. He lived through the Chinese and Russian revolutions. He was five years older than his friend Tchaikovsky, and yet outlived the Russian by nearly 30 years; 25 years older than Mahler – and survived THAT great innovator by another decade. And for what it’s worth, Saint-Saëns’ lifetime contained within it the entire existences of two other composers on our program – both Mussorgsky and Dvořák – neatly within his own years, with many to spare. Born during the Georgian era, Saint-Saëns’ lifetime encompassed the entire protracted reign of England’s Victoria – and the ensuing Edwardian Age – and continued on well past it. When he was born, James Madison still lived and Andrew Jackson was President of the US and yet the world of Saint-Saëns’ final year was one in which Charlie Chaplin’s classic silent film “The Kid” was provoking laughter and tears in theatres all over the planet. Saint-Saëns actually – himself: composed music for silent films, though he was born a few years before the primitive STILL-photography process of daguerreotypes had even been invented. He entered life into a world of old-fashioned horse-and-buggy transportation but died nearly 20 years after humans took flight at Kitty Hawk, years after the French had waged air battles against Germany during WWI and years after regular commercial air passenger service had begun. He lived long enough to experience Stravinsky’s then-shockingly modernist “Le Sacre du Printemps” (The Rite of Spring) in its first non-ballet concert performance in 1914 and to pronounce THAT composer as “insane” for his radical music. Born into a world of Mendelssohn, Chopin and one not far-removed from Schubert – and yet at Saint-Saëns’ death, the current innovators and “bad boys of music” pushing concertgoers’ boundaries were Prokofiev, Schoenberg, Bartok, Ives and Ravel – with Debussy having shuffled off HIS mortal coil years before.

And throughout it all, Saint-Saëns the composer: never changed, resisted progress, remained just as delightfully mired in the compositional techniques of the past and obstinately defiant to new ideas as – well: any other reactionary stick-in-the-mud. But oh, what terrific mud it was! The huge irony is that as a young man, his music was itself described as innovative, and he himself as a champion of modernity. But – to put it delicately, and as the writer Romain Rolland once said of Saint-Saëns’ music and his raison d’être as a composer: “He is tormented by no passions.” Or – as an anonymous wag put it: he was the only great composer who was not a genius. Berlioz also famously said of the successful-from-the-start Saint-Saëns “he knows everything, but lacks inexperience.” Saint-Saëns’ own self-estimation? A modest “I produce music in the same way an apple tree produces apples.” So take THAT!

All that said, please don’t assume I view Saint-Saëns or his music with condescension: nothing of the sort. His music is extremely well-crafted and orchestrated – filled with great melodic invention. It’s enormously satisfying, enjoyable listening – it’s just that he wasn’t a revolutionary or innovator throughout his life; he reached a certain level of high skill and development and then: stopped, continuing to produce music in that same manner (much as Rachmaninoff did, though without Rachmaninoff’s pathos and passion) for the rest of his life, even as the world changed dramatically around him.

He was born into a family supportive of his musicality – and in fact he himself demonstrated that incredible musicality at a very young age, even invoking comparisons between himself and that greatest-of-all-child-prodigies Mozart. And SOME musicologists believe Saint-Saëns’ talents as a prodigy surpassed even those of Mozart. His mother had been widowed, and so the young pampered boy was raised by that mother and his also- widowed great aunt, who had moved in with her niece – and consequently, the boy developed a very dependent relationship upon his mother in particular. But that musicality! Young Saint-Saëns began serious study on the piano at the age of three (!), publicly performed the piano part for one of Beethoven’s violin sonatas at age five and made his premiere as a concerto soloist at the age of ten with a program including both Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #3 (the c-minor) and Mozart’s Bb-Major Concerto #15 (K 454) – for which he himself created his own cadenza, the upstart! And as if THAT wasn’t impressive enough, the little show-off performed that entire concert from memory – which in those days, wasn’t yet a common practice. And to go one step further? The little monster – the little 10-year-old THEN offered to his live Parisian audience as an encore to that concert: ANY of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas, which he would play in its entirety – and entirely from MEMORY! We’re talking a good 12 full HOURS worth of music, committed to memory – and this is not easy music – the later sonatas are complex, and require in many cases not only incredible piano technique but great emotional maturity and comprehension. Drawing the attention of Paris’ musical community, he was encouraged to study both composition and organ performance at the Paris Conservatoire, enrolling at the age of 12 – and was the recipient of many citations and awards while a student there. By 15 he had already composed a symphony (in A)—and it’s an amazingly polished work. Completing his studies by the age of 17, at that time he also made the acquaintance of his idol Franz Liszt, 24 years his senior by then a world-famous virtuoso – and they become close lifelong friends. Liszt described Saint-Saëns as “the greatest organist in the world” – which was certainly high praise from a man recognized as one of the most incredible keyboard artists who had ever existed. Saint-Saëns also – in those student days and immediately thereafter in Paris: became friends with Louis Moreau Gottschalk (the great American composer and pianist who has figured on our MSO programs – and particularly our “Independence Day Spectacular!” Concerts – as recently as this past June in Wawona) and among many others: Berlioz, Bizet, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Gounod (also represented on this program by one of HIS lighter works.) The older, established and influential Berlioz, Liszt and Rossini recognized Saint-Saëns’ great talents while he was still a student and actively encouraged him and served as his proponents. After leaving the Conservatoire, he was employed as organist in 1853 at the Church of Saint-Merri where he remained until 1857, at which time he began a long, lucrative stint as organist at Paris’ La Madeleine, the “official” church of the French Empire.

