Masterworks 5
Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827
Ludwig van Beethoven
1770-1827
Ludwig van Beethoven
Leonore Overture No. 3

The perfectionist Beethoven made numerous major revisions to his only opera, Fidelio, before he arrived at the final version we know today. The overture to the opera underwent even greater transformations. Beethoven wrote four different overtures, all still popular in the concert hall. The first three are called Leonore Nos.1, 2 and 3 respectively, after the name of the heroine of the opera and originally the opera’s title; the fourth is known as Fidelio, the pseudonym she adopts when disguised as a young man. Of course one must consider the history of the opera overture to understand much of an anomaly Beethoven was. Even the best of the genre were last-minute affairs with composers handing pages of score with the ink still wet to parts copiers mere hours before the premiere.

The opera tells the story of Leonore, a brave and faithful wife – hence her adopted name – who saves her husband, Florestan, from his unjust incarceration by his villainous and powerful enemy Pizzaro. Leonore in disguise enters into the service of Florestan’s jailer to be nearer her husband and manages to liberate not only Florestan but a whole band of political prisoners when the prison is inspected by the Minister, who has heard rumors of the illegal incarcerations.

Beethoven's difficulties with the three Leonore overtures stemmed from the fact that they were too dramatically and musically explicit, thus giving away the most exciting moments of the opera, including the appearance of the Minister. Beethoven composed Leonore No.3 in 1806 for an abridged performance of the second version of the opera but realized at once how inappropriate it was.

Leonore No 3 is built on much of the same thematic material as Leonore No 2, one of the factors that makes it difficult for audiences to keep the three overtures apart. Beethoven's 13-minute work is an instrumental summary of the opera and considerably more dramatic. The opening slow introduction is fraught with tonal ambiguity. It has been suggested that the slow descending scale that opens the introduction represents Florestan's descent into prison. The ensuing confusion as to where the key of the piece is can, by extension, also suggest the suspense and torment of his unjust confinement. Example 1 The Overture contains the most important themes from the opera, including Florestan's lament as he languishes in prison. Example 2 (also used in Leonore Nos.1and 2). The Allegro is in classic sonata form, beginning with an original theme that Beethoven had written for Leonore No. 2. Example 3 followed by a return to Florestan's lament. As part of the development section The Overture uses music from the most dramatic scene in the opera: The trumpet call announcing Florestan's liberation, heralding the arrival of the Minister, Example 4 and Florestan's growing realization that his rescuer Fidelio is his beloved Leonore. Example 5 As with its two predecessors, Leonore No. 3 concludes with a hectic euphoria that is something more than a standard upbeat ending.

Jonathan Leshnoff	 b. 1973
Jonathan Leshnoff
b. 1973
Jonathan Leshnoff
Chamber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra

New Jersey born Jonathan Leshnoff is a graduate of Peabody Conservatory and the University of Maryland. He is currently Professor of Music at Towson University, teaching theory, orchestration and composition; he is composer-in-residence with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.

Leshnoff’s musical language is lyrical and accessible, and his works have been commissioned by major orchestras and performed by more than 50 orchestras worldwide. His catalog is extensive, including several symphonies and oratorios in addition to numerous concerti, solo, and chamber works. He does not shy from composing in the traditional music framework, such as concertos and symphonies.

Leshnoff says: “When I write a concerto, I have to become the instrument. It’s a double refraction: it has to go through me and then through the solo instrument. I have to become a violin and produce what it sounds like, what it likes to do.“ Being a violinist himself was definitely a benefit in composing the Chamber Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, composed in 2015, commissioned by Shriver Hall Concerts of Johns Hopkins University for violinist Gil Shaham.

Leshnoff’s musical language bears a strong resemblance to that of Samuel Barber and the neo-romantics of the mid twentieth century, with an Eastern European Jewish cast. The Concerto is in two movements.

While in college, Leshnoff became interested in his Jewish heritage, especially the mysticism of the Kabbalah, according to which, there are ten Sefirot (Emanations) through which God reveals himself. Leshnoff plans to write a composition for each of the Sefirot.

