MW1 – Beethoven & Blue Jeans
A native of Osaka, Japan, Dai Fujikura has spent more than 20 years studying in the UK. He has won many international prizes for his compositions, writing for traditional as well as avant garde ensembles. He has a special affinity for the concerto, having so far written concertos for cello, piano, flute, recorder, horn, bassoon, tuba and double bass.
Banitza Groove!, composed in 2006-7, is considered a departure from Fujikura’s usual style. The work was inspired by Bulgarian dance rhythms. For Bartók aficionados, these rhythms are familiar, but Fujikura maintains the Central European rhythms over a fast, steady pulse. He does not, however, reference the ethnic melodies Bartók integrated into his works. Instead, Fujikura’s melodic and harmonic style is spiky and dissonant with little sense of lyrical line.
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
With the composition of the G major Concerto in 1806, Beethoven broke some important new ground. The standard concerto form at the time consisted of the so-called double exposition, in which the orchestra plays the dual role of introducing all the thematic material of the movement as well as building up tension and expectation for the entrance of the soloist. But the Fourth Piano Concerto opens with the soloist – briefly but significantly – stating the opening of the main theme and the rhythmic motive that will pervade this longest of all Beethoven concerto movements. The orchestra then takes up its traditional role but starts off by offering a response to the piano in the distant key of B major and elegantly moves back into G. Thus begins a remarkably complex work in which the two forces continually engage not in the typical echoing phrases back and forth, but rather in a true dialogue with a bouquet of themes. A second theme, introduced by the solo oboe, utilizes the same rhythmic motive. The third theme seems to depart from the signature rhythm, but it returns in the accompaniment. When the soloist enters, it is with a new theme that generates a response of new material from the orchestra.
The second movement has recently engendered quite a bit of musicological controversy. The conversation between soloist and orchestra of the first movement escalates into an argument. The orchestra's demanding fortissimo, answered by the piano's gentle, almost pleading response has been associated with the legend of Orpheus's taming of the wild beasts or even his confrontation with the forces of death to recover his lost Eurydice. The ease with which this program can be applied to the movement has led some scholars to suggest that it might have originated with Beethoven himself, although there is certainly no documentary evidence for the association. Indeed, it is more of an interlude between the two weightier outer movements, more in the style of the Baroque concerto than the Classical model. Just before the end of the movement is an almost anguished cry from the piano, a mini-cadenza that finally subdues the orchestra.
By the time the finale opens, the mood has cleared and soloist and orchestra return to their conversation in a cheery rondo. Again, Beethoven alters the typical structure by beginning this movement with the orchestra, rather than the soloist. The two occasionally interrupt each other. And at times, the orchestra "mumbles" a commentary, reiterating the opening rhythmic pattern, as the piano performs its fanciful elaborations.
Beethoven composed the Fourth Piano Concerto concurrently with the Fifth Symphony, and the first movement of the Concerto shares with that Symphony the same upbeat rhythmic figure, although in a very different mood. The premiere, at a private subscription concert, took place in March 1807 together with the premiere of the Fourth Symphony and the Overture to Coriolan . It was, however, at the historic Beethoven-Konzert of Dec. 22, 1808 that the general public first heard the G Major Concerto, with Beethoven wearing two hats, as conductor and soloist. This was one of those typical monster concerts at which the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Concert Aria “Ah Perfido ” and the Choral Fantasia were also premiered. True to Beethoven’s form, the orchestra was poorly and hastily rehearsed; many of the orchestral parts were not yet ready; Beethoven quarreled with the musicians; and the hall was freezing cold. As deafness descended on him, it was also his last performance as a soloist.
Audiences did not take to the Fourth Concerto at first, preferring the easier Third or more dramatic Fifth Concerto. It fell into neglect until Mendelssohn revived it in 1836 and performed it frequently thereafter. It became a favorite of famed pianist Clara Schumann, who played it all over Europe and also wrote cadenzas for it.
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43
Sweden relinquished Finland to the Russian Empire in 1809, where it became an autonomous duchy with significant control over its own affairs. Beginning in 1870, however, these privileges and autonomy were gradually taken away under the guise of “Russification” of the many ethnic minorities within the Russian Empire. While Swedish had been the language of the educated middle class, Russian repression aroused such strong nationalist feelings that it sparked a revival of the Finnish language. Jean Sibelius was born into this nationalistic environment and in 1876 enrolled in the first grammar school to teach in Finnish.
Sibelius was by no means a child prodigy. He started playing piano at nine, didn't like it and took up the violin at fourteen. His ambition was to become a concert violinist and all his life he regretted not following this dream. He had also toyed with composing as early as ten.
His first success as composer came in 1892 with a nationalistic symphonic poem/cantata titled Kullervo, Op. 7, which met with great success but was never again performed in his lifetime. During the next six years he composed numerous nationalistic pageants, symphonic poems and vocal works, mostly based on the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. In order to enable him to work undisturbed, the Finnish administrative government gave him a pension for life in 1897. For the next 28 years he composed the symphonies and tone poems that made him famous. But in 1925, at the age of 60, he essentially quit composing probably as the result of the ravages of alcoholism and the bipolar disorder that had plagued him throughout his life. He remained silent until his death 32 years later.
Writing symphonies was for Sibelius a lifelong preoccupation that he described as “confessions of faith from different periods of my life.” Composed in the winter 1901-02, close on the heels of his patriotic Finlandia, the Symphony No. 2, with its blazingly affirmative conclusion and optimism, reflected the nationalistic spirit of the time. His statement that all his music was either consciously or unconsciously programmatic opened up a Pandora’s box for interpretation. The public’s belief that the Symphony contained a fundamental political message made it an instant success despite the fact that Sibelius himself ascribed no program to it. It has remained his most frequently performed symphony.
The first movement opens with a lyrical theme by a pair of oboes in their middle range accompanied by the lower strings and the horns in open fifths, creating a dark, or cold, sound often used by Sibelius, that hints of the stark Finnish climate and landscape. The movement consists of a string of melodic fragments, rather than full themes, woven together into a classic sonata form. & & & Note also the constant recurrence of the trill.
A timpani roll and a long pizzicato passage on the basses open the second movement, spiraling higher and higher, preparatory to a stark Russian-sounding theme, this time on the bassoons. It creates an even more desolate sound than the chilly oboes of the first movement. It is this grim timbre, building to an outburst in the strings that has been interpreted as symbolizing the Russian oppression. This musical image continues as it builds up the climactic statement by the trumpets, introduced by the strings. A motive from the first movement recurs to introduce a calming almost religious effect. But the respite is short-lived as Sibelius develops the Russian themes.
The scherzo for strings alone has a frantic quality about it, particularly in the irregularity of its phrasing and refusal to settle on a tonic. The pace slows down considerably for the trio, once again, a low oboe solo accompanied by winds. While it begins on an emotionally neutral plane it quickly adopts a plaintive mood that is taken up by the entire orchestra. The reprise of the scherzo employs a different orchestration, slowing down and leading without pause into the final movement.
The finale, that symbolized nationalistic triumph to its first audiences, is indeed both optimistic and grandiose, with heavy use of a trumpet fanfare motive, which grows into a full-fledged theme. Like the first movement, it consists more of motives than full themes, but they are so frequently repeated as to be unforgettable even on a first hearing. & The culmination towards which the entire movement builds begins a brief trumpet motive that recurs in ever more triumphant orchestration.