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POLISH FRENCH CONNECTION

Monday, October 17, 2016

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

I. Allegro maestoso
II. Romanze: Larghetto
III. Rondo: Vivace

Daniel Adam Maltz, piano
 

INTERMISSION

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1886)

I. Allegro moderato-Poco adagio  
II. Presto-Allegro moderato-Presto-Allegro moderato-Maestoso-Allegro    
Piu allegro-Molto allegro-Pesant

PROGRAM NOTES

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Op. 11
Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Frédéric Chopin was one of the first keyboard superstars of the 19th century. His musical education in Poland included an intimate knowledge of opera, especially the Italian operas that were fashionable in early 19th century Warsaw. Chopin instinctively grasped the relationship between opera and other musical genres. He was one of the most successful composers in merging the delicacy and flexibility of showy coloratura vocal ornamentation with the growing technical capabilities of the piano.  Chopin’s finest music is found in his solo piano pieces. He was not a brilliant orchestrator, but his two early concertos, both completed before he was 20, have remained in the repertoire because of the splendid opportunities they afford to the piano soloist. 

Chopin completed the E minor concerto shortly before he left Warsaw, and performed it there in October 1830. At the time, he fancied himself in love with a soprano named, Constantia Gladkowska, and his letters to his friend, Titus Woyciechowski, are filled with rapturous descriptions of her. His Larghetto is an expression of that infatuation, rendered with remarkable maturity for a young man in his late teens.

The most significant influence in Chopin’s music is the dance rhythms of his native Poland. The First Concerto’s finale is a krakowiak in the form of a rondo. This lively, syncopated dance takes its name from Poland’s second city, Krakow. It was popular in the early nineteenth century, and Chopin had already employed it in a Krakowiak for piano and orchestra from 1828, published in 1834 as Op. 14.

Symphony No. 3 in C minor, “Organ Symphony,” Op. 78 
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1886) 


The Third Symphony of Camille Saint-Saëns was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society.  Saint-Saëns conducted both its London premiere in 1886 and its French premiere in 1887.  The symphony was greatly inspired by Saint-Saëns’s friend, mentor and champion, Franz Liszt.  Originally, Saint-Saëns had intended to dedicate the symphony to Liszt, but unfortunately Liszt died ten weeks after its premiere and never got to hear the work that he so affected and influenced. Since Liszt’s death came before the work could be published, it instead bears the inscription, “À la mémoire de Franz Liszt.”

Like Liszt, Saint-Saëns was both a master pianist and organist, so it is no surprise that both instruments are featured heavily in his “Organ Symphony.”  This is somewhat misleading, creating the impression that his symphony is either for organ or a concerto for organ.  In actuality, the organ is only used in two of the four movements.  The French title for the work, Symphonie No. 3 “avec orgue” (with organ), is a better way to describe the organ’s role in the symphony.  As a piano virtuoso, SaintSaëns deftly writes for both two-hand and four-hand piano.

The symphony opens with a brief and somewhat haunting introduction leading directly into the theme, first played by the strings.  This theme integrates the beginning of the Dies irae chant, which has direct associations with both Berlioz’s, Symphonie Fantastique and Liszt’s, Totentanz.  The organ makes its first appearance in the Adagio, as an accompaniment to the winds and strings.  The second “large” movement begins with a brief Allegro moderato using fragmented versions of the first theme, leading into the Presto where Saint-Saëns uses brilliant scalar passages in the piano to accompany yet another transfiguration of the theme.   The following Maestoso begins with a grand chord from the organ.  This is where Saint-Saëns also employs piano four-hands under the lyrical string melody.  The final Allegro begins fugally and eventually returns to the cyclic nature of the symphony, transforming and repeating the theme until the climactic finish.

Though Saint-Saëns would live three and a half decades after his “Organ Symphony” premiered, he never again tried his hand at the genre.  He stated, “With it I have given all I could give. What I did I could not achieve again.” 

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