Humboldt Symphony: The Program
With comments by conductor Paul Cummings...
1.Balletstucke (Ballet Suite) by Jean-Baptiste de Lully
“Lilly was most active in the 1670s and 1680s, the middle of the Baroque period. He was the chief court composer for Louis XIV, and was known as the dictator of the musical scene for decades, keeping other composers out of the picture. At the time he conducted, he didn’t use a baton but a large staff—like a walking stick—that he pounded on the floor to keep the beat. Unfortunately he hit his own foot and caused an infection that killed him.
This piece is classic dance music of the 17th century in four movements. It’s not exactly in its original form, because the Baroque orchestra was smaller. F. Mottl arranged it for a larger orchestra.”
2. Chorale Prelude: "Oh God, Thou Holiest" by Johannes Brahms.
“This was transcribed for orchestra by Erich Leinsdorf, probably from a composition for organ. It’s a hymn using long, slow notes played by a variety of instruments, while everyone else in the orchestra is embellishing and commenting on the hymn. This is a form developed by J.S. Bach, and in this piece Brahms is expressing his reverence for Bach.”
3. Peer Gynt Suite #1 by Edvard Grieg
“Grieg was a 19th century Norwegian composer, an ardent nationalist who wanted to celebrate the culture of Norway, and bring the great folk music of the culture to the attention of modern audiences. The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen asked him to write incidental music for Peer Gynt, his play about a Norwegian folk hero. He wrote 22 movements for the three hours of the play, but this music is never performed now. Grieg extracted two suites from this music, and we’re playing the first.
As a folk hero, Peer Gynt is kind of a scoundrel who travels around and has adventures, getting in trouble everywhere he goes. This suite follows some of those adventures. The fourth movement is In the Hall of the Mountain King, a very famous piece. Peer is being entertained by a group of trolls who serve the Mountain King. He joins them in a celebration but when he realizes they expect him to marry the King’s daughter, he tries to escape, and the trolls chase him. The music evokes this very well.
Much of the suite is quite famous. There’s some beautifully written orchestral music, and it features terrific playing by our HSU students—many solo passages are beautifully executed.”
4. Night on Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky
“Mussorgsky was also a 19th nationalist, very Russian in character. This piece was conceived as an opera from a story by Gogol. It takes place on St. John’s Eve, which is just before the summer solstice, but has become associated with Halloween.
Mussorgsky wrote a little about what he was imagining when he wrote it, and you can hear it all in the music: ‘subterranean sounds from supernatural voices,’ ‘spirits of the dark,’ the Underworld. There’s vivid writing for the instruments capturing these dark tone colors and effects—you can hear wind blowing fiercely and picture flames and fiery scenes. It’s program music at its height.
The version we’re doing is quite an amazing orchestration by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who literally wrote the book on orchestration that was used in the 19th and 20th centuries. So we get this combination of Mussorgsky’s inspired music orchestrated by one of the greatest orchestrators who ever lived—the best of both worlds.
It’s a well-known piece, and since it is now associated with Halloween, we’re presenting an extra-musical surprise during the performance. Part of the reason is that in the classical music world, we’re pretty conservative in our presentation. We’re downright stuffy. You come in, sit down, be quiet, don’t clap between movements, don’t talk at all—but enjoy yourself. So part of our effort is to lighten up a little, at least for this one piece. We do want to encourage people to come to concerts who might not otherwise come. At the same time, the music can stand on its own. We’re just going to be a little adventurous.”