Sorcerer's Apprentice and other Orchestral Favourites

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The Sorcerer'sApprentice and Other Orchestral Favourites

Carl Maria von Weber,the honorific 'von' acquired in doubtful circumstances by his unreliablefather, was a cousin of Constanze Weber, the girl Mozart married in a match ofwhich his father greatly disapproved. It had seemed that Weber himself might bea second Mozart, showing obvious musical abilities as a child, when hetravelled with his father's theatrical company, and embarking on an ambitiouscareer as a conductor, when he was appointed Kapellmeister at Breslau at theage of eighteen. After various vicissitudes, he was able to establish himselfas a virtuoso pianist, an innovative conductor and a composer of stature,before his early death in London in 1826. The rondo-brillant known inEnglish as Invitation to the Dance was written for the piano in 1819 anddedicated to his wife Caroline. The work is a miniature drama in which agentleman approaches a lady, asking for her hand in the next dance, a requestthat she eventually grants. They talk together, both with increasing warmth,and then dance, exchanging conversation as they move forward together. Theydance. He thanks her, and they part. Invitation to the Dance wasorchestrated by Hector Berlioz for performance in Paris when Weber's opera DerFreisch??tz (The Marksman) was staged there.

George Enescu shares adouble distinction, as a leading violinist in his generation and as the mostoutstanding of Romanian composers. He was born in 1881 at Liveni, in Moldavia,the son of an estate-manager, and had his first violin lessons at the age offour from a gypsy fiddler, playing by ear, before his obvious talentnecessitated professional advice and attention, leading to his admission to theVienna Conservatory in1888, at the age of eight. His later career brought himan international reputation as one of the greatest violinists of his time andas a remarkable teacher. Based in Paris, he nevertheless continued hisconnection with his own country, where his musical influence remainedconsiderable. As a composer Enescu has too often been cast as a nationalist,using folk material. This is, in general, an unsatisfactory summary of his veryvaried work. Nevertheless his popular reputation abroad, to his regret, hasdepended largely on his Romanian Rhapsodies. In the first ofthese he makes use of a series of folk-melodies, the first of which he may wellhave learned from his gypsy teacher. Written in 1901, the two Rhapsodies weavetogether with skill the original material and won immediate popularity.

The Flight of theBumble-Bee has providedvirtuoso material for instrument after instrument, from the violin to the tubaand double bass. The bee in question appears in Rimsky-Korsakov's opera TheTale of Tsar Saltan, of his famous son and mighty hero Prince GuidonSaltanovich and of the beautiful Swan Princess, where its flight serves asan entr'acte. In Pushkin's verse-tale it is Prince Guidon who takes the form ofa bee, observes the happenings at his father's palace, from which he and hismother were expelled a t his birth, and stings his mother's wicked sisters andthe old match-maker who had caused their troubles. First staged in 1900, theopera was written to celebrate the centenary of Pushkin's birth in 1899.

Goethe's poem DerZauberlehrling ('The Sorcerer's Apprentice') must, for one generation atleast, be associated with the images of Walt Disney's film Fantasia, whichimposes the picture of Mickey Mouse on the apprentice, unable to control themagic powers he has unleashed. The story itself is graphically illustrated inthe music of the French composer Paul Dukas, a symphonic scherzo written in1897, a work that has provided a fertile ground for analysis in its symmetricalthematic construction. The magic unleashed by the apprentice to do his work forhim is eventually controlled by the retttrn of the sorcerer himself.

Born in 1811 inRaiding, near Sopron, the son of an estate-manager in the service of Haydn'spatrons, the Esterhazy family, Franz Liszt showed prodigal talent as a childand was taken by his parents to Vienna for piano lessons with Czerny and thento Paris. His subsequent career was at first as a virtuoso pianist, a life ofconstant travel, concerts and popular adulation. This was followed in 1848 by achange of career and of mistress. In Paris he had been associated with CountessMarie d'Agoult, the mother of his three children, a liaison that had maderemoval from Paris necessary. In 1848 he settled in Weimar as Director of MusicExtraordinary to the Grand Duchy, accompanied now by the young heiress, thePrincess Sayn-Wittgenstein, a woman separated from her Russian husband. In 1861he moved to Rome, embarking on what he described finally as a three-prongedexistence, with involvement in Rome in the music of the Church, in Weimar as aninfluential teacher and in his native Hungary now acknowledged as a nationalhero. Liszt's association with Hungary is reflected in various compositions,not least the nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies, piano works that reproducenot the folk-music of Hungary but the music composed by gypsies for theentertainment of their employers and patrons. Liszt made a colourfu1orchestration of his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

In 1829 the youngFelix Mendelssohn, son of a prosperous banker now settled in Berlin, and a manof precocious talent in many directions, travelled with his friend CarlKlingemann to Scotland, visiting Holyrood Palace, and remembering there theevents that had befallen Mary Queen of Scots, and then moving north to theHighlands. Taking ship from Oban, Mendelssohn and his friend visited Mull,possibly the true inspiration for his Hebrides Overture. The voyage toIona and to the deserted basalt rock formations of Staffa, with themagnificence of Fingal's Cave, found Mendelssohn sea-sick, his chief memory ofthe trip. By 1832, after various revisions, he had completed his overture inits final form, a work that he had originally called Die einsame Insel (TheLonely Island), thinking, perhaps, of Mull. His publishers preferred the moredramatic and Ossianic echoes of Fingal's Cave and it is true that thesea round the Hebrides does not remain calm throughout Mendelssohn's musicalvoyage.

Finnish national musicfound its greatest champion in Jean Sibelius, a symphonist who turned hisattention also to a series of symphonic poems, many of them based on legendsfrom the early Finnish sagas. Finlandia arose from music provided forpress pension celebrations in 1899, an occasion for an expression of patrioticloyalty in the face of threatened Russian interference in the affairs ofFinland. The music written for the original pageant was revised the followingyear, to form the present familiar concert work.>

Nationalism is at theheart of the cycle of symphonic poems by the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana, Ma

Vlast ('My Country'). As elsewhere in Europe, feelings of nationalidentity, associated with other revolutionary ideas, had made a markedappearance by the middle of the nineteenth century, most notably in the year ofrevolutions, 1848, when there had been a rising also in Prague. Smetana,German-speaking, nevertheless identified himself with the cause of Czechnationalism and moved in 1856 to Sweden, returning to Prague in 1861, aftervarious cultural concessions had been made by the government in Vienna. The secondsymphonic poem of the cycle, Vltava (Moldau), written in 1874, shows thegreat river that flows through the Bohemian countryside to Prague, passing, onits way, villages and farms, woodland and the scenes of historic events in thehistory of the country.
Disc: 1
Ma Vlast: Moldau
1 Invitation to the Dance
2 Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, Op. 11
3 Flight of the Bumble Bee
4 The Sorcerer's Apprentice
5 Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
6 Hebrides Overture, Op. 26
7 Finlandia, Op. 26
8 Moldau
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