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NEC Philharmonia, Wolff / Debussy, Sibelius, Janácek
Boston, Massachusetts
Wednesday, 7 November 2012 - 8:00 PM
Conductor: Hugh Wolff
After Wagner, What?
Music at the Turn of the 20th Century

Like Beethoven before him, Wagner’s influence on his contemporaries was profound. Young composers found it particularly difficult to emerge from under the shadow of the master. His death in 1883 created a void. What would the future of music be?

This evening we perform works by four composers, each of whom could lay claim to charting that future. The four were between the ages of 18 and 28 when Wagner died; the works on tonight’s program were composed between 1892 and 1896. Each composer struggled to come to terms with Wagner’s music, and each emerged with his own style. As you will hear, the four composers represented radically different trajectories for music at the turn of the 20th century.

The Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (1894) was Claude Debussy’s breakout piece. With it he abandoned his youthful enthusiasm for Wagner and laid the foundation for the next thirty years of French music: transparent textures, intricate orchestration, and harmony free from traditional moorings—altered chords floating freely in space, without the logical functionality of German music. The famous quasi-chromatic opening flute solo sets the sleepy and sensual scene. The music rises on slow waves to an ecstatic climax in D-flat Major, then gradually subsides.

Like Debussy, the young Jean Sibelius admired Wagner but over time came to think of his music as overblown. Sibelius was interested in the latest musical developments in Central Europe, but living and working on the periphery he chose a path that focused on Finnish culture. En Saga (1892), which means “fairy tale,” illustrates the hallmarks of his style: dark textures, large-scale repetitive harmonic and melodic patterns (precursors of the compressed ostinatos of Stravinsky and Bartók two decades later), modal harmonies, overlapping and dovetailed phrases in which one section of the orchestra emerges as another subsides, and a propulsive sense of rhythm.

Leoš Janácek was the oldest of the four composers. He wrote the brief overture Jealousy (1894) for his opera Jenufa, but ultimately set it aside as a concert work. Like Sibelius, Janácek was a national composer, keenly interested in establishing a Czech style. He experimented with “speech melody” based on the tones and cadence of the Czech language. This led to a musical language that was terse, rhythmic, direct and natural, in contrast to Wagner’s slow-moving, monumental style. As in Sibelius’s music, Janácek’s harmonies often move in blocks, and obsessive rhythmic patterns define the structure.
Program Click for more info
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30
Einleitung (Introduction)
Von den Hinterweltlern (Of the “Backworldsmen”)
Von der großen Sehnsucht (Of Great Longing)
Von den Freunden und Leidenschaften (Of Joys and Passions)
Das Grablied (Grave Song – Dirge)
Von der Wissenschaft (Of Science)
Der Genesende (The Convalescent)
Das Tanzlied (The Dance Song)
Nachtwanderlied (The Night Wanderer’s Song)
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