On the personal side, he married in 1875 – at age 39; his bride was 20 years younger. Tongues wagged: there had ALWAYS been raised-eyebrow rumors about Saint-Saë ns but – married?! After they married, he and his young bride Marie-Laure Truffot lived with his mother – a huge mistake considering the relationship between mother and son. The marriage was pretty much doomed to fail anyway. Saint-Saë ns’ mother resented the young woman who was coming between her and her son (!) and she came to unfairly despise her daughter-in-law; the final coup came after the couple had two baby boys but both tragically died: in 1878 two-year-old André crawled out a window of their apartment and fell to his death. Saint-SaënsandhismotherbothblamedMarie-Laureandthentomakethings worse: the OTHER son – six-month-old Jean-Francois: died of pneumonia a mere six weeks after his brother plunged to his death. In just three more years, the marriage had withered away due to those circumstances – and was over, though they remained married. He left his wife in 1878 – still living with his mother, and Marie-Laure returned to live with her own family – outliving her estranged husband by 29 years, dying in 1950 – at the age of 95!

Throughout the 1870s and 80s Saint-Saë ns wrote a huge amount of music – approximately 300 separate works, leaving us operas (including his greatest, Samson et Dalila,) concerti for violin, piano and cello, several symphonic poems – inspired by those of his friend Franz Liszt, the originator and master of the form: the famed Danse Macabre (on our program!) being the best-known. An oddity, but a VERY fun one: Carnival of the Animals: a deliberately frivolous, silly work in which critics are depicted as “jackasses,” parodies of current and past music – including Saint-Saëns’ OWN “Danse Macabre” are included, pianists are labeled as “animals” – and the penultimate movement of the suite is the gorgeous “Swan” for solo cello and recognized immediately from its first few notes. Saint- Saëns thought his “Carnival of the Animals” to be so slight, and even, perhaps: scandalous for its parodies: that he only allowed it to be performed privately in his home and banned it from public performances – fortunately, a ban which fell after the composer’s death! It’s now – perhaps: the composer’s most famous work which I’m sure would have appalled him. He composed five symphonies capped by the wonderful #3 in C—actually his fifth— known as the “Organ Symphony” due to the organ’s inclusion in the piece as well as TWO pianists at ONE piano. The heroic final tune from that symphony was turned into the song “If I Had Words” in the movies Babe and Babe: Pig in the City. Later in life, and while he had lost the public eye and ear due to his musical conservativism, he was enormously popular in England and the US, being considered at that time, in those nations and others: as France’s greatest living composer. Regional trivia: during his second US trip (1915) he conducted the premiere of his cantata “Hail California” at San Francisco’s Panama Exposition: a piece for chorus AND the John Philip Sousa Band!

The strange, dependent relationship he had with his mother reached its apex with her death in 1888, and yes–Saint-Saëns STILL lived with her at that time of HIS life. Bythen, he had achieved great success as a composer and celebrated pianist – he had traveled extensively, giving concerts which mostly featured his own music – and especially his wonderful five piano concerti as well as his shorter works for piano and orchestra including the “Rapsodie d’Auvergne,” “Wedding Cake,” and “Africa” Fantasy. and frequently with him soloing in his own piano concerti. He was hugely popular in Germany, England, later in the US – and of course, in his native France. Despite that worldwide success, the 52-year-old composer was devastated by the loss of his mother – and nearly committed suicide. Going into a near shut-down, he fled to his beloved Algiers and remained there for months.

But wait: there’s more, and there certainly WAS. Beyond his incredible command of all things musical, Saint-Saëns from early life was also a polymath – with profound interests in, and published papers written on a range of subjects including the fields of botany, mathematics, Roman archaeology (an entire BOOK, on that subject,) astronomy papers presented before professional astronomical societies, arts criticism, theatre (he wrote plays, poetry and treatises on philosophy) and ancient music, to only slightly scratch the surface of his interests and output. And he was NOT some sort of rank amateur – he KNEW these subjects inside and out with the authority of a true scholar. And he was even – as I’ve read: an excellent amateur comedian! A committed, dedicated world traveler who roamed extensively and who had a particular predilection for North Africa (he spent his winters in Algiers and Egypt) the exoticism of those destinations sometimes showed up in his music, as can be guessed from some of his works; in addition to the “Africa” Fantasy I noted above, his final piano concerto is known as the “Egyptian” and actually contains Egyptian and Arabian thematic material in it. Though his popularity at home waned as the French musical world was swayed – perhaps a little tardily – away from the classicism usually associated with Saint-Saëns and TO the Wagnerian influences: and Saint-Saëns spent more time in those lands where he still felt his music was applauded.

