Dynamic conductor Rune Bergmann makes his Colorado Symphony debut, lending his elegance and expertise to the “Inextinguishable” Fourth Symphony from Nielsen. Of it, the composer wrote “Music is life, and life is inextinguishable,” and indeed from the very first moment it offers an electrifying jolt of energy and rarely deviates from that dynamism for the remainder of the piece. Mozart’s genius is on full display throughout his masterful Overture to Don Giovanni, which was famously composed the night before the opera’s premiere. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson highlights the performance in his return to Boettcher Concert Hall, bringing exquisite technique to Beethoven’s innovative Fourth Piano Concerto — a work of unparalleled invention offering an array of fresh, surprising, and treasurable ideas that are sure to delight.
Repertoire & Program Notes
MOZART Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
NIELSEN Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, “The Inextinguishable”
Notes on the Program by Dr. Richard E. Rodda:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) | Overture to Don Giovanni, K. 527
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg and died on December 5, 1791 in Vienna. He composed Don Giovanni in 1787 and supervised its premiere in Prague on October 29th of that year. The score calls for woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 6 minutes.
The Marriage of Figaro played in Prague for the first time in December 1786; it was a smash hit. When Mozart visited the city the following month for further performances of the opera, Pasquale Bondini, the manager of Italian opera at the National Theater and the local producer of Figaro, commissioned him to write a new piece for the considerable sum of 100 ducats, equal to 12.1 ounces of gold bullion. As soon as Mozart returned to Vienna in February, he asked Lorenzo da Ponte, creator of the masterful libretto for Figaro, to write the book for the new opera. Da Ponte suggested the subject of Don Juan; Mozart agreed. Mozart worked throughout the late summer on the score, and left for Prague with his wife, Constanze, on October 1, 1787. The premiere of Don Giovanni was a triumph exceeded in Prague only by the wild success of The Marriage of Figaro.
“Everything in this tremendous introduction breathes terror and inspires awe,” wrote the French composer Charles Gounod of the opening of the Don Giovanni Overture. These august preludial strains, the only music from the opera heard in the Overture, later accompany the graveyard scene, during which the statue of the Commendatore, whom Giovanni has slain in the first scene, comes chillingly to life. Giovanni invites the specter to dinner. The Commendatore consequently appears at Giovanni’s banquet and carries the unrepentant libertine to Hell. The remainder of the Overture follows traditional sonata form, heightened in expression by a central development section of considerable emotional weight.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) | Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770 in Bonn and died on March 26, 1827 in Vienna. The G major Concerto was probably begun in 1804 and completed by the summer of 1806. The premiere was played by Beethoven on December 22, 1808 at the Theater-an-der-Wien in Vienna. The score calls for flute, pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, timpani, and strings. Duration is about 32 minutes.
The Napoleonic juggernaut twice overran the city of Vienna. The first occupation began on November 13, 1805, less than a month after the Austrian armies had been trounced by the French legions at the Battle of Ulm on October 20th. Though the entry into Vienna was peaceful, the Viennese had to pay dearly for the earlier defeat in punishing taxes, restricted freedoms, and inadequate food supplies. On December 28th, following Napoleon’s fearsome victory at Austerlitz that forced the Austrian government into capitulation, the Little General left Vienna. He returned in May 1809, this time with cannon and cavalry sufficient to subdue the city by force, creating conditions that were worse than those during the previous occupation. It was to be five years — 1814 — before the Corsican was finally defeated and Emperor Franz returned to Vienna, riding triumphantly through the city on a huge, white Lipizzaner.
Such soul-troubling times would seem to be antithetical to the production of great art, yet for Beethoven, that ferocious libertarian, those years were the most productive of his life. Between Fidelio, which was in its last week of rehearsal when Napoleon entered Vienna in 1805, and the music for Egmont, finished shortly after the second invasion, Beethoven composed three concertos, three symphonies, two overtures, and many songs, chamber works, and piano compositions. It is a record of accomplishment virtually unmatched in the history of music.
The poetic mood of the Fourth Concerto is established by a hushed, prefatory phrase for the soloist. An orchestral introduction presents the thematic material: a main theme with small intervals and repeated notes; secondary themes — a melancholy strain with an arch shape and a grand melody with wide leaps; and closing theme of descending scales. The soloist enriches the themes with elaborate figurations. The development is haunted by the rhythmic figuration of the main theme (three short notes and an accented note). The recapitulation returns the themes and allows an opportunity for a cadenza. The second movement starkly opposes stern, unison summons in the strings and gentle replies from the piano, which eventually subdue the orchestra. The high-spirited rondo-finale is launched by the strings.
Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) | Symphony No. 4, Op. 29, “The Inextinguishable”
Carl Nielsen was born on June 9, 1865 in Odense, Denmark and died on October 3, 1931 in Copenhagen. He began his Fourth Symphony in 1914 and dated the completed manuscript on January 14, 1916. The work was premiered in Copenhagen on February 1, 1916. The score calls for piccolo, three flutes, three oboes, three clarinets, three bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, two timpanists, and strings. Duration is about 35 minutes.
