Brand new music and a classic by Mahler

Spaces: Mahler 1 and World Premiere

Saturday, April 5 // 7:30PM - 9:30PM

When philosopher Johann Wolfgang van Goethe referred to music as ‘liquid architecture’ he could have been talking about this remarkable program, featuring glorious Gabrielli canons echoing high above the Great Hall stage, a brand new work by Iowa composer Brooke Joyce inspired by deco architectural drawings, and Mahler’s spacious First Symphony.

Gabrieli – Two Canzonas for Brass
Brooke Joyce – Une Cité Moderne with Heather Armstrong, oboe (World Premiere)
Mahler – Symphony no. 1

Sponsored by // Friends of wcfsymphony // Matt & Pooneh Glascock
Buck a Kid Meet the ArtistsCurtain TalkFine Reception

Additional Info

Heather Armstrong

Heather Armstrong is Assistant Professor of Oboe and Music Theory at Luther College and principal oboe of wcfsymphony. During the summer she serves on the faculty of Dorian Summer Music Camps and Lutheran Summer Music, a four-week residential music training and performance program for high school students. Heather is dedicated to supporting and performing new music, and has received grants from the Hanson Institute of American Music and Luther College’s Ylvisaker Endowment for Faculty Growth to support the commissioning and performing of new pieces. Heather received her D.M.A. and M.M. degrees from the Eastman School of Music, where she studied with Richard Killmer. She received her BM degree from Houghton College and has also studied at the Banff Centre and the Chautauqua Institution.

Brooke Joyce

Brooke Joyce’s music has been described as “vividly pictorial” (San Francisco Chronicle) and “exceptionally gripping” (Los Angeles Times) and has been performed by soloists and ensembles around the world, including the Indianapolis Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, the Brentano Quartet, the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, the Nash Ensemble, and James Gilchrist. In addition to his concert music, Brooke collaborated on several musical theater works with playwright Frederick Gaines, including Unbekannt, a musical based on the life of the famous Anastasia pretender Anna Anderson, and An Imaginary Line, based on the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Brooke is the Composer-in-Residence at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa and a faculty member at the newly-created International Music Festival of the Adriatic. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and son, Keegan, in a quiet neighborhood in Decorah, Iowa.


Program notes

Giovanni Gabrieli - Canzon VII and Canzon Septimi Toni no. 2

The name Gabrieli is synonymous with the musical glories of Venice at the dawn of the Baroque period. Andrea, the first internationally known member of the Venetian School, was the uncle of the somewhat more famous Giovanni. Both studied in Munich with the renowned Orlando di Lasso, whose pedagogy would have a profound influence on the mature styles of both.

By 1584 the younger Gabrieli had returned to Venice and assumed the post of principal organist at the Basilica of San Marco, one of the most important liturgical and musical centers of the continent. Following the death of his uncle just one year later, he also assumed duties as principal composer. His fame spread outward across Europe and, after the publication of his Sacrae symphoniae (1597), aspiring musician would commonly make the pilgrimage to Venice to experience civic and church spectacles and to study with Giovanni Gabrieli.

While his polychoral works are beyond compare, Gabrieli’s contributions to instrumental music may have been more great: he was among the first composers to call for specific instruments as well as an early proponent of the use of dynamic markings. Of course, one has to imagine the composer’s surprise at our contemporary performances of his works. The originals, composed for “broken” consorts of viols, cornetts (no relation to the modern instruments) and sackbuts (predecessors of the trombone, in various sizes) have been now supplanted by full brass choirs, with their resultant bolder, brighter, and particularly louder sonic capabilities.

Questions from the purists - or “historically-informed” folks - remain: are we being true to the composer? Absolutely not! But in revealing the glory in his music it hardly seem to matter.

- Brian Hughes


Brooke Joyce - Une Cité Moderne

Une Cité Moderne is a set of architectural drawings by Robert Mallet-Stevens, published in 1921. These 32 ink drawings with splashes of color depict an imaginary city of the future, with examples of public buildings, restaurants, homes and schools. Although none of these designs were built, they represent a playful and beautiful vision of modernity. Heather Armstrong and I chose seven of these drawings as starting points for this concerto, imagining how seven French composers, contemporaries of Mallet-Stevens, might have responded to his work. So, if the resulting music sounds steeped in 1920’s Paris, that’s intentional. One might imagine a citizen of this modern city awakened by the sounds of the beffroi (bell tower), dropping off children at the école primaire (school), doing some shopping at the halles (market), doing an errand at the bureau de poste (post office), stopping to buy a gift at the magasin de nouveautes (novelty shop), attending a late afternoon service at the église (church), and ending the day at the cinéma.