As for his artistry at the piano? I can attest to it – I have recordings he made in 1904 at the age of 68 and valedictory recordings he made 15 years later in 1919 which still demonstrate a marvelous technique, even though the pianist was then 83. He recorded quite a few of his shorter solo pieces – and some of his own works with soprano or violin collaboration. And it’s nice to near not only that technique and personal idiom as a pianist, but it’s inspiring to hear the composer interpret his own music – showing us how it SHOULD be done. And as I listen – as I am at this moment – to his nearly reckless, fleet- fingered, nearly-balletic recording of him playing his own transcription of his (own) orchestral “Marche Militaire Française” – recorded in 1919 when he was 83 years old: I’m seeing in my mind’s eye a story I’ve read about an event which occurred 45 years earlier, in 1875. Inveterate traveler Saint-Saëns was in Moscow, meeting with Tchaikovsky (whose French was flawless) and who – at that point had already composed his “Swan Lake.” If the story is true, and I’d like to think it IS: late one night during Saint-Saëns’ visit, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns and (Moscow Conservatoire Director – and Theory Professor Tchaikovsky’s boss) Nikolai Rubinstein – all totally drunk – made their way onto the Conservatoire’s Great Concert Hall stage, found frilly tutus which Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saëns donned: and then improvised a pas-de-deux while Rubinstein accompanied them at the piano: their spontaneous ballet based upon the legend of Pygmalion and Galatea. No further comment…

In 1921 Saint-Saëns traveled to Algiers for his usual winter sojourn but was fatally felled by an unexpected heart attack on December 16th at the age of 86. His body was returned to Paris – and despite the fact he had an uneasy position both as a lion of French classical music AND an outcast who had far outlived his sell-by date: he received a state funeral attended by the important hoi-polloi of France – as well as his widow Marie-Laure, with whom the composer had had no in-person contact for 40 years.

His Danse Macabre is a wonderfully fun little symphonic poem; it began – however: in 1872 as an art song Saint-Saëns composed to a poem by the Frenchman Henri Cazalis based on an eerie old French tale. In 1874 the composer re-wrote the piece as a symphonic poem – complete with a prominent part for xylophone (more on that in a moment) and created a solo part for a violinist but with one clever little idea just to add to the atmosphere: the violinist detunes the highest (E-) string down one half step; the open E string becomes an open Eb. And when played against the next-lower string (the A- string) the interval of a tri-tone is created – an augmented fourth – better known as the “forbidden” interval since medieval times by its nickname: “diabolus in musica” or: the devil’s interval – or: the devil in music. Detuning is known as scordatura (there’s another dazzling reference you can make to impress people at your next cocktail party) and it occurs from time to time in classical music. My favorite instances are in two works by Richard Strauss: his symphonic poem “Ein Heldenleben” and his opera “Elektra” both require the violins to detune their lowest (G-) string down a half-step so they can play down to an F-sharp.

And now, as for the program of this piece (and remember: a symphonic poem is program music, and not “absolute” music.) You’ll first hear the 12 chimes of midnight being struck (by harp and horns, over suspended strings) – and you know what THAT means: it’s the witching hour – and it’s Halloween. And on every Halloween at midnight, here comes death in the personification of our Concertmaster’s solo performance on that de-tuned violin with of course: the violin representing death. We’re in a graveyard – and Death now calls all the bodies to rise from their graves as he does on every Halloween at midnight. They do – and well, here’s a translation of the original poem:

Zig and zig and zag, Death in time
Knocking a tomb with his heel,
Death at midnight plays a dance tune,
Zig and zig and zag on his violin.

The winter wind blows and the night is dark,
Groans come from the lime-trees:
The white skeletons go through the darkness,
Running and leaping under their great shrouds.

Zig and zig and zag, each jigs about
And the knocking of their bones is heard——-
But psst! Suddenly they leave off the dance,
They push, they flee, the cock has crowed.

And so it does – and you’ll hear the oboe emit a clear “cock-a-doodle-DOOOOOO” as dawn is signaled, the skeletons return to their graves and Death disappears. Until NEXT Halloween.


Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) Night on Bald Mountain (1860 – 1880) in the version adapted freely in 1886 by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844- 1908)

Speaking of the Disney film “Fantasia” – here’s another piece many people were first introduced to thanks to THAT 1940 classic! And yes, it’s yet another example of an orchestral symphonic poem. Though to be completely honest: the version in Fantasia is wholly the adaptation by conductor/arranger Leopold Stokowski – not this most-famous version we’ll play for you.

And to be completely honest? I really prefer the far more raw, primal, viscerally-scary ORIGINAL versions left behind by Mussorgsky (and yes, there were more than one) but – as the tamed-down version by Rimsky is the best-known one, well: that’s what we’ll perform for you.

