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MET CONCERT #1

THE SWAN OF TUONELA
SIBELIUS, JEAN (1865-1927)

 
Famous for his nationalism and passion for his home land, Sibelius’ music drew inspiration from a variety of Finnish sources, and his suite, the Lemmenkäinen Suite (Four Legends from the Kalevala) that was completed in late 1895 was no exception. The Kalevala Legends revolved around a central figure named Lemmenkäinen, with each work composed as a tone poem reflecting a defining moment in Lemmenkäinen’s adventures.

Originally composed as the overture to his never completed opera, The Building of the Boat, The Swan of Tuonela became the second of the four tone poems. In Finnish mythology, Tuonela is the land of death, which is surrounded by a large river of black waters with a rapid current. Early editions of the score including an inscription by Sibelius that read:

Tuonela, the Kingdom of Death, the Hades [Hell] of Finnish mythology, is surrounded by a broad river of black water and rapid current, on which the Swan of Tuonela glides in majestic fashion and sings.

Sibelius creates vivid musical images, with muted strings throughout forming a sonorous undercurrent beneath the beautiful, floating swan melody played by the english horn.
 

BEAUTY
WORDS BY G. SATTLER, MUSIC BY S. O’CONNELL
  1. The Tonal Place
  2. Green in Blue
  3. Tempe Downs (The Old Station)- instrumental
  4. IV. A time to Be
  5. Beauty
  6. The Day is Beautiful

Beauty, with words by Graham Sattler and music by Stephen O’Connell, is a recently completed Orchestral Song Cycle, inspired by contemporary Australian cultural influences, place and relationships. It combines the elements of music born of the outback with text that situates and questions relationships of people to land and each other. Beauty explores and comments on the fragility of life, its humour and its intrinsic beauty. The music was written by Stephen O’Connell over a six-year period in locations across central and regional Australia, as reflections of the beauty, solitude, peace and impact felt by him on his many trips that followed recovery from a serious accident in 2007. The texts, written by Graham Sattler between 2013 and 2016, interrogate the imagery and dramatic power inherent in the music and interpret it through the emotional landscape of human relationships; their aspects of joy, confusion, challenge and transcendence.
 

SYMPHONY NO. 9 ‘FROM THE NEW WORLD’
DVORAK, ANTONIN (1841-1904)
  1. Adagio-Allegro
  2. Largo
  3. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Pocosostenuto
  4. Allegro con fuoco

Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 was premiered at Carnegie Hall on 16 December 1893. As Director of the National Conservatory of Music of America, one of Dvorak’s main duties was to instil a passion for musical nationalism in his students. After studying and being influenced greatly by Native American music, Dvorak explained to the New York Herald how these influences were present in his music:

I have not actually used any of the melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint and orchestral colour.

The slowly unfolding harmonies that begin the first movement develop with an underlying sense of the drama and grandeur that will continue throughout the symphony. This is reinforced by the dramatic timpani interjection announcing the move into the allegro tempo. Dotted rhythms are prevalent throughout this movement, giving us the impression of folk dancing.

The largo second movement opens with a brass chorale and is followed by the famous english horn solo, reminiscent of America’s vast, wide-open prairies. Dvorak remarked that amongst the prairies, he found solace and beauty, but also bleakness, sadness and despair. 

Paying a brief homage to scherzo in Beethoven’s ninth symphony opens the third movement, and he links this to ‘modern’ America by performing a rhythmic dance emphasised by the timpani.

The grand, final movement ties all of the previous movements together, with recurring themes appearing in grand, dramatic fashion. The dotted rhythms are again present, and these help to emphasise the melody without losing clarity amongst such a large orchestration. Upon its grand finale at its premiere, it received thunderous applause and cheering, and New York critic W.J. Henderson wrote, ‘It is a great symphony and must take its place among the finest works in the form produced since the death of Beethoven.’