Program Notes - December 6, 1997 Concert ("Celebrating 200!")
A Celebration of (more than) 200 Years in Baltimore - Some History
The Beginnings of a City (1608-1797) and Haydn's Overture to The Creation
In 1608, European mapmaker Captain John Smith sailed upon the Patapsco River to chart the land later to become Baltimore. The cartographer was rather unimpressed by what he saw, and were it not for the Lords Baltimore (the Calverts) seeking to secure a settlement for the free practice of Roman Catholicism, the history of one of North America's great cities may have been gravely different. Originally in 1729, the unassuming harbor was chartered to the Calverts as a tobacco port, but Baltimore steadily began shipping more flour. This established Baltimore as a notable port and attracted the arrival of wealthy businessmen.
The industry and shipping that were eagerly blossoming in Baltimore brought all manner of development to the city. During the Revolutionary War, as Continental Congress sought refuge from their fears of English occupation in Philadelphia, Baltimore was the perfect choice to hold their meetings (1776- 77). By this time, ships from Baltimore's port were busy trading with not only Northern Europe, but the Caribbean and Mediterranean as well, and the township witnessed spectacular success. In 1797, the Maryland General Assembly granted Baltimore a city charter.
"Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds:
At which the universal host up sent
a shout that tore hell's concave, and beyond
Frighted the reign of Chaos and old Night."
John Milton - Paradise Lost
Book I - 1667
Also in 1797, one of the great pieces in Western musical culture was composed in Vienna by Franz Josef Haydn. It is doubtful that "The Creation" was penned in honor of the creation of Baltimore as a city, but it is probable that Milton's Paradise Lost was known to some of its residents.
Haydn's oratorio was written as a commission for private performance in Vienna. The libretto by Van Swieten was a removed rendering of Paradise Lost, and scholars believe that the text was first handed to Handel but declined by him.
Haydn (1732-1804) was no stranger to Handel's works, and at a young age was astounded by them, vowing to compose as powerful and as universal a music. Haydn had also been a visitor to London in his later years, where the magnificent festivals of oratorios in the tradition of Handel impressed him. He completed "The Creation" at the age of 65, and it is generally considered a culminative masterpiece.
Haydn was a court musician under the patronage of the Esterhazy house in Vienna most of his life. Duties as such required a steady production of music. And it is here that Haydn mastered virtually every genre of the day. He may be best known know for his over 100 symphonies, works from the Classical era, delightfully unique in invention. Haydn had the distinct luxury of being somewhat isolated as an Esterhazy employee, and it gave him the freedom to explore and discover boundless ideas. Whereas his friend Mozart grew in his mastery with the uncompromised use of Classical forms, Haydn grew in his mastery away from them. He enjoyed this exploratory method with hundreds of chamber works, further testaments to the unending flexibility of Classical forms.
The Overture to "The Creation" titled Representation of Chaos is a wonderful place to begin with Haydn. The very title would seem to suggest room for much imagination, and we have our chaos beginning with a resounding C unison chord, conspicuously lacking thirds for tonality (such as C major). A diminuendo drifts to E-flat, what might have been setting up c-minor, but then all is lost, as the next large chord resounds in A-flat major. What Haydn is cleverly doing is suggesting chaos through lack of a recognizable key. This continues, with astounding beauty through a host of keys, meandering through a quagmire of dense darkness where "there is no light, but darkness visible" to an uncharacteristically soft ending, settling in C minor for a time. The introduction sets the stage for the Archangel Raphael and his chorus to proclaim what the world was like before its creation. The glorious proclamation of the key of C major does not occur until Uriel exclaims that "God saw the light," after nearly ten minutes of rather keyless darkness. The introduction is immensely moving and, despite its character, a glowing representation of Haydn's genius and unsurpassed imagination.
The Next 107 Years (1797-1904): Key, Sibelius, and Unparalleled Progress
The years following Baltimore's city charter gave birth to an exceptional sailing vessel, the Baltimore Clipper. This sleek and "fast as wind" ship was used exclusively for trade, and was especially valuable for shipping perishables. It was also used to gain "wealth by stealth" in which enterprising clipper captains could easily plunder the clumsier trading ships on the high seas. Some called it privateering, but the British, heavily involved in the War of 1812, were so annoyed by these Baltimore boats that they named the city "a nest of pirates."