First – a bit about the short life of the self-destructive, amazingly original genius who WAS Mussorgsky. He was born in Karevo, in the Pskov District approximately 250 miles south of St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia. His parents were wealthy members of the gentry and the boy was brought up with impeccable manners, bearing, attention to his appearance, sense of social standing – and a well-served focus paid to his musical talents which established themselves very early in his life. He received piano lessons as a young boy and demonstrated great aptitude at the piano. His parents moved the boy and his brother to St. Petersburg when Modest was 10 so they could be enrolled in a prestigious – and very exclusive school for young upper-crust Russian boys, along with its own military academy. All well and good, but: that experience was a harsh one. Discipline and the sheer rigors experienced by the cadets were frequently cruel and it’s believed that at that time: Mussorgsky first began seeking solace in the bottle. As a young teen. Stay with me here…at least the boy proved to be extremely popular and a good deal of his popularity stemmed from his by-now impressive pianistic abilities. By his late teens he had earned a position in the most prestigious regiment of the Russian Imperial Guard. But it was at that time – at about 14 or so: that the lad began finding comfort in the bottle.

This young dashing cadet – with his noble bearing and manners – AND that amazing piano skill: soon became the toast of musical circles in St. Petersburg. He became lifelong friends with Alexander Borodin, and came into the circle of the celebrated composer Alexander Dargomyzhsky – one of Russia’s most respected musicians. And he gained more and more important friends through that connection, including the critic Vladimir Stasov and young composer Mily Balakirev. With Balakirev’s guidance, he taught himself much beyond his limited knowledge of music: his entire background had been with the piano, but now he hungered to learn of orchestral composition, of formal structures – symphonic writing – and he became fascinated by the form of opera. He was so drawn to music that he gave up his military commission and dedicated himself to his greatest love: MUSIC.

But even as he learned about the traditional (Euro-Germanic) approach to music and traditional forms, he rebelled against them. He was eager to define a Russian school of concert music – but at the same time was drawn to work within European tradition. At about that same time (1860,) he underwent some sort of inner crisis – about which we know very little, but it wasn’t helped by the emancipation of the serfs in the very next year – the act by which Tsar Alexander II released from literal enslavement some 23 million Russians – more than one-third of the country’s entire population. This democratic reform was long overdue but in the personal case of the Mussorgskys: the effect was devastating. The family lost half their lands and suffered great economic reverses which forced Modest to return home to see what he could do to help salvage the family’s future. Not much COULD be done – and the family was essentially ruined. After a couple years, Modest returned to St. Petersburg and immersed himself in this musical world he had become inured to, though now he was no longer the dashing young cadet who had once turned heads. In his mid-20s, he continued to flex his compositional muscles, even beginning an opera on Flaubert’s “Salammbo” before abandoning it after a few years. In something of a reversal of fortune, he supported himself in a menial civil service job, while engaging in a wide range of intellectual pursuits, mostly debates and discussions within a small community in which he lived. It was during this time that he began to embrace the concept of realism in music – and especially in the discipline of opera: finding the only way to honestly express true life was by discarding artificial formal structuring – for the most part.

Another personal blow befell him when his ruined mother died; he turned even more intently to the bottle. Composing “art” songs in a realistic manner – telling a story through a song without resorting to artifice – the composer continued to refine his voice and his approach to expression.

A group of young Russian composer-mavericks had been coalescing; by the late 1850s it had already been referred to as “The Mighty Handful” and consisted of Mussorgsky, Balakirev, Cesar Cui – and within a couple more years, Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin were the last to become members of the recognized Mighty Five. They received encouragement from Stasov, and Balakirev was the ostensible leader of the gang – who were all dedicated to creating this new, populist-derived, non-European RUSSIAN “classical” music. They were not without their detractors, of course: and the “Kuchka” or Mighty Handful was sometimes collectively ridiculed by those who objected to their seeming-undisciplined, unorthodox approach to creating new music.

As early as 1858 Mussorgsky had mused on the idea of composing an opera (and this is taken directly from his notes): on the subject of “…St. John’s Night, in three acts, after the tale by Gogol.” Though Gogol’s only related story – found in the writer’s two-volume, eight- tale “Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka” contains no witches’ sabbath. (Footnote: ONE of those other stories in “Dikanka” is Gogol’s “Christmas Eve” – which served as the basis of operas composed by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, and I’m considering the suite from Rimsky’s “Christmas Eve” for our next concert. Stay tuned!)

Next, in 1860: Mussorgsky jotted down notes for an opera he called “The Witch” which involved St. John’s Night – though nothing came of THAT one, either. After Mussorgsky’s death, Rimsky-Korsakov claimed Mussorgsky had planned a work for piano and orchestra on this same story-theme, but it’s possible he was mistaken. No trace of any sort of project along those lines has ever been found.

But finally in 1867 Mussorgsky completed the first version of that project which had obsessed him for years: an orchestral symphonic poem called “St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain.” The work was derived from Gogol, from Russian literature and folk stories – and he finally finished his first version of this symphonic poem on the actual night of St. John’s Eve – June 23 in that year, despite those false starts and never-begun versions. Finally: Mussorgsky had finally completed his great symphonic poem! But – his friend and mentor Balakirev hated it, nearly every bar of the piece. And he refused to champion – or conduct the work.

