After leading lauded performances of our All-Beethoven program in 2014 and Mozart’s Requiem in 2017, Jun Märkl returns to Boettcher Concert Hall to conduct your Colorado Symphony in a performance featuring works by a duo of French composers and a Polish composer who spent much of his adult life in France. Fabio Bidini lends his expertise to Chopin's Second Piano Concerto. Debussy’s La Mer is a work of marvelous imagination as he captures the essence and mood of the Mediterranean Sea, a place he visited frequently during his childhood. Ravel’s La Valse caps the program with a glittering homage to the Viennese Waltz, as it is both glorified and deconstructed in a melodic strain of rhythmic fluidity — a fittingly romantic end to a program brimming with European style.
The length of this performance is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. This includes one 20-minute intermission.
Repertoire & Program Notes
CHOPIN Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
DEBUSSY La Mer
RAVEL La Valse
Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda:
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, Op. 21
Frédéric Chopin was born on February 22, 1810 in Zelazowa-Wola (near Warsaw), Poland and died on October 17, 1849 in Paris. He composed his F minor Concerto in 1829, and introduced it on his concert of March 17, 1830 at the National Theater in Warsaw, the event that marked his formal debut as pianist and composer. The score calls for woodwinds in pairs, two horns, two trumpets, bass trombone, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 34 minutes.
During his student days at the Warsaw Conservatory in the late 1820s, Chopin met a comely young singer named Constantia Gladowska and for the first time in his life, fell in love. In his biography of the composer, Casimir Wierzynski wrote, “She was considered one of the school’s best pupils, and also said to be one of the prettiest. Her regular, full face, framed in blond hair, was an epitome of youth, health, and vigor, and her beauty was conspicuous in the Conservatory chorus. The young lady, conscious of her charms, was distinguished by ambition and diligence in her studies. She dreamed of becoming an opera singer....” Chopin followed Constantia to her performances and caught glimpses of her when she appeared at the theater or in church, but he never approached her. His love manifested itself in giddily immature ways. He raved about Constantia’s virtues to his friends. He invited one Mrs. Beyer to dinner simply because her given name was the same as that of his beloved. He reported “tingling with pleasure” whenever he saw a handkerchief embroidered with her name. He broke off one of his letters abruptly with the syllable “Con — ,” explaining, “No, I cannot complete her name, my hand is too unworthy.” After yet another half year of such maudlin goings-on, Chopin finally met — actually talked with — Constantia in April 1830. She was pleasant to him and they became friends, but he was never convinced that she fully returned his love.
She took part in his farewell concert in Warsaw on October 11th before he headed west to seek his fame and fortune (he settled in Paris and never returned to Poland), and he kept up a correspondence with her for a while through an intermediary. (He felt it improper to write directly to a young woman without her parents’ permission.) Her marriage to a Warsaw merchant in 1832 caused him intense but impermanent grief, which soon evaporated in the glittering social whirl of Paris. The emotional rush of young love Chopin experienced over Constantia played a seminal role in the two piano concertos he wrote in 1829 and 1830, works full of lyrical melody and ardent emotion. Chopin based his concertos on the Romantic piano style of Hummel, Kalkbrenner, Field, and Ries rather than on the weightier abstract forms of Beethoven.
The orchestra in these virtuoso works is, truly, accompaniment, and is virtually excluded from the musical argument once the pianist enters. The center of attention is the soloist, and it says much about the quality of Chopin’s writing for the piano that his concertos continue to be heard while literally shelves-full of their contemporary creations have not been displayed for nearly two centuries. In the opening movement of the Second Concerto, most of the orchestra’s participation occurs in the introduction, in which are presented the main theme (a rather dolorous tune with dotted rhythms played immediately by violins) and the second theme, a brighter strain given by woodwinds led by the oboe. The piano enters and, with the exception of orchestral interludes surrounding the development section and the concluding coda, dominates the remainder of the movement.
Liszt thought the second movement “of a perfection almost ideal; its expression, now radiant with light, now full of tender pathos.” Robert Schumann — writer, publisher, editor as well as composer — mused, “What are ten editorial crowns compared to one such Adagio as that of the Second Concerto!” Composed under the spell of his first love, this movement was a special favorite of Chopin himself. A description of the movement’s form — three-part (A–B–A) with wide-ranging harmonic excursions in the center section — is too clinical to convey the moonlit poetry and quiet intensity of this beautiful music. In both its technique and its tender emotionalism, it breathes the rarefied air of Chopin’s greatest works. Chopin’s biographer Frederick Niecks noted the finale’s “feminine softness and rounded contours, its graceful, gyrating, dance-like motions, its sprightliness and frolicsomeness.” The theme was inspired by the mazurka, the Polish national dance that also served Chopin as the basis for more than fifty stylized compositions for solo piano. The movement brims with dazzling virtuosity. Its structure comprises a series of episodes rounded off by the return of the beguiling main theme and a cheerful coda in F major heralded by a call from the solo horn.
Claude Debussy (1862-1918) La Mer, Trois Esquisses Symphoniques (“The Sea, Three Symphonic Sketches”)
Claude Debussy was born on August 2, 1862 in St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris and died on March 25, 1918 in Paris. He composed La Mer between 1903 and 1905. Camille Chevillard directed the premiere, on October 15, 1905 with the Concert Lamoureux in Paris. The score calls for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, two cornets, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, two harps, and strings.
“You may not know that I was destined for a sailor’s life and that it was only quite by chance that fate led me in another direction. But I have always held a passionate love for the sea.” With these lines written on September 12, 1903 to the composer-conductor André Messager, Debussy prefaced the notice that he had begun work on La Mer. Debussy’s father was a sailor and his tales of vast oceans and exotic lands held Claude spellbound as a boy. A family trip to Cannes when he was seven years old ignited his life-long fascination with the thoughts and moods evoked by moving water.
