Liszt Piano Concerto No. 1
Saturday, July 1, 2017 @ 7:30 p.m.
Marcelo Lehninger, conductor
Norman Krieger, piano
Ticket holders may attend The PreConcert, a free recital in Thomas Hall, which begins one hour before the performance.
LEHÁR Overture to The Merry Widow
LISZT Piano Concerto No. 1
BARTÓK Suite No. 1
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Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Suite No. 1 for Orchestra, Op. 3
The complete suite was premiered on March 1, 1909, in Budapest conducted by Jenö Hubay.
''I was roused as by a clap of thunder at the first performance of Also sprach Zarathustra in Budapest in 1902. The work, received with horror by most of the listeners, brought me to a pitch of enthusiasm. I felt a reaching out to something new. I threw myself into the study of Strauss.''
Bartók’s First Suite, composed in 1905, represents his absorption of Strauss’s music. Having settled in Vienna to establish himself as pianist and composer, Bartók was eager to make his mark. Apparently, the November 1905 performance of parts of the suite brought the sought-after success: “Despite all of the Hungarianisms, my suite caused a sensation in Vienna.” Bartók’s idea of “Hungarianisms” needs to be understood within the proper context, for Bartók had not yet developed his lifelong interest in “peasant music.” This Suite is only Hungarian in the general sense, as the young Hungarian composer writes Straussian music with a thick Hungarian accent. It is not based on Hungarian tunes. In fact, the only tune Bartók used is the Austrian national hymn—somewhat hidden in the first and last movements. An excerpt from a review of the 1905 premiere of four of the five movements provides a good introduction to the work:
The most appealing gift was an orchestral suite by Béla Bartók, a still very young composer of Hungarian origin. Here one encounters a fresh and vigorous talent that not only fully uses all modern orchestral means but also puts them into the service of expressing comprehensible and lively musical thoughts. One basic theme governs the four movements of the suite. This theme is transformed rhythmically and harmonically in interesting ways and appears in ever new and surprising ways, enveloped by motifs of national coloring and with supple technique put in forever changing combinations… The charming cadenza on the basic theme in the intermezzo brings forth the most beautiful of effects. The frolicsome scherzo comes through gracefully and easily; in the finale the entire thematic material is summed up. The instrumentation is masterfully executed. Without disavowing the individual instruments’ character, the work shows many bold and original facets. If the talents of the young artist, who is also lauded as a pianist deepen and grow more assured and do not—as the virtuoso orchestral technique makes us fear—get out of hand, then there is much to look forward to in the work of Béla Bartók. The audience confirmed the success of the Suite with vigorous applause.
- Siegwart Reichwald
Overture Program Information
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Franz Lehar (1870-1948)
Overture to The Merry Widow
The operetta premiered in Vienna on December 30, 1905. The operetta The Merry Widow had unparalleled success all around the world. Yet to “serious” musicians and music critics alike, Lehár’s popular success was just more proof of a lower artistic standard. So when Gustav and Alma Mahler couldn’t recall one of the operetta’s musical numbers at home, they were too embarrassed to buy the score and thereby admit their interest in Lehár’s music. Instead, Mahler occupied the music store clerk with questions about one of his own works, while Alma sneaked a look at the Lehár score. Now they could happily dance to Lehár’s music without anybody’s knowledge! The expertly crafted overture bursts with a “the best of” tunes from the opera, enticing the audience to settle in for an evening of fun and excitement. Counting Dvořák, among others, as one of his musical advisors, Lehár was a highly-trained composer who happened to choose operetta as his musical outlet. Lehár knew how to write music that is engaging and entertaining—even if the Mahler household wouldn’t want to be caught dead with a Lehár score on their piano.
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major
Premiered on February 17, 1855, in Weimar with the composer as the pianist and Hector Berlioz conducting.
“When I heard Liszt for the first time in Vienna, I just couldn’t control myself, I sobbed freely with emotion.” In and of itself this statement does not surprise us, given Liszt’s reputation as one of the greatest virtuosos of all time. But the fact Clara Schumann said it changes everything. Among “serious” composers and performers, Liszt and his larger-than-live persona was viewed with suspicion. Yet Clara Schumann (and many other composers who would experience Liszt in person) quickly realized that Liszt was not just another dazzling piano virtuoso. His playing had depth, as he interpreted the carefully chosen masterworks he performed. Liszt’s music amplifies his unparalleled understanding of compositional approaches of his day. Just as his piano technique was revolutionary, so was his progressive approach to composition. Liszt’s First Piano Concerto is case in point.
Composed over the course of 26 years, his First Piano Concerto is far from a first attempt at a genre he was all too familiar with as a pianist. This work is not what might be expected of a showman. Composed in four movements, the concerto seems more like a symphony than a concerto with its slow movement and scherzo as the inner movements. Yet the relative brevity and interconnectedness of all four movements (which are played without pause) make the work seem rhapsodic in nature—a trait of Liszt’s music that caused Mendelssohn to pronounce it “unpremeditated.” A closer listening, however, reveals just the opposite. The main theme returns on various occasions throughout the work, encouraging us to read all four movements from a broader perspective as a meta-narrative employing sonata form principles across movements—meaning that the contrast of keys and themes lead to struggles and an eventual climax, before everything gets resolved in the last movement. Maybe the most obvious hint at the work’s progressive nature is Liszt’s choice of Berlioz—the most progressive composer of his day—as the conductor for the premiere.