So then – the tale-smitten Mussorgsky revised the symphonic poem – rewriting it to include chorus, soloists – and orchestra: and forced it into two future opera projects: first, into the multi-composer collective work “Mlada” in 1872 – and then again (later) in his final completed opera: “The Fair at Sorochinsk.” “Mlada” was never actually completed. Its commissioning agent Stepan Gedeonov, director of the Saint Petersburg Imperial Theatres: disappeared one day and the composers involved – Mussorgsky, Cui, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin – essentially gave up. With most of the material they had written for the theatre- piece being reclaimed and recycled into other works by the composers. Including Mussorgsky’s once-again-ill-fated version of “St. John’s Night.” Finally: he revised it slightly again, and pushed it into his final opera (as noted above) “The Fair at Sorochinsk” which he worked upon from 1874 – 1880, but never completed. How did such a terrifying piece end up in a three-act, four scene COMIC opera? Well – Mussorgsky was resourceful, and the entire scary sequence was written into “Sorochinsk” as a (ready?!) DREAM.

Though he never completed the opera, it was finished after his death – as was much of his unfinished output – by his friends or later admirers, with good intentions – but not always great results. In the case of “Sorochinsk” – it fell to the Russian composer Vissarion Shebalin to produce (I feel) the best version – which was premiered in 1931. Among those who also gave it a try: César Cui (1917,) Nikolai Tcherepnin (1923,) Nikolai Golovanov (1925) and Emil Cooper (1942.) It was that final version of what had originally been “St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain” but which ended up in “Sorochinsk” as a much-less-savage Act I, Scene 2 Intermezzo entitled “Dream Vision of the Peasant Lad” described in the libretto as: “Alone, Gritsko falls asleep and has a dream involving witches and devils. They are dispelled by church bells.”

Unfortunately, it was that final, much-less terrifying version from “Sorochinsk” which Rimsky-Korsakov decided to FURTHER emasculate when he created a concert version of the piece in the year following Mussorgsky’s death – and it’s that version which has become best-known today. Tame as it is by comparison with the original first versions. As for the original conception of “St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain”? Here’s the scenario, as originally described by Mussorgsky himself in his notes from 1860:

“Subterranean din of supernatural voices; Apparition of the Spirits of Darkness, followed by the god Tchernobog. Glorification of the Black God, The Black Mass, Witches’ revelry, As the origies reach their height, the bell of the little church in the village is heard in the distance, dispersing the Spirits of Darkness. Daybreak.”

So – a somewhat more…well, serious and dark-toned interpretation of the same story upon which Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre” is based. But unfortunately for Mussorgsky, none of those versions of the piece was ever performed. While Mussorgsky lived. And that’s how it’s usually heard today, and it’s a very popular piece, even in Rimsky’s tamed version (a slightly more-sinister version was used in the 1940 Disney “Fantasia” – in which conductor/arranger Stokowski created his own version – which is somewhat more faithful to Mussorgsky’s earlier form.) And: that’s how you’ll hear it at our October 19th and 20th MSO Concerts.

But in conclusion, let’s leave Bald Mountain and follow Mussorgsky’s life to its sadly premature ending. From a beginning of privilege, conservativism, wealth – through the loss of his family’s wealth and an utter upheaval in their very way of living which forced Mussorgsky to re-evaluate his place in the world as well as his philosophy of art: to leave the military for music, but then to become a low-level public servant while continuing a philosophical journey of Russian realism in music: is indeed a fascinating trip. But the element that (as noted above) first intruded when he was a teenager at the St. Petersburg Cadet School of the Guards and was exposed to the strict, even vicious behavior of its martinet General Sutgof: was booze. And from that point on, Mussorgsky’s original, innovative mind was to be influenced heavily by alcohol – until it would lead to his premature death at age 42 in 1881.

In 1867, he lost even the low-paying civil service job when it was declared a redundant position – and though he was expected to continue to work, he received no pay for doing so! During the 1860s and 70s, he would suddenly be inspired to compose new works – and one good example is the zeal he had when setting Gogol’s “The Marriage” to music as an opera, following the natural speech patterns rather than creating unnatural forms – until: he lost interest and gave up. And that happened far more often than not, with innumerable tantalizing “what-if” music projects left behind. While working for the Russian Forestry Department in 1868, he began working on an operatic project based upon Pushkin’s drama “Boris Godunov” – and actually wrote the entire libretto himself and DID complete the music for his masterpiece’s first version the following year. Rejected due to having no major role for a female, he revised it – but it wasn’t until 1874 that “Boris” was finally produced, to modest success. It at least established Mussorgsky’s name and brought credence and some small respect to the unorthodox compositional approach he brought to music. Today, it’s recognized as one of the greatest – and certainly most original Russian operas of all time. Other successes in the following years (whether produced, or recognized by the public or not) include the great 1874 piano cycle “Pictures at an Exhibition” – which despite their huge familiarity and popularity today, were never orchestrated by their composer. And it may come as some surprise to those who know the famed, constantly-played Maurice Ravel orchestration from 1922 intimately: that there are at least 30 other orchestrations of the piece, and some which actually are a little more “Russian” than Ravel’s somewhat elegant French-inflected version. He also left the unfinished opera (completed by Rimsky – and later revised by Mussorgsky-fan Dmitri Shostakovich) “Khovantschina” and innumerable art songs. One of my absolute favorite works of Mussorgsky is his four-part 1877 “Songs and Dances of Death” – to me, it typifies not only the psychology of the declining composer, but the dark nature of Russia itself. An absolutely breathtaking short cycle of songs concerning – in sequence: the deaths 1) of a child, 2) of youth, 3) (ironically) through drunken behavior and 4) due to war. Originally for bass-baritone voice and piano, the much later orchestrations by Shostakovich and Finnish composer Kalevi Aho bring an even greater tragic depth to the pieces. As for the composer? By his final years he was making a tiny living as a touring musical accompanist, but by 1881 was no longer able to even afford to pay for his run-down accommodations and was thrown out onto the street. After enduring a grand mal seizure, he spent his final month of life in a military hospital, where he found himself after basically drinking himself to death, dying at 42 on March 28, 1881. Leaving behind a cluttered, unfinished, confused private and professional life – but also some absolutely riveting, brilliantly original music.