In 1814, after having whipped Napoleon's army and after sacking and burning Washington, DC, the British were feeling randy. They sought to put an end to these pesky pirate ships, and further their desire to keep stakes in America, by routing Baltimore. Fortunately, land troops were repelled by militia and angry Baltimore citizens, and the attack on Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore gave rise to our national anthem.
"Oh say does that Star Spangled
Banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and
the home of the brave?"
Francis Scott Key - The Star
Spangled Banner 1814
Upon the maiming of Washington, an enraged citizen, Dr. Beanes, captured several British Naval soldiers by gunpoint. British officers, responded by capturing their own back, and brought the good doctor along with the idea of capturing Baltimore. Beanes' close friend, Francis Scott Key, heard of the imprisonment, and set off to negotiate his release. The release was granted to transpire once Baltimore was safely in the hands of the British. At 6:00 a.m. on September 13, 1814, one of the most severe bombardments as yet in naval history took place on Fort McHenry, with Beanes and Key observing from a small boat. Flying above the fort was an impressive American flag, the largest made in the States to date. The bombing at last ended 25 hours later, and in the dawn and clearing smoke, the tattered flag still flew signaling that Baltimore would not be had, inspiring Key to pen "The Star Spangled Banner," set to an anthem composed in England called "To Anacreon in Heaven." It became our national anthem only in 1931.
The author of the tune was John Stafford Smith (1750-1836), an English composer and musicologist. The gift of this anthem hardly befits his importance. Years before Dr. Charles Burney wrote his General History of Music, Smith was busy collecting priceless manuscripts and doing scholarly research on ancient music. In 1779, Smith published A Collection of English Songs...Composed about the year 1500. Taken from MSS. of the same age. It was likely the first scholarly edition printed in England.
Baltimore grew rapidly into the 19th century. Just as its harbor brought it notice around the world, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad (founded 1828) linked it to the middle west of the continent. With prosperity came philanthropy, art and invention. This was the century of Mother Elizabeth Anne Seton (later to become the first American woman saint in 1975), The Johns Hopkins Institutions (the University in 1876, the Hospital in 1889), Rembrandt Peale (beloved painter and the person who lit the first gas street lamp in the world in Baltimore in 1817), George Peabody (the Institute in 1866), Enoch Pratt (the Library in 1889), and Edgar Alan Poe, who won his first public recognition as a writer for MS. In a Bottle (1833).
It is also the century of considerable unrest. Riots in 1812, 1835, 1861, and 1877 gave rise to Baltimore's nickname as "Mobtown." Frederick Douglass, famed abolitionist, was a slave in Fells Point for some years until he escaped from a train in 1838. This recalls that Baltimore was often thought to be a city of the north with southern sentiments. The riot of 1861 produced the first bloodshed of the Civil War, as Baltimoreans of the southern ilk attacked a regiment from Massachusetts on their march through the city. Though Maryland did not secede, Union Troops occupied Baltimore for the entire war.
Two weighty events bookend the 100th year of Baltimore (1897), the B&O Railroad Riot of 1877, and the Great Fire of 1904. The B&O Riot took place just outside the area around the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards. A nationwide depression and lowering wages without benefits fueled this altercation. It is considered the biggest labor strike in United States history, and its implications were far reaching in the better treatment of unskilled hired labor. The Great Fire of 1904, caused by an errantly discarded cigarette, gutted virtually everything known as downtown, from Hopkins Place to Jones Falls, the Inner Harbor to Lexington Street. It leveled seventy city blocks.
"Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood
there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever
dared to dream before;"
Edgar Alan Poe - The Raven 1845
In December of 1865, the year before the Peabody Institute opened, Jean Sibelius was born in Hameenlinna, Finland. An awakened Nationalist style in Scandinavia was already thriving, thanks to the contributions of Grieg in Norway. Sibelius is considered the foremost Nationalist composer of Finland, with such famous pieces as Finlandia, but his life's work constitutes an extraordinary and original voice in Western musical literature in general.