- Brooke Joyce


Gustav Mahler - Symphony no. 1

During his lifetime Mahler was much more renowned as conductor than composer. Even to contemporary audiences his work lay largely neglected until the Mahler renaissance of the late 1950s and early 1960s, led by Leonard Bernstein and others. In the half-century since Mahler’s nine symphonies (a tenth was left unfinished) and other works for voice and orchestra have become bulwarks of the repertoire and standards that are used to measure the worth of the orchestra performing them.

As a conductor Mahler held numerous positions as music director of many of the leading orchestras of the world, including the opera houses in Hamburg, Budapest and Vienna. In 1907 he came to the United States and assumed leadership of the Metropolitan Opera and, two years later, of the New York Philharmonic. His tenure in New York was spent in basic disagreement with critics and management, and this combined with his generally low opinion of American concertgoers and musicians made his stay in this country a mostly unpleasant one. In poor health and exhausted from his many personal and musical battles, he returned to Europe in 1911 where he died in Vienna on May 18.

In 1888 Mahler was second conductor (under famed maestro Arthur Nikisch) at the Stadttheater in Leipzig. It was during rehearsals and performances of his own reconstruction of Weber’s Die Drei Pintos that he composed his first symphony, reportedly in only six weeks. Despite an extremely hectic schedule, the notes seemed to pour out of him, “It became so overpowering - it flowed out of me like a mountain river!” he wrote.

Mahler hoped the first performance would take place in Leipzig, home of the famed Gewandhaus Orchestra, but by the fall of 1888 he had already arrived in Budapest to lead that city’s opera company in its ornate four-year-old opera house. The symphony was premiered there on November 20, 1889. It was not received well. Mahler himself wrote regarding the premiere:

In Pest, where I performed it for the first time, my friends bashfully avoided me afterward; nobody dared talk to me about the performance and my work, and I went around like a sick person or an outcast. You can therefore imagine what the critiques looked like under such circumstances.

Mahler shelved the work for several years, refusing to present it again until 1893, after extensive revision. Further revision and complete removal of the “Blumine” movement led to an 1896 Berlin performance, where it was accepted enthusiastically - although not in the mind of the composer, who wrote that “they (the audience) have not understood it.”

The various versions of the symphony also spawned programmatic elements and questions as to their authenticity or accuracy. Mahler’s initial version, presented in Budapest, contained simply the tempo indications of each movement. In contrast, a subsequent Hamburg performance included rather extensive notations of the symphony’s aesthetic material. While Mahler would eventually abandon the programmatic indications, it seems appropriate to consider these in examining the music and their relation to the composer’s inner mind.

The first movement, which Mahler originally entitled “Spring and No End,” surely conjures images of the awakening of nature from the long slumber of winter. Mahler writes in the score at the opening, “Like a sound in nature,” and this material - with strings in widely stacked harmonics - returns in the development as well. The actual exposition of the movement begins with Mahler’s jaunty song, “Ging heut morgen über’s Feld” (“Went this morning across the field”) and is a stark contrast - melodically and sonically - to the opening. The very brief coda rushes the movement to its conclusion.

The second movement, “Under Full Sail,” is in the words of Budapest critic August Beer, “an honest-to-goodness peasant dance.” In Mahler’s attempt at a Scherzo, he actually combines elements of the peasant Ländler and the waltz. Beer continued in his commentary, “the movement takes us to the village pub. The piece is full of healthy realism taken from everyday life, with purring, buzzing basses, shrieking violins and squeaking clarinets, to which the peasants dance their ‘stomper.’”

The third movement, Mahler’s “heart-rending, tragic irony,” is a funeral march eerily based on the folk song “Bruder Martin” (known to American children as “Frères Jacques”). After the opening it changes mood, one moment sentimental, the next almost trivial, and then elegiac. Many, including Beer, have commented on its elements of parody, and Mahler himself wrote of it that he wanted it understood “as an expression of a sometimes ironic and happy and sometimes eerie and brooding mood.” Later he would admit that it was to be understood as “exposition and preparation for the sudden outburst of despair of a deeply wounded and broken heart” (in the finale).

Mahler himself well sums up the content of his massive finale:

The last movement, which follows the preceding one without a break, begins with a horrible outcry. Our hero is completely abandoned, engaged in a most dreadful battle with all the sorrow of this world. Time and again he—and the victorious motif with him—is dealt a blow by fate whenever he rises above it and seems to get hold of it, and only in death, when he has become victorious over himself, does he gain victory. Then the wonderful allusion to his youth rings out once again with the theme of the first movement (Glorious Victory Chorale!)

- Brian Hughes

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