Charles Gounod (1818 – 1893) Funeral March of a Marionette (1872 piano solo, orchestrated by the composer in 1879)

 

Gounod’s father was a talented but unfortunately unsuccessful painter who died when the child was four. Gounod’s mother was a talented pianist and also an artist who attempted to make ends meet by continuing to teach her late husband’s art classes while also giving music lessons. And speaking of, young Charles displayed a talent in both disciplines: visual art and music. Like so many other great composers, young Gounod was a precocious creator of music, writing his first work at age twelve – and was so pleased with the result AND the future prospects that he gave up on visual art completely at age 13, dedicating himself to music, period. His decision had been made far easier after he experienced a performance of Rossini’s opera “Otello” – an experience which left the young boy stunned at the communicative power of the dramatic art of opera.

Like other French prodigies including Saint-Saëns, Gounod was allowed to enroll in the Paris Conservatoire at a young age (though in Gounod’s case: he was a little older at 17.) A diligent student who discovered a love for ancient sacred music – and who became something of an authority on the subject, as well as having his interest in religion and religious subjects be kindled, he thrived in his overall music studies. He won the famed Prix de Rome in 1839 – a highly-coveted award which conferred upon its recipients three to five years’ study in Rome. While in Rome, he became so enraptured by sacred music, he seriously considered serving the church – rather than continuing on the path of serious, secular music which had brought him to this point in his life.

After four years in Rome, music did win out – and he accepted his first professional position back in Paris in 1843: as the musical director at the Church of Foreign Missions. But even so, just four years later, he entered the Carmelite monastery, willing to become a monk in the service of that order. The only problem was that it wasn’t in his nature to be a true penitent – let’s just say that as devoutly Catholic as Gounod was, he was also extremely weak of the flesh, and a lifetime of…giving in to temptation lay behind and literally: before him. By 1849, he finally realized (the scamp!) he just wasn’t cut out for religious service, leaving the Carmelites and finally setting his sights on music. At that time, French music was – as was also the case in Italy: opera-centric. To succeed as a composer in France, one had to succeed as an operatic composer – all else was unimportant. And so: Gounod’s career began with the 1851 premiere of his opera “Sapho” – which met with absolute failure. Oops.

In 1852, he married Anna Zimmerman, the daughter of his professor (and famed pianist) Pierre Zimmerman. Through his father-in-law’s connections, Gounod managed to be hired into the prestigious position – and title of Superintendent of Instruction in Singing to the Communal Schools of the city of Paris. Things were looking up a little: for the time being, he had money coming in, and in his spare time, he could again try his hand at composing operatic works.

His third opera “Le médecin malgré lui” (or – “The doctor despite himself”) based upon Moliere’s play of the same name – was a modest success in 1858, but he finally hit the jackpot with a work he composed over the period of three years. It would become one of the greatest of all French operas of all time: his “Faust” – which premiered 1859. And with “Faust” Gounod’s career was made; he was immediately the most famous French composer of his day. The annuities would pour in for the rest of his life. It was a double-edged sword; with the success of “Faust” also came the challenge to surpass or merely meet the success of that work, but of his entire output of 13 operas written before his death, only his (1867, revised 1888) “Romeo et Juliette” based on Shakespeare’s play: came close. And it was a distant second.

In 1870, the Gounods fled France (the Franco-Prussian war made things just a bit too uncomfortable) and lived in England for a few years. He conducted and composed more religious works, and became acquainted with the amateur soprano Georgina Weldon – there was a strange sort of phenomenon in England at the time, involving (in part) Gounod’s religious works: performances of them achieved a strange (as it’s been described) religious rapture bordering on the orgiastic – perhaps some sort of release from the pent-up Victorian age – but in any event, Georgina was something of a clinging – but also highly litigious kook and Gounod’s association would later come back to haunt him (as you’ll read below.) Over the years, and finally back home in France, Gounod wrote a few other pieces which brought him some success: nearly 20 masses and requiems, of which the St. Cecilia Mass of 1854 is the most famous. A HUGE number of motets and other religious pieces – many composed in his later years. Two minor symphonies in 1855. A great quantity of fairly undistinguished relatively brief solo, chamber and orchestral music.

