Read below for extended program notes on today’s performance.
Additional Notes on the Program
Debut Symphony Orchestra
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) was a massively influential composer in the German Romantic tradition. His symphonies, concertos, piano works, and German song (lieder) are consistently programmed to this day, and have cemented him as one of history’s strongest compositional voices.
Brahms’s Hungarian Dances are works inspired by Hungarian folk song and dance. Years after Brahms’s death, famed composer and musicologist Béla Bartók aimed to find the source of these Hungarian Dances, and traced the melodies back to works by famed Hungarian composers of the time. Though Brahms mistook the folk nature of these melodies, the child-like and expressive quality of the music is heard in the dance-able themes heard across his Hungarian Dances
Initially written for piano, these works were later transcribed into orchestral arrangements years after their original composition. The first Hungarian Dance varies from other iterations in the series in that it maintains its key and expression throughout the entire work. Listen for its swirling melodies and deep, rich emotion.
Erik Satie (1866-1925) was a French composer and pianist who is most well known for his bold-faced rejection of Romanticism and the rising influence of Impressionism. Satie was a student of the Paris Conservatory, though he received no distinctions and did not receive a diploma. He was not particularly well liked by students nor instructors; Satie was described as “gifted but indolent,” and “lazy.” Satie wrote pieces which he wholly intended to be “wallpaper music”—music which accompanies the monotony of day-to-day life, perhaps listened to while drinking tea or reading the newspaper.
Gymnopédie 1 is a defining work by Satie. Its light, uncomplicated texture combined with its wandering melody and tonality make it a piece which is ultimately more cute than intriguing. Despite this simplicity, Gymnopédie 1 has been repurposed into many different iterations. Today’s arrangement by the legendary Claude Debussy channels the energy of Satie’s original arrangement for piano into a breathable, gentle working for orchestra.
Johann Strauss Jr. (1825-1899) was an Austrian composer who hailed from a large, accomplished musical family. By the age of 19, Johann Strauss Jr. had already achieved notable success as a composer and as an orchestra leader. He later went on to take on the age-old career of composing for the Viennese court, a highly distinguished and notable title.
Strauss Jr. was particularly well known for his work in opera and operettas. Strauss Jr. began penning Die Fledermaus in 1873, and shortly after its premier it received rave reviews from the Viennese public and other notable composers alike. The overture to Die Fledermaus is, like every opera overture, a sampler platter of the dominant musical themes in the opera. It is an exceptionally light hearted and comical sound, which matching the themes of mischief and romance which dominate the opera. Listen for two distinctive dance themes: the first, a playful duple-time dance, and the second a rather explosive and exciting waltz.
Youth Symphony Orchestra
Few works cast as large a shadow as Hector Berlioz‘s (1803-1869) Symphonie Fantastique. Put simply, the work is a clear-cut presentation of the ideas and impulses which dominated the Romantic era: it is a massive work, nearly 50 minutes in length, full of rich emotional life and story, and features unique instrumentation, rhythms, and textures.
Berlioz was born in southeastern France to a rather wealthy and privileged family, though he uniquely was not exposed to a thorough music education. Berlioz did not master the piano—if anything, he struggled against it. To this day many composers depend on the piano’s eight octaves to conduit the orchestra’s wide range of voices. Berlioz framed his piano-less compositional approach as an advantage: he considered himself to be free of what he called “bad keyboard habits,” and the confines of tonality which slowly harden into place over a key player’s lifetime.
Berlioz began writing Fantastique inspired by a deep love and fascination for an Irish actress with whom he quickly became obsessed after watching a performance in London. They shared no language, had little in common other than the relationship between actor and audience, but Berlioz fell passionately, obsessively in love. Fantastique’s narrative is quasi-autobiographic in nature, and posits the artist with a capital A—Berlioz specifically notes the main character in the work is an artist of unmatched brilliance.
A first-time listener of Fantastique familiar with Romantic-era sound might inaccurately guess the timeline of the work’s premiere. Premiered in 1830, Fantastique has countless moments where the orchestra’s presence is so large and dramatic, you wouldn’t believe it premiered closer to Beethoven 5th Symphony than major works by Tchaikovsky, Wagner, or before even Brahms was born. Berlioz stands boldly against tradition: he introduces newer and lesser used instruments to the stage, including the English horn, the haunting E-flat clarinet, and calls for an absolutely unprecedented four sets of timpani.
Fantastique’s story tells of an artist of brilliant mind who falls madly in love with a woman. She dominates his thoughts, and he can’t help but obsess over her no matter where he goes or how he tries to distract himself. Pained by his feelings, our main character takes a small dose of opium too weak to kill him, but strong enough to induce fantastic and terrifying hallucinations. Enter the monsters, ghouls, and witchcraft, occupying an absolute fantasy world rich with jewel-toned passion. The main character dreams he kills the woman he loves, is swiftly condemned, and begins viewing his own execution. The melody Berlioz introduces at the top of the work to represent the woman he loves returns, but this time in a wholly grotesque state, embodied by the piercing wail of the E-flat clarinet.
The devolution in sound which takes place during the opioid-induced hallucinations painted in the music only serve Berlioz’s view of the artist as troubled genius. Random bursts of sound, chaotic moments tucked in between moments of Beethovian lyricism and harmony, and confusing and uncertain pairings of voicings craft Fantastique as wholly unique.
It is clear where the sound of the symphony evolved as the Romantic era progressed: it became bigger, louder, more bold-faced and creative. One could easily argue Fantastique gave permission for composers after Berlioz to go further, to do and say more with the orchestra.
Jimmy López Bellido (1978-*) is a prolific Peruvian composer of orchestral works, chamber music, opera, and more. His works have been performed internationally, with such notable orchestras as the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and the National Symphony Orchestras of Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Spain, among others. López’s music has been heard in prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, Gewandhaus Leipzig, Kennedy Center, Vienna’s Musikverein, Concertgebouw, and Konzerthaus Berlin.
Fiesta! Four Pop Dances for Orchestra is a high-energy romp for the orchestra. Its influences are wide ranging, from western classical, to present-day commercial pop, to Peruvian melodies and rhythms. In a sense, it is the perfect modern presentation of symphonic music: wrapped up in and wholly dependent on context of time, place, and presentation. “Techno” is the fourth and final movement of “Fiesta!” Listen for the exciting rhythms which drive the movement, and how instruments drop in and out to create a dynamic, edge-of-your seat sound.
Founded in 1942, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra is the largest youth orchestra training program in the United States.