Program Notes - March 2, 1997 Concert
Idumea Symphony (Symphony No. 2)Larry Bell (b. 1952)
The following notes were written by the composer:
"Idumea" (pronounced I-doó-ma) is the Biblical name of a hymn tune taken from the Sacred Harp, an important nineteenth-century hymn book used widely in the South. The first line of text is the haunting question "And am I born to die?" This phrase and the awestruck concluding words of text "...and see the flaming skies", are philosophical and imagistic points of departure for the music I composed for the Symphony.
The Idumea Symphony is in four movements corresponding to the classical number and pacing of movements. The first movement, a monothematic sonata form in the tempo of a slow waltz, incorporates the borrowed hymn tune with my own harmonization. Here the character is visionary and ecstatic. The second movement, Transcendental Scherzo, has two distinct tempos: one a swinging, jazzy scherzo that parodies the hymn tune, and the other tempo is a very slow-moving version of the scherzo material written in distant tonality. This second movement prophesizes the ominous fourth and last movement. Double Variation formally describes the third movement's alternation between an original melody and the hymn tune. The finale has a punning subtitle "What Goes Around Comes Around." The hymn tune is used here as the basis for "rounds" with rock-inspired rhythms culminating in a driving upbeat conclusion.
The Idumea Symphony was completed in the fall of 1996 with the help of a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. The work is dedicated to its commissioner: Jed Gaylin and the Hopkins Symphony Orchestra.
Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92Ludwig von Beethoven (1770-1827)
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, and died in Vienna in 1827 as the result of several conditions. At the time he was suffering from jaundice and dropsy, and perhaps a host of other illnesses. His journals report a life filled with maladies, but naturally we will most remember that Beethoven went completely deaf in mid-life.
It was between 1798 and 1802 that the composer realized he was progressively losing his hearing. Otologists have generally agreed that the cause was otosclerosis with degeneration to the auditory nerve, a condition incurable and not uncommon. Beethoven described his torment to a friend: "I must confess that I am living a miserable life. For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say: I am deaf." He was a man with severe pride and ego.
Between this first realization and 1811-1812 when Beethoven was working on the 7th and 8th symphonies, his hearing condition had gravely worsened, causing him to be reclusive and bitter. In 1812 he met the extraordinary poet and author Goethe, a man whom Beethoven had greatly admired in spirit. It was a much awaited meeting. Of the encounter, Goethe expressed this impression:
His talent amazed me; altogether he is an utterly untamed personality, who is not altogether wrong for holding the world to be detestable, but surely does not make it any the more enjoyable either for himself or for others by his attitude. He is easily excused, on the other hand, and much to be pitied, as his hearing is leaving him, which perhaps mars the musical part of his nature less than the social.
The testament of a powerful symphony such as No. 7 from a man in this titanic struggle might lend itself to a program (or extra-musical themes). No one, however, has ever accurately ascribed a program suitable, least of all Beethoven himself. Hector Berlioz described the first movement Vivace as a 'Ronde des paysans.' The historian Arnold Schering attributed the 7th to the poetic model of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. But Beethoven himself told a young musician:
I change much, reject and try again until I am satisfied; but then the working out begins to grow in my head in breadth and detail, height and depth, and since I know what I want, the underlying [musical] idea never leaves me; it rises and grows apace; I hear and see the full image in its full extent, standing before my mind's eye as if in one cast.
The scholar Tovey summed it up thus:
The symphony is so overwhelmingly convincing and so obviously untranslatable, that it has [at last] been considered as a piece of music...instead of as an excuse for discussing the French Revolution. The fact is that Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 was based on purely musical themes in an age when programs were becoming increasingly fashionable, and these themes were, and are, extraordinarily potent.
The first movement consists of two segments, the Poco sostenuto (an introduction of considerable length and development), which leads to the Vivace, a portion of almost obsessive rhythmic preoccupation. Listen for the passage which links the two sections together: a calm figure is compressed and metamorphosizes into the indomitable rhythm of the Vivace that pervades its nearly every bar.
The Allegretto has a fame which precedes it, and again shows Beethoven's extraordinary use of rhythmic themes. The movement was encored during its premiere in 1813, a condition that slow movements seldom enjoy. The success of the Allegretto was so vast that around the turn of the century programs used to include it as an extra movement of the 8th Symphony.
The Presto is a scherzo, a transformation of the menuetto by Haydn, and roughly translates as "joke." The fiery nature of its first themes in contrast with its regal trio makes this one of Beethoven's most delightful movements.
The Allegro con brio finale is a furiously triumphant rondo, perhaps even more relentless than the Vivace. It shows a particular advance in Beethoven's compositional prowess in its sheer power.