And perhaps his most famous piece of all: the 1872 piano piece “Funeral March of a Marionette” which he made even more famous when he orchestrated it in 1879. But its greatest fame had little to do with him and actually occurred more than 60 years after the composer’s death, and it was all to the credit of Alfred Hitchcock and television. In 1955, Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette” was suggested by the great film composer (and longtime Hitchcock collaborator) Bernard Herrmann to be the title music for the television anthology show “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” – which ran for ten years (for its last three years, it was re-titled “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” The music continues to be associated with Hitchcock to this day – and rightfully so: there’s something about that jaunty, mocking, faux-tragic little tune that fits right into the glint in Hitchcock’s permanently malevolent, though sardonic: eye. And believe it or not, this brief little piece of fluff is actually program music! Here’s its program, as noted by the composer himself:

“Funeral March of a Marionette”:

The Marionette has died in a duel.
The funeral procession commences (D minor).
A central section (D major) depicts the mourners taking refreshments before returning to the funeral march (D minor).

(Additionally, inscriptions are found throughout the score)

La Marionnette est cassée!!! (The marionette is broken!!!)
Murmure de regrets de la troupe (Murmurs of regret from the troupe)
Le Cortège (The procession)
Ici plusieurs des principaux personnages de la troupe s’arrêtent pour se rafraîchir (Here many of the principal personages stop for refreshments)
Retour à la maison (Return to the house)

As noted above in my notes about his output, in his latter years Gounod turned out a great deal of religious music. His fame spread to England – and though both Gounods initially moved there in 1870, the couple became estranged and Anna returned to Paris, whereupon one of the strangest episodes of Charles’ life ensued: he was rumored to have had an affair with Georgina Weldon (remember her?) who was the wife of Captain George Weldon. And that alleged affair transpired while Gounod lived with the couple in their London home – the previous home of Charles Dickens known as “Tavistock House” in the 1850s, where Dickens had written Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Little Dorrit and more. Gounod lived in a room at the very top of the house, and the affair was apparently carried out with the full knowledge of Captain Weldon – who had been carrying on his own affair for years! Georgina was, as previously stated: a bit nuts – and believing scandal was NECESSARY for a composer’s image, even confirmed the rumors of their affair publicly. But Gounod grew weary of the whispered (and possibly justified) rumors and ensuing scandal and broke off the relationship, returning to wife Anna in Paris in 1874. Gounod requested that Georgina send his belongings to him, but she refused to do so – she was irritated at being abandoned by Gounod. She went so far as to maliciously scrawl her name, in bright blue crayon – across every page of his manuscript score for his latest opera “Polyeucte,” even claiming Gounod had promised her – an amateur singer – the leading female role in the opera’s Paris premiere! She refused to return his manuscript to him as well – the ONLY copy of his latest opera. He later had to recreate the entire opera from memory – a feat which took well over a year. As soon as she knew he had gone through the painstaking mental process of completely recreating the opera’s score, she sent the original back to him – with her crayoned autograph on every page. Being – as noted above: highly litigious, she sued Gounod for libel. She actually brought legal charges over a hundred times against various individuals and organizations; she herself was eventually sued for libel and lost – being forced to spend time in prison. Her story is absolutely astonishing and it, in itself: would make for a GREAT opera… Gounod never returned to England, and the long delay in recreating the score for “Polyeucte” meant that the opera didn’t premiere until 1878. And notably: WITHOUT Georgina in ANY role!

Gounod was made a Grand Officer of the Légion d’honneur in 1888 and in 1893 he had just completed composing a requiem for his grandson, when he experienced a stroke and: died in Saint-Cloud.

Notably, his funeral took place ten days later at the Church of the Madeleine, with Saint- Saëns himself back on the organ he had played decades earlier and Gabriel Fauré conducting the choir and instrumentalists. He was interred in Paris’ Cimetiere d’Auteuil. One hopes: NOT to the accompaniment of his own “Funeral March of a Marionette.”


The Saturday, October 19 Concert will be held at 7 PM in the Fiester Auditorium at Mariposa County High School. Ticket prices are $10 Adults/$6 Students. MCACI members: $8 Adults/$5 Students.

The Sunday, October 20 Matinee Concert in the Great Lounge of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park will begin at 2 PM. That Yosemite concert is a free event, with attendance first come, first seated. Donations are welcome. The MSO has been offering annual spring concerts in Yosemite for a decade. Those concerts are made possible by the orchestra’s partnership with and the generous support of the National Park Service and Concessionaire Yosemite Hospitality – a Division of Aramark.

Tickets for the Mariposa Concert only may be securely purchased online from the Mariposa County Arts Council by visiting http://tinyurl.com/TicketMSO or by calling 209.966.3155 for more information. Or simply by visiting our MCACI Shop within this website.

 


Mariposa has the distinction of being the smallest town in the United States with its own symphony orchestra. The MSO performs multiple concerts each year and is the only symphony orchestra allowed to perform in Yosemite National Park, which it does regularly.

Don’t want to miss a performance? Click here to join the Friends of the MSO e-newsletter for advance concert dates and notes from Founder and Conductor, Les Marsden

 

Above: The Mariposa Symphony Orchestra performing at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for Our Nation’s Nature Tour Finale. August 21, 2016. Photograph by Al Golub – courtesy of the National Park Service.