The life of Sibelius has been subject to much discussion. Agreeable and charming in company, as well as an avid lover of cigars and drinking, Sibelius preferred isolation and was unrevealing in his intimacies. The sternness of isolation became increasingly evident throughout his works, and made them all the more extraordinary. His last composition, Tapiola, written in 1926, was a culmination of his originality in structure and sound, painting the bleakness of the northern woods in timbres of great starkness. His preoccupation with Nordic mythology and an ardent love of nature are also quite evident in his works.
About the time of Baltimore's 100th Anniversary, Jean Sibelius wrote his Symphony No.1 in E-minor, Op.39 (premiered 1899). His previous successes, based on the epic Finnish legend "Kalevala," were tone poems in Lemminkaienen Suite (1893-95), and En Saga (1895). Nationalistic in content, they were also the product of sheer raw talent. Sibelius' formal training as a writer for orchestra was indistinct, yet in these tone poems, a stridently new and creative voice emerged.
The First Symphony is not programmatic, but the voice associated with it, and with Sibelius, is particularly Scandinavian. Perhaps he had cast a dye early on, or more likely, his love of the wilds of Finland left an indelible mark. The opening of the first movement is a likely example with a prolonged timpani roll under a pining clarinet solo. It visualizes a cold landscape which stretches long and bleak, but as one approaches, the feeling that great mysteries will unfold is manifest.
The second movement has been thought to be the culmination of the influence that Tchaikovsky's romantic language had on Sibelius. It is altogether lyrical with the thumb print of Sibelius' profundity. Movement three show another side of the composer-fiery energy. It leaves the impression of dance one cannot dance to, but can be swept up into its whirling nonetheless.
The finale shows an extraordinary craft of blending structure as not to upset the musical narrative. This talent, which would become more advanced in succeeding symphonies, was commented upon by Mahler in 1907, "I said that I admired its style and severity of form, and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motifs."
Sibelius wrote seven symphonies, all of them so different from one another that to trace predictability between is useless. He attended to each symphony in a completely different manner. The results are seven distinctly original masterpieces. After Tapiola (1926), Sibelius virtually stopped composing, and lived another 30 years without writing, dying in Jarvenpaa in 1957 at the age of 91. The reasons for this cessation are difficult to ponder, but some have pointed to alcoholism, his isolationism, and a musical world that was growing away from the tonality in which he composed.
Post-Fire Civilization to the Present and Grant's Premiere (1904-1997)
The 20th Century, after the Great Fire, was graced by the pitching arm of Babe Ruth in 1914, and gave to Baltimore some of the great writers of our country: H.L. Mencken, Russell Baker, Dashiell Hammett, Gertrude Stein, (a brief interlude with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald) and Anne Tyler. These writers etched originality and sharpness into the landscape of American literature even as Baltimore clung to its Southern traditions and high pedigree. For example, Wallis Simpson, for whose love King Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936, believed her lineage as fine as that of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon who succeeded the crown. Baltimore also saw the emergence of its own jazzmen in response to the Harlem Renaissance with performers of local heritage gaining fame such as Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, and Billie Holiday. Its port grew in importance in the early half of the century, and such commerce as canning and steel works became titanic industries. Baltimore's accessibility brought, through two World Wars, an astounding number of workers and immigrants, which caused such housing problems that the city wheeled toward decay by the 1950's. Rejuvenation to the city began in 1958 with the Charles Center, and in 1971, a polluted Inner Harbor was next for redevelopment. Two years after the Baltimore Orioles won the World Series in four games (1966), Baltimore again rioted after the assassination for Martin Luther King, Jr., the rage of which shocked the nation. But in typical Baltimore tradition, the city collected itself, and continues to do so, still rejuvenating, still attracting thousands by the year, still keeping tightly-knit neighborhoods and universal appeal.
H.L. Mencken, who some called the conscience of American intellect, said once that "Baltimore has the frowzy, out-of-the elbow, forlorn air of a third-rate boarding house." He also said that the city was the "front office of civilization." Only a native can boast the best and the worst of his home. Two hundred years after Baltimore's incorporation, Baltimoreans still have cause to celebrate, and are also proud to present the premiere of the Viola Concerto (1997) by gifted composer James Grant.