Arvo Pärt (1935*) Swansong (2013)
Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) Violin concerto op.47 (1904-05)
I. Allegro moderato
II. Adagio di molto
III. Allegro, ma non tanto
Soloist: Kyoko Yonemote
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) – Peer Gynt suites 1 en 2
-The Death of Ase
-In the Hall of the Mountain King
-The Abduction of the Bride/Ingrid’s Lament
-Peer Gynt’s Homecoming
Not Many Notes, Plenty of Music
Arvo Pärt took his time with Littlemore Tractus (the original version of Swansong): he spent two years of hard work on this piece of just 7 minutes. For Pärt, this is particularly remarkable; as a 'spiritual minimalist' he usually requires very few notes to give his music meaning. He was inspired by the well-known sermon Wisdom and Innocence, given by Cardinal John Henry Newman in the English parish of Littlemore in 1843. Newman's conversion to the Catholic faith was a scandal at the time, but his influential sermons eventually advanced the emancipation of Catholicism. The solemn character and the bells in the percussion lend this work a palpable religious charge. Pärt originally wrote the piece for choir and organ. Swansong is the arrangement for orchestra he created later.
Sibelius’s Farewell to the Violin
Sad life stories can sometimes lead to great things; Jean Sibelius's violin concerto is one of the best examples. It was only in his teens that young Sibelius discovered his great love of the violin. From that moment onwards, he dedicated himself to this one big dream: becoming a violin virtuoso. Although he was certainly talented, his playing lacked physical coordination and temperament. After a failed audition with the Vienna Philharmonic, he realised that the dream he had confided to his diary as a twelve-year-old boy would never come true. He burst into tears and had a breakdown. It was the start of a life of alcohol abuse, financial hardship and domestic crises.
In one of his darkest periods, around the time he was approaching forty, he committed the first drafts of his only concerto to paper. For a long time, it seemed unlikely to become one of the most well-loved violin concertos of all time. Sibelius wanted to premiere the piece as quickly as possible, for financial reasons. Viktor Nováček, hardly the greatest virtuoso of his time, was given the job of mastering the violin concerto within the shortest possible time frame. The result was a premiere riddled with mistakes, and the the piece itself also received harsh reviews: it was neither a virtuoso piece, nor a symphonic concerto like the ones Brahms wrote. After a thorough revision, and partly thanks to violinist Jascha Heifetz, success eventually came with the new version.
In spite of the problems he was going through, Sibelius was excited about the violin concerto from its first note. "I have a great idea for the opening", he wrote to his wife. Against an icy backdrop of strings, the violin makes its entrance: dissonant and halfway into the bar. It grows into an intense allegro, with the orchestra acting as much more than just accompaniment. In that equality between the orchestra and the soloist, partly the result of the revision, Sibelius shows us why he is considered to be one of the greatest symphonic composers after Brahms. The second movement seems to be a farewell to the violin. After a short introduction by the oboe and clarinet, a beautiful melody sounds, full of melancholy and nostalgia. Timpani and strings lead the way in a tempestuous and technically demanding finale. The driving rhythms and breathtaking figures in the violin form a dramatic ending to the concerto.
Suites about an Anti-Hero
The basis for Grieg's Peer Gynt Suites was a play without music. Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) wrote a play about the Norwegian boy Peer Gynt, which he later wanted to adapt by adding music. Edvard Grieg was asked to compose a series of 26 short pieces to go with the play. From the start, it was a resounding success, which lasted until a fire destroyed all the scenery and costumes. Grieg decided to let his incidental music live on and selected eight works from the original series. The pieces proved popular in their own right as independent suites. Suddenly, Grieg was no longer bound by the story about Peer Gynt, allowing him to put the works in a different order. The first piece, Morning Mood, is often seen as depicting a crisp Norwegian sunrise. In the play, however, it is the moment in the middle of the story when Peer Gynt, having been robbed by his 'friends', wakes up in the sweltering heat of the Moroccan desert.
Peer Gynt is one of those characters who, despite his reprehensible deeds, still somehow manages to keep you feeling sympathetic towards him. He is not a bad person, but rather naïve; a real anti-hero. Before fleeing to Africa, he had made life impossible for himself in Norway by spending a night of passion with newly-wed Ingrid (The Abduction of the Bride). Following this shameful act, Peer heads for the mountains and ends up among the mountain trolls. He chats up the troll king's daughter, but in order to marry her, he will have to become a troll himself. When things start getting too hot for him (In the Hall of the Mountain King), he escapes from the troll people. Then Peer's mother dies, expressed beautifully by Grieg in the second movement of the first suite, The Death of Ase. The subsequent confrontation with his childhood sweetheart Solveig (Solveig’s Song) proves too much for Peer; feeling ashamed of his actions, he runs away to Africa.
He initially earns a great deal of money as a slave trader, but is betrayed just as frequently and loses everything. Having been robbed by his companions, he is then betrayed by the Arabian princess Anitra who, after a seductive dance (Anitra’s Dance), forces him to give up his wealth. Slowly, but surely, Peer starts to become aware of his desire to return to Norway. He realises that running away will not solve his problems and decides to face them. Even being shipwrecked cannot stop him from going back to Norway (Peer Gynt’s Homecoming). In Solveig's arms, he eventually falls into a deep sleep. She has waited for him for decades and is the only one who truly knows him. Even when ostracised by everyone else, he is still special to Solveig. Being with his childhood sweetheart enables Peer to regain his true self. Even though the original play has Solveig singing her song in the middle of the story, it is a beautiful end to the second suite. Just imagine Solveig softly singing Peer to sleep, now he is finally back in her arms after his long wanderings.