Twenty years later, he discovered an aspect of the sea very different from the placid one he had seen on the resort beaches of the Mediterranean. In early June of that year, he was traveling with friends along the coast of Brittany. Their plans called for passage in a fishing boat from Saint-Lunaire to Cancale, but at the time they were scheduled to leave a threatening storm was approaching and the captain advised canceling the trip. Debussy insisted that they sail. It turned out to be a dramatic, storm-tossed voyage with no little danger to crew and passengers. Debussy relished it. “Now there’s a type of passionate feeling that I have not before experienced — Danger!” he declared.
These early experiences of the sea — one halcyon, the other threatening — were captured years later in La Mer. In addition to the memories of his own experience of the ocean, Debussy brought to La Mer a sensitivity nourished by his fascination with visual renderings of the sea. He was certainly in sympathy with the Impressionistic art of his French contemporaries, but more immediate inspiration for the work seems to have come from the creations of two foreign artists — the Englishman Turner, whom Debussy called “the finest creator of mystery in art,” and the Japanese Hokusai. A selection of Turner’s wondrous, swirling sea paintings, as much color and light as image, was shown in Paris in 1894 and probably seen there by Debussy. Eight years later, during the 1902-1903 Turner exhibit at London’s National Gallery, Debussy again sought out these brilliant canvases, and that visit may have been the catalyst for creating La Mer. (A half-century before Debussy, Turner experienced the violence of the sea first-hand when he had himself lashed to a ship’s mast during a furious storm just to see what it was like.)
Japanese sea- and landscapes were popular in Paris during the 1890s as a result of their introduction there at the Universal Exhibition of 1889. The exquisite drawings of Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) so pleased Debussy that he chose one of them, The Hollow of the Wave off Kanagawa, for the cover of the score of La Mer. From Dawn to Noon on the Sea, built around the play of thematic and rhythmic fragments rather than conventional melodies, is perfectly suited to expressing the changing reflections of the morning sun in the air, clouds, and water. The Play of the Waves is a brilliant essay in orchestral color, woven and contrasted with the utmost evocative subtlety. Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea reflects the awesome power of the sea as well as its majesty.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) La Valse, Poème choréographique
Maurice Ravel was born on March 7, 1875 in Ciboure, France and died on December 28, 1937 in Paris. He composed the La Valse between December 1919 and March 1920. The premiere was given by the Lamoureux Orchestra on December 12, 1920 under Camille Chevillard. The work is scored for piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, two harps, and strings.
Ravel first considered composing a musical homage to Johann Strauss as early as 1906. The idea forced itself upon him again a decade later, but during the years of the First World War, he could not bring himself to work on a score he had tentatively titled “Wien” (“Vienna”). Since the war had sapped a great deal of his energy, causing his health to be precarious for the rest of his life, it took a proposal from the great ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in 1918 to convince Ravel to bring the project to fruition. (Diaghilev hoped to pair Ravel’s new work with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, but upon its completion, the impresario was dissatisfied with La Valse — “a masterpiece, but it’s not a ballet,” he said — which then had to wait until 1929 for its stage premiere under Ida Rubinstein.)
By January 1919, when Ravel was immersed in the composition of his tribute to Vienna, he said that he felt he was “waltzing frantically.” He saw La Valse both as “a kind of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz” and as a “fantastic and fatefully inescapable whirlpool.” The “inescapable whirlpool” was the First World War toward which Vienna marched in three-quarter time, salving its social and political conscience with the luscious strains of Johann Strauss. There is more than a touch of the surreal in La Valse. Familiar and real things are placed against a background strange and a little threatening in its disorienting effect. This artifice paralleled the situation that Ravel saw as characteristic of late-19th-century Vienna in particular and Europe in general.
A surrealistic haze shrouds the opening of La Valse, a vague introduction from which fragments of themes gradually emerge. In the manner typical of the Viennese waltz, several continuous sections follow, each based on a different melody. At the half-way point of the score, however, the murmurs of the introduction return, and the melodies heard previously in clear and complete versions are now fragmented, played against each other, and are unable to regain the rhythmic flow of their initial appearances. The musical panacea of 1855 cannot smother the reality of 1915, however, and the music becomes consumed by the harsh thrust of the roaring triple meter transformed from a seductive dance into a demonic juggernaut. At the almost unbearable peak of tension, the dance is torn apart by a violent five-note figure, a gesture so alien to the triple meter that it destroys the waltz and brings this brilliant, forceful and disturbing work to a shattering close.
©2019 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Jun Märkl, conductor
Fabio Bidini, piano
Preludes & Talkbacks
Preludes take place at 6:30 p.m. (FRI & SAT) and 12 p.m. (SUN) in Boettcher Concert Hall. This weekend's Preludes are hosted by Assistant Principal Oboe Nicholas Ticherman who will share insight into the music.
There will be a Talkback on Saturday, February 8, 2020.
Transportation & Parking
Boettcher Concert Hall is at the southwest end of the Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC) located at 14th and Curtis Streets in downtown Denver. It's easy to find and there are two large parking garages available within walking distance: the DPAC Garage and the Colorado Convention Center Garage. Please arrive early to ensure ease of parking and an on-time arrival. With numerous other events happening at the DPAC all the time, parking fills up quickly. Late arrivals will be seated during the first available break. We strongly encourage alternate forms of transportation.
Find directions, a map, garage information, construction updates, and more:
FAQ - Know Before You Go!
Have questions about what to wear, when to clap, or if you can bring the kids?
If you don’t see the answer to your question, feel free to contact Colorado Symphony Concierge Rob Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Box Office at 303.623.7876.