Meet the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra:

In 2002, Mariposa County Arts Council Board Director Les Marsden proposed creating a modest Mariposa chamber music ensemble. The idea was considered outlandish in this rural, sparsely populated region, but ten players became 19 by the first rehearsal in September of 2002 before growing to 31 musicians by the December 21, 2002 premiere concert. The newly-named Mariposa Symphony Orchestra’s very first piece of music performed founder/conductor Marsden’s ‘Mariposa Festival Overture’ composed for and dedicated to the MSO’s founding musicians. In the ensuing years, the orchestra has grown to 60 musicians and boasts an impressive history of performances in three counties, as well as an annual performance in Yosemite National Park, the only symphony orchestra afforded that opportunity in the park’s history. Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Pachelbel, Bizet, Bach, Schubert, Saint-Saens, Barber, Hanson, Mussorgsky, Copland, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Strauss, Joplin, Dvořák and many more great composers are now heard live, regularly, symphonically in these mountains. MSO audiences have enjoyed guest soloists including cellist Ira Lehn, violinist Ann Miller, pianist Patrice Stribling Donald, classical saxophonist Dr. Lawrence Gwozdz of the University of Southern Mississippi, trombone virtuoso Dr. Tom Ashworth of U-Minn, Dr. Lewis Wong of New York and even Tim Johnson and the Sierra Cowboy Riders.

In 2005 the annual MSO Young Composers Celebration began with performances of 8-18 year-old students’ compositions (orchestrated by Marsden) as well as the introduction of Marsden’s Welcome to Classical Music programs in every school campus in Mariposa County.

The MSO is a member of the League of American Symphony Orchestras and an ASCAP and BMI signatory. The orchestra is an partner in the four American Anniversary celebrations from 2014-16 relevant to Yosemite National Park, with the premieres of “American Anniversaries,” a new large-scale dedicated symphonic cycle composed by Les Marsden rolling out from 2013-16.

Mariposa celebrates a proud distinction: it’s considered the smallest town in all America with its own symphony orchestra: the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra. 

Press: 
The Valley Musician – April 2019

(Photo credits: Mike Mclane.)


About Les Marsden, Founder and Conductor of the Mariposa Symphony Orchestra

A thoroughly annoying, musically precocious child, Marsden began piano lessons at age 4 and was credentialed to teach piano by age 11. He added trumpet in elementary school and as a pre-teen/teen performed in recitals and with chamber ensembles as pianist/harpsichordist, becoming proficient on other brass, strings and woodwinds, as well as the concert grand harp. He composed his first symphony at 13; as a teen was principal trumpet of ensembles including the California Honor Orchestra and the Fresno Junior Philharmonic for many years. His composing and conducting interests were nurtured by (the late) Maestro Guy Taylor, conductor of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra. Under Taylor’s tutelage, Marsden conducted the FJP in performances of his own works. As a teen he acted in local theatre; upon entering college (CSU Fresno) Marsden settled on a theatre career. While a college student he wrote, produced and starred in his one-man show “A Night at Harpo’s” with the cooperation of Harpo Marx’s widow Susan and children. The show was professionally booked directly from college and served as the young man’s entrée into show business. Well acquainted with the elderly Groucho Marx, he performed as that Marx Brother for years in various theatrical presentations. Groucho’s son Arthur Marx wrote the play Groucho: A Life in Revue and in it created the DUAL role of Harpo and Chico Marx specifically for Marsden who in addition to playing both brothers in and out of their well-known film personae also stunned audiences by actually playing lengthy piano and harp solos in each brother’s distinctive style. Highly successful in New York, the show then played London’s West End to great acclaim; Marsden was nominated in the U.K. for London’s prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for “Comedy Performance of the Year”—the equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Award. He also received the London Critics Award and many others for his work on the London stage. The Marx Brothers were carefully maintained only a sideline to his mainstream theatrical career, however: Marsden was seen nationally and internationally in innumerable dramas, comedies and musicals from Shakespeare to Neil Simon, Chekhov to Cole Porter, with countless appearances on film, TV and in commercials. He worked with greats such as Robert Redford, the late Charles Nelson Reilly (one of this country’s finest stage directors,) Albert Finney, Vanessa Redgrave, Burt Reynolds and Jeremy Irons to name only a few. While starring in a play at the famed Arena Stage in Washington, DC in 1999, Marsden had an onstage accident which resulted in a career-ending permanent injury to his left leg. Disabled, he retired at age 42; with no further need to maintain an East Coast professional base, Marsden, wife Diane and young son Maxfield moved back to their native California to live near their beloved Yosemite National Park. In addition to the MSO and affiliated MCACI programs, he offered his ‘Acting in Mariposa’ (AIM) program; as Master Acting Teacher, his (rare) adult acting classes in Mariposa fill beyond capacity. He was honored to receive the “Golden Apple Award” from the Madera-Mariposa Charter of the Association of California School Administrators for his work as a volunteer arts presenter in all Mariposa County schools. A member of The Conductors Guild, aspects of his former theatrical career may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/ygpj7og

(Photo credit: Brent Gilstrap.)


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