“In every man or woman there is something we would wish to know, something which, in spite of all defects and imperfections, we will like once we look into it; and the mere fact that when in reading about a person’s life we often have to say ‘Yes, I too would have done that!’ or ‘He ought not to have done that!’ is valuable because it is life-giving and fructifying.” Life-giving and fructifying: the essential elements of Carl Nielsen’s philosophy and the driving forces of his art, as he expressed them in these opening lines of his little autobiographical book titled My Childhood. Throughout his life, Nielsen believed in the basic goodness of life and the ability of music to express that goodness and to confirm and enrich it. “Music is Life and, like it, is inextinguishable,” he inscribed at the head of the score of the Fourth Symphony, and continued, “Under this title — ‘The Inextinguishable’ — the composer has endeavored to indicate in one word what the music alone is capable of expressing to the full: The elemental Will of Life.”
It is significant and indicative of Nielsen’s attitudes toward life and music that he produced a symphony about mankind’s “inextinguishable” essence during the dark years from 1914 to 1916. He said that there was no specific “program” or “message” behind the Fourth Symphony, other than telling a friend that the violent kettledrum episode in the finale meant “something about the war.” This stunning passage and the inspiring apotheosis that follows it distill the conflicts of this Symphony — anarchy and violence against compassion and hope — which Nielsen sought musically to reconcile, or at least to adjudicate, in favor of hope and optimism. In this he was like Beethoven, who also unquestioningly chose the life force, most memorably in the grand major-tonality finales of the predominantly minor-key Fifth and Ninth Symphonies. To create a meaningful final “victory” for his symphonic musical/philosophical essays, Nielsen, like Beethoven, had to create large, integrated structures whose emotional progression would be clear, yet which would not slip into Pollyanna-ish bathos in their closing pages. His music is testimony that he succeeded.
Nielsen’s universal message — that life is inextinguishable — is embodied in the content and musical structure of his Fourth Symphony. The Symphony comprises four distinct movements played without pause. Rather than simply a quirk of formal thinking, this plan is essential to the impact of the work, just as the direct connection of the scherzo and finale of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony clarifies the emotional progression of that score. The dynamic motivation driving Nielsen’s “Inextinguishable” Symphony is the contention of opposing forces represented by contrasting types of music — one fearsome, demonic and threatening; the other, life-affirming, hopeful, and inspiring. The single large span of music, divided into four movements, allows for the symbolic struggle between them and the eventual triumph of “good.” The victory is only as sweet and convincing as the struggle was difficult, and Nielsen built this Symphony to a luminous, transcendent climax.
The warring forces are set in place early in the first movement. The Symphony opens as if in mid-thought with a violent outburst from the full orchestra, characterized by its churning rhythm, biting dissonances, and unsettled tonality. These opening gestures, if lifted out of context, would show Nielsen to be a harsh modernist. Taken as the first sentence in an expansive essay, however, their aggressive character is seen to be a necessary foil to the soothing quality of the contrasting theme that follows. The second theme, presented tenderly in close harmony by the clarinets after a brief, chattering episode from the woodwinds, is lyrical, hymnal, and long-limbed. It gathers authority to reach a magnificent climax spread across the full orchestra led by the trombones. The central development section begins quietly with choppy figurations from the solo flute and violins punctuated by a curious, hammering motive on a single pitch in the violas. The two themes of the exposition engage in close combat as the development unfolds, most dramatically in several abrupt exclamations of the first theme that attempt to silence the sweet intervals of the lyrical melody. The two achieve an uneasy truce (first theme triplets in the strings as accompaniment to the second theme in the winds) that is shattered by the ferocity of the recapitulation of the main theme in compressed form. The second theme is given in response, but not with enough conviction to carry the day.
Quiet strokes on the timpani lead without pause to the second movement, a pleasant respite from the rigors of the preceding struggle. The movement is built on a charming country-dance tune announced by the woodwinds. (Nielsen was engaged at the time of the Fourth Symphony in setting much Danish folk poetry to music.) Pizzicato strings accompany long melodic phrases for solo instruments — oboe, clarinet, bassoon, cello — in the movement’s ethereal central section. A shortened recall of the country-dance tune ends the movement and serves as the bridge to the following Adagio.
The struggle of the first movement is rejoined in the Adagio, though the venue is different. A broad melody, intense and lyrical, is initiated by the violins before being taken over by the violas and cellos. Opposing this wide-ranging theme is the movement’s central portion, dominated by a massive crescendo built on a powerful, uneven rhythmic figure. Briefly at the close of the movement, the lyrical mood of the opening is recalled by a few bold entries in the strings that quickly die away. A sudden, whirlwind passage in the strings leads to the finale.
The final scene of Nielsen’s titanic musical battle begins with a silence, the lull before the storm. Through several episodes of contrasting character, it becomes clear that the timpani (scored for two players) represents one pole in the argument, broad lyricism the other. The climactic sequence of the Symphony directly opposes the two forces: a violent, pounding timpani assault of terrifying intensity — the most elemental expression of brute power in the entire work — is finally and heroically overcome by a transcendent proclamation from the full orchestra of the hymnal melody from the first movement. The triumph and life-affirming joy of the closing pages of Nielsen’s “Inextinguishable” Symphony are matched by few other works of the 20th century.
©2019 Dr. Richard E. Rodda
Rune Bergmann, conductor
Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Preludes & Talkbacks
Join Devin Guerrero, a graduate student from the University of Colorado - Boulder, for a deep-dive into the music of this weekend's performances.
There will be a Talkback on Sunday, April 5, 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!
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