The Fourth Pedal
For his final concert as Composer in Residence with the LSO, Patrick Harlin explores new technology and possibilities to create a unique sonic landscape for the pianist and orchestra in his world premiere piano concerto, "The Fourth Pedal". The season comes to a triumphant conclusion with Jean Sibelius’ "Symphony No. 2". Known for his unique and original musical voice, Sibelius is connected deeply to the culture and people of Finland, and his music is the ultimate representation of Finnish nationalism.
Lyric Suite, op. 5
Lyric Suite, Op. 54
Edvard Grieg (1843–1907)
Duration: Fifteen minutes
As a child, Edvard Grieg took piano lessons from his mother. When he was fifteen, the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull heard him play and insisted that he immediately be sent to the Leipzig conservatory in Germany. Grieg hated the dry piano exercises and repertoire—Czerny and Clementi—that he studied there. (What teenager doesn’t?) A change of teachers seemed to help, but apparently the best part of the conservatory for Grieg was being able to hear so many concerts. He was back in Norway by the time he turned nineteen. In spite of his success as a pianist back home, he was unable to make a living at it, so he moved to Denmark. It was there, about five years later, that Edmund Neupert performed Grieg’s Concerto in A Minor. He wrote to Grieg about its reception: “The triumph . . . was tremendous,” Neupert reported.
While he was in Denmark, Grieg met another young Norwegian composer, Rikard Nordraak. The two formed the Euterpe Society with the purpose of promoting Scandinavian music. For the rest of his life, Grieg dedicated himself to being a “Romantic nationalist” and to writing in a distinctly Norwegian style.
Grieg’s musical output was not like the other well-known composers of the nineteenth century. He wrote only one symphony, which he later suppressed. He wrote no operas but two sets of incidental music for stage plays (Peer Gynt being the most famous). There is a smattering of chamber music. He wrote only one concerto, the blockbuster for piano. But he wrote many songs for solo voices as well as chorus. And he wrote lots of short piano pieces. The pieces he wrote for orchestra were often arrangements of those pieces for piano.
Some of Grieg’s most characteristically “Norwegian” pieces are 66 short works for piano—collectively known as Lyric Pieces—that he wrote between 1867 and 1901. He wrote his fifth set of Lyric Pieces (Shepherd Boy, Gangar, Nocturne, March of the Trolls, Scherzo and Ringing Bells) in 1891 and arranged the first of the set for strings. About ten years later, Grieg learned that Anton Seidl, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, had previously arranged four of the pieces (Gangar, March of the Trolls, Nocturne, and Ringing Bells) for orchestra. Grieg felt Seidl’s orchestration was a bit too “Wagnerian,” so he diplomatically wrote to Seidl’s widow (who was Wagner’s stepdaughter!):
"This orchestration is excellent in itself; nevertheless, in accordance with my own intentions, I have made many revisions in some of the pieces, while others I have left out altogether or orchestrated afresh."
Grieg deleted Ringing Bells from the suite and substituted Shepherd Boy. It is the only one of the suite that uses just the strings in the orchestra. It begins gently, becomes more impassioned, and then fades away. The second movement, Gangar (sometimes translated “Norwegian March”) is a sort of walking tune. It sways along, sometimes strutting. The tender Nocturne comes complete with bird-song. The March of the Dwarfs is one of Grieg’s most famous works. It begins quietly and develops quickly into a fury. There is a brief tender interlude that leads back to the beginning of the march, a final frenzy, and a deceptive ending.
The Fourth Pedal (World Premiere)
Symphony No. 2, op. 43, D Major
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43
Jean Sibelius (1865–1957)
Duration: 43 minutes
Jean Sibelius wrote his symphonies at a time when writing “pure” music was unfashionable. Audiences wanted music that told a story. Throughout his life, Sibelius obliged by writing tone poems—music that depicted scenes, stories, or even political ideas. His most famous tone poem is, of course, Finlandia. It quickly became the signature piece for the Finnish nationalist movement soon after he wrote it in 1899. However, Sibelius held the line with his symphonies:
"My symphonies are music conceived and worked out solely in terms of music, with no literary basis. I am not a literary musician . . . for me, music begins where words cease. A scene can be expressed in painting, and drama in words, but a symphony should be music first and last. Of course, it has happened that, quite unbidden, some mental image has established itself in my head in connection with a movement I have been writing, but the germ and fertilization have been solely musical."
Although Sibelius was insistent that his symphonies started as pure music, the temper of the times gave them additional meaning. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, Finland was trying to throw off the yoke of nearly one hundred years of Russian rule. Sibelius started writing his Second Symphony only a year after he finished Finlandia. It gained its political meaning soon after its first performance in Helsinki in 1902. As late as 1946, the Finnish musicologist Ilmari Kronn declared that in his Second Symphony Sibelius wished to depict “Finland’s struggle for political liberty.” You can listen to the Second Symphony that way, or you can listen to it as “music first and last.”
In his Second Symphony, Sibelius turns the standard form for a first movement on its head. Instead of presenting a few main themes in an exposition, he begins with what sounds like bits and pieces of themes. He breaks them into even smaller bits in the development. It is only at the climax of this generally pastoral movement that we get a full-blown theme.
Cellos and basses begin the second movement with a gentle, walking pizzicato (plucking of strings). The bassoons play the first theme over this. It contains a curious blues-like inflection. The oboes join in, then the strings, and finally the brass, as a climax develops which suddenly breaks off. After a silence, the strings begin a second, hymn-like melody. This too develops to a climax and breaks off. The development concerns itself primarily with the first theme. The hymn comes back again but in a dark minor with threatening brass. The walking pizzicato returns. This time the whole orchestra plays above it. A final brass climax closes the movement.
The third movement is a blistering scherzo for the strings. The trio section features a beautiful melody played by the oboe and accompanied by clarinets and horns. With a blast from the trumpets, the scherzo bursts back in. A second statement of the trio leads to a transition into the last and glorious movement. It seems the whole symphony has been building towards the opening theme of the finale. The flutes and oboes play a quiet second theme over gentle, but incessantly murmuring strings. The development section works primarily with motives from the first theme. It inexorably builds to a climax and a full restatement of both the principal themes. This time, as the second theme builds, its minor quality changes to major, leading to a glorious close.Program notes by John Varineau
Allan & Cathy Claypool