The first movement of the Concerto, marked slow, refers to the tenth Sefira, the Hebrew letter ה, Malchus, meaning summation. The violin is expressive, rather than virtuosic, and is based on a long melody which Leshnoff transforms, rather than varies. Example 1 In other words, he does not pack the variations into a strict framework of so many measures, but rather incorporates and builds it into new melodic contexts. Example 2

The fireworks are left for the second movement, marked fast. It follows the same principle, although now with in a more flashy, virtuosic style. Underlying the most of the movement is an rapid ostinato Example 3 Occasionally, the violin breaks out of the pattern for a more lyrical theme much in the mold of a contrasting second theme in a sonata form. Example 4 Nevertheless, the means by which the composer does or doesn’t integrates kabbalistic mysticism into the music remains obscure to the general audience.
Sergey Rachmaninov 1873-1943
Sergey Rachmaninov
1873-1943
Sergey Rachmaninov
Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27

The premiere performance of Rachmaninov's First Symphony took place in St. Petersburg in 1897. It was a dismal failure, in large part due to the shoddy conducting of Alexander Glazunov who was, according to most reports, drunk on the podium. The disappointment brought on a severe depression, and for three years Rachmaninov was unable to do any significant composing. Finally in 1900 he went for therapy and hypnosis to Dr. Nikolay Dahl. The result was one of the first well-known successes of modern psychotherapy, and the composer was able to return to creative work, composing his Second Piano Concerto, which he dedicated to Dahl *. However, relapses into depression dogged Rachmaninov for the rest of his life. And significantly, all his large instrumental compositions, as well as most of the rest of his oeuvre, are in minor keys.

Rachmaninov refused to publish the failed symphony, and only acknowledged its existence by calling his next one No. 2. The Second Symphony was composed in 1906-07 in Dresden, where Rachmaninov escaped to get away from the social and professional demands put on him in Russia. It took the composer longer to write the first movement than the other three put together; it is also the longest and most intense. Rachmaninov’s love for the long, romantic phrase made this into a huge, expansive work. It was premiered in St. Petersburg in January 1908 to great applause, with the composer conducting. It became rapidly one of his most popular works.

The Symphony opens mysteriously, with a somber slow introduction, pianissimo low strings introducing a motto that reappears throughout the work. Example 1 The violins introduce the first theme, an urgent, driving variant of the motto. Example 2 There is an increase in tempo with a climax in the whole orchestra, which quickly dies away. A solo clarinet enters, followed by the other woodwinds with the lyrical second theme, answered by murmuring strings. Example 3 The tension and passion increase, culminating in a series of climaxes accentuated with a liberal use of the timpani and ending with a passionate transformation of the first theme as a coda. Example 4

The second movement, a scherzo, is wild and energetic. Two of its most stunning aspects is Rachmaninov’s use of hushed fragments of his principal themes to make suspenseful transitions between the large sections and also his use of the glockenspiel. The movement has three major themes, instead of the traditional two. It opens with the four horns in unison declaring the principal theme, a whirling melody. Example 5 He then abruptly changes the mood and pace, introducing one of his broadly romantic themes on the violins. Example 6 The next section starts as a sparkling fugue on the violins, the nemesis of every violin audition. Example 7 Upon the return of the first two themes, Rachmaninov is said to have inserted one of his trademark musical quotations of the plainchant Dies irae, from the mass for the dead. Example 8 But in this case, we beg to differ with the traditional analysis. While the melodic shape of the eight-note motive is the same as the chant, the important intervals are significantly altered and, in fact, outline the skeleton of first theme rather than introducing symbolic new musical material. Example 9

The best word of the beautiful Adagio is lush. Here Rachmaninov’s melodic talents created one of his most appealing and extended theme, with which Hollywood has unfortunately had a heyday, shredding it into trivialized fragments. It opens with the violas, then the violins in a long string of triplets as an introduction. Example 10 A lovely clarinet solo gives the seamless theme and sets the mood of the movement; one by one, the other woodwinds repeat the melody, then taken up by the strings, blending into a second, related theme. Example 11 In this movement, the composer is especially adroit at weaving various themes together contrapuntally, Example 12 including the theme from the introduction to the first movement, Example 13 which is finally heard in its original form, but in the major mode, at the movement’s end. Example 14

The headlong rush of the exultant Finale, Allegro vivace, is wild and festive, recalling an Italian tarantella. Example 15 The movement is an expanded sonata form, and Rachmaninov introduces another broad, lyrical theme for the strings as the second theme. Example 16 Throughout the movement come fragments of the principal themes of the three preceding movements, woven into the fabric of the new themes. Example 17 & Example 18 & Example 19 The wild theme returns and the movement ends with a radiant and joyous coda.
* Dr. Dahl left Russia in 1925 and settled in Beirut, Lebanon, practicing general medicine. He played the viola in the orchestra of the American University of Beirut.
Copyright © Elizabeth and Joseph Kahn 2017